Organizers of a new public trail in Napa and Yolo counties hosted a hike to the top of Berryessa Peak late last month. This is the view from the top, at 3,057 feet.

Editorial Notebook: Once inaccessible, Berryessa Peak is an island no more

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A
Last Modified: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 - 9:53 am

Not far from Sacramento and Davis, the Inner Coast Range beckons hikers, particularly around the Berryessa Reservoir. But anyone who has tried to access the ridges and peaks on public lands soon learns the adage, "You can't get there from here."

Though public lands abound – state lands managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management – many are landlocked, surrounded by private ranches and thus inaccessible to the general public.

That lack of public access slowly is changing.

Berryessa Peak, an island of BLM land surrounded by private lands, is a prime example. It took a unique public-private partnership to connect a mosaic of public lands through a private easement before the public could access the peak. The new Berryessa Peak Trail was a long time coming, a tribute to persistence and relationship-building.

The driving force was Andrew Fulks, a landscape architect, land manager at UC Davis, founder of and president of the Woodland-based Tuleyome conservation nonprofit. In the mid-1990s, Fulks, then in his 20s, tried to find a way to the public peak from the end of every county road, but dead-ended at private ranches.

To cobble together connections, he says, took 15 years of persistent politicking, one year of bureaucratic wrangling and two years of trail-building by himself and committed volunteers.

But the critical piece was enthusiastic support from owners of the Running Deer Ranch, which stretches from the Berryessa Valley to the steep slopes of Blue Ridge, part of the Berryessa brothers' original land grant dating to 1843. John and Judy Ahmann own the lone private parcel in the gap between state and federal lands. Approached by Tuleyome in 2007, the Ahmanns agreed to grant a trail easement for the key half-mile stretch in Green Canyon to connect the public pieces together.

Fulks' goal was to finish building the 7.2-mile trail to the peak before he turned 40 last May. "I beat it by one month," he said.

However, the inaugural public hike, organized by the Land Trust of Napa County and Tuleyome, waited another eight months.

Thirty-five people met at Mile Marker 20 on the Berryessa-Knoxville Road, two miles north of Lake Berryessa, on Jan. 27 and made the challenging trek over steep, rugged terrain – oak woodland, chaparral and impressive sandstone outcrops and bluffs. Twenty-two made it to the top of the peak and ate lunch at the site of a former fire lookout tower destroyed in the 39,000-acre Rumsey fire of 2004.

At 3,057 feet, Berryessa Peak is the high point of Blue Ridge. We took in spectacular views of Lake Berryessa, Snow Mountain to the north, Mount Konocti near Clear Lake, Mount St. Helena near Napa Valley, Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco, Mount Diablo in the East Bay and, of course, the Central Valley and Sacramento. Communications towers atop Berryessa Peak make it easily identifable from surrounding areas.

There is still work to be done on the Berryessa Peak Trail. The public has to climb through a fence to begin the hike on state Fish and Wildlife land. To improve access, a gate and an official sign are needed.

But Berryessa Peak is an island no more.

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