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CEO Update: NorCal Fires - Camp Property Updates

CEO Update on NorCal Fires

Updated as of September 10 at 2:00 PM (PST)

Greetings Members and Friends,

We are living through such a challenging fire season in California. We are grateful for the first responders who are protecting lives, our forests, and property throughout our state. I hope each of you and your communities, are staying safe. For our members who are facing evacuations and threats from wildfires, please know we are thinking of you and stand ready to support your continuing participation in Girl Scouts through our Opportunity Fund.

We have much to be thankful for at Camp Skylark Ranch. Our camp staff are safe, and our major camp buildings have been saved, thanks to the brave fire crews who were at camp while the CZU Lightning Complex fire burned up Whitehouse Canyon Road and through Camp Skylark Ranch. The firefighters defended our major structures and then continued on to remove hazard trees and extinguish spot fires.

We also have much to grieve. Our hearts go out to our many Whitehouse Canyon Road neighbors who lost their homes. We are sad to see the burned forest and receive confirmation of the structures, program areas, and camper units that we have lost. My heart breaks for our girls, camp staff, volunteers and alumnae who love Camp Skylark Ranch. Even though 2020 has brought so much disappointment, we will find joy together this year, as we watch the forest recover and the wildlife return. 

Our camp rangers, Jim Gust and Juan Rodriguez, have now toured Camp Skylark Ranch and shared these observations:

  • The road into camp is really rough. The fire burned on both sides of the road, and lots of trees are down
  • The power poles burned and all of the power lines are down
  • We have no power or water in camp
  • Trees everywhere are burned 20 feet up; the understory and duff are burned to the ground. 
  • Fire crews saved most of our large structures (Dining Hall, Directors Cabin, Rangers House, Shower House, Office/Health/Art & Nature Center)
  • While ALL of the camper units lost cabins, yurts or tents, Hummingbird, Pajarita, and Raven units were completely burned
  • The horse country tack shed and staff cabins are gone
  • The staff house, cook’s cabin and small staff cabins are gone
  • We do not know yet about smoke damage to remaining buildings, or damage to the camp infrastructure and water system.
  • On a positive note, the meadow at the entrance to camp is green, and, as they were leaving camp Jim and Juan saw three deer in the meadow.

Each of these buildings, units and program areas holds memories for our campers and staff. Volunteers built the beautiful “Hobbit Huts” at the Raven Unit in celebration of their dear friend whose camp name was “Hobbit,” and who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The dedication of the Hobbit Huts in March 2015, as a home for our Counselor-in-Training campers, was such a reminder of the lasting power of camp magic, friendship and love. It is hard to think of this beautiful unit and these trees as gone. We know the magic, friendship and love remains.

Thank you to the members, camp families and alums who have asked how they might help. Our members and our council have been hard-hit by COVID-19, and we appreciate whatever support you can provide, including:

  • DONATIONS TO SUPPORT OUR CAMP PROPERTIES. Donations to our camp investment campaign will support recovery efforts at Camp Skylark Ranch, including debris removal, infrastructure repairs, forest management, and work to reduce erosion during winter rains. Recovery will take time, and your donation also will help GSNorCal expand outdoor program areas and camper capacity at remaining camps while we figure out our plan and timeline for Skylark Ranch. 
  • FUTURE WORK PARTIES AND PROJECTS. We have heard from volunteers and troops that want to come to camp to help. It is too soon to know what projects we might have, but we love and appreciate your enthusiastic support. We promise to keep you posted on ways to help support and rebuild our beloved camps.

Visiting Skylark Ranch. Until further notice, Camp Skylark Ranch is closed. PLEASE DO NOT VISIT CAMP OR ATTEMPT TO GO SIGHTSEEING ON WHITEHOUSE CANYON ROAD. It is not safe. When it is safe, we will organize a day to visit Skylark Ranch to see the damage, to collect ashes, to remember, to share blessings for what is next, and to celebrate the re-birth of the forest.

Looking to the future. We have lots of conversations ahead, including with our insurance company, our forester, Santa Cruz County, and our Board of Directors. As we have seen in all of our communities impacted by wildfires, we will need to be patient as we figure out next steps. 

I know we all look forward to the day when Girl Scouts will be back in this beautiful and magical spot. 

In Girl Scouting,

Marina H. Park, CEO
Girl Scouts of Northern California


Previous CEO Update, sent September 3 at 11:00 AM (PST)

We are so very grateful for the firefighters and first responders who continue to protect our communities and forests from wildfires burning throughout Northern California.

This email includes updates on Camp Butano Creek and Camp Skylark Ranch, which remain in the evacuation zone for the CZU Lightning Complex Fire due to concerns about spot fires, falling trees, and road conditions.

  • Camp Butano Creek: CalFire asked our ranger, Jim Gust, to open Camp Butano Creek for firefighters to use for staging, lodging, and water. Ranger Jim reports that the fire burned VERY close to the camp buildings. Firefighters monitored the burning closely, and good news! The buildings and camper units are intact. While most of the undergrowth around camp burned, we still have much to learn about the state of the forest surrounding camp. When firefighters asked about Girl Scout cookies, Ranger Jim and our Chief Mission Delivery Officer, Michelle McCormick, made it happen and sent over 65 cases as a thank you! 
  • Camp Skylark Ranch: Access to Skylark Ranch is still restricted. Ranger Juan Rodriguez has not been allowed back up the road, so we don’t have first-hand knowledge of how camp fared through the fire. We do have some tentative news—from Cal Fire's preliminary damage assessment map, it appears that the larger structures (dining hall, health center, shower house, and ranger house) have been saved, but some of the camper units are shown as more than 50% destroyed, and a number of camper units and program elements are not shown on the map. We really won't know until we get boots on the ground and can assess damage to the road and infrastructure. Since the entire camp is in the burn zone, for anything to have been saved, we must have had some heroic firefighters on site.  

We will keep you informed as we learn more. Meanwhile, CAL FIRE CZU posted this update last Friday on Twitter: "GRATITUDE: We have an address for you! If you'd like to send "thank you" cards, please send them to CAL FIRE CZU Headquarters 6059 Highway 9, Felton, CA, 9508. We CAN'T WAIT to see what you all come up with!"

Whatever the condition of our camps and forests, we are so very grateful to the courageous CZU firefighter crews working so hard to protect life, property, and forests. I’m sure they would love words of support and thanks from our girls, volunteers, and alumni who love the Santa Cruz Mountains, Camp Butano Creek, and Camp Skylark Ranch. 


Previous CEO Update, sent August 24 at 2:00 PM (PST)

From all of us at Girl Scouts of Northern California, we hope dearly that this email finds you and your family safe and well. We know that so many members have been affected by the fires in our communities, and we are here to support you and your girls as you navigate this difficult time.

As of 2:00 PM today, this is what we know about A Girl's Place and our Santa Cruz Mountain camps, Skylark Ranch and Butano Creek.

Thankfully, a Girl's Place is no longer in the evacuation zone, and was not affected by the LNU Lightning Complex fire.

As for Skylark Ranch and Butano Creek, both camps remain in evacuation zones, and we do not yet have complete information on the fate of either camp. Safety is our first priority, and we will not enter to inspect the camps unless/until it is safe to do so. Our property staff are safe, but have been evacuated.

  • Skylark Ranch: Last night, we received pictures taken near the entrance to camp. Miraculously, it appears that our ranger’s house survived. Sadly, the tent cabins in the nearby camper unit, did not. It appears that all that is left is the twisted metal roofing. We have no idea what lies beyond this first section of our large camp. We will have to be patient, and even when we are able to see what remains of our buildings, cabins, horse country, and ropes course, we still will face many unknowns about the road, forest health, water and power infrastructure, etc.
  • Butano Creek: We have not yet been able to inspect this camp. Our ranger did hear from the local sheriff on Sunday that fire crews were working on spot fires about 100 yards from our water tanks (uphill from the camp). On Saturday, a video was posted on YouTube that purports to show a crew from the Sugar Pine Conservation Camp saving Butano (the fire was very close), but absent confirmation, and with spot fires still happening, we are not celebrating yet. When and if we are able to confirm the work of this fire crew, we will, of course, send our deep appreciation (and cookies).  

We know that we have a long road ahead – insurance, inspections, collaboration with neighbors, the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Council, winter rains, and, of course, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties.   

Our Girl Scout leadership mantra: discover, connect, take action, will serve us well.  We are going to need a long discovery period as we grieve what was, learn what’s needed, and figure out what’s next.  

We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more. If you are able to do so, we invite you to share your camp memories with us on social media. If you do, please tag us @gsnorcal and use the hashtag #gsnorcal so that we can reminisce with you. Should we find that camp looks different in the days and weeks to come, our love, memories, and friendships will always be the same.