An Investment in the VINE TRAIL


by Maureen Gaffney

People are often surprised at the price tags associated with a trail project like the Napa Valley VINE TRAIL (and to be honest, sometimes so are we). Part of the sticker shock arises from the notion that “it’s just a trail—how could it be so much?” To begin with, “trail” can mean many different things. The social trail that we hacked through old Mr. Johnson’s field as kids to use as a shortcut to the 7-11 cost essentially nothing aside from the specter of his wrath. Your favorite nature trail at the city, county or state park may have been built upon an old ranch road, a former game trail, and the only real costs at this point are related to maintenance and upkeep.

New trails range widely in cost from a few thousand dollars per mile to plan, flag and dig a straightforward path on private property, to the estimated $154 million per mile for a new trail on the West Span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. Along this spectrum, the soon-to-be-built Yountville to St. Helena segment of the VINE TRAIL comes in on the low end at an estimated $3 million per mile. But still—why so much?

  • Environmental constraints: in decades past, we’d just bulldoze it, pave it, call it good. That steamrolling of nature brought us to our current climate conundrum. Caring for the plants, animals, streams, water and air that may be impacted by the new trail is of paramount importance—but it is specialized work that requires resources.
  • Engineering standards: slopes, geology, retaining walls, drainage, sight-lines, bridges large and small. American standards for infrastructure are high. That is good. But it costs money.
  • Raw materials: inflation, Covid, supply chain constraints, a war. Everything is more expensive, all the time. Trail engineers budget a 15% construction increase by 2026, following the CPI standard rate.
  • Room: as our population continues to increase and expand, our businesses to morph and thrive, and our vineyards to grow and fruit, physical space becomes ever more limited.

So initially $3 million a mile might seem like a lot for a trail. However, the new Doyle Drive in San Francisco, a project that replaced a one-mile segment of freeway connecting the Golden Gate Bridge to the Presidio set taxpayers back a cool $1.5 billion, and while costs for the “ultimate” Highway 37 project are not yet known, that denomination also begins with a ‘B’ for billions. Compared to these vehicle-centric mega-projects, the VINE TRAIL is a steal.

Where will the funding come from? 25% will come from private philanthropy raised by the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition; it matches the county funding and demonstrates our community commitment. It also enables us to apply for the 50% from State and Federal funds. If you ask me, a 3:1 investment is a great deal.