Imagine leaving the city, driving for two hours past open fields, orchards, and countless cows; you’re climbing thousands of feet in elevation, conquering the twists and turns of Highway 4, and finally you arrive at a hidden gem in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, Camp Sugar Pine. You take a big breath in. The sweet smell of the pine trees floods your senses and transports you to a place of peace, serenity, and you are immediately energized to take on an outdoor adventure. Thankfully Camp Sugar Pine is no dream; it’s real, and it’s the perfect place for summer fun and high adventure (and in my opinion, the most beautiful property GSNorCal owns)!
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For the past 10 years, Camp Sugar Pine has been my home away from home, and I am so excited that summer 2019 is just around the corner! The ropes course is going up, critters are collecting sticks for new archery arrows, the melting snow is filling the pool, and Tajar is in the Art Barn cutting up small pieces of plastic for all the glitter projects. Alas, camp magic is upon us. For 80 years, generations of campers have laughed, learned, and explored, but the camp still has lots of magic and mystery tucked away. Without further ado, let’s jump right in to the 7 fun facts that make Camp Sugar Pine so great!
1. Sugar Pine was named after one of the world’s tallest sugar pine trees
Camp Sugar Pine used to be home to one of the world’s largest sugar pine trees. Known as the Whelan Tree, this sugar pine was 208 feet tall and over eleven feet across! The tree was originally 240 feet tall before a lightning strike took off the top 32 feet. Naturalist John Muir visited the Whelan Tree 117 years ago, and arborists estimated that it was between 600 and 700 years old.
Maria Mircheva, executive director of the Lake Tahoe-based nonprofit Sugar Pine Foundation, visited the tree in 2014 to see if anything could be done to save it. Unfortunately, the tree was home to two types of beetles and had rot in its root system, so it had to be cut down due to safety concerns.
To some it was just a tree, to others she was a symbol of strength, family, and generations of camper fun. Although she was sick and had to come down, we should all be thankful to have known her. Even today, her legacy lives as campers learn the history and use the tree’s stump as an activity space to talk about environmental stewardship. The world’s second largest Sugar Pine tree will never be forgotten.
2. The camp is inhabited by the friendly, but mysterious Tajar!
If you don’t know who the Tajar is let me give you a bit of background. Of all the animals in the forest, there is none so curious as the Tajar. No one knows how old he is since he’s been living here well before camp began. The Tajar lives in a very special place, an old tree somewhere on the property. The Tajar looks a little something like a tiger and something like a jaguar and something like a badger, but he is different from all those animals. He would rather dance in the moonlight on a warm summer night than sleep in his tree. Brownies taught him how to read and write, and he collects socks to fight off the chill of the night.
Campers say if you see the Tajar once, you will certainly forget what he looks like. If you see the Tajar twice, you’ll forget to forget what he looks like, but if you see Tajar three times, you’ll certainly become his friend!
3. Girls have access to three gorgeous lakes and two beautiful rivers
Water, water, everywhere! Camp Sugar Pine is perfect for having some fun in the sun, featuring a variety of water-based programs for campers ages 9–17: whitewater rafting, pool parties, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and so much more!
Sugar Pine has the largest pool of any of the GSNorCal facilities, but the real star of the show are Sugar Pine’s four stunning lakes. Campers often take day trips to Lake Alpine, Lake Utica, and New Melones Reservoir, or hike to Lake White Pines for a day of sunshine and adventure on their sparkling waters. Our whitewater rafting campers visit the roaring American River, and would-be cavers get to splash around in Natural Bridges’ beautiful waters. You name it, Camp Sugar Pine has it!
4. The campgrounds were once the site of the Miwuk civilization
Camp Sugar Pine is 80 years old, but that doesn’t mean it was empty before—the land provided bounty of resources before that! Somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 years ago, the Northern Miwuk lived in what is now Camp Sugar Pine. The acorn was a staple of the Miwuk diet, and they created milling stations with multiple grinding holes in the granite rocks in the area. Over time, the grinding wore depressions into the slab of rock, some tiny, others huge. Two of these grinding stations have been preserved and are available to view at Camp Sugar Pine today. One set is located between the Frog and Trout unit, while another is down by the pool. These ancient artifacts are easy to miss, so make sure to attend an open house or weekend program to check out them out.
5. Girls can sleep in a covered wagon
In winter 2017, Camp Sugar Pine got a bit of a makeover, and now has some exciting new amenities for campers. Like our other camps, Sugar Pine has platform tents, ground tents, and tipis for campers to sleep in, but it also has five covered wagons in the Quicksilver unit! Each covered wagon sleeps six to eight campers, and will give girls a taste of how it felt to live in the Gold Rush era.
The Frog and Trout units have also been converted from platform tents to tent cabins. These cabins will feature a cement foundation, wood siding, and an A-frame like tin roof. These kinds of accommodations are not only fun to sleep in, but also make Sugar Pine a sustainable, multi-season camp (not just for summer fun). I definitely see a Service Unit’s camporee at Sugar Pine in the future!
6. Our camp counselors come from all over the world
Each year, Camp Sugar Pine hires over 55 individuals from all over the United States and around the world to bring the magic and power of summer camp to girls. For the 2018 season, we hired seven international staff hailing from the United Kingdom, Scotland, New Zealand, and Poland. These camp counselors were excited to share empowering, fun, and unique features of their cultures with Sugar Pine campers, as well as learn about the American culture from their campers!
7. From camp traditions to heart-pounding adventures, Sugar Pine has an endless supply of things to do
We are old, 80 years old to be exact! Camp Sugar Pine first welcomed campers to this beautiful mountain getaway in 1939. That summer, 130 girls attended, and now we serve over 700 girls every summer!
The first campers at Sugar Pine enjoyed a variety of traditional camp activities, from swimming in the creek and outdoor cooking to hiking, horseback riding, and singing around the campfire under the majestic pine trees. Almost all of these wonderful activities are still available to the girls who attend Sugar Pine. But the camp adventure has progressed with time. Now, depending on your age or the program you choose, our campers can try archery, take field trips to Alpine lakes for swimming, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding, soar through the air on Moaning Caverns 1500-foot zip line, pan for gold, go caving, or even climb the popular High Ropes Adventure Tower!
A little bit of history and a lot a bit of fun makes up these 7 fun facts, making them the perfect representation of Sugar Pine! Back in 1939, Girl Scouts opened Camp Sugar Pine with Squirrel as the Director (you know the unit, Squirrels Claim? It’s named after her!). Over 12,000 campers have slept under the great Sierra Nevada stars during my 11 years as camp director, and I can’t wait for your camper to join our Camp Sugar Pine family.
What to do next:
- Summer camp registration is still open! Sign your girl up for a program at Camp Sugar Pine.
- Mark your calendar, and stop by our camp open house events.
- Looking for related reads? Check out our other blog posts about getting outdoors with your Girl Scouts!
- Have you been to Camp Sugar Pine? Share your favorite memory in the comments section below.
Morgan Santiesteban—Morgan is the Sugar Pine Camp Director. She started at Sugar Pine in 2010 as a Lead Counselor and worked her way up to Unit Manager, Assistant Camp Director, and now, Camp Director. She is a Southern California native, and a graduate of San Jose State University, where she received a B.A. degree in Psychology with a double minor in Business and Child Development. Her true passion for building supporting youth and playing in the great outdoors led her to a career in the camp industry. She is excited about the many opportunities that lie ahead in keeping Camp Sugar Pine the magical place so many campers, guests, staff, and alumni come back to visit year after year!