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By Susan Taylor

Photo  Volunteer trail guide Nancy Stassinopoulis (right) and Susan Taylor (left)

November 29, 2022 (San Diego) -- On the Saturday after Thanksgiving with beautiful weather, the Guided Nature Walk at Mission Trails Regional Park wasn’t lacking for participants.  A park ranger and two volunteer trail guides led Girl Scouts and their leaders, a couple with a leashed dog, and a hiker originally from Portugal. All learned about native plants, birds, and the Kumeyaay people who once inhabited the area at San Diego’s own Mission Trails Regional Park. 

The short hike is conducted by trained volunteers every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 9:30 a.m., starting at the stunning Visitor Center.  Every second and fourth Saturday, the Guided Nature Walk leaves from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground, just up the road from the Visitor Center.

Other programs offered at the park are Wildlife Tracking Walks, held the 1st Saturday of each month at 8:30 a.m., Birding Basics, and other activities such as Discovery Tables, Bird Walks, Star Gazing, Hawk Talk, and Native Flute Circle.  Details can be found at www.mtrp.org.

Nancy Stassinopoulis, one of the volunteer trail guides, said she started the 10-week training in 2020 after retiring from 40 years as an attorney. She talked about the elongated acorns from the Black Oaks once ground and eaten by Native Americans in the region. Nancy and the other two trail guides clearly loved surprising the guests with facts like how the forest rats were eaten, tasting slightly like chicken.

Phil, a computer programmer and trail guide volunteer, loaned one of the adults his trekking pole. As she climbed the wood and dirt stairs, he explained that rattlesnakes were the most prevalent danger at the campsite, primarily when the weather turns warmer in the spring.

Volunteers at Mission Trails Regional Park help at the front desk of the Visitor Center, lead hikes, restore habitat, improve trails, and assist with park beautification.

 The Park is heavily visited, in particular at Cowles Mountain in San Carlos on the weekends, where hikers can ascend the highest peak in the city of San Diego. Park Ranger Heidi Gutknect, who has worked at Mission Trails since 2005, said attendance is up and growing since the peak of the pandemic.

Other points of interest in the park are Fortuna Mountain, east of Tierrasanta, Old Mission Dam in Santee, Lake Murray, and the newly acquired 1,128 acres called West Sycamore, near Scripps Poway Parkway. This addition provides seven miles of multi-use trails through beautiful chapparal and coastal sage scrub.

Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the nation’s largest urban natural parks, consisting of 7,000 acres of natural and developed recreational areas.  A scenic stretch of the San Diego River, two lakes, and opportunities for walking and hiking, rock climbing, bird watching, camping, fishing and boating, mountain biking, horseback riding, and stargazing all attract San Diegan to the outdoor treasures found there.  The Visitor Center can be found at One Father Junipero Serra Trail, off Mission Gorge Road, zip code 92119.

For more information, visit www.mtrp.org.


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