Nine months after closing and then reopening months later only on weekends, one of the most affordable Bay Area freshwater recreation, boating and camping areas has fully reopened and awaits visitors itching to get outdoors after many days of pounding rainstorms.
Located just north of Antioch and south of Rio Vista, Brannan Island State Recreation Area is part of a maze of waterways and marshes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta long popular for boating, fishing, swimming and camping.
And though its picnic tables and campsites surrounded by mighty oaks and towering eucalyptus trees sit empty now, Clint Elsholz, state Diablo Range District acting superintendent, knows that the park will soon be filling up.
“(Since the pandemic), parks have seen a big spike in attendance,” said Elsholz, who oversees the 336-acre site. “People want to be outdoors, so I expect the campgrounds to be very popular over the summer.”
Last March, American Land & Leisure, which operated the park since 2013, opted not to renew its lease with State Parks, effectively shutting down the park much to the dismay of its longtime users. Elsholz said park officials scrambled to reassign workers and reopen the popular boat launch last June, but only on weekends, while they looked for a concessionaire to replace the Utah property management company.
Elsholz thanked the public for its patience while waiting for a new operator. He added that he was “excited for the new partnership” with Park Delta Bay of Isleton to bring camping and day-use opportunities back to Brannan Island. Reservations for the 136 campsites – both tent and RV hookups in five different areas and a rustic cabin – were being taken as of the first of the year.
Park Delta Bay operates an RV and tiny house resort just down the road, about six miles from Brannan Island State Recreation Area, and Esholz said he believed the company would do well restoring the state recreation area, which first opened in 1952.
“He (owner Eric Chiu) has vision,” Elsholz said, noting that adding a bait store – the first ever at the site – should be a welcome amenity for visitors.
Hap’s Bait and Tackle, a longtime Rio Vista store, was forced to close recently and will be reopening at the park.
“He (Chiu) is going to put it in as part of the experience at the park, and that’s the kind of vision that will bring people out,” Elsholz said. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s something that’s important to the locals.”
Chiu could not be reached for comment but his park managers Chris and Billie Logan, who are doing much of hands-on work sprucing up the park, were optimistic about its future and said getting the bait shop up and running was “the first order of business.” Chris Logan estimated it would open “in a couple of weeks.”
The couple managed the park for three years before leaving last spring, but were excited to return when the new operator was found.
“I came back because I know so much about the park and I knew it was the right time to come in to try to get things done that I thought needed to be addressed,” said Chris Logan who now lives with his wife inside the park. “I knew I could get a fresh start and get things going.”
Besides cleaning up debris, landscaping and other minor maintenance, Logan said the park will have to clean up the beach in the Seven Mile Slough area for the summer, when operators expect to add lifeguards and paddle boats for rent. The beach will be a big draw, he said.
“People always come in and say, ‘Where’s the beach?’ ” Logan added. “It’s tide-oriented. When the tide is in, there’s no beach, when the tide’s out there is.”
Elsholz said over the years the beach has become overgrown with weeds but park officials will work to clear it.
“We have some Himalayan blackberry that’s crept in there that we want to take out and expand it,” he said of the beach. “It’ll still accommodate swimming – I don’t think we’re going to have to dredge – but we’re going to do some vegetation management on the site.”
The park also boasts a wide six-dock boat launch and includes a concrete handicapped dock, all of which were remodeled several years ago, making it a popular attraction, according to Logan and Elsholz.
“Boaters drive 60 to 100 miles to come here because it’s one of the nicest boat launches (in the delta area),” Logan said, noting they can launch up to 10 boats at a time.
“It’s nice and wide, and the parking is plentiful,” Elsholz added.
You don’t have to convince longtime boater Doug McArthur of Stockton about that. McArthur has run charter fishing boats out of Brannan Island for more than a decade and was delighted when the park fully reopened in December.
“There’s a lot of private boat launches, but this is one of the few public ones in the area,” he said. “There are days on the weekends during the prime fishing season when you can’t find anything less than probably 80 to 100 boat trailers in the parking lot.”
Even on a busy day, though, McArthur said he’s never had to wait for a launch “because there’s so much space.”
“That’s what we love, and the fact that it (the park) sits between the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers,” making it easy to fish either one depending on conditions, he said.
“I can pull out of that spot and go left or right and I’m pretty much right on top of where I want to fish without having to go burn a bunch of fuel down the river,” McArthur said.
If you don’t have a boat, like to camp or hang out at the beach, Elsholz noted Brannan Island has a network of trails, bird watching and “many ways to connect with nature.”
“I just think it’s overlooked,” he said. “I think that the delta is overlooked by a lot of people.”
Online camping reservations for Brannan Island State Recreational Area are available on ReserveCalifornia.com.
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