The 2014 swim season is under way in the East Bay Regional Park District, with a place to cool off not far from your home, whether in Alameda or Contra Costa counties.

Hours of operation, fees and lifeguard services vary from park to park. You can access a full range of information by visiting the park district website at www.ebparks.org. Click on "Activities" on the left side of the home page, then click again on "Swimming." For information about swim lessons and other lifeguard services, visit www.eblifeguard.org.

And if you purchase an annual Park Membership, your swimming and parking fees are free. Go online to RegionalParksFoundation.org for more information. Though space doesn't permit a full description of the swim program, I can offer some helpful information: the park district has six swim beaches on lakes, three chlorinated lagoons, three pools and two beaches on San Francisco Bay.

The pools are at Roberts Park in Oakland, Castle Rock in Walnut Creek and Little Hills Picnic Ranch in San Ramon. Little Hills' pool is available by reservation only. Visit The Picnic People website or call 925-462-1400.

There are chlorinated lagoons at Contra Loma in Antioch, Don Castro in Hayward and Cull Canyon in Castro Valley. There's lake swimming at Del Valle in Livermore (two beaches), Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton, Quarry Lakes in Fremont, Lake Temescal in Oakland, and Lake Anza at Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley.

Two beaches are on San Francisco Bay: Crown Beach in Alameda and Keller Beach at Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline in Richmond. These two have no lifeguard services -- you swim at your own risk.

Most of the park district swim areas are now open on weekends with lifeguard service from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Seven-day service will begin in June. And lifeguard service always depends on weather, park attendance and staff availability. At Don Castro and Castle Rock, weekend swimming begins on May 24.

Here's some added information about Castle Rock. The park is located at the end of Castle Rock Road in Walnut Creek. It's a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to the picnic area, swimming pool and ball field. If the lot is full, visitors must park at the overflow lot, which is another quarter-mile down the road.

There is no shuttle service from either lot into the park. So visitors should not overload themselves with picnic and recreational supplies. Wheeled carts are a good idea. And it's OK to drop off supplies at the innermost lot, leave someone to watch them, then park in overflow and walk back unburdened.

Swim safety is always of paramount importance, to the lifeguard staff and visitors. Everyone wants to have an enjoyable experience. Park district lifeguards are well trained in their duties. Here are some safety tips to help make their job easier:

  • Know your level of swim ability and stay within it. All the swim areas have shallow sections marked off with rope floats.

  • Swim only in designated areas. Swimming outside of them is prohibited.

  • Snorkels, masks and scuba equipment are prohibited.

  • Children ages 12 and younger must be accompanied by a responsible person age 16 or older who is actively supervising them. This means visual contact at all times.

  • At nonchlorinated swim areas, incontinent individuals are not allowed to swim. At chlorinated swim areas, swim diapers are required.

  • No diving into shallow water. There's too great a risk of back and neck injury.

  • Do not mix swimming with alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages do not enhance swimming skills.

  • No alcohol, glass containers, barbecues, dogs or fishing allowed in swim areas.

  • In the event of an emergency, please obey any and all instructions from lifeguards, firefighters, police or park rangers.

    Tilden: The fauna and flora of Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley will be the focus of two programs at the park this weekend.

    From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, naturalist "Trail" Gail Broesder will lead an easy walk to Jewel Lake, looking for signs of local wildlife. And from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, interpretive student aide Morgan Evans will host a program about different kinds of flowers and their parts, including viewing through microscopes.

    Both programs are free. Meet at Tilden's Environmental Education Center. To get there, park on Lone Oak Road off Central Park Drive and follow the signs to the center. For information, call 510-544-2233.

    Weekend walks: The naturalist-led Saturday and Sunday Strolls series continues this weekend with free, family-friendly walks from 10 a.m. to noon. On Saturday, the destination is Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. The park entrance is on Skyline Boulevard just south of the intersection with Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Oakland. On Sunday, there's a moderate 3-mile hike at Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, whose entrance is on Skyline Boulevard about a quarter-mile south of Sibley's.

    Dogs are welcome at Sibley, but not allowed at Huckleberry. For information, call 510-544-3187.

    Crab Cove: It's probably not for the squeamish, but squid dissection is on the agenda for the Family Nature Fun program from 2 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda. From 3 to 3:30 p.m. both days it's fish feeding time at the center's large aquarium.

    Crab Cove is located at 1252 McKay Ave. off Alameda's Central Avenue. For information, call 510-544-3187.

    Coyote Hills: Questions every kid asks about reptiles will be answered during a Reptile Ramble led by naturalist Kristina Parkison from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 17 at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont. The program is geared for ages five and up.

    Coyote Hills is at 8000 Patterson Ranch Road off Paseo Padre Parkway. For information, call 510-544-3220.

    Hump day hikes: The Wednesday Walkers, an informal naturalist-led hiking group, will explore Dublin Hills on a moderate, 5-mile hike starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, led by naturalist Andrew Staley. Dublin Hills' Calaveras Ridge Trail has great views of the Livermore Valley, but it can be windy.

    Meet at the park staging area, which is on Dublin Boulevard about 2 miles west of San Ramon Road in Dublin. For information, call 510-544-3282 or email cgarcia@ebparks.org.

    Big Break: Beavers, muskrats, river otters and other mammals of the Delta will be the focus of a program from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley.

    And from 8:30 to 9 a.m. Wednesday, naturalist Kevin Damstra will host a coffee and discussion about the science and issues affecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta's future. Big Break is located at 69 Big Break Road off Main Street in Oakley. Parking and admission are free. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3050.

    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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