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The Bale Grist Mill’s annual Harvest Dinner commemorates rustic pioneer living, but one rattlesnake took the theme a little too far, menacing early arrivals at Saturday’s event.

The snake, a young one judging from its size, appeared on the edge of the walking path leading from the parking lot to the mill, greeting a reporter and two of his friends with a telltale rattle and hiss.

The reporter’s friends, one of them no more than a foot away from the snake, coolly stepped away while the reporter snapped a few blurry shots. He got one halfway-decent picture before the snake disappeared into the brush next to the path, still rattling.

The next group of attendees gave the snake time to be on his way before they started down the path toward an event that turned out to be charming and, from that point on, mercifully free of venomous reptiles.

About 130 people attended the dinner, put on with the help of more than 20 volunteers. A reception featuring appetizers, drinks, a silent auction, and music by the Pickle Creek String Band was followed by dinner, prepared by chef Bernardo Ayala of Napa Valley Bistro in Napa and formerly executive chef at the Silverado Brewing Company.

Most of those in attendance were locals who tend to come back year after year, said Kathy Carrick, board president of the nonprofit Napa Valley State Parks Association.

Net proceeds were not available by press time. The annual fundraiser will help the association pay for maintenance and upkeep at the mill and Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, free visits and educational experiences for school kids at both parks, and some fire-related damage at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

All three parks are now run by the Napa County Park and Open Space District, with the Napa Valley State Parks Association providing additional funding and operating as “friends of the park,” Carrick said.

The association “allows the staff to prioritize what they want to do, and we fund whatever they need beyond the budget they have from (the Park and Open Space District),” Carrick said.

The mill, with its 36-foot water wheel, was built in 1846 by Edward Turner Bale. It’s been fully restored and is one of only two water-driven grist mills still operating west of the Mississippi River.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.