From Oct. 31, 2018, through March 31, 2019, South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park will be closed to all motor vehicle traffic to protect migrating and breeding newts. Bicycles are allowed, although bicyclists are asked to proceed slowly and avoid newts crossing the road. Dogs may be off-leash on South Park Drive during the closure, but they must be under voice control, and owners must carry a leash.
The California newt is a native species of salamander five to six inches long. After spending the dry season in sheltered upland locations, the newts migrate in the winter for breeding.
"They respond to the moisture level in the air,” explained Naturalist Trent Pearce. “They come out after the rains, and even after heavy fog.”
East Bay Regional Park District is committed to making park lands accessible to Bay Area residents and guests, while also protecting sensitive species in our urban landscape. Based on staff research in partnership with U.C. Berkeley, the Park District has closed the road for the seasonal migration for over 20 years. Park visitors can still drive through the park during this closure by using Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Wildcat Canyon Road, and Central Park Drive. This small detour ensures a safe habitat for the tiny, slow-moving newts who have made Tilden Park their home.
Although not an officially threatened species, the overall newt population has decreased over the past several decades primarily due to loss of habitat.
The public is welcome to use the road during the closure for walking, cycling, and dog-walking. However, please keep dogs away from the newts as they are poisonous. And as a reminder, collecting of wildlife is not allowed in the parks.
To learn more, attend a naturalist program or read our FAQ below. For more information on Regional Parks programs phone 888-EBPARKS (888-327-2757) option 2.
Q & A with Naturalist Trent Pearce, Tilden Nature Area
Q: How far do these newts travel?
A: Studies have shown some newts are able to return to their home stream from distances up to 2.5 miles, although shorter migrations are more common. Here in Tilden, many newts cross South Park Drive on their way to Wildcat Creek. Some also cross Wildcat Canyon Road on their way to the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, the Tilden Golf Course, and other pools of water.
Q: What changes do the newts go through in the breeding season?
A: Male newts change more dramatically than females. Once in the water, males swell and become bulkier, their tails become flattened for swimming, and they develop nuptial pads on their feet for gripping females. Females may develop a slightly flattened tail.
Q: What do the newts look like when they hatch from their eggs?
A: When newly hatched, larval newts look similar to a frog tadpole but are striped and have external gills. As they grow, four legs slowly emerge. As summer progresses, they metamorphose into a terrestrial juvenile (a tiny version of the adult) - changing color, losing their gills, and leaving the water to find an upland retreat.
Q: Where are the newts in the summer?
A: Some newts weather the dry months in rodent burrows, under rocks and logs, and anywhere moisture is trapped. Others may remain in their mating pools year-round if the pools stay filled with water.
Q: How can the public help the newts?
A: When traveling on South Park Drive, watch the ground (especially when cycling). Drive slowly when passing the Regional Parks Botanic Garden on Wildcat Canyon Road, as many newts cross in this unprotected area. And never remove a newt from the wild – all animals in East Bay Regional Parks are protected under Ordinance 38.
Dave Mason, Public Information Supervisor