Pimu to Catalina
Prior to European exploration of this area, the island was referred to as Pimu and inhabited by the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe. Archeological evidence shows Tongva settlements beginning in 7000 BC. Some written accounts of the Tongva remain today and tell of a rich culture with abundant access to resources from both the land and sea. They were also a part of an extensive trade network which helped spread Catalina’s abundant soapstone, a stone easily forged into tools and other wares, as far as Colorado and New Mexico.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was allegedly the first European to set foot on the island. On October 7, 1542, he claimed the island for Spain. More explorers would follow and began introducing their culture to the Native Americans. European influence resulted in many of the Tongva people leaving the island and being integrated into the California mission system and other surrounding communities. Due to their lack of immunity to diseases brought by Europeans, much of their population perished. The information we have today about their culture exists through historic documentation and oral tradition.
Private Ownership to Conservancy
Ownership of Catalina passed through many hands between 1846 and 1919 when William Wrigley Jr. bought controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company. In 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded the Wrigley shares in the Santa Catalina Island Company to the Catalina Island Conservancy that he had helped create. The Conservancy now stewards 88 percent of the island. The mission of the Catalina Island Conservancy is to be a responsible steward of it’s lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation.
Howlands Landing; Sheep Ranch to Summer Camp
Howlands Landing, home of CELP and CIC summercamp, was once a thriving sheep ranch. Squatters in the mid 1800’s began a large herding operation that later expanded to San Clemente Island. Evidence of the thousands of sheep that grazed the cove can be seen in the open pastures that dot the hillsides as well as the remnants of a fence along the ridge-line.
Catalina Island Boys Camp was founded in 1926 by University of Southern California football coach, Gus Henderson. Catalina Island Girls Camp was a separate camp at another location on the island until the 1970s when the two camps merged to become Catalina Island Camps.
Current directors, Tom and Maria Horner, have brought new life to the program and continue to make positive changes that provide a quality experience for visitors.
The Catalina Environmental Leadership Program began in 1999 as a joint venture between Catalina Island Camps and Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society to provide unique learning opportunities for young people.
In 1973, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Richard Murphy, “Murph”, started Project Ocean Search to expose people to the ocean’s wonders by taking them on expeditions to exotic locations around the world. Hoping to create similar experience for children, Jean-Michel and Murph began looking for pristine locations more accessible to a larger, younger audience. Howlands Landing, with its access to healthy kelp forests and close proximity to Los Angeles, proved to be an ideal location. CELP served as the pilot program for the new venture, called Ambassadors of the Environment (AOTE). CELP has become a model for other AOTE programs in California, Hawai’i, France, Greece, the Cayman Islands, and French Polynesia.
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