East Bay Backroads
As bay Area Backroads Turns 20, Host Doug McConnell Looks Back on his Adventures on This Side of the Bridge
To Doug McConnell, the host of television’s Bay Area Backroads, Northern California is one big old backyard—and he knows all the secret spots. We asked him to reflect on his favorite moments in the East Bay.
1When did you first visit the East Bay?
I have a very keen memory of my first visit, in 1952, when I was seven years old. My grandfather and mother and I took a trailer trip from Santa Monica, and we came through Walnut Creek. We stayed with my mom’s first cousin, Frank Wooten, who was the East Bay bureau chief for The Oakland Tribune. His wife, Virginia, was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and I remember Walnut Creek as this beautiful place, out in the countryside. Also, my great grandfather was the Methodist minister in Brentwood for many years.
2You hosted the nature
show Mac and Mutley before joining Backroads in 1993. Did you and
Mutley, your canine cohost, ever film in the East Bay?
Oh, sure, we did lots of stuff in Tilden Park. Mutley could ride the trains there, and he loved that.
3Did you have other interesting jobs before Backroads?
I did several projects for the White House, during the Carter administration. One of my favorites was to document the conditions in coal mines around America. It was very intense and fascinating. There was sand mining and coal mining at the Black Diamond Mines, in Pittsburg, years ago. That’s one of my favorite East Bay places. It’s really worth a visit.
4 What was your first East Bay story for Backroads?
On one of the very first shows I did for Backroads, we went to Mount Diablo and talked to photographer Stephen Joseph. He was setting up some photos with one of his old cameras.
5And you’ve done many stories about Mount Diablo since then?
Oh, yes. I go to Mount Diablo as often as I can. I’ve hiked it from top to bottom.
6Where are the best places to learn about the East Bay’s natural history?
We did a story with the Lindsay Wildlife Museum during tarantula mating season on Mount Diablo, and it was fun to demystify the bad reputation that tarantulas have gotten.
7Do you have a single favorite East Bay Backroads story?
There have been so many, but a very poignant story was the Port Chicago disaster. It was a very horrific experience, the explosion itself, but then [to learn] how clear it was that these people were working without proper training and put in harm’s way—that would not have been the case if they were not African American.
We had an opportunity to meet some of the survivors. I just remember how much dignity they had. They served their country, and they were such honorable citizens in a society that treated them so poorly.
8Are there East Bay places you have not yet explored?
I have not hiked through the Sunol Regional Wilderness, from Ohlone to Livermore’s Camp Arroyo, in the springtime. I would love to do that someday.
9Speaking of Camp Arroyo, can you talk about your involvement with the Taylor Family Foundation’s Day in the Park?
Elaine Taylor had me over to her house in 1992 to help with the event [which raises money for children with life-threatening illnesses to go to camp]. It was very successful, but nowhere near the scale that Day in the Park has become. I’ve been back every year since, except one, when I was filming down in the Amazon.
10Any final tips on how to appreciate our backroads?
Always support any efforts to protect the landscape and be good stewards of the land. A great gift in the East Bay is the Regional Park District—you have the largest regional park system in the world. You have people who had the foresight to see that there was going to be a lot of growth, but that we needed to protect this landscape. The East Bay has urban elements and natural wonders, and they live side by side beautifully.
Bay Area Backroads airs Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 8 p.m. on KRON Channel 4.