People from all over the Bay Area came to China Camp State Park on Aug. 11 for the annual celebration of Heritage Day. It was an especially poignant celebration this year, because as recently as a few months ago, there was great uncertainty as to whether or not the park would still be open.
Friends of China Camp, a committee of the nonprofit Marin State Parks Association, has been working all year to raise funds and garner community support for this gem of a park, which covers most of the San Pedro peninsula, along the shores of San Pablo Bay. Now that the issue of the park closure has been resolved, Friends of China Camp has become the operator of China Camp, in a partnership with California State Parks. In spite of the , supporters of China Camp understand that this park belongs to all of us.
It was a beautiful, hot sunny day, with welcome breezes coming in off the Bay. The beach in front of China Camp Village was crowded with sunbathers, swimmers, and kayakers. Artists showed their works around the village, and displays were set up by the Marin History Museum, Wildcare, Angel Island State Park, and the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Tables were set up where people could print t-shirts, learn about calligraphy and origami, or buy souvenirs. Friends of China Camp had a table where people could get maps and information about visiting the park, or become members and help support the park.
Ongoing performances took place in the center of the village, starting off with drummers and dancers from the Marin Chinese Cultural Association Lion Dancers. This was followed by a Tai Chi demonstration in which the audience was invited to participate. BoBo Jiang, a Chinese contortionist, came out to thrill the audience with astounding anatomical acrobatics. Then the Redwood Empire Chinese Association Chorus took the stage to sing songs in Mandarin. Song announcer Jean Bee Chan even taught the audience a few words in Mandarin.
One of the most touching moments of the day was when a beautiful birthday cake was brought out for Frank Quan, the last remaining resident of China Camp Village. Last year, when it was announced that China Camp State Park was one of the 70 California state parks to be closed on July 1, 2012, it suddenly became unclear what would happen to Frank. His residency at China Camp Village was written into the General Plan for the park, but would that still apply if the park was no longer open? Thankfully, those doubts have been cleared up and the park remains open. It looked like Frank had a very happy birthday.
A traditional Chinese ribbon dance was performed by Louise Kanter Lipsey, who happens to be one of the pivotal figures in the creation of China Camp State Park back in the early 1970s. Gulf Oil Company had big plans at the time for a massive commercial and residential development that would have included high-rise condos, light industry, and an influx of 30,000 people to the area. Louise found out about the secret plan in 1972 and formed Save San Pedro Peninsula to stop the development and preserve the forested hills and idyllic shoreline of China Camp. The mission of the group was "to preserve as open space the ecologically unique and environmentally significant land of the San Pedro Peninsula."
With the help of the Marin Conservation League and other local environmental and conservation groups, the efforts of Save San Pedro Peninsula paid off. The California State Park Foundation bought 1,640 acres on the peninsula in 1976 and plans began to take shape for the creation of a new park. The state of California purchased the property later that year and China Camp State Park was established the following year. Louise remains an active force in the preservation of China Camp as the park once again faces a whole new set of challenges.
The , a replica Chinese junk, was docked at the long pier that juts out into San Pablo Bay and the Alma, a historic scow schooner, arrived at 1:00, making the trip from the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. The Alma was greeted by the Lion Dancers, who led a procession out onto the dock and then back into the village. A drawing was held so people could take trips out on the Bay aboard the Grace Quan, one of the most popular activities of the day. As the tawny orange-brown sail was raised, the passengers gathered along the pier and prepared for a smooth ride across a calm glassy sea. It was the perfect day for a leisurely sail.
The crowds thinned out in the late afternoon and vendors began to pack up their wares. It was a beautiful day and the consensus was: China Camp is back!