Typically when visiting these 70 state parks, I read the general information on the individual park's website in advance. I get directions, I know approximately how long I will hike, and have a broad idea of what's in store. Be-yond that, I try to leave room for an element of discovery and surprise. I try not to have too much of a preconceived idea of what the park is going to be like.
Even so, I expected that my visit to China Camp State Park would have history and hiking. I also expected an opportunity to photograph large quantities of waterfowl in the salt marshes of San Pablo Bay. But surprise! Instead, it was the deer who ruled the day, keeping me nonstop company during the hiking portion of my visit. I saw very few birds at all.
China Camp is a neighbor-hood hiking/biking park, campground and historic site. It was originally a Chinese shrimp fishing village that thrived in the 1880s. Nearly 500 people from the Canton region lived and worked here.
I began my visit with a five mile hike. Fifteen miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails are available. The deer beckoned. Even as I was driving into the park, I had to stop and let them cross the road.
I took way to many photos to post, as they were very cooperative subjects. They were even willing to expose their babies and backsides to my lens.
From the trail there were views of the bay, flowering shrubs and tree topped knolls. The terrain varied from covered oak woods, to open meadows and an occasional hilltop. Wild purple sweet peas were abundant. While not a crowded park on this weekday, a runner or bicyclist passed me by every five minutes or so.
The exhibits at China Camp Village helps tell the story of these hardy shrimp fisherman. In its heyday, there were three general stores, a marine supply store and a barber shop.
The Quan Bros. snack shop at China Camp Village is open on weekends. Food, beverages, and ice cream are available. On some days you can meet the long-time resident and shrimp fisher-man Frank Quan here.
Old shrimp boats float at the end of the pier and sit dry-docked on the beach.
Chinese shrimp fisherman established these “fish camps” where they lived and worked in isolation from other communities. They main-tained their culture, language and traditions. The camp grew from an original 76 men and boys in 1870, to 469 village members in 1880, including women, children, a school teacher and a barber. The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 prohibited the immigration of laborers and denied naturalization to Chinese immigrants. By 1900, the population of China Camp declined to 122, with only 79 fisherman remaining.
Shrimp fishing revived in the 1930s and 1940s, due primarily to the efforts of the Quan family. They ran the last remaining shrimp fishery in San Pablo Bay, rented out boats for sport fishing and opened a restaurant.
The preservation of this historic village is largely credited to the Quans.
Modest, stilted homes and gardens from earlier days sit on the hillside. A small beach in front of China Camp Village offers swimming and picnicking.
A row of abalone shells mark the entrance to the shrimp drying area. A large brick drying oven remains on site.
There is a small museum describing an early Chinese settlement, telling the history of both the Chinese culture and the biology and ecology of Shrimp. Fishing imple-ments and items from every-day life are on display.
I was especially intrigued by the desk in the center of the museum, built in the octagon shape of the I-Ching, although the eight trigrams were not carved into it.
China Camp SP is staying open largely due to the efforts of The Friends of China Camp. As of July 1, the campgrounds are once again taking reservations. They have raised the $250,000 needed to keep the park open for another year. A fund raiser last month at the San Fran-cisco Maritime Museum was a grand success, featuring San Francisco Sym-phony musicians, wine and beer, a dim sum station, an oyster bar, and a silent auction. Efforts, as with all the parks, are ongoing to keep the dollars rolling in for more long term sustenance.
I hope to see you at the State Parks.
Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012