San Rafael, Calif., is home to China Camp State Park, a 1,640 acre landmark overlooking the San Pablo Bay. The park attracts local residents and visitors alike, many of whom identify with its deep ties to Chinese-American history and the variety of natural habitats and wildlife it offers. A name they probably haven’t heard of is Steve Deering, yet he is the man whose actions saved the place they love.
Deering is a member of Friends of China Camp, a non-profit organization formed in the late 1970s after the inception of China Camp State Park. “Historically, it had been a small group that did things like provide money to the state for interpretive programs at the park, hold an annual heritage day and staff the history museum,” said Deering. “It was a pretty slow-moving organization.”
Things changed in 2011, when the ongoing financial crisis in California began targeting state parks. By Summer, Gov. Jerry Brown had announced plans to close 70 state parks in order to meet the new budget. Deering said, “When we were informed that the state was going to close China Camp, Friends of China Camp had to reinvent itself, and so we very quickly grew in size and financial capacity with the intention of operating the park on our own.” The group increased from about 30 active members to more than 1200 by the start of 2012, and began raising money.
“Part of my role was to get the word out, and that involved talking to a lot of community groups, church groups, service clubs, and luckily we were really fortunate in getting good local press coverage,” he said. Deering was also instrumental in negotiating the operating agreement with the California State Parks System, which saved China Camp from closure and is currently in effect.
As operators of the park, Deering and his team look to expand their programs and services. Friends of China Camp collaborates with other groups like the mountain bike community and organizations that expand nature programs in schools. “We are always looking for new partners,” he said, “because we think they add richness to the park.”
Deering’s other goal is to encourage people to get involved in civic projects. “When you see an issue that’s really important, as a citizen, you should be willing to step up and see what can be accomplished. You realize that pretty tremendous things can be done when you are working with like-minded people,” he said.
Deering will do anything to preserve the cultural and natural resources provided by China Camp State Park. “China Camp has been a part of my life for over 30 years, I’ve lived out there, it’s a place I took my kids when they were growing up and a place near and dear to my heart,” he said.
The work he has done to unite those who share his beliefs deserves notable recognition. Every resident, hiker, or tourist that comes to enjoy the natural beauties and rich history of China Camp State Park should also know the name Steve Deering.