Labor Day Weekend is here, and the East Bay Regional Parks are celebrating it with all kinds of special events and activities. Or you can pick a park and plan your own fun. Here's a roundup:

At Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, railroads will carry the day. The park's 13th annual Historic Rail Fair will roll down the tracks Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. It's a celebration of all things Iron Horse. The show's star will be the 1890 steam porter engine "Ann Marie." There will be steam train and handcar rides and displays of model railroads, rail yard equipment, early-day gas engines and tractors.

Food for sale, live music, a hobo game for the kids and lots of other activities will round out the show. Ardenwood is located at 34600 Ardenwood Blvd., just north of Highway 84 in Fremont. The fair's fee is $10 for adults; $6 for seniors 62 and older; $5 for children ages 4 through 17; and free for kids 3 and younger. Parking is free. For more information on the fair, visit www.spcrr.org.

COYOTE HILLS: Nearby at Coyote Hills Regional Park, there's an open house from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 1, hosted by naturalist Kristina Parkison and staff. It's a chance to meet the park's reptiles-in-residence, hear some natural history lore and create some nature crafts. Then on Monday, naturalist Dino Labiste will celebrate Labor Day with sessions of old-fashioned games from 10 a.m. to noon and again from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Bring a picnic lunch and join Dino for sack races, egg relays, tug-of-war and kick-the-can.


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Coyote Hills is in Fremont at the end of Patterson Ranch Road off Paseo Padre Parkway. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle; the open house and Dino's event are free. For information call 510-544-3220.

CRAB COVE: Up the shoreline at Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda, there's a free Family Nature Fun Hour from 2 to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in September and October. The theme on Sept. 1 is pond exploration. Then from 3 to 3:30 p.m. it's fish feeding time at the center's large aquarium.

Crab Cove is at 1252 McKay Ave. off Central Avenue. Admission is free. For information, call 510-544-3187.

TILDEN: Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley is where all the park district nature education programs got their start many years ago. A variety of free activities are scheduled there during Labor Day weekend, all based at Tilden's Environmental Education Center.

From 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 1, naturalist Anthony Fisher will give an introductory clinic on animal tracking. If you join him, bring a small journal and a measuring tape. Then from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 1, Anthony will lead an easy family nature walk, in search of "books in the running brooks, sermons in stones ...," as Shakespeare said. The program repeats every Sunday in October.

On Labor Day, Sept. 2, the center will hold a free open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with crafts, games and farm activities for the entire family. The center is at the north end of Tilden's Central Park Drive, accessible via Canon Drive from Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley. For information, call 510-544-2233.

BLACK DIAMOND: Snakes are on stage at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 1. Naturalist Eddie Willis will display some live snakes and talk about how they survive year-round in the park's variable climate. He'll be at the uppermost parking lot at the end of Somersville Road.

And Black Diamond Mines' underground Greathouse Visitor Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Labor Day and generally on weekends through November. Admission is free, and all ages are welcome. Tours of the Hazel-Atlas Silica-Sand Mine are also a park feature. For safety reasons, tours are restricted to ages 7 and older, and there's a $5 fee per person.

Ninety-minute tours by advance reservation take place at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends and Labor Day. A 10 a.m. tour is available by reservation for groups of 10 or more. First-come, first-served tours are at noon and 3 p.m. For more information on Black Diamond programs, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750. For tour reservations, call 327-2757 and select option 2. Black Diamond Mines is located at the end of Somersville Road, four miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended.

HOLIDAY TIPS: In general, Labor Day is one of the busiest times in the regional parks, especially those with swim facilities. All the parks will be open, with picnic tables available first-come, first-served. So if you have a favorite spot, it's best to arrive early.

Barbecuing is permissible using the barbecue stands or with portable barbecues on lawn areas only. Don't use portable barbecues in or near dry grass. Just in general, please be extremely careful with fire. It's been a dry year, and the danger is high.

At the swim beaches, swim only in designated areas, and don't exceed your ability level. Swimming and alcohol are a bad combination. If there's an emergency, please follow any and all instructions from lifeguards, rangers and emergency personnel. With these tips in mind, you'll have a safe and enjoyable holiday in the regional parks.

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

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