A 75 Year History of the SNFC

Founded in 1949, Sierra Nevada Field Campus has been providing research and education experiences in the northern Sierra Nevada for 75 years. In 2024, we celebrate that rich history and remember the people and moments that got us to where we are today. By celebrating our history and taking our lessons learned from the past, we look forward to our continued development and growth as a place of outdoor learning for another 75 years.

Interested in helping out with organizing and documenting our history? Reach out to us at snfc@sfsu.edu for a volunteer opportunity with this project!
students in 1950 at SNFC

1949: Camp Leonard created to maintain a camp for the training of recreation leaders.   Charles B. Cranford was the first Camp Director and Victor York and Robert Sweeney were additional staff.  Twenty-nine students enrolled in a two-week camp with no formal facilities in 1949 that included Recreation 193 Field Work in Camping and Rec. 124/122.

1950: Assistant Professor of Leisure Studies Victor York, an expert in camping and sailing, drew up plans for three log buildings and a swimming pool. The camp had a bridge across the Yuba River but nothing else.  The Camp Leadership Program for Recreation Leaders, School Teachers, and Camp Counselors was offered June 10-August 4, 1950. 

1951: The Childrens Camp was added to program in 1951

1953: Many amenities including showers and toilets, plumbing, and septic system were installed in 1953 along with maintenance on existing facilities.

1955: Frederic Burk Foundation for Education took over fiscal control of the facility in 1955.

1958: The Frederic Burk School initiated a week of school camping in 1958.

1959: In 1959, curriculum started to be expanded to include course offerings from more divisions including Education, Recreation, and Psychology.

1961: Biology professor Dr. J. Russell Gabel (an expert on tarantulas in Coalinga) taught first three-unit course in biology (Biology 198) related to natural history in 1961.

1966: Psychology professor Daniel Feder sought authorization to explore development of Camp Leonard as a biological field station in 1966. 

1967: Coordinator of Outdoor Education William M. Hammerman drafted a proposal for Camp Leonard as an outdoor laboratory that could offer winter camps, Peace Corp training (for the Liberia Project and Philippines), disadvantaged youth camps, and biology courses and field trips as well as courses in art, education, geography, geology, psychology, and recreation in 1967. Sweeney was the first Chair of Ecology and Systematic Biology, appointed in November 1967.

1970: Process of transitioning Camp Leonard from summer childrens camp to a College-wide field campus started in 1970. Bill Hammerman was a SFSU Education Professor who was a noted expert in the field of outdoor education and received the Howard Bell Award in 1970. Hammerman was the first Director of Ecological Counselor Training held at Southern Illinois University and developed workshops that promoted better understand of environmental resources and understanding of ecological concepts. 

1978: Camp Leonard becomes the Sierra Nevada Field Campus under the directorship of Jeanne Davis. Davis serves as the director until 1982.

1983: Tom Parker works as director of the SNFC until 1984.

1985: Jim Steele becomes director and directs SNFC until 2009.

1997: Railcar bridge is set back in place after a washout and rip-rap rocks are added.

2006: Bassetts Fire burns area just across the street from the Field Campus.

2010: JR Blair becomes director of the field campus and directs through 2022.

2017: Friends of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus established with major leadership from Sarah Rabkin and Mary Abbott.

2023: Darrow Feldstein is hired on as director and is first full time, year-round director.

2024: SNFC celebrates 75 years!