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Almost a ghost, China Camp on San Pablo Bay.

Almost a ghost, China Camp on San Pablo Bay

Named for the longest-running shrimping camp in northern California, 1,512-acre China Camp State Park, 16 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, occupies some of the last undeveloped shoreline along San Pablo Bay. A new campground now offers refuge to overnight visitors.

As you bike or drive along the road into the park, you're likely to see snowy egrets, blue herons, and other denizens of the salt-marsh habitat. For a closer look, stop at one of several pullouts overlooking the bay; each has tables and barbecues.

Fishing is permitted, and the park is a popular spot for striped bass, starry flounder, and sturgeon. A fishing license is required.

This month, wildflower enthusiasts should find tiny pink shooting stars and pale lavender iris blooming in meadows. For a panoramic view of the bay and a close-up look at the flowers, you can hike along a 4-mile loop. (From site 27 in the campground, take the fire road up the steep hill to Ridge Trail; follow it left. When you reach Miwok Trail, turn downhill toward the road.)

Cyclists can continue beyond the park, but rain damage last winter has closed that portion of the road to cars. Repairs are scheduled for this summer.

A glimpse into the past of an almost ghost camp

About a mile east of the park entrance are the remains of the bygone shrimping camp. A few weathered buildings and derelict boats linger as evidence of a time when 450 Chinese lived and worked here. In 1897, there were 26 such camps along San Pablo and San Francisco bays.

Using traditional Chinese methods, fishermen from Kwangtung Province attached nets to the bottom of the bay so the current would sweep the shrimp into their nets. Skimming across the water in sampans, they collected their catch before the tides changed. The shrimp were boiled, then spread on a hillside to dry before export to China.

In 1911, anti-Chinese sentiment led to legislation banning their methods. After this, the camp's population dwindled until only one family remained; Frank Quan, the only resident of China Camp today, is a member of that family. You can watch him dock his boat and unload his catch of shrimp, most of which he sells as bait. On weekends when his catch is large, he serves shrimp cocktails at the pierside snack bar.

The state parks department is restoring China Camp to its original appearance. An interpretive center will open this summer, showing camp life and exhibits of shrimp cooking, shredding, and drying equipment.

Staying overnight at China Camp

Set amid live oak and bay trees, Back Ranch Meadows Campground has 30 walk-in sites within 200 yards of the parking lot. Each site has a table, firepit, and food locker. Water, chemical toilets, and firewood ($2) are nearby. The sites are available on a first-come basis by self-registration; fee is $3 a night.

To reach the campground, turn right immediately past the sign marking the park entrance and follow the road.

Park admission is free. Leashed dogs are welcome in the campground ($1 a night per pet) and on the beach.

Photo: Part visitors watch from pier as Frank Quan, sole resident of China Camp, approaches with his daily catch of grass shrimp; seagulls hover in anticipation

Photo: Sipping mugs of hot soup, tent campers tend barbecue at sheltered site in Back Ranch Meadows Campground

Photo: From U.S. 101 13 miles north of San Francisco, take N. San Pedro Road 3 miles east to park

Photo: Looking forlorn on a misty day, old fishery buildings, are being restored

Photo: Starry flounder caught off Buckeye Point is prize of shore angler on San Pablo Bay

Photo: Snowy egret stalks pickleweed in marsh alongside park road
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1984
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