Page One

Berkeley Mourns Loss of Tuolomne Camp

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Monday August 26, 2013 - 08:58:00 PM

Nearly 150,000 acres have burned in the raging Rim Fire and the Berkeley-run camp Tuolumne Camp was destroyed in the blaze Sunday, according to the U.S. Fire Service.

The fire, which started on Aug. 17, has spread from Stanislaus National Forest into Yosemite National Park and has since destroyed 23 structures and is threatening as many as 4,500 others.

One of those structures is Berkeley's long-running family camp, located at 31585 Harden Flat Road near Groveland.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said this afternoon that the camp, comprised of several cabins, a dining hall, a main lodge and other recreational facilities on the Tuolumne River, has been a summer destination for generations.

He called the loss, "so sad" and recalled the retreat as "a Berkeley tradition." 

The camp has offered fishing, swimming, hiking and other activities since opening in 1922 for Berkeley residents and other locals. 

The fire burned through the camp but the full extent of damage has not been determined, Bates said. 

The mayor said he was planning to go at the end of the summer to see improvements made to buildings in the past few years. 

"I was anxious to see it," he said. 

The city leader said he will likely still visit but instead to assess damage and work on future plans for the charred space. 

"It would be wonderful if we could rebuild it," Bates said, but cautioned "if everything else is burned, it would be a camp without any 'there' there." 

He said the tough reality is that if the forest, centuries-old trees and surrounding environment have been destroyed beyond recognition, the camp "won't have the same ambiance." 

"The experience with all the trees and forest around it," he said, "It won't exactly have the same feel as the past." 

He said it was too soon to decide how to proceed with the campsite. 

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said with the active fire it is too dangerous to send anyone to the site, but that "the damage appears to be pretty's pretty devastating." 

The camp had been evacuated Tuesday as the flames neared. No injuries were reported when the blaze touched down at the camp. 

"People were legitimately concerned," Bates said, adding that everyone at the camp had returned to the Bay Area by late Tuesday night. 

The city runs two other summer camps at Echo Lake near Lake Tahoe and Cazadero in Sonoma County. 

Echo Lake Camp was closed and remaining sessions cancelled Friday because of heavy smoke from the Rim Fire affecting air quality. The camp itself is not threatened by the fire. 

San Francisco resident August Estabrook, 36, reminisced this afternoon about "magical" summers spent as a camper for seven years and then as a staff member for three more starting in the mid-1980s. 

"It was a very memorable place for me," he said. "That place has all my firsts. I look super fondly on that place." 

He said he is still coming to terms with the loss. 

"Now that it's gone, I haven't even digested it," he said. 

Although he hadn't attended camp for several years, he said every time he drives to Yosemite National Park he stops by the camp to say hello. 

After the smoke clears and the fire is controlled, Estabrook said he hopes that there is a rebuilding effort. 

"That location is so prime... I would love to see it come back," he said. 

He said he understands that there will be remnants of the fire for years to come and "I could see for how the first few years it would be maybe grim" but over time it will return to its former glory. 

He said he hopes to take his family there in the future. He attended the camp each summer with his cousins, grandparents and other relatives. 

"For me it was super magical," he said. 

To mourn the loss of the camp, Berkeley resident Shoshana Gizzi has organized a gathering at Berkeley's Civic Center Park at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Center Street where past attendees can sing camp songs, tell stories and reflect on the many summers in the trees. 

"There is so much grief and sorrow," Gizzi said. "Especially for the longtime families." 

Gizzi's family has been going to the camp for the past 10 years and was there at the end of July for their latest trip. 

She said tonight will be an opportunity for past attendees to "commemorate our time" and "remember Tuolumne." 

"I'm hoping our efforts will show the city how loved it is for us," she said. "I think people want an opportunity to come together." 

She recalled spending summers with her then-young daughters and how one lost her first tooth while at the camp. 

"Our house was a heap of tears," after her family heard the news, she said. 

The group will convene at 8 p.m. and everyone is encouraged to bring a candle or other light source, instruments and Tuolumne Camp T-shirts. 

Other former campers took to social media Sunday night and this morning to share memories of the camp and the many summers spent there. 

On the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page, Jess Kletz posted, "My family was just there two weeks ago and my 70-year-old father made an awesome tie-dyed towel at arts and crafts under the dinning hall. So sad... So very sad." 

Others offered help to rebuild the camp area, and Hollis Ashby wrote this morning, "Like a phoenix, she will rise again." 

Jane Rhodes wrote that she was heartbroken to hear about the loss. 

"Camp has been a part of my life since I was 3. I met and married the Camp Manager's kid...took my kids every summer...and was able to introduce my grandchildren (now 6 & 4) to the best summer vacations ever. There is a huge hole in my heart and I will cherish my memories." 

The fire has not affected other Bay Area-run camps including the University of California alumni camp Lair of the Golden Bear, located at 188 Dodge Ridge Road near Pinecrest, a forest service official said. 

Camp Mather, the San Francisco-run camp at 35250 Mather Road near Groveland, sustained some minor fire damage but all structures were intact as of Sunday night. 

There were also evacuations last week at the San Francisco-based Jewish summer camp Camp Tawonga, and the San Jose Family Camp, both near Groveland. 

San Jose city officials said the camp is closed for the rest of the season and all trips planned through the beginning of October have been canceled. 

The camp has not sustained major damage, but officials reported that there were 12 tent cabins that burned, an outbuilding that was destroyed and other equipment lost including two all-terrain vehicles, a log splitter and a tow-behind trailer. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation. 

As of this morning, the fire is 15 percent contained. 

Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared a state of emergency because of the fire last week, visited the area this morning to be briefed on the blaze and comment on the on-going response.  

He vowed to stay in communication with President Obama if more federal resources were needed to battle the blaze. Obama spoke with Brown Sunday to discuss the massive fire. 

According to the forest service, 3,678 fire personnel have responded to the wildfire.