To tourists, a stretch of grassy, beachfront land on the Homer Spit near the Central Charters Boardwalk looks like the perfect place to pitch a tent, especially when dozens of others already have done so. But that’s not the case with a particular stretch of beach repeatedly being used on the Homer Spit.
City property is off limits to camping. Under the City of Homer’s ordinance regulating how and where people can pitch tents or park motor homes and campers, camping “is prohibited in areas other than those so designated by the City.” That means unless city property is designated as open to camping, it is prohibited. There is a $300 fine per offense for camping on city property where prohibited or outside designated areas.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, dozens of tents, cars and vans could be seen set up on a stretch of vegetated, wild beach near Central Charters. Vehicles had gouged tire tracks into the grass and torn up the berm leading to the road. People moved driftwood from the storm berm and built improvised camp sites.
Matt Steffy, Parks maintenance coordinator, said he counted 40 campers in that area over the Fourth of July weekend.
“That was all lost revenue,” he said. “It was one of those, I didn’t want to send my staff out to interact with visitors and I didn’t have anywhere to send them.”
Camping there and elsewhere on closed areas has been a problem this summer, Steffy said.
“It’s renegade camping,” he said. “They’ve been popping up all over. They’ve been camping at Bishop’s Beach.”
The only legal camping on city property on the Spit is Tent Area 2, on the northwest side of the Homer Shores Boardwalk across from Freight Dock Road; at the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon campground, and at Mariner Park near the base of the Spit. Nightly fees are required to camp in those areas. There also is overflow camping as needed on the old chip pad near the Deep Water Dock. There also are several private campgrounds on the Spit.
Campsites further up the beach toward the base of the Spit have eroded due to storms, and the city has rebuilt the area with dredging spoils. One campsite, Tent Area 1, is closed for the summer because of erosion. The city property further down the Spit by Central Charters and the Seafarers Memorial has suffered less erosion.
“It’s one of the few good stretches of green rye grass,” Steffy said of the beach near Central Charters. “If you look at Tent Area 2, it’s a good symbol of how well that rye grass can hold onto the beach and keep it from washing away.”
Steffy said he and campground workers have tried to get the word out to campers that the area is closed. They’ve left notes on tents and vans, but people aren’t always there when workers stop by.
“We end up leaving lots of notes for people,” he said.
To keep campers out of the beach near Central Charters, Steffy said he’ll have staff put up driftwood and other barriers. He said he thinks most of the renegade campers are Alaskans visiting from elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and difficulties traveling Outside, campgrounds throughout Alaska have seen more use this summer.
“It’s unfortunate the Alaskans who come here treat this place worse than the out of staters,” Steffy said.
Homer is a COVID-safe community and officials ask campers to follow these guidelines:
■ Practice social distancing. Maintain at least 6 feet of separation between you and other non-household members at all times.
■ Stick to your campsite and refrain from gathering at other campsites.
■ Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
■ Wear a cloth face covering when around others or when using public facilities. (CDC does not recommend face coverings for children 2 years old and younger.)
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.