Construction of a new bridge across a creek has made possible a beautiful and convenient loop hike at Round Valley Regional Preserve south of Brentwood.
Actually the option has always been there, but until now it has been an unofficial shortcut 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.
For the record, the new bridge has a five-ton capacity and a 10 mile-per-hour speed limit. Be advised.
Round Valley is a great park for wildlife. Golden eagles and other raptors feed on the abundant ground squirrel population. I've also seen coyote, deer, rattlesnakes and one lonely tarantula.
Round Valley's trailhead is on Marsh Creek Road between Deer Valley Road and Camino Diablo. Entry and parking are free.
Please remember that no dogs are allowed at Round Valley, leashed or otherwise. 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.
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 7 and older, the hike is along the Chaparral Loop and Pittsburg Mine Trails. Rain cancels 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 when the kiosk is attended. For more information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.
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 12-18 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.
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 Day and New Year's Day. 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 about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.