Napa Valley is building a 44-mile path for cyclists and hikers through the heart of America’s top wine region
Napa Valley’s Highway 29 may provide gorgeous scenery as it rolls past some of the world’s greatest vineyards and wineries, but it’s no paradise for cyclists. According to the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency, the Napa Valley has the second-highest bicycle accident rate in the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So it should come as no surprise that a planned 44-mile long bicycle and hiking trail, slated to run the length of the valley and roughly parallel Highway 29, has been met with overwhelming support from valley residents and businesses. “Everybody’s for it and thinks we need it,» said Chuck McMinn, owner of Vineyard 29 and executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition.
When completed, the proposed trail will stretch from the ferry terminal in Vallejo (where public bike lockers are available) all the way to Calistoga, forging a valuable connection for visitors from San Francisco and the East Bay, as well as offering a non-motorized alternative for locals and tourists seeking to travel the scenic route through the valley.
McMinn says the idea of a hiking and biking path that would span the length of the valley has been discussed for years, but in 2007 the county backed a $100,000 feasibility study on alternatives to the dangers of Highway 29. Soon afterward, 24 community organizations joined together under the umbrella of the Vine Trail Coalition to get the project rolling, including the Napa Valley Vintners and Napa Valley Grapegrowers. A coalition of volunteers, under the leadership of McMinn and Shannon Kuleto, have tackled marketing, grant writing, engineering and fundraising.
The latest organizations to jump on board include the police department, the California Highway Patrol, a group representing the local medical community, and a youth coalition representing valley schools and boys and girls clubs. (In a tragic example of why such trails are needed, a young boy was killed skateboarding in October on the Silverado Trail, which runs parallel to 29 and is also routinely congested.)
There are 7.5 miles of the trail already in use: one section in Calistoga, one through Kennedy Park in Napa, and one through central Napa. These older trail segments will be connected to newly constructed segments of the trail.
On Oct. 22, officials cut the ribbon on the first formal portion of the trail, the “Yountville Mile,” which stretches from one end of Yountville to the other. The path offers a tree tunnel and panoramic views of the hills and vineyards and is open from sunrise to sunset for roller skaters, bicycles, pedestrians and even pets.
Estimated cost of the trail will be $50 million over 10 years, with an annual maintenance cost of about $15,000 per mile. Major funding for the Yountville mile came from federal stimulus money. (Transportation secretary Ray LaHood recently issued new guidelines for funding that places non-motorized transportation, including cycling, on equal footing with motorized transport for federal funds.)
The Vine Trail Coalition projects that the trail could generate as much as $75 million per year in business for the Valley and provide jobs for 60 people per mile during its projected 10-year construction period. And the trail could replace the need for 150,000 automobile trips annually while enhancing bicycle and pedestrian safety.