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The Vanishing East Bay

Traces of old Contra Costa County remain

Kathy Leighton is Byron's unofficial historian and author of several books on East Contra Costa County. The 58-year-old is a native to the area and still lives in the same home she grew up in just off Highway 4. The quiet life of the East County Leighton knew in her childhood still exists, yet it's also fading. In the last decade, populations in East County towns have increased ten- and twentyfold, representing some of the largest suburban growth in California. Roads around Byron are perpetually under construction (read: widening) and if that doesn't slow your commute, as a testament to the old country's ways, it's still possible to get stuck behind Uncle Joe's tractor hauling hay to old man Riker's barn. Fathom that.

Life in East County might be changing, yet Leighton still has her favorite spots. “If traffic's not too bad on my way back from Brentwood,” she says, “I have to pick up a cup of coffee at The Farmer's Daughter, right there on Walnut Boulevard on Marsh Creek Road.

“On Sunday mornings we like to read the paper and have breakfast at the Byron Inn (16141 Byron Hwy.), which is the absolute best in East Contra Costa County. I order the biscuits and gravy.

“If I've got people from out of town or I'm with someone who doesn't know the area, I take them to the East Contra Costa County Museum, which is owned by the local historical society and still one of the finest history museums in the area. It's inside an original 1878 two-story home and tells the story of our region.” (3890 Sellers Ave., Brentwood) Out back, Leighton says, the museum has a barn full of farming relics from the turn of the century. “It's a must-see,” she adds.

To get an encompassing view of East County today, she suggests the Round Valley hike. Starting at Round Valley, hikers can make it a short walk or an indefinitely longer one. “Round Valley ties into Morgan Territory,” she says, “which ties into Mount Diablo, which ties into Los Vaqueros Watershed.” (East of Clayton on Marsh Creek Rd., about two miles east of Deer Valley Rd.)

With a pause, Leighton says, “Out here, you can walk as far as you want.”

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