North of the UCSC campus, the trails through the redwoods are quiet but for the whir of the occasional mountain biking crew. When I stepped off the path, I came across a shelter made of redwood branches, a blue tarp laid over a sleeping pad within. One such path opens onto a small clearing where forty-two trailers are clustered. Vibrantly colored and timelessly silent, there is something quite stunning about happening-upon the trailer park.
The trailer park is located north of Kresge College and west of Heller Drive. It started in the early 1980s during a housing shortage. Students were parking RVs and trailers in campus parking lots and started several trailer parks in the woods. This is the only known trailer park left. There is a long-term plan to use the land for student dormitory housing but no moves have been made yet.
Current camper park lore: pre-university-regulation, seven students lived together in one trailer. The lead singer in Sublime helped get the camper park started.
- 42 trailers (with cooking facilities and running water)
- Shared common house: kitchen, laundry, refrigerator, freezer, music/computer/entertainment room, 2 showers, 2 bathrooms
- Bi-weekly pot luck dinners (Wednesday/Sunday)
- Favorite places for conversation: the dish-washing sink, in front of the “free-food fridge”, the community room, bathrooms, walking around the park, by the barbeque and the picnic tables, in the trailers when food is being cooked and a couple people are sitting around
- Challenges: trailers can be cold, not enough privacy for those sharing a trailer, hard to get to the bathroom without running into someone, some trailers don’t have working ovens, hard to cook elaborate meals
But for the occasional whir of a mountain bicyclist, the trails up through the redwoods hold a steady and also eery silence. There are stories of secret encampments in the redwoods surrounding the trailer park. At one time, the people living in the encampments were known as "woodsies" and they were often close friends with the parkies.
On one side of the camper park, there is a university parking lot and a road leading down to campus. Although the camper park feels very far away from campus life, it is a five minute walk to the Kresge dormitory and a ten minute walk to centrally located campus libraries.
The 42 trailers that compose the camper park are arranged much like houses in a suburban cul de sac. There are 2 main foot paths and 1 main road leading into the neighborhood. The group of trailers on the loop furthest from the common house are called “the lonely loop.” Trailer 42 is known as “the gate keeper” and the current resident is “Gatekeeper Jeff”. The residents of trailer 14 said their neighborhood loosely spans from trailer 9 to 18. They suggested that a few other neighborhoods exist within the park.
The Common House
The common house is located near the center and includes 2 showers, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a common room/study room. Just outside are the common waste bins. Every Sunday and Wednesday, the parkies gather for a potluck meal at the common house. Some people talk about upcoming events and make announcements. The only official meeting was the first meeting of the quarter when campus officials came and chowed down on some chili and ice cream. The kitchen sink and the common room are particularly popular places to stop and talk. Most parkies carry their dishes in milk crates to wash them in the common kitchen. The industrial sinks are much more convenient then their miniature private sinks. While most parkies are well acquainted with one another, five of the forty-five official residents were only spotted a couple times in the first month. Most conversation happens at the common house or on the street between trailers.
According to university regulations, all trailers must:
- be manufactured units intended for use as a residence
- meet UC requirements
- be fully operational/DMV registered
- pass inspection
- be less than 28’ in length and less than 12’ in width
- include: cooking facilities and a sink with running water, a 110 volt underground AC electrical system, adequate light/heating/fire extinguisher/smoke detector/carbon monoxide detector/ propane leak detector
Only 5 of 42 trailers have a sewer hook-up (sewers are not required). Below are a few examples of trailers in the park:
Obviously parkies don’t hesitate to make their home their own. Around 7 trailers were painted in a single fall quarter. Some parkies spend a good bit of time keeping up their garden and making their trailer “homey”, while others allow the potted plants to die. Although the oldest parkie has only been around for three years, the outdoor furnishings have been inherited by many parkies. This passing on of sculptures, paintings, plants, and furnishings lends to a sense of continuity.
Some of the best conversations are had between parkies inside the trailers. One person volunteers to cook and the others sit in the booth or on the bed. One resident reported sharing at least one meal a day with 3-4 people from the trailer park. Many parkies don’t have an oven so they cook in other trailers frequently. When it is someone’s birthday, fifteen or sixteen people cram into a trailer and the space is filled with lively conversation. Trailer 14 is shown below.
While the dimensions and spatial arrangements vary from trailer to trailer, this trailer illustrates the compact space and the primary components. Most trailers have 1-2 space heaters and a portable fan. One parkie said the cold is the most challenging part about living in a trailer. Trailer 14’s stove/oven is used on a daily basis to prepare breakfast and sometimes lunch and/or dinner. Some trailers don’t have an oven so complex meals are difficult. The bed separates and folds up into two opposing couches and a table can be propped in between. The windows look out to the green canopy of the redwoods. The space in front of the kitchenette and the mini-fridge are where residents do the “trailer shuffle”—a celebrated side shuffle to get out of way of the other person. Storage is tight (even with the non-functional corner-shower) and overflow ends up on the table. They are considering remodeling to replace the kitchen table with a single bench against the wall. The canopy next to the trailer provides an outdoor space where neighbors and visitors stop to chat; the owner of the trailer sometimes sits on the step or stands in the doorway. This trailer also has a back porch where residents read, stretch, and study.
The outdoor space is cluttered with potted plants, both alive and dead. Some trailers have small garden plots that they regularly tend. A live oak tree grows in front of trailer 14.
- 2 central bathrooms (only 5/42 trailers have a sewer hook-up)
- 2 central showers
- 2 dishwashing sinks
- 17 cuft refrigerator
- 14 cuft freezer
- Donated food from grocery stores and bakeries (usually expired or not fresh enough for sale)
- 3 common computers
- Wireless internet access
- TV, VHS & DVD player in common room
- Outdoor barbeque
- Central recycling and trash
A student who wants to move into the trailer park puts their name on a 30-80 person waistlist. When a parkie moves out, they sell their trailer to the next person on the waitlist for $3,000-$3,500 and they are the new official owner of the trailer. When they move out, they usually sell it for a few hundred dollars less than they bought it for. Parkies also pay $500 each month (or $556 for those with a sewer connection) in rent which is about $300 cheaper per month than the cheapest dorm.
The parkies said clusters of trailers will operate like mini-neighborhoods within the larger community. The residents in these clusters tend to communicate more with one another and spend more time cooking for one another in their trailers. The parkie that lives in trailer number 42 is called “the gatekeeper” because it is close to the primary vehicle entrance.
Before UC regulation, what parkies couldn’t store in their trailers, they fit into a variety of outdoor storage units. Two college students with a conservative amount of belongings can make do with the indoor shelves and closet (~14 sqft) and 2 outdoor dressers or storage bins. Most parkies find the mini-fridge in their trailer to be too small for their needs and the overflow is put in a bag in the central refrigerator.
The layout of the trailer park provides for the type of coincidental contact that is essential for a strong community. Parkies are motivated to leave their residence to go to the common house to grab food from the refrigerator, prepare food, clean-up after meals, use the bathroom, take a shower, empty the trash, attend the potlucks, use the central computers, or use the television. The interactions that happen as they carry out these daily tasks are the heart of the community. The individual kitchenettes and tight quarters provide smaller, more private places to cook for small gatherings within the community. While this may seem to create unnecessary divisions within the community, it is my hypothesis that it allows more introverted parkies a place to create friendships and feel at home within such a large group of people. Literature on cohousing has already tackled this idea of smaller, divided spaces with two important findings: nooks and smaller spaces allow space for residents to have more private conversations1 and members of a community on this scale usually really connect with four to five people2. The trailers are somewhere between a co-op and a co-housing community: each has a kitchenette but the bathroom facilities are shared. In co-operative houses, shared walls lead to a lack of auditory privacy, some rooms don’t get any direct sunlight, personal kitchen facilities are rare, and most rooms don’t have any personal garden space. The shared walls in co-op houses do help keep the energy cost low. Check back for the energy-use of the trailer park.
1Franck, Karen and Sherry Ahrentzen. New Households, New Housing. Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY. 1991.
2McCamant, Kathryn and Charles Durrett. Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities. New Society Publishers. 2011.