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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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...