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A special camp for special kids.

Were he given the chance to rewrite the story of his early life, Bob Olson would surely omit three of the elements of that drama. Given a second go-round, he'd leave out polio, pneumonia, and rheumatic fever. But today, 35 years later, those childhood experiences have triggered a unique partnership that promises to bring hundreds of similarly ill kids a measure of happiness-in a National Forest. Olson, a Forest Service fire supervisor assigned to California's Lassen National Forest, recalls the story:

"Like a couch potato," he says, "I was sitting at home in Susanville early in 1987, watching this T.V. commercial showing Ronald McDonald houses where family members can stay close to their hospitalized sick kids.

"I remembered calling on kids like those after I got over my own illnesses. The idea struck me: Maybe we on the forest could do something for seriously ill kids."

Olson called his boss, Forest Supervisor Dick Henry, who thought the idea was great", and things took off. But not before Olson had made scores of calls in all directions, many leading to dead-ends. He finally established key contacts in Reno, Sacramento, and at McDonald's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Seems that a half-hour drive north of Susanville is a trout lake tucked away at the 5,100-foot elevation and surrounded by a sage-carpeted forest of pine, red cedar, and juniper.

What's more, sitting on the shores of Eagle Lake was a dilapidated but historically rich mansion-the former summer home of Malvena Gallatin whose husband, Albert, was a hydroelectric pioneer in California a century ago.

The rustic, 3,900square-foot place, used for administrative purposes by the Forest Service for years, had been going downhill of late-a victim of budget pressures within the agency.

But last summer, largely through Olson's efforts, and with strong support from the Northern California Golden Arches Association and the not-for-profit Eagle Lake Children's Charities, Inc. (established to take responsibility for development, funding, and operations), strong backs and willing hands converged on the 30-acre site, and hammers rang through the pines.

In faraway McDonald's restaurants in Sonora and Redding, California, cabin-shaped collection boxes labeled "A Special Camp for Special Kids" drew broad support for a facility for children who are seriously ill, disabled, or disadvantaged. Helping the effort were First Interstate Bank, Marine World, the Correctional Peace Officers Association, and other corporations, and foundations. Raised from all sources to date: some $450,000.

Added to that pot is some $250,000 worth of lumber donated by the Timber Association of California, with giants like Louisiana Pacific, Fibreboard, and Georgia Pacific joining smaller outfits like Hi Ridge Lumber, Marysville Forest Products, and Big Valley Lumber Company in the collaborative effort.

And volunteers with the Telephone Pioneers of America, a group of former phone company workers, showed up one weekend to build 1,100 feet of wheelchair ramps under the trees in a colossal, 2,000-person-hour effort, while jeld-Wed Foundation of Klamath Falls, Oregon, donated thousands of dollars worth of doors and windows.

To help those who will use the camp, the Forest Service was able to arrange with Eagle Lake Children's Charities the best deal of all: use of the property on a permittee basis for just $30 per year-one dollar per acre.

Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Dave Reider, who spent a holiday showing me this spot last summer, propped his back against a towering ponderosa and reflected: "This place is dynamite! It's the kind of location people could kill for. "

Unique in the National Forest System as a dedicated site built in partnership with volunteers, the camp is the kind of project that's bringing scores of groups together with the agency in cooperative projects that are blooming nationwide. Their goal: to protect forest resources-and to find and develop richer, fuller uses for them.

Alas, however, a reality.

Cabins are now being built at Camp Ronald McDonald to house a total of about 100 kids at a time (2,000 per summer). Together with the renovation of Gallatin House for the staff and special buildings for on-site treatment of the kids, the overall cost will run better than $2 million-considerably more than is now in the till. So fundraising continues. You may show your support for the new camp by sending a check to Eagle Lake Children's Charities, Inc., 1500 West El Camino, Suite 210, Sacramento, CA 95833.

"We hope to open the camp in midsummer of 1990," says Reider, "if we receive the funding we need. "

Meanwhile, resident foreman Mike Bass of Baumgart Construction in Boise, Idaho, donated part of his wages so that construction could continue through the harsh winter.

Hundreds of kids who've heard about the camp, are looking forwardmuch like Malvena Gallatin probably did in 1913-to a special time, a special peace, that seems to be found only under those towering ponderosas with the lake shimmering nearby.

For some of those young campers, that experience may be the highlight of an all-too-short lifetime. AF CHECKING OUT THE CAMP Eagle Lake and the new Camp Ronald McDonald, approximately 40 miles east of Lassen National Park in northeastern California are worth including on a spring or summer trip. The lake is located 105 miles northwest of Reno via US Highway 395, and a similar distance eastward from Red Bluff, California, on State Highway 36.

The Forest Service runs four scenic campgrounds at the sout end of the lake just west of Gallatin Beach, where the new children's camp is under construction. Boat-launch ramps, swimming beaches, a marina, and information services are all available at the campgrounds.

Bald eagles, ospreys, white pelicans, grebes, proonghorn antelope, and deer frequent the area, which is an excellent take-off point for backcountry and volcanic cave exploring, and for medium difficulty mountain climbina on 7,000 foot peaks nearby.

Further information; Lassen National Forest, 55 South Sacrament, Susanville, CA 96130, 916/257-2151
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Title Annotation:includes related information; Camp Ronald McDonald near Lassen National Park, California
Author:McLean, Herbert E.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Words:979
Previous Article:Environmental movers & shakers.
Next Article:A very hot potato.
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