According to local author Janet Klein who interviewed Dena’ina elder Peter Kalifornsky before his death in 1993, Dena’ina sea otter hunters used to gather at the base of the Spit prior to their hunt.
Sea otter hunts were organized affairs, with groups of men in single kayaks surrounding the animals, which were used for fur and not eaten. Middens on and near the base of the Spit containing clam, mussel and cockle shells reveal that this strange finger of land — Uzintun, or “extends out into the distance” — was more than just a way point, it was a land of opportunity and a gateway to the rich, rich sea.
Resourcefulness characterizes the way people have always used the Spit. Today’s no different. Each summer brings a slightly different constellation of opportunities to the Spit, as well as many of the same bedrock entities that have been around for decades.
Some accounts say that the Salty Dawg launched the Spit’s tourism industry. When it opened in 1957, it comprised a single log cabin at the tip of the Spit near where mariners anchored boats in an inlet that no longer exists. If the Dawg initiated tourism, Land’s End Hotel took it up a notch, although a small one at first.
“It looked like a warehouse,” 69-year-old Homer resident Findlay Abbott remembered about the early years of the hotel, “but, heck, it was the best place in Homer.”
In its infancy, the hotel, constructed by original owner Earl Hillstrand, was a mash-up of a surplus military kitchen and barracks as well as new construction framed out of local spruce milled on the Spit. Hillstrand, who was a territorial and then state legislator, expanded the hotel over the next two decades.
In the early 1970s, you could get a crab meal at the hotel restaurant for $2.25, and it came from Kachemak Bay. Today the crab isn’t local and a one-pound meal will set you back $27. First envisioned as a place where Hillstrand’s friends
would come stay, owner Jon Faulkner said they now serve 12,000-14,000 hotel guests per year.
The Frosty Bear is another Spit institution. Built 35 years ago with the boardwalk it sits on, the ice cream joint has operated under a few different owners and names. Jackie Dentz, who has owned the business with her husband, Willie, for the last 16 years, said not much has changed in the shop over the last decade and a half. Even the ice chest and waffle irons used to make cones are the same. She keeps 300 gallons of ice cream on hand in case of a rush and said she served 2,500 people this past Memorial Day.
The Spit was originally developed because it was convenient to deep-water anchorage. Elsewhere on the north side of Kachemak Bay, expansive tidal flats make moving from ship to shore difficult on all but the highest tides. Over the years, boats have harbored in different locations around the Spit. In 1963, Homer’s first small boat harbor was completed but it had to be rebuilt after the 1964 Earthquake and then again in 1965 after being clobbered by fierce winter weather.
Today marks the official opening of the new Homer Port and Harbor Office on the east side of the harbor. Although the change in location means that harbor employees can’t see the harbor entrance or fish dock fully from the building, Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said the new location makes sense when looking at the city’s long-term vision to develop a boat harbor for 100-200-foot vessels to the east of the existing harbor.
Hawkins refers to Homer as “the gateway to Cook Inlet,” and envisions the harbor playing a major role during construction of new liquefied natural gas facilities and in ongoing support of LNG and other oil and gas operations in the region. Expanded harbor facilities would allow the city to serve rig tenders and other large vessels that right now can only tie up temporarily at the Deep Water Dock.
Also new to the Spit this year is Cycle Logical’s bike rental kiosk behind La Baleine Cafe, along the bike trail extended last year. The rental shack is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They’re renting all types of bikes — mountain bikes, cruisers, kids’ bikes, fat bikes for adults and kids — as well as running tours and group rides. And they can do basic bike repairs for any rider on the Spit.
There’s a new Mexican food truck on the Spit, too, across from the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, although you might miss it because its sign can’t compete with the glare of sea and sun. And you can check out Captain Pattie’s new wing, with views across the inlet on a nice day.
A venture out the Spit always uncovers something interesting. Have you seen how the impressive circle hook sculpture by Moose Run Metalsmiths and Bay Welding at the turn off to the launch ramp shivers in the day breeze? Have you lingered at Coal Point Park on the south side of the harbor just past the fish dock? It’s a great place to watch boats at work and a good reminder of Homer’s history as a coal town.
At 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night, 72-year-old Jackie Dentz is still scooping ice cream at Frosty Bear. But she’s ready to retire and has put the business up for sale. You, too, could own a piece of Spit history. You, too, could shape the Spit’s future or at least a couple of waffle cones.
Miranda Weiss is a Homer writer.
Homer Port & Harbor Office
5 p.m. Thursday, June 11,
What: Official opening ceremony, hors d’oeuvres and tours
Who: Public invited
by the Numbers
Number of businesses on the Spit: about 105 (excluding commercial and charter vessels without storefronts)
Number of private property owners: 20
Number of boardwalks: 8
Number of campgrounds (tent and/or RV): 6
Number of shower stalls open to the public: 12
Number of places to get a tattoo of the shape of the Spit on your arm: 1