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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Community Profile: Homer


Gazette

Homer sits at the base of the lush green hills of the Crossman Ridge, with views of Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet and the towering Kenai Mountains. Situated on a protected point on the Kenai Peninsula, the community is at once picturesque and productive, with its rolling landscape and busy harbor.


Homer

Homer (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

Location: Lat. 59E 38' N, Long. 151E 33' W

Area: 11 square miles

Population: 4,205

Industry: Fishing, fish processing, tourism

Access: Air, sea, summer ferry, road

Alaska Native Affiliation: Athabascan, historically Eskimo, Alutiiq

Alaska Native Regional Corporation: Alaska Native Regional Corporation, Cook Inlet Native Region Corporation

Weather: Winter temperatures range from 14 to 27 degrees Fahrenheit, summer between 45 and 65 degrees. The town receives and average of 22 inches of rain and 55 inches of snow each year. 

Historical Overview

  • The Homer area was home first to Pacific Eskimos and later to Dena'ina Indians. The area attracted gold prospectors in the late 1800s, who found the long natural spit an ideal boat launch and way station for their trips into the interior.
  • Homer was named for mining company promoter and con man Homer Pennock, who built mining bunkhouses on the spit in 1896. With the construction of a post office that same year, miners, eager for a decent bed and news from home, crowded into town. But the mining ventures failed, and the boom did not last. Pennock, and just about everyone else, left town. By 1902, the area was close to abandoned.
  • Between 1910 and 1920, Homer gained new life as homesteaders settled on the spit, taking jobs at nearby canneries.
  • In the late 1950s, Homer was connected to the rest of the Kenai Peninsula with the completion of the Sterling Highway.
  • Homer's once had the world's longest natural spit, but its elevation dropped a full six feet during the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Much of the spit was submerged, and many buildings simply tumbled into the bay. The earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale, was the largest ever recorded in North America.

Economy

  • Homer's economy is based, first and foremost, on fish. Five-hundred and twenty residents hold commercial fishing permits, and every summer the town is flooded with seasonal workers coming to staff the many salmon canneries.
  • The town is visited by ten cruise ships each summer, and hundreds of tourists make day trips along the scenic roads of the Kenai Peninsula. This, coupled with the growing sports fishing charter industry, makes for a lively tourist season. The construction of a multi-million dollar U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Visitor Center is expected to bring even more visitors to the area.
  • Logging is an important industry in the region, with spruce and pellet wood being the principal forest product exports.

Community Issues

  • Homer's economy remains strong despite declining salmon catches and a fire that nearly destroyed a major fish processor, Icicle Seafoods, in 1998. Analysts point to road access and brisk competition as reasons for Homer's continued growth in the face of a general economic decline in the state.
  • In many fishing communities, the major fish processor owns the dock and buys all the fish caught in an area at a set price. But Homer owns its dock outright, and fishermen are able to sell to a number of processors. This has spawned a halibut auction system; boat captains offer their catches via radio, and the highest bidder wins. Fish processors are willing to pay more for fish in Homer, since road access means that the catch can be at the Anchorage's international airport within five hours. Not surprisingly, the halibut auction system has attracted boats and bidders, and boosted the local economy. Auctions for other kinds of seafood are expected to open soon.

(View the Homer daily log entry)

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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