Tag Archive

Enchanted Hills Camp

Essay: A LightHouse staffer on what EHC means to her family

By Lisamaria Martinez

Last summer, I had the opportunity to vacation with my family at Enchanted Hills Camp during a Family Camp session. This is the second summer my family and I were able to spend a few glorious days atop of Mt. Veeder, in Napa. We hope to make this annual trek to Napa a family tradition.

I’ve have a unique perspective of camp—as a camper and as an employee of the LightHouse for the Blind. I first started working at the LightHouse in December of 2008, but didn’t step foot onto EHC soil until the summer of 2010. I really missed out those first 18 months. Camp is beautiful and breathtaking and a wonderful place for blind youth and adults to experience life, gain confidence by doing activities they never thought possible, and of course, it is a wonderful place to make new friends.

I’ve been to camp for LightHouse sponsored programs like our 2011 employment summit or our youth leadership retreats. I’ve also been to camp to paint fences, make emergency kits, clean out buildings, and many other beautification projects. They all have been delightful experiences. However, going to camp as a camper beats it all!

I am a blind mom and wife. I have three lovely children who are six years old (Erik), two years old (Zakary), and seven months old (MacKenzy). They all love camp (well, the judgement is still out from the seven month old). Children plus blind person makes my family eligible for family camp, so last year, my husband and I made the decision to try it out. Erik cried when we left camp because he wasn’t ready to go back home.

I remember Erik’s first camp experience at 7 months old. I was there for an Employment Summit and I was lucky enough to stay the night with my family. My husband and I were so anxious about his cries during the night and how he might interrupt the sleep of others residing in the lodge. I also remember our second trip with him about a year later for Cycle for Sight, and how absolutely fascinated and enthralled he was at the frogs and their constant cacophony during the night. He couldn’t sleep because he was amazed at the sounds they made. Needless to say, my husband and I didn’t sleep much that night, but we rode just fine the next day.

Enchanted Hills is a place where new discoveries happen and memories are made. Erik discovered soy milk because a camp staff person told him it tasted like vanilla ice cream. Both Erik and Zakary have discovered foosball at camp. My boys have learned to play with blind kids their own age. They are both sighted but aren’t around many blind kids; adults, yes, but not kids. My children have become more comfortable and confident about swimming. They’ve learned to tie-dye, horseback ride, enjoy hiking in forests, pick wild blackberries, make zucchini pizzas in solar ovens, and they have relished in the freedom that my husband and I have allowed them to experience in a place where everyone is family and everyone looks out for each other.

As a blind mom, I’ve had the chance to talk to blind kids at camp about growing up and being a blind parent someday. They didn’t know that parenting was an option for them because they didn’t know blind people could be parents. I’ve met parents who have blind children and we’ve talked about expectations and raising blind children in a sighted world and I’ve become a resource for them. At camp, I’ve hung out with other blind parents and simply enjoyed the camaraderie while watching our children run wild.

Enchanted Hills Camp is one-of-a-kind and I’m lucky that I can experience it both as an employee and as a camper. As an employee, I have great pride in a world-class camp for blind youth and adults. As a camper, I’m proud to share it with my family and I’m proud to see firsthand the excellence of the camp staff. They are all caring and fun and dedicated to making EHC the place to be.

Now, more than ever, Enchanted Hills needs your support and donations. To give by mobile device, text REBUILDEHC to 501-55.

No amount is too small or insignificant, and every dollar donated will go to ensuring that the coming years will bring new growth and opportunity for our home away from home. Donate here or contact Jennifer Sachs at 415-694-7333 or jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org and tell her you want to help “Rebuild EHC” to learn more about providing dedicated funds to rebuild and re-open camp to the public.

Essay: A Google web developer on how EHC awakened her to the importance of accessibility

By Raisa Cuevas

I was 11 years old when my uncle asked me to accompany him to Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. I would be one of few sighted individuals at this gathering, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I grew up assisting Uncle B while walking around the city or doing small tasks around the house, but this was the first time I would be the minority amongst dozens of visually impaired attendees. I was a bit nervous, but I knew that my companionship would mean a lot to Uncle B.

At the camp, I spent much of my time joining my uncle in outdoor activities. One of the first things I remember is him suggesting we go pedal-boating in the lake. “But Uncle B, I can’t swim,” I anxiously warned. The thought of getting on the water terrified me. What if my uncle steers us into a rock and the boat tips over? How will I save him, much less save myself? “We’ll be fine,” he reassured us. I had no idea where he got this confidence, but I trusted him and helped us put on our life jackets.

We pedaled away for a good hour or so in the warm California sun. The water was so calm that I realized how irrational my fears were. Just as were my initial fears of attending the camp in the first place.

Throughout the day, I was challenged with interacting with the other attendees. I was already a shy kid to begin with, so it wasn’t easy reaching out for a chat with people who I wasn’t sure I completely understood. Most of the time I spent silently observing the laughter and happy conversations going on around me. People were making jokes, singing campfire songs, and living completely in the moment. I envied their ability to be fully present and uninhibited while my own mind was busy trying to take everything in.

I looked into the eyes of kids my age and wondered what different challenges they faced in their everyday lives. I looked at the older men and women, noticing their wandering eyes and bright smiles that carried a confidence and wisdom which truly fascinated me. This camp created a beautiful sense of community between people of all ages and abilities.

I didn’t think of it this deeply as the naive preteen at the time, but looking back, I’m so grateful to have experienced this at such a young age. Through this and other life lessons from my Uncle B, I’ve developed a stronger empathy for others and appreciation for my own abilities. I’ve opened up my mind to new experiences, trying my best to immerse myself in them completely.

Building websites for accessibility

More recently, I’ve realized how strongly my firsthand experience with the blind has helped me advocate for accessibility in my everyday work. As a web developer at Google, I carry a massive responsibility to build websites that are accessible to people of all abilities, languages, and network conditions. It’s not easy to address all these needs at once, but it’s important not to leave out any set of users when your audience is in the billions. Thankfully, my close relationship with Uncle B has helped me understand the needs of visually impaired individuals and to think critically about the experiences of other marginalized groups, as well.

For many years, Uncle B has been an active member of LightHouse for the Blind, the nonprofit organization that runs Enchanted Hills Camp. Since 1902, they have provided education, training, advocacy, and community for blind individuals like him. Through LightHouse, Uncle B learned much of his professional skills that allowed him to start his own business. This was five years after our experience at Enchanted Hills Camp. And when Uncle B asked his favorite niece to come work for him, of course I said yes.

I was employed as the bookkeeper, and I assumed this meant being his personal assistant as well. Although I didn’t mind bringing him tea and coffee, ordering books on Amazon, paying his bills on the phone, or whatever random task he’d ask of me, I continually found myself fascinated by how much he was able to do on his own. I often watched in amazement as he navigated the computer with special techniques like zoom software, a screen reader, inverted high contrast, and handy keyboard shortcuts. For quick personal notes that he didn’t want to keep in a Microsoft Word document, he typed them speedily on his old-school braille typewriter. He labelled buttons on his telephone, keyboard, and other electronic devices with textured stickers to help identify the keys. He read books at his desktop magnifier, which zoomed very closely and presented the inverted image on a high-contrast screen. His level of vision was very low, but fortunately he learned to be effective in an office environment through the help of LightHouse.

Through most of my bookkeeping responsibilities, I spent a lot of time at the computer with Uncle B at my side, and he instructed me to write Excel formulas for his monthly operating reports and inventory records. He would walk me through the steps as if he was looking at the screen with me. On breaks, we discussed our love for technology, his admiration for Warren Buffett, and other topics that enlightened and inspired me.

The lessons I learned from Uncle B have truly influenced the way I approach accessibility in my work. By observing the unique ways that he interacts with technology, it’s now second nature for me to think of the needs of different audiences when it comes to building a website or other digital experience. I proudly speak up for these users when stakeholders or team members overlook accessibility requirements for a project. It’s rewarding to share this knowledge with my colleagues and see them start to understand the importance of accessibility, thinking about it at earlier stages of projects.

It’s easy to overlook the needs of visually impaired users if you don’t have firsthand experience, but it’s not hard to learn ways to be more inclusive of everyone. There are millions of technology users across the world with various disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive. These people are using your products, and many are intelligent, committed business owners like my uncle.

Rebuilding Enchantment Hills

I feel passionately for the services that LightHouse for the Blind provides, and how they helped my uncle succeed. I admire their commitment to providing valuable resources to the blind community in California and around the world. When I found that Enchanted Hills had been burnt down in the Napa fires, I was devastated. That’s why I donated to #RebuildEHC, in hopes of restoring this unique and empowering place of retreat. And in my daily work, I continue to advocate for an inclusive and accessible web.

Enchanted Hills Camp Back with a Full Camp Schedule for the 2018 Season

In a normal year, applications for Summer at Enchanted Hills Camp would open on February 1. We were determined not to miss out on Summer 2018 at EHC after the October wildfires. This year, after lots of hard work, creative thinking and tremendous support from our community, we will open applications for a contiguous, full Summer season at Enchanted Hills on February 7.

The truth is, the Enchanted Hills Family could not allow the tragedy of the Napa fires to rob our community of the experience of having a place for fun, understanding, family, independence and a place to unplug, tune into the joys of nature and gain confidence like nowhere else. Enchanted Hills is an experience that so many look forward to having every year — and though our camp is now operating only in upper and middle camp, we’ve taken steps to enrich this summer so that all campers will still enjoy the beauty of our location safely and with a supportive staff.

This weekend, EHC will reopen to the community that makes it what it is. There are still lots of ways to help, and we know you’ll have lots of questions, so please read on, and enjoy this special issue of LightHouse Lately in celebration of what will no doubt be known as a landmark summer for Enchanted Hills Camp. You will note that our offerings in 2018 will be almost exactly the same as we offered last year, thanks to our dedicated staff and community. Visit our website for expanded descriptions of each session.

EHC Summer 2018 Schedule

Cycle for Sight – April 21
Blind Babies Family Camp – June 15 to June 17
Adult Session – June 22 to June 27
Adults w/ Developmental Disability Session – June 28 to July 3
Family Camp I – July 5 to July 8
Youth Session – July 9 to July 15
Teen Session – July 19 to July 28
Family Camp II – August 1 to August 4
Music Camp – August 6 to August 12
Woodworking for the Blind: Fundamental/Beginner – August 13 to August 18
Woodworking for the Blind: Advanced – August 20 to August 25

What to expect

Below, we’ve answered some basic questions about what to expect in 2018 and how the summer camp season will be different, including answering your questions about health and safety.

Q: How is camp going to be different?

A: With the old cabins and bathhouses in lower camp gone,  all campers will spend the session in housing closer to upper camp, which provides safe and easy access to facilities as lower camp is in the process of being rebuilt.

We’re hard at work with some delightful and surprising options for our overnight campers. Some may rival our old 1950s cabins in beauty and cleanliness. Upper camp remains in great condition, and we’ll do all we can to maximize the camp experience in the areas that were not burned by the fire. Thanks to the hard work of Americorps and EHC site staff, a large portion of camp is not only usable, but in great shape and ready for summer activities.

Q: Is it safe to be at camp?

A: Yes. Over the past three months, we have taken every precaution to ensure that the camp environment is safe and healthy to inhabit. Working with PG&E, FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, we have removed burned structures, hazardous materials and continue daily work to return camp to its natural state. We’ve received sign-offs on our water supply, ttree program and smoke remediation. Every guest will sleep on new beds, mattresses and linens and camp is in process of being repainted and upgraded. We are proud to be able to offer a contiguous camp season in 2018 without compromising the health and safety of our community.

Q: Does camp have a reduced capacity due to the fire?

A: Slightly – but we will make it work. We are taking every step necessary to reapportion staff and students such that priority is giving to summer 2018 campers. You may want to get your registration in early, though, because with all the attention on Enchanted Hills this past fall, camp may be even more popular than ever. We expect to host the same number of campers in 2018  as we hosted last summer.

Q: Where will I sleep?

A: For adult sessions and family camps, your regular accommodations in the lodge, lakesides or 11a and B will be exactly the same, though with brand-new beds and other amenities. For many of our youth, we will also utilize upper camp to help with our housing needs. Several dozen youth may get to experience some luxury lodging in the form of ‘glamping’ yurts set in nature in mid-camp.

Q: I’m not a camper – but I’d like to help! What can I do?

A: Financial donations are still our greatest need [link] at Enchanted Hills. We estimate that our insurance will only pay 30 to 40 percent of the eventual cost of a rebuilt Enchanted Hills. There are many expenses that go into putting on a modified camp season, including scholarships and financial aid for students, which can greatly benefit from your donations. If you’d like to support us as we prepare to get camp back up and running, please donate to our Rebuild effort.

We anticipate that we’ll need waves of volunteers to help with environmental restoration of our beautiful camp. Everything from removing invasive post-fire weeds to replanting with native species, from beautifying trails to general carpentry. Contact Allyson Ferrari at aferrari@lighthouse-sf.org if you’re interested in helping out. If you’re interested in contributing in other ways, please contact camp director Tony Fletcher tfletcher@lighthouse-sf.org or development director Jennifer Sachs at jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org.

Essay: A blind camper on why Enchanted Hills Camp is important

After the fires at Enchanted Hills Camp, we were flooded with kind words and fond memories from campers throughout our 68 years of operation. In honor of the many memories we all share from Enchanted Hills Camp, as we get ready to rise from the ashes, we’ll be publishing regular stories from campers and members of the EHC Community on our blog. Here’s the first in a series of three, by longtime camper Maycie Vorreiter.

Summer’s Finest Moments: An EHC Reflection

By Maycie Vorreiter

“I want to wake up at Enchanted Hills, where the songbird sings “hello”. And the sun comes a creepin, into where I’m sleepin’, and the redwoods whisper low. I wanna wander through the wild woods, where the rippling waters flow. And come trickling back to Enchanted Hills, to the camp that we love so!”

– Enchanted Hills Camp theme song

My introduction into the world of Enchanted Hills camp, (EHC) began at the age of six, when I attended my first family camp. It was my first time meeting other blind people, kids and adults alike, though at that time, I only remember the kids. The first activity I did was boating. My Dad, brothers and I all got into a paddle boat and paddled around the pristine lake. I didn’t know then how big a part of my life EHC would become. Every year I was pulled back, both by my excitement to see everyone I’d met the year before, to meet new people and to do so many of the activities I enjoyed; arts and crafts, boating, horseback riding, swimming, and later, OJ Radio.

EHC is where many bonds have been created, and today, those bonds are stronger than ever. I met my best friend of twelve years at my second family camp. At first she didn’t want to talk to me because she thought that I was a boy, but that’s another story for another time. We used to love running up and down the ramps of the Lakeside cabins, mostly because of the clattering sound our canes made as they rattled over the planks.

In 2007 at the age of nine, I attended my first youth camp, along with my best friend, who was scared initially. Somehow, I managed to talk her into going, and I will never forget that first no parent camp experience because it was my first time being away from home by myself. Two memories from that week stand out to me. The first happened one night when all the counselors in our cabin (we were in the Shoshone cabin) left for what was probably a staff meeting. I was attempting to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. It was too quiet, and something about how silent it was just made me start laughing. I tried to stop because I knew someone would tell us that we needed to be quiet, but I couldn’t. Soon, the rest of my cabin mates were laughing, and I’d say we laughed for a good five minutes before a counselor came in and said, “You’d better stop, or I’m gonna put you all in separate cabins.” Instant silence.

The second memory from my first youth one session took place near the end of that week. We were all gathered near where the campfires were held, and we were told we would be making a time capsule. A Perkins brailler was passed around, and we were given sheets of paper. What I wrote that night I cannot recall, but I know that whatever it was was a page long. Many years from now, I hope to read that again.

Every year new memories were made, every year new counselors came and went. Every year new activities were added, such as woodworking, new people were met and EHC found it’s way into my heart, where it always will be. What makes EHC special are the campfires, hay rides, (typically at the end of family camp) talent shows (where I performed many times) campers, staff, activities. What makes EHC the place to be is the laughter, the music, hanging out with new friends and old friends, and the wishes that everyone makes at the end of a youth session closing campfire.

I’d like to conclude with a memory that, as of this writing, happened just a few months ago. Just two months before the fire. In August, I attended Music Academy for the first time, and this was one of the best sessions I’ve attended. On the evening of the EHC performance, I stood on the stage at the Redwood Grove theater, and as I was getting ready to sing, I was asked to talk a little about Music Academy. As I talked, I could feel my nervousness for the performance I knew was about to happen, but I also felt contented. Everything at that moment was so peaceful around me, and the sense of togetherness was in the air. It’s a moment I will carry with me forever. It’s a moment I will keep as EHC begins rebuilding. It’s a moment I look forward to experiencing again when I return.

Maycie performs 'Doctor My Eyes' at Music Academy 2017 on the Redwood Grove Theater stage.
Maycie performs ‘Doctor My Eyes’ at Music Academy 2017 on the Redwood Grove Theater stage.

Maycie Vorreiter is a student at Santa Rosa Junior College and EHC camper from Northern California. You can also read about Maycie’s braille yearbook.

Want to share your story? Head to the Enchanted Hills’ Facebook page and comment or post a picture of your favorite EHC memory.

Blind at Work: The Woodworker

This weekend marks our very first session back up at camp since fires destroyed a large portion of Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa. Thanks to the hard work of the firefighters up at camp, our Tactile Art Barn survived and continues to be a venue for workshops and camp sessions. From February 1 through 4, we’ll be joined by students and woodworking hopefuls from all over, who will learn from internationally renowned woodworker Jerry Kermode and blind woodworker and construction manager George Wurtzel. George works up at camp year round, and in addition to his woodworking expertise, he has plenty to teach us about a life well-lived:

This session is all booked up, but if you’re interested in taking part in future woodworking or tactile art workshops, please contact EHC Program Coordinator Taccarra Burrell at tburrell@lighthouse-sf.org or (415) 694-7318.

A Salute to the Firefighters of LA Fire Department Engine 98

In early October, one of the most damaging wildfires in California’s history reduced part of our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp to ash and smoke. It destroyed most of Lower Camp, including staff housing, cabins that house hundreds of campers each summer and the beloved Redwood Grove Theater stage, as well as parts of Upper Camp.

You can help us today with a tax-deductible contribution to rebuild Enchanted Hills.

Yet a good part of camp did survive, thanks to the courage of Los Angeles Fire Engine #98. These firefighters risked their lives to save as much of camp as they could and are now, as we write this, in harm’s way as they fight the treacherous fires in Southern California.

A note on the back of the partially charred Redwood Grove sign, which was hand carved by blind woodworker George Wurtzel, reads: “LAFD Engine 98. We saved this, wish we could have saved more.”
A note on the back of the partially charred Redwood Grove sign, which was hand carved by blind woodworker George Wurtzel, reads: “LAFD Engine 98. We saved this, wish we could have saved more.”

We can never thank these brave firefighters enough for the perilous work they did to save Enchanted Hills for blind campers. But in mid-November, we tried. Camp staffer Chris Lawyer and his partner, Jessica Marenoff visited LAFD #98 to give thanks in person on behalf of the LightHouse. The couple’s feelings for Enchanted Hills Camp run particularly deep: not only did they meet at the camp, but, tragically, they lost their onsite home and all their possessions in the fire.

“It was very important for us to thank them, not only on behalf of the LightHouse and Enchanted Hills, but for me and Jess personally, for saving the camp we love so much, that has so much meaning to our story,” says Chris, who has since relocated to Fairfield with fellow EHC site staff member Matt Beard and their partners.

They arrived at the Los Angeles fire station with hearts full of gratitude for what was saved and had an eminently satisfying conversation with Alexander Hermann, one of the first responders at EHC. Hermann told Chris and Jess about the fire crew’s efforts to save EHC, describing the first thing the crew saw when they arrived: the Staff House (Chris and Jess’ home) had already burned down and was still smoking.

He recounted how the crew worked their way through the camp, extinguishing as many flames as possible, despite obstacles like large trees blocking the road that had to be cut up and removed. They got to the Redwood Grove Theater just as fire was destroying the stage, but were able to save the hand-carved benches made by blind woodworker George Wurtzel. Alexander felt compelled to leave a touching note at the entrance to the theater: “We saved this, wish we could have saved more.” Alex wrote the note himself and went to post it on the sign, to which his fire chief laughed and said, “You can’t leave that with the bad handwriting.”

As Chris told him of camp’s history and founder Rose Resnick and described all the site staff do at Enchanted Hills, Alex and his team were amazed by everything that camp offers and symbolizes for the blind community. They expressed to us their sadness for what we lost: “We really wish we could have done more,” he said, echoing his sentiments from the handwritten note.

Chris Lawyer and Jess Marenoff, wearing their maroon EHC t-shirts, pose with firefighter Alexander Hermann in front of the grill of a giant red firetruck.
Chris Lawyer and Jess Marenoff, wearing their maroon EHC t-shirts, pose with firefighter Alexander Hermann in front of the grill of a giant red firetruck. Chris and Jess gave Hermann EHC t-shirts for the heroic crew.

We’re so thankful for the work of these valiant firefighters, for everything they fought to save and everything they succeeded in protecting. Now it’s our turn to do the work. So many of you have expressed your sorrow for the destruction at camp. So many have asked what you can do.

Start right now by making a tax-deductible gift to support our rebuilding efforts. The year is almost over, so don’t wait to donate!

Now, more than ever, Enchanted Hills needs your support and donations. To give by mobile device, text REBUILDEHC to 501-55.

p.s. Every dollar donated is tax-deductible and will go to ensuring that the coming years will bring new growth and opportunity for blind campers.  Donate or contact Jennifer Sachs at 415-694-7333 or jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org and tell her you want to help “Rebuild EHC.”

Join the #GivingTuesday Movement on November 28 to Rebuild EHC

Join the #GivingTuesday movement on November 28 and donate to rebuild Enchanted Hills. Help us reach our $10,000 goal to rebuild one of the 10 cabins lost.

The holiday season is about giving, and this year we’re participating in Giving Tuesday, a one-day annual movement to spread the spirit to charitable organizations like LightHouse.

A view through the gutted staff house at Napa County's Enchanted Hills Camp.
A view through the gutted staff house at Napa County’s Enchanted Hills Camp.

In 2017, more than ever, we need your year-end charitable contributions. As many of you know, LightHouse suffered the greatest loss of our history this past year to our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp in the wake of the California wildfires. This year, we turn our Giving Tuesday efforts toward rebuilding EHC. Join the #RebuildEHC movement and make a tax-deductible donation to help us reach our goal of raising $10,000 on November 28, to contribute to the material cost of each of the 10 cabins we lost in the fire.

Over 40,000 organizations including small businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and major corporations in 98 countries have joined the #GivingTuesday movement over the last four years. Mark your calendars for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to help us reach our goal.

Donate to #RebuildEHC

You can also support our fundraising efforts by sharing our Rebuild EHC page on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #RebuildEHC. In your post, tell why YOU decided to support our efforts to Rebuild EHC better and stronger.

Thank you so much for your support.

The Baby Saints: The Story of a Heroic Rescue at Enchanted Hills Camp

This past week, EHC Site Managers Don and Janet Lay returned to their home at Enchanted Hills to resume their role of onsite staff. Enchanted Hills has a long road to rebuilding, but in celebration of this little victory, we bring you one of our favorite stories from the fire, as a tribute.

It was nearing midnight on Sunday, October 8. Smoke rolled over the mountain towards Enchanted Hills Camp. Staff stumbled out of their homes and glanced eastward and to find the entire range of hills ablaze in the distance from the nearing Nuns fire. Seeing the rising torrent of flames and high winds, the group decided on the spot to evacuate.

There were 14 people, three dogs and years of history and personal belongings to bring with them. The group packed everything and everyone into their cars, except for two little creatures who would not fit. The goats.

Janet had to think on her feet. She grabbed the hose and left it trickling into the bathtub nearby, thinking that at the very least, the goats would have water until they could escape. They patted the goats on the head, and opened the door to the stables, offering the animals their freedom if they wanted it. They said goodbye to Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher.

Loved by campers, guide dogs and horses alike, “The Baby Saints” were a welcome addition to camp when they joined the EHC family in April 2017. Camp site staff Janet and Donny Lay rescued the two pristinely white baby goats, dubbed Saint Christopher and Saint Nicholas, from the Goat Rescue of Sonoma County. The companion goats were the latest in a series of goat herds dating back nearly ten years, who contributed to our fire abatement efforts by keep the grassy fuel load down to keep camp safe and intact. They soon became much more, and our Enchanted Hills Facebook fans and hundreds of campers came to know them as unofficial mascots.

The Baby Saints in a bright green field after arriving at EHC.
The Baby Saints in a bright green field after arriving at EHC.
Janet and Saint Christopher on the goats’ first day at EHC.
Janet and Saint Christopher on the goats’ first day at EHC.

The four-month-old goats quickly found a routine and became highly socialized, hanging with the horses from the Thacher School in the summer months and learning how to graze. They’d call out to campers walking up the road, begging for some love and attention, or frolic with camp counselor Analisa’s guide dog Walten in the stable while she worked in the pasture with the horses. They came to love people so much that they sometimes needed to be shooed away from trying to enter the dining hall.

When the horses left at the end of the summer, the goats were forlorn — but took to their jobs of grazing through the property and clearing away dense brambles and thickets.

***

After evacuating, site staff hoped to return to gather more of their personal belongings after evacuation, but it was too late. Throughout the week, they watched from temporary lodgings throughout the Bay Area as satellite imagery showed a red patchwork moving closer and closer to camp, so that soon it was right on top of the property. Janet and the team panicked, worried about the loss of their beloved home, but also for the gnawing sensation that there were two living, loving creatures still stuck up on the mountain.

On Thursday morning the fires had seemingly slackened and cooled and Janet woke up early, with new resolve. Frustrated by the road closures that blocked any entry for miles around our camp, she jumped online to see if anyone in the Napa area could get into EHC and help the goats. She discovered the Napa Community Animal Response Team (Napa CART) on Facebook and was relieved to discover that they were busy rescuing animals in the Napa area. She immediately started an email conversation that led to a few phone calls. She sent them a map of the property that indicated where the goats were likely to be found.

An hour later, Janet’s phone rang. A man on the other end said, “I’m going up to get your goats.”

Map of Enchanted Hills Camp with the stable circled in red.
Map of Enchanted Hills Camp with the stable circled in red.

Five hours later, NAPA Cart uploaded a post to Facebook:

“We have been very fortunate to help evacuate so many wonderful animals over the past few days and evacuations are continuing. Just now Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher, these adorable 9 month old twin goats, were rescued from Mount Veeder and are now on their way to safe shelter.”

The Baby Saints were safe.

***

But where had they been? How had they managed to stay alive as flames tore through camp and across Mount Veeder, destroying dozens of EHC structures and leveling countless houses in the surrounding area?

With a little sleuthing, the pieces started coming together. The man on the phone was Sergeant Jeremy, a local Napa Animal Control worker and volunteer with the Napa CART organization.

He had set out to EHC with Janet’s map in hand, unsure if the goats would be there when he arrived. But when Sergeant Jeremy got to camp, the Baby Saints were right where Janet thought they’d be: huddled together in the bathtub near the stable, where Janet had left them a vital water source. They came running when called, relieved to find a human companion after days of fending for themselves.

The goats huddled together in the bathtub.
The goats huddled together in the bathtub.

When our photographers finally returned to camp, though, we discovered that the goats hadn’t stayed put the whole time — in fact they had had their run of Enchanted Hills in the absence of their caretakers. The stone dining hall had always been the neighborhood’s shelter-in-place structure, and the new fire-resistant roof kept it safe. The hardy pair somehow managed to force their way into the structure to take refuge, roving into the kitchen and nurse’s office, before finding their way back to their water source, where Sergeant Jeremy found them. Evidence below:

The telltale evidence of how the goats survived: goat droppings in our dining hall.
The telltale evidence of how the goats survived: goat droppings in our dining hall.

Despite having been through a lot, the goats were still frisky, Sergeant Jeremy said, recounting how he had to wrestle the little saints into a dog catcher truck, and after a brief tussle, carted them safely away from the property. No rescue mission would be complete without a tussle.

The Baby Saints spent the last few weeks on a leisurely staycation at a farm in Napa ever since, and with Janet and Donny back at camp as the site caretakers, the Baby Saints are now back home at EHC.

***

Goats may seem like odd pets to keep, but our appreciation for these little creatures goes much deeper than companionship. Between 2008 and 2013 we brought hundreds of goats to Enchanted Hills as part of an overarching fire abatement plan, to munch and maintain the underbrush and flammable wilderness that surrounds us on all sides. It is thanks to this planning that so many of the central structures in camp are still standing — including the fire-safe dining hall — where the crafty little survivors took refuge during the worst of the fire.

In some ways, we owe these humble (and insatiable) creatures a big thank you for the things that survived the fire. May they graze peacefully and heartily for years to come. A giant thank you to Napa CART, Sergeant Jeremy and the handful of EHC friends and staff who helped to complete a successful goat rescue mission.

We’re immensely grateful for the safety of our EHC site staff and the furry creatures they cohabitate with. But in order to get them back in business, there’s work to be done. Please help us Rebuild EHC after the devastating fires that led to the destruction of 29 of our structures, including the 10 cabins that have housed hundreds of summer campers and counselors every year since 1950.

Now, more than ever, Enchanted Hills needs your support and donations.

What We Will Need to Rebuild EHC

Dear LightHouse Community,

I’ve just returned from my first permitted visit to our Enchanted Hills Camp, evacuated three weeks ago with only an hour’s notice. Over the past weeks I’ve known, intellectually, many of the facts and losses caused by the fire, but visiting camp in person deepened my understanding of the damage to this very special place and why it’s essential that we rebuild it better and stronger than ever.

As I drove up to camp with camp director, Tony Fletcher, most of the way up Mt. Veeder Road looked strangely untouched and beautiful. But about two miles from camp, we began to see the burned-down shells of nearly half of our neighbors’ houses, barns and outbuildings. The air turned pungent with sweet but ominous smoke and we were surprised to see hot spots still smoldering three weeks after the fires.

Such was the magnitude of the great fire. At $3.3 billion in damages, it is likely the worst in California history. Talking with locals who monitored the course of the fires, it appears that Enchanted Hills was located almost in the exact location where the huge Nuns fire and Partrick fires converged. Today, the whole face of 2,600-foot Mt. Veeder appears blackened by the unprecedented inferno.

We turned into the driveway, past the main camp sign smashed by a fire truck on entry, then made our way past an improvised barricade designed to keep others out. Immediately, I heard the buzz of a portable generator powering our water system pumps; we’ve already stored away about 10,000 gallons of water fire departments used in fighting the fires on our property. The generator reminded us that there is no electricity at all at camp, and with the massive burnout of our power system’s poles and wires, it’s likely it will be months until we get power everywhere we need it. We will appreciate a sizable electrical contracting company to help with our massive electric power rebuild. The fire has been very big, so some of the trucks needed to help in order to carry water for the fire. Since the electricity was out because of the big fire, it was a good thing that semi trucks has well-charged generators.

Many meadows around camp are untouched by fire, thanks to a protective heritage first undertaken starting in 2008. The open spaces, unchoked by underbrush, clearly helped protect almost all of upper camp’s buildings. A walk inside the Hogan, Lakeside cabins, or the Kiva show the spaces unburned by fire, though likely needing smoke remediation, deep cleaning and repainting. The same goes for the gathering house and dining hall. We’ll need painters, carpet cleaners and commercial dry cleaners to help with our walls, bedding and permeable surfaces.

Donate to #RebuildEHC

Walking down to the pool, camp begins to feel more like a wasteland. The decking has burned so completely as to reveal a three-foot deep pit underneath. The bathhouse has nothing left, as well as all storage buildings and the beautiful shade structure build by the Davis Kiwanis Club. With all of the delicate bushes and trees burned around the pool, the place is a stark counterpoint to the boisterous fun I remember from thousands of campers and their families.

But one detail gave me heart: The pool’s level was down three feet from normal. Why? We heard that after the fire department had drained our 20,000 gallon tanks in upper camp, they turned to the abundant pool water to help save our camp structures. Maybe that is where Los Angeles Engine #98 got the water they used to save parts of the Redwood Grove theater? We hope to find out more about these details soon. We need to repair and rejuvenate all the lost recreational spaces at camp, including the Redwood Grove Theater.

In addition to the surviving theater benches, the beautiful redwood trees still stand tall, only a few with darkened trunks. The needles far above were still green, and the graceful giants will likely all survive.

We hiked down to Rose Resnick’s favorite part of camp, the lower chapel, with its creek still running even now in late October. I could feel the spirits of 90 years of blind campers down there, the girls and boys savoring the smells of quintessential California woodland. At the blackened Lower Chapel, I found the creek, but its surroundings seemed very different. All the California bay trees and Douglas firs had burned away, revealing for the first time the full Creekside formerly hidden in a green thicket of plants.

What remained was a clear, parklike stand of redwoods with an occasional oak. I fear for the titanic erosion that likely will happen this winter. We need groups, companies and organized associations who will be willing to spread seed, plant seedlings and participate in a multi-year effort to reforest EHC with the right native species and ensure for erosion control.

Walking around the Lower Chapel is now treacherous. Five-foot holes edge what’s left of the walkway, places in which hundred-foot trees used to stand.  The creek bridge and all railings are gone, as is just about all of the thousands of feet of guide rope and supports first installed in the 1950s. Safe and accessible walkways, including natural cane-detectable edging, will be a multi-year project, but one that will open up this jewel for future generations of all abilities.

As we stood in lower camp and the sun peeked out of the smoky clouds, a few local birds began to sing. There have been some squirrel sightings already, and, ironically, an unusual number of rattlesnakes have been on the move, displaced from their homes. The disturbed and newly-sunny hillsides may also be ideal for poison oak in the early years after the fire. We’ll need naturalists, botanists and those willing to get their hands dirty by removing unwanted plants and weeds as we beautify, landscape and care for camp’s new ground cover, because they will be building a new home for our onsite staff and the many animals who inhabited the camp.

Donate to #RebuildEHC

I walked up the road to see what was left of the 2,000 square-foot 1927 camp cafeteria and roller rink. I found the little ramp leading up from the road to the front door, but the building had burned so furiously that only a thin ash pile remained. Tony Fletcher poked around and found the antique glass front doorknob. As I held it in my hands, the glass broke, the last remnant of nearly 90 years of blind activities in the building.

And so it went throughout the afternoon, and the more time I spent at camp the more the list of needs grew ever longer. Where were those massive picnic tables built by our neighbors? I couldn’t even find a trace of ash where they had once stood. What about the recreation field sports shed, crammed with low ropes, beep baseballs and every other kind of sports equipment? Only the concrete slab remains. What about the dozens of outdoor speakers and miles of wire strung by Mike May so that the entire camp could enjoy camp wide radio broadcasts?

For most of camp, the system is dust. All of those clever Wi-Fi access points we set up over the last year or two also don’t exist. It’s going to take wave after wave of volunteers and craftspeople to build things back even better.

Sometimes it’s the enormity of the little things that are gone that got to me. Beds, mattresses and bedding for 120 kids vanished without a trace, along with dozens of dressers, chairs, desks and well-used campfire seating. Beloved cabin and trail signs and nature boxes evaporated. These are the things that blind people touched and benefited from every day. We’ll now start to build beautiful warm things for generations of campers to come.

And build it we will. I was met on property by Napa County Supervisor Ryan Gregory. As we walked through treacherous lower camp I asked him how property owners like us can possibly pay for all the debris removal or the felling of dangerous weakened trees. He said there are county programs that may be slow in operation, but they will come.

Supervisor Gregory also walked with us to the remains of our staff house, once the home of five valued camp employees. He wants to help EHC and our neighbors in any way possible. To that end, he’s paying out of his own pocket for a neighborhood informational meeting this Thursday at 5:00 p.m., held in our intact dining hall. We expect more than 100 neighbors to meet each other for the first time since the fire and band together as we build back a community stronger than ever.

If all goes as forecast, the Thursday meeting will adjourn and three days of soaking rains will begin, permanently ending the fire season and beginning a new season of cleanup and reconstruction.

While I am writing this, I’ve just gotten the good news that our contractors have been able to restore some limited electrical power to our water pump house and some parts of upper camp. If our crews can do the impossible, Supervisor Gregory will be able to host our neighbors tomorrow in a dining hall brightened for the first time in nearly a month. Keep your fingers crossed for this humble victory.

And so the reconstruction begins. Of Enchanted Hills staff, all were displaced by the fires and four of them lost their homes and jobs. I am glad to learn that four of the five have already found work and a place to stay. The fifth is about to begin some long-planned international travel and will be in touch with us upon his return next year.

Our Spring House, home to our amazing site managers Donny and Janet Lay, is being cleaned, so they will resume full-time living on property just days from now. We’ll haul off more than a dozen refrigerators, permanently fouled by a month-long power outage.

We’ve begun accumulating tens of thousands of gallons of treated water from our spring, essential to cleanup and the health of our contractors and staff. And most importantly, we’ve begun to hear from many of you directly.

We’ve established a link for tax-deductible donations earmarked exclusively for camp reconstruction. Donate to help rebuild EHC in the aftermath of devastating fire damage.

We’ve also built a convenient way for people moved by our situation to give immediately by texting. Simply text ‘RebuildEHC’ to  501-55 and specify your donation amount when prompted.

Next Summer at EHC

Though we’ve suffered the greatest loss in our history, I want you to know we’re already thinking about ways we might build back camp in time to host limited groups this summer. If we can muster the contractors, materials and volunteers groups, our plucky camp staff and community will make a mighty effort to hold some special sessions as early as summer 2018. It won’t be anything like last year, but we intend to pioneer our own future in ways that will build a stronger camp and a stronger community for it.

In appreciation,

Bryan Bashin, CEO

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat incurs serious fire damage, makes commitment to rebuild

Help rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp stronger and better than ever.

On October 17, Enchanted Hills Camp staff – cooks, craftsmen and the property managers who work and live at the specialized Napa camp and training center for the blind – reunited at LightHouse for the Blind’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco to discuss the future of their 67-year-old camp. When the 311-acre property on Mount Veeder in Napa found itself at the center of multiple advancing fires last week, the future of the West Coast’s oldest camp for people who are blind and visually impaired was suddenly uncertain. Camp staff were able to evacuate before the mountain closed to the public, and took refuge with friends and family while waiting several days for news about their home.

On Sunday, the LightHouse finally received a few photographs of the beloved summer camp, though much of it was hard to recognize. More than a dozen structures, which housed hundreds of campers each summer, had been laid to waste by uncontrolled flames that had crossed the boundary lines into camp on the second weekend of fires in Northern California. The damage accounts for more than half of the camp’s capacity, and though reports are still inconclusive, likely includes a brand new natural redwood theater, with hand-carved benches crafted by blind artisans this summer.

“The silver lining,” says Enchanted Hills Camp director Tony Fletcher, “is though the student and staff housing is largely gone, Enchanted Hills’ core, its historic gathering spaces, remain largely intact. Because of our commitment to a fire abatement plan and all the help we’ve received enacting it over the past decade, many of these beloved buildings were spared.”

On Monday evening, LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin sent a letter to the extended blindness community throughout the United States, sharing details of the damage but also with reassurances of Enchanted Hills’ future:

“I want the large and extended LightHouse community to know that we are committed to building back Enchanted Hills Camp stronger and better than ever, both as a camp for the blind and a treasured Napa retreat center. The reconstruction of lower camp will give us opportunities to build in accessibility and modern comforts for generations of campers to come. But before that we need to tend to our staff, our operations and the planning, reforestation and construction that likely will occupy us for years to come.”

As of Tuesday morning, certain structures and vegetation was still ablaze in restricted parts of the hilly camp, though kept in check by firefighters, and it will be days if not weeks before camp staff can return to view the damage.

The LightHouse has started a dedicated fund to rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp. Should you wish to help, please consider making a donation — big or small. If you have any leads for our displaced staff in the Napa area, please email Taccarra Burrell at tburrell@lighthouse-sf.org.

Now, more than ever, Enchanted Hills needs your support and donations.

#RebuildEHC