This year marks the 20th anniversary of Trails Challenge, East Bay Regional Park District's program encouraging people to get out and explore the close-to-home parklands of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

Last year more than 10,000 people participated. The idea is to complete five of the featured trails by next Dec. 1, whether on foot, bicycle or horseback, to receive a commemorative pin. Trails vary from easy to difficult, and several are accessible by wheelchair. In other words, there's something for everyone.

Required registration opens on Wednesday, Jan. 16, and must be accomplished online. There's no phone registration available. With registration, you get instructions on how to download the Trails Challenge guidebook and other program materials. You also receive a free Trails Challenge T-shirt while supplies last. Commemorative pins are mailed in the fall to those who complete the challenge, again while supplies last. Hard copies of the guidebook are available for $10, including shipping costs.

To register for the challenge or obtain more information, visit www.regionalparksfoundation.org and click on "Events". Besides the foundation, Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization is a major sponsor of the Trails Challenge.


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Another incentive to explore the regional parks is Kids Challenge. It's based on the California Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights, which recommends a list of experiences that every child should have in his or her pre-high school years.

Examples include exploring nature, learning to swim, going fishing, and camping out under the stars. Not surprisingly, all of the recommended activities are available in the regional parks.

Like the Trails Challenge, the Kids Challenge is self-paced. It challenges kids to complete five of the ten activities listed in the bill. Some of the activities require parent participation and/or additional fees.

Registration gets you a guidebook and a special prize (one per child while supplies last). After completing the challenge, each child receives a commemorative patch and park district Frisbee, while supplies last.

To register in the Kids Challenge, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program 1105.

yesteryear: Quiet and bucolic now, Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch once saw the bustle of coal mining boom towns. Those long-departed days will be recalled in a program from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday led by naturalist Bob Kanagaki.

Meet Bob in the parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4. Free of charge, the program is designed for ages seven and older. Rain cancels. Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended.

Naturalist Eddie Willis will lead a Wednesday Walk at Black Diamond Mines starting at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 16.

The Wednesday Walkers are an informal group that explores various regional parks on sometimes fast-paced hikes, though all ages and abilities are welcome. The Black Diamond Mines hike will be four miles, moderate to strenuous, with possibly muddy trails. Meet at the upper end of Somersville Road. For information on the Black Diamond walk, call Eddie at 510-544-2768 or e-mail ewillis@ebparks.org.

For more information on all the Wednesday Walks, call 510-544-3282 or e-mail cgarcia@ebparks.org. A flier with a complete schedule is available on the hiking page at www.ebparks.org.

winter waterfowl: Spotting winter waterfowl is the goal of an easy bird-watching stroll from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Martinez Regional Shoreline, led by Eddie Willis.

The program is free, designed for ages six and older. Meet at the Granger's Wharf parking lot at the north end of Berrellessa Street in Martinez.

Registration is required. To register, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program number 1196.

more birds: Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline in Point Richmond will be the venue for a bird walk from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday led by naturalist Anthony Fisher. All ages and experience levels are welcome. Meet in the first parking lot on the right on Dornan Drive after exiting the tunnel from Point Richmond.

more creatures: There's lots of interesting activity planned for this coming weekend at Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley.

Animal tracks and homes will be the theme of a program from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday led by naturalist "Trail Gail" Broesder. The group will look for tracks, animal scat and living quarters.

From 11 a.m. to noon on Sunday interpretive student aide Morgan Rani Evans will lead a walk to search out various kinds of lichen that grow in the park, and learn about their ecological importance.

For both programs, meet at the Environmental Education Center, located at the north end of Tilden's Central Park Drive.

Also on Sunday naturalist James Wilson will lead a hike from 1:30 to 4 p.m. in search of newts.

For James' hike, meet at Tilden's Steam Train overflow parking lot near the intersection of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Lomas Cantadas in Berkeley. The newt walk is for ages nine and older.

For more information and any of these three programs, call the Environmental Education Center at 510-544-2233.

Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.

Hikes for tykes: For little kids, naturalist Sara Fetterly plans one of her "Hikes for Tykes" from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15 at Lake Temescal in Oakland. Meet at the park's south entrance off Broadway Terrace just south of Highway 13.

Sara's Tyke Hikes average about a mile. Generally strollers are not recommended. Bring a snack for your child. For more information, call 510-544-3187.

Flora and Fauna: Phenology, the study of plant and animal life cycles, is the topic of a program from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Sunol Regional Wilderness in southern Alameda County, led by Terri Bostater.

Participants will learn how they can join in citizen science projects by studying the influence of climate on animal and plant life.

The program is free, but registration is required. Call 888-327-2757, select option 2 and refer to program 1123.

Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.

Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.