Berkeleyans gather to remember Tuolumne camp

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Several hundred fans of the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp came together to share memories in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park on the evening of Monday Aug. 26. Photo: Ted Friedman

An estimated 300 people gathered Monday night in the heart of Berkeley to share memories of their time spent at Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp. The city-run camp was obliterated Sunday in the Rim Fire that continues to rage in the Yosemite area.

Many of those who showed up to Civic Center Park — some wearing the camp’s famous tie-dye T-shirts and some holding candles — had vacationed at the Sierra camp over several decades, often spanning several generations of families. There were happy reunions, and not as many tears as might have been expected. Instead, rousing camp-fire songs, according to Berkeleyside contributing photographer Ted Friedman who took the photos shown here.

“It was the happiest place on earth,” one participant said.


There were few tears, rather the sharing of happy memories at the celebration. Photo: Ted Friedman

Elaine Slusser Guyon has 50 years of memories of the camp which, she said, would help “keep her going.” Writing on the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page, whose followers organized the celebration/memorial, she said: “My dad worked at camp as a teenager and his stories are still and always will be with me…. We all lost a family member. Let’s hope there won’t be any red tape in rebuilding our beloved camp.”

Margaret Ridgway Wurm met her husband, Les, at the camp in 1976. He drove down from Ukiah yesterday and picked up their daughter Hilary and her husband Russell in Petaluma. The two couples went to camp together this year. “So glad I went [the the memorial gathering],” wrote Ridgway Wurm on the Facebook page. “Though the healing process will be slow, it was good to share it with so many.”

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Generations of local families have gone to the camp for summer vacations. Photo: Ted Friedman

In a statement issued Monday, the City of Berkeley confirmed that most structures on the camp’s site had burned. The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s department sent deputies to inspect the site Monday morning and planned to provide an update to the City.

“Throughout this emergency, City of Berkeley camp staff members dealt with the situation with great poise, ensuring the safety of campers and staff and the preservation of camp history,” the statement read. “Many important historical documents, such as photographs, wall hangings, the camp’s famous ‘tent chart’, and many other irreplaceable items were saved.”

All campers and staff had left the camp by Tuesday Aug. 20, before a mandatory evacuation order was issued.

A spokesperson for the city said the camp was insured, but that officials had not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the damage in order to decide what steps to take next.

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Supporters of the camp have already begun organizing to help rebuild it. Photo: Ted Friedman

The Rim Fire, which began on Saturday Aug. 17, has now burned an estimated 179,481 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Yesterday, fierce winds caused the blaze to push  forward on two fronts, threatening the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and at least three local towns: Tuolumne, Twain Harte and Ponderosa Hills. A total of 3,752 of fire personnel are battling the conflagration which is being described as the 13th-largest fire in California history. At latest count it was 20% contained.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state to combat the fire. FEMA funding is available to reimburse up to 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.

Meanwhile, supporters of the camp are already rallying to help efforts to rebuild the much loved camp. A Rebuild Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page has been created. Its founders say they will work closely with the City of Berkeley in the coming days and months “to determine how we can move forward and help with recovery efforts.”

Last night’s celebration ended at around 9:45 pm with people forming a circle and singing a song: a camp version of Taps. The send-off cheer could be heard blocks away.

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  • Adrienne Kristine

    And when the fire is completely out, you’ll be gathering volunteers to help rebuild? That would be the right thing to do so no one will have to wait to experience what you have at the camp. Good luck and best wishes!

  • Doug Avila

    Rebuild in a charred forest? It’s takes decades for forests to rebuild its self. It’s part of nature…forest fires.

  • Tony white

    I know that this massive fire didn’t allow personnel to be everywhere, but it seemed all other camps in the area were made priorities. That such a totally irreplaceable place (I agree with other comments that rebuilding in a charred forest seems hard to envision) should have had other measures taken to really protect it.

  • Regnad_Kcin

    The forests won’t remain charred forever. Take heart: after a couple of years, the changes to Yellowstone after that horrendous fire were life-affirming and wondrous.

    Tuolumne will be rebuilt, and yes, it will be different but no less amazing.

  • guest

    I just can’t help but compare the mostly or all white crowd bemoaning the loss of such a privilege with the humble crowd of mostly black community members at the BHS community reunion last weekend in San Pablo Park. We need to do better Berkeley. Is it just an advertising issue?

  • oaksterdame

    Dear Guest, I understand the sentiments you’re aiming for with your comment. There are greater issues facing Berkeley, the Bay area, and the world, it is true. Race and privilege do not, however, effect the grief at the loss of a family heirloom. If a home burned down it is surely not as heartbreaking as a murdered child (as happens with regularity in the streets of East Oakland). But, the sadness of one does not, and should not, diminish the sadness of the other. If we lived our lives according to that principle, people in developed nations should rarely feel the right to sorrow as we hear and see infinitely worse degrees of desperation and pain in developing nations. The world is a better place when we can sympathize with the pain of others while having perspective on our privilege. There is almost always a worse problem than our own, but we all have the right to feel sad.

  • guest

    Did you not see all the comments on the BHS reunion article?
    Guest makes a great point. BGal and Sharky were up in arms about the perceived lack of white revelers at the reunion, guest is just pointing it out.
    To be honest, I had the same initial reaction to these images as Guest after witnessing the vitriol and ridiculousness on the BHS reunion thread.

  • The_Sharkey

    No, guest makes exactly the kind of complaint that bgal4 was complaining about when she made her posts. Comments like this whining about a lack of non-whites are commonplace here and in the community, but any time white people are left out of something it doesn’t get mentioned at all.

    I was “up in arms” about the racial double standard and about people unfairly attacking bgal4 for making good points. Both strike me as unfair.

  • The_Sharkey

    It’s not an advertising issue, it’s a cultural issue. Black Americans, in general, don’t like camping.

  • Mbfarrel

    Well for a long time they weren’t really invited.

  • Mbfarrel

    The loss of Berkeley Camp is terrible, but thank god there are no people who have not (as yet) been lost.

  • margie

    From the story:”But in rural parks, a general absence of people of color — especially blacks — is evident, officials say.

    For one thing, the numbers work against Washington. The 2000 census
    showed that blacks make up 4 percent of the state’s population and less
    than 7 percent of King County’s.”
    This is not Berkeley…

  • The_Sharkey

    Oh? Do California’s State Parks operate by invitation only? I wasn’t aware.

  • Gab

    Wish I could have been there. We had to sing camp songs from hundreds of miles away. One of my kids’ favorites is “Please check the seat chart before you come inside…”
    But we will be back. Some of these people mixing it up in the comments need to get some camp spirit.

  • EBGuy

    Anyone have a sense if the City of Berkeley will have to pay lease fees to the forest service despite the fact that the camp is no longer there? That could get interesting if there isn’t revenue coming in to support the lease. Note: I’m relying a a poster from the previous thread that mentioned the land was leased (the City of Berkeley website uses the phrase under a special use permit with the United States Forest Service).

    I’ve being trying to track down items in The Budget — my fear, as always, is a line item once lost never returns (with out a special parcel tax). Haven’t had much luck; the best I can come up with is that 1.88 FTEs are required to run the Tuolumne , Echo Lake and Berkeley Day Camps. (The rest are temporary — over 400 part time/seasonal workers). It’s interesting to note that the current parks and rec work plan lists hiring a consultant to help with Tuolumne Camp Master Plan. How timely (and sad, given the circumstances).

  • The_Sharkey
  • anon

    What, no one is going to mention the irony of a candlelight vigil (during fire season) for a *burned down* camp?

  • subgirl

    What, no one is going to mention the irony of a candlelight vigil (during fire season) for a *burned down* camp?

  • janesuperstar

    I live one block from San Pablo Park and I was wondering why the BHS reunion was mostly attended by the African-American community. Is our town that segregated? I hope not, as I’m hoping to raise my son in a multiracial society. And, yes, I’m white.

  • lin

    Tuolumne Camp is run by the city of Berkeley, not the state