Visitors to Homer’s Karen Hornaday Playground will be able to use a new slide and swings as equipment upgrades were started this summer on the community playground, now on its 11th year. Some of the upgrades are already completed.
Of the original funding, there was $16,000 remaining at the beginning of the summer in the Homer Funding budget from the Homer Playground Project that was appropriated to utilize for replacement parts.
The primary improvements to the new equipment included replacement of new stands and hardware for the large slide chute. There is also a new tire swing on the upper playground and two new model-diggers; one that is now handicapped accessible will be installed in the sand area on the lower playground at the bottom of the slide chute, according to Matt Steffy, parks superintendent for the City of Homer. Those will be arriving at the beginning of September. Other smaller bits of hardware will also be replaced, he said.
“We’re considering changing out the wood components of the playground but not quite yet. It still has some life left in it so we’ll mostly be replacing parts as needed for now. The city is looking into a more long-term budget for the parks department for larger parts of Karen Hornaday playground, other playgrounds and public restrooms,” he said.
Steffy noted that the parks department has encountered an increase in malicious vandalism during the second half of the 2023 summer in various places around town, mostly spray-painting and tagging, and this has impacted the playground also. Addressing this is something that the Homer Police is working on now and parks staff is exploring other ways to discourage this behavior, he said.
“The parks crew has vastly diminished in size until we can secure a little more funding,” Steffy said. “But one full-time employee we have is Matt Hornaday and he refers to the playground as ‘Mom’s Park’. He pays particular care not just in doing time for the city but even when he’s not on the job. He really tries to make a presence up there and keep an eye on the park.”
There is a gate located at the base of the road to the park and one option in consideration is to establish set operating hours and lock gates to the park during off hours. The challenge is determining who will be responsible for locking the park in the evening, an issue similar to what the city has faced with the public restroom facilities on Pioneer Avenue at the base of Bartlett Street, Steffy said.
The Karen Hornaday Campground was closed for the 2023 summer season and parks is reviewing some options for improving that space.
“Ever since COVID, we made that into a shelter campground for people who didn’t have somewhere else to go during the pandemic. It worked well for the first part of the summer but it had some problems later with quite a bit of police presence. Unfortunately in the 2021-2022 summer seasons, that kind of continued,” Steffy said.
The city decided to close the campground and see if that helped break the misconduct occurring in the campground. The city also took some steps to clear out some of the overgrown brush and alders and open the space up a little bit more.
“Five years ago, you couldn’t see the Spit view from anywhere in the campground; at the main kiosk itself there was a wall of alders 30 feet tall. At the same time, we want to protect a little bit of the coziness, so it’s selective,” Steffy said.
There are some other issues the campground needs to address— a priority is re-leveling the campsites. The general trend in camping in Alaska is more RVs and fewer tent campers and the current sites are not very level, Steffy said. For outsiders, the site location is difficult to find and the city is looking at providing better signage to resolve that.
During the 2023 summer closure, the city gave the the local disc golf association permission to install a nine-hole course on the property. The association, with help from volunteers for the city, installed the course on “Serve the City” day. That’s been a popular use for the campground this summer, according to Steffy.
The Karen Hornaday Park implemented a master plan in 2009 and the city is working on a supplement to that to address issues that have come up since then. The city is particularly interested in what the Little League organization and Homer Softball Association might want to upgrade with the ball fields.
The main issues the city will consider for next summer is where the new restroom will be located and where the plumbing will run, parking improvements, continued considerations for the upper campground area and special event logistics.
“Karen Hornaday is the prime location for special events but we’re starting to reach capacity at all of them. These include the annual Easter Egg hunt, Highland Games and Concert on the Lawn. Parking is an issue for all of these so we’re working on traffic control plans for all of those,” Steffy said.