Michelle Monsef stood atop Brooks Island’s rocky peak and peered out over the San Francisco Bay.
“This view,” Monsef said, “is the best part of the trip.”
Monsef, of Brentwood, and ten other adventurers took part last week in a kayak trip, organized by the East Bay Regional Park District, that launches out of Richmond Harbor on weekends May through October.
The excursion began with ten brightly colored two-person kayaks lining the boat ramp of the marina.
Wendy and Mark Fitch of El Cerrito were enthusiastic about the opportunity. They stood together on the ramp, anxiously fit into their life jackets, adjusted the seats of their kayak, and stuffed packed lunches into dry bags. Then the couple slid their kayak smoothly into the water.
“We just took advantage,” Mark said. “We thought, kayak trips out the island, let’s check this out. We had our reservation for two months. Who knew it’d be a day like this.”
East Bay Regional Park naturalist Christina Garcia led the kayakers out of the harbor. While the group paused to wait for crossing sailboats, she told them about the history of Brooks Island.
At the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, Brooks Island was cut off from the mainland due to melting glaciers and rising sea levels.
Despite its isolation, there is evidence of Native American settlements dating back 2,000 years. There are five shell mounds – places where people discarded their waste, on the island. European beads have been found in the mounds, suggesting that people where living on the island well into the 1800s.
After a brief but challenging paddle, the group approached Brooks Island. Kayakers navigated a tight channel, framed on either side by the exposed skeletons of sunken barges. On the bank, standing with his thick leather boots in the water was Matt Allen, the island caretaker. Allen wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and faded blue jeans.
Once the kayaks were safely beached everyone sat for lunch at picnic tables overlooking the bay, and Allen discussed the island’s history.
Brooks Island was once a rock quarry, which gave foundations to many Bay Area landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge and San Quentin Prison. Eight barges are sunk nearby, victims of over-zealous sea captains who overfilled their vessels.
In 1962 Bing Crosby and Trader Vic leased the island and used it as a hunting ground for pheasant and quail. Remnants of their campsite can still be seen there today. Their lease ended in 1988, when the park district took back control of the island.
After lunch, Garcia, led a two-mile hike around the island, pointing out the wildlife along the way.
The group stopped and rested at the island’s highest point. It was late afternoon now, the wind had picked up and white caps sparkled in the afternoon sun.
Bill Egloff looked out across the expanse; bright white sailboats dotted the bay, “We are very fortunate to be out here. I’m from the Sierra’s, we have mountains and lakes everywhere, but right in the middle of the bay here, this is cool.”
Participants of the Brooks Island adventure sign up in advance through the East Bay Regional Park District. Equipment is provided. The fee is $85 for residents of Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Sign up