New Board Chair | Heritage Month | Park Manager Joins Team | Park Access Update | Volunteer Recognition | Fall Migration | Park Aides | Ghost Stories | Honoring Judy Ahern | Turtle Back Trail | Photo Contest | Wish List

Welcome new board chair Arlin Weinberger

On July 1, 2020, Arlin Weinberger became the new Board Chair of Friends of China Camp. She succeeds Steve Deering who served for three years and is now Deputy Chair.
“I want to keep this wonderful park thriving,” says Arlin about her new role. “I am very impressed with the work of volunteers and staff. I love this park!”

Arlin grew up in San Francisco, attended University of the Pacific, and then started her long-time career in corporate communications. With the exception of 13 years living in Toronto, Canada, Arlin has been a lifelong Bay Area resident—and not just any resident. Arlin stands out as an extremely active community member, serving on the boards of a multitude of local organizations that focus on preserving and managing Marin County’s open space and land resources. Since moving to San Rafael in 2005, Arlin has served as board chair of Friends of Mt Tam, as a One Tam Partnership Ambassador, and as a board member of Marin Conservation League. She currently heads the California Alpine Club Foundation.

We are fortunate to have someone with Arlin’s broad experience and devotion to parks and open space to lead us into the future. We enthusiastically welcome her to the FOCC team.

Heritage Month programs online in October

October is Heritage Month at China Camp State Park. While our annual Heritage Day has traditionally been our largest event, we’re switching things up this year, commemorating our heritage with five virtual gatherings (the next best thing to celebrating in person).

Over the next few weeks in October, we will be presenting these outstanding programs online.


October 2 @ 6pm: China Camp History and Chinese American Diaspora

October 17 @ 6pm: An Evening with Milton Quan: Growing up in China Camp Village in the 1950s and ‘60s

October 18 @ 6pm: Indigenous Storytelling and Songs

October 25 @ 6pm: Miwok Cultural History and Interactive Crafts

October 25 @ 7pm: Naturalist Book Club, Braiding Sweetgrass

Park Manager Ian Nelson joins FOCC team

Meet our first-ever FOCC Park Manager, Ian Nelson, a welcome addition to our staff. “As much as we have been able to accomplish to date, we have always felt that a park manager could bring better coordination and prioritization to our maintenance activities for both our professional staff and our enthusiastic volunteers,” says FOCC Executive Director Martin Lowenstein. “Ian now fills that role.”

Having worked at AutoDesk for 13 years, Ian brings a skill set that includes process and systems improvement and effective resource management. Ian has already put these skills to good use, implementing helpful changes in how campers buy firewood, and simplifying the steps for renewing China Camp’s annual passes.

“My intention is for FOCC to continually step up its game,” notes Ian. “Streamlining our operational processes is one of our highest priorities,” notes Executive Director Lowenstein. “Ian’s contributions are already making a difference.” Welcome Ian!


New safety measures in place as park reopens

Despite statewide park closures due to COVID-19 and wildfires, Bay Area residents have continued to cool off at China Camp’s beaches and enjoy our scenic trails. Our campground, picnic areas, parking lots, trails, open-air museum and restrooms are all open. China Camp’s visitor center remains closed to the public. Picnic areas are open to “small groups” on a first-come, first-served basis. Small groups are defined by Marin HHS as households or 12- person “social bubbles.”

Visit our historic cafe at China Camp Village on weekends for ice cold beverages and snacks. Our friendly volunteers will be there to take your order from a safe distance outside of the cafe. Want to pitch a tent under the stars and fall asleep to crickets chirping before winter sets in? Make camping reservations now for the fall months. Or plan ahead; you can make reservations up to six months in advance. Book at or call (800) 444-7275. Note: unreserved sites become available at 2 p.m. for same-day, in-person registration.

Previously scheduled group and special event permits have been cancelled until further notice and we are not scheduling private events at this time. Exceptions may include filming events, small weddings, and religious events; special terms and conditions may apply. For additional questions, please call Events Coordinator Sheila Coll at


Meet Trail Ambassador John Denigris

With a shovel in his hand, dust on his brow, and a smile on his face, John Denigris has had a hand in carving out the majority of the trails in China Camp when it was in its formative years as a State Park. Today, John deftly whizzes along the trails on his mountain bike as an FOCC trail ambassador with a pair of clippers in his back pocket, ready to clear any stray branches or hazardous roots.

You couldn’t ask for a better person to be out on the trails, interacting with park visitors. John loves sharing the mission of Friends of China Camp, and diligently reminds visitors to abide by park rules, wear masks, and to support the park with donations and park fees.

The first thing you may notice about John is his New York accent, a dead giveaway that he wasn’t raised in California. Born the son of Italian immigrants in Queens, New York, John thrived in the city. His father passed away when he was 18 and John dedicated his young adult life to take care of his mother. After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1971 with a degree in economics and finance, John was on path to seek a career in the financial industry.

However, one day during a city stroll his brother-in-law, a mentor to him, pointed up to a lonely and lofty cubicle in an office building from the street. “You want to be behind that window for the rest of your life?,”asked the brother in law. The words sent shivers through John’s body and inspired him to take a different route.

Rather than taking a desk job, John sought a more social career as a technical salesman in the printing industry. New York was a Mecca of printing at the time, and John learned all the tricks of the trade and was renowned within his industry. A friend inspired John to move to California, where he purchased a house in Santa Venetia in 1977. He found a satisfying career as a technical sales representative for a printing company in San Francisco.

Soon after, John met Corienne Bannier on a blind date in San Francisco. They’ve been married for 40 years. John retired from the printing industry in 2000, but that didn’t stop him from working. Instead he pursued his passion for bicycles. John was an avid road cyclist in college, and later fell in love with Marin’s off-road trails, becoming a member of the Marin Bicycle Trails Council (presently known as the Marin County Bicycle Coalition). He still tracks some 400 hours in the saddle annually.

During this time John became a bike tour guide, first for Backroads and then for Getaway Adventures. In 2006, he began working at REI as a bike salesman, mechanic, and mountain biking guide—a job he holds to this day. In fact, John spearheaded REI’s trail-riding classes over a decade ago beginning at—you guessed it—China Camp. Today, REI offers mountain biking classes nationwide. And then there’s John’s decades’-long love affair with China Camp and the community within it.

As John puts it, “China Camp is my backyard; it’s my garden.” When John moved to Santa Venetia over 40 years ago, he’d often hang out in the Village cafe, and became good friends with Frank Quan, China Camp’s last resident shrimper. Soon he began to pitch in at the park.

Since then, John has built a steady track record of going above and beyond to support the park, often in ways that still benefit the park today. For example, when China Camp was still operated by CA State Parks, John worked with Park Ranger Patrick Robard to transform the park’s shoreline which was laced with “mostly deer trails” into the impressive trail network we know today. Then there was the stormy New Year’s Eve in 2006, when a bridge on the north section of Bayview Trail washed out. John used his connections to secure a grant from REI to purchase a new bridge. John worked tirelessly alongside Ranger Mike Lair, Jim Jacobson (a founding member of Friends of China Camp), and members of the Bicycle Trails Council to build the green-metal Bridge #14 that we use today. Though the crew labored in cold and inclement weather, John kept everyone’s spirits up by feeding them his home cooking.

When recalling his career in printmaking, John offers a simple but perceptive aphorism: “Printing is all about time and motion”. With the collective efforts of our diligent and hardworking volunteers, we at Friends of China Camp could say the same about transforming a park. John has dedicated many hours of his life to make positive changes to China Camp, from working with State Parks to collaboratively etch our trail system, to building public awareness through resolute dedication and presence as a park ambassador.

John has been a key player in making China Camp vibrant and accessible, and Friends of China Camp is supremely lucky to have this gentleman on our team. Thank you, John, for your many years of hard work!


Catch the fall bird migration at China Camp

Remember when things were “normal,” and jets zoomed across the sky, day and night? Air travel may have drastically decreased for humans, but it’s just revving up for the original high-flyers, birds.

Right now is one of the best times to see a colorful array of birds at China Camp, as the annual fall migration goes into full swing. To better understand China Camp’s role in this yearly event, we turned to Jerry Coe, a former National Park Service park ranger who has been immersed in everything bird for decades. Jerry regularly leads birding events at China Camp, such as our recent beginning birding class, conducted via Zoom with over 50 attendees. Here are Jerry’s insights and tips on catching this year’s fall migration.

What makes China Camp a special place for birding? We don’t get mobbed by fall migrants, but what we do have is the peace and quiet to listen for calls and watch undisturbed birds and their behaviors. There are almost no houses, little light pollution, and only one road crossing through China Camp, so wildlife, including birds, can move freely. Also, birds are specialized and prefer specific habitats. Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) China Camp has a variety of habitats, so we get a lot of different types of birds. Habitats include bay shoreline with mudflats and open water, open grassland, salt marsh, oak woodland, coniferous forest, freshwater ponds, and freshwater streams.

What is the fall migration? When does it typically begin and end? Not all birds migrate—only about 30 percent of our local birds do. Some have spent the summer breeding here, and then fly south to winter in Central or South America. Other species may have been breeding as far away as the Arctic, and now fly south to winter in the Bay Area where it’s warmer. Still other birds may be just passing through on their way further south. Early migrants head south in August. By the first week of December, migration ends. This chart from Marin Audubon shows approximate arrival and departure times of bird species in Marin.

What triggers migration, and how do birds know where to go? The brains of migratory birds sense the shortening of days and less and less light. This seems to stimulate the need to move. In some species, like geese, it’s the mother who pushes her young to fly south. This behavior is learned from the previous generation and passed on. Migrants follow traditional routes with dependable water and food sources, and keep heading south until temperatures and sufficient light cue them to stop. The route in the west is called the Pacific Flyway. Use this link to follow real-time bird migrations using radar.

How does China Camp play a role in fall migration? Migrating birds need reliable freshwater sources. For thousands of years, before Europeans arrived, indigenous people living in China Camp kept the freshwater springs in Miwok and Back Ranch Meadows cleared as ponds. These freshwater sources become important stops along the Pacific Flyway migration route. Today, these ponds, though they’re largely hidden by cattails, still attract migratory birds who stop over for a day. They often arrive early in the morning after a night of flight to eat, drink, and rest. (Even small birds may fly 250 miles each night.)

What are some birds that migrate through China Camp in the fall? At low tide, head to the shores and mudflats. Look for a buff-gray wader with long yellow legs. That’s a Wilson’s phalarope, one of the farthest flying migrants; it travels thousands of miles, from the Arctic south to the tip of South America. Watch for it to gyrate its long straight bill in the mud to stir up tasty creatures. Also look for eared grebes and ring-necked ducks, floating on the surface around the Village pier. Semipalmated plovers like to poke along the shore. Say’s phoebes can often be seen perching atop the tall grasses near the Ranger Station parking area. Don’t worry about trying to identify gull species—they’re hard even for advanced birders.


Get a good bird guide. Try Sibley’s Guide to Birds or National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America—they cover a broader area than guides which only focus on a region, which is good because birds can wander. Sibley’s also has a phone app. The Marin County Bird Checklist by Marin Audubon is also helpful. For more on the natural history of each species, including feeding and mating habitats, nest and egg identification, and more, consider getting The Birder’s Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich.

Get good binoculars. It’s okay to start out with binoculars in the $100 range. If possible, try out some models before you buy—REI has a good selection. As you become a better birder, consider upgrading to top brands like Leica and Swarovski. They’re not cheap ($350 and up) but the difference in quality is dramatic. For tips, check out this Audubon buying guide.

Bring a small notebook and pen or pencil. These give you a way to jot down your observations.

Look for size and shape. Is the bird the size of a robin or a sparrow or a pigeon? Is it round like a ball or long and thin? Check the bill: is it short and thick for cracking seeds, or more needle-like for catching insects?

Note the color and distinctive markings. An all-brown bird might be a sparrow, while a gray and white one may be a gull. Look for bright splashes of color, like the red patches or crest on a black and white woodpecker.

Notice behaviors. Is the bird climbing up a tree trunk? Is it soaring high in the sky or pecking seeds on the ground?

Check the habitat. Is the bird in a pine tree or an oak? Is it poking in the mud along the shoreline, or is it flitting across a grassy meadow? —Harriot Manley


Ghost stories to spook your campmates

The creepy characters, the slow unspooling of a dark tale—stories told around a dying campfire, or by the light of a flickering flashlight, might just be the ultimate love-hate relationship, especially with Halloween approaching.

For some weird reason, lots of us humans—both young and old—get a kick out of telling tales and getting spooked, especially when we’re camping.

Here are two classics to share—with or without a campfire—the next time you pitch your tent at China Camp.


Adapted from a story found at

The reports had been on the radio all day: an insane murderer, who had lost one of his hands and had it replaced with a hook, had escaped from a nearby prison. But Jess didn’t pay much attention to the warnings about “the Hook Man” on the loose; she was more interested in figuring out what to wear on tonight’s date with Brian, who wasn’t just cute; he had a car too.

Brian picked her up as the sun went down, and they went to get some food at a local drive-thru. They sat in the parking lot for hours, talking and laughing and listening to music. “Let’s go somewhere more private,” said Brian, and Jess smiled, slid closer to Brian, and said that sounded great.

Brian knew all the roads in the area and headed for a remote spot that he said was really romantic, where on dark and moonless nights like tonight, you could see the stars reflected in the still surface of a nearby lake. Brian nosed his car down the dark road and pulled over, the lake just ahead. He leaned over and kissed Jess, who snuggled into his arms. All of a sudden the radio DJ came on, repeating the warning that Jess had heard earlier that afternoon: a crazed killer with a hook in place of his hand was loose in the area.

Suddenly, the dark, moonless night didn’t seem so romantic to Jess. The hidden lane was secluded and off the beaten track—perfect for a deranged mad-man to lurk, she thought, pushing Brian away. “Maybe we should get out of here,” she said. “That Hook Man sounds dangerous.”

“Awe, c’mon, that’s stupid, it’s nothing,” Brian said, trying to pull her close for another kiss.

Jess pushed him away again. “No, really. We’re all alone out here. I’m scared,” she said. They argued for a moment, then, like a shock, the car shook a bit, as if something—or someone—had pushed it.

Jess gave a shriek. “Get us out of here now!” she cried.

“Jeez,” Brian said, reluctantly sliding back behind the wheel, turning the key and spraying dust and dirt as he gunned the car in frustration, down the lonely road and back towards home. They drove in stony silence.

When Brian pulled up in front of Jess’s house, he refused to get out and open her door. Furious at his rudeness, Jess shoved her door open, got out, then whirled around and slammed the door. Jess was just about to yell some nasty last words to Brian, but when the car door shut, all she could do was scream.

Brian leapt out of the car and caught Jess just as she started to collapse to the ground. “What is it? What’s wrong,” he shouted. Jess lifted one arm, and pointed at the closed door.

Then Brian saw it. A bloody hook hung from the handle of Jess’s door.


Adapted from a story found at

Once there was a man who always wore two pairs of socks. Every morning he’d pull one on, and then another, and repeat the same thing on his other foot.

His wife thought it was ridiculous. “One foot, one sock,” she’d say, hands on hips.

The man would simply shrug. “Two socks keep my feet warm and protected,” he’d say. “It’s two I want, and two I’ll wear.”

When he died an old man, his wife picked out his final outfit before he was put in his coffin. A crisp white shirt, dark blue suit, striped tie. And for the first time since she had married him, she won the argument.

“FINALLY, she said with a sigh, “Just one sock on each foot.”

After the funeral, the grave was filled with dirt and the mourners went home. The old widow returned to the house she had shared with her husband for more than 50 years. That night at the stroke of midnight, as she lay awake and alone in her bed for the first time since their wedding night, her husband’s ghost walked straight through her closed bedroom door. The old widow sat bolt upright and screamed. Quick as a wink, the ghost disappeared and the old woman was alone again.

Every night at exactly midnight, the old man’s ghost would appear, walking through the bedroom door. And each night, the old widow would sit up and scream and the ghost would vanish.

After a year of nightly haunting, the woman grew so frightened that she decided to move far away. But the ghost found her, walking through her bedroom door at midnight, until her screams made him disappear. She moved and moved, but no matter where she went, her husband’s ghost followed.

Eventually, the woman could stand it no more. One dark night when the clock struck midnight and her husband’s ghost came walking in, instead of screaming, she asked him a question.

“Why do you keep coming back,” she demanded. “What is it? What do you want from me?”

The ghostly old man looked at her for a long time, then slowly began to speak. “Honey, please gimme another pair of socks.” So she gave the ghost a pair of socks and to this day he has never been seen again.

Park aides pitch in for busy summer season

Once China Camp’s gates reopened shortly before Memorial Day Weekend, visitors began flocking to the park in record numbers. Since providing quality service to our park visitors is a Friends of China Camp priority, we hired two seasonal park aides to provide visitor services during this busy time.

Joining us in June was Magda Porter (top left), who had just finished her first year at Cal Poly, where she majors in Plant Science.

“China Camp is cared for by the community that loves it, and I am beginning to feel the same way,” says Magda. “I feel lucky that I got to work here.”

We also hired Caledonia Krieger (bottom left), now a senior at San Rafael High School. Caledonia enjoyed the chance to work outdoors as part of her summer job.

“I have loved getting to see all of the animals that live in the park,” notes Caledonia. “And it’s been great to see how many people enjoy this beautiful area.”

Many thanks to these two bright and friendly young women. Friends of China Camp has deeply appreciated having you on board for our busy summer. —Martin Lowenstein



Remembering cultural history volunteer Judy Ahern

This summer, Friends of China Camp lost a valuable member of its team. On July 13, our wonderful cultural history volunteer, Judy Ahern, passed away in her Black Point home from heart issues. Her beloved dog, Xena, was by her side.

Judy had been a docent for the China Camp Museum for over 12 years. She thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at the park and happily filled in for other docents when needed. She enjoyed sharing the colorful history of the community that lived and worked in the village over a century ago. Judy was born on New Year’s Eve, 1946. She grew up in Mill Valley’s Tamalpais Valley. As a teenager, she attended Queen Margaret’s Boarding School on Vancouver Island.

Judy received a Bachelor of Arts degree as a speech and language specialist from University of San Francisco, and subsequently worked for the Sonoma County Office of Education for 35 years as a speech therapist. She loved her position advocating for children and families.

Judy was a lover of birds, travel, women’s rights, animal welfare, progressive politics, and KFOG and talk radio. Her other favorites included genealogy, visiting Lake Tahoe, good coffee, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, her fairy garden, and socializing with her community.

As an active member of Novato’s Dog Bone Meadow Dog Park, Judy and Xena made daily excursions to the park to socialize with the many friends they had there. In addition to her dog Xena, Judy leaves behind her daughter Erin, son-in-law Brian Lilly, and her two beloved grandchildren Sebastian and Eliza. Due to COVID-19, no services will be scheduled at this time. However, a memorial is planned for June 20, the summer solstice, 2021.

To honor Judy and in lieu of flowers, please consider giving a donation in Judy’s name to Planned Parenthood or World Wildlife Fund. Helen Sitchler


Grand reopening for ADA-compliant Turtle Back Trail

What do 85 tons of chocolate-colored crushed rock, 26 dusty volunteers, and one high school senior have in common? They have all played an important role in restoring China Camp’s popular Turtle Back Trail (top left), helping make it a safe and smooth route for everyone, including people with limited mobility.

Though the 3/4-mile marsh-hugging loop was originally designed to comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Turtle Back was more than ready for a makeover.

“It was rutted and no longer sloped properly due to years of erosion and rain runoff,” notes Friends of China Camp executive director Martin Lowenstein. A slide had also damaged a portion of the trail, and numerous unauthorized social trails had damaged habitat and increased erosion risks.

Concerns about Turtle Back Trail’s declining condition got a boost of attention in 2019, when Ruby Shemaria (at left), a high-school senior at Marin School for Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL), came on board as a Friends of China Camp intern. MarinSEL interns are required to focus on a specific project, and Ruby, who uses a wheelchair, chose to study China Camp’s opportunities for people with limited mobility.

In her research, Ruby concluded that though Turtle Back was a great trail—scenic, a Ruby Shemaria give the new trail surface a thumbs up! manageable length, and mostly flat—it was in less than great condition, especially for people in wheelchairs. Ruby’s findings got the ball rolling. ADA experts from the State analyzed every foot of the trail and presented Friends of China Camp with a prescription for reconstruction. Friends of China Camp volunteers (below left)  got to work this past spring, driving skid steers, toters, and compactors; heaving boulders; and shoveling, raking, and leveling innumerable loads of special trail mix (the rock kind, not nuts and raisins).

Finally, after 26 sweaty workdays, the trail—which volunteers nicknamed the “Chocolate Highway” for its new cocoa-colored gravel and earth surface— reopened to raves from the community.

“I took my family to Turtle Back Trail,” said Marin-local Mike Hoff, who has a son with a disability. “We loved it—especially my son who really enjoyed being able to complete the whole trail on his own in his Power Wheelchair.”

The trail’s improved surface also makes the path an excellent choice for seniors and families with small children.

“This project really shows how our community can come together to do something remarkable,” notes Martin Lowenstein. “A student planted the seed, our donors and members provided the funds by supporting China Camp, and our volunteers made it happen.” —Harriot Manley


Winning images from FOCC photo contest

Images of sunsets, salt marshes, and even a comet nabbed the prizes in our first-ever Friends of China Camp Photo Contest.

With the goal of capturing the beauty of our bay- front park, entrants submitted 55 eye-catching images to Instagram this summer. The Grand Prize winner was Michael Warner; his beautiful image of our historic pier is shown at left.


Our wish list: help make our dreams come true

While donations of any size to Friends of China Camp are greatly appreciated, we thought we’d compile a specific list (with price tags) of some of the key items we’d love to put into use here at the park. Thanks for all you do to keep the park open and running for all! If you’d like to contribute to a particular item, or cover the complete expense (awesome!), please send an email to Executive Director Martin Lowenstein at And, as always, we appreciate donations of any amount for our general park operations. DONATE NOW

ITEM                                           COST

Toro Tracked Mud Buggy         $16,000

Torque wrench                                $75

Shop Stools (2)                             $100

Mechanic’s creeper                        $50

Barbecue grills (3)                      $2,400

Picnic tables (10)                        $8,000

Trash grabbers (24)                       $840

Backhoe for Ditch Witch.         $14,000

Winch for Ford F-350                 $2,000

Trailer for Kubota Utility Vehicle $1,000

Tool cabinet                                $2,500



Newsletter contributors: Joyce Abrams, Sheila Coll, Steve Deering, Diane Kay, Martin Lowenstein, Harriot Manley, Helen Sitchler


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