Photo credit: Michael David Rose
In recent months, the function of outdoor spaces — and the demand for them — has taken on a new meaning. For many, spending time outside offers opportunities for relaxation, connection, and distraction that can’t be found elsewhere during this unpredictable time.
Camp Navarro, a campground and outdoor event space in the California redwoods, has a long history of evolving to meet the needs of the land, and its inhabitants and visitors. We talked to CEO, Dan Braun, about the campground’s development, the urgency of protecting and cultivating more natural spaces, and how Camp Navarro is connecting visitors with a sense of normalcy and joy during the pandemic.
Squarespace: Camp Navarro has existed for over 100 years, but only became accessible to the public in 2012. What inspired you to make it a space for public use?
DB: Before we acquired the property in 2012, Camp Navarro was a private timber camp, and then a scout camp for 70 years with very limited public access. Before that time, indigenous people lived and gathered on the property for thousands of years. It was considered a ‘power center’ by native tribes and all walks of life now marvel at the land’s beauty, while tapping into the unmistakable soothing energy of the land.
Most of the thousands of camps in the US are private and underutilized, which limits access for the public, and thus we have fewer places to experience nature. Better year-round utilization of camp type assets was an underlying purpose in creating Camp Navarro. In doing so, we welcome more people into nature.
I have a 30-year career in the outdoors, hospitality, and events. Over time, there has been a significant increase in demand for nature experiences, nature-based hospitality and, in more recent years, outdoor venues to host events. I grew up at summer camp and always wanted to own a camp, so repurposing camps seemed natural based on my past experiences. Impacting people through hosting profound and cool events is very meaningful, inspiring, and needed in this day and age.
SQSP: Your mission includes protecting and enhancing the natural environment for sustainable use by future generations. How does this mission take shape in the day-to-day of your work?
DB: Our stewardship of the land and making the property accessible to the ‘public’ was the first step in this mission. On a day-to-day basis, we are subtly educating our guests about what they are seeing and experiencing (redwoods, rivers, animals, plants, etc.) so that they understand the need to protect the environment while understanding the history. Most of our guests have no idea that only 1% of all redwoods are left standing today. Staring up at the world’s tallest trees and realizing how few remain really hits home and is a reminder that work needs to be done by all of us for a sustainable future.
Next is our approach to any ‘development’ of the property, which needs to tread lightly on the land and increase the sustainability of the property. As an example, we have a beautiful two-acre lawn in front of our main lodge where most activities, dining, and concerts take place. Water is needed to keep the lawn green and our well water comes from the river that goes through the property. This river is a protected Steelhead habitat, and the number of steelhead spawning in the winter has drastically declined just like the redwoods. Our winters are very wet, so we are partnering with a nature conservancy to set up a 50,000 gallon rain catchment system off our main lodge roof. It will store the excess water in the winter to water the lawn in the summer, when rain is non-existent and the river needs its flow sustained. We are proud to join other wineries in the area doing the same thing to help our surrounding ecosystem.
SQSP: How has the pandemic shifted your business, and customer behavior?
DB: We initially had to shut down and cancel events since large gatherings like corporate retreats, weddings, family reunions, and festivals were not happening. But, as we all know, society is currently seeking nature more than ever in individual and small groups. Demand is soaring on this front and we are pivoting to accommodate this demand. Our property is well suited for all types of experiences with lodging, glamping, and camping experiences, so we are starting to host individuals and small groups this year. Looking forward to 2021, we are building family camps and small festivals where individuals, families, and groups of friends can safely slot in fun experiences, and enjoy nature and community in a safe, fun manner.
Our wedding inquiries are surging for 2021, and corporate inquiries are just now starting to come in. As businesses start planning for 2021, they realize there is a safe way to gather employees who have been remote and under a lot of stress.
We are switching our operations to be COVID-19 compliant in general, and compliant with our guests needs and desires. This includes allowing outside caterers to do food service (some companies or wedding clients want to bring their own chefs and kitchen teams) and BYO bedding if clients do not want to use our down bedding. We are also focusing meal service to be outside and utilizing our many outdoor spaces, including our amphitheater, for meetings.
SQSP: Many people are turning to outdoor experiences and nature to find a reprieve from the stress of recent months. What do you hope visitors to Camp Navarro get out of their experience?
Besides the immediate relief from the stress we are all feeling, we hope guests are truly appreciating our accessible open spaces, parks, and wilderness, and understanding how important these places are to our collective well being.
We are losing nature and wild places at an alarming rate that is not sustainable. Education is vital to understand what we can do to minimize our impact and protect our natural ecosystems. Voting is vitally important as our two political parties have vastly different beliefs on protecting our natural ecosystems and climate change.
Opening up assets that have traditionally been private is an important part of my personal mission, and I believe the public is now understanding that demand exceeds inventory. Creating more places to access nature is vital to our well-being.
SQSP: What role has your online presence played in growing and maintaining your business?
DB: Our website is the heart and soul of our business, along with our social media presence, viral marketing from events, and word of mouth. We feel our website mirrors our brand well and we are thankful for easy-to-use tools and templates to convey a natural and simple feel. Every event is unique, but our property and nature are the stars that create a magical experience. We hope our website and online presence convey this feeling. We welcome everyone to come experience nature at its finest.
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