Dorothy Glaros spent much of last week watching large sections of now-closed, 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park burn amid the Atlas Fire and associated backfires.
“I had tears in my eyes,” said Glaros, who has been involved with park operations for 38 years.
Actually, she and other Skyline volunteers did more than watch. They also cleared brush, pulled propane tanks out of park buildings, wetted roofs and took other steps to save the 50-acre flat part of park near Imola Avenue.
What Glaros calls the “lower 50” survived unscathed. The horse arena, camping areas, native plant garden, archery area, barn and social hall are intact. The RV section should reopen this weekend to rent out spaces.
That’s good financial news. The county leases Skyline Park from the state, and the nonprofit Skyline Park Citizens Association runs it. Glaros said 80 percent of the park’s revenue comes from RV space rentals.
“We have 50 acres, we have our activities on and they create the income to keep the upper (acreage) in wilderness,” said Glaros, president of the park association.
But the upper 800 acres where miles of hiking trails wind through oak forests have a new look – mostly black along the ground beneath singed trees. That’s where the Atlas Fire and the backfires set to halt its advance burned.
Glaros estimated maybe 600 acres burned along such popular trails as the one leading to Lake Marie. There are still hot spots. Skyline won’t open again for hiking for the foreseeable future.
“Please give Skyline Park time to heal and make sure all of the trails are safe,” Glaros said to the park’s users.
The long-term prospects aren’t necessarily as black as the burned areas.
A popular hiking area called Cold Canyon near Lake Berryessa burned in the 2015 Wragg Fire. Bob Schneider of the group Tuleyome, which owns part of the Cold Canyon headwaters, said the area is once again attractive to hikers.
“I hiked it about a month ago and it was absolutely beautiful,” Schneider said. “This is a fire ecology throughout our region. I think our empathy and feelings have to be with the people who lost their homes. The general landscape will do just fine.”
Glaros spent much of Napa County’s hellish burn week at Skyline Park each day from 8 a.m. to midnight and later. Among other things, she told emergency crews how to reach various parts of the park.
Much of the burned areas in the park are from backfires firefighters set to protect Napa State Hospital, the Napa County Office of Education and nearby city of Napa homes from the Atlas Fire, Glaros said.
“I absolutely get that,” she said.
Still, those oak trees with charring near the roots worry her. Trees weakened by fire are called “silent killers” because they can suddenly fall and strike nearby people, she said.
The association plans to have trees checked by experts before reopening the hiking trails.
Glaros also is worried about erosion along the slopes of the burned area. The association will look at what steps it can take to control the potential problem before the winter rains hit.
Skyline Wilderness Park could have a dramatically different look in a few months, with black giving way to green as new grasses grow. Hikers by then could once again be flocking to use the largest natural park in the immediate vicinity of the city of Napa.
“I hope so,” Glaros said.
People can go to skylinepark.org to keep track of the status of Skyline Wilderness Park. Glaros said she will put posts there as progress is made toward reopening the park to hiking.
On the other end of Napa Valley, the Tubbs Fire in recent days burned parts of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park on Mount St. Helena.
John Woodbury of the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District is concerned about two “quasi-historical houses” on the Robert Louis Stevenson property. He was uncertain Tuesday whether they survived the fire.
“About half the mountain burned, the southern half,” Woodbury said. “For the ecology itself, fire is part of what goes on. Over time, the forest is going to recover. It may not be the same forest, but it will evolve.”
One famous part of Napa Valley’s history is the 1846 grist mill in Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park near St. Helena. The mill with its 36-foot water wheel isn’t in a burn area. Woodbury said the state sprayed the building with a fire-protective gel just to make certain it survived.
Such popular local hiking areas as Bothe–Napa Valley State Park near St. Helena and Moore Creek Park near Lake Hennessey were untouched by the recent wildfires.