Long Beach Teen Carves Totem Poles for Summer Project

Southern California Edison donated four logs from its Shaver Lake forest in the Sierra to help with the Camp Fire project.

Cameron Bricker knew he had a big project on his hands this summer when he took on the task of carving two new totem poles for the Camp Fire facility in Long Beach to replace the two existing poles erected 15 years ago.

Similar to the Boy Scouts, Camp Fire is a 94-year-old Long Beach nonprofit that teaches youth development and leadership.

For Bricker, 17, completion of the totem poles would be the culmination of his years in Camp Fire, which he joined when he was in first grade. It would also earn him Camp Fire’s most prestigious Wohelo Award, which is equivalent to an Eagle Scout.

But where to start?

“It was kind of daunting,” said Bricker. “There was the matter of getting the poles and the carving. I didn’t know how to do any of that.”

Bricker started designing his plan for the project, including selecting the Camp Fire symbols he would carve.

Totem Poles
Cameron Bricker carved this Camp Fire totem pole symbol into an incense cedar log with a chain saw, then painted it using enamel paint.

His plan was ready in May, but he was still missing the most important thing — the wood logs to carve. That was when Shirlee Jackert, Camp Fire Long Beach’s executive director, thought of Matthew Garcia, a Camp Fire board member and a senior manager at Southern California Edison.

“I knew Edison had poles — they’re all over the place,” she said. “I hoped they could help.”

What Jackert didn’t know was that SCE has a 20,000-acre forest at Shaver Lake in the Sierra east of Fresno where SCE crews routinely fell trees.

Garcia called SCE’s Shaver Lake forestry staff, which immediately agreed to help.

“It’s like with the Scouts,” said Ryan Stewart, an SCE forestry supervisor. “We want to support the community and will do it for a nonprofit or a good cause.”

Stewart selected four incense cedar trees — he included two spares, “just in case” — and cut them down to 10 feet. They were shipped via an SCE materials transport truck that brings equipment and supplies to SCE’s nearby Big Creek hydroelectric facility every week.

Soon, Bricker had his logs and prepared for his biggest challenge — carving them with a chain saw.

Bricker was lucky to have Larry Pool as an adviser. Pool is a retiree who volunteers at Camp Fire and helped with the last totem pole project 15 years ago.

“I showed him how to use the chain saw (for carving) and then follow up with a wood chisel,” Pool said.

Bricker and his Camp Fire helpers stenciled the designs on the logs. He carved the preselected symbols with the chain saw, working his way from the simple designs that had straight lines to the harder curved ones. They hand chiseled the last details into the symbols before painting them.

The work was done over three weeks and the poles were unveiled in a ceremony in mid-August.

Besides earning the Wohelo Award, Bricker said the project allows him to leave a legacy to Camp Fire, which has been such a big part of his life.

Jackert, the executive director, said SCE’s willingness to donate the poles was key to the project’s success.

“It shows how committed Edison is to the community,” she said.