Shoreline Trail Makeover | Park Re-opening | Back Ranch Bunch | Osprey | Talking Trash | Monarch Butterflies | Tick Talk | Remembering Ernest Chung



Who said volunteers couldn’t get it done?

By Joyce Abrams

FOCC trail crew at Shoreline Trail restoration Winter 2021About nine years ago, Friends of China Camp became the operator of China Camp State Park. At the time, it seemed crazy for a bunch of local volunteers to run a state park, but they did it.

Eight years ago Ed Westbrook, an FOCC board member and experienced trail builder, said volunteers could restore China Camp’s trails. The volunteers said it couldn’t be done. Then, with the help of trained heavy-equipment operators, the volunteers got it done.

Seven years ago, Ed said FOCC could rent heavy equipment that volunteers would learn to operate to restore trails. Volunteers said it couldn’t be done. With Ed’s training and supervision, they got it done.

Six years ago, Ed said that FOCC should have its own equipment to operate and maintain. The volunteers said it couldn’t be done. Then, with the help of fundraising and donations, FOCC acquired a roller compactor and two toters. Once again, Ed was right, and they got it done. 

FOCC trail crew restores Shoreline Trail Winter 2021Over time, the fleet of machinery grew to include a roller compactor, a plate compactor, two mud buggies, and a powerful Ditch Witch with multiple attachments. With these tools, Ed said FOCC volunteers could restore a large stretch of Shoreline Trail with his consultation, but without his presence. The volunteers said it couldn’t be done. (Actually, it was more like, “Are you nuts???”)

In the last two months, Friends of China Camp volunteers (plus Park Manager Ian Nelson and Senior Park Aide Scott Griggs) have restored a staggering 3,000 linear feet of Shoreline Trail where it loops behind Back Ranch Meadows Campground. Incredibly, the last 875 linear feet were completed in two back-to-back marathon work days. That’s almost double the distance of what our volunteers used to accomplish over the course of a two-day work event. 

Each work day at Shoreline, roughly a dozen trail maintenance volunteers worked together as a well-coordinated construction team, while a small team of trail ambassadors helped visitors negotiate detours.

Once again, we got it done. This beautiful and shady section of Shoreline Trail is now smooth and safe for all levels of hikers and mountain bikers.

“We should all feel proud of completing another milestone in our drive to restore the trails at China Camp,” says Ed. “Restoration of the  campground loop spanned over two years of all-volunteer work, and I am very happy that it is done and looking great. This section will serve us well for many years to come.”

 The volunteers are proud of their accomplishment too, knowing they have created a family-friendly trail for all to enjoy. Come on out to see for yourself that, once again, we can get it done. 

Shoreline Trail Restoration Winter 2021


Our trails, picnic areas, and campground are now open

by Sheila Coll

As of our press date, Marin County has entered Tier 3  (“orange tier”) of California’s State Blueprint for a Safer Economy. That means Friends of China Camp can reopen most of the park’s facilities. So pack your picnic basket, bring your face masks, and get out into the sunshine to explore. See the new changes below to help you plan your visit.

Day use: what’s open

  • All trails, picnic areas, and Back Ranch Meadows Campground are now open.
  • Village Museum is open (no more than 10 visitors at a time).
  • Village Cafe is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends for ice cream, drinks, and sandwiches.
  • China Camp Visitor Center is open (no more than two visitors at a time). 

Day-use area reservations

Reservations are now available at Buckeye Point, Weber Point, and Miwok Meadows. Note that special limitations and group size restrictions may apply at all locations. For more information and to reserve, contact FOCC’s Program Director Sheila Coll at scoll(at)

  • Reservations for weddings, memorials, and other religious ceremonies are now being accepted.
  • Special event permits are now available for outdoor recreation agencies and youth groups (limitations may apply). 

Back Ranch Meadows Campground

All 33 sites in our beautiful campground have reopened. Here are details.

  • Reserve your site in advance at, or call 1-800-444-7275. 
  • Same-day reservations may be available at the campground on a first-come, first-serve basis. 
  • Reservations are not available at the group campsite until further notice. 



Meet the heroes of the Back Ranch Meadows kiosk

by Sheila Coll

On sunny weekends, there’s a near constant stream of visitors entering the park at Back Ranch Meadows, the western gateway to China Camp’s trail network and campground. Everything from serious mountain bikers to parents with kids in tow flash their passes to “rangers” in the entrance kiosk, or stop to check in for camping, ask for trail ideas, buy a pass, or get other tips for visiting the park.

Ever since the pandemic struck in early 2020, our “rangers”—actually Friends of China Camp volunteers and camp hosts—have been busier than ever. Throughout the health crisis, our park remained at least partially open, providing essential recreational opportunities for all.

As a result, China Camp saw record visitation in 2020, including first-timers. The park could not have met the needs of this new wave of visitors if it not for our passionate crew of Back Ranch Meadows kiosk volunteers and camp hosts. 

And they’re still going strong. Not only does our Back Ranch Bunch help orient visitors, they also help them pay park fees and purchase annual passes. This important responsibility has played a significant role in boosting Friends of China Camp’s operating revenue. In fact, more than twice as many memberships were purchased in 2020 compared to 2019. 

As Friends of China Camp’s Executive Director Martin Lowenstein states: “Our kiosk volunteers have been key to enhancing the visitor experience. We are eternally grateful for what they do.”

Hats off to this dedicated crew, which continues to staff our kiosk with smiles. Thank you, Back Ranch Bunch, for all you do. Let’s meet them–clockwise in the grid, above: 

Diane Kay, Volunteer (top left): “Working in the kiosk is a joy because park users are so appreciative. They often say ‘thanks for volunteering.’ I get to be in a beautiful location and do my part to ensure that China Camp thrives.”

Gail MacMillan, Volunteer (top center): “Well, how could I not want to work in the kiosk, where I can birdwatch for hours, take money from people I don’t know while wearing a mask, and show off my tattoo!”(Gail has a quirky sense of humor…) “But…my joy is raised in the early morning because of our wonderful visitors who share the excitement of their trekking, which I really can’t keep up with anymore. Hurrah and thanks to you!”

Fran Stahl, Camp Host (top right): “I enjoy the serenity of the park and the interactions with the visitors.”

Marlo Silver & Mark Peachock, Camp Hosts (center row): “Marlo and I love the trails, the views, and the visitors who enjoy the park almost as much as we do! Plus, we get to try out new comedy material when interacting with them. (They’re usually an easy crowd.)”

Lucinda Colberg, Volunteer (bottom right): “My favorite part of working in the kiosk at Back Ranch is welcoming people new to the park–giving directions, explaining the various options for hiking or biking, key points of interest, and, most of all, sharing the rich history of China Camp State Park. There’s always a smile and a thank you and many times they stop back on their way out the gate to share the highlights of their day.”

Joanne Giffra, Volunteer (bottom center): Playing dual roles as China Camp’s volunteer bookkeeper and kiosk volunteer, Joanne also gets to see her hard work in the kiosk reflected in the back end of the park’s accounting. Joanne is also an avid outdoor enthusiast, so she’s a great resource for helping folks plan their hikes and activities. 

Harriot Manley, Volunteer (bottom left): “It’s kind of a no-brainer to work in the kiosk: people are happy to be at the park. They appreciate that you can help them get passes, find trails, and check in for camping. When it’s not busy, I get to look across a thriving tidal marsh and see egrets, deer, ospreys, and whatever else wanders or flies by. Not bad.”



Watch our fascinating fish hawks fish, fly, and fledge

By Harriot Manley

True to the season, o’er our sea-beat shore,

The sailing osprey high is seen to soar,

With broad unmoving wing, and, circling slow,

Marks each loose straggler in the deep below;

Sweeps down like lightning! plunges with a roar!

And bears his struggling victim to the shore.

-excerpt from The Fish Hawk (Osprey) by T.A. Conrad

Okay, it might be a bit hokey and overblown, but this stirring snippet from T.A. Conrad’s poem does shed light on one of our park’s most eye-catching raptors—the osprey. Almost wiped out by DDT in the 1960s, ospreys have made a remarkable comeback, and are now a common sight throughout the San Francisco Bay region.

Hang out at China Camp and you’ve got a good chance of seeing—and hearing—these fascinating birds of prey. First, listen for the osprey’s call: a piercing whistle, sometimes with a descending trill. Scan the skies: If you see a large, lanky raptor, its wings bent with a distinctive crook (not flat like most hawks and eagles), you’ve found an osprey.

The osprey’s whitish head and tail may make you think you’re seeing a bald eagle, but the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is much leaner and smaller—wingspan is typically five feet for an ospreys, six to seven feet or more for a bald eagle. That bend in the wing is another clue that it’s an osprey, not an eagle.

Something fishy this way comes

Ospreys are incredibly adept at catching fish. The birds circle or hover over open water, using their specialized lenses (similar to your sunglass’s polarized lenses) for spying prey below the surface. Once an osprey sees a fish, the bird descends rapidly with long legs thrust forward and talons extended to grab its prey. According to the National Wildlife Federation, osprey have an impressive success record—one in four dives or less typically yields a fish.

Another impressive fact: Ospreys can swivel one of their four toes on each foot backwards (two in front, two in back). This helps them get a better grip on slippery, wiggly prey. On its way back to the nest or perch to eat, an osprey can adjust its grip so that the captured fish is aerodynamic, making it look a bit like a dangling weathervane or ship’s keel.

Ospreys nest in our area, returning to their nest in mid-March or April. Preferred nesting site is a lofty perch (such as the top of one of the numerous PG&E towers in and around the park), with good sight lines and near a large body of water. 

From eggs to gawky teenagers

Three or four eggs usually hatch a few days apart in a little over a month, with fledglings ready to stretch their wings about a month and a half after they hatch. Not all make it, particularly if some chicks hatch later and have a hard time getting enough food to survive. 

Watching young ospreys fledge makes for entertaining viewing, with the young birds looking every bit the gawky teenagers as they stand on the nest’s edge and flap their long, slim wings. Even after they get the hang of flying and can catch their own food, juvenile ospreys often return to the nest to roost. The nest typically goes silent fall through winter.

To follow birds that nest in our region, check out these osprey web cams. For more information on ospreys, visit Golden Gate Audubon Society’s osprey website. 

Photo credits: (top) courtesy of USFWS; (bottom) Ron Holmes/USFWS



Record visitation brings more litter to China Camp

By Matt Ferner, Marine Biologist & Research Director, San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

The pandemic brought more people outdoors, including to parks and open space areas along the shores of San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, this healthy trend toward outdoor recreation also came with more takeout and packaged foods brought for snacks and picnics, leading to an increase in litter. 

At China Camp State Park, perhaps you’ve noticed more trash around the village, in pull-offs, or in picnic areas. Unfortunately, litter also collects in places that we rarely see up close when we visit the park. The salt marsh at China Camp is one of those environmentally sensitive places. 

Trash discarded or lost by visitors affects more than just the beauty of our park; it also harms fragile salt marshes and the wildlife that call these marshes home. Birds and fish unknowingly eat carelessly discarded plastic bags, straws, and wrappers, or become entwined in them, which reduces animal health and chances of survival. 

The damage doesn’t stop there. Instead of decomposing, plastic litter breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces until only tiny particles remain. These tiny particles, known as microplastics, can accumulate in animals and spread through the ocean to affect fish and ultimately human health.

How you can make a difference

What can you do about it? The simple answer is to reduce your use of plastics and don’t litter. Say no to disposable utensils when they’re offered at restaurants or eateries. Instead, bring your own reusable utensils, bottles, and drinking cups to the park. Pack cloth instead of paper napkins too. Make sure everything you bring into the park is either safely disposed of in the park’s garbage receptacles, or pack it out yourself. Remind others to do the same.

You can also do more to help reduce litter in the park by leaving it better than you found it. First, speak up when you see others littering. Second, bring a bag and a pair of gloves to pick up and carry out litter when you can. 

It helps to remember that not all litter at China Camp was discarded within the park’s boundaries. Streams and rivers throughout nearly half of California flow into San Francisco Bay, carrying trash and litter downstream to places like the beach at China Camp Village, and to our salt marshes. So, wherever you are and wherever you go, you can play a big part in reducing litter and limiting plastics in the environment.

Want to do even more? Help monitor and remove trash from the shores of San Francisco Bay by joining important community science initiatives like Litterati and Nurdle Patrol. Check out the San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project website for more information about what’s being done to reduce microplastics.

Editor’s note: Friends of China Camp also organizes volunteer work days, which often include trash pickup. To sign up, please visit our volunteer sign-up page.

Photo credits: (top) Sarah Ferner/National Estuarine Research Reserve; (bottom) courtesy of



Help keep our native butterflies from disappearing forever

Text and photos by Harriot Manley

For many of us, when we hear the word “butterfly,” an orange-and-black monarch comes to mind. Sadly, if current population trends continue, our minds may be the only place where these eye-catching insects remain, at least here along the California coast, as Western monarch populations flutter on the edge of extinction. 

According to a recent report in the Marin Independent Journal, populations of western monarchs are “hanging by a thread,” says Janet Klein, Conservation and Community Science Director at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (GGNPC). The conservancy is part of a multi-agency effort to help save monarchs.

And it’s almost too late. Though Western monarch populations were estimated at 4.5 million in the 1980s, only 2,000 monarchs were spotted in California’s just-released Western Monarch Count for Winter 2020/21. Marin’s numbers are even grimmer. A paltry 200 monarchs were observed in the county this past winter, down from 38,700 of the butterflies counted in 2015.

Why the plummeting numbers? Experts note that likely culprits are pesticide use, climate change, and loss of trees and plants for overwintering, nectar, and breeding. An especially critical plant is native milkweed, where adults sip nectar and lay eggs, and the sole food source for monarch caterpillars.

While monarchs are found all over the world, and many migrate to central Mexico, the ones here have unique migration patterns. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Western monarchs cluster in specific trees and groves along the California coast, where they find moderated temperatures and protection from winter storms. Numerous sites have been identified in Marin, including Bolinas, Muir Beach, and Point Reyes. (Click on this map for specific locations.)

Public agencies as well as local groups including GGNPC and One Tam are now working to identify and improve overwintering habitat as well as protecting and expanding native milkweed populations. Though recent conservation efforts failed to get monarchs protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, projects like the one here in Marin County hope to make a difference. All of us can help, too.

4 ways to help Western monarchs

  1. Report when and where you see monarchs. If you see a monarch outside of overwintering groves, take a picture! (Don’t worry, it can be far away and blurry.) Share details using the iNaturalist app. Through April 22 (Earth Day), you can also submit images through the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge, or email them to
  2. Raise awareness. Share what you find on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Tag posts with #SaveWesternMonarchs.
  3. Plant milkweed. Even a pot of native (not tropical) milkweed (Asclepias californica) can make a difference. California Dept. of Fish and Game has a helpful guide on how to plant it in your garden. Look for local sources with this Xerces Society milkweed link.
  4. Avoid pesticides. Some types, notably neonicotinoids, are particularly harmful to monarchs (and honeybees!). 

For more ways to help protect our monarchs, download this detailed guide from the Xerces Society. 



Learn how to protect yourself from pesky parasites

Text and photos by Harriot Manley



“Get it off me!”

Ticks. Few things in life can so uniformly elicit the same responses from almost everyone. Honestly, have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, look at all the cute ticks I collected on my walk today!” 

Truth is, we may have  found the one person who might actually say that. She’s Megan Saunders, PhD, Senior Public Health Biologist for the California Department of Public Health (DPH), with labs based in nearby Richmond. Dr. Saunders and her colleagues find dozens and dozens of the pesky parasites as they beat coyote brush and other shrubs that flourish in our region. 

We caught up with Dr. Saunders on a recent visit to China Camp, which, like much of Marin’s wild areas in late winter and spring, is prime tick habitat. In fact, China Camp is frequently monitored by DPH, which tracks the spread of tick-borne diseases.

“I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up,” says the petite scientist, hair in pigtails and sporting a yellow baseball cap adorned with a giant emblem of (you guessed it) a tick. “But,” she says with a smile, “I found out I liked studying blood-sucking critters better.” Tick species she’s likely to find in the park include Western black-legged tick, Pacific Coast tick, and American dog tick.

To safely collect these tiny members of the arachnid family, Dr. Saunders and other DPH experts hold sheet-like tick catchers under shrubs, shake and bang the branches, then gather up the fallen ticks in small vials. Back at the Richmond lab, ticks are tested to see if they carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or other potentially dangerous diseases that ticks can transmit to humans.

5 steps to reduce the risk of tick bites

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, tick-borne diseases occur all over the world, even in your own backyard. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to dramatically reduce the risk of getting bitten, and of getting a serious illness if you do get a tick bite.

  1. Before you head out on a trail, apply a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin, or picaridin.
  2. Wear light-colored protective clothing. (It’s easier to spot ticks on lighter colors.) Tuck pant legs into socks.
  3. Stay on trails, and avoid walking through tall grasses, shrubs, and under low-hanging branches.
  4. After a hike, especially this time of year, check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks.
  5.  If you find a tick, carefully remove it using the following technique:
  • Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  • Pull firmly, straight out. Do not jerk or twist. Do not burn the tick before or during the extraction.
  • After removal, wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water. Apply a topical antiseptic, and an adhesive bandage if desired.
  • Note the date. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of the tick bite, see your doctor.
  • You can also mail the tick to Marin Health and Human Services for analysis. Follow these directions.

For more information on ticks and tick-borne diseases, visit the California Department of Public Health website. Helpful tick identification cards are also available at China Camp’s Back Ranch Meadows Campground entrance kiosk.



Farewell to one of FOCC’s original champions

We are sad to report that earlier this year, Friends of China Camp lost one of its founding supporters, Ernest Chung. Ernest was a significant player in the creation of FOCC, allowing our organization to take over the management and operation of China Camp State Park. Ernest also helped share China Camp’s remarkable history, as shown in this YouTube video from 2012. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. Here is his obituary.

Ernest Chung: May 29, 1952 – January 13, 2021

Ernest, the fourth of five children, was born and raised in Hong Kong. He left for the United States to attend California Institute of Technology in 1970, where he subsequently earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate of Science degrees in biochemical engineering.  

Ernest joined Chevron Corporation where he served in several senior management positions until 2001. He then accepted the position of managing director at KPMG Consulting/BearingPoint Inc. Along the way, he completed an MBA from University of California, Los Angeles.

Ernest retired in 2009 to devote more time to his passions, travel and cycling. He was a champion of the outdoors, dedicated to improving the public’s access to and enjoyment of California’s state parks. He helped create and chair Friends of China Camp,  successfully raising the funds to maintain the park at a time when 70 California state parks were threatened with closure. His deep commitment to Marin’s state parks led to his appointment, by Governor Jerry Brown, to the California State Park and Recreation Commission in 2013.  

In 2015, Ernest had a life-altering cycling accident and moved to Monterey County. While he could no longer bike and enjoy the outdoors, his commitment to the preservation of state parks remained strong. Ernest served as board chair from 2015 to 2017, and continued his volunteer work in Monterey County. He championed increasing access to state parks for underserved groups and the creation of urban parks in Los Angeles. 

Ernest never gave up or let his accident define him. He will be sorely missed.

Ernest is predeceased by his parents and his sister Lydia. He is survived by his brothers Elbert (Kathy), Richard (Cynthia), sister Joyce (Tom), nephews Brian, Dionne, Ryan, Tyler, Matthew, and Gabriel, and his cousin Daniel (Anita) and their children Anthony, Derraina, and Dorian.

Due to Covid-19, a celebration of life will be planned for Ernest in Marin, Monterey, and Vancouver when everyone can travel safely again. 

In lieu of flowers, consider donating in the memory of Ernest to the following organizations that he was passionate about:



Writers and photographers: Joyce Abrams, Sheila Coll, Harriot Manley