Apr 12, 2024 - News

San Francisco celebrates 100 years of Camp Mather

people standing in line

Campers line up for dinner at Camp Mather in 2009. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Camp Mather is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer, and the city is hosting a celebration this month.

Why it matters: The weeklong family camp primarily for San Francisco residents near Yosemite and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir offers a variety of activities, including swimming, hiking, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and more.

  • Campers can stay in either tents or cabins and are provided three meals a day as part of their camp fees.

Driving the news: The anniversary celebration on Sunday, April 28, at the Southeast Community Center will "give participants a little piece of the camp," Daniel Montes, a spokesperson with San Francisco's parks department, tells Axios.

  • The event, which runs from 11am-3pm, will feature entertainment, a short history on the camp and camp activities like archery, disc golf, climbing and more, Montes says.

What they're saying: Midge Lingvai, who has attended Camp Mather for the last 45 years and serves on the board of Friends of Camp Mather, tells Axios it's "a magical place."

  • "Everyone calls it the jewel of the Sierras," she says. "It just has its charm."
  • Lingvai's family is among the generations of San Francisco families who have attended Camp Mather, she says.

Flashback: The camp, in its current form, began in 1924 but the city originally used the site to support the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam and house those working on it, according to Chris Pollock, the parks department's historian in residence.

  • That 430-foot-high dam is at the heart of the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System, the infrastructure that provides San Francisco Bay Area residents and businesses with water.
  • Shortly after the dam was completed in 1923, San Francisco Supervisor Margaret Mary Morgan concluded that, similar to Oakland's municipal camp in the Sierras, San Francisco should have one too.
black and white photo of camp mather entrance
Entry portal to Camp Mather in its early years. Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department

What they did: In June 1924, the city's Board of Supervisors officially named the camp Margaret Maryland Municipal Camp Ground, according to Pollock, and opened it for public use on July 5, 1924.

  • While the site was originally owned by the then-Yosemite National Park Company, and leased to the city, San Francisco officially acquired the camp in 1925 for $12,500.
  • In 1986, the city renamed it Camp Mather, in honor of Stephen Tyng Mather, the first director of the National Park Service.

Between the lines: Part of Camp Mather's operations rely on the support of the nonprofit organization Friends of Camp Mather (FoCM).

  • Lingvai said the organization raises funds to improve the camp and works with the parks department to understand where help is needed.
  • FoCM, for example, in 2018 replaced all the beds and mattresses at camp. It also runs the camp's naturalist program, which aims to educate attendees about the area through hikes and other activities.

By the numbers: Interest in camp has increased since 2019, when 1,904 people entered the Camp Mather lottery.

  • Last year, 2,148 people applied to attend Camp Mather for this summer.

What's next: Check out the celebration on April 28 and if you're heading to camp this summer, each week is expected to have a special anniversary celebration, Lingvai said.

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