Roadtrippin’ 2022: The icy history of the Homer Spit

For nearly 60 years the spit has been in development, but the formation of it has an icy past
Roadtrippin’ 2022: The icy history of the Homer Spit
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 9:52 AM AKDT
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HOMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Thousands of years before Homer became the halibut fishing capital of the world, the land and surrounding areas were home to a massive glacier. It’s this glacier that would eventually carve out Kachemak Bay and the Homer Spit.

“I never once asked the question why is it here or how it’s here,” Homer Port and Harbor Director Bryan Hawkins said. “When I went to work for the harbor and the city, that became one of the responsibilities of the job.”

The spit’s origins can be traced back to nearly 15,000 years ago as the terminal moraine of the glacier began to recede. This type of moraine forms at the very end of a glacier and is composed of rocks, sediments and soils. As the glacier receded, not only did the formation of the spit occur but Kachemak Bay was slowly being created.

The spit has changed numerous times throughout history, but one of the more unique aspects of it is how nature is constantly recreating the spit.

“It’s fed by materials that are eroded off the bluff all the way from Anchor Point,” Hawkins said. “And those currents carry those materials all the way down the length of the spit, and then eventually dump them out into deep water.”

Hawkins says this is a continual cycle year-round. The spit builds up during the summertime due to the flow of sediments and then breaks down in the winter, as storms roar through the area.

“Spits will erode, they do move side to side a little bit, they get built up to get tore down,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes they even get breached through a major storm, but then they’ll kind of self-heal and reshape over time.”

What’s even more interesting about the spit is that theoretically, it could extend the entire width of Kachemak Bay. However, the materials that travel the length of the spit fall off into the deep holes of Kachemak Bay, which at its maximum is nearly 600 feet deep. The sediment that manages to settle around the spit also requires yearly maintenance from the Corps of Engineers.

“The mouth of the harbor has to be dredged every year to keep it to the control depth,” Hawkins said.

Those dredge materials are then reintroduced to the system for beach nourishment and to help the spit maintain its elevations. A study in the 1970s highlighted just how much sediment flows from Anchor Point to the iconic spit.

“They figured about 800,000 cubic yards of material travel through here a year,” Hawkins said.

This isn’t the only force that is continuously driving the growth of the spit. A warming climate, while destructive along many coastal regions, is actually helping the surrounding area.

“We know that sea level is rising, and we know the glaciers are receding and more water is entering into the ocean,” Hawkins said. “And so what does that mean to us?”

Enter isostatic rebound. As the glaciers recede, the weight coming off the land is forcing the land to actually rise or rebound. The amount that the spit and surrounding area rise each year outpaces the sea level rise, thereby preventing any significant loss to rising waters.

However, due to natural forces of erosion along the bluffs that feed the spit, many homes and the road system are in jeopardy.

“There’s a few locations where the highway is getting dangerously close to the edge,” Hawkins said. “And we will have to relocate the highway and some houses of authority that had to been moved or abandoned.”

It’s a continuous cycle that requires some maintenance to keep it usable for Alaskans and the many tourists who continue to frequent the 4.5-mile narrow piece of land.

From its icy start nearly 15,000 years ago to its construction of the spit as we know it today, the future is constantly evolving.

“We have a waiting list of people trying to get a stall in the harbor of over 400 people,” Hawkins said. “So our plan is to expand the harbor.”

According to Hawkins, a three-year study will be conducted in partnership with the state of Alaska, the city of Homer and the federal government. The results of the study will then be used to draw in investments.

“We’re saying to the federal government, come to Homer, Alaska, and spend $200 million to build this harbor,” Hawkins said. “And we have to, we have to be competitive on a federal scale and national scale.”

Those investments are meant to create a lifetime of memories for those who vacation or visit the second-longest spit in the world.

“You know, families can have affordable vacations, and we build what I think is a multi-generational customer, and that those kids bring their families back too,” Hawkins said. “So there’s something for everybody. I think that’s that’s the unique thing about it.”

Click here if you would like to read more about the large vessel port expansion.

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