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  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    Tom Monahon repairs a sign. Volunteers have put in about 2,000 hours since the changeover.

  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    Matt Gaylord, works near a blow-up of an early Boy Scout Handbook cover in the Camp Pollock meeting hall.

  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    In a bucolic setting just a couple of miles from downtown, the meeting hall at Camp Pollock on the American River offers a near-to-home rustic getaway for many Sacramentans

Camp Pollock keeps outdoor legacy near downtown Sacramento

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013 - 1:38 pm | Page 1D
Last Modified: Friday, Jun. 21, 2013 - 8:48 am

As campers straighten up tents, gather firewood and rest after a day of activity, nature responds with the calming of wildlife and the quickly darkening sky.

But not all goes black in the night at Camp Pollock. The ambient glow looming like a spirit summoned by the night's campfire tales is from downtown Sacramento, a mere two miles away.

While some Sacramento residents know of Camp Pollock's 11 acres along the north bank of the lower American River, and former Scouts tell stories of childhood nights camping on its grounds, others cringe at the idea of pitching tents in an area with a reputation for homeless encampments and vagrant activity.

Until January, when it was bought by the State Lands Commission, Camp Pollock had been owned and run by the Boy Scouts of America since 1923. The Sacramento Valley Conservancy, which leases the grounds, has opened the camp to the public for day trips and to youth groups for overnight campouts.

Since the ownership change, more than 500 children have camped there, and bicyclers, canoeists and barbecuers have taken advantage of the large outdoor space.

Aimee Rutledge, conservancy executive director, said homeless camping occurs on the downtown part of the parkway, but she said there have been no safety problems since Camp Pollock reopened.

"We have worked really hard with the county of Sacramento - they own land right next to us as part of the parkway - to patrol and keep it clear," Rutledge said. "It's been working out great."

Jeff Leatherman, parks director for Sacramento County, said that in the past year, two teams - each comprising two rangers and a maintenance person - have patrolled seven days a week for illegal camping on the 4,500-acre parkway.

Records show that rangers have issued about 500 evictions, notices to vacate and citations since Jan. 1 for the entire American River Parkway, from upstream at Hazel Avenue to the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

From the Highway 160 overcrossing to the part of Northgate Boulevard that includes the area in and around Camp Pollock, rangers recorded about 45 reports of that kind since the first of the year.

Leatherman said the numbers seem fairly average for the time window, and many involve repeat offenders.

"The collaboration between the county, the State Lands Commission and the Sacramento Valley Conservancy is a great arrangement for everybody," Leatherman said. "It's great to work on a piece of the parkway that's been around for almost 100 years."

Leonard Damron hasn't been around quite that long, but the 55-year-old warehouseman for Bel Air Markets visited Camp Pollock as a Boy Scout who earned the Eagle rank in the 1960s and '70s, and earned merit badges there.

"The camp meant something to me. It's in my heart, and it meant a lot," Damron said. "It takes a lot to be an Eagle Scout, and they've really honored the Scouts."

He remembers potluck dinners in the lodge, playing hide-and-seek on the grounds and attending monthly award ceremonies. He said Camp Pollock was important for him as a member of a city-centered troop, and it provided an authentic camping opportunity within a short driving distance.

Damron began volunteering at the camp's service days in February, and he quickly became a docent.

"I take ownership of it and I know a little bit more than a regular volunteer," he said.

Now his camp experiences include pulling weeds, working on the trail down to the river for fishing and boating activities, arranging fire pits and mowing the property's large field.

"I've really enjoyed volunteering, and I put in anywhere from four to eight hours a week on top of my regular 40-hour job," Damron said. "I feel good about giving back to a community I had benefited from a long time ago."

Don Jones, a retired captain from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, has his own ties to the camp. He's been a Scout leader for about 20 years, and he recently paid his first visit to Camp Pollock since it changed ownership.

With about 130 Scouts in tow, Jones spent a weekend preparing for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree in July in West Virginia.

"The first thing that struck me about Camp Pollock is that it has never looked better," Jones said. "They've really harnessed the energy of the volunteer groups."

Rutledge said that since January there have been more than 2,000 volunteer hours go into the camp, with efforts coming from neighborhood associations, church groups, businesses and individuals.

Jones' Scouts participated in team-building games, training events, cooked meals outside and watched movies projected on a sheet on the back wall of the lodge.

He mentioned certain city-adjacent disadvantages, such as the sound of helicopters and emergency vehicle sirens from downtown, but he said he would definitely return for future outdoor events.

Matt Gaylord, program assistant for the Sacramento Valley Conservancy, said he hopes the camp will attract a diversity of uses such as concerts, weddings and parties in addition to its youth-group activities. Improvement efforts include a native plant garden, eight fire pits and a courtyard space.

"We're hoping to open up the lower American parkway to greater use," he said. "People say all the time that they didn't even know it exists."

He also mentioned the camp offers what he believes is the only free river access in the area, from which kayakers and canoeists can launch during daylight hours.

Earlier this month, more than 200 people attended "Glamp-Out," a "glamorous campout" event intended to become an annual fundraiser. It included demonstrations and activities, Rutledge said.

More summer programs, she added, might include a canoeing event, a birding program and a session for primitive skills instruction, possibly in August or September. Those skills include learning about fish, plant identification and American Indian practices.

The conservancy has begun a $500,000 campaign to fund the upgrades it would like to see at the camp, Rutledge said. Roughly $235,000 toward that goal has come from, among others, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency ($150,000 in mitigations), Wells Fargo, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the GenCorp Foundation and the Sierra Health Foundation.

"This is a really special heritage thing for us to be able to share with the community and to improve it," Rutledge said. "It is a special thing to be on the river."


What: Once a Boy Scout installation, the 11-acre camp and day-use area is owned by the State Lands Commission and operated by the Sacramento Valley Conservancy. A historic 1924 lodge can be rented for events for up to 250 people. Overnight camping is restricted to youth groups.

Where: Along the north bank of the American River near Northgate Boulevard

Cost: Camp Pollock day use is free from dawn to dusk. Lodge use is $1 per person, per event. Overnight youth camping is $3 per camper, per night for groups of five to 200.


Slideshow: Camp Pollock

Call The Bee's Morgan Searles, (916) 321-1102. Follow her in Twitter @morgansearles.

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