Tag Archives: sugarloaf ridge state park

A Memorial Ode to a Local Gem – Little Basin

I received a sad correspondence this week from a widower – the wife of a man I had worked for several years ago: Chuck McCarthy. I was lucky enough in that employment to have served with him at a historical and (little known) beautiful gem of a park: Little Basin (recently becoming a state park).


Little Basin is a local oasis hidden in the mountains adjacent to one of our state’s most famous parks; Big Basin. After being home to a Native American tribe for many years, the land became a grazing and logging area, followed by ownership via a well-known Silicon Valley company: Hewlett Packard. The company eventually created a private campground and gathering area for their employees and families and as the company peaked in size and success during the 1980s – so did their facility here. A full-time steward lived on the site at a residence constructed large enough to house this person’s family. They helped oversee the acreage, camps, buildings and recreation areas. Each summer, divisions of HP would hold large picnics with upwards of thousands in attendance during the weekend galas. With those events came the need for fire protection during the peak weekends – hence how I became acquainted with Little Basin throughout the late 80s and early 90s.

Modern Outline

After HP’s budgets and size declined significantly, so did the park’s usage. Eventually, it was seen as a financial loss, so the area was gradually deeded to the State of California (there are many more details and involvements but I kept this as a simplified version for time’s sake). The state’s budget was not in a stable enough condition to take this area under their direct care either. So for the first time in modern parks history, a private company was hired to manage and run the park (and along with that to also operate a shuttered park in Sonoma County – Sugarloaf Ridge State Park…that is another beautiful story about a community coming together to save a park. Both Chuck and I had worked there also).

The steward that company hired to oversee the operations of Little Basin was named Chuck McCarthy. He and his family moved into the residence and quickly became known in and around town as the hard-working Jersey guy running that park where most locals had never even visited. He hired several staff members to help with the workload of maintaining the 50 camping sites, cabins, buildings, pump stations, recreational facilities and best of all – the reservoir. The small lake held one of the best kept and guarded fishing secrets in the SLV. The dam had been built generations before for a local water supply to accumulate, with fish eventually populating the waters.

One of the seasonal employees Chuck hired was me. I was intrigued to have the chance to work at such a beautiful place that I had gathered so many fun memories at while with the fire department.

Chuck’s personality was outgoing and forward to say the least. He literally worked his ass off, and even though he was a dedicated company man (United Camps, Conferences and Retreats – UCCR) he loved working at the park just for the sake of bettering the site. He had been working there for only a couple of years, but he cared about keeping that park running and making it a successful hybrid for the State to embrace and support. Even though I volunteered to take a 2-month assignment at Sugarloaf later that summer in 2012, he and I had become decent friends.

After returning to my assignment at Little Basin, Chuck confided in me he was battling cancer. His stories of Jersey and adventures in life were tall, amazing and he had the scars to prove them. I saw this as another task he would take on and defeat in his journey. Even though the seasonal workload was over, I would keep tabs on his progress. When he chose to move back east to be closer to home during his fight, I would inquire with trusted staff at LB to check on his progress – and rumor had it he was fighting it.

January 2016

Almost one year to the day of losing my dad to cancer, I received an email. Chuck was roughly the same age as me, and as we have all heard too many times in all of our lives, Chuck was gone. I wish I could have attended his memorial wherever that was because I had some fun stories only those of us at Little Basin could know. One even involved me catching the main field on fire and Chuck literally sprinting to the rescue (the whole story is so worth retelling someday).

I understand in my old age now how people come and go throughout your life, but this time he will be one of those that sticks with me. He had some grand plans for that park, and I sincerely hope they all happen someday. Sadly, his most important place to relax and forget the world was the reservoir. He and I would have some meaningful talks there looking over the colorful waters. The powers that be well above our heads decided it would be safer to drain the lake quietly – which they did recently. It still seems criminal to me destroying such beauty (and their reasons will – spare the term – never hold water with me..nor Chuck.)

Hence I have included several pictures of what an amazing place it used to be – knowing the memories I have there of many friends and family I shared times with at that lake – and of one other dude who hired me and allowed me to have one of the most amazing summers of my life – thanks Chuck…here is a picture of my family doing the exact thing we all loved to do even though it was “not allowed anymore”.



Chapter 6 – The Year “Apart” but Still Together

I had wished for many things growing up as an only child (my brothers and sisters were all in college by the time I had any real memories of them) and in retrospect I gather most of those dreams centered on finding someone special to share your life with. I had been married before, and I allowed that to fail, but now I was being afforded the chance to be with someone I considered a mate in living and in love. With all of my imperfections and humanity I tried to do everything it took to have her be happy. But maybe that is what drove her away in wanting a life on her own and apart. So just before our two-year St. Patrick’s anniversary, she was living on her own.

I helped her get moved into her home once she had made the choice; one of those things you always remember right where you were when your love tells you she wants out (over the phone while at Steve’s 76 gas station on Soquel – how uneventful, right?). What I could not foresee was how beautiful the travels and moments would be for us the rest of that year.

I did the only thing I knew how in being with her – giving her all of my love and support she needed when it mattered and even when it didn’t. She was thinking of and at times doing what an independent, beautiful and spirited woman will do when not in a committed relationship, but in the 40+ months I have known her I have never wavered or wished for any other woman except her. Patience was my new lesson to learn – and I was sometimes horrible at it.

Summer of 2012

I planned two trips with my kids independently, each to somewhere that they would find special. I took my daughter to Kentucky to see everything horse related (her passion) and my boy to a good fishing lake up north. With both adventures, my love got to be there. Her family lives in Tennessee and my trip took us by there when she was visiting them. As a result, the two ladies most important to my existence and love got to share amazing times and journeys together; including a road trip in my rented convertible through the Great Smoky Mountains.
One perfect evening at her family’s home had my daughter catching fireflies and discovering what cicadas sound like.
This pic was taken after a long hike into the Great Smoky Mts to a waterfall and swimming hole – always about water with us.

When my boy and I went camping and fishing at Rollins Lake, she stopped by for a day and night and we all went kayaking together (a first for my boy and me). She found a way to make time for my family when it really mattered and I will always be thankful to her for that. My children cared about her and she treated them with honesty and a desire to teach them so many things about nature, art and life.

Back here in our home state, I had a seasonal position for state parks that gave me the chance to work at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park as the full-time ranger dude (except without the gun). By far – that will always be one of the most special and beautiful two months of any summer for me. Watching the sun set and rise each day in one of most under-appreciated parks and discovering new friends that I cherish in their time spent with me there – all became even more memorable when she made the trip to see me there and stay for a weekend (as my weekly shift was 122 hours long).

By the time the holidays and her birthday were arriving, I was in even a deeper love and commitment to her and her well-being. I had a photographer (Locked-On Photography out of Santa Cruz) take pics of a private salsa dance lesson as part of her bday present; in addition to buying her a dress that would always make her be “that” beautiful lady in red wherever she wore it.

By the time I was holding her and kissing her at midnight on New Year’s Eve – I felt as if the whole year had been a lesson in how to love someone even if you’re not in the style of relationship you dreamt of as a kid. I was getting to be with the woman I love, maybe not in all of the ways I wanted – but every day I spent with her was a day I will never regret.

Next: The lessons learned with significant heartbreak but how not to lose your best friend in the process…