SodaCanyonRoad | De-Napafication

Bill Hocker | Nov 20, 2015 on: Tourism Issues

Healdsburg Tribune 11/18/15: Call to stop ‘Napafication’ of county

In a public comment at the Nov 18th meeting of the Napa planning commission David Heitzman of the Defenders of the Napa Watersheds (DENW) asked the commissioners, and the rest of us, to google "napafication".

I did so and came across the above article about a Sonoma meeting two days earlier. "Napafication" has been used for some time in Sonoma to describe the negative impacts of tourism development, traffic and degradation of the natural landscape, as this LA Times article from 1999 attests. Salinas residents were also concerned about the trend in this article in 2002. And another from Oregon, and Canada and this from an article on a Long Island winery also from 1999: "Some locals worry about the potential Napafication of their pretty little corner of the world. Will it become commercial and overcrowded and lose its rural charm?" I don't think one could find a more succinct definition of the phenomenon.

I also discovered it used in articles on the a spanish wine region and on a mexican tequila region not necessarily as a pejorative but as examples of how singular regional agriculture can be exploited as the base for a tourist economy. The residents of those places had yet to feel the impacts of napafication, I suspect.

While "like Disneyland" or "like Las Vegas" are often referred to as similes for the conversion of an authentic community or environment into a tourist trap, I could find no word other than "napafication" as a synonym for the process. What does that say about the world's image of this place?

Unfortunately my naive assumption for the last two years has been that the tourist commercialization of the next door property in my remote mountain retreat was a recent trend. We just had to lobby hard and present some common sense about the obvious negative impacts of tourism development to the good people of this county to nip a disease in the bud. Unfortunately, it seems that Napa was in fact the source of the disease long ago, and, like a phylloxera, has spread to wine growing regions everywhere. Tourists to the Napa Valley have been carrying the napafication bug on their shoes to the remote corners of the world ever since Robert Mondavi opened the prototype for the tourism event center in 1966.

Can napafication be rooted out at its source? Too late, I'm afraid - we will have to continue living with the scars. But do we just give up, bear up under the traffic, let the vines wither to make way for wine themed event centers and vine-garnished parking lots that recall a storied past like the grape crusher presiding over Meritage's potemkin vineyard. In a hundred years will the world's only image of this place be the term "napafied" applied to a thousand winery tourist traps around the world?

There is still much of Napa county, like Soda Canyon Road, and like much of the watersheds, that has remained un-napafied. The threats are there - napafication projects have been proposed. Does the county have the courage to halt the spread of this disease bearing its name? And once arrested, does the county have the courage and foresight to begin a recovery, where possible, of its agrarian health currently threatened by the development of ever more tourism infrastructure? I would like to think that the world's source of this affliction might also become the source of the strategies, the policies, in a word, the "de-napafication" necessary for remission.