Concerns over crime at Karen Hornaday Park campground prompted the city manager’s decision earlier this month suspend camping operations in the park in the summer of 2023.
“The Karen Hornaday campground has had quite a bit of inappropriate use over the past few years,” City Manager Rob Dumouchel told the Homer News in an interview Jan. 16.
In a report presented at the Jan. 9 Homer City Council meeting, Dumouchel announced the decision to close the campground, which he said over the past three years had been the site of “general disturbances, suspicious circumstances, security and welfare checks” as well as multiple arrests.
In Dumouchel’s memorandum to Mayor Ken Castner and the Homer City Council, he reported that police activity at Hornaday Campground spiked in 2020 when it was designated as a free camping spot for those experiencing COVID symptoms.
The program was discontinued in 2021, but calls remain elevated compared to the number of complaints in the years before the free camping program, he said in the report.
Dumouchel told the Homer News that complaints from people concerned with safety for their children at the park prompted him to ask the Homer Police Department to pull records for his review.
“We have had a pretty significant spike in police activity at the park over the last few years,” including drug activity, noise and a few assaults, he said.
From 2020 to the summer of 2022, there were more than 100 reasons for the police visitations to the park, according to information provided by the Homer Police Department. In 2020 there were 83 total police incidents at the campground compared to 70 in 2019.
Homer Police Chief Robl said the park has consumed a lot of police officer man hours in the past four years.
“We’ve heard from many people camping up there about open drug use and other disagreeable public conduct. I think closing the campground for a year or two will ease the workload on us and park personnel and could stop the cycle of problems there if the city decides to reopen it,” Robl said.
When asked if he was concerned that disturbances reported to police in the campground would move to other spots in the community once the campground is shut down, Dumouchel said the hope is that not having a central spot for people to stay and camp in a prolonged way will “reduce a center for some other activities to occur.”
Closing the campground will also give the city an opportunity to assess the long-term plan for the park and update the Karen Hornaday Park Master plan.
“Then we can really can evaluate the whole space and look at details like, does that remain a campground in the long run? Does it turn into some other kind of recreational amenity?” Dumouchel said.
He said some funds are available through the Homer Foundation that can be put toward maintenance and replacement of some pieces of the park’s playground, but in the long run the park will need some investment.
The City will be looking for public feedback to determine how to move forward.
“I know there are going to be community visitors who really like that spot and are going to miss it but it’s not a big moneymaker and general enjoyment and safety at the park is more important than making a couple thousand dollars on the campgrounds,” Dumouchel said.
The city has a few other campgrounds out on the Spit and there are private options there as well. There is also the Homer Baycrest/ KOA Holiday site and the Anchor River Campground.
Emilie Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.