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Meet Linda Rowell: Homer Harbor’s historian and tour guide for over two decades

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Courtesy of Pratt Museum
Linda Rowell poses in front of the Salty Dog Saloon, at the Homer Harbor History Tour kiosk.

Linda Rowell competed with the noise of seagulls and boat horns in the Homer Harbor, as she guided tourists and locals on a walking tour of the Spit in early July.

Rowell is a 76-year-old former teacher and has lived in Alaska for nearly five decades. And for the past 25 years, she has volunteered as the guide for the Homer Harbor History Tour through the Pratt Museum.

Even though she originally had no intention of living in Alaska, she said guiding the tour allows her to introduce tourists and locals to the place she has come to love.

“I grew up in Maryland, married a soldier from the Midwest, and on our first date, he told me someday he was moving to Alaska,” Rowell said. “And my response was, ‘Well, good for you.’ But about four years later, we picked up and moved to Alaska, in 1974.”

Rowell worked in Alaska as a teacher with Head Start, where she focused on rural education programs which allowed her to travel to remote locations all around the state.

“I always laugh. My husband was the one who wanted to see Alaska and I'm the one who did. So I always teased him about that,” Rowell said, giggling.

After retiring in 1995, Rowell and her husband moved to the Anchor Point area, settling in the community of Nikolaevsk. She said her husband, who was a woodworker, spent the majority of his time working on their house. But she got restless and wanted to continue teaching.

“I said to him, ‘You know, I can't paint one more thing. I have to find something else to do.’”

So, she started volunteering with the Pratt Museum in Homer, first as a docent, guiding guests throughout the natural history museum’s galleries. She was so good at guiding school groups there that Don Ronda, a long-time volunteer and a former principal in Homer, suggested she lead the organization’s Harbor Tours.

“And he looked at me and said, ‘You can do it!’ And I've been doing it ever since,” Rowell said.

On an overcast day in early July, Rowell began her tour at a kiosk made from the wheelhouse of a boat. It’s located outside the well-known Salty Dog Saloon on Homer’s Spit.

She said she likes to begin the tour there for several reasons: The Salty Dawg, which resembles a shingled lighthouse attached to several weathered log cabins, is one of the oldest buildings in Homer, according to Rowell. It was first built as an office building for a coal company owned by three local coal miners. One of those miners was Homer Pennock, who the city of Homer is named after.

After venturing through the old log cabin bar with its low ceilings and thousands of dollar bills tacked to the walls, Rowell led the group of around a dozen tourists down the metal walkway to the harbor to talk about fishing boats.

“Stop right here and look at this boat,” she told the crowd, pointing at one of the dozens of boats in the harbor. “This boat that we see right here is a purse seiner. You purse seine for fish that swim in schools.”

Rowell said she didn’t know much about the fishing industry before she started hosting the tour. But after nearly two decades, she seems to be an expert.

After winding less than a quarter mile down the Spit, pointing out the various types of boats to her excited guests, she ended the tour at Coal Point Seafoods, a local fish processing plant. There, the tourists and locals watched seasonal workers filet sockeye salmon at the long silver fileting table.

And while this might have marked the first and even last time some of them have seen this kind of work, Rowell will be back at it tomorrow, teaching a new group of tourists about Homer’s history.

Corrected: August 5, 2022 at 10:07 AM AKDT
A previous version of this story misspelled the 'Salty Dawg.'
Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Desiree has called Alaska ‘home’ for almost two decades. Her involvement in radio began over 10 years, first as a volunteer DJ at KBBI, later as a host and producer, and now in her current role as a reporter. Her passions include stories relating to agriculture, food systems and rural issues. In her spare time, she can often be found riding her bicycle, creating art from handmade paper, or working in the garden.
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