As Northern California continues to struggle with wildfires, our thoughts are with our partners and area residents. For the latest, visit the LA Times California Fire Map or the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection map. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will continue to keep in touch with partners to monitor how local trails are affected.
Wining and dining aren’t the only draws of Northern California’s Napa Valley. Now the famous region is becoming known for another major draw—the 47.5-mile Napa Valley Vine Trail, a developing pathway stretching north–south from Vallejo to Calistoga and featuring the area’s vineyards, clear skies and a staggering mountain backdrop.
Scheduled to wrap up by 2025, the trail, once completed, will connect two counties and multiple cities through its 10 planned segments, and serve as a new asset for outdoor tourism, economic development, active transportation and recreation in the region.
From wineries to workplaces, the trail system will increase connectivity—and revenue—in a region traditionally traversed by automobile.
Bringing Wealth to Wine Country
The Napa Valley region itself boasts a booming tourism industry, welcoming nearly 4 million visitors and over $2 billion in visitor spending in 2018, and the Vine Trail follows suit. Bike tours of vineyards and wineries are already part of the fabric of Napa Valley. It is estimated that the completed Vine Trail eventually could contribute an additional $165 million a year in revenue from visitors staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, renting bicycles and, of course, drinking and buying wine. An existing 12.5-mile stretch of the trail between Napa and Yountville sees more than 350,000 individual uses each year, of which 70% are locals.
“Our board members and representatives represent grape growers and wine makers as well as Tourism and the hospitality industry” said Philip Sales, executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. “There’s a lot of cross-over with the wineries.”
Walt Brooks, one of the owners of Brooks Family Vineyards, left behind a career at NASA to open his vineyards in Napa Valley. An avid cyclist and board member of the Napa Valley Grape Growers, Brooks believes that the Vine Trail could be a valuable asset for businesses in the region.
“A lot of the people that come to the valley—they’re exercise-oriented. The trail is something businesses can offer,” said Brooks, adding that many hotels have bicycles available for checkout during their guests’ stays, and that the wineries view the trail as an active way people can get off the roads and visit at the same time.
And, according to Brooks, the potential benefits aren’t just limited to wineries, but also to the region’s tour groups. “A lot of people sign up for tours where you’re renting a bicycle [as your primary way to get around],” said Brooks.
But tourism won’t just be limited to the wineries—as the trail continues to connect to other area draws, including parks and recreation areas. As a current focus, the coalition is developing a section of trail between St. Helena and Calistoga, which provides access to a state park, a local historic site, wilderness areas and other nearby hiking and biking trails.
Sales also points out that the trail could be a major draw for the San Francisco Bay area’s 7 million residents—who wish to access Napa Valley’s culinary wonders and natural beauty. “[Bay Area] folks could arrive conceptually on the ferry from San Francisco to Vallejo [the trail’s southern endpoint], and then have a Class 1 walking and cycling pass all the way to Calistoga,” Sales affirmed.
Clearing Up Congestion
Project supporters believe that in addition to bolstering an already thriving tourism industry, the Vine Trail will have major benefits by way of revolutionizing the region’s transportation system.
Currently, two major roadways that cut through the valley—Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail—serve as the region’s primary means of transportation and are often congested. But as the trail grows, the coalition has observed a decrease in automobile use. In 2017, it was estimated that there were 477 fewer cars on the road each day due to increased trail use.
“We consistently find that about 70 percent of the trail users are our local residents,” Sales pointed out. “They're using the trail, and whether those trips are for recreation or getting to school or running errands … the trail is replacing a fair number of car trips on the heavily traffic-impacted Highway 29, which is mostly adjacent to the trail.”
Additionally, Sales points out that the trail could serve as a new active transportation route for the more than 18,000 students who attend schools within a half-mile of the trail. “A lot of people would choose to ride their bike on a trip for an errand that is less than 3 miles,” he said. “The trail is going to connect neighborhoods, schools, shopping centers and places of employment. It really is going to provide a new opportunity for folks.”
An Ecological and Cultural Connector
Programs in the early stages of the trail’s evolution will also better integrate the community with all that the trail has to offer, and one such program offering is the Vine Trail Outdoor Classroom Program—which provides lesson plans, created by educational experts, designed to be taught on the trail, bringing Napa County students a new way to connect to the trail.
The trail route also takes people through part of the Rail Arts District—a nonprofit with the aim to convert a 2-mile stretch of downtown Napa into a free, outdoor contemporary art museum. Supported by the trail coalition, RAD was founded in 2016 and is bringing a mixture of murals, sculptures, landscaping and parks to Napa’s residents. This includes 10 thought-provoking murals that line the trail as well as “art wraps” covering 12 railroad signal boxes at trail intersections. And Sales notes that there are more planned and on the way.
Shelly Willis, executive director of the Rail Arts District, said RAD is already getting people out on their bikes, adding to the list of destinations that make the Vine Trail a world-class amenity.
“The trail is used by people that are going to their jobs in downtown Napa, but it's also used for recreation” said Willis. “It’s this place for people to experience art for free, you know, to stumble upon it but also to come to it as a destination. And I love that.”
For more information on the trail, go to the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition website.