While I attended a recent runner's event at Coyote Hills Regional Park, I overheard a couple of runners remarking that they'd lived in Fremont or Newark for more than 20 years, but had never been to Coyote Hills. I was puzzled - from any point in Fremont or Newark one can look toward the Bay and see the Hills rise from the flat marshes, creating a spectacular sight, especially at sunset. I made a note to make the Bay View Trail at Coyote Hills the subject of my first trail of 2011.
It's really difficult to miss Coyote Hills if you're in Southern Alameda County. The park's hills stand out from a distance, and a person could probably find their way to the park just by using them as a visual reference. It's a grand place, and while Coyote Hills requires a parking fee, I have a suggestion before we get started: If you're a frequent visitor or want to explore the Park District's trail system in as many parks as possible you should become a member of the Regional Parks Foundation. The benefits of membership to this non-profit organization are many, and seem to increase every year. I've been a member for years and recommend it for all park users. My membership pays for itself in park fees by February or March. You can join on the District's website - check out more at www.ebparks.org/getinvolved/memberships. Now that I'm parked and have my daypack on...
Coyote Hills comes with a list of features for the whole family - there's the Visitor Center, staffed by a knowledgeable, outstanding crew of naturalists, rangers, and volunteers. There's the shellmound site in the park's considerable marshes, where a Native American village has been recreated. The site is a fascinating visit available to groups by reservation, where park visitors can get a feel for the life the native populations lived before the Bay had been settled by European immigrants. There are miles and miles of trails, such as an old favorite of mine-the Bay View Trail. Birds and animals, wildflowers and trees, all are here at bayside carrying on much as they've done for centuries.
Starting out on the paved and gently rolling Bay View Trail, I cruise slowly past the Visitor Center, stretching my shoulders before taking on the nearly 3.5-mile loop. It's easy to stop once at the marsh, since the variety of birds diving, dabbling, wading, hunting, or otherwise just hanging out is great. In the first quarter mile I watched coots, mallards, and egrets in the water while a harrier and two kites performed a flyover. This is a normal day at the park, where one might see just about anything.
The Bay View Trail is also a favorite wheelchair route, composed of some hills but with nothing too daunting. It's a friendly trail. A hiker or roller can pull to the side to watch birds, animals, or the Bay at almost any point without being disturbed. I've visited on clear days as well as hopelessly socked-in foggy mornings, and the experience doesn't diminish with poor weather or low visibility. Expect some wind, especially on the Bay side, and surprises at every turn.
Although I'd brought my trail chair, the dirt trails were a little soft so I remained on paved sections. Thankfully, Bay View is paved its entire length. I had quite a time discussing the trail and its natural elements with other hikers and bike riders as I made the circle. I saw the dirt trails that crisscrossed the Hills, and made a note to come back when spring had arrived and the trails were dry. I don't like leaving an indelible and quite visible record of my existence at our parks, so I stick to the paved stuff each winter. As I ambled slowly around the hills, I stopped often to look at both red tailed and red shouldered hawks taking advantage of the bay breeze, floating along as if on a kite string. One of the red tails was huge, just magnificent as she drifted overhead, a mere 20 feet above me. My day is made with each of these encounters. I've also heard coyotes in the park or at neighboring Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you have children, the park provides a living textbook with which to share the natural beauty and order of things. Kids glom onto Coyote Hills immediately, especially after a trip to the Visitor Center.
Rolling along also fulfills my exercise requirements. Each of us can work into shape with a weekly walk at a park like Coyote Hills. For my age, I consider myself in above average condition and hope to encourage you to jump on the fitness bandwagon with me in 2011. The parks are energizers compared to a gym, as a planned short hike may turn much longer with all the attractions Mom Nature provides. I have to admit, though - it's a little weird explaining to other hikers that I'm in better shape now than I was at 25, mostly because I spend so much time on Park District trails. I hope you'll join the Trails Challenge this year, too, to get an idea why I am so in love with our Park District. You can sign up for Trails Challenge here: www.ebparks.org/trailschallenge . This is my 7th year as a participant, and I hope to see you out there.
But let's get back to the Bay View Trail. The west side of the Hills has you overlooking the Bay and experiencing a completely different kind of bird - the waders. Willets, avocets, stilts, and godwits (among others) dot the shoreline. If I had the patience to write down every species of bird I noted I might still be out there. I bring my Sibley bird guide on every hike, though, just in case some special treat, such as a clapper rail, is observed. Naturalists can point you toward some of the more interesting places and stories of this park, too. See if you can stump them - it's not easy, trust me on that. I've rolled more than halfway now, and approach the south side of the hills. Looking out over the Bay you see the Dumbarton Bridge, and to the south, connected by a trail or two, is the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It's a hard-packed dirt fire road, quite navigable in a chair. The gap in the hills always seems to promote a breeze, which is welcome on a sunny day like today. The south marsh is filled with Canada geese, honking at each other and an opportunistic harrier as they paddle around. Goose nests are being constructed right now, and every raptor that flies over is greeted with a cautious, low rumble from the geese.
An uphill stretch, neither too long nor too difficult, loops you back toward one the parking lots at the Quarry Staging Area. Approaching the Quarry site, I noted a pair of black shouldered kites cavorting overhead, making little kite sounds as they chase by. It appears these two may be an "item", as no aggression or territorialism is displayed toward each other. They do seem to delight in rousing the nearby geese, however.
I make it down to the Quarry parking area, where picnic sites and trail connections mingle. Cross the street, make a left, and you're back in the marsh, still on the Bay View Trail making your way to the main parking lot and back to your car. It seems almost too soon - maybe another lap? I enjoy Coyote Hills any time of the day, but early mornings or just before sunset are my favorites. And to further pique your interest, Bay View Trail has a connector to the Alameda Creek Trail...more on that in future trail adventures. Coyote Hills is perfect for families, hikers, runners, bicyclists, wheelchair strollers, and dogs. Make it, and all Regional Parks, part of your "Get Fit" plan this year. I look forward to seeing you and hearing about your visit. Catch you on the trail!