Monday, June 17, 2024

When Long Beach ran a summer camp in the Angeles National Forest

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by Baktaash SorkhabiCamp Hi-Hill was an outdoor school located in the Angeles National Forest near Mt. Wilson—and it was a space provide for all Long Beach Unified School District fifth graders, allowing them to spend a week learning in nature. The mission of the Hi-Hill Outdoor School was to provide an outdoor science-based program emphasizing conservation, environmental awareness, and democratic social living skills in which students actively participate in a safe and healthful manner. More than 300,000 students had attended the camp since it opened as one of California’s first outdoor science schools in 1948, and, for many students, the one-week camp was their first close-up experience with nature.In 2008, the last group of local students spent the last week at the now famous Camp Hi-Hill before the school district vacated and closed the space in October of that year due to an increased risk of forest fires in the area. In 2009, LBUSD borrowed Camp Oakes from the YMCA and that year’s class of fifth graders were able to take the trip that many excitedly waited years to attend. For reasons unknown, most likely the recession, this was the last group of LBUSD students to make the journey.
Group of 6th grade children from Long Beach at Camp Hi Hill in 1951. Photos courtesy of USC Digital Libraries Special Collections.The closing of the camp has been quoted as saving LBUSD millions of dollars, but at the expense of keeping the outdoors out of reach to thousands of students that may never have an opportunity like this again. Many of the schools within LBUSD are considered to be inner-city schools, and around 50,000 students who attend LBUSD schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch due to home income levels. For many LBUSD students this was the first time they were ever outdoors, experienced snow, or went on a hike. And for many this was their only trip to the outdoors until adulthood.
It has been more than a decade since the last group of LBUSD students went on this trip, but past students still remember the trip. If you speak with someone who was able to experience this place, they will likely remember the place very fondly. Many even attribute the camp as the place where their passion for the environment began. Camp Hi-Hill was so special to LBUSD students, that a local Long Beach clothing company recreated the iconic camp sweater that LBUSD alum treasure.
Conditions of Camp Hi-Hill today. Photo courtesy of YouTube.The camp closed indefinitely in 2008, but educators who were able to experience the transformative experience that Hi-Hill provided for students, continue to fight for the camp to make a comeback. The effect an outdoor education program like this could have on LBUSD students is tremendous. Even though School District budgets grow smaller and smaller each year, hope remains that one day this experience can be open to Long Beach Unified students once again.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi-Hill is one of my best memories from childhood. I went with Carver elementary in 87 and I am sad to know that kids are no longer getting to have such a great experience. Too much greed and corruption sucking the life out of funding for important activities.

    • I was thinking of my week at camp Hi-Hill in 1956. I looked it because because the happy memories came to me tonight as I look back at my on my life.

      It’s been over 67 years, and the time I spent there is a treasure, never to be forgotten.

      Richard

      • Hi Richard! I’m with you! I attended Camp Hi hill 3 yrs after you did. I ❤️ the memories. Our girls cabin was clean, decorated, and lively. I met wonderful friends and we remained in touch for years after leaving camp.

  2. I recall Camp Hi Hill in the early 80s. First time I saw snow/sleet, saw Saturn via a telescope, did the “spark in the dark” walk (involved chewing a Cert breath meant), and the first time I shoveled snow/sleet (as a punishment for tossing a snow/sleet ball at another student)… I didn’t consider it a punishment and found it fun. And eating in the lodge/cafeteria that overlooked the mountains. Seeing the clouds shadow on the hills was amazing to a kid that grew up in the city of flatness… except Signal Hill….lol

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