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New Kid's Camp in upper Putah Creek

March 19, 2011

Appeared in Napa Patch, regional services

Kids in Napa County and nearby areas will have a better chance of sleeping under the stars, watching osprey dive for fish or doing rolls in a kayak, thanks to a $1.5 million grant that the California Coastal Conservancy awarded March 17 to the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District to construct an outdoor education camp in eastern Napa County.

Located on the Putah Creek arm of Lake Berryessa, Camp Berryessa will be the first and only public outdoor environmental education camp in Napa County, and will complement a small private facility near Angwin operated by the 4-H Club, and a very rustic camp operated by the Girl Scouts near Mt. Veeder. Camp Berryessa will be located at the same site where the Boy Scouts formerly operated a  camp. That facility was closed in 2004.

“This is a great opportunity to reverse the loss of the scout camp,” noted District Director Dave Finigan, who is also a former Boy Scout leader. “By building a camp that many organizations can share, more people will benefit, and the costs to any one organization should be manageable.”

When the Bureau of Reclamation released the Record of Decision at  Lake Berryessa in 2006, it expressed the desire to see an outdoor education camp established at the site of the former scout camp, provided a local partner would be willing to take the lead in financing, constructing, operating and maintaining the camp. 

The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District took up the challenge, and has spent the last four years coordinating with Reclamation and working with community groups to develop plans. The District is now in the final stages of negotiating a long-term agreement with Reclamation. 

Last fall the local Mead Foundation awarded a $50,000 seed grant to the District. The District used this seed grant as local matching funds, which then leveraged the $1.5 million Coastal Conservancy grant.

The grant will enable the District to construct the first phase of the camp, which will include approximately 30 tent cabins, campfire amphitheater, swimming area, canoes and kayaks, nature trails, and numerous other activity areas.  Once the basic camp is up and operating, the District will seek funding to complete the campground by adding a central dining and meeting facility. 

The camp is planned to be a living demonstration in sustainable design and operations. It will have the first legally installed composting toilets in Napa County. Gray water from the showers will be used for landscaping and maintaining a native plant nature walk. Solar panels and a small wind turbine will generate all power needs for the camp. Local and recycled building materials will be used as much as possible. Solid waste generation will be minimized through composting and recycling, and by avoiding as much as possible materials and supplies which cannot be either composted or recycled.

“This camp is about kids having fun, of course,” observed park district Director Guy Kay, who represents the Lake Berryessa area. “But it’s a lot more. The future of our county’s agricultural preserve and open space protections depends on the understanding and support of future generations.  There’s no better way to build that understanding and support than by giving kids the chance to get outdoors, get dirty and touch, taste, hear and smell nature.”

Reclamation is making the land for the camp available through the direction of the 2006 Record of Decision. Youth and other non-profit community groups using the site will support the camp through discounted user fees and volunteer labor. When the camp is not being utilized by non-profit users, the camp will be available for other groups at market rates to help subsidize the non-profit use.  According to the feasibility study commissioned by the District, this business model should enable the camp to break even financially while still being affordable to students and groups with limited resources.

The District hopes to start construction late this summer, starting with work on a new wastewater system.  The District is anticipating having the camp open in the fall of 2012.

To find out more about the Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District and Camp Berryessa, check out