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An announcement this spring that one of the top destinations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta was closing abruptly took everyone by surprise.

When it was open, Brannan Island State Recreation Area was one of the largest and most affordable outdoor parks in the Delta wilderness – a 336-acre inch of land on the Sacramento River a short drive from Antioch, hugely popular with camping groups , caravanners, water skiers and fishermen. It has one of the largest boat ramps in the area, a small marina for overnight boaters, 148 campsites and a small rustic log cabin for rent. Since its opening in 1952, it had served as an easy escape from the Bay Area for freshwater fun.

But in March, the longtime Brannan Island concessionaire — the company that handled day-to-day operations there for a decade — backed out of its monthly lease with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the park closed. almost overnight. State Parks attributed the closure to the “remote location” of Brannan Island and said it had “no resources … to keep it open.”

Quickly, the department canceled camping reservations, installed a green steel gate on the 24-hour entrance road to Brannan Island, and put up signs that read “Parc fermé.”

“It was heartbreaking to say the least,” said Doug McArthur, who grew up in nearby Stockton and relied on the park’s boat launch for his charter fishing service. “It is one of the most beautiful places in the delta.”

Doug McArthur of Stockton ran charter fishing boats on Brannan Island for a decade before the park closed last spring.

Doug McArthur of Stockton ran charter fishing boats on Brannan Island for a decade before the park closed last spring.

Provided by Doug McArthur/Team Mc Fishing

Public outcry prompted State Parks to reopen the boat launch at Brannan Island’s six docks on weekends, starting in June. Campsites, RV park, marina and most picnic areas remain closed.

Without regular maintenance, a place many consider the best park in the delta falls into disrepair, even as camping and boating activity swirls around it. During this difficult time in limbo for five plus months, the park was looted by thieves and suffered damage to infrastructure as nature inevitably returns to the island.

But help seems to be on the way. State Parks says it has signed a new concessionaire who could bring Brannan’s Island into service as early as October 1.

“Things are going well, and I’m optimistic we’ll have something in place very soon,” said Eddie Guaracha, the department’s Diablo Range District Superintendent, which oversees the park.

The sudden closure of Brannan’s Island has left Bay Area residents scratching their heads: How does this happen in a state park? Especially one that State Parks says received more than 51,000 daily users and $680,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2021 — the highest numbers in a decade.


“I was angry” when the park closed, said Dennis Dorando, a retiree from Concord who, with his life partner, frequented Brannan Island in his motorhome. “How did State Parks allow this to happen?”


A small marina in the park adjacent to Three Mile Slough is unused.  This is one of the facilities on Brannan Island that the parks department wants to fix.

A small marina in the park adjacent to Three Mile Slough is unused. This is one of the facilities on Brannan Island that the parks department wants to fix.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

During a recent tour of the deserted park on a balmy August morning, Ryen Goering, the department’s Diablo Range District Public Safety Superintendent, pulled up near the empty boat launch parking lot, which can hold 260 cars.

“Not seeing people here is kind of weird to me,” said Goering, who sports a crew cut and dark sunglasses. “This marina was packed.”

Poplars and willows grow along the edges of the island. A huge blackberry bush has overtaken an area that was once a popular swimming beach. Thick tree branches littered the ground in places, having broken oak and drought-worn eucalyptus. Ground squirrels scurried around the rusty campfire rings.

Thieves robbed a modest ranger residence, broke into cargo containers containing emergency levee repair materials, and opened the doors of restrooms and other structures in search of loot. Someone even ripped a quarter of the vault off the wall of a coin-operated shower.

“People were basically seeing what to take,” Goering said.

Burglaries stopped once the department hired private security patrols and installed hidden cameras, Goering said.

Ryen Goering puts on a "Parc Fermé" sign at the entrance road to Brannan Island.  Goering is superintendent of public safety for the Diablo Range District of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Ryen Goering places a “Parc fermé” sign on the entrance road to Brannan Island. Goering is superintendent of public safety for the Diablo Range District of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Gregory Thomas/The Chronicle

The way Brannan Island slipped into its state of purgatory dates back a decade, when budget cuts prompted State Parks to close a quarter of its 280 park units. A host of nonprofits and government agencies have stepped in to float these imperiled recreation areas during the recession.

At the same time, the department turned to private companies to help manage its parks. One of them, based in Utah American Land and Recreation, signed five-year contracts to take over operations at Brannan Island as well as recreation areas at Turlock Lake (County of Stanislaus) and Woodson Bridge (Tehama County).

The company primarily serves campgrounds, boat launches and day-use areas in the Western National Forests. In California, American Land & Leisure operates in the Stanislaus National Forest near Yosemite National Park, as well as several outdoor recreation locations owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

During the company’s tenure on Brannan Island, the park was kept clean and safe, visitors said. However, the park’s only swimming beach, which had been stripped in a storm surge years earlier, had not been restored, and its boat docking area had been rendered unusable by neglect.

State Parks had hoped American Land & Leisure would sign long-term, Guaracha said. But instead, the company opted to continue on a monthly basis, leaving parks on an uncertain basis.

In 2020 the company withdrew from Woodson Bridge and Turlock Lake. State parks took over operations at Woodson Bridge and a local utility district stepped in to manage Lake Turlock for about six months, but that park closed in May 2021, according to the department. Turlock is still closed, as State Parks continues to “explore additional partnerships to facilitate operations,” depending on the department.

American Land & Leisure declined to comment for this article.

Guaracha said he thought the company felt overtaxed.

“I don’t know why they didn’t continue,” he said. “Anecdotally, I think they were used to US Forest Service type campgrounds – a more remote and primitive camping experience.”

Brannan’s Island could benefit from a facelift, Goering said.

“This park needs a lot of attention and sadly it hasn’t had any over the years,” he said. “We hope the new partner can help us.”


A popular swimming beach on Brannan Island was swept away by storm surge years ago.  State Parks hopes the park's next concessionaire will bring the beach back.

A popular swimming beach on Brannan Island was swept away by storm surge years ago. State Parks hopes the park’s next concessionaire will bring the beach back.

Provided by the California Department of Parks and Recreation/

State Parks would not identify the concessionaire it found to manage Brannan Island. But after phone calls and conversations with Delta residents, The Chronicle has learned that the department is in the final stages of vetting a new contract with a company called Delta Bay, which the ministry later confirmed. The company has a marina and RV park on the San Joaquin River, a short drive from Brannan Island.

Eric Chiu, manager and harbor master of Delta Bay Marina, confirmed that his company “plans to resume operations (at Brannan Island) later this year”, but added that the date is not yet fixed. while the contract was under review. This would be Delta Bay’s first expansion beyond the RV park and marina.

Chiu sees potential on Brannan Island: renovate the marina, replenish the sand at the swimming beach, maybe convert the dilapidated visitor center into a general store, and Brannan Island could once again become a summer destination for choice. He plans to organize programs for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and K-12 outdoor education, he said.

“We would like to see the park return to its former glory,” Chiu said. “We felt bad that this park was closing, and this is an opportunity to bring back these public amenities that are not available anywhere else in the delta. It probably involves a lot of work.

Guaracha, the parks district superintendent, stressed that the deal was not yet done and did not disclose details. He said the department wants a long-term commitment from a partner who will invest in the future of Brannan Island.

As to whether the situation with the former concessionaire has changed the department’s thinking about such private partnerships, Guaracha cited shrinking budgets that he says are partly forcing to “transform” the way the department runs its parks.

Contracting with dealers “is not commonplace,” he said, but it could become so.

“Speaking on behalf of our district,” Guaracha said, “if there is a sub-dealership that can operate a venue more efficiently and reduce the number of staff required, I would consider it to keep our parks open.”

Gregory Thomas is the Chronicle’s Lifestyle and Outdoors Editor. Email: [email protected]: @GregRThomas

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