Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies becomes steward of Inspiration Ridge Preserve

Magnificent viewscapes and tranquil soundscapes surround the nearly 693-acres of Homer’s Inspiration Ridge Preserve (IRP). The vision of community members Edgar Bailey and Nina Faust, the preserve located at the end of Skyline Drive provides significant wildlife corridors and critical wildlife habitat for moose, black and brown bears, lynx, coyotes, wolves and snowshoe hares, as well as important nesting and staging areas for the Sandhill Cranes that migrate in the spring and fall.

Consisting of 19 ecologically connected properties, Inspiration Ridge Preserve is located past Ohlson Mountain Road and overlooks Kachemak Bay. The habitat is primarily Lutz spruce forest and meadowlands, with willows, alders, elderberry and other shrubs, a bog/fen, marshy areas and significant riparian habitat that form the headwaters of Fritz Creek. The preserve includes a main house, a garage, caretaker cabin, three rental cabins, barn with a fenced area, a greenhouse and an aviary, as well as numerous ponds and a system of trails.

Of these 19 properties, 12 are protected by conservation easements with Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. In 2016, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies was invited to take over stewardship of the lands and this past December was gifted the deeds to all 19 properties, which are to be managed according to a carefully crafted management plan that will guide the stewardship of all of the non-conservation easement properties. Working in partnership, the two organizations are helping to make the couple’s vision a reality.

“I really appreciate the partnership with coastal studies,” said Marie McCarty, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust director. “We’re good at protecting land management and (the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies’) niche is environmental education, so together, we can offer the best of all worlds where both needs can be met and the land can be protected.”

To celebrate the new partnership, the center and the land trust will hold a celebration from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Everyone is invited to join in the festivities, which will include Faust sharing stories and photos from the preserve, along with live music, cake, games and fun.

Bailey died in 2018, and Faust has been working to ensure that their shared vision and his legacy lives on in perpetuity.

“Having established conservation easements with KHLT, we knew that as part of making it a preserve, we wanted it to have an education component and beyond just monitoring the easements, we envisioned guided trips,” Faust said. “We knew that (the center) would be a good match for us.”

The center’s mission is to foster responsible interaction with the natural surroundings and to generate knowledge of the unique marine, coastal and uplands ecosystems of Kachemak Bay through science-based environmental education and stewardship. With their shared values for conservation of wildlife habitat and environmental education, a partnership with Bailey and Faust was a natural fit.

Debbie Oudiz, director of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies board, shared that the organization has 37 years of experience managing properties and doing environmental work, including the 150-acres of wildlife habitat at the Wynn Nature Center that they preserve, with its maintained trails and educational programs.

“Coastal Studies was so honored that Ed and Nina came to us with their gift of Inspiration Ridge Preserve so that we could be stewards of this magnificent breadth of land,” Oudiz said. “We are excited to play such a significant role in preserving and promoting important conservation values.”

Betsy Webb is a former land trust board member and now sits on the board of Coastal Studies. She has been invested in the land preservation movement for years and has been instrumental in working with Faust on the management plan for the preserve.

“This is a dream come true to work on such an important project for the community and such a magnificent gift to the community,” she said. “This preserve has so much to offer and is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Homer. It has sweeping, 360-degree views, is quiet, away from the road system, full of wildlife sounds.”

A work in progress since 1997, today, Inspiration Ridge Preserve is a beautiful and important wildlife preserve with trails and lands that will soon be accessible to small groups through Coastal Studies. Of particular significance on the preserve is the monitoring of sandill cranes. Faust and Bailey began Kachemak Crane Watch in the early 1990s to monitor the local crane population, and in 2008 the couple worked with the International Crane Foundation to do a satellite-tracking project, banding 10 cranes with radio trackers.

“We were able to find out where our cranes went when they left here, their stopover points and habitat areas,” Faust said. “All of this allows cooperating groups in California to work on protecting their winter habitat areas. If our cranes don’t have good wintering habitats, they aren’t as successful when they come back up here for nesting.”

Kachemak Crane Watch has grown over the years, and today they participate in annual bird counts at Beluga Slough, a critical nesting area for three pairs of cranes, with nearly 100 cranes staging at the preserve every fall prior to their migration.

Bailey, a biologist, and Faust, a teacher, both moved to Alaska in 1969 — Ed from Oregon and Nina from Tucson, Arizona. They met in Anchorage. The couple moved to Homer in 1981 when Bailey was hired as the first biologist with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. In 1986, they purchased 32 acres of land on what is referred to as “the bluff” above Homer. The land had no access, so they traded with their neighbors, Alaska style.

“They gave us a power easement and we graveled the road in,” Faust said.

Over the years, the couple purchased adjacent properties, including the 1941 Alldredge homestead, which they moved into and where Faust currently lives, the center point where the eastern and western forks of the properties meet. When Faust retired in 1995 and Bailey retired the following year, the couple set out to create a wildlife corridor that would connect wildlife winter habitat to the adjoining Anchor River/Fritz Creek critical habitat areas. Some properties are connected to the preserve through borough and state lands. Part of the couple’s vision was to create a wildlife preserve, creating wildlife corridors that would exist on the property in perpetuity. Over the years, the couple worked with the borough, state, landowners and environmental groups to achieve this corridor for wildlife movement during their seasonal migrations. Over time, they built a system of maintained trails that connect most of the property. And, Inspiration Ridge Preserve was created.

“I appreciate that this project is foresighted for our community,” McCarty said. “It’s so rare that we slow down and think about what our community will look like in one hundred years. To make that commitment to your land and to make such a long vision, this is a legacy for Ed and Nina and a legacy for our community.”

There is also an endowment, managed by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the “Inspiration Ridge Preserve Operations and Maintenance Fund” that was started by Faust and Bailey to help operate and maintain the Preserve.

“The fund is much like a permanent fund for the Preserve,” Faust said. “Once it grows to a level that can sustain the management of the preserve without eroding the principle, the funds will be available for hiring people needed to fully run the preserve, such as a permanent manager, naturalists, maintenance person or trail workers. When I can no longer handle living up here, (Coastal Studies) will be responsible for all costs of maintaining the preserve — insurance, repairs, trail maintenance, snow removal, mowing of the fields for cranes, etc.”

Seth Spencer heads the Coastal Studies education program. He is excited about the expansion and collaboration opportunities between the Wynn Nature Center and the Preserve.

“The Wynn allows us to spend time in a boreal forest, see moose browsing on all the willows and see and hear the Sandhill Cranes,” he said. “It’s exciting that just a few miles down the road we have this other property now, with so many possibilities for protection of habitats in wildlife corridors and allowing local students, residents and visitors to see the importance of protecting those areas.”

The center’s goals for the coming year include beginning to provide opportunities for the public to have naturalist-guided access to the preserve as soon as this summer. In the fall, they plan to begin scheduling education opportunities with local schools to teach about the cranes and potentially providing nature hikes along the trails.

“It’s important that everyone who visits the preserve understands the connection and the history of the project, in addition to learning about the plants and animals,” Spencer said. “Our goal is to connect the lands we have across the bay, like the Petersen Field Station, to the Carl Wynn and now the preserve, to tie them all together into the story of preservation and wildlife protection, showing visitors ways to connect with the land.”

Access to the preserve trails will be limited to small groups of individuals participating in low impact and quiet guided walks, building stewards who will also be committed to protecting these areas. Beginning in the summer of 2021, individuals will be able to register with Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and check in at the Wynn Nature Center Visitor Center before enjoying their guided walk along the existing 5- to 7-mile trail system. Faust continues to live in the homestead and will continue on as the maintenance and operations manager.

“Wildlife use is primary and human use is secondary,” said Coastal Studies Director Beth Trowbridge. “We are excited to connect visitors and residents with this amazing place and we want people to be able to access the Preserve in a way that allows them to create a sense of place.”

Christina Whiting is a freelance writer, photographer and adventurer living in Homer.

Sandhill cranes forage on Inspiration Ridge in this undated photo taken near Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Nina Faust)

Sandhill cranes forage on Inspiration Ridge in this undated photo taken near Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Nina Faust)

Fields of fireweed bloom in this undated photo of Inspiration Ridge overlooking the upper Fritz Creek watershed near Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Nina Faust)

Fields of fireweed bloom in this undated photo of Inspiration Ridge overlooking the upper Fritz Creek watershed near Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Nina Faust)