This summer is looking much sunnier for the Oakland Feather River Camp, which will see campers return in early June.
The camp was founded in 1924 by the City of Oakland’s Parks & Recreation Department. It’s located just outside the town of Quincy in Plumas National Forest, about a five-hour drive northeast from Oakland.
Since its founding, it has been a popular summer activity for Oakland families looking for more ways to enjoy nature. Generations of kids have gone from participating as campers to working at Feather River Camp as teens to bringing their own children to the family camp.
Like countless businesses and nonprofits, Oakland Feather River Camp, which is now run by a nonprofit organization that partners with the city, suffered the pandemic’s economic impact. Last year, just before the shutdown, the nonprofit was preparing for the summer camp.
“We were in the middle of hiring a staff of 40. We had invested significant dollars into marketing promotions, scholarship promotion, and getting ready purchasing supplies and equipment for the camp season,” said Mark Olson, the camp’s executive director. “When everything shut down in March, we had this period of uncertainty not knowing if we would be able to operate in a reduced or shortened sort of season or capacity in the summer.”
Not only was it impossible for the camp to be financially profitable last year, it also took on added operating costs to maintain the facility, including fire mitigation efforts. “It was a really challenging year; government support was critical in terms of the PPP loan,” Olson said, referring to the federal Paycheck Protection Program. “It was a challenging situation because some lending institutions were not as aware of seasonal business calculations. It was a consuming process to make sure that we could get the full loan amount that we were eligible for.”
Olson also credits the Oakland community with stepping up financial support and campers who donated their deposits for the 2020 season.
When Governor Gavin Newsom announced on April 6 that the state aims to reopen on June 15 if vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years and older who wish to be vaccinated and hospitalization rates remain stable and low, it set the wheels in motion for Olson and his team to plan for the camp’s 2021 season.
With the state and local public health departments’ ever-changing guidelines, Oakland Feather River Camp plans to reopen with its Memorial Day Volunteer Work Weekend in a limited capacity. While each of the sessions it hosts typically has as many as 240 campers, the 2021 camp will cap at 100 per session. It will host eight family camp sessions. Olson added the organization hasn’t decided yet whether or not its youth camp will happen this year.
Visitors will get to enjoy some of the camp’s traditional activities— dance lessons, hikes, and ping pong tournaments—in a limited capacity.
“We’re waiting on some guidance from the State Department of Public Health because that [information] was expected in early April, and we have not yet received something,” Olson said.
Olson emphasizes that the camp is putting in place added safety precautions, “from enhanced disinfecting and sanitation as well as the facility retrofitting needed, and the purchasing or renting additional handwashing stations.”
Olson and the team also want to ensure that the camp remains affordable to all Oaklanders, and has chosen not to raise its registration fees despite the added costs of new safety measures and revenue lost last year. There are also a number of “camperships” (scholarships) available for families who need financial assistance.
“We were able to secure a very generous contribution from a camp community member so that we could not only continue to provide very generous family camp scholarships but actually even expand that,” Olson said.
Even with a limited capacity and potential restrictions when the state fully reopens, the camps say it’s ready to give Oakland kids more chances to explore nature this summer.
“That is something that is core to our mission because we really are here to serve all of Oakland,” he said.