Gustavo Arellano: For nearly a century, this camp has hosted city children. Tropical Storm Hilary destroyed it

Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

Camp River Glen's parking lot was swallowed by the Santa Ana River. The top of a tractor poked out of mud.

Gigantic water tanks were crumbled up like tissue paper. Leaves, branches, trunks and downed electrical wires were everywhere.

A month ago, preteens and teens from working-class families across Southern California were hiking, sailing and fishing here — many for the first time in their lives. They spent the night in cabins with no doors or windows, the better to let nighttime mountain breezes and the gurgles of the river lull them to sleep.

On the night of Aug. 20, a week after the campers had left and volunteers had just closed up for the season, the river tore through the 11-acre campsite, owned by the nonprofit UCLA UniCamp

Tropical Storm Hilary engorged the waterway, usually just a dawdling stream during the summer, widening its banks from 15 to 100 feet.

Now, UniCamp Executive Director Jason Liou has to figure out whether the camp, which has hosted disadvantaged young people since the 1930s, will come back to this location next summer — or ever.


Storm damage is so bad in this part of the San Bernardino Mountains that Caltrans has closed Highway 38, which leads to Camp River Glen and goes on to Big Bear, for 9 1/2 miles in both directions through at least December for emergency repairs.

Southern California Edison spokesperson Gabriela Ornelas told me that the company doesn't have a timeline on when electricity might return to the area "because it's been difficult for us to get in safely."

Vehicles can't enter Camp River Glen until the destroyed bridge that leads to it is repaired, which has to wait until the one heavy-duty road leading in is fixed. UniCamp owns all the buildings and infrastructure on its campgrounds, but the land is leased from the U.S. Forest Service, which must approve all improvements. Other agencies that Liou needs to get in contact with include the Department of Fish and Wildlife (in charge of anything having to do with the Santa Ana River) and San Bernardino County for repairs to county roads.

"There's going to be a lot of coordination [between agencies], and not just with that camp," said San Bernardino National Forest public affairs specialist Gus Bahena, who said the Forest Service is nowhere near done assessing Hilary's aftermath.


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