By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The long-awaited rollout of a regional park on Taylor Mountain, one of Sonoma County’s largest swaths of open space overlooking Santa Rosa, is starting to take shape.
The plans include access for the general public starting as soon as January and for the development of an expanded trail network on the 1,100 acres,
restrooms, parking and camping and picnic sites starting next year.
The changes aim to lightly transform what has been a little-known, lightly visited public property on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa into a destination for the broader populace.
“A lot of people have no idea what they’re in for when they get up on that mountain,” said Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart.
The property offers expansive grass hillsides, dense oak groves and sweeping views of the Santa Rosa Plain.
“It’s beautiful. Just spectacular,” Hart said.
The county Board of Supervisors today is set to approve the blueprint guiding the park’s development and an environmental review.
Those documents have been more than two years in the making, trying the patience of some park supporters. But county officials insist the planning was speedy for government work and worth it to craft a vision that’s drawn broad support and almost no opposition.
That plan seeks a balance between improvements for greater public recreation, with 17 miles of paths for hikers, cyclists and equestrians, and protection of the property’s resources, including its wildlife.
Developed areas, including five trailheads, restrooms and the visitor center, will be kept to the park’s periphery, which stretches from Bennett Valley to Petaluma Hill Road. The core of the park will remain a wild preserve, officials said.
“It will feel a lot the way it does now,” said Mark Cleveland, a senior planner with Sonoma County Regional Parks.
The agency is set to take ownership of the property in the next two months, accepting it from the county Open Space District, which bought and assembled separate ranchland parcels from 1995 through 2011 for a total of $21 million.
The heart of the property includes the family spread of John Shackelford Taylor, a Gold Rush pioneer, resort owner and local entrepreneur.
About 820 acres of the preserve has been open to the public for several years under a permit program operated by LandPaths, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit conservation group.
Visitors have used a small, gated parking lot off dead-end Kawana Terrace on the property’s west side. The same lot will serve as an interim staging area for the public starting as soon as January, provided supervisors give the go-ahead and a study of traffic on Kawana Terrace and other issues goes as planned, officials said.
They suggested access could be limited to weekends or planned events in the short term if issues do arise.
“We’re going to get people out here,” Cleveland said. “We’re just not sure what that’s going to look like right now.”
For entry, visitors will need to pay either the county’s $7 day-use fee or have an annual parks membership.
Within the next year, the county plans to use $750,000 in state grant money to build the main parking area and trailhead off Petaluma Hill Road south of Yolanda Avenue. It will include a picnic area, restrooms, walk-in campsites, equestrian facilities and other amenities.
Construction is set to begin next spring and finish next fall, although delays from habitat protection measures could delay that a year. The building timeline for the other four staging areas is yet to be determined.
Among that group, the other main staging area, off Kawana Springs Road, will include a nearby walk-in campground and the visitor center, housed in
what was once the bathhouse for Taylor’s Kawana Springs Resort. Plans also call for a small event venue and an eight-room inn, subject to interest by a private partner.
The Kawana Terrace trailhead eventually would be replaced by a lot off Farmers Lane, provided it is extended along the western edge of the park as called for in Santa Rosa’s traffic plan.
The other two staging areas will be on the north and east sides of the park, off Linwood Avenue and down an access road off Panorama Drive.
Expansion of the existing four-mile trail network could begin next summer through the help of local trail and park groups.
“We definitely want to get people out here because they’re excited and they’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Cleveland said.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.