De-tweaking Berry Creek

Community group aims to clean up community’s image

Left to right: Will Cotter, Kim Garner and Loren Gill hold part of a sign that will hang over the entrance of the recently approved Berry Creek Community Center and park.

Left to right: Will Cotter, Kim Garner and Loren Gill hold part of a sign that will hang over the entrance of the recently approved Berry Creek Community Center and park.

Photo by Ken Smith

Community connection:
Go to for more information about the Berry Creek Community Association.

In its current state, the future home of the Berry Creek Community Center—a long-vacant double-wide mobile building on a 15-acre tract of beautiful but rugged foothill land—might not look like much to outsiders. But through the eyes of residents who’ve labored to secure the space for the center and surrounding park of the rural community east of Oroville, it’s perfect.

An outdoor stage, a bocce court, baseball-diamond-sized playing fields, shaded picnic benches and miles of hiking and biking trails are just a few of the possibilities planned for the site by members of the Berry Creek Community Association (BCCA). Since the group’s recognition in 2007 by the Butte County Board of Supervisors as the voice of Berry Creek, establishing a public recreation space has been among its primary goals.

On Jan. 28, the Feather River Recreation and Park District Board (FRRPD) unanimously approved a contract between the FRRPD and BCCA to develop a lot on Rockefeller Road next to Berry Creek Elementary School, the final step toward making the park a reality. The Pioneer Union School District, which owns the land, agreed to lease the site and existing building for $1 a year.

“Now that we have the place, everything else can come together,” said BCCA member Will Cotter, who said several contractors and area residents have committed to volunteering time and materials to the park. “There’s so much energy in the community for the park and we have more people getting involved all the time, and that momentum is only increasing as we move forward.”

Cotter noted that area residents have already devoted several hundred volunteer hours to clearing brush and other fire dangers on the land, and said he sees the final project as “user-definable,” meaning that community input ultimately will dictate what the park has to offer. Cotter also noted it’s the first new park approved by the FRRPD this century.

BCCA member Loren Gill explained that the current organization was preceded by the Berry Creek Citizens Association, which he helped found 17 years ago to address issues in the community. The original BCCA’s accomplishments included getting a sheriff’s deputy dedicated to patrolling the area, establishing bathroom facilities at Bald Rock trailhead, and negotiating with the California Department of Water Resources to add eventual improvements to Foreman Creek Recreation Area—the community’s nearest access to Lake Oroville. The older organization also tried to establish the park.

The revamped BCCA helped set restrictions on large-scale developments in the Berry Creek area and has addressed issues such as illegal dumping and road maintenance.

“You have the old guard—people who’ve lived here for a very long time and have been fighting for these things for years—and the new guard, which is these newer residents, like myself and others who’ve moved here and share that vision,” said Cotter, who moved to Berry Creek seven years ago. “Right now, we have this perfect confluence of old residents and new working together.”

Though the area represented by the BCCA has a small population—the 2010 census reported about 1,500 residents, while BCCA members claim it’s closer to 2,000, including seasonal residents who own vacation homes in the area—it is large geographically, as defined by the 95916 ZIP code. Gill noted it is the largest of five districts overseen by the FRRPD, stretching from the northeast shores of Lake Oroville all the way to Plumas County.

Of the many issues addressed by the BCCA, the residents said the outside world’s misperceptions of the community have been one of the hardest to overcome. Gill noted marijuana growers and “hippie types” who moved to the region in the 1970s gave it a reputation as a rough rural area.

“There wasn’t much law anywhere in the foothills back then,” he said.

And the town’s public image worsened in the 1990s when the area became associated with methamphetamine use and production.

“We want everyone to think of it as it really is: a cool little mountain town, and not ‘Berry Tweak,’” he said.

Cotter listed several examples of what Berry Creek has to offer, including lots of natural beauty; colorful residents that include artists, musicians and retired NASA engineers; and Camp Okizu, which caters to children with cancer and their families. He said his main attraction to the area is a strong sense of community, noting Fire Company 61—of which he is a member—is the among the county’s largest volunteer fire departments.

Kim Garner is a current part-time, future full-time Berry Creek resident and retired police officer who, with her partner Paul Schwind, is building a home and hobby farm near the future park. She said she fell in love with the area while vacationing at nearby Bucks Lake several years ago and decided to settle there after comparing it to other communities all over Northern California.

“When I looked up Berry Creek on the Internet to find property, the first thing that popped up was a double murder,” Garner said of the community’s image issues, referring to a May 2010 incident in which Allen Leverette killed neighbors Alnita and James Starick with a hatchet.

“But that was an unfortunate, isolated incident,” she continued. “I’ve never felt anything but safe and welcome here.”

The residents of Berry Creek encourage visitors to come see the community themselves, offering the annual Berry Creek Berry Festival—celebrating its 16th year this summer—as an especially good time to visit.