Editor’s note: The St. Helena Star is a sister paper to The Weekly Calistogan.

If you’re skeptical about the Napa Valley Vine Trail, hop on a bike and experience it for yourself.

The 12.5-mile stretch in Napa is smooth and well-maintained, with fantastic views, signs pointing out historical landmarks such as the old tannery near Coombs Street, and a striking new mural on the wall of Napa Auto Parts and the new Napa Valley Register office that should be the first of several in central Napa.

There are a few avid cyclists on our board who can attest to how much safer and more enjoyable it is to be separated from auto traffic. The drivers on our board are just as happy not to have to squeeze past cyclists hugging the fog lines.

Philip Sales, executive director of the Vine Trail, gave us an update on the trail’s progress. The 8-year-old nonprofit just received a $4.3 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, made up of state and federal money, to build the four-mile stretch between Vallejo and American Canyon. Sales is still looking for $800,000 in local matching funds for that grant, so give him a call if you have a few hundred thousand to spare.

Of more interest Upvalley is a possible solution to crossing Ehlers Lane. The Highway 29 right-of-way near Ehlers is too narrow to accommodate a bike path, so the plan was to veer away from 29 and follow Ehlers. But that drew stiff opposition from Ehlers residents who didn’t want a bike path so close to their homes and vineyards, and who felt that recreation was incompatible with vineyard operations.

Sales heard their criticism, and he thinks he’s found a solution they’ll like. By the end of February he hopes to announce a deal with property owners west of 29 (across from Ehlers) that will allow Caltrans to move the entire highway slightly to the west. That will free up enough right-of-way on the east side to accommodate the Vine Trail.

That’s a sensitive, if expensive, solution that bodes well for anyone who’s concerned about how the Vine Trail will handle the route through St. Helena.

Sales plans to revamp the existing path along the elm tunnel, on the east side of Main Street in St. Helena. That will get the Vine Trail to Pratt Avenue, but after that things start to get hazy.

The trail is tentatively proposed to go east along Pratt to the Napa Valley Wine Train right-of-way, and then follow the tracks to Library Lane in St. Helena. From there, things get even fuzzier: the very tentative plan is for the path to follow a circuitous route of residential streets until it reaches Charter Oak Avenue, where it would link back up with the Wine Train right-of-way.

However, those are just lines on a map at this point. Sales said he still needs to talk with city staff about the details. It’s safe to assume there will be a few community meetings, as there should be.

Judging from how Sales and Board President Chuck McMinn handled the Ehlers Lane situation, there’s good cause to be optimistic about how the St. Helena route will come together. We expect that residents of the affected neighborhoods will always have a proverbial seat at the table whenever crucial decisions are made.

As Sales said, the Vine Trail is going to amount to a free outdoor gym for the whole valley. It gets cars off the road and promotes healthy living and a deeper appreciation for local history and for our rural, agricultural values. It’s already proven popular too, with a daily average of 158 pedestrians and 121 cyclists using the trail at the Tulocay Creek bridge in Napa since October.

This project is a legacy to future generations, and it deserves our support — even if things get touchy when the trail reaches our front door.

To learn more, or to donate, visit VineTrail.org.

(Editorial board member Dave Yewell asked to be recused from this editorial because he was involved in the opposition to the Vine Trail’s previously proposed alignment on Ehlers Lane.)

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