Mount Veeder has a new, dramatically different post-Nuns fire look short on trees and long on view.
The Cove, a former Girl Scout camp that includes Mount Veeder peak, absorbed the full, blazing wrath of last October’s Nuns fire. A forest of Douglas fir, madrones, bays, redwoods and other trees became in large part blackened deadwood.
That led to a logging operation in recent weeks that removed dead and fire-weakened trees by the hundreds, yielding one million board feet — enough wood to build 50 houses.
“It’s a lot sunnier,” said Chris Cahill of the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District, the agency that owns the property. “And the view here has really opened up on the valley.”
Still, The Cove on a recent day looked uninviting for campers. A smoky-smelling haze from a Lake County fire drifted amid the remaining charred trees like a flashback to last October. A din came from a machine turning tree limbs into wood chips.
The Cove is still amid its comeback. The area could reopen for camping in 2019 or 2020, once all the trees that could pose hazards to campers are gone and the landscape has seen more of a rebirth.
“I think it will be a different experience, but I think it will be an enjoyable one once we finish cleaning up,” Open Space District General Manager John Woodbury said.
Mount Veeder rises to an elevation of 2,680 feet a few miles northwest of the city of Napa in the southern Mayacamas Mountains. Named after pioneer-day pastor Peter Veeder, it is a world of trees and streams on slopes towering above the vineyards of Napa Valley.
A century ago, tourists came to Mount Veeder resorts to relax amid the redwoods. They came to Lokoya Lodge, Johannisberg—and to Mount Veeder Resort, which Cahill said included The Cove property.
Here’s an old-time pitch on why this area is a special place in Napa County, made by the Mount Veeder Resort that started in the late 1800s.
“Among the pleasant walks are included the trip to the summit of Mount Veeder, 3,100 feet above the sea from which a wonderful view is obtained,” the advertisement said. “Twelve counties lie in panorama at your feet. There are canyons worth the trip to see with their parapets and falls.”
The Girls Scouts bought 160-acre The Cove property for a camp in 1964. The organization sold it late last year – after the Nuns Fire—to the Open Space District for $700,000. It will be kept as a camp for the Girl Scouts and other local organizations.
An essential step to The Cove’s post-fire comeback was removing hundreds of dead or fire-damaged trees. Cahill said the job could have cost the Open Space District hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Instead, the wood went to the Sierra Pacific saw mill in Lincoln. The value of the wood paid for the logging operation and money should be left over for such tasks as rebuilding a long driveway pulverized by heavy logging trucks.
Forester Matt Greene is helping the Open Space District with the effort. On a recent day, he held the remains of a charred “Tree Camp” sign that had marked a campsite for the Girl Scouts.
“‘Treeless Camp’ we’ll call it now – for a while, at least,” he quipped.
But only temporarily. The plan is to plant 15,000 to 20,000 treelings about 18 inches tall next January. Greene said those trees could grow to 10 feet to 15 feet in height in a decade or more.
Some of the blackened trees remain as Greene and the Open Space District wait to see if green sprouts lead to rejuvenation. If the trees are truly dead, they can come down later.
“We’re trying to give it some hope,” said Greene, who lives in Cazadero and runs Matt Greene Forestry and Biological Consulting.
This new-look The Cove won’t be a carbon copy of the old one. Greene wants 50 to 60 trees per acre, instead of the 200 to 400 trees per acre there before the Nuns fire. Thicker forests increase fire danger.
Greene pointed to the large stump of a tree that he said had been about 70 years old. That coincides with the aftermath of a 1945 Mount Veeder blaze that The Napa Journal said burned about 5,000 acres, or seven square miles.
A Mount Veeder Fire Safe Council report said the mountaintop in that blaze “was burned to bare earth.”
That means Mount Veeder and The Cove have made post-fire comebacks before. This time, the Open Space District and Greene will be helping the recovery along.
So will the Girl Scouts. Local troop leader Carol Hall said scouts want to do such things as build benches, make signs and plant trees at the camp.
The Cove will be different, Hall said. But then, she’s seen photos from the 1950s and 1960s when the trees were smaller and less prolific than they became before the Nuns fire.
“I’m looking forward to the new birth of it and the reawakening of it in its new form,” Hall said. “I’m excited to see how it transforms over the coming years.”