Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Eco-Touring” October 2007.
I think I should get a bumper sticker, or a license plate frame that says, “I’d rather be paddling.” Or maybe it could say, “I need a good paddling.” Ahem. In any case I am officially hooked on canoeing and kayaking. (Or should I say “oh-fish-ally” hooked? Okay, I’ll stop.)
Throughout the Napa Valley, this gentle water sport is an easy one in which to participate. The Napa River provides numerous miles of paddling recreation from Trancas Street in Napa out to the San Pablo Bay. The most accessible place to launch on the river is at the Kennedy Park boat launch. If you would like to find paddling companions, there is a new group in the area called The Napa Valley Paddlers. An informal community of enthusiastic kayakers and canoeists, anyone can join in with them at their website: http://www.groups.mac.com/napavalleypaddlers. As the website states, there are no leaders and each participant is responsible for their own safety and welfare. Email messages are posted to suggest local paddling excursions and to invite others to join. After the excursions someone will submit a casual report of the trip and post photos too.
Even though I don’t own a kayak yet, I recently joined the Napa Valley Paddlers for a pleasant outing on Lake Hennessey. My friend, Isabelle, provided my husband and I with her extra canoe. It had been years since we paddled in a canoe, but we got the hang of it; just like riding a bike again. I’m glad I chose to try this out on Lake Hennessey. The lake is clean and clear because it is the water supply for the city of Napa, located behind Conn Dam. Situated on Conn Creek, a tributary of the Napa River, the lake filled in 1960. For a novice, this medium-sized lake is a quiet, calm place to learn about paddling and enjoy the water with no speedboats and jet skis to intimidate. At Hennessey there is a nominal launch fee of $4.00, paid at a box in the parking lot. A boating permit is also required. The lake also supplies a quiet place for anglers to fish rainbow trout, large mouth bass and something called a black crappie (really?). For avid fisher-persons I came across an informative article online: http://www.fishsniffer.com/dbacher/070302hennessey.html
On the launching ramp our vehicles lined up to unload our boats and gear. We had about a dozen paddlers in the group that day. The seasoned paddlers had lots of gear to share, each of us picking out a life jacket to wear. Boats in the water, we shoved off together to begin our tour of the lake.
Sitting close to the water, in a canoe or kayak, gives a unique perspective of being on the lake. Through the clear water I could gaze down at the fuzzy vegetation covering the bottom. The long branches of grassy plants reach up and dangle on the surface in swirling leaf patterns, reminding me of delicate embroidery on a silky fabric. Paddling along on a quiet lake soothes the senses, a counter-balance to urban tensions; a form of meditation in motion. We shared the lake with quite a variety of birds. We came upon an exclusive gathering of a pelican, a heron, egrets, ducks and seagulls; all together on a sand spit. As we approached they let us get just so close and then took flight, skimming off the water. Humans: we love to intrude, don’t we? This sport of paddling, close to the birds and the delicate ecosystem of the lake, encourages me to share and be a responsible part of the balance of Nature.
After our group circled around the lake we gathered closer together and decided on a good spot to dock for lunch. We chose an area with a large oak tree for shade. I don’t know if this is a paddler’s “rite of passage” or my inexperience, but I was the first to step out of the canoe and squish right down to my ankles in gooey, gray mud. Ugh! Of course this signaled to the others to inch their vessels up further onto the shore to firmer ground. Nice.
Our group was a mix of brand new friends and long time companions, amiably sharing picnic cuisine. The heady mix of Lake Hennessey, deep blue and sparkling and the heat surrounding us, offering up the aroma of baked grass, charmed most of us into reclining on mats or in the dry grass; our calling for a few moments.
Finally, we gathered ourselves up, shoved off from the shore and turned our tiny regatta back to the launch ramp to close our excursion. It was still early afternoon, so I had the rest of my day to get back to household chores, responsibilities, big important things or… not. I chose not. I highly recommend that.