About four miles down Upper Lopez Canyon Road, a narrow, steep and bumpy route over patched pavement, Camp Mabel French comes into view.
Though located only about 13 miles from Arroyo Grande behind Lopez Lake, Camp French was quiet and peaceful Tuesday. But during certain times of the year, the 73-acre camp is much louder, when up to 300 campers pitch tents in sites named for American Indian tribes: Blackfoot, Chumash, Sioux.
Many Boy Scouts have camped, practiced archery and hiked here over the years, but the camp is also used by various other groups, including churches, the YMCA, Camp Fire, schools, and cross-country teams.
Since it was founded 40 years ago, the Los Padres Council of the Boy Scouts of America has leased and operated Camp French for San Luis Obispo County.
“You can bring young kids out here and let them run all around,” said Tom Parsons, a member of the council’s executive committee. “It’s really a gem.”
But for more than five years, the camp has been operating at an annual loss of about $45,000 to $55,000 a year, council Program Director Ron Walsh said. It costs about $70,000 to $85,000 a year to operate the camp, he said.
Los Padres Council leaders were faced with a decision: raise fees or seek donations.
The board decided to go with the latter option, and hopes to bring in $75,000 by April 30 to keep the camp open this year. It has raised $30,000 so far.
The council hasn’t yet decided what it will do if the fundraising effort isn’t successful.
The county would make every effort to keep Camp French open if the Los Padres Council chose not to operate it, said Curtis Black, the county’s deputy director of parks.
“We’re pulling for them,” Blake said. “They have taken very good care of the property. If they aren’t able to keep it rolling, then we’d certainly want to see it serve the youth and community groups like it has been for a very long time.”
Donations raised by the council will go toward utilities, sewage fees, maintenance costs, and to pay longtime camp Ranger Mike Conrow, who lives on-site.
The Boy Scouts have made numerous upgrades over the years, with help from many community groups, to the dining hall, restrooms and other parts of the camp. Numerous groups help build the Camp French Firebowl, which has log seats and a concrete stage adorned with the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.”
“You start looking around the camp and realize it’s been built by the community,” Conrow said.
To contribute to the Camp Mabel French Sustaining Campaign, contact Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 473-6845, or donate online at http://www.doubleknot.com/event/camp-french-sustaining-committee/1323401.