Park It: Newts on the march

A California newt (Taricha torosa) from Napa County, California. (CONNOR LONG / Wikimedia)
A California newt (Taricha torosa) from Napa County, California. (CONNOR LONG / Wikimedia)
By NED MacKAY
Special to the Tribune

With the arrival of the first winter rains, South Park Drive at Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley has been closed to accommodate the annual March of the Newts. And there’s no shortage of them in Martinez either.

Newts are a variety of salamander. They are about three to six inches long, and brown with gold bellies. In the summer they are dormant under rocks and logs in the woods and fields. During the rainy season they migrate to ponds and streams to mate and produce the next newt generation.

At Tilden this means they get to Wildcat Creek by crossing South Park Drive, which connects Grizzly Peak Boulevard to Wildcat Canyon Road. So South Park Drive is closed to motor vehicle traffic.

Hikers, bicyclists and equestrians can still use South Park Drive, though dogs must be kept on leash. Two advisories: please watch out for newts and avoid injuring or killing them; and please do not handle them. It’s against the law to remove any plants or animals from the regional parks. What’s more, newts have a toxic substance on their skin as a protection against predators.

Besides South Park Drive, you can see lots of newts in the wild at the Maricich Lagoons in Briones Regional Park near Martinez. The lagoons are next to the junction of the Old Briones Road and Spengler Trails, and the lagoon farthest from the roads seems to attract the most newts.

To learn more about newts, join naturalist Anthony Fisher in a program from 1-2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Tilden’s Environmental Education Center (EEC). It’s located at the north end of Central Park Drive. For information, call (510) 544-2233.

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The East Bay Regional Park District board of directors has voted unanimously to re-name Breuner Marsh, a 60-acre wetland at Pt. Pinole Regional Park, after the Dotson family for their long-standing efforts to save the Richmond shoreline from development.

 The former Breuner Marsh was, at various times, slated for housing, an airport, an industrial complex and transit center. But thanks in part to the Dotson family and residents of the adjacent Parchester Village neighborhood, those plans were defeated and in 2011 the park district acquired the land.

The marsh is currently undergoing an extensive, $14 million habitat restoration that’s being funded by more than 10 agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and through Measures CC and WW. When the restoration is complete, the marsh will be a self-sustaining wetland complex that will filter polluted run-off and provide habitat for high-quality native plants and threatened and endangered species.

“This is a tremendous honor,” said park district board member Whitney Dotson, whose family has been on the forefront of Richmond environmental advocacy and justice for many decades. “This beautiful marsh is an asset not just for Richmond residents but the entire Bay Area.”

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Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch will hold open house from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20 at its Underground Mining Museum.

Visitors will be able to take free, self-guided tours of 1,000 feet of the historic Hazel-Atlas silica sand mine, with park staff posted along the way at points of interest.

For safety reasons, children must be seven or older, accompanied by an adult, to go on the tour. Activities for younger children will be available above ground.

The last day for paid tours of the mine will be Nov. 26. The mine closes during the winter months and will reopen in March of 2017.

Black Diamond Mines is at the end of Somersville Road, 3½ miles south of Highway 4. There’s a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

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