Construction of a new bridge across a creek has made a beautiful and convenient loop hike possible at Round Valley Regional Preserve south of Brentwood.
The option has always been there, but until now it has been an unofficial short cut that required descending into the creek bed and clambering up the other side. The new connector isn't on the current park maps, but here's how it works:
From the trailhead on Marsh Creek Road, cross the bridge over Marsh Creek and walk, ride or bike into the park on the Miwok Trail. About a mile-and-a-half in, as the terrain starts to open up into Round Valley, you'll see the Hardy Canyon Trail branching off to the left, and a water tank on the right.
Just past the water tank, bear right between some wooden posts that look like they once supported a gate. At this point you can see the bridge railing about 20 yards ahead and slightly to the left. The gateposts are your landmark; there's no signpost yet. Cross the bridge, go through a gate on the far side, and turn left along the fence for a short walk to the junction of the Murphy Meadow and Fox Tail Trails. Go left on the Murphy Meadow Trail. The Fox Tail Trail is pretty, but it dead-ends at the park boundary.
From here the map makes the route obvious. The Murphy Meadow Trail leads past the turn to Round Valley Group Camp and back around to the Miwok Trail, on which you can return to the start. Round Valley is a great park for wildlife..
Round Valley's trailhead is on Marsh Creek Road between Deer Valley and Camino Diablo roads. Entry and parking are free. No dogs are allowed at Round Valley. The reason is that the park is habitat for the rare and endangered San Joaquin kit fox, and domestic dogs can carry diseases to which the kit fox has no resistance. So please leave the pooch at home.
BLACK DIAMOND: At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, naturalist Eddie Willis will welcome winter with a hike from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday in search of mistletoe, Christmas berry and other seasonal ornamentation. Best for ages seven and older, the hike is along the Chaparral Loop and Pittsburg Mine Trails. Rain would cancel it.
Meet Eddie at the preserve's innermost parking lot on Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5. For details, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.
TILDEN DISPLAY: Winning entries in East Bay Regional Park District's 2012 youth art contest are now on display in the Environmental Education Center at the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley. Youngsters ages 12 through 18 were invited to depict how they get active outdoors in any East Bay public park. The results are imaginative and colorful. Center hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays except for Christmas and New Year's days. The phone number is 510-544-2233.
get crabby: Crab Cove Visitor Center at Crown Beach in Alameda is holding a holiday week open house from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday through Dec. 28.
There will be special activities throughout each day, such as nature crafts, games and interaction with the center's snake and turtle.
The daily schedule includes a video program about water and ocean animals from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; bird bingo from 1 to 2 p.m.; "catch of the day" beach exploration from 2 to 3 p.m.; and aquarium fish feeding from 3 to 3:30 p.m.
Crab Cove is at 1252 McKay Ave. off Central Avenue in Alameda. For details, call 510-544-3187.
ARDENWOOD WALK: The Wednesday Walkers informal hiking group will check out Ardenwood Historic Farm during an easy three-mile walk from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, led by naturalist Chris Garcia. Everyone is welcome. The group will stroll around the gardens and farm fields, ending with a visit to the eucalyptus grove where monarch butterflies are spending the winter. Ardenwood is located at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard, just north of Highway 84 in Fremont. For more information, call 510-544-3282.
FOR KIDS: Naturalists Katie Colbert and Cat Taylor host a series of Outdoor Discovery programs in various regional parks, designed for children ages 3 through 5 accompanied by a parent.
Katie has scheduled a "buckeye babies" program from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Dec. 29 at Sunol Regional Wilderness. The group will plant last year's little buckeye trees and learn about how trees grow from seeds.
Registration is required, and there's a fee of $6 ($8 for nondistrict residents). For details and registration, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program #30698.
PARKS OPEN: During Christmas and New Year's weeks, all the regional parks will be open during daylight hours, though visitor centers are generally closed on Christmas and New Year's days. If the weather's good, a walk or ride in the parks offers a nice break from the seasonal hustle and bustle.
And however you celebrate the season, here's wishing you happy holidays and a great New Year.
Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.