OAKLAND -- The East Bay has wonderful parks, trails and an amazing trail system, a fact that not everyone is aware of. In fact, many believe that a lengthy trip is necessary to have a true wilderness experience.

One way to remedy that misconception is to take part in the East Bay Hills Trails Benefit Hike from Aug. 27-31, a popular annual adventure that demonstrates that wilderness can be enjoyed right in your backyard.

Sponsored by the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, Tilden-Wildcat Horsemen's Association, Metropolitan Horsemen's Association and Volunteers for Outdoor California, the Thru-Hike and Ride organizes hikers and riders on different trails during the day, then brings them together at day's end to share meals, stories, camaraderie and evening entertainment. Though most participants come for the entire hike, some join for just one day.

The benefit part of the event is to raise money for East Bay trails.

"In just 12 years, we've raised $180,000 and this year we're hoping to increase that to $200,000," said Morris Older, event coordinator. "We divide the proceeds between the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Volunteers for Outdoor California and the East Bay Regional Parks Ivan Dickson volunteer trail program."

The route follows the Bay Area Ridge Trail and this year begins at the Carquinez Shoreline in Martinez and ends up, five days later, at Lake Chabot Marina in Castro Valley, rambling through Tilden, Sibley, Huckleberry, Redwood, Roberts, and Anthony Chabot regional parks; EBMUD Watershed, Joaquin Miller Park, and Muir Heritage Land Trust Sky Ranch, and covering almost 55 miles of varied terrain and stunning vistas.


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Special to this year's event is that it marks the 25th anniversary of the first dedication of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART), a route that when completed will extend 550 miles through all nine counties of the Bay Area, from St. Helena in the north to Gilroy southward.

"As of July 27, 350 miles have been dedicated and our final vision is to connect up the entire 550-mile route with all the parks along the route," said Janet McBride, executive director of the BART Council. "The vision is also about connecting and protecting the natural open-space corridors, providing people with beautiful vistas of views and allowing them to get to nature a short distance from where they live."

Unlike a backpacking trip, this benefit hike is fully supported with all routes planned and camping gear shuttled between campsites at Tilden, Joaquin Miller and Anthony Chabot parks, leaving the hiker to carry only a day pack. A full breakfast, lunch and chef's special dinner are provided each day.

"We have a different chef each night and end up with really good meals," Older said. "People are kind of amazed at how good camp food can be."

Entertainment is planned for each evening, including East Bay Regional Park District Regional Trails Development manager Jim Townsend speaking on the steps needed to develop a trail; local historian Dennis Evanosky discussing the history of the redwoods in the Oakland hills; a performance by an equestrian drill team; and a nighttime visit to the Chabot Space and Science Center for some telescope stargazing.

Aside from promoting the local trail system, the event aims to spotlight the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the importance of wilderness.

"These days our priorities have skewed and, as a result, things like parks get short shrift and they no longer have the budget they once had to maintain trails," Older said. "Trail creation and maintenance has become of lower priority and as our population increases there's more demand and need for it."

This year's 25th anniversary has Ridge Trail Council sponsoring many commemorative trail outings throughout the Bay Area, but the East Bay Hills Benefit Hike remains special.

"It's the only outing we have that's a continuous through hike with the opportunity to have this overnight experience, staying in parks and traveling from place to place on the Ridge Trail," McBride said. "It's wonderful because the organization and volunteers provide such great support. You have wonderful meals, interesting talks and wonderful companionship and opportunities to connect with fellow trail lovers."

fyi
What: East Bay Hills Trails Benefit Hike
When: Aug. 27-31
Cost: $60 a day
Information: To register for one or more days, go to http://www.ridgetrail.org/index.php/events/east-bay-hills-thru-hike-and-ride. BART shuttles provided the first and last day of the five-day-hike. For other Ridge Trail events, go to: http://www.ridgetrail.org.