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Camp Krem Looks to Rebuild Education and Recreation Space

Nearly all of the campus was destroyed or damaged in the CZU Lightning Complex fire

An aerial view of the burn scar left by the CZU Lightning Complex fire, which burned in August and September 2020. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

When the Santa Cruz Mountains caught fire in August after a dry lightning storm passed through, almost every community was forced to evacuate the area. Many of those evacuees were left wondering whether their homes and businesses—their life’s work for some—were consumed by the devastating CZU Lightning Complex fire.

That included Christina Krem, the camp director of Camp Krem, a nonprofit located in Boulder Creek that provides children and adults with developmental disabilities recreation, education and adventure opportunities in a safe environment.

As the CZU fire raged, Krem said she was holding out hope that the 92-acre campus had miraculously survived the blaze’s wrath. But then the calls came in.

“We heard from these couple of journalists that the damage was pretty extensive, and then shortly thereafter we were given the opportunity to go back for ourselves and see it,” Krem said.

Krem called the first walkthrough “crushing” and “mind blowing.”

“Places that for decades have been full of people and music and dancing and joy, just seeing them completely decimated, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “Walking around was quite a surreal experience.”

Krem says that 95% of the campus was either destroyed or damaged, and that it will take at least $5 million to rebuild more than 27 facilities—many of which have stood for decades.

“It could be possibly $10 million to get us back up and running,” she said. “We have a long road ahead.”

Camp Krem has tabbed its rebuild “Project Phoenix.” It plans to use the cash to reconstruct many of the old buildings with various upgrades such as using fire-resistant materials, making some areas more spacious, installing bathrooms in every cabin and improving the design to be more eco-friendly.

Those looking to donate to help Camp Krem rise from the ashes can do so by donating through Santa Cruz Gives, the online countywide holiday giving campaign that kicked off Nov. 18.

From now until year’s end, people can donate to Camp Krem and 39 other nonprofits serving various communities in Santa Cruz County at santacruzgives.org. There, donors can learn about each nonprofit’s mission and “Big Idea” project for 2021 that will be funded with the online donations.

Camp Krem’s “Big Idea” is to rebuild its campus and welcome back campers.

Alexander Angel Krem (Christina’s grandfather) founded Camping Unlimited in 1957, and established the camp in 1962 after purchasing 45 acres of land near Boulder Creek. Since then, Camp Krem has welcomed in an estimated 14,000 children and adults with various special needs. Before the fire, it offered a wide array of programs, including a Sleepaway Summer Camp and Weekend Respite program.

In 2019, Camp Krem served more than 600 families and 1,250 campers.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the CZU fire, the camp will shift to virtual programming, Krem said.

“It is important to us that we continue to provide our campers with connection and engagement during these difficult times,” she said.

Santa Cruz Gives, which was founded by Good Times with the support of The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, prides itself on reaching donors during their busy day-to-day schedules.

The Press Banner joined the campaign this year, its sixth.

Projects represent a variety of needs: youth, seniors, animals, the environment, education, health and wellness, food and nutrition, housing and homelessness, arts, families, the disabled and LBGTQ+. A seven-member committee with nonprofit experience vetted the applications.

Selected nonprofits will receive donated funds, matching funds and be eligible for three awards: Most Donors Overall, Most Donors Under 35 years old and Most Innovative Program. Each honor comes with a $1,000 award.

Last year, Santa Cruz Gives raised $413,161 for 37 nonprofits. Total donations increased by 74.5% over 2018, and the number of donors increased by 48% over 2018.

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