Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “In Our Own Backyard” March 2011.
Skyline Wilderness Park
By Nancy Miller
Of all the hidden treasure in our own backyard, Skyline Wilderness Park just might be my favorite. Tucked away off of Imola Avenue in southeastern Napa, this cooperatively-maintained park that covers over 900 acres will have just what you are looking for in connecting with Mother Nature.
I first met Skyline Wilderness Park last fall when I went on a group hike through some of her 20 miles of hiking trails. At a time of year following high use, it was a pleasure to experience the trails being wonderfully groomed and clear of debris and not over-trodden. The variety of trails allowed for the most experienced or the most novice to enjoy themselves. Wandering slowly up into the gentle elevation change of the mountains we share with Vaca Valley, we found plant and wildlife abounding. Throughout the park there are three botanical habitats; riparian, chaparral, and oak-madrone woodlands. It was a delightful surprise to come across two different lakes, Lake Camille and Lake Marie, with shade for sitting and enjoying. What a surprise, too, when picnic tables were available at the furthest-out lake, Lake Marie, allowing for a much needed rest and refreshment break. And, even more enjoyable, were the views of the valley that jumped out from around a variety of bends in the trails.
On the beautiful Saturday of my initial visit, the trails were free of other foot, bike or horse traffic. This allowed for the feeling of being welcomed into the arms of the vegetation and hills. Taking a moment to listen to the sounds of nature and her birds and streams allowed the sounds of the busy, business-filled week to dissipate from the mind.
Skyline Wilderness Park is a dream-come-true for some citizens of the area. In 1979, the over 900 acres of land beside Napa State Hospital were declared “surplus” and put up for sale. The idea to turn the beautiful area into a park was born as residents enlisted the help of others in the area and local government. Inspiration led to plans, which led to the first-ever opportunity for a local association to lease land from the government. A constitution and an incorporation was established, an environmental impact report was completed, and the citizens created an Association to oversee the leasing of the area with the purpose of the enjoyment of the gorgeous backwoods area that it was, and is today, for Napa Valley residents. The entire project was completed with the park opening in 1980. Volunteers continue to oversee the governance of the park and others come to clean up and maintain the grounds, social hall, restrooms/shower facilities and trails, with only a few part-time employees.
After our original visit last fall, a return in the spring became a priority to us. We ventured out to try our hand at Disc Golf, a game of tossing Frisbee-like discs from one designated spot to another. Even in the cooler weather, we were quickly warmed up by the physical exertion and laughter. Our level of competitiveness rose as attempts were made to out-do the other in this fun and cross-generational sport. The 18-hole course, which is set back in the park a few hundred yards, winds up and around the Manzanita Trail. It is easy to find and navigate, though some hiking is involved. The distraction of concentrating on the basket-filling kept us from noticing the workout from the hike as we navigated the course. The gentle meander along the stream on the way back down at the completion of our competition took away the memory of any tiredness of climbing the slopes of the Manzanita Trail.
We noticed with pleasure the small campground that was available. This is the second distinctive area of the park; camping and RV facilities. With only 20 tent sites available with just one car per site, the intimacy of the camp is appealing. Close by is a larger RV park, hosting 39 RV’s. We considered the location for those out-of-town guests who enjoy Napa so much. The rates can be checked by going to http://www.skylinepark.org.
With a family reunion coming up this year, the social hall and park area rental has real potential. The picnic area and cook shack could easily play host to a large group, allowing for a variety of social activities for all age groups to enjoy. There is a social hall and meeting room available too.
An annual pass is available online. With as much as there is to offer, the $45 individual and $60 family pass seems like quite a bargain for a year full of outdoor enjoyment. Daily getaways for after-work picnics, weekend hikes, or horseback or cycle riding are alluring facets of this nature getaway.
And, imagine, all in our own backyard.