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Visitors to 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park these days have a new possibility to contemplate – homes someday being built on 20 acres of the park’s flatlands.

The possible housing area has a horse arena, horse obstacle course, equestrian staging site and vacant space for events, among other things. It doesn’t include the park’s oak-covered hills with 25 miles of trails and Lake Marie.

Calvin Lee of Fairfield reacted with surprise to the housing proposal. He came to Skyline Park on Labor Day and took his horse through the obstacle course, doing such things as having the horse step on a wooden platform, prior to heading to the trails.

“This is the best place to ride,” Lee said. “I come out here and ride quite a bit.”

He expressed hope the state finds another place to put housing.

California owns the Skyline Park property and leases it to Napa County, which has the nonprofit Skyline Park Citizens Association run the park. The state is trying to deal with the housing crisis by making some of its surplus lands available for affordable housing.

Last week, the state released a map of dozens of state-owned sites throughout California that have potential for housing. Twenty acres of Skyline Park in the northwest section along Imola Avenue are included.

The move doesn’t mean for certain this corner of Skyline will someday have apartments, townhouses or houses. But it raises the possibility.

John Theios and Sheri Hebbeln are Skyline Park regulars. The married couple has come there since about 2002 to hike the trails.

They don’t use the part of the park proposed for housing, Theios said. He’s more concerned about mining operations adjacent to the park—Syar runs a quarry—affecting the park experience.

“I’m all for having more affordable housing,” Theios said on Labor Day as the two prepared to hike.

But he’d rather see housing go outside of Skyline Park and to the west on the Napa State Hospital property along Imola Avenue. This is land that the Napa County Board of Supervisors asked the state to set aside for affordable housing.

“It would be better to have it down further,” Theios said.

Marcy Davison on Labor Day collected entry fees at the park kiosk. She said the 20-acre flat area is used for large gatherings ranging from a Native American powwow to medieval reenactments by the Society for Creative Anachronisms to horse events to scouting events.

“We have a lot of community use,” Davison said.

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Andrew Brooks, president of the Skyline Park Citizens Association, called the 20 acres “an essential part” of park operations.

“We see the need for housing as much as anyone else,” Brooks said on Labor Day in a phone interview. “Certainly housing is an important issue in the county. But there are lots of other good sites.”

Brooks said he takes that state housing site map seriously.

“The good news is in the normal way these things roll out slowly, so nothing is going to happen immediately,” he said.

Skyline Park has a long history in Napa County. The idea of a park on surplus Napa State Hospital lands dates at least to the late 1960s, though it took some time to make the proposal a reality.

Assemblyman John Dunlap, D-Napa, wrote in 1972 in the Napa Register about his efforts to pass state legislation that would create Skyline Park. One idea was for a 3,300-acre state park that would stretch across the Napa-Solano county border, taking in such places as Lake Madigan, Lake Frey and Green Valley Falls.

In subsequent years, the Skyline Park proposal became an 850-acre regional park on state-owned lands leased by the county. Dunlap worked to pass the legislation that made the lease a possibility.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors debated in the mid-1970s whether and how the county should approach running a park. That issue was resolved when citizens in 1979 formed the nonprofit Skyline Park Citizens Association.

“This is probably the first time in the state that a group of citizens has offered to operate and maintain a park at no expense to the taxpayers,” Homer “Red” Williams of the fledgling group said at the time.

In February, 1980, the state and Napa County signed on the dotted line. The 50-year agreement allows the county to lease the land for $100 annually. The county from the start has let the Citizens Association run the park.

The park-to-be still needed such touches as trail work. Skyline Park opened to the public on April 15, 1983.

Napa County in recent years has sought to buy the Skyline property from the state. Legislation by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, allowing for negotiations between the two parties is on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation allows for the sale of all or part of the Skyline property to either Napa County or the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District by Jan. 1, 2026. The land must be used as a park or wilderness preserve.

But there’s a question whether any future sale would include the 20 acres that the state has identified as a possible affordable housing site.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.