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Posted on: January 22, 2020

Focus on Equity Will Increase Access to Camp Mather for Low-Income Residents

Camp Mather Birch Lake

San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today announced recent initiatives have resulted in expanded access for visitors at Camp Mather, San Francisco’s family camp in the High Sierras. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (Rec and Park) partnered with the City’s early childhood agencies to launch an array of incentives to ensure all City residents have access to the benefits of nature at Camp Mather, including free cabins and reserved spots for low-income families.

“Every child, in every neighborhood, should have the chance to play and explore nature,” said Mayor Breed. “Research tells us that being in nature improves our mental and physical health, reduces stress, and even helps heal trauma. All San Franciscans should have access to these health benefits and I’m glad that more low-income families will now be able to enjoy the beauty of Camp Mather and enjoy time outside the city with their loved ones.”

Camping for a family of four costs about $1,710 a week and includes a cabin, activities and meals. Rec and Park previously subsidized up to half the cost for approximately 33 qualifying families each summer. The recent measures expanded access by 300 percent, making subsidies of 50 to 100 percent available to 132 families. Additionally, low-income families received priority in the yearly lottery for camping spaces, ensuring more equitable reservations.

In addition to the summer-long commitment to increasing access, Rec and Park is offering a special week at Camp Mather for residents connected to City programs that serve many low- income families. First 5 is helping to conduct outreach and splitting the cost of family meals with Rec and Park for this summer’s special week at Camp Mather, as well as providing transportation to the camp.

The initiatives are an outgrowth of Rec and Park’s commitment to equity in San Francisco and beyond. A founding member of the City’s Children and Nature collaborative, the Department has worked tirelessly to provide access to nature to low-income families.

“Our push for equity at Camp Mather has been greeted with incredible enthusiasm by the community,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “These changes were guided by our belief that access to nature should never be a luxury. We can’t wait for new families to connect with nature and each other in a place of unparalleled beauty.”

Additionally, Supervisor Hillary Ronen advocated for the equity initiatives after spending a week at the camp with her family, and Rec and Park identified funding for the additional subsidies in its General Fund budget.

“I love Camp Mather, but I was surprised and saddened to see that the families who attend, for the most part, don’t reflect the diversity of San Francisco,” said Supervisor Ronen. “I raised this issue with General Manager Ginsburg and my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors when I returned last summer, and I’m very glad to see meaningful changes being implemented. All families—regardless of class, language, or race—should have equal access to this San Francisco gem.”

Since 2016, First 5 San Francisco, the City department dedicated to inspiring, nurturing, and preparing young children for school and beyond, has partnered with the Office of Early Care and Education and Rec and Park to connect young children to nature.

“Nature is the perfect playground and learning lab for young children, but it’s an opportunity that too many of our children of color can’t access,” said Theresa Zighera, Interim Executive Director of First 5 San Francisco. “We are excited to partner with Rec and Park and the early childhood community to share the natural magnificence of Camp Mather with so many new families for the first time.”

A growing body of research shows that time in nature improves focus, creativity and sense of well-being while lowering frustration and healing trauma. A 2018 University of California, Berkeley study involving both veterans and at-risk inner city youth found that time spent in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder while a 2015 Stanford-led study found participants who walked in nature as opposed to a high traffic urban setting showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

In addition to providing “camperships” for low-income families, Rec and Park participates in the Teen Outdoor Experience, which is a Mayor’s Office initiative designed to engage youth connected to the juvenile justice system. Rec and Park also offers the “Senior Get-A-Way to Camp Mather” Program, which allows people 55 and older a week-long stay at Camp Mather, including lodging, meals, transportation, and activities for a discounted rate. Similarly, Rec and Park also provides a discounted, weeklong trip to members of the Northridge CommUNITY Garden. Residents of Northridge Cooperative Homes in Bayview fundraise to help finance the cost, the SF Parks Alliance sponsors the trip, and the group is led by a volunteer naturalist from Friends of Camp Mather.

Mayor Breed has supported efforts to make the City’s recreation programs and parks more equitable. The City Budget for Fiscal Years 2019-20 and 2020-21 included $4 million over two years to expand recreation scholarships and outreach to youth living in shelters, public housing, and housing developments assisted by the City.


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