Future Uncertain For China Camp’s Last Resident If San Rafael Park Closes

SAN RAFAEL (KCBS) – Frank Quan has lived nearly his entire life in a small wooden house on the shores of San Pablo Bay inside what is today China Camp State Park, one of 70 California state parks slated for closure.

The 85-year-old’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all lived by catching shrimp in a village settled by Chinese who sought new livelihoods after work on the railroads dried up in the 1880s.

China Camp’s founders, and the Quan family, predate the wave of Chinese who came to the United States through the Angel Island Immigration Station and its infamous barracks.

“My sisters and brothers were all raised here,” said Quan, the third generation of a family that eventually turned a subsistence camp into a bustling shrimping operation.

They processed 5,000 pounds of shrimp a day on the docks and buildings that were eventually taken over by California and converted into an historic park.

KCBS’ Anna Duckworth Reports:

Quan’s residency was written into China Camp State Park’s general plan drafted in 1977. That unique agreement China Camp’s possible closure next July all the more complicated.

“They haven’t had to deal with anything like this, so they themselves are kind of scratching their heads,” he said.

State officials estimate the park closures would save $11 million a year for a department that has seen its budget shrink from $175 million five years ago to just $99 million.

For now, Quan and a cousin still run a café amid the restored buildings where dozens of their relatives once processed shrimp. That equipment became the core of a small museum documenting a business that thrived well into the 1950s.

Quan reminisced as he showed a reporter around a dark room filled with examples of traditional Chinese fishing junks and family photographs.

“This picture of my grandfather there, looks like he’s smoking a strange pipe,” he chuckled.

Next to that building is a dock where fishing boats are still tied, though the catch is not what it once had been.

Quan said he’s watched the shrimp population die off almost completely over the last 30 years, a victim of water diversion and pollution.

“For us, it’s really sad,” he said.

Even if he can stay, Quan and others worry that without maintenance and supervision from the rangers, the area could fall victim to trespassing and vandalism.

A coalition of Marin County non-profits and land managers is negotiating a plan to operate China Camp, a move made easier by a bill passed earlier this month to facilitate such partnerships.

“I’m optimistic. I’m hoping everything will get settled,” Quan said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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