Things are looking up for Oakland Feather River Camp

The family camp has been fixed up, has growing enrollment, and is finalizing a contract with the city for its security.


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Things are looking up for Oakland's longtime Sierra Nevada retreat.

Photo courtesy of Oakland Feather River Camp

Break out the marshmallows and hiking boots: After 12 long years, Oakland Feather River Camp finally appears on track for long-term stability and foot-stomping, lanyard-making success.

The 92-year-old family camp in the northern Sierra has undergone major capital renovations, has ever-increasing enrollment, and, most significantly, is close to finalizing a contract with the city, giving the camp the legal security it has lacked for more than a decade.

'It's taken a long time, but we've finally turned a corner,' said Mike Moran, who sits on the board of Camps in Common, the nonprofit that runs the camp on behalf of the city. 'This is great news for Oakland, and a great opportunity for us.'

Feather River Camp, in rural Plumas County, has hosted generations of Oakland families and kids for rustic summer vacations. In the wooded canyon near Quincy, campers can swim in Spanish Creek, square dance or sit around the campfire in the evenings, make tie-dye T-shirts, hike, mountain bike, and just relax under the pine trees. Because the property is owned by the city of Oakland, residents get a discount, and the city's Parks and Recreation Department has often sent low-income and at-risk kids for a week of old-fashioned summer camp.

 

But in the 1990s, the camp dipped into serious decline, because of the city's financial troubles and dwindling political support for funding a camp 225 miles from Oakland. The city was poised to close it entirely until a group of campers asked to take it over. They formed Camps in Common, a nonprofit organization, in the early 2000s, and set about the daunting task of fixing long-neglected infrastructure, attracting new campers and attaining long-term financial stability.

Complicating matters, the city leases the 65-acre property from the U.S. Forest Service, so questions of maintenance and repairs were a constant source of argument. Since 2004, Camps in Common and the city have been bickering over a contract, unable to agree on who is responsible for what. The delay has hindered repair projects, grant applications, subsidized vacations for kids, and general long-term planning.

But with support from Mayor Libby Schaaf and several new council members, a contract finally came to fruition in fall 2015. Under the agreement, the city is funding repair work on the sprawling veranda, accessibility improvements at the dining hall and restrooms, a new water tank, and other projects. The city chipped in $500,000 from Measure WW funds plus recently agreed to an extra $40,000 for general use. The city also agreed to give the camp a few Geo Trackers formerly used by parking enforcement officers.

Camps in Common, meanwhile, will subsidize a week of summer camp for more than 60 low-income Oakland kids and continue to market the camp to Oakland's diverse communities. The organization has brought in new Ping-Pong tables, new chairs for the patio, sunshades for the beach, and other amenities.

'We're very happy with the progress we've all made,' said Dana Riley, spokeswoman for Oakland Parks and Recreation. 'Everyone loves to go camping, and the healthier Camps in Common is, the healthier Oakland is.'

The number of campers has steadily increased over the past few years, hitting 1,650 in 2015, a 25 percent jump from 2011. The figure includes campers in the ever-popular Camp It Up week, the country's oldest camp for gay and lesbian families. The total also includes an influx of Berkeley residents who migrated to Feather River Camp when the Berkeley Tuolumne family camp burned in the 2013 Rim Fire. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service recently opened miles of new mountain bike trails in Plumas County, making the area a favorite draw for bicyclists. Feather River's mountain bike week sold out immediately, with 281 campers.

'We've really turned a page,' said camp director Billy Dannals. 'It all looks up from here.'

To learn more about Oakland Feather River Camp, visit www.FeatherRiverCamp.com.

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