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Addition to Taylor Mountain park in Santa Rosa secures key link in open space protection

Sonoma County parks may be closed for the moment, but there’s a new development that should bring joy to outdoor enthusiasts, even so.

It’s a 54-acre addition to Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve that will expand the popular park right to the edge of south Santa Rosa neighborhoods.

The land acquisition, set to close Wednesday, was made possible through a $1.35 million deal put together over the past 2½ years by the nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust, in partnership with regional parks and the taxpayer-funded Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which put up more than half the money.

The addition will eventually allow for more access from neighborhoods near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and pave the way for future connections via the planned Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway leading to Spring Lake Regional Park and adjoining Trione-Annadel State Park.

In addition, the expansion prevents development from encroaching upon wildlife habitat centered on a tree-shaded stretch of Cooper Creek, a tributary of Matanzas Creek with headwaters on the northern slopes of Taylor Mountain.

“This land will offer more people easy, walkable access to Taylor Mountain Regional Park and the many health and community benefits that parks provide,” Eamon O’Byrne, the land trust’s executive director, said in a news release. “Protecting Cooper Creek is part of a larger vision of ours - to create a network of parks through the heart of Santa Rosa and bring nature back to the city by restoring creeks and natural habitats.”

The newly protected land rises steeply up the northwest flank of Taylor Mountain, adjacent to the Ragle Ranch neighborhood, southeast of the fairgrounds and south of Bennett Valley Road and Cavalry Catholic Cemetery.

Its southernmost edge just kisses the northwest corner of the 1,100-acre Taylor Mountain Park, which opened in 2013 and has more than 5 miles of unpaved trail and an 18-hold disc golf course.

Long-term plans for call for up to 17 miles of trail, with projects planned over the next two summers. That work will now include a mile-long connector to the Cooper Creek property, as well as a neighborhood access point, Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker said.

That project should go out to bid this summer, with hopes of having the work completed by fall of 2021. After that, park officials will look to add a more developed parking area off the end of Lynwood Avenue, he said.

Taylor Mountain has existing entrances on Petaluma Hill Road and Kawana Terrace, but park and open space officials are eager to enhance access for disadvantaged communities in south Santa Rosa and improve the ease with which people can reach the park on foot or bicycle.

Whitaker said he’s particularly excited about the long-term prospects for how the addition might fit in with the greenway project envisioned for a two-mile stretch of Caltrans freeway right-of-way once intended for the extension of Highway 12 east of Farmer’s Lane.

“In my mind, that’s one of the really big things about this, is it really fulfills that goal that we have of connections between opens spaces throughout the county, with good regional trails,” he said.

County officials said a representative for the property seller, “a frequent park user who understood the value of the land,” contacted regional parks in the fall of 2017 to propose a public purchase to protect it from being developed.

The acquisition was turned over to Sonoma Land Trust, a frequent county partner. It used funds from a variety of sources, including a $200,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, $22,000 from the State Parks’ Habitat Conservation Fund; $742,000 from the county open space district; $100,000 in Measure M county park sales tax proceeds and additional park funding.

“This project offers a unique opportunity to expand neighborhood access to Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, enable future connections between the park and planned urban trails, and protect riparian habitat on a scenic hillside property,” said Bill Keene, general manager of the county open space district. “We are pleased to have played a significant role in protecting it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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