Napa Register Article: Cycling groups, businesses, and local government strengthen the Napa Valley Vine Trail


Cyclists of all ages are giving back to the Napa Valley Vine Trail, from clean-up work to donations to efforts to educate students about wildlife and habitats along the corridor.

“The support has been terrific. Many organizations and individuals are making contributions because they see the Trail as providing safety for cyclists and (as) building community,” said Philip Sales, executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail.

Sales said cycling clubs and businesses have helped fundraise for Trail shelters, sponsored interpretative signs, and planted trees along the Trail.

 “Cyclists have helped promote awareness, safety, and education efforts regarding the Trail. There is a great relationship between the Trail and all of the organizations,” said Sales.

Sales said he is especially excited that the Trail has developed a K-8 curriculum that allows teachers to use the corridor as an outdoor classroom.

“Between Yountville and south Napa, over 18,000 students attend schools. These educational institutions including the Napa Valley College are within a half mile of the Vine Trail. We are getting kids and adults back into nature, helping them realize they can ride for miles,” said Sales.

Local cycling clubs increase awareness and fundraise

Walter Brooks, member of the Clydesdales, a group of about 15 adult couples that regularly cycle together, said the group has donated between $25,000 and $50,000 to develop the Trail.

“Most recently we participated in the Loco-Motion 2018 fundraiser, where we had a table where people could donate. We also use the Trail frequently. As a group, we ride every Friday. Often a part of the ride is on the Trail,” said Brooks.

Brooks said the Clydesdales usually do their long rides on the roads. They look forward to an extended Trail ride once the Trail reaches from Vallejo to Calistoga. For now, its members see the Trail as an excellent place to introduce children to cycling.

“A lot of us have kids and grandkids. (We see the Trail) as more for casual bike riders. It’s safe, scenic, and educational. We realize a trail like this will draw a much bigger part of the population to ride so they can get away from rough roads and traffic,” said Brooks.

Chris Lougee, president of Eagle Cycling Club, said the members of his group see the Trail as key to increasing ridership.

“We (the Eagle Cycling Club) have different levels of riders. Most of us are road riders who like to ride long distances. The Trail makes it convenient to ride with our families. It’s really good for commuters. There are not a lot of hills. It’s safe from texting drivers and it’s a good place to take visitors,” said Lougee.

Lougee said Eagle members are particularly interested in increasing directional and usage signs along the Trail and have had discussions about the idea.

Patrick Band, executive director of Napa County Bicycle Coalition, said the Coalition has been working with the Trail since its inception.

“Under state law, roads are open to all users, which include bicyclists. We want to help everyone learn the rules of the road. The Trail provides an alternative option for those who may not feel safe or comfortable riding on (the Valley’s) busy roads,” said Band.

As the Trail is completed to extend farther up the Valley, the Coalition wants to assist in increasing ridership among commuters and children.

“We want to ensure the Trail is built to the highest standards and meets the needs of all users,” said Band.

Cycling businesses promote and donate

Many local businesses make a habit of donating to the Trail and making it accessible to tourists.

Jake Scheideman, owner of St. Helena Cyclery and Napa Valley Velo, is the representative for the cycling businesses of Napa Valley on the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. Scheideman said his businesses have donated annually to the Trail since its inception. His employees also frequently tell people about the Trail and how to ride it.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s what we all should be doing in the industry. We directly benefit from it,” said Scheideman. Scheideman said a common comment from customers about the Trail is “they all want more.”

“I think the Trail will be world famous when it’s completed. It will change the way we think about ourselves and how we navigate our valley,” said Scheideman.

Kellie Macway, director of group sales and marketing for Napa Valley Bike Tours, said her company is excited to showcase the Trail to visitors.

“Before the Trail was built, I cannot tell you how many guests would walk into our office and ask, “Where’s the trail?” There are many cities back East and in other parts of the country that have converted old railway tracks to trails. Now that we have the first meaningful stretch, it’s opened up cycling to a wider audience,” said Macway.

Macway said Napa Valley Bike Tours conducts excursions that use the Trail but are not exclusive to it.

“We ride on a combination of the Trail and local roadways. Most of the guests are wine tasting, not drinking,” said Macway.

Macway said the company sponsors one of the Trail’s interpretive signs through a pledge to donate $2,000 a year for five years.

“It fits in with our mission. We created a page on our website about riding the Vine Trail. That page on its own brings in 7 to 8 percent of our web traffic,” said Macway.

Local government supports use

As the Trail becomes more widely known and utilized, the Napa Valley Transportation Authority (NVTA) is actively encouraging an increase in use. It is especially seeking to educate residents about the benefits of using the Trail as an alternative to driving up to Yountville.

“As the congestion management agency for Napa County, we’re always looking for ways to encourage alternative transportation. A lot of the traffic congestion in the Valley is internal, due to trips involving residents going from one place in the Valley to another. Many of the trips are short, three miles or less which is a very bikeable distance. If commuters who ordinarily drive alone on State Route 29 decided to bike the Vine Trail a few days a week, that would be a start in making a difference in reducing congestion and improving our air quality,” said Diana Meehan, senior planner and active transportation coordinator at the NVTA.

Meehan said many service industry workers live in the southern part of the county, which includes American Canyon and Napa. They work in the upper valley communities of Calistoga, St. Helena, and Yountville. The Trail is a good option for those who want to ride between Napa and Yountville.

“The Oak Knoll segment of the Trail is about 6.2 miles between Napa and Yountville, is reasonably flat and a nice distance by bike. There are few bike commuters already making this trip. As the trail is extended, we’d like to see more residents consider using the Vine Trail as an alternative to driving,” said Meehan.

Use of the completed 12-mile Trail is monitored by three automatic bike and pedestrian counters located four miles apart. “These in-ground sensors collect data 365 days a year. In their first year of operation, over 348,000 uses of the trail were registered between south Napa and Yountville,” said Sales.

Sales explained that a “use” measures a person going past the sensor.

“Assuming an individual goes past the sensor twice, this equates to over 174,000 round trips or 477 daily trips without a car. Thirty-eight percent of the uses were by walkers and 62 percent were cyclists,” said Sales.

The Trail is also conducting ZIP code surveys every four months to identify where Trail users live. The total results from the first year, which included a survey of 2,000 users, revealed 70 percent of users lived in Napa County and 30 percent of users lived outside the county.

Trinity Talbott, program coordinator of Safe Routes to School for the Napa County Office of Education, said Safe Routes and similar efforts teach children that the Trail is a safe way to get around.

“We’ve taken a couple classes out on the Trail and encouraged parents to come out with their child’s classroom. Parents and students feel a thousand times safer on the Trail than on the road. Not only are they separated from cars, but they don’t have to smell the exhaust fumes. It’s also usually more beautiful along the Trail than along the road as well. There’s a stretch that runs along the Napa River as well as past a grassy field,” said Talbott.

Talbott said since the Trail opened he has seen use grow from “a trickle of people” to “an abundance of students riding every day.”

“One day, we took out the kids and walked over the bridge downtown, talked about oak trees, and looked at the artwork of Trail riders and cyclists. Everyone thought the Trail was amazing,” said Talbot

Author: Jessica Zimmer

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