Publicly accessible land in and around Homer is arguably one of the town’s most precious commodities. Both citizens and visitors in Homer use the land for exercise, enjoyment and to learn more about Alaska’s natural heritage. Unfortunately, these well-loved properties are not immune to vandalism.
On June 1, the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, or KHLT, reported extensive ATV damage to a wetland on one of its properties. Donated to KHLT by the Effler family in 2007, the property was one of Homer’s original homesteads and consists of 18 acres on West Skyline Drive.
Part of KHLT’s mission is to preserve and protect land on the Kenai Peninsula with important natural and ecological value. The Effler property includes important wetland habitat, known as a headwater fen, that filters pollutants from water within the Bridge Creek watershed as it passes through on its way to the Bridge Creek Reservoir, Homer’s primary source of drinking water.
In addition to preserving the property for its ecological functions, KHLT constructed a new educational nature trail leading to the wetlands there. The boardwalk trail includes interpretive signs explaining the ecology of the area and information on the importance of wetlands.
On June 1, not long after the ribbon cutting ceremony for the interpretive boardwalk, a KHLT supporter reported seeing extensive damage to the wetlands on the Effler property. Deep tracks cutting across the landscape marked where ATVs had dug into the area.
“We are saddened and frustrated that certain individuals have shown such disrespect for this amazing piece of property,” said KHLT Executive Director Marie McCarty in a recent press release.
The vandalism was reported to the Homer Police, and officers were given maps of the property and photo documentation of the damage. “The evidence presented showed that the crime was criminal mischief (i.e. the destruction of property) and the person, if caught, could be charged for the crime,” said police officer Larry Baxter. The police also reported that they would increase their patrols of the area.
To prevent acts of property destruction like this in the future, KHLT has increased signage on the boundaries of the Effler property, advising people that they are entering KHLT land. McCarty says KHLT also encourages anyone who sees unlawful behavior on the property to call the police.
Wetlands and fens occur on very soft pieces of ground. Because of this, damage to the structure of the ground often can take longer than other areas to recover. “Some wetland tracks take a very long time to recover, you see them for a while,” says McCarty. “We don’t have a good idea yet for how long it will take this property to recover from the damage.”
Although saddened by recent events, McCarty says KHLT is still pleased to offer public access to the property and the interpretive nature trail running through the fen. “We’re very proud of this property and the opportunity to contribute it to the community,” she said. “We hope people respect how beautiful the property is, and enjoy it. It’s a very nice spot.”
Aryn Young is a freelance writer for the Homer News