AHWAHNEE–Camp Pacifica might be one of the lesser-known landmarks along the route from Oakhurst to Mariposa. It sits at a sometimes difficult-to-see junction on the north side of Hwy 49 almost at the end of the four-lane, just before the freeway descends to the bridge crossing the east fork of the Chowchilla River. If you don’t watch the driveway, there’s a good chance you’ll miss it. But this driveway leads to nearly fifty acres of wooded land which, since 1991, has been the site of a Lions Club International camp for the deaf and hard of hearing.
It’s no secret to the thousands of children who have had the joy of spending time at the Lions Club sponsored location. Russ Custer, former Lions 4A1 District Manager (2001-2002) as well as a 24-year veteran member of the Camp Pacifica board of directors, spoke about the origins of Camp Pacifica. He said the camp started in 1978 in Avery, California. When this leased site was sold, the Lions in District 4A1 began to search for a new location.
Enter Camp Pacifica.
Per Russ, Lions District 4A1 leased the facility for a short time in 1991 to see if it would be viable, then purchased the camp in 1992 with a down payment of $ 150,000 and a thirty-year mortgage. Thanks to the dedication of its board of directors and the generosity of its members, they repaid the loan in seven years and took full ownership.
The last Lions campers to take advantage of the facilities occupied the space in 2018. The camp lay fallow until the district made the difficult decision to bring the place to market in 2020.
The move would prove providential for Camping Unlimited, whose flagship location in the Santa Cruz Mountains — called Camp Krem — burned to the ground in August 2020, the victim of the CZU complex fire. Tragically, the CZU wildfire spanned 86,000 acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. See the history of Camp Krem here and here.
The official name of the organization, which just closed escrow on the former Camp Pacifica, is Camping Unlimited for the Developmentally Disabled. A California registered charity with 501 (c) (3) status, it was established in 1957 to provide recreation for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I / DD).
“Over the past 64 years, Camping Unlimited has provided independence development experiences for over 200,000 days and nights to over 30,000 people with I / DD. In 2019, we had over eight hundred registrations over the summer at Camp Krem, our flagship 100-acre property in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains, ”said Alex Krem. “We organized another 400 weekend trips, which included weekends at Camp Krem, trips to Disneyland, a cruise to Mexico and a trip to Hawaii.”
Their program also provides much needed respite for families and caregivers, and a place for high school and college age counselors to discover the depths of their own hearts and souls.
The Santa Cruz Camp Krem site will be rebuilt, and they are eligible for state and federal public aid (a very mixed blessing, Alex says) but now face a five to ten year rebuild. “As we cannot force the pace of reconstruction and simply cannot wait to resume our vital program, we purchased Camp Pacifica.”
Camp Pacifica was built for many years by over 1,700 Lions in 70 Lions Clubs in Central Valley as a camp for deaf children. This makes the Camping Unlimited and Camp Pacifica missions quite compatible. We are also exploring ways to adapt their wonderful program.
According to Russ Custer, Camp Pacifica during his Lions days could accommodate up to two hundred campers, monitors and teachers, which is slightly more than Camp Krem). Its features include a swimming pool, large basketball court, baseball and football fields, playground, challenge course, small lake, shooting range, clubhouse, nurses station, arts and crafts buildings and much more.
“We plan to use it all summer and many weekends throughout the year, as we did at Camp Krem.” According to Krem, “We are also willing to rent it to large and small groups. At Camp Krem in Boulder Creek, we have hosted many groups, some for decades, including music festivals, school science camps, live actors, the Man Kind Project, home-school groups, weddings, corporate events, etc. Once we get our feet on the ground at Camp Pacifica, we intend to do the same.
Alex Krem’s daughter, Christina, is the director of the camp. She, her husband and two little daughters now live in Camp Pacifica / Camp Krem, a far cry from where Christina and her sister grew up on New Zealand farms with horses and other animals, and where she participated in equestrian events for many years (in jump, cross and dressage). While Christina and her family will enjoy the beauty of the Camp Pacifica / Camp Krem countryside, Alex says: meet people in the area.
See if you can watch this video without smiling.
All photos are courtesy of Camp Krem, unless otherwise noted.