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The historic Rock House located on Yankee Hill on Highway 70 was a familiar site to anyone traversing the Feather River Canyon. It was built in 1937 using horse and wagon to locally source the rock. The walls are 18 inches thick and are all that’s left of the main structure. The owners lost not only the business, but also their home as the Camp Fire swept through the area the morning of Nov. 9, the day after the fire began. Photos by Victoria Metcalf

Re-starting the Rock House Café and the community of Concow   

This garden statue was left untouched, along with the thick rock walls of the Rock House.

The Rock House Café was originally constructed in the 1930s at the time when the Feather River Highway was built. The Rock House served as a “roadhouse, restaurant, and entertainment venue” for persons working on the Feather River Highway during the seven years required to complete this roadway.

After the highway was completed, the Rock House continued as a private business, but the operation fell into decline in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1990s, the facility was in decline and not operating on a regular basis.

Karen and Dave purchased the property in 2014 and slowly began to repair and remodel the property. They opened their small café — next to the larger, original Rock House — in 2015 to serve food to the local community, and hosted musical events on the patio behind the café. Restoration of the larger Rock House building was almost complete when the Camp Fire tore through Concow and Yankee Hill on Nov. 9, 2018, destroying the larger building.

Fortunately, the smaller café was left intact, although in need of a thorough cleaning to remove the grit and odor of smoke from the fire. Having been a friend of Karen’s since 2016 (she makes a great cappuccino), I was drawn to help them recover as soon as Highway 70 reopened after the fire.

Simply stated … everyone in Butte County is exhausted, and every resource in Butte County is strained to the breaking point.

The impacts of the Camp fire to every city, every community and every citizen of Butte County is inestimable. Persons displaced by the fire, including those trying to return to and live on their properties, need help from persons living in nearby regions outside of Butte County. This help needs to take many forms:

– Strategic equipment and supplies to help residents clean and re-build their properties.

– Friendship and encouragement to help deal with the emotional impacts of the fire.

– Professional consulting to deal with issues of legally re-building, dealing with FEMA, insurance claims, obtaining necessary permits from Butte County, etc..

– Financial assistance.

– Entertainment, food  and artistic expression to help Concow rebuild itself as an active community.

With all of the above needs pointing towards the most important need of all … HOPE.

At the present moment, the residents of Concow and all of Butte County are running critically short of HOPE … hope for an improvement in their current situation, hope that someday their communities will again be functional and happy places to live, hope that somebody “out there” cares enough to help a stranger in need.

Recovery from a disaster such as the Camp Fire is often not a linear process. There is no simple road map to success. But there are some basic steps, which those of us living “out there” can take to contribute to getting the Rock House Café re-started, and helping to re-build the communities of Concow and Yankee Hill.

Start food preparation

Get the Rock House Café operational so that food can be prepared in this facility and served to nearby residents. Karen and Dave have made a lot of progress toward cleaning the Café and removing the odor of smoke, but cleaning a facility after smoke intrusion often takes more than one cleaning.

One or two appropriately sized generators would be helpful as service from PG&E is currently not available. Karen and Dave will post a short list of other items needed, which will soon be sent out via public media websites and Plumas News.

Get food being served on the patio. FEMA has withdrawn from any further involvement with helping to clean up the Rock House property due to it being “a commercial business in an unincorporated community.”

Dave and Karen have hired a private contractor and are contributing their own labor to remove the debris from the burned out larger building. Once this debris is removed, a final cleaning of the patio area should have the patio ready for public occupancy for food service, musical events, spiritual services and other public gatherings.

Improve the Rock House website to help the business to recover and to provide a location for delivery of strategic resources directly to Concow and Yankee Hill residents. The website for the Rock House, www.rockhousehwy70.com,  will be improved to attract more business to the Rock House Café, and will also employ software that will allow Concow residents to post messages with equipment and supplies they need, and so that persons living outside of Butte County can arrange for delivery of the requested resources. Often this exchange will be made at the Rock House property. We will be posting regular updates at www.californiagiftofmusic.org, which is the website used for my blog posts about our work at Miracle City in Chico immediately after the Fire.

An example of such person-to- person assistance is what inspired me to begin this action. In December 2018, I was contacted by a friend in Plumas County who knew of someone who had a 1990s Subaru wagon they wished to donate directly to someone displaced by the fire. I then called Karen MacGowan, who confirmed she knew of a person who desperately needed a replacement vehicle.

I never spoke directly with the owner of the Subaru, and I only spoke once with the person who received this donated vehicle. But somehow, my friend and I managed to get these people connected so that one life torn apart by the Camp Fire was made a bit better by the generosity of a Plumas county resident.

After a disaster of the magnitude of the Camp Fire,  recovery can be too big of a word for a damaged person, or family or community to deal with. Sometimes, we need to put the big picture of recovery aside, and just focus on the small steps to make things “better.” When we take enough small steps to fix the simple problems in front of us, on a person-to-person or family-to-family basis, “better” will eventually lead to the larger picture falling into place.

The process of arranging for delivery of these supplies and equipment will be item-to-item and person-to-person. This will keep the operation small, easily manageable, and involve the least possible regulatory oversight. Even though FEMA has officially withdrawn from the Rock House property, everything involving regulatory issues in Butte County remains difficult due to overlapping jurisdictions … Federal government (FEMA, U.S. Forest Service) Butte County (sheriff, code enforcement, health department, etc), State of California (DMV,  CalFire, state relief agencies).

The next steps

The first step is to organize some workdays to help Karen and Dave clean the inside of the café and the surrounding property to the point where it is fully operational, and a beautiful and pleasant location to have a meal. Dave and Karen are doing such an amazing job of cleaning their property that the list of what is specifically needed is growing shorter every day. Look for updates about what work is needed at www.rockhousehwy70.com, and at www.californiagiftofmusic.org.

The second step is to concurrently begin holding conference calls among those persons who want to take a lead role in organizing the longer-term work. Group emails will be also be helpful, but some group conversations will be important. It would be nice to start these conversations in one to two weeks (approximately March 1).

In the beginning, I will be organizing these discussions myself, and  posting through  www.californiagiftofmusic.org. As our work moves forward, and as Karen and Dave have more available time, Karen will begin to assume responsibility for organizing future “Rock House Revival Events” through  www.rockhousehwy70.com.

My long term dream is that, for many years to come, every resident of Plumas County who passes the Rock House traveling to or from their Plumas home will feel a sense of pride at seeing, and possibly being a part of, the Rock House Revival.

Each of us reading these words has the ability to make a difference in the lives of residents in the Concow-Yankee Hill communities who desperately need HOPE to persevere, and move forward. This is a moment we where can make history, and I encourage anyone, living anywhere, to join this noble work.

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