With a passion for hiking and outdoor recreating, a group of community members have been working together to promote, maintain and build sustainable trails in the Homer area for the purposes of conservation, recreation and education. This is Homer Trails Alliance (HTA).
Eager to expand Homer’s local hiking trails and create a more extensive trail system on this side of Kachemak Bay, HTA is a nonprofit organization whose board includes a surveyor, a GIS specialist, and numerous individuals with years of experience working with nonprofits and developing trails.
Since forming in 2021 and with funding from 100 Women Who Care, Homer Foundation and Youth Advisory Committee, private donations, and Community Assistance Program grant through the Kenai Borough last year, the group has gathered and purchased trail supplies, and currently focused on the Homestead trail, have extended existing boardwalks, built new bridges and boardwalks, and installed new directional and educational signs.
This year, they will continue to develop summer trails, extending the existing boardwalks at the Homestead Trail, rerouting the ski trail to make it summer-use friendly, and creating parking near the Roger’s Loop trailhead.
The group applied for additional funding to continue expanding trails, including their longer-term vision of connecting the existing Baycrest trail system of the Homestead trails to the Diamond Creek trails across the Sterling Highway.
HTA’s goals, in order of priority, include connecting Diamond Creek State Recreation Site to the proposed Green Timbers Trailhead, which will necessitate a multiplate underpass on the Sterling Highway, developing trails within the Baycrest area, including new connector trails and making winter ski trails summer usable for all ages and abilities, creating a detached pathway from Green Timbers to Rogers Loop Trailhead, and creating a trail system from Rogers Loop Trailhead to the end of the sidewalk at the top of Baycrest hill.
An all-volunteer organization, they are community-focused and are working in partnership with numerous local organizations. The City of Homer is helping to develop the Diamond Creek Recreation Area, Homer Soil & Water Conservation advising on management of the Homestead Trail’s Homer Demonstration Forest, Kachemak Nordic Ski Club advising on summer trails that accommodate ski grooming needs, Independent Living Center providing designs for accessible trails, Homer Cycling Club developing a plan to tie into existing biking trails, Kachemak Bay National Estuary Reserve providing peat studies, the University of Alaska identifying geology history for interpretive signage, and a Homer Boy Scout Troop completing trail signs and working on bridge repair projects.
HTA’s ongoing projects include identifying potential easements and prioritizing trails for maintenance, updating their website and mapping, restoring the historic Homestead trail with interpretive panels, continuing to build boardwalks and bridges over wetlands and drainages, and constructing kiosks at trailheads with trail information, maps and educational information on wildlife, flora and fauna, and history.
The inspiration behind Homer Trails Alliance began with community member Sandy Cronland’s desire to create an organization that would focus solely on trails on the north side of Kachemak Bay. Today HTA board’s vice chair, Cronland has lived in Homer for 40 years, and next to the Homestead trail for the past 30. An avid walker, hiker and skier, she has been recreating on homesteader trails and game trails all this time and was compelled to bring together other passionate hiking enthusiasts when a section of the trail system was locked out by a land owner.
“The Homestead trail is the longest trail we have on this side and to have almost lost access to that was very concerning,” Cronland said. “With so much development happening and homesteader trails getting cut off, myself and others realized that we needed to organize and work with the community and land owners in order to respectfully secure public recreation easements and move trails.”
Cronland shared that numerous private property landowners have approached HTA asking about easements for trails on their properties.
“People want trails, they just don’t know how to make it happen,” she said. “HTA has the expertise and enthusiasm to make it happen.”
Kim Smith is the board chair and has lived in Homer for 45 years.
“We want to keep Homer special and that includes green space, walkways and access to recreate outdoors on this side of the bay that are accessible to all,” she said.
Cameale Johnson lived in Anchorage for 35 years before moving to Homer and joining the board. She said the only thing she missed about living in the city was the extensive trail network.
“Trails are a huge economic driver for a community and people go where trails are,” she said.
By using electronic trail counters, HTA noted how heavily trafficked existing local trails like the Homestead and Eveline State Recreation are.
“Between June and July last year, 700 people hiked the Homestead trail every week and during that same timeframe, 1,000 hiked Eveline every week,” Johnson said. “That shows you that there is a huge need for more trails on this side of the bay.”
Resurrecting a management plan for Diamond Creek Recreation Area that the City of Homer put together in 2013, but was never developed, the group has made several presentations to the City of Homer’s Economic Development Council as well as to Parks and Recreation.
Further down the road, HTA envisions trails between Anchor Point and the Fox River, as well as a Kenai Peninsula Spur trail network, a long trail moving all the way down the Kenai Peninsula, from Homer to Cooper Landing, and beyond. For now, they are concentrating on local projects.
An all-volunteer organization, they rely on community members to lead trail parties, build trails and do surveys — community members like Heather Kallevig and her husband Joe who have been volunteering since the group formed.
“We help out on trail days and offer materials from our sawmill when needed, like sawdust and wood,” Heather shared. “Joe will often bring his tools and help out with cutting and moving wood, and our kids like clipping bushes and sweeping. We also like to research potential new trails and reach out to community members for access to those trails.”
The couple said being involved in volunteer opportunities that includes their entire family is important to them.
“This way, we get to spend quality time together while also doing our part,” Heather said. “Our kids, Mac and Rosie, are 6 and 4, and we are trying to teach them at a young age that they are valuable members of their community and to know that they can make a difference by getting involved and helping out.”
Many of the people dedicated to HTA have been working on Homer’s trails for decades and the Kallevigs believe that with the surge in development within the community, it’s important that individuals of all ages get involved in order to continue the work of maintaining access and interconnected trails now and into the future.
“Accessible trails and undeveloped spaces make living in a place like Homer special, a space where you can be outside and recreate and feel safe,” Heather said. “Trails also give cause for community events, clubs, and races, bringing people together.”
Homer Trails Alliance is hosting a free Friend-Raising event at Alice’s Champagne Palace on Wednesday, June 7, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. They invite everyone to come out and see the work they have done so far, their goals moving forward, and ways to be involved. There will also be door prizes and new HTA jerseys and jackets.
“People keep telling us they see the need for more trails on this side of the bay,” Cronland said. “If you want more trails, come help us build them. This is a community-wide project. Come be stewards of this vision.”
To find out more about Homer Trails Alliance efforts, how to volunteer, and how to donate, visit their website, homertrailsalliance.org. You can also find them on Facebook, Homer Trails Alliance and on Instagram, Homer Trails.