The seeds of Wente Scout Reservation (originally called Willits Scout Ranch and then Willits Scout Reservation) can be traced back to the summer of 1948. For it was that year that the Oakland School district, needing a large location for two new hill area schools, started condemnation hearings on 28 acres of land (a mile south of the Montclair shopping district) owned by the Oakland Area Council. The land in question was that of Camp Dimond, the first permanent Scout camp of the Oakland Council that opened in 1919. Camp Dimond was the main camp for almost 30 years where weekday, weekend and summer camp activities took place. Camp Dimond also served as the location for the council office for over 15 years. When Camp Dimond was forced to close its doors forever in 1948, only the undeveloped Rancho Los Mochos (acquired in 1945) near Livermore and the summer operations at Dimond-O (acquired in 1925) outside of Yosemite remained as the camping areas for the Council. A new summer camp was needed.
Due to the growth explosion of Scouting in the 1950’s and its expected continued growth, the Oakland Area Council required a new site for a summer camp to supplement its camping operations at Dimond-O and Los Mochos. However the Council did not begin searching for a new site in earnest until 1957. From 1957 until 1959 the Council investigated multiple large acreage sites (both north and south of the Bay Area) as potential locations for the new camp.
One of the sites for sale was the Foley Ranch located in the hills East of Willits. The ranch site offered a large piece of property (1,928 acres) at a price the council could afford. Council members considered it to be the most desirable location it had found. The site was also investigated by the engineering service of the National Boy Scout Council that gave its full approval for the ultimate development of three separate camps, each camp serving 200 boys on the site.
The engineering study also showed that a 50-acre lake would be feasible in the future and that adequate supplies of water are available from springs. The study indicated, “The natural springs on the property can serve much of the site in the immediate future by gravity flow. Power and telephone lines are already in the area, allowing for immediate use. The altitude of the property ranges between 2,000 and 2,300 feet and includes fir, pine, oak and other varieties of native trees”.
In July of 1959 the Board of Directors of the Oakland Area Council and President Robert Matheison approved $70,000.00 for the purchase of the ranch land (about $37.00 per acre) and the Willits Scout Reservation was born. The first order of business for the council was to make a complete topographical map of the property and determine it’s long-range development plans. This process would take several years but wilderness camping on the property would begin immediately.
The first encampment at Willits Scout Ranch took place on October 24 & 25, 1959 when more than 300 Scouts and their leaders attended a special weekend camp out. For the first trial run of the camp, a Scout troop was selected from each of the ten districts within the council. After the five-hour car trip from the bay area, Scout troops arrived Saturday morning and were guided to their campsites by members of the council executive staff including Scout Exec Frank Dix. After setting up their camp, the Scouts explored the new camp and found an abundance of nature, open meadows, massive oak trees and many deer. During the day some of the scouts measured the mighty oaks by seeing how many scouts it took to surround the trees. At the camp-wide council fire Saturday night, all Scouts participated in the building of a stone cairn to mark the spot where the first ever campfire was held in the history of the camp. Each Scout’s name was included on paper scrolls that were placed inside the cairn to be preserved for posterity.
Note: Although we have not been able to confirm this, it is believed that the cairn and its contents now lies under 20 feet of water near the chapel as this is near where a small mill pond was located.
In August of 1960 a geologist from Berkeley was consulted to investigate the proposed dam site and look at the geologic make-up of the area. The one-day visit investigated the location of the embankment type of dam and the rock formations within the dam area. The geologist noted, ?The bedrock at the dam site is well exposed in the stream channel and in outcrops on the abutments. The bedrock in this vicinity is the Franciscan formation of Jurassic age (about 150 million years) which is the oldest rock of the Northern California coastal ranges?. The geologist in his report goes on the say, ?the broad flat valley forming the reservoir area should provide ample impervious material for the embankment?
For the next couple of years not much took place other than occasional camping and site visits by the executive staff taking tours and planning the development of the camp. In September of 1961, the Durant Plumbing Company of Oakland donated the first sailboat to the camp, a small wooden Sabot Type 2 sailboat, although any semblance of the lake was still on the drawing board and over two years away. The Sabot was the number one dinghy for teaching beginners to sail. Later the camp would acquire six El Toro sailboats for the scouts to learn sailing. Both the Sabot and the El Toro sailboats looked similar but the El Toro featured a small deck over the bow that made the El Toro handle rougher waters.