Just blocks from busy Del Paso Boulevard and Highway 160, Camp Pollock’s 1920s-era lodge backs up to a wide green expanse lined by trees and the American River, now swollen with rainfall.
The Sacramento Valley Conservancy spent the second half of 2016 completing a $1 million restoration of the Myrtle A. Johnston Lodge, adding amenities and bringing the aging building up to disability standards. The camp is a peaceful, 11-acre oasis along the lower American River Parkway, which has been struggling in recent years with a controversial population of homeless campers.
Originally built in 1924, the wooden lodge features a large indoor space with wide doors opening onto a new redwood wrap-around porch, where bark-covered logs support the roof.
The space, indoor and outdoor, is used by church summer camps, after-school programs and a variety of outdoor education groups. Kelly Hopkins, the communications director for the conservancy, said that some kids see the river for the first time when they visit Camp Pollock.
“They don’t have a real true understanding of what the river is to our community,” Hopkins said. “It’s so special to be able to allow kids to come out, free of charge for the families that are bringing them.”
Some kids are scared at first, when faced with more trees, brush and nature than they’re used to, she said.
“Toward the end of the day, they’re less concerned about what snakes or bears or tigers are out here, and they’re more calm,” Hopkins said. “They just come out more connected. And that is our goal, to connect people to the environment.”
Sacramento County and concerned citizens have spent years trying to maintain the beauty and safety of the parkway as the number of illegal fires and garbage dump sites in the 23-mile urban greenway has increased.
American River Parkway Foundation Executive Director Dianna Poggetto said Camp Pollock plays a vital role in the positive public perception of the parkway by bringing more visitors and volunteers to the lower reaches of the American River and contributing to the overall rejuvenation of the area.
“The more legitimate users we have here, the friendlier it is to families,” Hopkins said.
Since the Sacramento Valley Conservancy took over the property from the Boy Scouts of America in 2013, Camp Pollock is free and is open every day from sunrise to sunset. A native plant garden, outdoor park benches and picnic areas are open to the public.
On a recent afternoon, a woman with fishing gear was looking for a place to cast her line, but was thwarted by the high water line and bushes along the bank. Normally there would be more riverbank to work with, Hopkins told her, but the recent heavy rains have pushed up the water level.
Hopkins said about 10,000 people used the camp for official events in 2016. It’s hard to pinpoint the number of casual users because there is no charge for parking or other method for counting visitors, she said.
The remodel was the first phase of the project. The Sacramento Valley Conservancy is fundraising for the second phase, which would include a kitchen renovation. Hopkins said the kitchen in the lodge can now be used as a prep kitchen, but not for cooking.