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Westwood Hills Park

Westwood Hills Park

It was about 9:48 a.m. on a Wednesday when Lisa Jaynes encountered her first mountain lion. She was hiking through Westwood Hills Park, not far from her Napa home, when she heard something rustling in a bush.

She stopped to take a look and when the elusive big cat emerged, she said she knew exactly what it was.

“I was terrified and I was panicking and I just wanted to get off that hill,” Jaynes said.

She turned away from the mountain lion and walked back down the hill, looking over her shoulder, and informing others of what she’d seen on her way.

Jaynes also dialed 911. She didn’t want anything to happen to the animal, she said, but if it got her and dragged her into the woods she wouldn’t want her family to think she had just “disappeared.”

When she told her four children, Jaynes said that her daughter was in shock and that her sons thought it was cool that mom had seen a mountain lion.

“It was cool,” she agreed, “but it was too scary to appreciate at the time.”

“I was very well aware that they’re there, I just never imagined being that close to one or even seeing one for sure,” Jaynes said. “I feel pretty lucky because usually you don’t see them before they attack.”

Jaynes said that she will go back to the park, but not alone and not without some type of protection.

It’s nothing for park goers to worry about, however, they should be aware of their surroundings, says Dave Perazzo, parks manager with Napa Parks and Recreation. He said there is at least one reported mountain lion sighting each year, but there have never been any attacks.

A sighting is possible at any one of Napa’s open space parks because they’re open to wildlife, Perazzo said.

“It’s just part of nature, we have to live them,” he said.

Perazzo suggests not heading out to any open space parks alone or to at least make sure there are other visitors around you. He said to read the warning signs posted at the kiosk in the front of the park and be ready to respond the right way.

One way to avoid an encounter is to avoid the area when mountain lions are known to be active, which is usually between dusk and dawn, he said.

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Those who do encounter one should face the animal, put their hands up, make themselves look big and make a lot of noise, says Rick Fessenden, assistant trail master at Skyline Park.

“Don’t run,” he said. “Stay facing it and wait for it to move away. If you turn around and run it’s probably going to chase you.”

Mountain lions are shy and it is rare to see them during the day, which is why, although there are mountain lions in Skyline, Fessenden is usually skeptical when someone claims to have seen one.

“When people say they’ve seen them they’ve probably seen deer out of the corner of their eye or maybe a bobcat,” Fessenden said. While he hasn’t ever seen one, Fessenden has seen tracks that look like they could be from a mountain lion and a mountain lion skull was even found at the park recently.

There were 14 verified mountain lion attacks in California between 1986 and 2014, none of which occurred in Napa County, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website. Only three were fatal. 

The last mountain lion sighting the Register reported occurred in Browns Valley in 2015. There were in fact two mountain lion sightings reported in the area over the course of four months, police said at the time. 

The year prior, a couple reported being chased by a mountain lion while hiking through Skyline Park. The mountain lion turned away after the man turned toward it and looked it in the eyes, according to reports. 

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Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working at as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC.