Fishing for fun (and more) at Camp di Rosa in south Napa

NOTE: Some Camp subsidies for scholarships were made possible by generous contributions from Donor Advised Funds of the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

July 13, 2022 by Jennifer Huffman in the Napa Valley Register

Casting from his pole on Tuesday into Winery Lake at the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Owen Stone, 11, realized he might have actually hooked a real live fish.

“Something was grabbing,” at the line, said Owen.

“It was bobbing and pulling.”

Owen was right. He had made a catch, but this fish wasn’t going to end up on a dinner plate. It would be released back into the lake, to live, and swim, another day.

The catch and release was just one part of a week-long camp at the di Rosa Center. Running four weeks total, Camp di Rosa includes learning about the flora, fauna, animals and geology at di Rosa as camper groups explore the 217-acre nature preserve. Hiking, bird watching, archery, fishing and field games are other activities.

Campers are also making make art during studio time and learning about the many sculptures and artworks that can be found outdoors and inside di Rosa’s galleries.

The di Rosa is hosting at total of four weeks of summer camp, with about 30 kids attending per week.

“This site just calls for a camp,” said Andrea Saenz, the deputy director and director of education at di Rosa. “It has so many elements that make for a really beautiful experience for kids.”

“We’re trying to have a really special summer camp experience that really embodies both the art and nature aspects of our mission,” Saenz said. “And this camp does that in a really beautiful way. It’s pretty awesome.”

“I love fishing,” said Owen on Tuesday at Camp di Rosa. Sure, “the waiting is kind of rough but it pays off when you catch something.” He also enjoys the art activities at the camp. “You get to express yourself and that’s just magical.”

The camper said he was looking forward to doing archery next, “because of the skill level that’s involved. I’ve done archery before; it’s really fun.”

Eamonn O’Briain, 7, said so far the best part about Camp di Rosa was the snakes and lizards. “And definitely don’t forget the bass,” caught in Winery Lake.

His favorite lizards are blue belly lizards, “because if they cut their tails off and I find it we’ll be able to get the DNA and then make it (into) something else if we get it to a scientist,” he announced. “My job basically is to find the DNA of the blue belly.”

Estee Brossier, who is 12 and lives in Sonoma, said she did not catch a fish, but her friend Charlotte King-Thomas had better luck.

“Charlotte caught a fish, but we were her motivation,” said Estee. “We were like, ‘come on reel it in!’”

For her first time fishing, “it was fun but the rods kept getting stuck” together, said Estee.

Then, “we saw a rattlesnake,” she said. “I almost stepped on it,” but counselors lead her to safety.

Charlotte, also 12 and from Sonoma, said she’s previously fished, with her dad during a camping trip. “So I brought my own rod, just casted it out and I caught a huge fish in like two seconds,” using salmon eggs for bait. “Then we kept trying to reel it in,” she said of the bass they had temporarily caught. “They said it was the biggest fish they’ve seen from this lake,” noted Charlotte.

Fishing at camp is fun, she said. “I like casting it and looking at the lake to see tiny movements in the water. You never know when you will catch a fish.”

Frankie Rock, 10, from Napa, said she also liked fishing at Camp di Rosa.

“Once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun to see how far you can get it and it’s fun to see if you get something, or if you get ‘seaweed,’” instead of fish.

Frankie also liked making her own art portfolio at the camp. “I drew some cool stuff on the front.” She said she’d recommend the camp to her other friends. “I’d say its very fun and very creative.”

Walker Karpuk, 8, also threw a line out at Winery Lake on Tuesday.

Instead of catching a live fish, “I caught my imaginary, invisible fish,” said Walker. What kind of imaginary fish? “A rainbow fin and an invisible piranha,” said the camper. “I let them go but the piranha almost ate my whole rod.”

Imaginary fish or not, he hasn’t given up on landing the real thing. “On Friday I’m definitely catching fish,” he announced.

The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art occupies 217 acres of the original 465 acres of land purchased by Rene di Rosa in 1960. Located in the scenic Carneros Region at the south end of the Napa Valley, di Rosa opened to the public in 1997 as part of di Rosa’s vision for an “art park” accessible to the greater public.

The property now encompasses multiple galleries, a courtyard and a sculpture meadow that are all protected under the Napa County Land Trust.

While the di Rosa is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, this is only the second year of Camp di Rosa, said the director. Adding a camp to the center’s offerings meets the goal of opening up the preserve to more visitors and more possibilities, Saenz explained.

“A year ago we refreshed our mission and we have a wonderful ‘newish’ executive director, who is really updating the vision of di Rosa.”

What is di Rosa today?

Napa’s di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art is one of its hidden treasures worth seeking out, says director Kate Eilertsen. “After all, you can only drink so much wine.”

“We are an art and nature center,” said Saenz. The property offers walking paths, picnic tables and outdoor art installations. In addition, “we have a really wonderful representation of Northern California art from the 1960s to the early 2000s. It’s a wide and eclectic representation from that era,” as well as rotating exhibitions.

Saenz cleared up some common misconceptions about di Rosa. First, it’s not a winery. Second, the famous di Rosa sheep artworks are still on display — just at a different location. Lastly, the di Rosa collection hasn’t been sold, or deaccessioned.

“While there have been some very careful decisions made, we’re not selling the collection,” Saenz noted. Encompassing about 1,600 works, the di Rosa collection is robust and strong, she said.

The re-visioning of the center seems to be working, especially when it comes to Camp di Rosa. All four weeks of camp have been full. Each week of camp costs $425. Some financial assistance was made available, via the Napa Valley Community Foundation and other donors.

“My goals for camp are that the kids go home filthy, tired and maybe fall asleep in the car,” while sharing stories and the artwork they made that day.

“If you do all that; that’s a good camp,” said Saenz.

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