It almost seems too soon, but Memorial Day weekend is upon us, the semiofficial start of summer.

The bad news for campers is that, at least in the East Bay Regional Parks, all available campsites have been booked for weeks. The good news is that there is still plenty to see and do in the parks on day trips close to home.

Memorial Day weekend kicks off the swim season in the regional parks. There are swim facilities at eight lakes, three pools and two beaches on San Francisco Bay. In general, lifeguards are on duty at swim beaches from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., depending on weather, attendance and staff availability. There are no lifeguards at the bay beaches.

For detailed information on swimming in the regional parks, visit the district website at www.ebparks.org.

For picnickers, all tables are available Memorial Day on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations are taken that day. So it's best to arrive early to claim a spot, especially at parks with swim facilities.

If all tables are taken, you can blanket picnic on the lawns. Portable barbecues are allowed on lawn areas, but not around tall, dry grass.

Which brings up the point of fire safety. As we all know, this is shaping up to be a very dangerous fire season. So please be careful. Fires are allowed only in designated fire pits.


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Dispose of barbecue coals only in the concrete bins provided for that purpose, not in regular trash barrels. And just in general, please cooperate with police, firefighters, lifeguards and other park staff in the event of an emergency.

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    There are plenty of organized activities scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, too. Here are a few options:

  • At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, there will be open house at the park's underground mining museum from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, May 26-27.

    Visitors ages 7 and older can take a free, self-guided tour through 1,000 feet of restored historic sand mine workings. For younger kids, there's a special area just inside the entrance with interactive displays. And all ages are welcome at the nearby underground Greathouse Visitor Center. Entry there is always free.

    Aboveground at Black Diamond, naturalist Bob Kanagaki will lead a nature walk starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 25, to explore how plant varieties are influenced by sun, water and bedrock soil conditions. Bob's walk is for ages 7 and older.

    Black Diamond Mines is at the end of Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For Bob's hike, meet at the uppermost parking lot. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

  • Kids' programs and a Little Farm open house are on the agenda during Memorial Day weekend at the Environmental Education Center in Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley.

    Naturalist James Wilson will lead a short and entertaining hike designed so parents can introduce their young children to the pleasures of nature exploration. It's from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Sunday, May 26.

    Then from 1 to 3 p.m. the same day, James will coordinate a kids garden work party to harvest the winter crops and plant more for summer. Dress to dig in the dirt.

    From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, May 27, James and the other naturalists will host an open house at the Tilden Little Farm. Chickens, goats, cows and the other barnyard animals all will meet and greet Memorial Day visitors.

    The programs are free. Tilden's Environmental Education Center and Little Farm are located at the north end of Central Park Drive. For more information, call 510-544-2233.

  • Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont will host a free day and open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, May 27.

    Visitors will be able to ride the farm's unique horse-drawn train, tour the historic Patterson House, and watch the blacksmith at work.

    Organized activities will include farm chores from 11 a.m. to noon, sampling baked goods from the Country Kitchen from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., old-time lawn games from noon to 1 p.m., a naturalist walk through bygone years from 2 to 3 p.m. and animal feeding at 3 p.m.

    Ardenwood is located at 34600 Ardenwood Blvd., just north of Highway 84. This is a great opportunity to see a restored Victorian-era farming estate, since parking is free and the normal admission fees are waived that day. For information, call 510-544-2797.

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

  • Although all campsites are taken, noncampers are still welcome at the campfire program from 8 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore.

    Park by the campground store and meet at the amphitheater for a talk about the park's history. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Dress warmly and bring marshmallows to toast.

    Del Valle is located on Del Valle Road off Mines Road south of Livermore. For more information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3249.

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