by Beverly Lane:
There are regional parks conveniently located throughout the East Bay, and there may be one near you that you haven't discovered yet.
A good way to find out more about the regional parks and explore a new one is to enroll in the park district's Trails Challenge program.
Offered in partnership with the Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization, the 2013 Trails Challenge is now celebrating its 20th year.
If you sign up, which is free, you receive a guidebook featuring 20 different regional park trails ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Among them are trails open to all non-motorized modes of travel, including some that are wheelchair accessible. You also receive a free organic cotton T-shirt, while supplies last.
The challenge is on the honor system. Complete any five of the trails, report that you've done so, and you'll receive a commemorative pin (while supplies last).
The guidebook is useful in its own right. Besides detailed information about each Challenge trail, it contains lots of valuable information about trail safety and trip planning.
As it happens, two of the Challenge trails are located in Central Contra Costa County. One is at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness near San Ramon. The other is at Castle Rock and Diablo Foothills in Walnut Creek.
The trail at Las Trampas is a challenging six-mile loop, and challenging is not an over-statement. Starting at the staging area at the end of Bollinger Canyon Road, the route follows the Elderberry, Rocky Ridge and Devil's Hole trails to Devil's Hole, then returns via the Sycamore Trail back over Rocky Ridge to the starting point. There's lots of elevation gain and loss along the way.
Devil's Hole is not as sinister as it sounds. It's a wooded canyon bottom on the west side of the park.
The Castle Rock trek is a more moderate 3.3-mile loop. It starts at the end of Castle Rock Road in Walnut Creek. From there it follows Old Stage Road and the Briones-to-Mt. Diablo Trail to Borges Ranch, a park operated by the city of Walnut Creek. From there it returns to Castle Rock by another route.
Even if you don't take the Challenge hike, Castle Rock is well worth checking out. Formerly privately owned, it has been a picnic venue for generations of central county residents. Besides picnic tables and barbecue stands, the park has a swimming pool, two basketball courts, horseshoe pits, and a ball field. The Old Stage Road Trail leads up Pine Canyon, an easy, shady walk in summertime with views of the impressive Castle Rocks for which the park is named.
To register for the Trails Challenge and obtain more information, visit the East Bay Regional Park District web site at www.ebparks.org. Look for the Trails Challenge image on the right side of the home page.
The web site also contains a wealth of information about all the district's parks, maps you can download, and a schedule of upcoming events.
For general park information, you can also call 1-888-EBPARKS (327-2757).