Berkeley Family Camp on the Tuolumne River. Photo: Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

By Robert Mills

A recent illness scare shut down Berkeley Tuolumne Camp this weekend. Camp managers closed the camp for 72 hours in an effort to keep the stomach virus from spreading to new visitors. One manager said “a bug was going around” at the Tuolumne River campground, which is in Groveland.

One Berkeleyside reader asked:

What’s up with Berkeley Tuolumne Camp being closed down a second year in a row for illnesses? Sounds like an epidemiologic investigation is in order.

Camp managers reported the camp would reopen tomorrow at 11 a.m. The closure is a replay of last year when Tuolumne Camp closed its gates for a weekend due to a similar virus.

A couple of Berkeleyside readers thought that visitors brought the illness in with them. One reader wrote:

When campers bring up a virus to camp, it can make everyone sick. We were there the first two weeks of camp, and a family brought their sick kid to camp. Four days later our kids were throwing up in the middle of the night.

Other campers think the virus may have originated in the camp.

“Another stomach virus outbreak — this may be the last straw for us,” said Dan Burdick on the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page. “Same thing as last year. Why won’t they get a new dishwasher and modernize the bathrooms?”

Berkeley Public Information Officer Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the camp’s closure was a decision made by camp managers and Tuolumne County health officials to keep the virus from spreading.

“We consulted with the health department, and what we do is keep really careful records of who got sick and when, so the health department up there helps us analyze the spread of the illness,” Clunies-Ross said. “What we decided to do was keep one sick group of campers from getting another group sick and then another and then another. So we closed the camp.”

Clunies-Ross said camp managers have been sanitizing the campgrounds all weekend.

“When we close, we use that time to do full cleanings of the camp,” Clunies-Ross said. “People ask what we do during that time. We clean every surface possible. We also added six new hand washing stations so that campers keep their hands clean.”

As is the norm during flu season, frequent hand washing is encouraged to keep illnesses from spreading.

“When people are away at camp, it’s really easy for them to get out of their habits of cleanliness,” Clunies-Ross said. “It’s not uncommon in camps for colds and flues to spread. It’s true during winter flu season or summer flu season or whenever there are lots of people around – lots of things spread.”

Clunies-Ross said the virus ran its course after about 24 hours, and campers who made reservations during the closure time will be reimbursed.

“We work with the local health department every step of the way,” she said. “Families affected by the closure are being contacted and refunds are being given. We work with families to work out what’s best for them.”

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  1. Like cruise ships, one of the features of Family Camp is that you get to eat like a pig. Not haute cuisine there, but comfort food and lots of it. A friend calls it “10 pound Tuolumne” because she’s usually gained that much by the end of the week. I wonder if it depresses your immune system 🙂

  2. The Tuolomne camp is stuck with its current bathrooms, not that they are the problem – they are much nicer than most campground bathrooms.  Standards for plumbing have changed since the 1930’s, and if they are to revise plumbing, they will have to bring the entire system up to the 2011 building code. This would mean running a pipe under the river that currently runs on a bridge over it. It would cost Millions and given the choice the city would probably shut down the camp.

  3. I stopped by to look at the place in the off season a couple years ago and it appeared to be in disrepair with  alarm flashing on various electronic boxes,  rusting junk and garbage strewn about. I reported the condition to the City of Berkeley. It is a shame that a place with such awesome potential doesn’t receive overdue capital improvements that could generate a stream of revenue for the City and turn it into a safe and healthy place to visit.  We could be renting out clean comfortable heated cabins to skiers, hikers and visitors all winter and fall.

  4. We were there last year when it was closed.  I had heard from a family at my child’s school about a virus going around there in late June- early July 2010, so before I went I contacted the City of Berkeley’s Parks & Rec dept., as well as the City Public Health dept. and even the City Manager to find out what the City was doing about it.

    Never received a reply from any of them.  You would think that a city like Berkeley with it’s own public health dept. would have taken measures to try to contain it last year, but it took the Tuolomne County Health dept. to shut it down.  It’s my understanding that the Tuolomne Health dept. was contacted by irate campers, though the City tries to frame it as if they are “working with” Tuolomne.  This may be a sad end to what has been a long and happy City tradition, unless the City pays attention and really gets to the bottom of it.