Berkeley's Tuolumne Family Camp was destroyed in the Rim Fire (Grace Rubinstein/KQED)
Berkeley’s Tuolumne Family Camp was destroyed in the Rim Fire. (Grace Rubenstein/KQED)

Our friends at Berkeleyside are reporting on Monday night’s gathering at Civic Center Park to remember Tuolumne Family Camp, destroyed in the Rim Fire over the weekend. The camp has been operated by the city under a special use permit since 1922. Berkeley residents were given priority to register for the camp over the general public, and generations of local citizens have taken advantage of the privilege.

Our reporter up at the fire, Grace Rubenstein, saw what remained of the camp yesterday.

There’s not very much left. There’s one stone chimney still standing on the slope above the swimming hole. Besides that, on that slope, I saw nothing but a pile of twisted metal and rubble. Over in the area where the tent cabins were, there were two cabins still standing that I saw, and the rest were just leveled — just the posts of their foundations and some burned-out bed frames. But the fire missed the Adirondack chairs, which are still neatly lined up on the shores of the swimming hole.

Berkeleyside says about 300 people turned out for last night’s remembrance of the camp.

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

Many obviously have a strong emotional attachment to the facility, where you could fish, swim, hike and make use of a children’s camp. Carol Treadwell, who grew up in Berkeley, told KQED’s Vinnee Tong she visited the camp about 20 times over the years, from childhood on.

“It’s where you see your children blossom,” she said. “It’s where they sort of taste their first independence, and it’s independence that also connects them with nature. There are so many great staff members that take them under their wing in the most nurturing ways. I feel like every year I went to camp with my children, they came out of the experience richer, more mature people than when they came in.”

She said that in her family, the camp is “everybody’s favorite place,” from her children to her parents.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates called the loss “so sad,”  and said the retreat was a Berkeley tradition. And lots of other people are reminiscing on the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp and Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp Photo Memorial Facebook pages.

A Rebuild Berkeley Tuolomne Camp movement is already afoot. The camp was insured, a Berkeley spokesperson told Berkeleyside, and Bay City News reports Bates saying, “It would be wonderful if we could rebuild it.” However, he also said, “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 ambience.”

“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.

Here’s a report on the camp’s demise that shows some of the destruction, from ABC News Bay Area…

  • Juli Waesche

    I was on staff in ’68 & ’69 coming down from Seattle. My dad was from Berkeley & was on staff in the ’30s. Heard so much about Bill & Elise Rhodes & I wasn’t disappointed. I wish I coudl make contact with my fellow staff members & wish I could be there to remember but I live in DC. My heart is with all of you in sadness!

  • luckymom22

    I hope Mayor Bates also plans to research the devastation that occurred in Yellowstone in the 80s and how it has come back since. Yes, the scars are still there but Mother Nature has a way of rejuvenating herself far sooner than we would expect (my kids reminded me of how they studies that in school). We can already see from the photos that not all vegetation was destroyed. I am afraid that the Mayor’s comments foreshadow an attempt to use insurance/rebuilding funds for other purposes and that would be a tragedy far greater than what happened to BTC this week. The true “there” of BTC IS (not was) its families,
    its traditions, and the river. Those are
    all still “there”. The spirit of BTC far,
    far transcends its structures, and talk of rebuilding must contain the language
    of “how” and “when”…not “if”. I look forward to bringing my family back to the new “there”.

  • distachio

    This makes me so sad. My family spent a summer there 48 years ago — when I was six. RIP, Family Camp. :(

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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