A few weeks ago, the City of Jackson was thrilled to learn that Cal Fire Pine Grove Youth Camp crew had returned home from the Caldor fire and was ready to return to creek cleaning. The crew Initially started to work in late July, but had to leave a few days later to fight wildland fires across the state. They were away until September 20th when the crew resumed the creek cleaning work. But, they only stayed four days this time. On September 24th, the crew was headed to Redding to fight the Fawn fire. Jackson wished them well and hoped for their safe return.
While many would agree that the fires have been nerve-wracking this year, Jackson city also had a nail-biting year on the creek cleaning front.
For as long as Jackson residents can remember, CalFire Pine Grove Youth Camp has been cleaning the creeks every year. The Camp usually sends out a crew about 15 members each fall. The job usually takes them a month or two to complete. They clean out overgrown vegetations and debris in the creeks and along the banks. Prior to the cleaning, the City has to obtain a permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. To conclude the cleaning, the City throws a pizza party for the crew members and provides in-kind contributions at the Camp’s request. The annual creek cleaning is critical to prevent flooding and protect public safety. Citizens and businesses of Jackson have come to rely on this wonderful service offered by the CalFire Pine Grove Youth Authority (the Camp).
This long-standing partnership appeared vulnerable in the last couple of years due to increased wildfires, COVID and state policy changes. Since 2019, Amador County communities were faced with the threat of the Camp closure. It has been a priority of the Jackson City Council to keep the Pine Grove Camp open. Between 2019 to 2021, Jackson City leaders have sent letters to the Governor’s office, made numerous contacts in person and through phone calls with Assemblyman Frank Bigelow and Senator Borgeas. To garner support from other Motherlode cities, the City Manager also spoke at League of Cities regional meetings about the importance of keeping the Pine Grove Camp.
A few months ago, the City was forced to look into other options for creek cleaning. The result was shockingly disappointing.
First, the City received no interest from private contractors; then when city reached out to other correctional facilities, few were interested enough to give a quote. The quotes also suggested that to receive the same amount of the work PG Camp provides, it would cost the City over $150,000 a year. It is impossible to fit that astronomical price tag into the city’s small annual budget.
The uplifting news came in July 2021. The Camp advised the City that they would be coming to Jackson once finishing up the creeks in Ione. Then some members had contact with COVID and had to go through quarantine.
Finally in late July the crew showed up. They worked hard for a few days. Then they had to stop in the middle of the cleaning as they were called upon to fight those devastating wildfires across the state. This pattern continued in September: they returned and had to leave a few days later. They just retruned from the Fawn fire. Jackson wishes them nothing but safety.
Although this year’s creek cleaning has been an interrupted affair, the City is grateful that the Camp remains open and the crew is able to clean Jackson’s creeks. City leaders would like to express sincere appreciation to CalFire Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp. Please remain safe, thank you for all you do in firefighting and in public service for the City of Jackson.
Yvonne Kimball is the City Manager for the City of Jackson.