The superlatives flowed Sunday for Sonoma County's newest regional park, perched at the edge of Santa Rosa with stunning views of the city and a panorama stretching to the coast.

Nearly two decades and $21 million in the making, the 1,100-acre Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve opened to the general public for the first time this weekend.

"It's great. I'm amazed at the view up there," said David Lunceford of Santa Rosa, who was hiking with his wife, Stacy.

"It's probably a perspective not many have seen in Santa Rosa, unless they're in an airplane," he said of the vista of downtown Santa Rosa.

"Just when you think the county can't get any more beautiful, it does," said David Schneider of Penngrove, who was exploring the park with his wife, Linda, son Ben and their dog.

He marveled at the views available so close to the city.

"It's sort of amazing as close as we are," he said. "To be a stone's throw from downtown."

The large preserve currently features four miles of trails for hikers and a three-mile network for equestrians and cyclists. Plans call for 17 miles of trails to be built. Dogs are also allowed, to the delight of visitors who can bring their four-legged companions.

"There's not a lot of options for people with dogs in Santa Rosa," said Sheryl Chapman, who was walking her dog, Rex. "Santa Rosa really needed this."

The county's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District bought most of the park acreage between 1995 and 2005 for $21 million. About 820 acres of the preserve have been open to the public since 2010 under a permit program operated by LandPaths, a Santa Rosa-based conservation group.

Now it's open to the general public, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to sunset.

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, county officials credited taxpayers with making the park a reality through the quarter-cent sales tax voters authorized to preserve open space and agriculture.

Local and state parks agencies have struggled in recent years to maintain existing parks and open new ones. Taylor Mountain, which faced delays of its own, now stands as an exception, said Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart.

"How often do you hear about that in today's world?" Hart said.

She said it was the first county park to receive county open space funds, a move allowed by voters when they reauthorized the Open Space District in 2006. The Open Space District authorized $225,000 to open Taylor Mountain to the public and support three years of operations and maintenance.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose central Santa Rosa district takes in most of the preserve, celebrated the addition of new parkland for south Santa Rosa, an underserved area for recreation amenities.

She called Taylor Mountain "a dream come true" and a model for the transition of other county open space to parkland.

"People are extremely thrilled to be able to get in here," Park Ranger Jonathan Umholtz said Sunday.

He was standing next to the visitor parking lot, which by 1 p.m. was filled with more than 50 vehicles.

The park is named after Gold Rush pioneer John Shackleford Taylor, who came to Santa Rosa in 1853. He had a herd of dairy cows and a vineyard on his mountain ranch.

Some cows still graze in the park and visitors are advised they are not aggressive, but it's best to keep a distance from the herd. Grazing is seen as a way to reduce fire risk, limit weeds and bring in some revenue for the county.

Visitors on Sunday were thrilled by the bird's-eye vantage on the spring-like day and enjoyed trying to identify some of the landmarks in the city from the flanks of the 1,400-foot-high peak.

Walking up the trail from the parking lot off Kawana Terrace, the county fairgrounds and racetrack quickly come into view, followed by city landmarks consisting of the tallest buildings.

The wide, unobstructed trail offers a hot-air-balloon-like perspective, with Bennett Valley, Annadel State Park, the Mayacmas Mountains to the east and the whole of the Santa Rosa Plain in sight.

"It's more than 180 degrees, all the way around," said Sean Butler, who was enjoying a picnic with his wife, Joanna, and some friends.

"It's really nice," said Janet Waltz of Rohnert Park. "It's important to have an open area. People can get away from things."

"We need more things like this," said Johnny Yu of Larkfield, adding that the Open Space District did a good job in acquiring the land and opening it to the public.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

Staff Writer Brett Wilkison can be reached at 521-5295 or brett. wilkison@pressdemocrat.com