The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) has acquired the Sky Mountain Outdoor Education Center.
It will serve as science camp for sixth graders in the Manteca and Ripon unified school districts as well as other students in the county and throughout the San Joaquin Valley starting in the 2021-2022 school year.
Situated at the top of the North Fork of the American River in the Sierra in Tahoe National Forest in Placer County, the property will become the new home for Science Camp for San Joaquin Valley students.
Sky Mountain includes cabins, a gymnasium, lodge, and other facilities surrounded by acres of forest alongside a pristine mountain lake. The 62.68-acre parcel was donated by the Pacific Gas & Electric to SJCOE. Preexisting infrastructure, capital assets, and $2.5 million to support code compliance and infrastructure reinforcement were donated by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council. In 2016, the SJCOE applied to become a grantee of the property through the Stewardship Council, which oversees more than 140,000 acres of watershed lands owned by PG&E to ensure they are used to benefit the residents of California.
Sky Mountain is located 45 miles northeast of Auburn and 28 miles west of Truckee at an approximate elevation range of 5,500-6,000 feet. The parcel encompasses many scenic lakes in the high elevation mountains of the Sierra. It is surrounded by National Forest System lands managed by the Tahoe National Forest and private property. The parcel is accessible via Lake Valley Road, which is accessed from the Yuba Gap exit off of Interstate 80.
As part of the transaction, the SJCOE will work closely with the Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat and connecting Californians to the outdoors. As the holder of the conservation easement, the WHF will oversee the protection of the ecological habitat and ensure the appropriate use of this natural open space.
Sky Mountain will be the new location of Science Camp, as the SJCOE outdoor education program has been known to students for over 60 years who have come to the Santa Cruz Mountains through a contract with the YMCA at Camp Jones Gulch.
“We are grateful for the long-standing partnership we have had with the YMCA and Camp Jones Gulch. The memories and traditions created there are shared by generations of our county’s residents,” San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas said. “It is difficult to close this chapter in our history, but Sky Mountain allows us more opportunities to provide outdoor education experiences to students year-round We are excited to offer Science Camp at Sky Mountain beginning in the 2021-2022 school year as we develop the next generation of innovative, ecologically literate community stewards and leaders. The possibilities are endless.”
By owning Sky Mountain, the SJCOE will have the flexibility to offer year-round programs to students of all ages and provide other opportunities for educators and community partners.
Peter Ottesen, the former director of science camp for 35 years, believes the new site at Sky Mountain will allow the award-winning resident outdoor school to flourish in the years to come.
"The opportunity to acquire Sky Mountain, complete with modern living spaces and food service facilities and a travel time not encumbered by dense traffic, provides assurances that the popular program will continue well into the future,” said Ottesen. “The change of sites couldn't happen at a better time."
Since 1976, the Sky Mountain property has been leased from PG&E for a camp and conference center. During the planning phase of this new project, the SJCOE is working on renovating the preexisting facilities and designing a new curriculum specific to the unique ecosystem that aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards and makes connections with California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts.
“Students will learn about different ecosystems and how watersheds are connected. Snow is connected to rivers, rivers are connected to the Delta in San Joaquin County, and the Delta is connected to the ocean,” SJCOE STEM Director Annie Cunial said. “And year-round activities will range from canoeing and archery in the summer to snowshoeing in the winter,” she said. “These activities will enhance students’ experiences as they learn about the history of the land from the Native American tribes to early California explorers, as well as flora, hydroelectric dams, conifer forests, wildlife, industries, careers, and more.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed how field trips can be offered, programming information for the new center will not be available until the 2021-2022 school year. The SJCOE will provide an update once programming begins.