LAKE BERRYESSA — Drew Lessard walked through Foothill Pines resort at Lake Berryessa and showed the dramatic transformation that has taken place.
“Over here, the whole peninsula was trailers,” said Lessard, who is with the U.S. Bureau of the Reclamation.
No trailers, mobile homes or other structures can be seen these days at Foothill Pines, formerly called Spanish Flat. Trees and brush dominate what appears to be a natural landscape. People can camp here, but for the most part, Foothill Pines is what Lessard calls a “bare canvas” for future development.
For the first time in several years, Lake Berryessa will have all seven of its resorts open. Markley Cove and Pleasure Cove have cabins, convenience stores, boat rentals and other services, but the rest are for the most part campsites and RV sites with no electricity or sewer service. They are that bare canvas.
“The facilities will be relatively primitive,” said Peter Lucero of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “But more than anything else, they’re going to be open.”
And they’re going to be changing. The Bureau of Reclamation has chosen The Pensus Group to add the brush strokes to these canvases — the campsites, RV sites, cottages, restaurants, hotels, spa, conference center and other amenities that are to come to various resorts.
“This is kind of the beginning of the transformation,” Lucero said. “We’re going to see a lot more activity beginning now through the next five or six years.”
Lake Berryessa is a key water source for Solano County cities and a major recreation draw. Created by the Bureau of Reclamation in the late 1950s with the building of Monticello Dam, the lake fills a valley amid brush-covered hills. It has 100 miles of shoreline, most of it undeveloped.
In a controversial move several years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation wiped the resorts clean of the 1,500 or so mobile homes and trailers that were once there, as well as many of the launches and other features. It is reshaping the resorts to attract more people who visit for a few days, as opposed to also serving people who live at the lake for part of the year.
Pensus is giving its resorts a new look and identity, so much so that it has changed their names. For example, Rancho Monticello is now Manzanita Canyon and Spanish Flats is now Foothill Pines.
Required environmental assessments on the properties are under way and should be completed this year, said Georgi Maule-Ffinch of Pensus.
“Until that’s finished, we can’t do anything really,” she said. “We can’t disturb any dirt or do any trenching.”
By next summer, some cottages should be built and some marina slips should be in the water, Maule-Ffinch said. People should keep seeing improvements made every year, she said.
“We’ll basically just ramp up,” Maule-Ffinch said.
For now, campsites and RV sites are available at the various Pensus resorts. Also, the lake is almost full and is beautiful, she said.
In addition to the resorts, the Bureau of Reclamation runs Capell Cove boat launch and the Oak Shores, Smittle Creek and Eticuera day-use areas. All of this means that, even though a big, anticipated transformation is under way, there are things to do at Lake Berryessa and places to go.
That’s a message that Peter Kilkus of the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce also wants to get out to prospective lake visitors.
“We’re open. We’re open,” Kilkus said.
Kilkus is among those who once owed a mobile home at a resort. He fought the Bureau of Reclamation’s approach to transforming the resorts, saying the people living in the resorts were important to the lake’s economy.
“The way I look at it positively is, it never should have happened this way, but we have what we have,” Kilkus said.”We all have to work at reopening the resorts and make them reach their full potential.”
At one point, Lake Berryessa had about 1.5 million visitors annually, Lucero said. He’s uncertain how many people came last year, with many of the resorts closed, but there definitely was a drop-off, he said.
Lucero expects an increase in visitors this year, as the Berryessa reality moves a little closer to the Berryessa dream.
— Reach Barry Eberling at [email protected]