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Building Large & Small

There are two “big” projects underway that, when completed, will give the public safe and reliable access into the Big Santa Anita Canyon. The objectively larger one is the L.A. County project to build a vehicle bridge on the Chantry Road, using heavy—really, really heavy! – equipment. It is currently on track for completion in early October.

The smaller but no less crucial one is helping the Adams Pack Station to reclaim the ‘horse’ or pack trail from Chantry Flats up to Camp; the tools and equipment are shovels, pick-axes, McLeods, and strong backs! The packtrain burros will be the first regular users, with hikers coming later when the Canyon opens to the public (hopefully next spring).

The trail is rough but navigable by foot now, but there is one rocky pinch point the burros cannot pass with their bags loaded; plus a few other points are tricky and need work. As soon as these can be fixed, Maggie Moran can start packing, which serves the Pack Station and the Camp—both of which remain endangered by the closure of the Canyon nearly two years after the Bobcat Fire. To join this project, visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer. We’ll provide the shovel!

Spring = New Births

Flowers aren’t the only things blooming in the Canyon: bear cubs have been sighted near Chantry, and on the trail to Camp, Manager Paul Witman came upon three still wet, just-born fawns (see photo). Then in Camp, a Dusky Flycatcher has made a nest in its usual place on the kitchen windowsill of the Manager’s Cabin – but this time had the advantage of a cup previously filled with ammonia to stave off the bears. A week after the first photos of her sitting on 3 eggs, the work team returned to find them hatched and hungry; the photo here shows them napping while mom is out hunting for breakfast.

How to Sell “Camp”

With Camp closed for repairs and preparing for re-opening ‘later’, the Board is catching its breath and thinking about how to advertise for that re-opening. Sturtevant is so wholly unique, it’s hard to accurately “sell”: hikers come into true wilderness, but stay in cabins, with kitchens and restrooms. Sturtevant is just 25 miles from downtown LA. so it’s ‘accessible’—but that 4.15 mile hike makes it genuinely remote. In Camp guests are “wi-fi free”, yet most awareness of Camp is built on-line, especially now while the Canyon is closed. It feels luxurious to have bed and pillows in the wilderness, but for sure it’s not glamping, it’s rustic—historically, intentionally, inevitably rustic!

We’re confident that the Canyon’s magic will continue to pull in all kinds of people, just as it has since Wilbur set up the first tents in 1893. With that in mind, one option to both sell that Canyon magic and recover the guest capacity of Cabin-1 could be to put up an old-school canvass sidewall tent. These have become popular and are readily available—just as they were way back when: the accompanying photo is from the 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalogue, showing many kinds of tents for recreation and work.

Note that 1897 is the same year that Wilbur built the “Swiss Dining Lodge” to accommodate his booming tent-based resort business. We still enjoy it today, and are working so that many more can continue to come to Camp in the years ahead. To be part of helping that history thrive in the future visit sturtevantcamp.com/support.

Calling All Hosts, Old & New

Speaking of which (the Future): Sturtevant’s microscopic non-profit public service Conservancy depends entirely on volunteer hosts to welcome and manage guests on weekends. Looking ahead to re-opening (sometime after Christmas?) we are ramping up to recruit old and new hosts for that exciting day.

This includes an updated job description, orientation and training for hosts, and a smoother booking system for hosts, with accompanying “bennies” on the far end. 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!

And the Water-Works Goes On

These snapshots from progress on the water system include Site & Operations Manager Paul Witman piecing together the filter system for the replacement tanks at the entry to Cabin-2, which has become the storage and assembly site for all the valves, tools, etc. Action figure-photo-volunteer Scott Wilson pumps the come-along to drag one of the old concrete tank support ledgers out of its place, making room for the replacement tank/s. And Scott at rest, surveying the reworked pad for the new water tanks: the new ones are shorter but wider than the ones lost to the fire, so the pad had to be slightly expanded.

Binocular Report

Going into summer, the Conservancy’s “backpack” is full of work: getting the pack train through to Camp a.s.a.p., installing and testing the water tank (as the water level drops for the season and the continuing drought), finalizing host recruitment and training, housekeeping and repairs in Camp, upgrading our accounting and reservations systems, and developing both marketing and publicity before the Forest opens, etc.! In other words, we’re keeping our boots laced up and ask you to do the same with a visit to sturtevantcamp.com/support

Bonus Shot / Up Next

Here is a fuzzy spy photo of – what? One of our volunteers with – what? See next month’s newsletter for the big reveal!

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Reports Camp Operations Camp News

Trees Down, Flowers Up, Gate Closed

Forest More Open – Canyon Still Closed

Extended closure map

The Angeles National Forest is slowly opening after the Bobcat Fire, but the Big Santa Anita Canyon remains closed. The original order closed the Forest through this April, and there was hope that when it expired, the Canyon would re-open. And the U.S. Forest Service did open nearly 60% of the closed area, but extended the closure for the remaining 40% of the Forest through Spring 2023. You guessed it: the Camp and Canyon remain in the closed area.

It’s hard to make a positive case for public access to the Canyon at this time*. Spring weather continues to move the streambed around and knock trees down across the trails. Volunteers are engaged in a Sisyphean effort to clear deadfall and quickly scrape the trail on their way in, but the tread remains sharply rocky and unstable. Basically, the trail is still hazardous and just plain unwelcoming.

*And that’s ignoring the Chantry Road project; if the Canyon was opened before the Road is completed, hiking access would have to be from the Mt. Wilson side or Newcomb’s Pass).

Closed, Except to Flowers!

Bushwhacking through Canterbury Bells

Given all the above conditions, the old days of a relatively smooth walk/hike in the mountains looking up into the trees is gone, at least for now. But it’s also true that the trail and hillsides are overwhelmed by tall bright green grasses and wildflowers concealing the trail, most of them between knee and hip-high; it’s like pushing through powder snow! Especially abundant are the blue Canterbury Bells—what used to be a nice annual scattering along south-facing hillsides is now a dense blanket of purple-blue.

So, hiking into Camp isn’t without its rewards! Work is currently focused on clearing a few pinch points in the trail so a fully loaded Pack Train can come all the way through to Camp. The load going up will be cement-mix and parts for the water tanks; coming out will be the charred remains of Cabin-1 and the old tanks, plus accumulated broken junk that needs to go out.

To get in on the action while the flowers are still bright, go to sturtevantcamp.com/support

Back in the Cabin Again

Sarah & Teah at dinner

Given the USFS guidelines for safety in the post-burn Canyon, no one has stayed in Camp since guests were evacuated for the Bobcat fire 20 months ago. But earlier this month, we ‘broke the fast’ and for a very timely reason: board member and Manager for Guests & Hospitality Teah Vaughn-Piscopo was the host who evacuated that group, and her first baby is due this July. She quite rightly wanted to spend a first and last “normal” night in Camp “Before I shift from carrying the baby inside to outside.”

Following the hiker’s safety rule of 3 minimum, fellow Board members Sarah Barron and Gary Keene hiked in with Teah for a very mixed 24 hours: originally scheduled for a Friday-Saturday that suddenly became insanely hot, they shifted forward just one day—and instead hiked in a cool drippy drizzle. A lovely dinner of Italian cuisine followed, then Teah slept in the Manager’s Cabin with a can of bear spray just in case Peggy the Bear decided to try her old trick of coming through the closet wall!

Instead, the wind howled all night, and the morning brought a clear and beautiful day for the hike out. But not before Teah finished her job of refitting the bear-damaged refrigerator doors in the Lodge kitchen! Thanks and congrats to Teah, we’ll keep everyone posted here about her birth-day.

Peggy On the Move Again

Cabin-owners at Fern Lodge and up Winter Creek are reporting a new round of bear break-ins, which is frustrating: nobody is keeping any food that would attract attention, but Peggy clearly learned to check back just in case, pulling boards off cabin walls like the lever on a slot machine—might get lucky!

Fortunately, she hasn’t been back to Camp (yet.) What few dry staples were salvaged from the original break-ins after the fire are stashed – where else? – in the Bear Bin, a solid sheet metal container designed to hold garbage until the Pack Train can pick it up.

No ‘permanent’ repairs have been made to the prior damage either: the plan is to develop a food/bear security protocol for when we re-open, and make the real repairs then. With any luck, having people more consistently on site will help keep Peggy (the peg-legged bea) away.

Moving Mountains: a Hydrologist’s Prediction

Standard orientation for guests at Camp includes pointing out that the San Gabriels are one of the most unstable mountain ranges anywhere. The combination of decomposed granite sitting on the uplift of the San Andreas Fault means we’re always falling / sliding / eroding down. Now the Bobcat fire has exposed all that, and with any hit of rain, more is carried down the canyon, filling in the streambed like a beach.

Now, according to an L.A. County hydrologist, we can expect more. Detailed post-fire surveys measured the loss of vegetation and the amount of remaining exposed soils, their depth and composition; next came rainfall calculations, with the estimate what we saw around Christmas 2021 will repeat for the next 3-5 years. Put those together, and there is a high probability we will continue to see the Big Santa Anita Canyon seriously re-shaped in the years to come. Grab your shovels and wax those boots!

Really BIG Holes

Drilling really big holes

Camp volunteers are getting a close-up look at the Chantry Road bridge project; vehicles have to be left behind about the 3 miles up the road, and then everyone hikes through the churned-up dirt, rocks and huge drilling equipment. Almost two dozen bore holes are going in through soil and solid rock, some 55 ft and other 75 ft down. Pretty nifty what you can do with gigantic heavy metal bits and engines, but we’ll stick with our shovels and McLeods!

Binocular Report

“Opening Next Spring” is the refrain for predictions about when the USFS will open the Big Santa Anita Canyon to the public; the ideal would be to coincide with the re-opening of the Chantry Road scheduled before Thanksgiving. But HOW that re-opening happens is purest speculation.

During the early phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Canyon was overwhelmed with people desperately seeking to get outdoors together. So, it’s a good bet that once the gate formally opens, thousands will want to see the effects of the Bobcat Fire up close—as well as to again, get outdoors. How will the canyon be made ready—safe for the public, managed in terms of parking, trail directions, trash collection? All eyes are on the USFS.

Although the Camp remains closed for business, we’re still busy with repair and improvement projects: funding these projects is now entirely dependent on charitable donations of time, talents and dollars. You can help with any or all of these! Click into the Volunteer and Donate links, and keep in touch here as we find our way forward on the trail in 2022.

April Photo Gallery

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Camp News

The Ladder Is Gone, Burros Are Coming

Indian Paintbrush wildflower
Indian Paintbrush wildflower

Just in time for the Spring Equinox, the ‘Slide-Rock Gap’ in the main trail has finally been solved. After months of grabbing ropes and dancing across the infamous ‘Khumbu Ladder’ bridge near Hoegee’s Drop-off, a safe tread has been reestablished on solid rock; more importantly, it’s safe even for the Adams pack train.

It was no small accomplishment: the gap in the trail meant the Camp was cut off from the Pack Station, preventing critical repair supplies from being delivered, stalling recovery and reopening work. The gap also meant Adams Pack Station was cut off from vital revenue from the Camp; with Chantry Flats closed, owner Maggie Moran’s business is entirely dependent on packing in the Canyon. So fixing the gap was THE high priority.

The challenge of the gap was three interlocking adjacent facets, all exposed over a sharp drop-off: first a steeply sloped rock ledge capped by an insidiously-well-rooted tree, then a slick-rock slope finally morphing into a deep chute.

Into the gap stepped (and crawled and scrambled) three trail-building pros: Nathan Bousfield, Fred Tanis, and Jim Richter. Over three days, the team effectively re-sculpted those facets down-and-over into a stable path. The amount of gritty, artful pounding with various sledgehammers and chisels plus levering with titanium prybars was staggering (and exhausting). And the tree presented an unexpected challenge—kind of like “Do we cut the red wire or the green wire?” to get the roots woven into the rock to release.

Our deepest thanks to these never-say-quit rockhounds, and to Maggie for housing them at Chantry: they camped out in her new storage shed and she kept them fueled for the job, as well as packing in tools and water on the burros. Thanks also to the Friends of the San Gabriels, who brokered the authorization to do the work with the USFS. With this key link in the trail restored, most of the remaining trail work will be more like annual spring cleaning—a lot of shoveling, raking and brush clearance. Check the volunteer link to participate.

And, anybody need a lightly used 15ft extension ladder?

New BSACPA President Elected

The Big Santa Anita Canyon Permitees Association is composed of dues-paying cabin owners, and at their recent annual meeting, they elected former Treasurer Jane Bice to the office of President. Closely involved with all the post-Bobcat fire work on behalf of the cabin owners, Jane takes up the mantle from Ben Fitzsimmons, who steps down with thanks from everyone for his service.

Jane promises an aggressive approach to post-fire issues and concerns with the USFS, as well as the on-going well-being of the canyon community. The work is sure to ramp up in anticipation of the canyon re-opening to the public (date unknown), so the Camp (technically Cabin #105) offers our support and best wishes to Jane in her new role.

Closed For Real

Heavy excavator working on the road to Chantry Flat
Heavy excavator working on the road to Chantry Flat

The Chantry Road is now fully closed to vehicle traffic for work on the bridge construction project. Chantry residents, cabin owners and Camp volunteers have parking space allocated below the work zone (about 3 miles up / ¼ mile short of Chantry Flats), and need to coordinate with the contractor’s work schedule for walking access through the project. Chantry resident Dave Nickloff is posting photos of the project almost daily to his Facebook page, which show up on Wilbur Sturtevant’s page—check it out for the latest.

A Financial Ecosystem Too

Sturtevant Camp lives in a wilderness ecosystem of water, trees, moving rocks and soils, plus bears, termites, newts and mousies, It also functions in a constructed ecosystem of heated buildings, pipes, propane and electricity. (Note that “eco-” means “home”, both the where and the way living is carried out). The Board is always working for the Camp to operate in balance with its ecosystems, a home away from home in the forest.

The other key ecosystem is financial: how are we keeping the balance there? Looking back over the history of the Camp, the income/expense reports and balance sheets are quite stable. This is a reflection of the basically finite fiscal ecosystem of the Camp: with just 40 beds, rustic accommodations, operating only weekends, an average of 50 weeks a year, the possible range of guest income has always been narrow.

Basic expenses are very predictableit’s all about the utilities (water system, propane, gas, trash) and packing packing packing. Like most camps nationally, tight budgets have always meant patchwork repairs and deferred maintenance, and we have plenty of both! But this is exacerbated by being isolated in the wilderness, where the trail is a serious bottleneck not only to repair materials but to the volunteers doing the work: often volunteers spend as much time on the road and trail getting to/from Camp as they do on site fixing/maintaining stuff. 

The big fiscal inflection points in the recent past have been the ca.2005 Chantry Road closure, and now of course the Bobcat fire—compounded by the current road closure for most of 2022. But the deepest impact over the last 30 years has been the decline in summer residential youth camping, which was the previous mainstay of annual income. Now the business has shifted to families and small groups of friends. The future is wide open, but we still have to address the loss of Cabin-1 which provided 20% of our bed capacity. 

Reclaiming that capacity will require the kind of capital expense that used to be covered by the Camp’s institutional ownership. But since 2014 the Camp has been a stand-alone and distinctly non-profit business! Except we’re not financially alone: especially following the Bobcat Fire, we’ve experienced broad support through direct gifts of all kinds and sizes. In fact, most non-profit businesses now practice a multi-revenue stream approach to budgeting, so that the mission of the Camp is not dependent on any one source of revenue.

Preparing to re-open to the public means conserving our place in the wilderness ecosystem, repairing and improving our functional ecosystem of buildings and utilities, and strengthening our financial ecosystem. That will include an updated reservations and accounting system, and developing a coordinated approach to fund-raising, grant applications, and contributions of goods and skills in kind. With your involvement, we look forward to healthy future in each of our ecosystems. Thank you for all you have done and will do!

http://www.sturtevantcamp.com/support/

Binocular Report

Woman looking through binocularsThe timing of this month’s trail fix for packing plus the road project moving forward rapidly means now the clock is ticking for delivery of cement for the water tank project. Although the Camp remains closed for business, we’re still busy with this and other repair and improvement projects: funding these projects is entirely dependent on charitable donations of time, talents and dollars. You can help with any or all of these! Click into the Volunteer and Donate links, and keep in touch here as we move toward summer.

Next Month’s Blog:

Moving Mountains — a Hydrologist’s Prediction


Photo Gallery

Photos of the washed out stock trail and recent repair work.

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Reports Camp News Volunteer

More Hiking & More Digging

Not Quite a Valentine

February 14 was the first official day of the planned eight-month closure of Chantry Road for the construction of an all-new bridge. By June, it will be physically impossible for any vehicle to cross the gap where the bridge is being built. But the project will maintain a pedestrian walkway, so that people can cross from both directions: this will allow Adam’s Pack Station owner Maggie Moran and her family, plus the USFS residents of Chantry Flat, to get in and out—and for our volunteers to stay on the job of prepping the camp for eventual re-opening. The walk-around will add about a half-mile to the work-day distance total, guaranteeing that everyone gets their “steps” in, with or without carrying pipes and parts!

Unfinished Business

Weekend work-team lunch break; standing L-R are Scott Wilson, Brent Pepper, Maureen Nally; seated are Kelly Davidson, Board members Teah Vaughn-Piscopo and Sarah Barron.

Most fundraisers offer thank-you incentives and souvenirs to donors — T-shirts, tote bags, etc. There are a few of those for last season’s Quench campaign to fund the new water tanks, but we also promised something special to many donors: thank-you luncheons and experiences at Chantry Flat and at Sturtevant Camp.

However, the closure of the Chantry Flat road has put a very real roadblock on those plans, compounded by continuing concerns over Covid exposure. Therefore, the board has chosen to put a hold on everything until we can do those events right — on site, safely and fully inclusive. Before then, we’ll ask for your feedback on the best, most accessible versions of the events, so please watch your email in-box for customized messages, and reply with your preferences.

The Recovery Business

The two storms at the end of 2021 were a real set-back on the water system project, but thanks to the skill and tenacity of our board members, and the many new and returning volunteers, we are back on track. Volunteers have done so much shoveling — so much — and Site & Operations Manager Paul Witman has been hands-on/in the dirt and mud to guide the recovery and rebuilding of the essential plumbing. Soon the focus will shift to installing the new water tanks after we solve the cement delivery dilemma.

Our volunteers have proven themselves to be reliably sturdy, but we won’t ask them to haul 60lb bags of concrete up the trail— that’s what burros are for! Cement is needed for the base of the water tanks, but the main trail is not yet passable to the pack train; there is serious technical work to be done in several key spots, as well as miles worth of basic shoveling. As a temporary alternative, pack train owner Maggie Moran has explored the original Sturtevant Trail down from Mount Wilson to camp as an alternative. That would also require some work, plus complicated logistics, including staging the pack train at the observatory for a week or so. We’ll have an update in the next Bigcone blog on how the dilemma is resolved.

Big improvement added to the ropes — a crevasse ladder! Board member Gary Keene tests a donated and carried in 15ft extension ladder.

The Nut$ & Bolt$ of Business Closure

The guest welcome board in the dining hall, unchanged since the group evacuated from the Bobcat fire in September 2020.

Not being open for business is obviously bad for business, but the Board is working hard to not go out of business and get ready to do business—when the time comes! We are fortunate that we do not have the daily-demand costs of Adams’ Pack Station, whose burros don’t care about road and Forest closures—just bring on the feed!  That’s why we encourage everyone to support Maggie’s on-line fundraisers at adamspackstation.com.

But we do have on-going expenses: more than just insurance and fees, the demand for basic repair and preventive maintenance is constant. As much as we enjoy the forest wilderness, it is a hostile environment to the camp’s buildings and infrastructure, requiring steady attention and investment.

With the road’s construction closure through October, combined with the USFS closure of the canyon until further notice, we do not anticipate guest revenue until maybe the 4th quarter of 2022, and that is very hopeful. It does give us time to tackle both major repair projects from the fire, as well as long-sought improvement projects. For example, the 1897 dining hall has serious termite damage to repair, and the roof is due for replacement; the shut-down is an ideal time to get these kinds of projects done.

Thanks to the Quench campaign and the cash balance of business income before the fire, the camp has its fiscal head above the financial waters—make that its nose! Project-focused fundraisers are on the horizon, and in next month’s blog, we’ll outline the historic and projected fiscal ecosystem of the camp as we plan to go forward.

Until then, your financial support strengthens our ability to use this closure to improve the future of the camp’s service to the public: sturtevantcamp.com/support Thanks in advance for doing so!

Green & Black, Flowers & Scat

Coming into February, our volunteers are seeing plenty of green sprouting in the canyon; while the Bobcat fire likely burned out some of the familiar invasive species, it has also given opportunity to many of the indigenous plants of the San Gabriel Mountains to take their rightful place in the sun. Right now, white blossoms of the climbing wild cucumber are all over, lightly scenting the air.

There’s also good news for some of the fauna: horticulturist and board member (and bear-whisperer!) Teah Vaughn-Piscopo identified several recent doses of scat on the trail as bear-poop which were very black and dense. This indicates a diet unusually heavy in meat; whatever the unfortunate source, at least the bears have not been back into our kitchen and buildings (knock on wood).

Next Month’s Bigcone Blog

News from the U.S.F.S. for the canyon, a snapshot of the camp’s fiscal ecosystem, updates from the cabin owner’s association annual meeting, and whatever else happens between now and then.


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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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Reports Camp News

2021 Year-End Thanks

Sing along now: “How many boots must a hiker lace up, before you can call it a day?” —or a season, or a year? OK, not quite rhyming enough, but you get the idea. 2021 has been a ‘second verse, same as the first’ with the effects of 2020’s Bobcat fire continuing to ripple through this year—oh, and that pandemic thing too!

So congratulations to everyone who has come thus far, and condolences for those lost along the journey’s way. Up at Camp, the seasons persisted with a lovely showing of golden maple leaves this fall. Now we hope for rain while looking back on a busy year of many volunteers putting boots on the trail and sweat on their brows.

  • The major effort to reclaim and improve the water system is 95% done after lots of hard-rock digging and new pipes; now all we need is lots of water running through them.
  • The Quench campaign to fund two new water tanks was an overflowing success: a waterfall of thanks again to all who contributed—see below about ‘unfinished business’.
  • The new water tanks are finally on-site/in-Camp with more bits and pieces coming up on the burros around Christmas. The new year will see them assembled and hooked into the plumbing system.
  • The frequent destructive incursions of bears into Camp buildings has slowed down, and we look forward to making more permanent repairs that restore the “rustoric” look of the Camp (that’s Rustic + Historic, right?)
  • All of this has been accomplished safely with no injuries, despite the continuing instability of the trails, and many volunteers serving as pack animals carrying awkward repair materials.
  • AND in compliance with post-fire USFS safety guidelines, all of the work has been done in one-shot day trips: many legs – hearts – lungs + spirits are the stronger for it!

Unfinished Business

Most fundraisers offer thank-you incentives and souvenirs to donors—T-shirts, tote bags, etc. There are a few of those for the Quench campaign, but we also promised something special to many donors: luncheons at Chantry and at Camp. We are cooking on those plans!

But the upcoming extended Chantry Road closure (see below) has put a troublesome roadblock in front of the immediate future. It means we’ll have to work with L.A. County to figure out how and when we can deliver on those promised events. And we’ll need your feedback to figure out the best, most inclusive solutions, so please watch your email in-box for customized messages and reply with your preferences.

The Road to Somewhere

The Chantry Road has experienced a lot of drama over the years, but the upcoming closure* for repair/reconstruction will introduce something new. Previous repairs have been one of two types: bulldozing debris avalanches off the road, or when the road washes out, rebuilding the base and pouring new pavement.

The section due for repair now is of the second kind, but the county will do a much more radical fix: rather than try to build a new base, the whole section will be removed, and a bridge will be constructed in its place—perhaps similar to the Bridge to Nowhere, but it will actually get you somewhere—Chantry Flats!

Breaking News: Sometime/Later

Latest word is that the County has run into the same supply and contractor problems challenging many industries following the pandemic. The result is the Chantry Road work is now re-scheduled to start in February next year; with a six-month work plan, that pushes the re-opening of the road into August 2022. But the County has also acknowledged that possible winter weather plus supply delays could stretch completion into spring 2023.

The Board of the Sturtevant Conservancy is in contact with both L.A. County and the USFS with serious concern for the closure’s impact on the Camp (and to join in support for the Adams Pack Station.)

Whenever the USFS opens the Big Santa Anita Canyon to the public— which is accessible by trails from Mt. Wilson and Newcomb’s Pass—the Camp might be able to develop some work-arounds to the road closure: literally, walking around the project or walking/hiking down from Mt. Wilson (and back up!) But there’s no underestimating the negative impact on the Camp’s basic business. Stay tuned for more news as it becomes available.

Interview: the Generous Hiker’s Guide to DAFs & EFTs

Coming to the close of the tax year for charitable donations, one regular Camp supporter emailed to deliver a gift in an alternative mode. The Camp’s General Manager Gary Keene interviewed Jon Neustadter to better understand and share both how he gives and why.

GK: Jon, what’s your connection to the Camp?

JN: Since at least 2010 – and likely well before – I’ve been hiking the 9-mile loop from Chantry to Spruce to Sturtevant, then over that downed tree with my dog (and the help of a makeshift metallic step) up to Mount Zion, and back via Lower Winter Creek Trail, and the Camp has always been a joyous highlight of the hike.

GK: A lot of people come through Camp on that hike, but for you there was something more; what was it?

JN: Several times we were greeted warmly by the Camp Manager, and often we would play some ping pong in the Lodge and look at the historical photos. I also loved the swing. It’s just a fun and special place to stop at on a gorgeous hike. All my visits just seemed special – a place that was well kept, friendly, and inviting even to a hiker who wasn’t staying at Camp.

GK: It led to you being generous to the Camp—thank you!— but in a different way technically: you asked us to set up an electronic fund transfer (EFT) from your ‘donor advised fund’. There are two things there—the fund and the transfer—that others might not be familiar with. Help us understand all that, and how it works for making charitable donations.

JN: Yes, a donor advised fund (or ‘donor managed investment account’) is easy, and it helps me manage and track all my donations in one place. Basically, it’s a charitable giving mechanism where you get a full tax deduction at the time you fund the account, but you retain investment management rights over the account; then you request (really, direct) donations from the account to charities you select whenever you choose.

GK: Sounds straight forward; are there other advantages for giving in this way?

JN: There are several other advantages: the fund can grow (or lose) with the market without any tax consequences, so it’s possible to request a larger donation than what you made originally. Another tax advantage is that you can contribute many kinds of assets, such as securities at their current market value, without any tax consequences. Also, there is no need to get a letter from non-profits for tax deduction purposes, which saves time and resources both for me and for the receiving non-profits.

As for the EFT, it’s simply how the donation gets delivered, but it also saves time and resources and is more secure; there’s no paper check, envelope, or risk of slow or lost mail.

GK: Your support will contribute to our reopening when the Canyon is opened to the public; what would you like to see on your first return hike into Camp?

JN: I would love to see a Camp Manager with a dog and chat with them about how Camp life has been wonderful lately.

GK: We have both—managers and their dogs! Just as soon as we can welcome the public, we’ll invite you up. Thanks again for giving us the means to move forward.

For an example of a donor advised fund, see www.fidelitycharitable.org/guidance/philanthropy/what-is-a-donor-advised-fund.html

Binocular Report

See all the above! The future is pretty darn cloudy, given the forest closure, road closure, and the projected dry winter. But we have a great network of volunteers, donors, supporters, and ready-to-be-guests. Although the Camp remains closed for business, we’re still busy with repair and improvement projects: funding these projects is now entirely dependent on charitable donations of time, talents and dollars. You can help with any or all of these!

Visit the Volunteer and Donate pages and keep in touch here as we find our way forward on the trail into 2022.

Categories
Camp Operations Camp News Volunteer

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!


Categories
Quench Campaign Camp News Volunteer

Beginning the Long Haul of Long Hauls

We have begun the process of taking our new water tank parts from Adams’ Pack Station at Chantry Flat to the upper reaches of Big Santa Anita Canyon. When coming to Sturtevant Camp for a stay or a visit the trip is a pleasant, four-mile hike. But when carrying large, curved pieces of corrugated steel it becomes a long haul.

The First Trip

On Saturday, November 6th, 2021, eight volunteers carried one of 6 pieces of a water tank cylinder. Each piece is a 4′ x 9′ of deeply curved, corrugated & galvanized steel.

Initially we had tested a wooden rig for carrying the pieces; something akin to a stretcher used for carrying wounded people. But this rig proved to be more trouble than help so we abandoned it in favor of good old-fashioned elbow grease… and pool noodles.

Not So Fast

Volunteers building a crib wall out of rock on the trail to Sturtevant Camp
Building a crib wall.

Before we could attempt to carry such large and awkward items through the third steepest mountain range in North America, we had to do some trail repair.

If you don’t know, the reason for installing these new tanks is that in September 2020 the Bobcat Fire, one of two widespread fires in the recorded history of Big Santa Anita Canyon, destroyed our water system, along with one of our cabins.

The intensity of this fire denuded the canyon slopes of vegetation. And without the chaparral to hold the soil in place there was much dirt, rocks, and fire debris washed down across the trails by recent rains.

So instead of hauling the first tank piece on the first scheduled volunteer day, several volunteers, including new friends, went to work on clearing washouts with McLeods and shovels over the course of the two-day weekend, making the trail safe for our hauling efforts. In some places, loose rocks from above the trail were removed and placed in gullies as crib walls to restore the trail surface.

Let the Fun Begin

This should be a breeze!

The trails now in relatively safe and passable condition, we used the next scheduled volunteer day to begin hauling our tank pieces. And because we knew that we would encounter new debris on the trail we again brought in the trail-building tools.

Our new hauling system was simple and effective: two heavy-duty carrying straps rented from a moving company and cheap foam pool noodles to cap the sharp edges of the steel. This is much lighter and more maneuverable than the wooden rig, although the size and shape of the steel is nevertheless awkward to carry.

See the gallery below for photos from the first delivery day and days prior.


More Help is Needed

The end of a long day

This trip was just the beginning of delivering all the water tank pieces to Sturtevant Camp. And once everything is delivered we need to assemble it all and get the plumbing connected to the existing, undamaged infrastructure. If you can help in any of these capacities please use the following form to send us your information.

So far the scheduled dates are as follows…

Volunteer to Help with Our Water Tanks


    Categories
    Camp News

    Calling All Boots!

    Here’s the latest news about Sturtevant Camp from the Sturtevant Conservancy, five hikers infatuated with sharing the beauty and history of the camp with everyone. Stay on the trail and in the know as we continue to recover from the 2020 Bobcat Fire, looming drought, and hungry bears, and prep to receive guests when Big Santa Anita Canyon reopens to the public.

    New Tanks Have Been Delivered

    After last-minute snafus, including a truck tire flattened by sharp rocks on the road to Chantry Flat, the new water tanks finally came to rest by the loading dock at Adams’ Pack Station. Hurray! Thanks to crew chief Paul Witman, Sarah Barron, and Dave Baumgartner for managing this long awaited day. But there are 4.2 miles still to go.

    We Need Volunteers

    It takes two people to carry each 72 lb steel panel, using a custom-made truss for handling each one; the goal is to have four persons in rotation, carrying, spotting, and clearing the trail as needed.

    Who Is Needed

    We need hikers who are good at working together as a team, sure-footed on the trail, with good leg strength, stamina and some upper body strength. Hikers need to be familiar with hydration, nourishment and pacing their effort over time,.

    When Help Is Needed

    Just like filling a water tank, we’re aiming to fill up with enough people to get the job done over a few Saturdays: depending on sign-ups, we could be done quick, or it may take a few (we’d like to be done by Thanksgiving.) Here are the scheduled tote & carry Saturdays:

    • October 30
      Deadline for reply Sunday October 24
    • November 6
      Deadline for reply by Sunday October 31
    • November 13
      Deadline for reply by Sunday November 7
    • November 20
      Deadline for reply by Sunday November 14

    If you are interested in being hands-on/boots-on for a delivery, please submit the form below no later than the Sunday before the Saturday you can hike. As soon as we have a full team for a date we will confirm that date with those signed up.

    Thank you for stepping in & up to make this happen!

    Signup Form


      Bobcat Anniversary Dinner

      Ben Fitzsimmons receiving recognition

      The Big Santa Anita Canyon Permitees Association (cabin owners) gathered for a potluck picnic dinner at Adams’ Pack Station on October 10th, 2021. The occasion was to mark the anniversary of mostly surviving the 2020 Bobcat Fire. Originally scheduled for the actual anniversary date on the weekend of September 6th, it was deferred because the Angeles National Forest and Big Santa Anita Canyon had been shut down more tightly. Nearly all U.S. Forest Service personnel have been moved to Northern California to fight persistent wildfires.

      Cabin owners shared good food, stories about finding their cabins (or not) after the fire, and swapped tips on how to maybe keep bears from tearing into their cabins. Association president Ben Fitzsimmons was videoed accepting the Outstanding Leadership Award from the National Forest Homeowners, with all present signing off with a hearty “Canyon Strong!”

      Binocular Report

      Looking ahead, Los Angeles County is now planning to shut down and reconstruct the Chantry Flat road starting early December, with completion expected by June 2022, if weather does not add delays. How this impacts Sturtevant Camp will depend upon several factors, starting with when the U.S. Forest Service decides to open Big Santa Anita Canyon, perhaps regardless of the road’s status. Opening the canyon prior to completion of the road would allow people to hike into the canyon from the top — Mount Wilson, Newcomb’s Pass, etc.

      Stay tuned as we juggle the complexities of access to Sturtevant Camp and preparing for the day we can open again for all to enjoy.

      Closed But Busy

      Sturtevant Camp remains closed for business, but we’re still busy with repair and improvement projects. Funding these projects is entirely dependent on charitable donations of time, talent, and dollars.

      You can help with any or all of these by visiting the following link:
      sturtevantcamp.com/get-involved

      Categories
      Quench Campaign Camp News

      Quench Campaign is a Gusher!

      The numbers are in and the tanks are full! Thanks to sixty-five distinct new donors, the Quench campaign has succeeded in collecting funds and pledges enough to pay the invoices for our new water tanks plus parts, shipping, and packing. We offer an overflowing thanks to each and every one of you!

      The goal was to fund the restoration of the Sturtevant Camp’s water system after two of three tanks were destroyed last year in the Bobcat Fire. The main investment is two new fireproof tanks, which are due to arrive at Chantry Flat in just a few days.

      A quick look at the public donations shows that about two-thirds were $100 or less, so many hands made light work. Most of the remaining donations were in the $200 – $300 range with two major gifts from family foundations to top it all off. Now the Board will plan the special events and souvenirs offered in recognition of everyone’s generosity.

      A waterfall of thanks to everyone for all the support!

      Next Steps, Literally

      The new water tanks are due for delivery at Chantry Flat, the trailhead for access to camp, in just a few days. When all the parts are on hand we’ll sort through what can be loaded on the burros, and what and how to hand-deliver the rest. Then we’ll put out the call for some sturde* volunteers, with a goal of delivery in cooler weather late this fall. Stay tuned!

      Mud, Pipes, and Success

      Fire damage to the water system was an opportunity to not only repair the system but also improve it. A key piece was completed just this past weekend, which is rebuilding and updating the primary water collection pool. This small pond was originally constructed to serve the micro-hydro generating system but since the onset of the drought it has been pressed into service as the source of water into Sturtevant Camp.

      Over time the pond has suffered a lot of abuse. In the past, a dose of hard rain would create a surge that knocked the shallow rock walls apart, which had to be hastily reassembled to keep water flowing into the system. Both deer and bears often pawed up the fragile liner as they drank, or apparently played in it like a kiddie pool! Dirt avalanches from the adjacent canyon slope also clogged with the pond, reducing its capacity.

      With the planned extension and improvement of the collection/filtration system, new pipes would also need to be laid into the bottom of the pond. So this past weekend the old containment walls were disassembled and two pipes laid into the bottom. A replacement pond liner was put into place and the walls were more securely rebuilt with the help of a few sand bags filled with gravel. Finally, the intake zone was re-shaped and widened to capture all of the small but steady flow of natural water, and soon the flow into the water system was re-established.

      Big thanks to board members Paul Witman (lead plumber), Teah Vaughn Piscopo, Sarah Barron, and volunteer-at-large Patrick Gorman, plus prior work by Dave Baumgartner and others.

      Snapshot in History

      Earlier this month was the 111th anniversary of Wilbur Sturtevant’s passing. Thanks to the Streetview function on Google Maps, we were able to “visit” the Soldier and Sailors’ monument in Cleveland, Ohio. On August 19th 1864, Wilbur was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in Company D of the 103rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry Regiment, and his name is engraved inside the monument among his Company. Unfortunately, the “S”s were just out of focus on the lower part of the wall.

      * “Sturde” was Wilbur Sturtevant’s nick-name.


      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. Those trees drop huge seed-cones, and 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!