Heroes: Keeping Your Parks Open — Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
By Sarah Amador
Located in the heart of Napa Valley wine county, four miles south of Calistoga, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offers it all—year-round camping, picnicking, swimming and hiking. This 1,900 acre park provides ten miles of trails that meander through coastal redwoods, Douglas fir and madrone. Some trails run alongside babbling creeks, through fern-lined canyons and offer vistas of Mount Saint Helena. At the Bale Grist Mill in the adjacent park, you can step back in time to California’s rural heritage.
Three years ago, California State Parks announced that 70 parks were slated to close by 2012, due to budget cuts. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park were on that list.
Volunteers from the Napa Valley State Parks Association (NVSPA) were worried about what might happen when the parks closed. Would the historic structures be vandalized? What if businesses wanted to privatize the park?
NVSPA Park Outreach Coordinator Jeanne Marioni was part of that volunteer group. “We wondered, could our small but mighty group do this?” Marioni said. “Could we run a 50 plus campsite campground? Could we operate a mill?”
“I’m a big dreamer,” Marioni admitted. “I said, ‘Go for it!’”
But to be good stewards, you have to know your limitations. They had very little staff. Only one state employee was assigned to the park, Ranger Sandy Jones.
What does it mean to be a hero? It is one who is noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose. Instead of giving up, the brave band of NVSPA volunteers sought and formed a partnership with Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District. On April 1, 2012, the two organizations took on heroic endeavor of operating Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.
“We all own this. We are a part of Bothe-Napa,” Moriani said. “That’s what motivates me. We have a responsibility to care for it. State parks represent the best of America, the best of democracy. We were the first country to preserve a place for everyone. That’s a profound, amazing concept, that we would save the best places for everyone.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a conservation bill that placed 9.1 million acres of wild American lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System. With this act, the United States made world history by being the first country to define and designate wilderness areas through law.
“Our mission is aligned with the states’,” Moriani said. “To educate, interpret, preserve and protect—and break even!”
It’s amazing what these two organizations have accomplished in just two years. The parks are no longer in jeopardy of staying open. They are thriving.
Seven more yurt campsites have been added. The pool has been repaired, its hours expanded. (Bothe-Napa is one of only two California State Parks with a swimming pool.) This year, restoration of the historic cabins and pioneer cemetery will be completed. Instead of one miller, now there are seven. In 2012, they were honored with the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for the Bale Grist Mill. They have also received a grant to archive the mill.
They have also expanded their education outreach. Through their Living History Programs, they present Old Mill Days in October, complete with reenactors wearing period correct clothing. Always wished to make your own butter or a corn husk doll? This event is for you. Costumes are available for children and musicians play old-time songs.
Every weekend, year-round, you can tour the mill (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and watch a miller use the original set of 1846 French Buhr millstones to grind grain. Organic Bale Grist Mill products like polenta and whole-wheat flours are available for purchase.
Now all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, school groups can visit. The parks offer a Junior Ranger program, week-long Nature Camp, and a new Teen Camp. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is working with the parks to raise awareness of redwoods.
One of the most important facts is that NVSPA and Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District have strengthened the parks’ partnerships with local groups and businesses. For example, they received a truck from the Board of Supervisors of Napa County.
“People are beginning to value the parks even more,” Marioni said. “It’s been important to me to get local people to believe the parks are an important part of their life.”
For information about the parks, visit http://napavalleystateparks.org or call (707) 942-4575.