Winemaker Steps Up to Save State Park Set for Closure
Famed winemaker Warren Winiarski, whose children grew up camping and hiking at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, sees Bothe and its neighbor — Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park — as an extension of the agricultural preserve which he and others helped create in 1968 to safeguard the Napa Valley.
“In my mind, it’s all a single tapestry,” Winiarski said. “I think this is a national treasure, this valley,” Winiarski told the Napa Valley Register.
Last month, Warren and Barbara Winiarski, founders of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, pledged $50,000, including $25,000 in a dollar-for-dollar matching grant toward a $100,000 campaign to save the two state parks slated for closure this summer.
As volunteers wrap up the two-month fundraising campaign, the 1,900-acre Bothe State Park and the Bale Grist Mill may be turned over to a new manager Sunday: the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.
Preliminary state approval for local operation of the two parks has been reached, but the final “green light” hadn’t been received as of late Friday afternoon, said John Woodbury, the local open space district’s general manager.
“We’re playing by ear,” Woodbury said. The parks remain open regardless, he said.
Both Bothe and the Bale Grist Mill, visited by an estimated 65,000 people annually, were among the 70 state parks slated for closure this year because of Sacramento’s fiscal crisis. Last May’s announcement that the parks would close led the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District to propose to manage the two upvalley parks beginning April 1 with the help of the Napa Valley State Parks Association, a group of volunteers who run the historic mill and the visitor center.
As of Thursday, the campaign has raised more than $95,000 for the two parks, said Myrna Abramowicz, a director of the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.
“I’m just in awe of the commitment,” Abramowicz said.
Wendy Cole, vice president of the Napa Valley State Parks Association, was also pleased with the effort to save the two parks. “We’ve had a lot of great community support,” Cole said.
The open space district plans to run the two parks with the Napa Valley State Parks Association on a $550,000 annual budget, including $100,000 from Napa Valley State Park’s running of Bale Grist Mill.
Revenues would include entry fees, campground fees and rental fees from a dozen yurts that are being installed this spring.
State-owned equipment is being removed from the park. The district has drafted a wish list, including a forklift, a pickup truck, lumber and other equipment.
Both Napa County supervisors Keith Caldwell, who chairs the Napa County Board of Supervisors, and Diane Dillon, whose district includes St. Helena, support the district’s decision to manage the park.
“I think this is the only way we are going to save Bothe and Grist Mill,” Dillon said.
Caldwell, an outdoors enthusiast, said he plans to volunteer at the park.
In the meantime, Sandy Jones, a state parks ranger, continues her day-to-day responsibilities at the parks, which include supervising the three campground “hosts” at Bothe.
Richard Phelps, a winemaker who lives in St. Helena, stopped by in his pickup truck on Wednesday as Jones picked up the mail at the parks’ mailbox on Highway 29. Phelps, who enjoys running at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, wanted to know what he could do to help keep the park open.
An assistant scout master in St. Helena, he hopes scouts can work on Eagle Scout projects at Bothe.
“It’s such an amazing resource to have Bothe,” said Phelps, who has taken his four children hiking on the park’s trails.
“The community has to step in and help. It’s been such a great resource. We need to take care of it,” he said.