Berkeley Tuolumne Camp supporters push to rebuild

Photo taken Sept. 2 at the site of the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp. Courtesy: City of Berkeley

Photo taken Sept. 2 at the site of the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp. Courtesy: City of Berkeley

Supporters of Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp, which was destroyed by the Rim Fire in August, came out last week to urge fast action and promise volunteer muscle in the city’s efforts to rebuild the much-loved institution.

Supporters of the camp were among about 40 people who turned out for a meeting organized by the city’s Parks and Waterfront Commission to get community feedback from local residents about their hopes for parks and recreation facilities going forward. The meeting, which was held last Wednesday night, was the second in a series; the third meeting, which is focused on South Berkeley, takes place tonight, Oct. 16. (Scroll to the bottom of this story for details.)

Discussions are in their preliminary stages, but the commission may well be laying the groundwork for a new parcel tax, bond measure or some combination of the two. Staffing and financial cutbacks driven by challenging economic times have left holes in the city budget for spending on parks and recreation, and commission members say they want to find a way to address the shortfall. City staff described a $40 million backlog of unfunded projects, and 30 fewer staff positions than the department had as of about a decade ago.

Last Wednesday, Tuolumne Camp wasn’t the only focus for members of the public, but it was at the heart of many public comments. Attendees spoke about the camp’s importance, the high level of interest in volunteer assistance with rebuilding it, and the potential of perhaps expanding the program into a year-round facility.

Others in attendance spoke in support of the need to craft a master plan that could drive the vision for city parks and recreation facilities before any decisions about spending are made. City pools were also a subject of concern for speakers; some said current pools should be improved, while others advocated for the creation of a large, modern aquatic center instead. Attendees also said, for many city parks and facilities, volunteers are eager to help, but cannot do so effectively because the city lacks the resources to oversee those efforts.

Charlie Bowen, head of Berkeley Path Wanderers and a member of the Berkeley Partners for Parks, said the city would need to hire someone like a volunteer coordinator to do the job right.

“It sounds easy, but it’s not so easy,” she told the commission. “You have to stop people from doing things that can’t endure because of codes or state regulations or something like that. It’s very much fraught with a lot of difficulties to use volunteers effectively, and coordinate with other non-volunteer things happening. It’s fertile ground. We need it more now, but it’s a little tricky.”

City staff: Tuolumne Camp clean-up has been “Herculean task”

Roger Miller, secretary to the Parks and Waterfront Commission, said the city has been working non-stop since the Rim Fire to clean up the Tuolumne Camp site.

“City staff are still mourning the loss as much as everyone is,” he said.

Miller said Scott Ferris, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront department, has been working “10-hour days seven days a week” to secure the area before the rainy season hits. The city hired an independent contractor to take the steps needed to keep ash and other debris from washing into the Tuolumne River. Last week, Miller said that part of the job was nearly complete.

The city also must identify and remove any hazardous materials, such as lead paint, PCBs and metals from melted generators, which “you can’t just bring to a landfill,” Miller said. The city is designing a sampling plan to determine how to proceed with site testing to ensure the area is safe before a rebuilt proceeds.

He said the city is also working with the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the land in Stanislaus National Forest where the camp stood, to implement clean-up and stabilization measures, which must be in place before the rains begin. (Miller noted that the Farmers’ Almanac predicts they will arrive Oct. 30 at noon.)

The Forest Service, added Miller, has strict codes related to building, erosion and water quality; the city will have to update camp facilities to comply with those codes.

“That’s a big, lengthy process,” he said, given that the camp is an area that includes steep grades, and that it’s near the river in a floodplain.

Insurance adjusters are still in the process of evaluating the damage, and determining the value of the lost structures. Insurance is slated to cover the cost of the clean-up and rebuild, said Miller, adding, “That’s what it says on paper.”

The city is working on a master plan for the camp project, which he described as a “lengthy process that will take many, many, many months.”

“We’re right in the middle of trying to put some muscle behind it,” he told those in attendance. “What this has revealed is it’s a complex issue. We’re right in the middle of figuring out what needs to be figured out.”

In response to a question from the public, Miller said the city would likely know much more by April, as far as what insurance will cover. But larger questions are likely to loom as far as the master plan process, code compliance with federal regulations and more. He noted that five different regulatory agencies are involved in discussions about the camp’s future.

“Rebuilding after a forest fire is not a routine thing for any of these agencies,” said Miller. “They have to figure out what regulations to comply with, that we have to comply with. By next April we’ll definitely know more, but that’s all we know right now.”

Interest from volunteers runs high

Phil Coffin, an avid Tuolumne Camp fan who is on the board of the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, said the group can “leverage a lot of resources” — via volunteering, fundraising or building support for a ballot measure or other campaign — to help in whatever way is needed with the rebuild.

“There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of loyalty and a lot of people ready to go to work behind this,” he said.

Added Mira Mickiewicz, volunteer help has already been offered by “lots and lots of people in the Berkeley community,” from arborists and contractors to architects, native plant specialists, “every manner of carpenter and all sorts of people willing to donate time and donate goods and services.” She urged the city to pursue a public process when calls are put out for bids, so that interested parties who may be interested in offering discounted rates can have the chance to participate. Mickiewicz also said she’s already put together a list of more than 200 responses from “people who have offered a large range of services and donations,” which she said she’d like to share with the city.

Berkeley resident and long-time Tuolumne Camp-goer Georgie Ziff urged the city to tap into the energy volunteers who love the camp are eager to give to help rebuild: “I know it can be done with volunteer labor. Give us the mechanism and the opportunity. We’re all just waiting, holding our breath, to get back up to Hardin Flat Road. My biggest fear is we’re going to get stuck in the red tape.”

Abby Rezneck said her family uses many of the city’s parks and recreation facilities, but asked the commission to put Tuolumne Camp at the top of its list for funding priorities.

“That would be a really strong display of political will,” she told the commission, “and make it plain that, here in Berkeley when tragedy strikes one of our most beloved institutions, that we rebuild it, period.”

(Those interested in learning more about volunteer efforts related to the camp can follow the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp page on Facebook.)

Commissioner Susan McKay thanked all participants last week, and also expressed support for a parks master plan to guide future spending.

“A city’s parks really express the value of its citizens,” she told the gathered group. “Parks are the most visible expression of a community’s will. This is a wonderful opportunity to check in on that and develop a communal vision.”

Tonight’s meeting will take place at the South Berkeley Branch Library, 1901 Russell St., from 6-7:30 p.m. The focus of the meeting will be on parks and facilities in South Berkeley (districts 3, 7 and 8), including Willard Park and Willard Swim Center, Oak Park, Monkey Island, Greg Brown, Grove, Bateman Mall, Halcyon Commons, and the LeConte, Malcolm X and John Muir schools parks.

Members of the public are invited to attend all the meetings; child care will be provided. Community members who are unable to attend may submit written comments by Oct. 30 to Roger Miller, secretary, Parks and Waterfront Commission, 2180 Milvia St., Berkeley, CA 94704, or by email at More information about the city’s system of parks and facilities is available online.

Commission, public discuss priorities for Berkeley’s parks (10.04.13)
4 public meetings planned on future of Berkeley parks (09.05.13)
After the fire: What next for Berkeley Tuolumne Camp? (09.05.13)
Berkeley gathers to remember much-loved Tuolumne Camp (08.27.13)
Rim Fire destroys Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp (08.25.13) 
Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp appears safe for now (08.24.13) 
Berkeley’s Tuolumne Family camp closed due to wildfires (08.22.13)
Wildfires put Tuolumne Family Camp on evacuation alert (08.20.13)

[Correction: This story was updated to reflect the accurate location of Tuolumne Family Camp, in Stanislaus National Forest, and to clarify that the U.S. Forest Service oversees this land.]

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  • deirdre

    “. . . . and make it plain that, here in Berkeley when tragedy strikes one of
    our most beloved institutions, that we rebuild it, period.” I would suggest that filling the Willard pool with dirt is tragedy striking a beloved institution.

  • Jeff Troutman

    While I love Family Camp, it’s disappointing that the cost is so high. When I go there, it doesn’t represent Berkeley in all its diversity. I think there needs to be discussion on how more Berkeley residents who can’t afford $300+ per night for a family of 4 can take advantage of what their tax dollars support.

  • Truth Sayer

    The loss of a pool is a “tragedy?” The word unfortunate comes to mind.

  • Wistful Tuolumne Virgin

    Yes, I agree. My family would love to attend Berkeley Family Camp but we fall between not being rich enough to pay the full fee and not being poor enough to qualify for the financial assistance (for which you must be really poor AND yet somehow magically able to pay the remaining 50% of the cost). I’d never vote for a parcel tax or bond measure if the purpose was rebuilding Tuolumne, not while the parks available to all Berkeley residents are hurting so hard for maintenance.

  • Bill N

    I’m afraid I have to agree with you on this. In the best of all worlds this would be a no brainer but it isn’t and there are parks in the city that need the funds and are available to all citizens of Berkeley..

  • guest

    family camp rates for room and board for a family of 4 at a camp with activities are very reasonable. where else would you get more for less

  • B2B

    I’m sure a lot of people in South Berkeley who might use the pool at Willard and who can’t afford to go to Tuolumne even with a scholarship consider it unfortunate (rather than a tragedy) that the camp burned down, too.

  • deirdre

    The loss of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp is a tragedy, I agree. The loss of a public pool which serves a demographic that might not otherwise get a chance to learn to swim is also a tragedy. One tragedy was unforseen, the other was not.

  • fran haselsteiner

    I agree with other posters–When I was working, we couldn’t afford the family camp. In any case, maybe we should just let nature regenerate in peace.

  • guest

    operation of tuolumne camp was 100% funded by camper fees not city funds that is why fees were so high. if you want to bring down prices then it needs to be funded some other way. taxes or fees your pick.

  • lindy

    I believe they did discuss making camp more open and accessible to those who can’t pay.
    I hear you, and hopefully this issue will be kept on the agenda.

  • Andrew Doran

    Jeff’s point is not about value for the price, it is about whether or not all of Berkeley’s taxpayers consider the activity to be within their budget, or even within their interest. This was not an issue, when, as another poster pointed out, the upkeep was covered by camper fees and the place was self sustaining. However, now that the camp has been ravaged and it will be a huge cost to re-build, it IS something to consider when trying to figure out where the money will come from and how best to spend scant resources for needed maintenance all over town. Not saying outright “no way”, just chiming in that any rebuilding should be considered along with everything else and given a priority based on community input.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Both are tragedies. One, though in part natural, was largely preventable through proper management of the forest. The other was completely a tragedy of Berkeley politician’s shortsightedness (Bates/Worthington and inveterate need to pander to a tiny minority at the expense of the Berkeley citizens who don’t have a bandwagon they can hop on to get the politician’s attention.

  • Annie Painter

    As a twenty-some year Berkeley taxpayer I’ve never been especially aware of the camp, yet we are active campers. It has recently been written that many families went to Berkeley Camp every year, even multiple generations within families. If the rebuild is to be called a Berkeley City camp, I’d think some outreach to make sure everyone in Berkeley — taxpayers, renters, and camp alums — is informed and given equal access at reservations. This is above and beyond any discussion of nightly rates, low-income discounts, and any in-kind advantage for volunteer rebuilding efforts. If taxpayer money is to be apportioned for the rebuild, I feel even more strongly that all Berkeley taxpayers should have equal information and access to reservations. I would suggest a lottery system which is advertised in advance. It would be great to think this would allow Berkeley to set the rates as high as they need to be to cover running expenses.

    On the subject of diversity, is the camp as welcoming to singles and couples as it is to families? Seems to me a large percentage of Berkeley residents represent the first two categories.

  • guest

    Yo readers: thanks to Scott Ferris, Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp was fully INSURED. Time will tell how much they will pay towards rebuilding the camp. Please attend Parks and Waterfront Commission meetings (2nd Wed. San Pablo Park 7 pm) for updates. The public always has time to speak at the beginning of the meeting.

  • MwMofB

    Correction please: The National Forest Service does not “own” Yosemite National Park; The National Park Service operates Yosemite NP. Further, the Berkeley Camp is not in Yosemite NP. It is in the Stanislaus National Forest. The Commission secretary quoted in the article, Mr Miller, needs more accurate geography and attribution.

  • emraguso

    Thank you for pointing this out; it’s been fixed. The error was 100% mine and not Mr. Miller’s.

  • Truth Sayer

    I have never construed such as a tragedy. An injury or loss of life yes. But a pool? Please.

  • berkeley mom

    For a number of reasons Family Camp is not a good fit for my family. And I can’t even afford to take my family on vacation. So there is absolutely no way I will pay a tax for others to get a vacation. Please focus on park funding right here in Berkeley that will benefit all our residents.

  • Molly

    The camp was insured and the Parks, Rec and Waterfront folks are even quoted in this article stating that insurance is expected to cover the cost of Tuolumne Camp clean up and rebuild.

    Though this article has a headline about rebuilding Tuolumne Camp, it’s also about funding of citywide park programs including Willard Pool. It sort of looks like the costs to the city (and hence, us, the taxpayers) to rebuild camp is $40 million, but that is to fund *citywide* parks programs. Please re-read the article.

    Tuolumne Camp is expensive and, for our family, the one “big” vacation we do and look forward to every year. It’s one place that is part of Berkeley where our kids have truly had the independence to explore and get an awesome summer camp experience and we get to join them!