Hipcampout Summer Series: Land Stewardship at the Mare Island Preserve

(I wrote this event recap for Hipcamp, and it was was originally published here as part of their Hipcamp Journal.)

The penultimate Hipcampout of the summer brought a vibrant group of volunteers to the Mare Island Heritage Preserve, an inspiring 215-acre stretch of shoreline land a short drive from San Francisco and mere minutes from Vallejo, CA.

A collection of committed campers braved the early Saturday morning fog, arriving on site around 9:00am and quickly fueling up with Stumptown Coffee, ramping up for a day of rewarding manual labor. Before we picked up our tools, we gathered around the preserve’s volunteer manager—the ever-pleasant and hospitable Myrna Hayes—as she shared a brief history of how the land we’d be working came to be, and why she’s been fighting so adamantly over the past nine years to ensure it remains preserved for public use.

Myrna explained that the land was founded in 1857 as the U.S. Navy’s first naval ammunition depot (and how it’s still home to the oldest naval cemetery in the Pacific), mentioning that up until she helped open it for regularly scheduled access in April of 2008, it was completely off-limits to visitors. Even now, with the space open to outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, photographers, artists, and more, her efforts to maintain the land are fueled entirely by donations. She spoke with passion and knowledge when discussing the area’s history, as well as the potential for its future, getting our team of stewards excited to play a part in its continued revitalization and preservation.

As the sun appeared and burned the fog away, we were equipped with our tools and a newfound consciousness of the land, and plans were afoot for the day’s tasks: clearing space for Myrna’s second yurt (you can book a night in her first right here!), creating a campsite beneath one of the many beautiful oak trees, scrubbing graffiti, and removing a small patch of native fennel—growing in abundance all across the island—to create an unobstructed view from one of the preserve’s many vistas.

After a full day of plowing, trimming, raking, and hauling, we pulled off our gloves and sat down to celebrate a job well done. We shared stories from the day over smiles, laughs, beers, and wine—courtesy of our friends at Fort Point Beer Co. and Underwood Wine—while our incredible team of culinary masters prepared a meal fit for royalty.

Once we’d all had our fill, we were treated to a screening of Rebels With a Cause, an incredibly enlightening documentary highlighting a battle over land development that spawned with a group of dedicated citizens in 1950s California. The film followed their movement, which eventually resulted in the protection of more than 82,000 acres of land and created a ripple effect of conservation throughout the country.

Our group was joined by Amy Meyer, a key player in the aforementioned land-saving efforts, one of the film’s stars, and current Chair of People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area. After the film wrapped up, Amy gave a bit more background behind the historical cause and spoke of why protecting land for public use remains so important today, informing the group that big results start with small actions. Myrna echoed Amy’s statements in relation to Mare Island, energizing the roomful of volunteers to continue to take action.

The rest of the night was spent around the campfire or aboard the illuminated Spirit Ship, one of the preserve’s many quirky spots with epic views. We all slept soundly under the stars and left Mare Island the following morning filled with a refreshed sense of awareness and motivation to take good care of the land we’re lucky enough to call home.