By Rosie Jacobs
North Fork, Ca – When the County of Madera, California, placed the Putney Ranch Camp on auction last September, they were worried it would fall into the hands of a building developer. So when the 87-acre property acre property was purchased by the Camp Gan Israel West, locals breathed a sigh of relief.
“The ranch had outdoor components that would make it a unique Jewish camp. There were goats, horses, a lake, large grounds and in close proximity to national parks,” Rabbi Shlomo Menkes, who founded Gan Israel West together with his wife Aliza, 13 years ago, said.
The projected 3-million-dollar cost of purchasing, renovations and additions have already begun. Carlos Siderman, president of Property ID Corporation, dedicated the ranch as the Siderman Family Camp and Conference Center.
For locals, the Putney Ranch – named for Sierra Justice Court Judge Marcia Putney, the county’s first female judge – is representative of her historical nomination. As well, the property houses the first headquarters of the Forest Reserve of the Sierra National Forest, which was established in 1903. The offices were in forest supervisor Charles Shinn’s home.
Putney gave the grounds to the Madera County in 1963, and after years of neglect, the facilities were cared for by the local Sherriff’s department. When the ranch was purchased by the Gan Israel, the grounds’ superintendent Eric L. Outfleet was relieved.
“I preferred that it remain in the public service,” he said, explaining that the historical background made this especially appropriate for the camp. “I am extremely pleased.”
Outfleet told lubavitch.com that he provided the camp with the historical files for the grounds and met with Menkes several times to discuss the site’s importance. The camp director, for his part, plans on keeping the Putney Ranch signage up and leave all historical exhibits in place.
Set in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the camp is a change for campers who come from metropolitan cities across the United States. “It is quite a sight, the sierra, the cedars and pine trees,” says Batsheva Williamson, a retired doula from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who moved to nearby Coursegold. Her grandchildren plan on attending the camp during the summer.
“There is something about the great outdoors, where animals roam the camp grounds and kids get to know them. For some children, this is very therapeutic. They could milk the goats and make their own goat cheese.”
When not in camping season, the ranch, says Menkes, will serve as a conference center and a place where families could come year round for Jewish retreats. Situated four hours from Los Angeles, S. Francisco and S. Diego, it is a drivable distance from California’s major Jewish hubs, a place, says Williamson, “that fuses spirituality with the great outdoors.”