Pathfinder Ranch History

Pathfinder Ranch was established in 1964 to provide an escape from the desert summer heat for the boys of Palm Springs. Ralph and Walker Smith – friends and business partners, but unrelated – were members of the board of directors of the Boys Club of Palm Springs. It was their dream to find a property in the mountains south of Palm Springs that would allow the boys the escape from the summer heat. While at the Committee of Twenty-Five they mentioned this to Fred Ingram of the Bank of America who knew someone who wanted to sell a parcel in Garner Valley. Terms were drawn, and for $50,000 the Smiths secured 28 acres and two buildings to start Pathfinder Ranch. The name was taken from the women’s group that was supporting the club, the Palm Springs Pathfinders.

The first summer 60 boys attended, sleeping in tents and dining in an army field tent from WW II. In 1968 the first dorm was built with a gift from the Leutholds. That same year Beverly Stauffer contributed $25,000 to construct a dining hall. In the 1970’s board members added four more dorms and a conference center facility, as well as a lake for swimming and boating. The dorms were given by the two Smith founder families, Virginia McConkey, the Hale family (who also contributed the funds for the conference center), and Pearl McManus. Emily Cartwright gave the funds for the lake. The end of the decade saw a camp ready to serve more children from a wider geographical area as the camp expanded its services to girls and Southern California.

The camp entered its third decade with some difficult decisions to make for its future. The board decided to expand activities beyond summer camp to include retreats for non-profit youth groups on weekends and outdoor education for schools. By the 1995 the years of growth and thousands of campers had taken a toll on the camp facilities. Between 1996 and 2006 renovations were made on all dormitories; the lake was replaced and a swimming pool was added; 40 acres of wildlife preserve were acquired and four residences along the lake purchased; and a staff dormitory housing twenty-four was constructed. By the end of the fourth decade the camp was serving over 11,000 children each year. The gift of the Smiths in the 1960’s was meeting the needs of the children for the new millennium, and serving those needs well.