Living Landscapes of Napa Valley: Hiking Around Lake Hennessey | Travel

KATHLEEN SCAVONE

What makes a hike at Lake Hennessey so special? Is it the spring greenery or the draft of the water?

Science confirms the benefits of both types of landscapes. In his book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do”, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols quotes evidence from neuroscience that reveals how we benefit from being near water.

The benefits of being near a body of water include reduced stress, improved creativity, and feelings of happiness.

At the same time, there is a growing body of research in the field of ecopsychology, as reported by the Yale School of the Environment, which informs us of a variety of benefits to being in the natural environment, whether it is be it forest, park or water.

As little as two hours a week spent in nature can produce feelings of well-being, feeling healthy, and can lower your blood pressure. Studies show that other surprising benefits include lower stress hormone levels, improved immune system function, reduced anxiety, and overall improved mood.

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Lake Hennessey, technically a reservoir, lies east of St. Helena in the Vaca Mountains. The lake gets its nickname from Edwin R. Hennessey, a former local civic leader.

The lake was formed during the construction of Conn Creek Dam in 1948. Conn Creek Dam, a 125-foot-tall earth dam, is owned by the City of Napa. The reservoir is capable of holding 31,000 acre-feet of water, while its tributary watershed, the Napa River, is approximately 35,000 acres.

In his very captivating book “Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas – Exploring a Hidden Landscape of Transformation and Resilience”, Robin Grossinger, who is also a senior advisor at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, explained that the need for this source of water, which Lake Hennessey provided, came into prominence after World War II when the area’s population grew due to the proliferation of workers at the nearby Mare Island shipyard in Vallejo.

The 5.5 mile hiking loop around Lake Hennessey follows the contours of the lake and is full of calming scenery. The range of water tones change throughout the day, reminiscent of an impressionist painting.

Tall reeds of tule paint their rippling colors on the water that glistens along the banks. There is also the reassuring hiss of water lapping at the edge of the lake. You can momentarily get lost looking at the reflections of the clouds playing on the lake. Depending on where you are on the loop, you will enjoy the sight of prolific wildflowers and rewarding bird sightings.

On the day of my hike, I spotted an impressive list of bird species including cormorants, quails, coots, crows, grebes, vultures and seagulls. Other birds you can expect to find are song sparrows, egrets, herons, various swallows, bald eagles, American kestrel, western tanager, black-capped grosbeak and even the osprey.

Once you reach the uphill portion of the trail, you’ll find lichen-encrusted oak trees with views of the lake and the ubiquitous Mayacamas Mountains that create a dramatic backdrop for the landscape.

In addition to hiking and bird watching, a visit to Lake Hennessey offers mountain biking along its trails and fishing for small bass, bluegill and sunfish. Many anglers prefer to kayak fish at the upper end of the lake in its fruitful creeks.

The City of Napa’s Lake Hennessey website has some guidelines for those who want to enjoy the lake. The dock at Lake Hennessey is open for the day, but the water remains shallower than its usual levels. Boaters are advised to watch for surface debris, which may have been obscured in deeper waters in the past. No bodily contact in the lake, such as swimming, is permitted, as it is the main source of water for the city of Napa. During times when the reservoir is reaching capacity, the flow connects to San Pablo Bay via Conn Creek to the Napa River.

The solid hue of blue in the sky reflects Lake Hennessey as I complete my nature walk along the lush lake trail. Psychologists from several online publications claim that the color blue enhances feelings of calmness and that blue evokes feelings of stability and reliability. Color psychology, or the study of hues that determine human behavior, explains that color is widely used in branding and marketing because color has such a big influence on emotions and perceptions!

It’s safe to say that on our aquatic planet, playing near or on water offers a beneficial blueprint for better health and well-being. Simply by spending more time near water, whether it’s a stream, a pool, the ocean, or a lake, these enjoyable activities in nature produce a myriad of benefits. positive benefits.

Kathleen Scavone, MA, is a retired educator. She is a potter, freelance writer, and author of “Anderson Marsh State Historic Park: A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora, and Fauna Tour of a California State Park“, “People of the Water”, and “Native Americans of Lake County”.

She can be reached via her website: KathleenScavone.com.

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