I've never met Chuck McMinn in person, but we've both asked the same question when enjoying multi-use trails in other communities: "Why can't we do this in the Napa Valley?"
Now, thanks to McMinn and others, we can. As word gets out (email fans exceed 5,000) and donors step forward, the Napa Valley Vine Trail will be built in sections over about 10 years—a 44-mile multi-use path that starts in Vallejo and runs the length of the entire Napa Valley, making it possible for San Francisco visitors to get off a ferry in Vallejo and bike or walk all the way to the foot of Mount St. Helena in Calistoga.
Shared equally between local residents and the 4.7 million visitors traversing the Napa Valley each year, the Vine Trail could eliminate an estimated 150,000 car trips per year. "We will get to enjoy this beautiful place without having to see it only through the window of a car," McMinn tells the Bohemian. "And the path is for all abilities, including moms with strollers, kids on tricycles and people in wheelchairs—not just those Spandex-wearing bike riders."
Eschewing Spandex himself, McMinn didn't even own a bicycle when he got the trail project rolling. He simply liked the idea of a walkway for public use. "When I'd ask why we couldn't have a path through the Valley," says McMinn, "people would say, 'Great idea, but the wine industry would never let it happen.'"
Yet—who knew?—it was the Napa Valley Vintners Association in 2008 who plunked down the first $5,000 donation to create the Vine Trail nonprofit, of which McMinn is now (unpaid) director. The second $5,000 of support came from the Land Trust of Napa County, and the third from the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association. Supporters of the Vine Trail now include nearly every community sector from the sheriff's department to the local Sierra Club.
McMinn, a vineyard and winery owner of Vineyard 29 north of St. Helena, says his nonprofit is eager to partner with all five municipalities and the County to help complete environmental reviews and about a third of the engineering documents to get the project "shovel ready" and eligible for federal and state grant money. Cost sharing will be critical for this $50 million project, although $1.5 million has already been raised without much strain. "We haven't even begun our fundraising," explained McMinn, who expects to raise $12.5 million for construction and $7.5 million for an endowment to cover maintenance.
"This is a legacy project for the Napa Valley," declares McMinn. "It will benefit our kids and our grandkids." And though it may not make him a Spandex guy, McMinn does at least own a bicycle now—a gift presented, good-humoredly, by the Vine Trail board.
To support the Vine Trail, visit www.vinetrail.org.