The camping branch of the YMCA of Silicon Valley
YMCA Camp Campbell

YMCA Camp Campbell History

A "first" in national YMCA annals was reported in 1924 when 58 girls were included in the camp session with 77 boys. There were no frills, however. Both boys and girls slept on the ground, in tents, each camper being equipped with a ground cloth and two blankets. The total budget is $1,134.25. Parents and volunteers provide all the transportation to and from camp, and each camper is asked to bring at least two quarts of canned fruit plus two quarts of preserves, jams, and jellies as part of their camp fee. In 1931, the 20 - 30 Club provides the first camper ships. Forty boys spend seven days at Camp Roberts. The San Jose Ministerial Union and the Knights of the Round Table contribute $20 each. Greyhound Stage Company and Peerless Stage Lines provide transportation for the first time. Camping sessions are held each summer at Camp Roberts from 1927 to 1935. George B. Campbell replaces H. Lysle Austin as Board President in 1929.

Camp Roberts, located six miles from Pescadero on Pescadero Creek, revokes permission to all groups using its camping facilities, and the San Jose YMCA moves quickly to relocate its 1936 camping session. A 12-acre site located on the San Lorenzo River, three miles north of Boulder Creek, is purchased for $6500 through the efforts of the late George Campbell and Camp Committee Chairman Frank Lewis. A tractor is brought in to clear a baseball diamond next to the highway. A dam across the river enlarges the swimming hole while the campers themselves are called on to put the finishing touches to their new campsite. With Frank Espe Brown serving as the first Camp Director, 95 boys enroll for the two camping sessions June 22 through July 1. The cost per camper is $9.78, and 14 years the camp remains unnamed being simply referred to as the "Boulder Creek YMCA Camp."

The San Jose Kiwanis Club raises funds to build a dining hall. Tent platforms covered with canvas are built, and for the first time, the newly acquired site begins to look like an established camp. The Y sponsors a pack trip for 20 older boys to Florence lake in the Sierras. The boys hike in on foot using a pack train to carry supplies and equipment. Pack trips prove to be quite successful and will continually annually for nearly 20 years. The YMCA directors purchase an additional 23 acres of adjoining property. Because of the tremendous number of campers, a great number of tents, mattresses, beds and other equipment have to be borrowed. Camp attendance jumps to 598 boys in 1939.

In 1940, Mr. & Mrs. Harold Charters of Eureka donate the Harold Charters Memorial Health Cottage in memory of their son. A campfire area is developed along with a rifle and archery range. In 1941, Leonard Dahlquist announces that $17,000 has been raised to develop the new "Y" Camp. Minor improvements are made during the war years but because of limited transportation and gasoline rationing, the Boulder Creek Camp is used sparingly. Campers hike from Saratoga to the campsite for their camp sessions, and younger boys use the Lion's Den at Alum Rock Park. The dam across the San Lorenzo River is rebuilt in 1942 creating a 50 x 150 yards lake, 3 to 6 feet deep. It is during this time that 75 campers between the ages of 9 and 14 help pick prunes to save the Valley from a serious loss of the entire prune crop because of lack of transit labor for the job.

The YMCA sponsors four ten-day and one-seven-day summer camp sessions. Rationing was another facet of wartime living in 1943, and campers were required to bring their ration books for sugar, butter, meat, and canned goods. In 1944, the “Overnight Hike to Big Basin,” World Service Pledges, and health examinations were started. The Camp Store and Bank open, and the camp had facilities for swimming, hiking, archery, nature trails, crafts, games, and indoor camp fire programs.

George Campbell passes away in 1945 and in his honor, the June Capital Campaign is renamed the George B. Campbell Memorial Fund Drive. Boulder Creek YMCA Camp becomes officially Camp Campbell. During the next three years, a total of $26,105 is raised thanks to the success of the annual fund drives and many improvements are accomplished. Although camping sessions are devoted primarily to boys, other groups account for nearly half of the camp's use, and camp is operating about 95 days during the year. The 1947 camp brochure notes that "flush toilets were completed last fall and will be used for the first time." In 1949, more than $12,143 is spent in rehabilitating the kitchen and the dining hall. New construction of a new handicraft building, septic system, and conversion of canvas top cabins into enclosed cabin with solid roofs is also completed.

On June 24, 1950, Albert and Olga Visvars arrive from Germany. Displaced Latvians, Albert, a former Air Force pilot for the Allies during the war, takes the position of Camp Caretaker, and Olga, an inspiration to all who knew her, becomes Head Cook. In the spring, the Outdoor Education in Santa Clara County program is launched with a Monday through Friday four-week session. More than 200 people brave a cold April rain to dedicate a new $13,000 swimming pool. A total of 1,003 persons including boys, adults, church groups make use of the camp. In 1951, "The Ralph Cole Memorial Fund Drive" is held to build a new bridge over the San Lorenzo River.

During 1952, the recreation hall addition to the Kiwanis Dining Hall and a tri-plex for the Outdoor Education Program (later remodeled and named Visvars Lodge) is completed. Efforts are made to extend the camping program into areas other than resident camping when the High Sierra Caravan and Day camping programs are initiated and developed. A new cabin is added behind the dining hall that will later serve as a staff facility; however, camp experiences a setback when the bridge over the San Lorenzo River is washed away during Christmas week. In 1957 Albert Tully becomes the Chairman of the Camp Committee. The Easter Seals Foundation donates $2,000 for a new leach field, and in 1958 a group of Y-Men build the BBQ area. In 1959, Jim Wilson becomes the Camp Director, a position he will hold until 1963.

The caretakers’ home is officially dedicated by Stanley Billingsley, Chairman of the Central Valley YMCA Board to Managers (San Jose branch). On May 6, 1960 Albert and Olga move into their new home. Built at a cost of $14,000, Albert Tully and donated labor and materials reduces the total cost to the YMCA to $2,500. The expansion of he Santa Clara County Outdoor Education Program ends in 1962. Pioneered at Camp Campbell, it will be operated at Redwood Glen. The Santa Cruz Easter Seals Society ends its last camping session at camp in 1962, and Girls Camp Sessions are launched to fill the scheduling gap; thus, a new commitment to girls camping begins.

An addition to the Dining Hall’s east end is completed. A major organizational change occurs which will serve as the framework for the future YMCA. The San Jose YMCA and its Central Valley branches become the Metropolitan YMCA. The facility on the Alameda becomes the Central branch and the former Central Valley Branch becomes the Northwest and Southwest branches. The centralized camping programs ends and decentralized camping conducted by each branch is launched in 1964. Individual branches begin their own one-week camping sessions at Camp Campbell and recruit their own counselors and camp directors. Branch camping introduces the philosophy of progressive camping experiences - each with a narrow span. Day Camps in city and county parks are aimed at younger elementary ages. Camp Campbell reduces its age span from 8-16 to 9-13. Improvements continue with construction of a new workshop and storage building completed by volunteer Bob Mullenberg, the sewage disposal system receives a major overhaul, and the kitchen receives a new floor.

Branch camping expands tremendously and branches start renting camps in the Sierra to handle the growing demand and to provide a progression of camping experiences. Y-Indian Guide programs expand beyond Camp Campbell's capacity and branches begin renting Jones Gulch and Loma Mar Camps. High Sierra Base, Back Pack and Pack-in trips for teens are added to the schedule by branches. The 1968 Capital Campaign raises $1.7 million and allocates $100,000 to the Camp Branch; thus ushering an era of accelerated renovation of camp facilities which are now over 30 years old. Sommer Lodge, designed by architects Warren Gilbert and Jim Bell, is dedicated in April 1969 with a great deal of ceremony. Bob Argall is elected Camp Board Chairman. Later a committee, headed by Kory Scholberg negotiates a 25-year lease on a 40 acre site owned by PGE overlooking the Bear River Reservoir. A $30,000 grant from the Hancock Foundation funds work camps to develop the site. Paul Meyer retires and Will Kibby becomes the new Santa Clara Valley YMCA General Director. Northwest, Southwest, and East Vally open their new buildings.

As school enrollments begin to decline, the number of boys attending camp also declines. Camp Campbell begins to rent more sessions to outside groups, and branches increase the variety of camping experiences to include raft trips, bicycle caravans, and sail and ski camps. Marvin Fox becomes Camp Branch Board Chairman and appoints George Royer as Chairman of a Long Range Development Study Committee. The Committee’s recommendations include the development of a new Camp Campbell Master Plan, and in the fall of 1971, the first version of the plan is completed. It includes renovating the Indian Village unit with new cabins, adding a third cabin unit to be called the Pioneer Village, and Warren Gilbert’s hexagonal cabin design is introduced. In 1972, $20,000 is received for the sale of lease rights at Bear River, and the money is earmarked for a new toilet/shower in El Pueblo. El Pueblo cabins are rehabilitated with new interior walls, ceilings, lighting, insulation, heating, and underground electrical. Alberts Visvars dies in October, and the Camp Chapel is memorialized in Albert's name, and a memorial fund is established. In 1973, a $20,000 gift is received from the Elizabeth C. Dick trust and cabins 18 and 19 (formally called the Triplex) are remodeled with the Visvars Memorial funds and the cabin is renamed Memorial Lodge in 1973. The San Jose Kiwanis Club donates 7 new boats and ground is broken for the new toilet/shower in El Pueblo. At the request of the Metropolitan Board, the Camp Committee is asked to scale down the scope of the Master Plan, and the Pioneer Village plan is reduced from cabins to tent platforms for summer only.

Snow falls on the Santa Cruz Mountains in January 1974 closing camp for a number of weeks. Electricity and water are off and numerous trees down. Minor damage is done to cabins; however, Marines and many volunteers step in to clear the downed trees and reopen camp. With funds donated by George Hunter and the help of Monterey Seabees and a hired carpenter, the first new hexagonal shaped cabin is built and it is hoped this model cabin will attract other donations and demonstrate the capabilities of the camp doing its own construction. In 1975, Olga Visvars is honored with a 25th Anniversary Dinner attended by over 100 friends and admirers. A memorial gift from the Paul Davies family launches the construction of the second new cabin in Indian Village with help from the San Jose Vocational Center. A Land Management study, begun in 1975, is completed and adopted by the committee in 1976. Recommendations include many long range steps to protect the environment and re-vegetate the area which is beginning to show signs of heavy use. A new trail system is given high priority and work is begun with Government paid VOYCE workers during the summer. The first Trail Day is held in May 1977 and the critical areas of the newly laid out Outer Loop are also completed with the help of Camp Staff and consultants. John Malloy donates 4-1/2 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the southern boundary bringing the total acreage to 71+ acres. ACA accreditation of Resident and Day Camps for all branches is awarded; however, Camp Campbell has had ACA accreditation for a number of years.

The 12th Decade Building Fund drive is conducted in the Fall and Winter months, and Camp is allocation to renovate the swimming pool. Thanks to a capital gift and labor from the San Jose West Rotary Club, construction on the third new cabin is begun. The second annual Trail Day in May make significant progress on the Outer Loop. Proposition 13 is approved by California voters resulting in a drastic reduction of Summer School. Camp attendance reaches an all time high and for the first time, all branch sessions at Camp Campbell are coed. The Building Fund drive is completed in 1979, and Camp Campbell is allocated $195,000 including the value of the land and other in-kind gifts. Five remaining cabins in the Indian Village are started by service clubs and the Seabees and volunteer help. The kitchen is extensively remodeled thanks to a $20,000 gift from S.H. Cowell Foundation. In order to complement the 8 new Indian Village cabins, the Metro Board approves borrowing $75,000 to build the new toilet/shower. Camp Campbell hosts 6,800 campers during the course of the year and serves over 56,000 meals.

In May 1980, Trail Day III further improves the Outer Loop Trail. By the summer, Camp Campbell completes 8 new cabins, the toilet/shower in the Indian Village, the new underground electrical and water systems, and sewer repairs. All projects are to be completed by the end of 1980. The formal dedication of the new renovated Camp Campbell facilities is held on August 3, 1980.

YMCA Camp Campbell Facility Map
Financial Assistance Application
Directions to Camp

YMCA Camp Campbell
16275 Highway 9
Boulder Creek, CA 95006


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