Bethel Island, Part 2

Piper Slough seen from Sugar Barge Resort

To a stranger, at least, Bethel Island presents a bit of a puzzle. Oh, it’s not hard to see that most of the island is below the level of the water (Wikipedia says “below sea level,” but it’s not actually the sea here). To get to any of the numerous boat docks, you have to drive up steep (but not terribly high) levees. When the Big One comes, lots of Bethel Island is likely to be underwater, and I don’t suppose Oakley is going to be all that dry, either. (Our trade-off for not being likely to slide down a cliff the way we might back in Oakland or Berkeley.)

And even without that, River Delta = Wetlands, so you’d expect (or I would) that the place might be prone to flooding, or at least a lot of marshiness and standing water, during the rainy season. As this is the driest winter we’ve had since I moved to California at the end of 1998, it’s very hard for my husband to picture that, but it makes sense to me that all the newer houses, like the ones I remember seeing on the Outer Banks, are built with the main living areas raised at least one story off the ground and large garage/storage areas below. (The architectural style, however, is not much like that on the East Coast.)

Of course, it’s possible that people just want to be able to see the view over the water, too.

I think I’ll just have to ask a resident (perhaps Sherrill Riggs, owner of the Sugar Barge RV Resort & Marina, whom I met through the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce) about the logic, if any, behind the odd juxtaposition between decaying older homes and enormous new ones. The fact that a number of the newer places are for sale indicates that the Great Recession has hit the Delta just as hard as anywhere else (if not harder, since the construction industry was a major employer out here), but signs of poverty go back well before the Dot-Com bust, never mind the 2008 crash. And you can snap up one of the older houses for less than $50K, while the big ones will set you back ten times that much—a bargain by the standards of San Francisco, but pretty pricey for this area.

While it’s not actually possible to circumnavigate the island by car, our drive first down Piper Road, then back through town and down Taylor Rd, came close to accomplishing that. We still haven’t been down Stone Rd to the main marina, though.


WordPress fangirl, ghostwriter, linguistic alchemist, podcast consultant, and accidental vapor advocate. Married with 2 cats.


  1. Ya just cannot beat the East coast for charming historic architecture. The style homes predominating at this end of NC is mostly early manufactured home. Wow a geodesic dome on top of a garage. Now that is a nice mix of styles. Never imagined driving up a levee to put the boat in the water. City planning? Do not buy a home in this area for sure! Must be messy when they have a “wet” Winter. Seems deserted…will boats return in the Spring?

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. The wonderful mix of houses is the very reason we came to Bethel Island in 1979. We bought a lot and built our house. I love the crazy quilt look here. I could never, never live in a housing development.

  3. Sallie:

    I came across your blog by accident but was intrigued by your statements about Bethel Island. I would be more than happy to provide you a personal tour of the island and to provide history about our sleeply hamlet. I am associated with ECCFPD, BIMD, BIMC, Chamber of Commerce, Delta Chamber of Commerce, stakeholder for Bethel Island bridge replacement and could provide further information and possible more questions. Feel free to contact me at 925-351-3759.

  4. I spent quite a bit of time on Bethel Island in the late 1950s and 60s. My grandparents and an uncle lived there for decades. My uncle sold boats and had a shop just on the right after crossing the bridge onto the island. I just looked on google street maps and it looks like there is a church there now. I actually don’t recognize anything there now from what it used to be. Even back then my uncle always warned me not to go “down town” because of all the “bad people” (bikers). I never had any problem. Most every summer we would go to Bethel Island and borrow a boat from my uncle, usually something like a 32′ cabin cruiser, and just putt around the delta for a week or two. Often around the Franks Tract area. I would watch my dad hand catch catfish that were sleeping in the tire bumpers on my uncles boat dock. While he was cleaning them to cook, us kids would take turns cranking the handle on an ice cream maker. Some nice childhood memories.

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