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History and Culture

The Lair of the Golden Bear enjoys an incredibly long and rich history, and remains the oldest and the largest of all alumni association camps in North America. But it wasn’t always like that.

Lair of the Golden Bear, June 1948

The Lair at Shasta, June 1948

Today, with almost 9,000 annual campers, we are proud to say we are among the most successful of any summer camp in the world. But it wasn’t always like that. There was an era when Cal alumni did not flock to the mountains to live with their families for a week in a pristine yellow pine forest.

In 1948, with the war years having taken a great toll on families and Cal alumni giving back to their beloved university, CAA’s first Executive Director (and eventual founder of East Bay Regional Parks District), Robert Sibley ’03, spearheaded the acquisition of some land in the Mt. Shasta region of Northern California. The simple goal of the endeavor: to rekindle the spirit and support of alumni for their alma mater at a brand new family camp.

More than 1,000 alumni attended that first year. Managed by Dick Bahme ’40, and located 20 miles beyond Redding, the newly named (but without actual verified origin) “Lair of the Golden Bear” was officially underway. Because of the more than five-hour drive from the Bay Area and an additional seven-mile dirt road to get to the Lair, fewer than 50 individuals registered for the 1949 season. For most of those first campers, it is said the camp went “beyond rustic.”

The Pinecrest Lair, June 1949

Even after this bump, the idea of providing a special camp retreat destination for Cal families did not go away. The baby boom was in full swing, families were growing quickly, the economy improved, and camp momentum remained strong. As CAA Stanley McCaffrey ’38 took over the reins and with a second (and ultimately final) Shasta summer looming, he began the search for an improved location for the Lair. A search was conducted up and down the state, with beachfront programming even considered at one point. It quickly was determined coastal weather simply wasn’t going to be conducive enough to the family experience.

Early in 1949, the YMCA was looking to sell their existing camp property in the central Sierra Nevada town of Pinecrest, CA. At 5,600 feet, and with a reliably warm summer climate and incredible natural beauty, Pinecrest easily won the competition. McCaffrey quickly tabbed former Cal baseball star and forester, Mike Koll ’41, to be his first manager. Soon a modest staff was hired, and the rest is family camp history. The Lair in Pinecrest opened to campers on June 25, 1949, with 125 campers per week attending a ten-week camping season. Neighboring Camp Blue opened in 1957, and the Lair’s third camp, Camp Oski, has enjoyed full-summer family camp operation since 2000.

We are delighted to share these heirlooms with you. We thank the Michael J. Koll family and the Bancroft Library for the oral history of Koll’s unmatched Lair of the Golden Bear service. We are grateful to the Robert Sibley family for the wonderful video from the Mt. Shasta Lair in 1948, and the very first of the Pinecrest years, 1949. Lastly, the full color and full audio movie from Camp Gold, Summer 1953, comes from the esteemed Myron Sugarman family — for all of it we are very thankful.

We look forward to seeing you in the mountains. Go Bears!

Read Michael J. Koll—The Lair of the Bear and the Alumni Association, 1949–1993 (.pdf)

old lair staff in woods leading kids activity
old lair staff from 1960s
old lair staff McCaffrey and Koll with map
lair lady staffers in Dining Hall
old lair car and tent

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The Lair is grateful for the support of our campers—current and past.


us forest service sealThe Lair is located in the Stanislaus National Forest and is operated under Special Use Permit from the U.S. Forest Service. We do not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, or disability.