by Kelly Mahan
Nearly three years after the Whittier Fire ravaged 47 out of 50 structures on the campus of Rancho Alegre, rebuilding is underway, thanks to the financial support of dozens of individuals and companies, many of whom are Montecito residents. The 50-year-old camp, which is located off the San Marcos Pass, had served 10,000 students and their families each year. In addition to hosting camps for the Los Padres Boy Scouts, church retreats, and community gatherings, Rancho Alegre was the site of The Outdoor School, serving school districts in Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, Ventura County, and beyond.
Ken Miles, Development Director for the Boy Scouts of America Los Padres Council, gave us a tour of the property last week. The Whittier Fire of July 2017 destroyed 215 acres of wooded camp including 47 of the camps 50 structures; the dining hall and cafeteria, one dorm, and one cabin were spared. Since the fire, volunteers have been meeting weekly, determined to rebuild. Debris has been cleared, plans have been made, and construction has begun, as evidenced last week.
Trey Pinner, property owner on Coast Village Road and president of the Los Padres Council, took over the presidency following the fire, although he has been involved with the scouting program for the last 18 years. “We see this rebuilding as an opportunity to take the camp and Outdoor School program to a significantly new level,” Pinner said. “The facilities that we are building are significantly improved and will have greater longevity than the buildings that were lost.”
The Outdoor School, which is a program of the BSA Los Padres Council, is a unique overnight environmental education program and one of the driving factors behind the push to rebuild Rancho Alegre. In this outdoor learning environment, fifth and sixth graders explore beyond classroom walls and are immersed in hands-on outdoor environmental educational activities, hiking and exploring nature, opening doors to self-discovery, learning new skills and forging friendships that last a lifetime. Camp counselors and naturalists who run the camp often go on to careers in geology, biology, and science, inspired by their time at camp.
Rebuilding costs for Phase 1 of the project are estimated at $17.5 million, with $9 million coming from insurance coverage. Because the infrastructure was outdated, much of the insurance money is being used to rebuild the water and sewage system, as well as a solar system to provide electricity. “We are now reaching out to the community to bridge the gap and ensure local schoolchildren will again have this opportunity to experience the outdoors at this unique local camp,” Miles said.
With the goal of opening in October 2020, crews have already made progress on buildings to house full time residents including the camp ranger, camp director, and chef. Four dorm buildings are also currently under construction, which will house up to 150 students and chaperones at a time. Housing for seasonal staff, which includes camp counselors, naturalists, nutritionists, and nurses, are also planned, with foundations poured and ready to build upon. All buildings are being built with foam core walls, concrete siding, and metal roofs, making them extremely fire resistant. “They are designed to be rented out to families during the summer, as an additional revenue source,” Miles said. Other infrastructure in the works include outhouses and campsites, a ropes course that can be utilized for emergency training purposes, and eventually a lodge, which will be built in the second phase of the project. The pool, which survived the fire, is being rehabilitated.
“We’re not asking people for money, we’re giving them the opportunity to do something good for somebody else,” Pinner said, adding that there have been significant donations from over two dozen entities and individuals, including the Berti Family and Jurkowitz Family, who are the largest contributors. “We hope that, once built, this facility will be the premier outdoor school facility for our community and beyond, and that potential donors can see the importance of this project,” Pinner said.
For more information on the Capital Campaign visit www.lpcbsa.org/rancho-alegre-reconstruction/ or call Ken for information and a personal tour at 805-835-9456.
Donors’ names will be placed on the Wall of Gratitude at the camp, and there are multiple naming opportunities. “When you match a donor’s passion to the right cause, it can be life changing,” Miles said. “People really can make a difference.”