Cooler temps, wet weather could dampen seasonal businesses in Solano, Sonoma, Napa, Marin counties

Next week: A promising season for rafting

This is the first in a series of stories discussing the impact of spring on North Bay businesses. Next, Sue Wood digs into the benefits and challenges this winter’s abundant rainfall presents to the region’s river rafting businesses.

While the rainy season appears to be in the rearview mirror, seasonal businesses are still contending with the ravages of winter.

Some golf courses look a bit jaundiced because nutrients have washed away, thus creating a yellow tint.

“We are about four weeks behind on some things. I always sample the soils at the end of April. This year we will do it at the end of May and see where we are at that time and make changes based on the results,” said Dan Quinn, superintendent of the golf course at Green Valley Country Club in Fairfield. “The course might look healthy now, but in the heat of summer it might not have what it needs to get through. That’s why we will look in May and may do (soil) amendments to be ready for the heat of summer.”

Quinn has already been applying fertilizer and micronutrients to the Solano County course to contend with chlorosis, which is when the grass turns yellow.

Some companies relying on rivers and lakes are coping with too much of the wet stuff.

River’s Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips in Healdsburg expected to open April 15, but the Russian River was rushing too much. The April 22 opening day, though, was sold out.

Even though guides at Off the Hook Fly-fishing in Napa can’t get to Putah Creek because the road is washed out, owner Mike Copithorne remains optimistic.

“More water gives us options. Less water limits options for businesses and agriculture and everything,” Copithorne said.

Still, it’s been a tough spring for fishing.

“The challenge is with so much water in a short time the rivers blow out. They get off-color. They are dark. They are muddy instead of clear,” Copithorne said. “The fish are still there, but it’s tough for the fish to see your flies.”

Not being able to fish has “taken away some of our livelihood,” Copithorne said, but he didn’t put a dollar figure to the hit the weather has had on his business.

Growing concerns

Conventional wisdom is plants love the rain. But that’s not always true.

“Lavender hates water. It is a dry, Mediterranean semidesert loving plant,” explained Bill MacElroy, owner of Monte-Bellaria di California in Sebastopol.

In a normal winter he could lose between 2% and 5% of his 35,000 lavender plants because of sustained rain. This year he predicts the loss to be closer to seven percent.

“That is lot of replacement. This year has been a heavy year for propagation and replacement,” MacElroy said.

What has helped his farm is the lavender grow on a hill, so the plants are not sitting in water.

This summer those likely to visit Monte-Bellaria di California are apt to notice the lavender will have a distinct blue hue because of the abundance of moisture changes the color of the plant.

Grass definitely likes water more than lavender. That’s a good thing for golf courses.

“I think we have more grass growing than at any time in the last few years. In summer our irrigation does not cover 100% of the course. By July, August we are not perfect, but right now we have grass everywhere,” said Greg Hall, golf course superintendent at Mill Valley Golf Course.

Throughout the winter the greens and fairways were wet and sloppy, according to Hall, but by April 10 the whole course was able to be mowed. He said the course received 47 inches of rain this winter and spring.

This is the first year his company has managed the municipal course in Marin County so he didn’t have comparisons to previous years in terms of the number of people teeing off in between storms.

At Green Valley in Fairfield play was off by 25% in March compared to 2022 because it was so wet, course superintendent Quinn said. With things drying out, people are slowly getting out on the links.

In the 23-day stretch between Dec. 27‒Jan. 28 Green Valley received 20 inches of rain.

“There were three months out of six in the off season where we had 12 inches of rain per month,” Quinn said. “Once it became so saturated is was doing more damage than good.”

Good and the bad

While people want to get outside now that the sun is shining, there isn’t always a clear path.

“We have had a lot of downed trees and other kinds of damage to our trails throughout the winter,” said John Haskell, park aide at Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County. “From what I’ve heard I think this was a bit more extreme than usual. There were lots of landslides due to the rain.”

Healdsburg-based Getaway Adventures relies on the trails at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park in Calistoga for its hiking excursions.

“We’ve noticed fallen trees, a lot of debris on trails and a significant amount of mud,” Preston Ashton, operations manager of the Sonoma County company, said in mid-April.

Getaway’s business is 80% cycling tours, and 10% each hiking and kayaking trips in Sonoma and Napa counties.

“The rain definitely has taken a pretty big toll on our business. Last year we saw unprecedented growth after the pandemic,” said Ashton. “This year with the rain we saw practically zero business in January, February and into March.”

It was just starting to pick up in the second half of April, with bookings also coming for summer.

Ashton anticipates he lost 60% of his reservations because hiking and biking trips had to be canceled at the last-minute with the atmospheric rivers sometimes arriving without much notice. He did not release dollar figures.

While the rains will mean a better and longer kayaking season than the last couple of years, it’s not all good news.

“We usually start the kayaking season at the beginning of April. I had to push it back, probably to May 1, due to the rain,” Ashton said. “The debris and the state of the (Russian) River is unsafe. It’s also mucky, very brown water and not very visually appealing. It’s moving so fast it’s almost like whitewater.”

Watching the water level

The 110-mile Russian River begins in Mendocino County and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County. Multiple businesses either use that waterway or are situated along it.

For Ken Barber, each of the three winters he has been co-owner of the glamping company Wildhaven Sonoma in Healdsburg has been a challenge. Shutdowns because of the pandemic, drought and then floods have kept him guessing as to what a typical winter is like.

This winter 19 of the 40 tents had to be emptied to prevent them from being swamped by the rising Russian River. Barber said this was no easy task in between downpours.

While winter is a slower time for Wildhaven, Barber had to cancel a New Year’s Eve bash because of wild weather. The resort stayed closed 21 days. This included being shuttered over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, which is usually a busy time.

Barber did not reveal what the financial toll has been.

March and April had been good months the last two years, but not in 2023.

In addition to the wet weather, it has been unseasonably chilly in the North Bay.

“I think because it has been so cold so late people haven’t been in the mindset of spring camping,” Barber said. “If nature is looking like it is not friendly, people are not thinking about spending a night in it.”

To prevent another disastrous winter season, Wildhaven this summer is adding 10 tiny homes to the property that will be able to be moved on their wheels if need be.

Kim Lockhart, who with husband David Lockhart, has owned River’s Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips in Healdsburg for three years, said, “We are definitely thrilled about the water. Because there’s so much water we are getting more calls from big groups.”

Eighty-five people, all but two were in one group, booked for the opening weekend in April. The company will be able to accommodate even more people in a single day as more staff is hired for the busier summer months.

Lockhart is hoping all this water means people will be paddling well into the fall, which wasn’t happening during the drought.

Lake Berryessa Boat & Jet Ski Rentals in Napa started renting boats the weekend of April 8-9. At that time the lake was a little more than 90% full.

“Boating season is all weather based,” owner Marty Rodden said. “We were open all winter, but had no business due to all the rain.”

He’s ecstatic about the water level, especially considering during the drought the boat launches were inaccessible.

“None of the launch ramps would dry up if we didn’t get rain for two years,” Rodden said.

Kathryn Reed is a journalist who has spent most of her career covering issues in Northern California. She may be reached at kr@kathrynreed. com, or follower her at, Twitter @Kathryn0925, or Instagram @kathrynreed0925.

Next week: A promising season for rafting

This is the first in a series of stories discussing the impact of spring on North Bay businesses. Next, Sue Wood digs into the benefits and challenges this winter’s abundant rainfall presents to the region’s river rafting businesses.

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