This is turning out to be one of the driest winters on record. As a result we are still experiencing a fire season that normally would have ended at least a month ago.

"These are definitely record-breaking unseasonal weather conditions," said Paul Cutino, the East Bay Regional Park District's assistant fire chief.

He said district firefighters and rangers are on alert and completing extra patrols. Assuming the dry weather continues, he also had some fire safety tips for park visitors and neighbors:

  • Be careful with matches and fire in general, especially when discarding cigarettes.

  • Make campfires only in designated fire pits, and be sure they are properly extinguished. Be sure you have a permit when required. Abide by all posted or announced fire safety rules.

  • Don't drive your vehicle into dry grass. A hot manifold can ignite a fire.

  • Homeowners should be careful when mowing dry grass on their property. Hot motors and sparking from stones can start fires, too.

  • If you see smoke in open parklands, report it immediately. Just call 9-1-1 and you will be connected to the proper agency.

    Park programs: Rain or shine, East Bay Regional Park District naturalists organize all kinds of programs for the public to enjoy in the parklands. The coming days are no exception.

    Let's start at Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, where you can learn how to recycle old magazines by making them into beautiful beads. Interpretive student aide Tricia Radis will show you how in a workshop from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.


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    Oak galls, those pithy little globes in the oak trees, are created by a species of wasp. Interpretive student aide Morgan Rani Evans will lead a walk in search of the galls from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

    Tricia's and Morgan's programs meet at Tilden's Environmental Education Center. Because there's still construction in progress in the area, you get there by parking on Lone Oak Road off Central Park Drive, then following the signs on foot to the center. For more information, call 510-544-2233.

    Looking ahead, there's a Senior Safari van tour scheduled on Tilden's Nimitz Way Trail from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 10. Senior Safaris are for those ages 55 and older who enjoy an outdoor adventure from the warmth of a van. Nimitz Way offers panoramic views and an interesting history. Registration is required, and there's a fee of $30 for the trip ($34 for nondistrict residents). For registration and information, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program 4590.

    fun on the shore: The Family Fun Nature Hour series continues at Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda with low tide exploration from 2 to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Bring your mud boots for this one.

    There's also story time and nature fun for kids from 11 to 11:30 a.m. every Sunday in January and February. And it's time for the birds from 9 to 10:30 a.m. this Sunday. Naturalist Francis Mendoza will lead a stroll to the bayside bird hangouts. Crab Cove Visitor Center is at 1252 McKay Ave. off Central Avenue in Alameda. For information, call 510-544-3187.

    Lake Stroll: The Saturday Strollers will meet at Lake Chabot Marina for an easy three-mile walk on the lake's East Shore Trail from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The marina is on Lake Chabot Road in Castro Valley. There's a parking and dog fee payable at the entrance kiosk. For information, call 510-544-3187.

    Coyote Hills: Bugs and snakes are the focus of two programs at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont. The insect safari is from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Snakes will star in a program from 1 to 1:30 p.m., with a chance to meet a live snake and complete a snake-themed craft.

    Both programs will be led by interpretive student aide Frank Kincheloe; both are designed for ages five and older. There's also a guided walk to Coyote Hills' reconstructed Ohlone village site from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday, led by naturalist Kristina Parkison.

    All three programs are free of charge. Meet at the park's visitor center. Coyote Hills is located at 8000 Patterson Ranch Road off Paseo Padre Parkway in Fremont. For information, call 510-544-3220.

    Black Diamond: At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, it's Snake Brunch time from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday. The park's reptiles-in-residence will get a snack, while a naturalist talks about their cousins in the wild. The program is for ages 5 through 12. Meet at park headquarters, which is in the group of buildings on the left just past the entrance kiosk.

    If that's not to your taste, meet naturalist Eddie Willis at the parking lot at the upper end of Somersville Road for a two-mile history hike from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday. Eddie's hike is for ages 8 and older. Black Diamond Mines is at the end of Somersville Road, 5 miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

    Big Break: How wetlands act to balance water quality is the topic of a naturalist led program from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. Big Break is located at 69 Big Break Road off Main Street. For more information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3050.

    WOMEN HIKERS: Women on Common Ground is a series of naturalist-led programs for women who enjoy the outdoors but have concerns for their personal safety. The group will take a 6-mile loop hike around Maguire Peaks at Sunol Regional Wilderness in southern Alameda County from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. It's free, but registration is required. For information and registration, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program 4600.

    Hump Day hikers: The Wednesday Walkers will ascend Redwood Peak at Redwood Regional Park in Oakland during a short but moderately strenuous hike Wednesday. Everyone's welcome. Meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Redwood Bowl staging area. It's on Skyline Boulevard next to the Chabot Space and Science Center. For information, call 510-544-3282.

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