BERKELEY -- The city will try to recreate some aspects of its beloved Yosemite summer family camp -- which burned to the ground in a forest fire last summer -- at a new high-elevation site near South Lake Tahoe.

The city started taking reservations Wednesday for the Berkeley Sierra Family Camp at Echo Lake after the Berkeley Tuolumne Camp near Yosemite was destroyed in the Rim Fire in August. But the new camp will only be able to accommodate about one-quarter the number of campers as the old one.

"The city is trying to create a place for some of the traditions at Tuolumne camp to continue," said city spokesman Matthai Chakko. "But the bottom line is the fire was a tragedy, and we can't recreate everything at a moment's notice."

Berkeley residents lined up outside city offices on Wednesday Feb. 12, 2013 to reserve spots at the city’s new Berkeley Sierra Family Camp at Echo
Berkeley residents lined up outside city offices on Wednesday Feb. 12, 2013 to reserve spots at the city's new Berkeley Sierra Family Camp at Echo Lake, which will replace the Tuolumne Camp that burned to the ground in a fire last August. (Doug Oakley/Bay Area News Group)

The new camp experience is at an existing city of Berkeley camp site and will be decidedly different from the Tuolumne camp in many respects. It will take just 1,000 guests in 33 cabins over the summer compared to 4,000 guests the Tuolumne camp was able to accommodate each summer.

And at an elevation of 7,400 feet, the new camp will likely be much drier in the day and colder at night than the Tuolumne experience, which was at 3,500 feet.

Sarah Givens, of Berkeley, was waiting in line outside city offices Wednesday morning to reserve her spot that includes accommodations for her 4- and 7-year-old sons.

"This will be our fourth year," Givens said. "We're wondering how different the new camp will be, but we wouldn't miss it. With two young boys, this is the vacation."


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Chakko said the existing Echo Lake Camp has much less daytime programming, and campers use it as a base site to explore the area. The new experience will combine elements of both, he said.

"At the Echo Lake Camp in the past you had much less programming," Chakko said. "But at Berkeley Tuolumne Camp you had programming from morning to night and day care, the food was pretty high quality and people loved having their luggage taken for them when they arrived."

City officials looked at renting space at 35 other camps in the Sierra, and polled campers on what they wanted for location, setting, the style of lodging, activities and costs. They decided to use space at the city-owned Echo Lake Camp.

"Staff decided they didn't want to rent a place, because they wanted to have more control," Chakko said.

On Tuesday night, the City Council approved a rate structure for the new camp and started taking reservations Wednesday, giving city residents priority through Feb. 19. After that, registration will open to all.

Berkeley residents can visit the camp for up to eight days. An eight-day stay will cost $760 for one Berkeley adult, $840 for a nonresident. Rates are cheaper for children and vary by age. The cost includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and accommodations in tent cabins. According to a city report, the new camp will not change other existing programs at the Echo Lake Camp like the Echo Lake Youth Camp, Teen Weekend, Pre-K Family Weekend and others.

The Echo Lake Camp has been operated by the city of Berkeley since 1922. The site is five minutes from upper and lower Echo Lakes, which are just above South Lake Tahoe off State Highway 50.

The camp has a newly renovated heated pool, basketball, volleyball, bocce ball, archery, campfires and a music program. Arts and crafts are available in the recreation lodge. It also has hot showers and bathrooms.

For more information on the camp and registration forms, go to www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Parks_Rec_Waterfront/Recreation/Berkeley_Sierra_Family_Camp.aspx.

Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.