Slow traffic in first year of Napa’s downtown dock

For nearly a year, a dock has stood ready as a gateway for those who would travel to downtown Napa by river. So far, however, usage of the $1.5 million facility has been light, according to some city, business and recreation observers.

The Main Street Boat Dock became the latest adornment to the Napa’s Riverfront complex when it opened in October 2013. After more than 15 years of redevelopment and flood control upgrades turned a once neglected zone into a haven of shops and restaurants, the dock was meant to offer an easy front gate from a tamed river to a polished retail and residential hub.

It has remained a mostly quiet front gate, according to the manager of a restaurant that is one of the dock’s near neighbors.

“In a nutshell, I have seen maybe 10 boats in the last four months, and I’m here every day,” Neil Robinson of Fish Story said last month. “There’s a couple of pontoon boats I see regularly. But unfortunately, I have not seen much of anything else – though I’d love to pull my own boat up, if I had the time.”

The Main Street facility replaced an earlier dock, which was not accessible to those with disabilities and which the city removed in 2007. After striking out in its search for grant money to pay for its replacement, Napa took on most of the cost, beginning installation work on the 176-foot-long and 10-foot-wide floating dock in May 2013.

The dock’s opening solved one part of the problem, but not another: the lack of dredging that would allow larger boats to head farther up the Napa River to reach downtown easily, said Dave Perazzo, the city parks, trees and facilities manager. Although some Napa residents travel to the Riverfront in smaller motorboats, small and shallow-draft canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards have made up the bulk of the dock’s arrivals thus far, he said.

Although the city does not directly track the number of dock users, Perazzo estimated about 30 boaters use the facility per month, many of them during boating education days staged by a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary unit.

“It has been 10 years since we have had a dock so we do not have an accurate way to compare numbers, but we figure this is light traffic,” he said in an email.

The owner of a tour company catering to water recreation said neither the downtown dock, nor downtown itself, is a special attraction to kayak or canoe enthusiasts plying the Napa River.

“We don’t use it, not significantly,” said Drew Dickson, who opened Napa Valley Paddle two years ago. “We do self-guided tours launching further south on river and on occasion (visitors) use the dock, but not normally. They come to explore the river and not for commerce. It’s kind of a different mindset.”

“I’m not surprised; I think it’s just getting discovered,” said Dickson. “I think it’s a slow process to look at the river as a recreational area.”

For the time being, Robinson, the Fish Story manager, was content to let visitors’ attitudes toward the river to catch up.

“People are slow to catch on. But once they realize the dock’s there and it’s accessible, I hope we would see a lot more people using it,” he said. “I think that would be great for us. Might be a good marketing opportunity for the Riverfront.”