THE NEWEST SCOUT CAMP
The seeds of Wente Scout Reservation (originally called Willits Scout Ranch then Willits Scout Reservation and lately Camp Wente) can be traced back to the summer of 1948. For it was that year that the Oakland School district, needing a large location for two new hill area schools, started condemnation hearings on 28 acres of land (a mile south of the Montclair shopping district) owned by the Oakland Area Council. The land in question was that of Camp Dimond, the first Scout camp of the Oakland Council that opened in 1919. Camp Dimond was the main Oakland camp for almost 30 years where Scout trainings, weekend camping and summer camp activities took place. Camp Dimond also served as the location for the council office for over 15 years. When Camp Dimond was forced to close its’ doors forever in 1948, only the undeveloped Ranchos Los Mochos (acquired in 1945) near Livermore and the summer operations at Dimond-O (acquired in November of 1925) outside of Yosemite remained as the camping areas for the Oakland Council. A new summer camp was needed.
Due to the growth explosion of Scouting in the 1950’s and its expected continued growth, the Oakland Area Council required a new site for a summer camp to supplement its camping operations at Dimond-O and Los Mochos. However the Council did not begin searching for a new site in earnest until 1957.
Malcom Storm, the Oakland Area camp exploration chairmen, had the task of locating and investigating any potential sites. From 1957 until 1959 the Council investigated multiple large acreage sites both north and south of the Bay Area. In November of 1958 a site 9 miles north of Ukiah and 6 miles west of Highway 101 was offered to the Scouts. The site was the Leonard Lake property owned by Richard Dakin of San Francisco. Offered to the Scouts was 440 acres of land at $125,000 with an additional 1700 acres to be given to the council. Located on the property was also the largest natural lake in Mendocino County. Between January and March of 1959 a review and investigation of the Leonard Lake property was made. The BSA’s National Council Engineering Service found that only one campsite could be found on the entire 1700 acres for 200 boys and it was recommended to withdraw from any further negotiations.
A few months later in May of 1959 the Foley Ranch site (in the hills East of Willits) became available for sale. On May 20th 1959 Malcom Storm and Fred Emerald toured the site and made taking pictures and making site notes. The ranch site was used primarily for hunting and contained a small logging operation known as the Fomo mill. The site offered a large piece of property (1,928 acres) at a price the council could afford. Council members considered it to be the most desirable location it had found with a large grassy meadow surrounded by hills and wide-open vistas. This new site was also investigated by the engineering service division of the National Boy Scout Council in New Jersey that gave its full approval for the ultimate development of three separate camps, each camp serving 200 boys on the site.
The engineering study also showed that a 50-acre lake would be feasible in the future and that adequate supplies of water were available from local springs. The study indicated, “The natural springs on the property can serve much of the site in the immediate future by gravity flow. Single phase power and telephone lines were already in the area, allowing for immediate use. The altitude of the property ranges between 2,000 and 2,300 feet and includes fir, pine, oak and other varieties of native trees”.
At the June 26th executive meeting at the Athenian-Nile Club (14th and Franklin, Oakland) the Board of Directors of the Oakland Area Council along with Council President Robert Matheison approved $70,000.00 for the purchase of the ranch land (about $37.00 per acre). Three days later on June 29th an official letter from the Oakland Area Council was sent to the Fomo Corporation electing to purchase the property. The newest Scout Camp of the Oakland Area Council was born. The first order of business for the council was to develop a new road into camp, make a complete topographical map of the property and determine it’s long-range development plans.
Access into the property was through one of two unimproved dirt roads. The first road (which we now call the rangers road) enters the property via a right of way through the neighbors land immediately after you cross the main bridge on the county road. This entrance to the property is a one-lane road and very steep in spots. Although a car can traverse this road it is near impossible for large trucks to maneuver around the bends. The second road into camp was a little over a mile past the first entrance and was a basic logging road used by the Foley Ranch. This dirt road was located approximately five hundred feet before the current camp entrance. This logging road is still fully accessible by foot although trees are now growing in the middle of its path and there are a few washouts.
The main purpose of the second road was used to haul logs off of the property and deliver them to the local lumber mills. The road meandered its way up the hill at a very easy grade and had two small creek crossings (one directly off the county road and another up the hill near were the current Sailboat Bend is located). Large wooden planks that formed the top of a small bridge near Sailboat Bend are still present although the bridge itself has since fallen down. The road continued up the hill on the East side of the present camp road and exits at the top of the knoll across from the Sunrise Ridge campsite. The logging road then continued down the service road entrance next to the campfire area and around the grassy meadow. Because the logging road was not sufficiently wide enough for two cars, a new road had to be built and is what we use today. Gravel required for the new road was quarried from the camp rock quarry that is located in the hills near the south corner of the lake. The new camp road however would take drivers around the East end of the giant meadow and would connect with another logging road on the opposite side of the meadow.
The process to create the topographical maps and determine the master plan for the site would take a couple years but wilderness camping on the property would begin immediately.
THE FIRST CAMPOUT
The first “encampment” at the Willits Scout Ranch took place on October 24 & 25, 1959 when more than 300 Scouts and their leaders attended a special weekend campout. For the first trial run of the camp, a Scout troop was selected from each of the ten districts within the council. After the five-hour car trip from the bay area, Scout troops arrived Saturday morning and were guided to their campsites by members of the council executive staff including Scout Exec Frank Dix. After setting up their camp, the Scouts explored the new camp and found an abundance of nature, open meadows, massive oak trees and many deer. During the day some of the scouts measured the mighty oaks by seeing how many scouts it took to surround the trees. At the camp-wide council fire Saturday night, all Scouts participated in the building of a stone cairn to mark the spot where the first ever campfire was held in the history of the camp. Each Scout's name was included on paper scrolls that were placed inside the rock cairn to be preserved for posterity. The exact location of the first campfire and the stone cairn is still unknown.
In August of 1960 a geologist from Berkeley was hired to investigate the proposed dam site and look at the geological make-up of the area. The one-day visit investigated the location of the embankment type of dam and the rock formations within the dam area. The geologist noted, “The bedrock at the dam site is well exposed in the stream channel and in outcrops on the abutments. The bedrock in this vicinity is the Franciscan formation of Jurassic age (about 150 million years) which is the oldest rock of the Northern California coastal ranges”. The geologist in his report goes on the say, “the broad flat valley forming the reservoir area should provide ample impervious material for the embankment”.
For the next couple of years not much took place other than occasional camping and site visits by the executive staff taking tours and planning the development of the camp. In September of 1961, the Durant Plumbing Company of Oakland donated the first sailboat to the camp, a small wooden Sabot Type 2 sailboat, although any semblance of the lake was still on the drawing board and over two years away. The Sabot was the number one dinghy for teaching beginners to sail. Later the camp would acquire six El Toro sailboats for the scouts to learn sailing. Both the Sabot and the El Toro sailboats looked similar but the El Toro featured a small deck over the bow that made the El Toro handle rougher waters. In later years the lake would be known for its afternoon “white caps” which the square bowed and box-shaped El Toro’s could manage.