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Board Introductions & Water Tank Update

Who We Are

Sturtevant Conservancy board members on a video conference call.
Video conference with the board members.

The Sturtevant Conservancy is a non-profit registered in California; its purpose is to sustain historic Sturtevant Camp for the public benefit, operating on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service.

The governing Board members are volunteers who supervise and manage the mission of the Conservancy, and the camp itself. Board members are recruited based on their “boots on the ground” commitment to the camp, as well as the diverse skills needed to operate the camp. These include guest hospitality, site operations and maintenance, marketing, financial management, lumberjacking and trail-building. All have the passion to share the Sturtevant experience with the public for the future.

Check out their bios and profile photos on the Who We Are page.

Four Hauled, Two Qued

We had the parts, the people and a plan—then if finally rained for real in the San Gabriels! The first run to deliver a water tank panel up to camp was delayed so that the trail could get worked back into shape (mostly). Plenty of shovels and shoulders were duly exercised!

Over the next few weekends, a variety of regular and newbie volunteers came together to manually haul the roughly 4x8ft curved steel panels up the main trail. Each time was an experiment with improvements the final delivery will be simple and almost easy. The chief factor was not weight but the wiggliness of the panel, and the persistently unstable trail.

The success was mostly because people were good at working together and sure-footed on the trail. A lot of new friendships were made, and future volunteers inspired. A good thing, because there is always more to do at Camp!

Binocular Report

Stay tuned for the end-of-the-year-holiday edition of the Big Cone Blog!


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Reports Camp Operations Camp News

Good News & Other News for 2022

Last Year’s News for 2022

The work crew putting the safety line to good use across the Slide Rock Gap: L-R board members Paul Witman and Sarah Barron (rock climber and rope-slinger), with Brent Pepper and Scott Wilson. All made it safely across.

It never rains in California, until it does. Then it really does! The end of year holiday rain and snowfall made the national news and has been the intense focus of everyone in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Since the Bobcat fire, Sturtevant Camp volunteers have been double-tasking: working on recovery in camp and shoveling a lot of rock and gravel just to get into camp.

Now the rains have done real damage and reshaped most of the canyon stream bed. The damage includes complete loss of sections of the trail to sharp, often steep washouts. Side canyons became roaring torrents filled with gravel that quickly carved through anything not solid rock. Some of the cuts are deep or wide or both, making for difficult crossings. But some are also “exposed” with a steep drop-off threatening a misstep.

Those are points of individual danger but the more serious threat is that until these cut-outs/drop-offs are repaired the pack train can’t get through. This is bad for business on both ends, the pack station and the camp.

The Sturtevant Conservancy board is working with Maggie Moran, owner of Adams’ Pack Station, to solve the problem and get on with the continuing work of preparing for when the canyon re-opens. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a full-body workout, otherwise known as trail work, click here to volunteer!

New Year’s Tough News

L.A. County technical drawing of the section of Chantry Flat road to be removed and replaced with a bridge. First the entire side of the canyon above this will be ‘rock-scaled’, which means scraping off/bringing down as much of the loose surface rock and dirt as possible.

We previously reported on the 2022 Chantry Flat road project to construct a new bridge, spanning 240 feet at mile marker 2.95, near the top of the road. Chantry Flat will be cut off with no vehicles allowed or even able to pass through for the duration of the work (proof of which is that Los Angeles County is paying for rental cars for those living at Chantry Flat.)

That’s the project, but not the news, which is the schedule. Work is to begin mid-February (weather permitting) with official completion targeted for mid-October of this year. But with an allowance for weather and supply delays plus corrections the road may not reopen until February, 2023.

Together with the Bobcat fire closure plus damaged trails, this means no public access to the Big Santa Anita Canyon via Chantry Flat from September, 2020 to around Christmas, 2022. That would be nearly two and a half years of shut down.

The impact on the camp and pack station are of course significant. Any creative work-arounds will be complicated. Hypothetically, the canyon could be opened to the public before the road project is finished; this would allow hikers to enter from Mt. Wilson and the back country, which could also be an opportunity for the camp to open to guests, and to engage the pack station for packing. Of course, that would still be complicated.

Stay tuned for head-scratching, brainstorming, and hopefully a few miracles.

One Way to Add Campers

The brightest smile in the canyon just got brighter: Board member Teah Vaugh-Piscopo looks forward to becoming a first-time mom in July. Congratualtions!

The Sturtevant Conservancy is expanding unexpectedly and joyfully. At our recent meeting, board member Teah Vaughn-Piscopo shared her good news that she and her husband Graham Piscopo will welcome their first child in July. Teah was quick to say that won’t keep her from the trail, and not even the typical dose of shoveling along the way, but lifting heavy stuff will be out since she’ll already be doing increasingly heavy lifting 24/7!

Along with everyone who has enjoyed her enthusiastic welcome into camp (and her yummy cookies), the board joins in wishing Teah and her family good health and progress; we’ve already signed up to take turns carrying the kid up to camp until Teah can lace-up some tiny hiking boots on the new munchkin!

New Year’s Goals FYI*

During the early phase of the pandemic shutdown, many people took the opportunity to clean out closets, organize photo files, and otherwise catch-up on deferred maintenance. With 2022 shaping up to be closed for the canyon and the camp, the board is likewise aiming to catch-up on a long list of to-do items, and to make some improvements. But not all of those are building fix-its and upgrades.

For example, once camp re-opens, the volunteer hosts will need a new operating manual based on changes caused from the Bobcat fire, including changes in the water system (draft title: “How to Make Happy Campers”). There are new insurance requirements for the guests’ safety orientation and there will be new kitchen and housekeeping protocols to prevent further bear damage. And, of course, there are many new stories to show-and-tell about the camp after the fire.

*For Your Invitation: the pool of camp hosts will need to be re-recruited, expanded and trained! If you’re interested, visit the Volunteer page.


Shoes Found

The flooded stream unearthed some antiques: this jumble of horse, mule and burro shoes was found at the high-water mark behind the generator shed. Likely they had been salvaged for use in craft projects back when children’s camps made souvenir plaques of their week at camp, and mounted them the dining hall rafters.


Ever-Changing Stream Beds

Looking at the trail crossing between the Honeymoon Cottage and the Mt. Zion & Mt. Wilson trails junction. The first storm filled in the stream bed with sand and gravel, and second storm carved it all out.


Crossing The Gap

Upper right, Paul Witman adjusts the safety rope for crossing above a missing and very exposed gap in the trail while Gary Keene ponders the drop-off from the edge of the exposure.

Upper right, Paul Witman adjusts the safety rope for crossing above a missing and very exposed gap in the trail, while Gary Keene ponders the drop-off from the edge of the exposure.
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Camp Operations Camp News Volunteer

Hot Summer News

What’s Boring?

Paul with plumbing parts

Frankly, the news from Camp is boring, for now. A lot of detail work on valves and pipes, and a lot of grunt-work doing fire clearance in & around Camp, plus brushwork on the trail. That’s cutting back all that tall green grass from this winter that’s gone brown. Also, many of the toasted and burned chaparral and smaller trees are finally sagging into and over the trail, and have to be clipped/cut back so the pack train can get through. That will be exciting news (the pack train delivering) but, later! Check back here in August for the latest.

Arbutus Comes Home

Meet Arbutus

After many years in hibernation elsewhere, ‘Arbutus, the electric green mule’ has finally come back home to Sturtevant. Designed to hand-truck propane tanks to and from the Camp using an electric bicycle wheel, its conception and journey parallels the recent history of the Canyon and the Camp.

Back in 2005, the Chantry Road was closed, similar to now, but because of a complete wash-out of one section, and an avalanche of rocky dirt on another. Although guests could (and did) hike down from Mt. Wilson, getting propane into Camp was “a problem”. With the road impassable, there was no way to get tanks filled and to the Pack Station for the burros to carry in. And without propane, there’d be no cooking, no heat in the cabins – and no happy campers!

How to bring tanks in and out from another trailhead? Doodling on a napkin, manager Chris Kasten and previous manager Gary Keene spit-balled a design for a tank carrier running on a car-battery powered electric bicycle wheel. Working with gravity, the carrier would roll a full tank down the Mt. Wilson trail, then turn around and boost an empty tank back to the top. They took the design to a bike shop that did the custom welding, and Chris named the contraption Arbutus (look it up!) Story continues below.

People, Who Need People

The crunch in summer air travel is mostly pegged to a shortage of staff—cabin stewards, gate personnel, etc. Those ‘front facing staff’ are the key to making the travel experience a positive one, while the mechanics and pilots work behind the scenes to actually deliver.

That’s similar to Camp: while the Conservancy works to get the water system working and the Camp ready for re-opening, it will be the Hosts who actually greet guests and help make their time at Camp a positive one. Those people (guests) need those people (hosts)!

The best hosts are ‘people people’ who know that “a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled”. It’s true that Hosts also manage a lot of the house-keeping, and Camp being the nearly 130 years old, they often have to step in to make repairs and keep things safe over the weekend. So hosting isn’t coasting through a weekend at Camp.

But in return, Hosts become part of a special team with customized access to the Camp and Canyon. The job criteria are simple: are you a people person who appreciates the Camp and wants to share that? Are you available to commit to a few weekends in Camp (on your own schedule) over the course of a year? Oh, and do you love to hike?! An updated job description and orientation program will be available this fall to get ready for the Camp’s re-opening. If you have been a host before or want to be considered, visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer and/or send an email stating your interest — we’re interested in you!

Bun Definitely in the Oven

Teah and Gary

If ever there was a “bun in the oven”, Ripley Vaughn-Piscopo was it! With her birthday coming VERY soon, a baby shower for her mom (and Conservancy Board member) Teah was in order. Maggie Moran offered her home and its expanded porch at Adams Pack Station as the location, so in the scorching heat of an early summer Sunday, immediate family and friends gathered on the deck with the burros braying in the background. Teah was (as always) the life of the party, accompanied by husband and future dad Graham (sweating not the delivery but the heat, along with everyone else!)

Maggie and guests

Maggie was Hostess with the mostest and emceed the party, which included cold beverages, tasty snacks, and some fun games (including real horseshoes). NO tails were pinned on any actual donkeys, but most guests did visit the pack train in the corral to meet Teah’s “extended family.”

Thanks to Maggie for providing a great place to celebrate (plus her custom cupcakes!), and to board members Sarah Barron and Gary Keene for organizing and refreshments. Thanks also to Patrick Kelly and Dave Nickoloff of the Canyon Patrol for staffing the gate to get all the guests in on time. News of Ripley’s arrival will be posted on Wilbur’s Facebook page. Stay tuned!

Arbutus Continued

Arbutus headed back home

The shop finished Arbutus right when Chris was scheduled to be away for a rare vacation, so Gary picked it up for the test run. Rolling the loaded rig down from the summit of Mt. Wilson while feathering the brake was a breeze. The next morning, he turned around with an empty tank loaded and headed up: a small lever actuated the battery supply, and the ‘mule’ pulled the tank up the trail about 20 yards— and died.

Whaaaat?! After a few moments, the green light came back on: power on, roll forward and up – and dead. In between pushing and dragging, this on/off pattern repeated for another 3/4s of a mile or so, then stayed dead. Gary reported, “What was usually an hour hike to the summit took over 3 hours and was the toughest I’ve ever done—Mt. Rainier included!”

Turns out back then there were two kinds of electric wheel: one to help you get going, and a different model that you pedaled first, then it would assist. Arbutus had the first one, although it is doubtful any version could conquer Mt. Wilson. As usual, Chris figured it out, swapped out the wheel, and switched the delivery route over to Newcomb’s Pass (driving the tanks on the F.S. road to the drop-off/pick-up point for a most downhill run in.)

Arbutus fulfilled its purpose, carrying propane and groceries and repair supplies into Camp until the Chantry Road was repaired and re-opened. Then it got moved over to another Methodist camp in Wrightwood, where it languished for many years. With the closure of the Chantry road for a new bridge this season, Gary (as current General Manager) got to wondering where the it had gone to hibernate.

The green mule was recovered and turned over to John “JT” Thompson, the Camp’s ex-officio electrical wizard (who also happens to be a cyclist.) He renovated Arbutus, giving it two ‘tiny but mighty’ nicad batteries in place of the old car battery. Fourth of July weekend, a work team delivered Arbutus up the trail—or rather, chased it up the Canyon: with no load (this time!), the tire was skipping and pulling fast over rocks and roots, tossing dust and mud in the face of the drivers.

Next it will be tested for carrying various supplies in and out of Camp; eventually it will stay in Camp and help volunteers move propane tanks around the cabins, bathhouse and dining hall. No carrots, but regular re-charging should keep it in service for many years to come – check it out when you finally get back to Camp!

Binocular Report

While the Canyon is closed this summer, the Conservancy’s “backpack” is full of work: installing the filter and valve system for the water tanks, getting the pack train up to Camp, recruiting a new cadre of hosts, developing marketing before the Forest opens, plenty of repairs and maintenance on site – in other words, we’re keeping our boots laced up and ask you to do the same with a visit to sturtevantcamp.com/support

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Reports Camp News Volunteer

Storm Report, Thanks to Deb, and Sturde’s Ask

Rain and Relandscaping

What 5″ of rain in 12 hours looks like going over the check dam behind the Main Lodge.

“Be careful of what you wish for.” True that! Water in the Canyon and at Camp has been in long-term short supply. But recent winter storms have deluged our wishes for rain, relandscaping the streambed (again), and creating new projects throughout the Camp. Most importantly, the rain is forcing not only more shoveling, but new strategies for capturing and delivering water into the Camp’s system. Stay tuned for news through the winter season and check the Camp’s and Wilbur’s Facebook pages for work-weekend updates.

Deb’s Long Run

Snapshot of Deb on video giving a tour of the Camp.

The winter of 2011 was grey with uncertainty; after nearly 70 years of owning the Camp, the regional United Methodist Church moved to shutter and sell the historic buildings and operations. Volunteers struggled to keep the Camp open, and after four years, the best option became real: Deb Burgess, a cabin owner and trail runner who had already stepped up to successfully build up the Pack Station, organized the Friends of the San Gabriels to fundraise and purchase the Camp. After lengthy – emphasize lengthy! – negotiations with the Forest Service and denomination, the keys were transferred in 2015.

Along with her mother Sue Burgess, Deb moved quickly to put the Camp on its own feet operationally and legally, filing to create the Sturtevant Conservancy. As President of the tiny board and ‘chief operating officer / packer / repair technician / etc.’, she almost single-handedly worked to bring the Camp into a new era of outreach and hospitality. Using her business savvy and a wide range of skills, from plumbing to crafts to advertising to decorating, all fueled by an endless dynamism that left others sucking wind to keep up, she upgraded and stabilized the Camp to serve its original purpose; welcoming people to a boot-based experience of the wilderness.

In time, running both the Pack Station and Camp, along with life’s many changes, began to wear heavy even on this mountain trail runner. As the Conservancy’s volunteer support base grew, Deb sold the Pack Station and moved up north to the Sierra foothills. After the Bobcat Fire destroyed her cabin in 2020, she stepped down as President/CEO of the Conservancy to focus on her own rebuilding efforts while continuing as an officer on the Board.

Deb on the old zip-line, as usual moving faster than anyone can keep up!

Earlier this year, Deb tried to resign to make room for new members, but that was immediately tabled! Many operational threads remained to be unwound and rewoven with new hands. With most of that work done, the Board has now acted to formally name Deb Burgess as “Founding President and Member Emeritus of the Board of the Sturtevant Conservancy”. This keeps her in an ex-officio/non-voting relationship to the Board, with the freedom to give the benefit of her experience and opinion any time she darn well pleases.

The Camp – and the public it serves – are indebted to Deb for taking on the huge task of transitioning the Camp at a darkly crucial time and putting it on a good path to the future. The Board, on behalf of the Canyon community and the hiking public, offers their gratitude, best wishes, and yes – happy trails. Thanks Deb!

Sturde’s Holiday Ask

Sturtevant Camp runs on two things: Desire and Dollars. Desire is what draws both hiker-guests and hiker-volunteers up the Canyon for the unique experience of ‘camping indoors’ at Sturtevant. Without desire, no boot hits the trail, no hot chocolate awaits in the Lodge, and no doors or pipes or anything gets fixed at Camp.

If desire is the Top Line of the Camp’s purpose, there is also a Bottom Line— the Dollars. The Camp doesn’t run on the free firewood laying around: there’s propane for stoves and fridges, filters and pipes for water and waste systems, and shingles on roofs keeping beds with pillows dry inside and so much more—SO much! All of it demands constant maintenance, repairs, and ideally, improvement.

This has been true since Wilbur “Sturde” Sturtevant built the Camp, but it is urgent this season. The Canyon has been closed for two years now with no revenue, and it’s unknown when the USFS will allow us to re-open for business. In the meantime, volunteers have been hustling to make critical repairs to the Camp following the Bobcat fire, but these are repairs, not the regular maintenance the Camp needs.

Fundraising for the big repairs has covered most of those costs, and now we need to make up for the absence of guest income to tackle the basic maintenance needed to re-open the Camp. We still have extensive bear damage to repair, deferred maintenance on the Lodge floor and ceiling, etc. The irony is that the closure gives our volunteers a window of opportunity to get that done – IF we have the dollars for materials and supplies, including lumber, paint, and more.

So, this is Sturde’s two-point holiday “ask”: first, your DESIRE to see the Camp sustained, improved, and readied for re-opening, and secondly DOLLARS to help make that happen. You can do the dollars at sturtevantcamp.com/support

And if some of your desire includes hiking to Camp and joining in the work got to sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer.

Thanks in advance for your generosity!

Road Open, Gate Closed

The first week of December, Chantry residents got word that the road construction crew would finish their work the following Tuesday. Residents and cabin owners hustled to deliver a tasty taco lunch and offer thanks to the remaining workers on their last day. Everyone enjoyed that gratifying sense of a (big) job finally done.

Which does not mean the road is open: the Canyon remains closed under the USFS order. But it will mean that Camp volunteers can come all the way up to Chantry Flats and start hiking (and hauling supplies) from there. For some residents, it will mean a return to full-time living at home, and for Maggie Moran and the Pack Station, a very big step toward re-opening for business. Stay tuned for breaking news!

Safety Stocking Stuffers for You & Yours

Check out this list from REI sporting goods…

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html

Looking Ahead to 2023

Our Annual Report, fresh faces on the Conservancy Board and at the USFS, and – you know – the latest on winter conditions in the Canyon and at Camp. Until then, Happy Holidays!

The Sturtevant Conservancy – Gary, Sarah, Paul, and Teah.