Eco-Touring: December 2010

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Eco-Touring” December 2010.

On the Road with Napa County Resource Conservation District
Ramblin’ On, by the Napa Nomad – Eco-excursions in the Napa Valley
By Arvis Northrop

The more I get out-and-about in the Napa Valley, the more I become aware of the big picture of our environment. We have a valley that is approximately 30 miles from end to end; framed by Mt. St. Helena in the north, the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, and Howell Mt., Atlas Peak and Mt. George to the east. Our Napa River runs through the middle of the valley, surrounded by both urban and agricultural development. This is what meets the eye as we travel around the valley, enjoying our abundance of wine, food and culture. The “big picture” that I mentioned is the awareness of what ties all of these elements together: the Napa River Watershed. Long-time board member for Friends of the Napa River, Jim Hench, wisely states:  “Everything that happens in the river starts in the watershed.”

As stated on the website for the Watershed Information Center & Conservancy of Napa County (WICC), “A watershed is an area of land that drains into a common waterway. Ridge tops form the boundaries between watersheds, and topography or lay-of-the-land determines in which direction water flows. Watershed boundaries often cross county, state, and international borders.” ( Small rivulets and creeks trickle down the mountains, all flowing into the Napa River, which flows for a 55 mile stretch out to the San Pablo Bay. That means that if you were to build a house, way up on Spring Mountain, the pleasant little babbling brook running through your property will carry whatever flows into that little brook down into the Napa River; perhaps run-off from construction and/or home-improvement or pesticides from gardening. The good news is that we are more aware of our impact on this fragile environment, and property owners have supportive partnerships to call on for review and advice on the most sustainable practices available.

Our Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD) has been providing this support by “promoting responsible watershed management through voluntary community stewardship and technical assistance since 1945.” (  Mindful, responsible land owners, who are committed to having their creeks stay healthy, call upon the RCD to provide education, assessment, planning and implementation. The RCD can assist landowners by reviewing erosion control plans and provide understanding of the Napa County’s Conservation Regulations that were established in 1991.

I traveled around Spring Mountain with RCD Executive Director, Lee Sharp, and Education Coordinator, Frances Knapczyk, gaining a new perspective of the dips in the terrain of the hillsides. Those tiny rivulets and streams are working their way down the mountainside. When a road is built, how we pass over the stream and build a culvert for it under the road is of major importance. On old, private roads, new engineering establishes better water/rain runoff so that gullies that send surges of silt and erosion into the streams are eliminated. Culverts are reconstructed to improve the angle of the flow under a road. Rocks provide better filtering at the entry and exit on either side of the road and, what perhaps appears to be a forgotten stake of rebar, is actually a “trash rack”, a place for grasses and debris to be snagged and held back from clogging the culvert.

In the photos provided, you can see in the photo labeled “Culvert Before” where you can hardly detect the opening of the bypass and observe how it is overgrown with surrounding vegetation. In the “Culvert After” photo, all is cleared and redirected. The new culvert is larger and in line with the natural stream channel.

The roadbed was excavated, removing the old culvert. A new, larger culvert is placed in line with the natural stream channel, then covered with dirt and compacted. Road improvement projects are an ongoing effort of the RCD. On the website,, you can find more information about the programs and assistance that the Napa RCD provides.

Here’s where our community help comes in!  The Napa RCD has a variety of programs that you can participate in. Volunteers monitor the watershed, pick up trash, plant trees and grasses, manage data, mentor high school students during restoration projects and assist with event planning. Think Earth Day, Creek To Bay Cleanup and more.

An education program, Students and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) is a state-wide program through which high school classes participate in restoration work. The Napa program is coordinated by the Center for Land Based Learning, with assistance from the RCD. Adult volunteers are needed as mentors for the students.

There are plenty of workdays and community projects to join in on. Visit the Napa RCD website and look around for a great project that will spark your interest!  Education Coordinator, Stephanie Turnipseed is the contact for volunteer opportunities. She can be reached at (707) 252-4188, extension 111; or by email:


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