John Woodbury stood near purple lupine on the green-grassy hills southeast of Napa and wondered precisely how big this Suscol Headwaters wilderness park-in-the-making will be.
Already in the bag are 411 acres that the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District bought in 2015 for $900,000 from Suscol Mountain Vineyards, LLC. This is grazing land.
The district has until July to buy another 298 acres from the same owner for $2.6 million. The higher price is because parts of this land have county approvals for vineyards, raising the value.
“We’ll know in a month,” said Woodbury, who is the Open Space District’s general manager. “We’re down to the wire on whether we have the funding.”
Everything hinges on securing $2.1 million from the state Department of Transportation to preserve red-legged frog habitat. Caltrans needs to help the frog to comply with Endangered Species Act laws in connection with the completed Highway 12 widening in nearby Jameson Canyon.
The issue has been complicated by how big of an endowment the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will require for the frog habitat. The clock is ticking and details must still be worked out.
But whether it’s 411 acres or more than 700 acres, a new park should open in about two years. The Open Space District is planning where the parking will be along Highway 12 and plotting trail locations.
Suscol Headwaters Preserve isn’t in some far-flung county location, but within sight of the south city of Napa, with American Canyon only a few miles away. Like adjacent Skyline Wilderness Park, it will give people a chance to get away from it all without going very far.
“This is right next to where everybody lives in Napa County,” Woodbury said.
A key feature of this future park is to be a five-mile trail that slowly unfolds its scenic views, with the big payoff coming at the end.
Hikers, bikers and equestrians will ascend a ridge. As they gain elevation, the views of the Bay Area stretching from Mount Diablo to Mount Tamalpais to Mount St. Helena will grow more panoramic. Especially prominent will be views of the south county wetlands.
At the end of the trail, they’ll scramble up a knob-like feature on the ridge. Then they’ll not only see the Bay Area view, but also the Central Valley view, with the Sierra Nevadas visible on a clear day.
“You get to the top and the world opens up to you,” said Chris Cahill of the Open Space District.
He borrowed a phrase from the hiking world and called this view the “scenic climax.” In other words, it’s the big payoff for the trek.
And, if all goes as planned, people will be able to keep on trekking, if they so desire. The idea is to link up with the Tuteur Trail that leads to 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park.
“It seems to me this is the type of place people will want to come to from throughout the Bay Area,” Cahill said.
Securing that second phase of 298 acres will make the Skyline Park link easier to achieve. Otherwise, there will be a 50-foot gap of private property between the end of the Suscol Headwaters trail and the Tuteur Trail.
Weather in Suscol Headwaters should also be a selling point to the public, Cahill said. Bay Area winds from the ocean buffet these hills, sometimes bringing fog that provides moisture for bay trees to thrive on the ridges.
“It makes a good place to go on a five-mile hike in the middle of the summer,” Cahill said.
The name Suscol Headwaters comes from the springs that feed Suscol Creek. Woodbury said the creek is a spawning area for steelhead trout and salmon.
All of this should be available to outdoor enthusiasts in 2019 and maybe sooner, Woodbury and Cahill said. The only soon-to-be-settled question is how big a park they’ll have to enjoy.
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