On the slopes of Mount Veeder, ready to spring to life, is a newly planted forest-in-waiting to replace the one that burned to a crisp in the October 2017 Nuns fire.
A total of about 60 volunteers working at various times Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday went on a tree-planting blitz that featured about 4,000 Douglas fir seedlings. They also planted a few hundred future oaks, maples and redwoods.
The 160-acre property known as The Cove is owned by the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. This former Girl Scouts camp includes the peak of Mount Veeder.
After the Nuns fire, the Open Space District had hundreds of charred trees cut down and carted off to a timber mill. Now the district is using volunteers and donated seedlings to set in motion another Mount Veeder transformation- not recreating the forest of old, but a less-dense, more fire-resistant version.
“I’m excited,” volunteer Carol Hall on Thursday. “I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m excited to see it and be part of it.”
Hall and Judy Weitz worked together, digging holes and planting Douglas fir plugs provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that will be left to nature for nurturing. They both had been to the pre-fire The Cove many times over the years as Girl Scouts leaders.
“The thing about the place was that it was overgrown,” Weitz said. “It was scary when it was windy.”
She recalled having to move campers into shelters on the property as the wind howled for fear of falling tree limbs.
“What’s really nice about this right now is, it’s a fresh start,” Weitz said.
The Cove’s forest apparently grew more dense after the Girl Scouts bought the property in 1964. Weitz mentioned a campsite known as Valley View that in recent decades no longer had views of Napa Valley – though, of course, it does again now after the fire and logging.
Napa Valley from Valley View looks small and far below. That’s because The Cove campsites are near the top of 2,680-foot-tall Mount Veeder, the highest point in this part of the Mayacamas mountains.
Even when the newly planted trees are full-grown, campers should be able to see Napa Valley from the campsites.
“We’re going to plant up here today on that hill,” Chino Yip told volunteers on Thursday. “Not on the southeast side. We want to maintain that valley view.”
Gone from The Cove are some of the landmark trees that Weitz and Hall remember. The huge maple tree near the entrance and the Douglas fir called the “singing tree” because campers climbed in the branches and sang were fire victims.
But perhaps some of the newly planted plugs and saplings, though they are presently so small that they could be killed by someone carelessly walking in the area, will one day achieve landmark status.
Much work needs to be done before the Open Space District opens The Cove for group camping again. A water system must be rebuilt. The district must decide whether it wants to add a septic system or use portable toilets.
Open Space District Deputy General Manager Chris Cahill said the earliest The Cove could reopen to groups such as the Girl Scouts for camping is 2020.
By then, the newly planted trees should be off to a good start. In 20 years, if all goes as planned, they should have turned The Cove into something very different from today’s post-fire, post-logging landscape.
“A very diverse forest, a blend of hard wood and conifers,” Open Space District General Manager John Woodbury said.