A few years from now, you may be driving through Santa Rosa to Costco or Target and see groups of people wandering up on the hill overlooking the busy shopping district. Taylor Mountain is about as urban a park as you’ll find around here, and while it’s not quite a park yet, on Saturday, I was one of the many people who decided to take advantage of “Taylor Mountain Day” as an excuse to check it out.
In about a year or so, it will be a more active member of the county’s regional parks system, complete with trails for equestrians, cyclists and hikers, along with all the other trappings of parks. A network of trails will criss-cross the mountain, rising up about 1,400 feet and then sloping back down through wetlands, cattle groupings and other scenes from nature.
But for now, it’s not quite there. It’s about halfway through a planning process that will define where those trails will go, where educational markers and signposts will be, what spots need to be fenced for the sake of animals and/or people and what else needs to be done to accommodate this community’s very active and eclectic mix of outdoors participants. The fear by some is that it will be a park that will face some of the same struggles as parks like Annadel (and several in Marin County) where mountain bikers race down trails and compete with horseback riders for space, and hikers are wary of oncoming traffic, and the sense of solitude that is often the key ingredient for a stroll is in danger. But that’s the fear. The hope is that it will be a park where everyone can co-exist, and different paths will exist for different uses, and where the twains meet, everyone will get along in a relaxed kind of way.
The park land, which was bought nearly five years ago for about $18 million from heirs of the Levi-Strauss Co., circles the peak, which is a significant piece of land owned – and cultivated – by local vintner Jess Jackson. Another part would be affected by the proposed Farmers Lane road extension. And another part would be adjacent to a new Santa Rosa city park. So, this is a park that’s not just central in its location overlooking Santa Rosa but in its small-town-like connections to other projects too.
The park is 1,100 acres of mostly open space, with terrific views in every direction. There is lush diversity of plant life, from roses and blackberries to pennyroyal (note the strong minty smell) and star thistle, which I’m not that familiar with but seems not too differently behaving (i.e. invasive!) from the kudzu of my former Deep South homeland. While the ground was largely dry during Saturday’s hike (I wandered for a couple of miles on my own, before catching up for a couple of miles with a guided hike led by two very knowledgeable parks folks involved in the planning process), there are several areas on the mountain that will be mushy later in the year. Trails will have to navigate those wetlands, but the water will be a relief to the cows that are living there.
I was told that part of the planning process will involve not just the cows and their role in grazing and grass management, but making sure a federally protected species of frog isn’t adversely impacted by the new park. Not dealbreakers, but just factors to consider as the park’s mechanics are sketched out.
For now, access to Taylor Mountain is by permit only. About 1,500 of 2,500 available permits have been distributed, and there will be permit orientation sessions in November and December if you’re interested. LandPaths’ website is the place to go for the details.