By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Over the last two summers, The Acres at Creekbend Cafe in Hope has offered live music in an outdoor setting. The shows have brought in many visitors, and some residents say there are too many, overwhelming the small town and creating a number of problems.
The issue reached a peak after the summer solstice celebration with Clinton Fearon and Deadphish Orchestra on June 22, which drew an unexpectedly large crowd with visitor parking overwhelming the streets. During and after the concert, there were reports of tires being slashed and complaints about intoxicated people roaming the streets, public urination, drug use and public alcohol consumption.
Days later, some Hope residents circulated a complaint petition and a resource guide, which encouraged residents to file complaints against the business. The guide had contact information for the owners of Creekbend as well as federal, state and Kenai Peninsula Borough regulatory agencies.
A week after the concert, nonprofit Hope, Inc. held its quarterly meeting at Hope Social Hall, with standing room only. Hope is unincorporated and does not have local taxes. Hope, Inc. is the town’s governing body and distributes funds through its Community Assistance Fund (CAF). Residential taxes paid to Kenai Peninsula Borough are returned through the CAF.
The other source of revenue comes from the Annual Wagon Run proceeds that go toward cleaning and maintaining the public bathrooms on Main Street. The rest of the CAF goes to the Hope museum, library, social hall and fire department. The limited revenue presents challenges for infrastructure and other projects.
Scotty Smith, President of Hope, Inc., ran the meeting and prefaced it by noting that tension was high in the small community.
“Let’s remember first and foremost we’re all neighbors,” Smith said. “Let’s look forward to positive solutions for any differences we may have. If we can’t work toward that, if we can’t be constructive, then we need to figure out another way for our outlets.”
Shelly Christopherson cited concerns about sanitation, parking, safety and the exponential increase in visitors. She said Creekbend has a responsibility for the increase in visitors and the effects they have on Hope.
“For the record, I’m not trying to shut down Creekbend,” Christopherson said. “I am trying to increase a collaborative effort to have a conversation and create some solutions.”
Tom Miller said concerns about too many visitors have been common in Hope over the last 10 to 15 years, with blame often placed on small groups or businesses such as fisherman, the Seaview Cafe and Bar, and now Creekbend for the increase in traffic. Miller took issue with the way some residents were going about addressing the problems.
“It doesn’t do a lot of good to point fingers at a legally-operated business or business man,” Miller said. “The harassment of the business, […] is just really anti-Hope. It’s anti-Alaska. There are other ways to do it.”
“Creekbend is not the only reason there are more people in Hope,” Milled continued. “It’s been coming for a long time. The community hasn’t been proactive enough to address the issues. I hope an event like this brings us together and doesn’t tear us apart. We’re all better than that.”
Creekbend co-owner Steve Thomas, who also owns Coldwater Lodge and Market, read a written statement. Thomas first apologized to the community for what had happened the previous weekend and said he was looking for the best way to address the concerns.
He said Creekbend has been fine-tuning the events since they began last year, but that the previous weekend had taken him by surprise. Creekbend had the required permit for the event posted and will notify troopers in the future before events take place.
“As many of you know Delaney [wife and co-owner] and I operate our business 100 percent by the books, and we would never blatantly disregard laws or permits,” Thomas said. “We are both super passionate about both of our businesses and hope to continue to improve them for the next 20 years.”
Thomas acknowledged parking as an issue and said 40 spaces were created on the property this year. He’s looking into private options and a public parking lot to generate revenue. He said Hope needs to prepare to handle future growth or face inevitable growing pains as visitors increase yearly. He said the issues of not enough bathrooms, noise levels, parking and garbage all have solutions.
After Thomas spoke, a resident named Laura said she had spoken with him about the impact of the event. “There were so many people camping at the side of the road,” she said. “It’s the amount of people that come to a venue when you have a town that has 180 residents in it.”
Hope resident Charlie Howard stated that, with little land available, a parking lot is a complex issue. He noted the increase of camping but not an increase of parking over the past few years. He said the businesses bringing people in need to play a bigger role in handling the parking issue.
“It can’t be just put back on Hope, Inc., the APC Board [Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Advisory and Planning Commissions] and public citizens to come up with this parking. There has to be some willingness of the businesses drawing people here. If you were in a city under zoning, you wouldn’t be expected to have full capacity parking, but 60, 70, 80 percent is a reasonable number. If you want to take care of one problem, effectively park in the lands you have.”
Alaska State Trooper Sargent Ben Henderson of the Seward Trooper post was in attendance at the meeting. Henderson said AST is planning to show more of a presence in Hope, especially during larger events. He encouraged residents to call with any issues with crowds.
Elizabeth O’Malley spoke about the origins of the dispute. “What started all of this is the noise,” O’Malley said. “It started last summer. My cabin is a quarter mile away. With the windows and the doors closed, if I knew the music, I could give you a playlist, and that is just intrusive. You are stealing my peace. You are intruding on my property.”
Morgan Lopez spoke about the sense of community at Creekbend.
“I’ve seen the majority of you at Creekbend, enjoying their concerts, listening to their music, enjoying the food. There is a lot of positive impact. It has not all been negative. We have to work together. We have to make it work for everybody,” she said.
Discussion ensued until Smith said the key issues seemed identified and understood. A motion passed forming a committee to assess the issues with Creekbend and what could be done to resolve them. The committee will work with Hope and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce to look into noise levels, state laws and regulations.