There's good news at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, where a land purchase recently authorized by the park district board will eventually create a new gateway to the park.

The park district will buy about 191 acres of the Moller Ranch from the Antioch Unified School District. The property includes the barn and buildings that you see as you enter the north end of the park on Somersville Road, just before the deep narrow canyon that leads up to the entrance kiosk.

Liz Musbach, the park district land acquisitions manager, said the new land could allow the park district to move some staff functions closer to the park entrance. "It would be great for visitors to be able to stop sooner for maps and to ask questions," Musbach noted. "We are also looking at possibly adding a loop trail in that area, and the property's historic structures offer the opportunity to develop educational programs for the community."

The Moller Ranch property was originally operated as a dairy, evidenced by the 1903 dairy barn and other structures. The property is mostly open grasslands with stands of blue oaks and California buckeyes, bisected by Markley Creek.

The park district has managed the property since October 2012 under an interim agreement with the school district and has made some improvements.

Initial funding will come from the district's bond measure WW, passed in 2009. The purchase price is $305,782, some of which may come from outside grant funding, to be determined. The purchase will be made in stages, and is expected to be complete in December 2016.

also in Antioch: As long as we're at Black Diamond Mines, there are a couple of interesting programs scheduled there soon:


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Naturalists will shed some light on how miners worked in those dark tunnels. The program is from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at park headquarters, which is in that cluster of buildings just to the left of the kiosk as you enter the park on Somersville Road.

Then from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 15, there's a safari in search of manzanita blossoms, some of which are already appearing. Meet at the parking lot at the upper end of Somersville Road. Both programs are free and geared for ages 7 and older, and both are canceled if it's raining. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

PLANKTON PLAYTIME: Plankton will be under the microscope in a program from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. The naturalists will haul in some samples to show how plankton is a basic food for much of the delta wildlife.

Then from 2 to 3 p.m. Feb. 15, there's a program about the impact of the delta on the lives of everything from fish to fowl to the people who depend on the waterway. Big Break Regional Shoreline is at 69 Big Break Road off Main Street. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3050.

just for kids: At Tilden Nature Area, interpretive student aide Tricia Radis will host a program for kids ages 8 and older featuring seed paper. You can write and draw on it, then plant it in the ground to grow flowers. The free program is from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Tilden's Environmental Education Center. It's for ages eight and up.

The center will host a reception from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 16 for the young artists whose works have been on display there as part of the Get to Know Creativity Contest.

If you come, you can try your hand at live animal sketching. Art materials and light refreshments will be provided.

The center is at the north end of Central Park Drive, but there's construction in the area. So park at the Big Leaf picnic area on Central Park Drive and follow the signs. For information and directions, call 510-544-2233.

CUTE NEWTS: Newts are a species of salamander that migrates to ponds and streams during the rainy season to reproduce. They're cute little guys.

Though rains have been sparse so far this year, there are still some newts around, performing their annual ritual.

So park district naturalists have scheduled three newt-seeking nature walks this weekend at Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley.

From 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Trent Pearce will lead a walk on Tilden's South Park Drive, a road that bisects the newt migration route to Wildcat Creek. Rain or shine, meet Trent at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden parking lot. It's across Wildcat Canyon Road from the garden, near the intersection with South Park Drive.

Eddie Willis will lead a newt safari from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday at Briones Regional Park near Martinez.

It's a 1½-mile hike designed for ages 5 and up, and rain cancels. Meet Eddie at the end of old Briones Road off Alhambra Valley Road.

Back at Tilden, James Wilson will lead another newt hike from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

This one's a bit longer, for ages 9 and older. Rain or shine, meet at Tilden's steam train overflow lot, which is at the intersection of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Lomas Cantadas.

For more information on Trent's and James' walks, call 510-544-2233. For information call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

Reach Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.