It’s not a stretch to say that, without Camping at the Presidio (CAP), many Bay Area kids might not ever get to experience the magic of falling asleep in a tent—with campfire smoke in their hair and s’mores bits on their lips.
CAP was established in 2007, to coincide with the major renovation and expansion of Rob Hill Campground (the only facility of its kind in San Francisco), funded through the generosity of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. Now launching its 10th season, CAP has served a total of 33,736 participants—many of them young people camping for the first time.
“The most remarkable aspect of CAP is the number of youth served; it serves over 8,000 youth per year!” says Maggie McGarry, the new Camping at the Presidio program manager, who succeeds Miguel Gutierrez and Grace Malango-Blake in that position. “With each overnight, we are increasing the access and equity to our parks, which is truly making the national parks for everyone.”
This Crissy Field Center program—a partnership of the Presidio Trust, Parks Conservancy, National Park Service, and Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT)—was founded on a simple but brilliant principle: to empower representatives from schools and community groups to lead their own camping trips, through hands-on training.
BAWT staff, who specialize in weeklong outdoor leadership trainings in the backcountry, provide condensed two-day trainings on “front country” skills for CAP group leaders. Offered throughout the year, these Camping at the Presidio Leadership Trainings have taught tent set-up, fire-starting, and camp cooking to 811 group leaders (among them: teachers, program managers, and nonprofit staff).
By equipping group leaders with expertise and all the necessary tents, sleeping bags, and gear, CAP eliminates much of the stress and anxiety in organizing a youth camping trip. “It is overwhelming to try to gather camping gear and organize a class trip,” explains one San Francisco Unified School District elementary school teacher. “The CAP program makes it easy, and it is exciting to take kids camping in their city.”
Since 2007, CAP has shown steady overall growth in both the number of individuals served and camp-nights provided. Just last year, 6,435 people (4,644 of them young people) were provided camp experiences by CAP, totaling 11,695 camp-nights—indicating a substantial number of multiple-night stays. CAP also saw its first out-of-state participants, as a youth-development group from Detroit culminated their cross-country tour of national parks with a stay at Rob Hill Campground.
McGarry says she will continue to work on making access to the CAP program and the outdoors (and their innumerable lessons) more equitable and expansive.
“I believe CAP’s greatest and most enduring legacy is passing down the history of San Francisco, the Presidio, and the Ohlone people to future generations,” she explains. “Each group who visits Rob Hill participates in activities that highlight how the Presidio has changed throughout its history, and what environmental and social justice issues we still face today.”
And, while learning about that important and resonant legacy during CAP trips, the kids also just have a blast.
“The students were so happy, and all the planning leading up to it was well worth it,” says a kindergarten teacher at another SFUSD school. “We had a circle at the end and one of the kids said, ‘It was the best day ever! When can we do it again?’”