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This was my eighteenth bike ride on my quest to travel 350 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail completed so far. The Bay Trail vision is a single trail of 500 miles that will encircle the entire Bay, going through 9 counties and 47 cities.
This time I continued north on the east side of the Bay, through Vallejo and further up the east side of the Napa River, finding myself in the Town of Napa. I followed Maps 17 and 18.
On a Saturday morning in late August 2022, I parked in Vallejo at the Waterfront Parking Lot A2—no charge but a 3-hour time limit—right on the edge of the Vallejo waterfront. The Ferry Terminal was just slightly north. Housed in the same complex are the Vallejo Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Panama Red Coffee Company, and several restaurants.
Directly in front of me were the waters of the Mare Island Strait with Mare Island on the other side, a naval shipyard until 1995. Back in the 1980’s, my mother used to work for the Vallejo School District as a junior high counselor and supported many of the Mare Island Navy kids, who had to deal with the frequent moves their military families made.
One of the San Francisco Bay ferries was pulling out as I arrived, and I captured shots of it moving south through the Mare Island Strait into the Carquinez Strait and then southwest to a ferry terminal in San Francisco. A flock of Canada geese, also heading south, flew parallel to the ferry for a while.
As I rode along the Vallejo waterfront, I passed many fishing poles propped against the sidewalk guard rail. People were particularly friendly here, greeting each person they passed with warm “Good mornings.” It seemed like everyone knew everyone. They must come here regularly, particularly on the weekends.
Riding north along the waterfront, I passed the Ferry Terminal, Vallejo’s municipal dock, the Vallejo Yacht Club, and the Vallejo Marina before coming to the Mare Island Causeway Bridge. This is a very low, flat bridge connecting Vallejo to Mare Island. In the middle are two towers. I wondered if it were a drawbridge and found information later describing it as a “vertical lift span” bridge. The middle of the bridge moves up like an elevator to let river traffic pass underneath. The bridge is 165 feet long and almost 49 feet wide at the top. Minimum clearance under the bridge is about 12 feet. When the span is fully raised, clearance is closer to 100 feet.
I found the protocol for communication with the bridge tower by passing boats and ships particularly interesting (see Notes below). For example, during regular operating hours, one signals to the tower to request the bridge to lift with one prolonged blast followed by one short blast via whistle, horn, megaphone, hailer or other device loud enough to be heard by the Bridge Operator. The Bridge Operator’s response will be one prolonged blast followed by one short blast, indicating that the Operator has heard the request and will lift the center span of the bridge immediately. If the Bridge Operator cannot lift the bridge immediately, the reply will be five short blasts in rapid succession. The communication can be by sound, visual signal (such as a flag), by radio or by telephone.
At the north end of the Vallejo waterfront, the Bay Trail becomes a dirt path and goes under the Mare Island Causeway Bridge. The white piers supporting the bridge have been painted with murals of trolls in bright colors. This work is part of the Troll Mural and Storytelling Project, sponsored by Vallejo Waterfront Weekend, held annually the first weekend of October, to enlist the creative spirit of Vallejo’s youth and create some fun for those walking the Bay Trail. The murals were painted by Vallejo artist Miro Salazar and Vallejo High School students. The Troll Tales were written by Vallejo students aged 8 to 14 and can be read at VallejoWaterfrontWeekend.com.
On the other side of the bridge, the trail follows the edge of marshlands where I saw many great white egrets fishing in the shallow water. Further north I could see the Sears Point Bridge, arching high enough to allow ships to pass under without requiring a drawbridge. The bridge spans the south end of the Napa River flowing into the Mare Island Strait.
Just before the Sears Point Bridge, the trail veers to the right (east) to Wilson Avenue. One can follow this street north under the bridge and then over Highway 37. Although there are shoulders on both sides of the two-lane road, it is best to stay on the left shoulder closest to the water. The other side involves several merging intersections with traffic coming on and off of Highway 37. Be warned that either shoulder is littered with broken glass. Bike tip: In addition to my mountain bike having wide, thick tires, the tires have “tuffy liners” inserted between the tire and the inner tube. If one picks up a short piece of glass or even a short nail, it may puncture the tire but won’t reach the inner tube – meaning no flat tire. I steered around anything likely to create a problem; one has to pay diligent attention.
On the other side of Highway 37, the Bay Trail takes on the name White Slough Path. It continues north for a few miles alongside White Slough, a watery expanse. Following the White Slough Path, I passed the largest homeless encampment I’ve yet encountered along any section of the Bay Trail. It looked like these folks had settled in as long-term residents, with the front areas of their tents and RVs decorated with planters of flowers and other accents any proud homeowner would display.
A concrete wall separates Highway 37 from the White Slough path, decorated with some colorful graffiti. The White Slough wildlife sanctuary extends east from the path for some distance. I passed a couple of fishermen along the way. The round trip from my car to the White Slough and back was about three and a half miles and hadn’t taken much of my day. I made sure I got back to my car before my three-hour parking time was up.
On a previous ride (Ride #14), I had followed one section of the Bay Trail on Map 18 along the Napa River but had not had time to ride a second section beginning at Kennedy Park. Since I was in the neighborhood, so to speak, I decided to drive up there and ride that section of the Bay Trail.
Kennedy Park is within the boundaries of the City of Napa. The drive was about 14 miles from Vallejo. It is a large park supporting a variety of recreations including baseball and picnicking. There are good restroom facilities there. Just before the picnic areas, on the right, is a small parking area where the cyclists park. I picked up the Bay Trail here and headed north.
One interpretive sign says that Kennedy Park is “where the Bay’s Trails meet”: These include the San Francisco Bay Trail; the Napa River Trail following the Napa River north towards downtown Napa; the Napa Valley Vine Trail planned to run the length of Napa Valley; and the Bay Area Ridge Trail planned as a rugged trail to loop through mountains, forests, farms and preserves. Since one loses the cool Bay winds once one heads inland, I would avoid the latter two trails during summer heat.
Not too far north of Kennedy Park is a sign sharing the history of the lands now occupied by Kennedy Park, Napa Valley College and Skyline Wilderness Park to the east. The Napa State Hospital “Asylum” used to be situated in this area, opened in 1875 as California’s second psychiatric hospital. The area was 2000 acres at maximum size with Imola Avenue as its northern boundary. It included farming operations maintained by the residents for self-sufficiency: dairy and poultry ranches, vegetable gardens, orchards. Farming operations ended in the 1960s, prompting the hospital to sell much of its surrounding land.
The Bay Trail continues north, slightly inland from the Napa River. One can see the river from time to time across a stretch of grasslands. The Napa Tourism Improvement Agency refers to this section of the Napa River as “Tannery Row: Napa’s Famous Leather Industry.” Buildings of the Sawyer Tanning Company once lined this part of the river as early as the 1870’s. The company produced “Nappa” leather, which made the area famous. Goat and sheep skins were produced by nearby ranches. Finished products were shipped down the Napa River to the San Francisco Bay and around the world. By 1939, Sawyer was the largest tannery west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, the tanning industry generated toxic waste which polluted the waterway as well as the air. The tannery was finally closed in 1990 due to stricter environmental regulations as well as production of cheaper leather overseas.
Grasslands and mudflats line the banks of the Napa River. The Bay Trail ends at Maxwell Bridge (West Imola Avenue). Just before the Maxwell Bridge, Tulucay Creek flows into the river. This is the northern tip of the South Napa Wetlands. More than 900 acres of wetlands have been restored as part of the Napa River/Napa Creek Flood Protection Project. The restored wetlands provide storage for flood waters from the Napa River, providing flood protection for the surrounding community.
Since 1865, the Napa River has flooded at least 23 times. In 1986, the worst of those floods caused 5,000 people to be evacuated. 250 homes were destroyed. To address this issue, the Napa River Flood Project was approved by voters in 1998; construction was completed in 2015.
The Napa River has a diversity of fish, many recovering their numbers, such as the Chinook salmon and Steelhead trout. Historically, the Napa River basin may have supported a spawning run of 6,000 to 8,000 Steelhead and as many as 2,000 to 4,000 Coho salmon.
Because of the diversity of fish still present in the Napa River – more diverse than that of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems — it has been prioritized for special protection. Fish species include the afore-mentioned Steelhead and Chinook salmon as well as Pacific and river lamprey, hardhead, hitch, tule perch, and Sacramento splittail. As a huge wild beaver fan, I was delighted to learn that beaver have been spotted recolonizing along the Napa River.
Although the Bay Trail had ended at the Maxwell Bridge, the trail continues as the Napa River Trail which is not shown on Map 18. I decided to follow it a few miles to see what there was to see.
I saw yachts cruising up and down the river. I passed a rail yard with many rusting relics of passenger trains. I saw several locomotives parked there with the words “Napa Valley Wine Train” painted under their nose headlights.
Only about a mile and a half north of the Maxwell Bridge, the Napa River Trail reaches downtown Napa and stops at the Francis Bridge and the intersection of Third Street and Soscol Avenue.
The Francis Bridge provides access across the Napa River to a series of new structures – restaurants, shops, things appealing to tourists. The original bridge was built in 1932, named after George M. Francis (1844 – 1932), honoring his career and service as the owner and editor of the Napa Register, Napa’s postmaster, and president of the Napa State Asylum. That bridge was replaced in 2002 as part of the Napa River Flood Project.
The other side of the Napa River is considered part of a renaissance of downtown Napa occurring as a result of Napa’s 1998 Flood Control Plan. Previously, this waterfront had been the location of factories and warehouse since the 1890s. The silos of the Napa City Mill are still visible. F. G. Noyes’ Lumberyard used a large part of the riverfront. Steamships carried cargo and tourists back and forth to other Bay Area cities.
As one approaches the Francis Bridge, a signpost provides instructions to bikers as to how to navigate city streets to find the next section of the Vine Trail. The day I was there, the Francis Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic, hosting a classic car show.
Over both sections of the Bay Trail, I covered 11.7 miles. Almost 6 miles of those were “return” miles back to my car. My odometer had reached 260 total miles ridden on the Bay Trail so far. It was a surprise to find myself in downtown Napa – another fun, unexpected experience along the Bay Trail.
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Mare Island Causeway Bridge communications with bridge tower during normal operating hours:
To Request Lift During Regular Operating Hours:
- By Sound Signal
- One prolonged blast followed by one short blast
- via whistle, horn, megaphone, hailer or other device loud enough to be heard by the Bridge Operator
- By Visual Signal
- Raise and lower a white flag vertically, or
- Raise a white, amber, or green light vertically
- By Radio
- Call on Marine Radio Channel 13 (156.650MHz)
- By Telephone
Bridge Operator Responses During Regular Operating Hours:
- One prolonged blast followed by one short blast
- Operator has heard the request and will open immediately
- Five short blasts in rapid succession
- Operator has heard the request and cannot open immediately
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Supporting Agencies (project funding, project sponsors, project partners):
Bay Area Shorelines and Waterways: Port of Oakland (portofoakland.com), CASA – California Association of Sanitation Agencies, Bay Trail (500 miles, 47 cities, 9 counties, 1 trail), Bay Area Mosquito Control Districts, East Bay Regional Park District, Regional Parks Foundation (regionalparksfoundation.org)
Trolls Under Mare Island Bridge: Vallejo Waterfront Weekend; Vallejo Arts Alliance; Vallejo Main Street; EPS; Napa/Solano Plumbers & Steamfitters Union #343; Napa/Solano Central Labor Council; Troll Tales at VallejoWaterfrontWeekend.com
Napa Tourism Improvement District – Napa Valley Vine Trail: www.vinetrail.oreg/discover
Napa River: Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, https://www.fema.gov/case-study/napa-river-flood-protection-project-living-river-concept; Napa River/Napa Creek Flood Protection Project.
S.F. Bay Trail website, Maps 17 and 18; interpretive exhibits (information boards) along the Bay Trail; Mare Island Causeway Bridge; Wikipedia.