Sonoma County has received a $750,000 state grant to begin creating a sprawling urban regional park at Taylor Mountain with sweeping views of the Santa Rosa plain.
The money will allow construction of parking and picnic areas and restrooms on Petaluma Hill Road at what will become the main trail head to paths that wind up through 1,100 acres of grass and oak-studded hillsides.
"It will have as many people visiting it as Spring Lake. It is within walking and biking distance of anyone in Santa Rosa," said Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County parks. "This will be the first new park in many years."
Hart said Sonoma County was notified of the state grant Tuesday. The property should be open to the general public in about two years, officials said.
The Taylor Mountain parkland stretches from Petaluma Hill Road to Bennett Valley Road. A cattle ranch, it was bought by the county Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District in four separate purchases between 1995 and 2005 for $21 million.
It is criss-crossed by cattle trails and still used for grazing. Currently, use of the property is limited to about 10,000 hikers, cyclists and equestrians who have access through 2,500 special permits under a program supervised by the conservation group LandPaths.
The grant comes during a time of intense debate over the priorities of the open space district: should it be emphasizing protection of privately owned agricultural land or providing public access to land for recreational purposes.
"It is fantastic to have a pulse of cash come into the county for something like this," said Craig Anderson, LandPaths executive director. "It is the type of leveraging the open space district can do more of, and it provides more money for agriculture elsewhere."
Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, described it as an urban park, "a big, natural science room" for the Kawana and Bellevue school district students."
"It is convenient and accessible to anyone who lives in Santa Rosa," Zane said. "It is a really good, nice long hike with spectacular views that somebody could take within 10 minutes of their home."
Sonoma County has been developing a master plan for the property, which it will take over from the open space district and administer as a regional park with unlimited access.
It will initially have three miles of trails with a plan to expand to 17 miles.
The open space district owns the flank of the mountain, not the 1,400-foot-high peak. However, the county property reaches the 1,300-foot level, from which there are views on clear days of the Mayacmas range, Coastal Range and Mount Tamalpais.
The grant is funded by Proposition 84, the Clean Water, Parks and Coastal Protection Act passed by voters in 2006 that provided $5.4 billion parks, water projects and nature education facilities.
The funds will pay for a parking lot, picnic area, equestrian parking area, restrooms and play areas on Petaluma Hill Road south of Yolanda Avenue. It will serve as the major access point to the park.