Since the early days when the Peterson Bay Field Station opened in 1983, visitors to the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies environmental education center started their trip off with a little exercise. After arriving by boat from Homer, visitors got off at a floating dock and then onto a raft. Hauling on a rope and a pulley system, they then moved the raft to shore and climbed a stairway up to the field station.
As of April, that system is no more. Last Friday, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies — CACS — held a celebration dedicating its new metal dock and ramp. As a boatload of visitors waited at the top of the gangway, Rasmuson Foundation chief executive officer Diane Kaplan, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and CACS executive director Beth Trowbridge cut the ribbon.
“I know quite a few of you who walked up that dock ramp got quite a shock,” Trowbridge said in her celebratory remarks. “It is not the beloved raft system. Change is hard — there were a few tears, but they were not from the staff.”
The new dock and ramp is more like those in the Homer Harbor. A floating dock rises and falls with the tide on large pilings. An 80-foot ramp connects the dock to a gangway, and the gangway links the system to boardwalks leading up to the field station.
The Rasmuson Foundation and the Murdock Charitable Trust each gave $135,000 grants to help build the dock. The Sam Skaggs Foundation also gave a $5,000 grant. The $75,000 balance of the $350,000 total cost was raised through fundraisers, donations and even “Rock the Dock” T-shirt sales.
Trowbridge said the need for a new dock became obvious when the old system started going dry on low tides. A sandbar had built up from sediment pushed out by a lagoon to the west and the floating dock on pilings went dry and got jammed up against the sandbar. CACS moved the dock to the east side of the pilings.
“That’s when it became very obvious this was a temporary fix,” Trowbridge said. “That sandbar continued to creep.”
Other Peterson Bay neighbors also complained about the dock marring their view. CACS realized that to maintain access to the field station, they’d need a new dock. The dock now is closer to shore and a channel beyond the sandbar and doesn’t block neighbors’ views.
CACS got its start in March 1982 as the China Poot Bay Society, a group formed to advance environmental education. It bought an unfinished cabin from Dr. James Wong and by 1983 had completed the building that is now the field station. That year, the first school group, students from Paul Banks Elementary School, visited. By 1984 the society started offering day tours to the field station. Eventually the China Poot Bay Society became the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. It now has the Peterson Bay Field Station, the 140-acre Carl Wynn Nature Center on East Skyline Drive and its headquarters on Smoky Bay Way off Lake Street.
Kaplan said she remembered the first grant application from CACS when she was on the staff with the Rasmuson Foundation. No one knew of CACS, so Ed Rasmuson, the Anchorage banker whose family started the foundation, said to call former legislator Clem Tillion in Halibut Cove.
“He said, ‘Oh, they’re a little bit greenie, but they’re good people. You should fund them,’” Kaplan said she remembered Tillion saying.
Over the years, along with the big grant for the dock, the Rasmuson Foundation has funded smaller projects, like yurt platforms and a kitchen remodel. Trowbridge said the upgrades have made the facility more attractive to groups.
Located in a little cove at the head of Peterson Bay about 5 miles from the Homer Spit, the field station is on a peninsula separating China Poot Bay from Peterson Bay. Boat tours to the field station swing by Gull Island. The setting offers the best of the Kachemak Bay south shore: tide pooling and beach walks around the lagoon and hikes in lush rain forests. The Lost and Found Lake Trail, for example, takes hikers through stands of spruce and past blueberry bushes to a gem of a little lake.
From April to October, school groups visit for day or overnight educational trips. CACS offers day tours that include a trip across the bay, guided tide pooling and forest hikes. Touch tanks and aquariums on the field station deck give a close-up view of marine life. Through St. Augustine’s Kayak and Tours, people also can take a half-day kayak adventure. Five, six-person yurts accommodate groups or people who just want to extend their stay. CACS also offers family camps on several weekends a summer. Trowbridge said the family camp is similar to what kids might experience.
“It’s kind of like a combination of a low-key school program,” she said. “They can look at microscopes. We make fish printing T-shirts.”
People also can book yurts for group events like family reunions. Marilyn Sigman, a former CACS executive director who also is a writer, has organized a writing retreat at the field station for later this summer.
“We would love to do that more,” Trowbridge said. “It’s comfortable. It’s still remote. It’s nice to be over there. It’s quiet. It’s not too difficult to get to.”
Don’t expect a lush Alaska wilderness lodge with gourmet meals — unless you cook them yourself. The yurts have power and electric heaters, but the toilets are compostable privies. The kitchen has stoves, sinks and pots and pans.
“We’re still rustic,” Trowbridge said. “It’s not too fancy.”
User fees for the Peterson Bay Field Station tours and other CACS programs provide about 60 percent of its funding. Trowbridge said the goal is for CACS to keep and also expand its year-round program with full-time staff.
People on a limited budget who want to visit Peterson Bay can do so by volunteering at end-of-season work parties. There also are projects volunteers can do during the season, like clearing trails. Field station coordinator Katie Gavenus has a punch list for volunteers, Trowbridge said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information and reservations: 907-235-6667; www.akcoastalstudies.org
March 1982: Founded as the China Poot Bay Society
1982: Dr. James Wong cabin purchased and finished, becomes Peterson Bay
1983: First school group from Paul Banks Elementary School visits field station
1990: First floating dock installed
2014: Metal dock installed and dedicated
Peterson Bay Field Station
Features: Kitchen, eating area, community space, outdoor deck and fire pit, composting toilets, yurt cabins, salt water aquarium and touch tanks.
Peterson Bay Trail System:
Bog Trail, short trail with view of sundew carnivorous plants
Lost and Found Lake Trail, 1.2 miles, 1-2 hour hike; Earthquake Point Trail, 2 miles round trip, 3-4 hour hike
China Poot Bay Beach Trail (low tide), 20-minute hike
Peterson Bay Natural History Day Tour, $140; includes boat ride, tour of Gull Island, and 8-hour visit at the field station
Peterson Bay Day Tour and kayak tour, $180; includes boat ride, tour of Gull Island, and kayak tour
Overnight at Peterson Bay in a yurt, $35/person or $120 six-person yurt (free to CACS members)
Aug. 8-10, $450 includes two adults and one child; $375 includes one adult and 1 child; each additional family member is $80. Kayaking is optional and an additional $50 per person.