By Jon Vreeland
The Los Padres Council hosted a lunch and groundbreaking ceremony on June 23 at Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp to celebrate the reconstruction of what the Whittier Fire left in ruins nearly a year ago.
The area usually filled with green foliage and wildlife is now a forest of black and leafless trees on charred and blackened soil. The sheen of Lake Cachuma and small pieces of blue sky can be seen through the tangle of burned-up trunks and branches.
However, the rebuilding of what the wildfire destroyed will be “something the rest of the people will try and replicate; children will be able to have an experience like no other,” said CEO Carlos P. Cortez of the scouting council.
The aftermath of the fire, the destruction and dead animals Cortez saw on the days after the turmoil, he said at the groundbreaking, “was an extremely sad sight to see; it brought me to tears; it looked like a war zone.”
At the groundbreaking, Scouts and their guests celebrated the plans for a new camp with a layout that includes new dorms, a health lodge, an observatory, a chapel and much more.
People sat at round tables, under a high gabled ceiling, and ate carnitas and chicken tacos with Spanish rice and beans in one of the camp’s three surviving structures: an air-conditioned cafeteria, known as the Frank Lodge. The cafeteria stands next to the one surviving dorm, and between the two buildings two enormous oak trees still swaddle the roofs and shade the pathway.
The Scout leaders and council members wore beige and green uniforms decorated with various patches for achievements and Scout ranks. The younger Cub Scouts wore a yellow or blue neckerchief with a dark blue or beige uniform.
After lunch, the ceremony moved outside, below the cafeteria and dorm, and away from the two oak trees. The event’s emcee, Council President John Brinker, introduced Alex Mahajan, an Eagle Scout and a member of the Scouting honor society Order of the Arrow.
And in a loud, robust voice, Alex ordered four young members of a color guard to march the American flag to the spot of the ceremonial dig.
They posted the flag, then Alex led the audience in the pledge of allegiance and a prayer.
“I’m impressed with this Eagle Scout,” Brinker said.
Alex also talked about the camp being a significant part of his childhood.
“When I saw the camp, it really struck a chord with me; part of my childhood went up in smoke,” he said.
He and other Scouts were in a meeting at Rancho Alegre the day the fire broke out, “and two hours after the meeting the camp was one big pile of ash,” he said.
To close the event, Alex led the ceremonial first turning of dirt.
Holding shovels were Council CEO Cortez, major donor and fundraiser Bill Wright, council vice president Laurie Tamura and Scout leader Tre Pinner.
On Alex’s cadence, each participant stabbed the earth with a shovel and pulled out a chunk of dirt, marking the start of reconstruction.
As for the area’s natural progression, Cortez said, he recently saw a deer and a flock of wild turkeys amble through the camp. He also saw the carcass of a deer that appeared to have become food for a triumphant mountain lion.
“Nature is diligent,” he said. “It’s the circle of life.”