June 26 was a momentous day for the staff at Leoni Meadows. It was the first day of Family Camp and a soft opening for a camp significantly scarred by the Caldor wildfire a year ago.
“From day one following the fire we have battled challenge after challenge to get the camp ready for this week,” said Craig Heinrich, camp director. Heinrich continued, “God has provided, time and again, the resources, materials, permits, employees, contractors, and volunteers to rebuild, refurbish, and restore our camp.”
The 2021 Caldor Fire, which started near the camp, burned nearly 220,000 acres during its rampage. Nearly 1,100 structures in its path were destroyed or damaged. Structures lost at the camp were also significant. Ten buildings key to the camp, including two staff houses, were total losses. Most of the camp favorites, like Frontier and Wilderness Camp, burned; even the pool did not come through unscathed.
What the fire didn’t burn, water and smoke made up for in damage. But work on the camp started immediately—clearing trees, demolishing structures, and lining up volunteers. According to Debbie Alexander, office manager, “During the project, over 100 people gave a week or weekend to help get us to this point. The jobs they accomplished ranged from construction to painting, scrubbing walls, and installing new mattresses. There was so much to do.”
And so now the first camp of the summer has commenced. In January, camp director Craig Heinrich purposely moved the family camp schedule to early summer so that some of the venues could be worked on before the young campers arrive later in July. This move has paid dividends.
Syndi from Placerville, and her granddaughter, River, said, “The drive to the camp was sad; the amount of damage a forest fire creates is unbelievable. But we are so blessed to be here. The camp staff has done an excellent job.” That sentiment was echoed by Jeremy Pierson, a longtime camper from Visalia, who explained, “Leoni and its Family Camp is a tradition for my family. It is sad to see the devastation all around, but in the main part of the camp, it looks beautiful as if nothing happened. But what makes this camp a tradition for our family is the people.”
According to Heinrich, “So far, the Family Camp has gone smoothly, but not without incident. Some minor plumbing issues have cropped up as families populate the newly remodeled lodges. But we’ve made it! God is good, and Leoni is back from the ashes.”
Lori Cholmondelay, a 45-year family-camper from St. Helena, said it best, “Leoni has always been a piece of heaven on earth. Although the fires destroyed some of the trees and buildings, I’ve realized that it’s the loving people that make it heavenly.”
By Ken Miller