Local hiking and mountain bike enthusiasts took it upon themselves to help create Dan's Wild Ride, another small piece in a 45-year quest to establish a Napa Crest hiking trail.
The Napa Crest Trail was envisioned in 1976 as a 200-mile trail system with campsites largely along the mountains framing Napa Valley. This dream has barely begun to be realized.
But an approximately 10-mile section from Moore Creek Park near Lake Hennessey to the Pacific Union College (PUC) forest at Angwin is on the way. David and Kimberly Phinney recently donated a key easement to the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.
The Phinney donation will allow for a three-mile trail section called Dan’s Wild Ride to link existing trails. It's the last piece needed to fill the gap between Moore Creek Park and the PUC forest.
“Dan’s Wild Ride is the magic connector,” said Corey Dahline, a local banker who helped with the undertaking.
This was a real private-public partnership. The private part was local hiking and mountain bike enthusiasts who took matters into their own hands, instead of waiting for something to happen.
Doug Cutting of St. Helena in 2016 heard from a real estate friend about a remote property for sale in the mountains east of the city. He looked at a map and saw this land if purchased could be the missing link for a Moore Creek-to Angwin trail.
“That was a bit eye-opening for me; this was on the market,” Cutting said.
He started lining up donors to try to purchase the property, working with the Open Space District and Land Trust of Napa County. But buying 522 acres for about $1.2 million would be a big undertaking.
Dahline, another mountain bike enthusiast, heard about Cutting’s effort and got involved. He brought winemaker David Phinney into the fold as the buyer of the 520 acres. The land would remain private property, but Phinney agreed to allow a trail over it.
Cutting and John Woodbury of the Open Space District scouted out the property before the trail was built. It took them about six hours to go three or four miles through thick brush, Cutting said.
Cutting, local restaurant owner and winemaker Joel Gott and Gary Erickson of Clif Bar fame donated a total of $31,500 to have a trail created by professionals. Dahline let trail builders stay in his guest house. Dan’s Wild Ride is named after Dan Smith, Dahline’s late banking partner.
Chris Cahill of the Open Space District said Dan’s Wild Ride could open to the public by year’s end. Gates and signs must be put up. A Napa County use permit is needed.
Biking or hiking the entire trip from Moore Creek Park to the PUC forest will be an “epic adventure” for most people, Dahline said.
Users in the middle section will be on a ribbon of trail with no roads or cars in sight, Cutting said. It invokes the feeling of being in the middle of the Yukon or other wild place away from civilization, he added.
On the Hennessey ridge, trail users will see from Moore Creek to Lake Hennessey to Pritchard Hill. Microclimates abound. Cool redwood forests with ferns give way to a hot summer landscape with brush and manzanita.
“This is a real backcountry trail,” Cahill said.
Dan’s Wild Ride will be part of the Napa Crest Trail, that vision from the 1970s. It will be part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, an effort to build a 550-mile trail encircling the Bay Area.
Cutting doesn't see the success of Dan’s Wild Ride effort as the end of the story. This trail is on the east side of the valley. Cutting said he'd like to see more trails created in the Mayacamas Mountains on the west side.
“That’s my dream,” he said.
Realizing the dream of a ridge trail going around Napa Valley needn’t be as ambitious as that 200-mile version of crisscrossing trails proposed in 1976. The Bay Area Ridge Trail envisions an 83-mile county ridge trail. About 23 miles exist, though not continuous.
Putting trails on public lands is the easier part. Filling in gaps by convincing private property owners to allow trail segments on their land through easements is more difficult.
"It totally depends on the property owner," Cahill said. "It has not been hard with the Phinneys."
An Open Space District report lists those who had a hand in creating Dan's Wild Ride, from the Land Trust to PUC to the Redwood Trail Alliance to various named individuals to "countless others."
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