Thank you for your interest in and concern for Sturtevant Camp, especially now in light of the Bobcat fire. Here is what we can say today with some certainty:
There is every indication that the fire has moved directly through the upper Big Santa Anita Canyon and therefore the camp. However, we do not know the impact on the buildings and infrastructure, and we won’t know until we can put boots on the ground.
That is a very long way off. Even when the fire is confirmed to be done in the canyon, it will be a very hazardous environment. This starts with air quality: until winter rains thoroughly soak the ash and soot on and into the ground, hiking much less working in the canyon will be extremely unhealthy. The other immediate hazard will be standing burned trees and the threat of deadfall. Simply getting into the camp will likely be very difficult because of downed trees, etc. Based on previous fires in the San Gabriels, such as the Station Fire, we know that once the rains come, it will get worse.
The Forest Service will decide when the National Forest can be opened to the general public. Because we are permit holders, we expect and will request to have early access prior to that opening. At that time, we’ll make a detailed assessment of the camp and begin to take every action to conserve what is there and to preserve general safety.
Once we have a clear picture of the status and condition of the infrastructure the questions will turn to the future, starting with:
What the Forest Service will allow
What is physically possible and financially feasible
How can we best serve the public good
Since Wilbur Sturtevant recognized the special qualities of this little place in the canyon, put up a few tents and invited people to come into the canyon almost 130 years ago, Sturtevant Camp has been a touchstone of the San Gabriels and a portal into the wilderness experience. We know that whatever the fire has done, the forest will renew itself, as it has before, and people will seek to come for the unique gift of the wilderness. We hope you will join with us in continuing to make that possible in the seasons ahead.
For more information as it becomes available, check-in here and/or friend “Wilbur Sturtevant” on Facebook.
The Board of the Sturtevant Conservancy,
Deb, Paul, Sue, Danny, and Gary. and the Friends of the San Gabriels
Thank you for staying on the trail with us after the Bobcat Fire. Here’s the news as of July 2021, and our hopes and plans going forward into 2022.
Big Santa Anita Canyon remains closed to the general public. Most of the surrounding Angeles National Forest has reopened, but for now, hiking into the canyon could still earn you a nasty fine.
In Camp, the immediate fire (and bear) damage has been cleaned up:
1. Reclaiming the bed capacity lost to the fire’s destruction of cabin #1 is on hold.
2. The primary focus of work has been on reclaiming and improving the intake system for water into camp and the public fountain. This has involved digging out a lot of melted, bent and broken pipes; hand-carrying a lot of replacement pipe up the (sketchy) trail, and hard-rock-mining-digging to get replacement pipe in place for the enhanced system. Special thanks to Peter, Mark and Dave!
Because of the projections of drought as the ‘new normal’, the system has been re-designed to capture and hold as much water as is available, and to meet the need for both potable (drinking) water and the micro-hydro system (generating electrical power from the natural flow of water). Special thanks to Paul and JT!
And: replacement tanks for the #2 & #3 tanks lost in the fire are now on the horizon (see below).
3. With the canyon closed and no guests in camp, normal maintenance is still required to hold the line against the general degradation of weather and the aging of historic buildings. We are also aiming to make improvements and repairs that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish around guests.
The U.S. Forest Service has not yet changed its estimate of keeping the forest closed until spring 2022. This is based on conditions in the canyon, including the network of trails, uncertain / unstable surface rock and soil conditions, remaining deadfall in the forest canopy, and the potential for sudden changes in conditions brought on by weather.
A renewed season of drought has left most of the hillsides intact but exposed and capable of ‘avalanching’ dirt and rocks. The little rain we did have has brought out a welcome display of greenery eager to make a place for itself in the new environment.
The Big News: Los Angeles County has announced that the road from the Santa Anita Avenue gate to Chantry Flat will be closed for six months starting October 2021. The purpose will be to do a major repair of the road where it has been down to one lane, not far from the pack station.
No vehicle will be able to physically cross the reconstruction zone; Los Angeles County said they will construct a temporary pedestrian pathway for the few U.S.F.S. residents of Chantry Flats, and Maggie Moran and her family at Adams’ Pack Station. They will have to stage shuttle vehicles on each side of the zone and walk between.
This situation is not new: around 2004, significant autumn rainstorms caused the road to collapse about a mile above the gate, and everything was shut down for almost a year. At camp, there were several work-arounds, but of course it was logistically very difficult (this is back when long-time manager Chris Kasten was hand-trucking propane tanks in and out of camp from Newcomb’s Pass).
What the road closure means & what happens next:
A. The main trail has been improved enough for Maggie and her donkeys to get through to camp; so we will complete as much packing as possible prior to the road closure (for example, cement mix for the water tank pads, replacement doors for the bear-ravaged refrigerators, etc.).
B. Regardless of the road closure, if the canyon remains closed to the public through spring 2022, we will use the time to make as much progress as possible on maintaining/repairing/improving the camp itself. The two biggest projects are the water tanks, and renovation of the Fireplace Room around the oak tree that continues to grow and lift up one whole side of the building.
C. If the U.S.F.S. opens the canyon to the public from the top (Mt. Wilson) before the Chantry Flat road is re-opened, we will explore creative ways to welcome guests into camp.
The October road closure and need to pack as much as possible before that date jumps forward our schedule to purchase the water tanks and other supplies, which puts fundraising front and center.
Sturtevant Camp is a genuinely non-profit organization and operation!
There are no paid employees, all work is done by volunteers, and guest revenue is turned around quickly to pay for a very short, basic list of expenses: propane, packing, other utilities, repair, maintenance, and improvements, plus annual permit fees to the U.S.F.S., county taxes, and insurance.
We are currently paying fees, taxes and insurance out of the cash in the checking account; there is no reserve fund or endowment but we can dream. Volunteers have funded many of the repair materials, and many small donations are helping along the way.
So we expect to present a simple fund-raising campaign soon, focused on the big ticket item of the water tanks, along with a few special projects to make the camp an even more compelling experience once guests can get their boots dusty coming up canyon. Until then, stay tuned, and thanks for your interest and support.
— The Sturtevant Conservancy, Deb, Paul, Teah, Danny and Gary
As previously announced, Deputy U.S. Forest Supervisor Rachel Smith recently hosted a closed Zoom call to share a first-round report from the disaster assessment Team. The criteria for the report was that only those structures that could be clearly identified and were intact would be reported at this time. Buildings lacking a clear name or number, or that were destroyed and thus unidentifiable, would not be reported at this time.
On the first reporting call, she was able to confirm about forty cabins intact in the main Canyon; there are other cabins intact, and other cabins damaged or destroyed—but those are not yet reported.
Smith did say that the Team could not access Sturtevant from the south because of severe rock slides on the trail. Instead, they would make another attempt, coming down from Mt. Wilson.
Now this Wednesday evening, we’ve received the report of that hike, and: Sturtevant Camp is largely intact, including the historic main Lodge, Honeymoon Cottage, Manager’s/Host Cabin, and Cabin #s 2-3-4.
With you, we are tremendously relieved by this news; we are a bit amazed that the fire did not totally overrun the Camp, but most of all we are grateful.
We are also tremendously grateful to all those who put their lives on the line and in the air to manage a voracious fire that continues to burn.
Now about “Largely intact”: because the report was by photo verification, we note that we don’t have photos of Cabin #1, which was clearly marked. We also do not have photos of the Retreat Cabin, Bathhouse, and Ranger Cabin, but all these lacked signage and may be in the Team’s “unidentified file” yet to be disclosed (the Team was not from the USFS which knows the Canyon, but from L.A. County.)
If we lost some structures to the fire, we’ll add our grief to those permittees who lost their cabins. With them, we will have all lost irreplaceable examples of history in the San Gabriel mountains. And with them, we will assess how to renew our Camp’s capacity to welcome people to the Canyon. With this good news comes a new set of challenges, and the reality that it will be a while before we can resume hosting guests at Camp.
Along with not knowing which if any buildings we may have lost, we also don’t know what “intact” really means: there could still be some partial damage to roofs, for example. Similarly, we do not know the condition of our water supply: it would not be a surprise to find that our intake system (which is at a distance from the Camp) has been disrupted.
Given what we know about fire in the San Gabriels (based on the 2009 Station Fire,) the next hazard is likely to be winter rains and accompanying mud/rock/debris falls. These will threaten or impact trail access, which relates directly to the following:
We do not know how close or to what degree the fire came to the Camp perimeter: if the forest uphill/above the upper bunkhouses has been burned off, that exposes our notoriously loose geology to rain. That could mean debris flows down the hillside to the bunkhouses that will need to be mitigated.
We do not know the location or nature or extent of the trail blockage that prevented the assessment Team from coming up the Canyon—but it must be serious! Rachel Smith reported that she had planned to enter the Canyon herself to get a first-hand take on the situation, but the crew informed her that it was not safe for her—and she’s a former hot-shot fire-fighter and smoke jumper. “They’ve never told me that before!” she said.
So, when pressed for a timeline of when the trail would be cleared of major hazards and permittees allowed to enter (all before the general public can enter,) she was honest in saying that all work crews on are the fire lines, and it would certainly be weeks if not months before we might have access.
In light of these unique circumstances, when we have any answers ,we’ll share those and invite your help in being part of opening the Canyon once again to everyone who loves the mountains. When we have any more detailed news on the Camp itself, we’ll post it here. Until then,
Thanks again for your interest and patience. Yesterday, Deputy U.S. Forest Supervisor Rachel Smith hosted a closed Zoom call with all the cabin owners, including Sturtevant Camp. It was very well done, and sensitive to the concerns of the ‘permittees’, especially given that there’s really no new information yet. Here’s a synopsis of key points that were presented and emerged in the following Q&A.
The fire is well-contained on the Canyon side of Mt. Wilson, but remains active to the north, and the Observatory continues to see nearby flare-ups. The persistence of the fires (here and elsewhere) is also the cause of the main constraint on everything else: everyone is fighting the fires, so there’s “nothing left on the shelf” for some of the other things we might wish for (like an early assessment of the Canyon, clearing trails, etc.)
Next week a county damage assessment team is scheduled to enter the Canyon, with an update to cabin owners shortly after that. Until then, nobody knows the status of anything in the Canyon. It’s also unclear if they intend or will be able to get to the upper Canyon, including Camp.
The Chantry road is passable, but the gate is closed and the National Forest remains under an indefinite ‘hard’ closure. There was extended discussion of how to protect the Canyon from ‘disaster tourists,’ vandals, robbers and arsonists who will ignore the closure (all very real threats based on experience.) There was heavy emphasis on getting Maggie and the few other Chantry residents back on site, both for their own sake, and to have eyes on the ground there.
There was discussion about future debris removal, rebuilding cabins, county codes, etc. Nothing decisive, more later.
The cabin owners invited the USFS to “exploit us!” in the sense that everyone sees themselves individually and collectively as stewards of the canyon environment and history. Most everyone is skilled at trail work, and the owner’s association will be setting up a way to fast-track people signing up as official Angeles Forest Volunteers. (Camp hosts will be recruited directly.) An added goal is to have more people go through formal sawyer training.
The Board of the Sturtevant Conservancy has been in constant connection from Day 1 of the fire, including a recent formal meeting. We’re taking a triage approach to scenario planning, and developing a punch-list for our own assessment team to get into Camp as soon as we’re permitted to do so. Based on both the USFS projections and our own experience working in the Canyon, we do not expect to see public hiking, much less campers or guests anytime in the near future.
There will however be work to do, not just trail-building & repair, but also building awareness and resources for whatever the task/s ahead may be. Rachel reported the USFS is experiencing “tremendous community interest” in the status and well-being of the Canyon, and we know by your many posts, messages, texts and emails that our Sturtevant community extends across all of southern California and far beyond. We hope you will stay close as we both wait and prepare for the next chapter.
During last fall’s Bobcat Fire, staying connected on-line was the best way to find, give, and receive crucial up the minute information. Coming up on one year after the fire, even though Big Santa Anita Canyon and Sturtevant Camp remain closed to the public, between the heat, the bears, and our damaged water tanks there is a lot going on up here. Stay tuned here for the latest, including the earliest news on when everyone can get back to camp.
Why The Bigcone Blog?
There are a lot of blogs out there but only Sturtevant Camp is shaded by the largest untouched stand of Bigcone Spruce in the San Gabriel Mountains. And those trees drop huge seed cones. If you’ve ever had one conk you on the head, you’ll agree! So, we’ll claim that distinction for this blog: dropping big fresh news all the time!
Our Quench Campaign Is a Waterfall
Thanks to more than thirty new donors plus two generous foundations, our Quench Campaign for potable water at camp has already filled two of three water tanks, and we gave less than 350 gallons to go to top off all three.
The campaign set out to fund the restoration and improvement of the camp’s water system after two of three tanks were destroyed in the Bobcat Fire last year. The big investment is two new fireproof tanks; the third “tank” represents all the replacement pipes and re-plumbing needed for a better collection and distribution system to guests and hikers in camp. We have set up an FAQ page to read details about the project.
Looking at donations for the new tanks, 20% of new donors gave on average 110 gallons each, or about $670 each. Gifts to the next tank averaged about 11 gallons each, or $65 each, but then two gifts from family foundations jumped the overall total to 3,947 gallons — just $2,112 short of full to the brim.
Last week we got word that the two new tanks are being readied for shipping all the way from Texas. Those will come to Chantry Flat in early September (after we’ve paid the second invoice with your support) where the materials will be staged for packing and delivery into camp.
Current plans are for the smaller parts to go up on the Adams’ Pack Station pack train but the main panels of the tanks will likely be moved to the top of Mount Wilson then hand-carried down the original Sturtevant Trail into camp for assembly.
Can You Help?
Are you interested in stretching your arms or otherwise helping out? Visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer to sign-up for a variety of tasks and projects to ready the camp for our re-opening. When will that be? Stay tuned here for early notifications!
Bears In the House
The latest volunteer work crew arrived in camp recently and started to unlock the manager’s cabin only to hear banging around inside, followed by a bear poking his head out of a hole she had ripped into the side wall of the cabin! She scooted out and up the hillside, followed by her cub tumbling out of the laundry room.
The hot summer on top of the burned terrain is forcing many animals to forage for food. Many cabin owners are reporting repeated break-ins, with this mamma bear plus cub becoming increasingly bold and often destructive in their pursuit of food. We know it’s the same bear because she has a bum leg and we have named her Peggy (as in peg-legged).
Sturtevant Camp has been hit by the bears a few times, the hardest being right after the Bobcat Fire when the evacuation left lots of food in the kitchen. We still have refrigerator doors to replace, lots of window screens and door trim, and now a hole in the cabin, with siding ripped off and other buildings’ doors pulled off as well. Thankfully it’s “just” more carpentry repairs.
Wednesday, September 8th 2021 will mark the 111th anniversary of the passing of our founder, Wilbur M. Sturtevant. He was an infantry Lieutenant in the Union Army, serving in the Civil War, and is buried at the Los Angeles National Veteran’s Cemetery in Sawtelle, section 18, row E, site 8. There’s loose talk about pouring a dose of Big Santa Anita Canyon stream water on his grave on that Wednesday. Are you interested in joining in? Send us an email or message him on his Facebook page.