The Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, covering over 3,600 acres of land right in the heart of the 92129 zip code, has a rich history, expansive indigenous ecosystem – and thanks to a group of park rangers and volunteers – a long and enduring future right in our backyard.

A joint effort between the county and city, the protection, maintenance, and preservation of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is spearheaded by Gina Washington, Senior City Parks & Recreation Ranger, and Paul Kucharczyk, County of San Diego Supervising Park Ranger.

Washington and Kucharczyk explain the history, the challenges and the future of the Preserve and what residents can do to help keep the area natural and beautiful.

  With Sr. City Parks & Recreation

Ranger Gina Washington

Can you give us a brief history of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve?
The land that is Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve has a long history dating back to the early 1800’s.  After the land changed hand many times over the years, the City of San Diego started acquiring the land in the mid 1970’s.  Today, the Preserve comprises over 3,600 acres of public land and includes two coastal canyons – Los Peñasquitos and Lopez.  There are nine major vegetation communities and countless bird and animal species all protected within the Preserve.

Can you give us a brief summary of your background and experience?
I began my career in 1991 as a Park Guide with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Bonneville Lock & Dam in Oregon.  I fell in love with interpretation and land management.  I also spent several years as a seasonal Park Aide with the Oregon State Parks working in a camp ground.

How and when did you become involved with the Preserve?
I was hired as a Park Ranger at LPCP with the City of San Diego Park & Recreation Department in July 2001. I was promoted to the position of Senior Park Ranger in December 2004.

What attracted you to your current position?
When I graduated from High School, I knew I wanted to be a Park Ranger.  You get to be a teacher, paramedic, law enforcement officer, biologist, geologist, archaeologist, etc.  I love variety and it’s never the same job every day.  I had always worked in provisional or seasonal positions, so when there was an opportunity to get a permanent full-time position (my dream job), I had to go for it.
Once I got here I didn’t really appreciate the beauty of LPCP – coming from the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon – it was a completely different environment  It didn’t take long though.  There is so much diversity of habitat here, and the people I get to work with on a regular basis are amazing and wonderful.

What was your inspiration to become the Senior City Parks and Recreation Ranger?
I love learning and then sharing what I have learned.  There are so many opportunities as a Senior Park Ranger to discover new things.  Maybe it is something about a plant species, or a new technique for habitat restoration, or just a new direction of management.  To then be able to share that information in an interpretive program or in some form of publication is a real joy.  It sounds a little crazy, but I also enjoy the administrative aspects of the job.  As a Senior Ranger, you have a bit of influence on the different processes involved in the management of the parks and I like to be involved in that.

What do you enjoy the most about being involved with the Preserve?
I really enjoy being out in the Preserve and someone who uses the trails frequently stops to talk and tells me how much they love coming to the Preserve and expresses appreciation for the work we’ve done to maintain the trails.  Or when someone tells me how much they love a new trail we have built.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Preserve today?    
The biggest challenge facing the Preserve comes from the urban interface.  Our borders are pretty much built out, so it isn’t the threat of losing major portions of land to development.  The challenge is how to identify and prevent private homeowners encroaching into the preserve by extending their fence lines, planting ornamental vegetation, building decks or just tossing yard waste over their fence.
There is also the problem with increased urban runoff.  This is causing our riparian areas to turn into expanding wetlands because the creek that used to dry up or diminish significantly in the summer flows constantly and increasingly high.  It also results in extended /repeated trail closures due to increasing storm water discharge.

Can you describe for us one of your most memorable moments in your current position?
The most “ranger” moment of my career was several years ago.  A contractor brought an abandoned two week old fawn to my office that he had found at his work site.  I had to keep the fawn with me all day before the deer rescue volunteers were available to take him.  This little guy followed me around the office, the little tipity top of his hooves on the tile floor as he ran after me from one end of my office to the other.  He nuzzled my legs and drank water from a bottle.  The best moment was when he fell asleep under my desk at my feet, it melted my heart and I thought “I love my job!”  I drove him out to Rancho San Diego to meet with the Project Wildlife deer team member and he just slept next to me on the seat of my pick up.  That is the best and most memorable day ever!

What are your short-term and long-term goals for the Preserve?
My short-term goal is to get our planned City Ranger Office constructed at the north east corner of Black Mountain and Mercy Roads.  This is a gateway to both the Mira Mesa and Rancho Peñasquitos Communities.  It is my hope that having a Ranger Station that people see every day will help them realize that: 1) there are Park Rangers out here and  2) the Preserve is a protected space.
My long-term goals have to do with bridging the gap between human activities (i.e. recreation) and the protection of natural resources.  Our first priority is the protection of the resources that are here, natural and cultural.  One way to protect those resources is to promote stewardship among the communities.  It is my goal to continue to maintain and establish a useable and sustainable trail network within the Preserve while minimizing the appearance of human involvement so that people can access the Preserve and enjoy all the resources without negatively impacting them.  The Preserve has maintained the feeling of a rural, back country area despite the ever encroaching urban environment, and it is my goal to help keep that sense for our visitors through our land management practices.
Many people don’t know this, but there is another historic adobe in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, besides the Ranch House.  Many people might say, “I know that, it is the El Cuervo Ruin at the west end”.  That is true but there is a third, a house that is still being lived in today.  It is the Mohnike Adobe and Barn which was built by the Mohnike family when they owned Los Peñasquitos in 1910.  The house is leased to Canyonside Stables.  It is my goal to see this adobe and barn restored.

Are there any new programs or classes or new activities planned in the next few years at the Preserve?
We don’t have any programs or classes planned.  However, we are working toward some major trail improvements in the coming years.

What are Preserve’s biggest needs or challenges in the next two years?
Our biggest challenge is providing the proper amount of education about the Preserve and all other resource based open space parks to the growing population of San Diego County.  Educating the public on the dos and don’ts of the Preserve, what it really is and how they can help protect it while still enjoying all it has to offer.

What type of volunteer assistance is needed at the Preserve, and how can the readers of 92129 Magazine get involved?
We have a fourth Sunday of the month Weed Warrior Project.  The idea is that volunteers will meet Ranger John Garwood at our Ranger office (12115 Black Mountain Road) and work to remove non-native plants throughout the Preserve.  This is an ongoing project.  It is best to RSVP to or call 858-538-8066 so we know how many tools to prepare.
We also have various events throughout the year, trash clean up, trail work and volunteers are always welcome.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning we have volunteers help us with different projects all over the Preserve – everything from installing fences to building bridges.  We have a great group of regulars that are integral to the success of our trail program.

Anything else you wish to share with the readers of 92129 Magazine about the Preserve?
I would like everyone to know that your Rangers are here to help you enjoy this beautiful, precious resource.  You can contact us anytime at 858-538-8066 or email me personally with questions or concerns at
We have to close the trails of the Preserve on occasion when the trails are flooded or muddy.  It isn’t just about the trails, they may appear to dry at the entrances but once in the Preserve there are areas that stay wet for a long time.  No one goes through the mud which results in widening of the trail and damage to the native vegetation.  I would ask that everyone comply with those closures.  If you would like to be notified directly when the trails are closed and then re-opened, you can send me an email with your address and I will put you on my notification list.
I just hope that all the readers appreciate how fortunate they are to be surrounded by so much beautiful open space land, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, Del Mar Mesa Preserve and Black Mountain Open Space Park.  The 92129 zip code has to be the envy of every other community in San Diego for your proximity to such great places.


 With County of San Diego

  Supervising Park Ranger


Can you give us a brief history of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve / Ranch House?
The first Mexican Governor of California awarded one league of land to Captain Francisco Ruiz, a veteran Commandant of the Presidio, as a reward for his loyal service.  This represents San Diego’s earliest land grant.  Ruiz built a modest adobe on this land in 1824.  Brigadier General Stephan Watts Kearney and his troops stopped at the Peñasquitos Ranch House after his defeat in the Battle of San Pasqual in 1846.  Referred to as the Johnson-Taylor Adobe Ranch House, the building has been restored to its 1860’s vintage.  The barn, built by Charles Mohnike in 1913, is the new kid on the block.  In 1974, the county purchased 193 acres (surrounding the Ranch House) in the Peñasquitos Canyon as part of a County and City of San Diego Los Peñasquitos Regional Park.  By the mid 1970’s, the City of San Diego also began the process of acquiring land for parkland dedicated as part of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.  Today, the Preserve comprises over 3,600 acres.

Can you give us a brief summary of your background and experience?
I always loved wild places and animals since I can remember.  As I got older, I realized the base for all this is our various plant communities.  A stint at an outdoor school as a camp counselor at Forest Falls in the San Bernardino Mountains awakened my passion for interpreting our natural surroundings, and inspired me to finish my degree and find a career pertaining to resource management.  A love of the outdoors led to the stewardship of open space.

How and when did you become involved with the Preserve / Ranch House?
In 2002, a great opportunity came my way and I believed in what County Parks could offer.  Since I began, there have been many changes at the Rancho but the essence of this place is rooted to the past.

What attracted you to your current position?
The combination of natural and cultural history and the trails throughout.  Also, 3,600 acres of wild land in the center of San Diego (Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve) – imagine that!

What was your inspiration to become a Park Ranger?
Say “Park Ranger” and the title suggests a romantic, almost mythical occupation and lifestyle.  I am surrounded by plants and critters – and happy people in the outdoors.  I chuckle to myself when I say, “I have to go to work now.”  Frankly, I can’t wait to return.

What do you enjoy the most about being involved with the Preserve / Ranch House?
The variety of tasks and activities surrounding the canyon and trails, the staging area with its equestrians, cyclists and hikers, and the historical Adobe Ranch House and surrounding grounds.  I get to wear many hats around here.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Preserve / Ranch House today?
The Peñasquitos Creek is a large watershed that includes urban surfaces such as roofs, sidewalks, parking lots, roads and freeways, etc.  All of these prevent the rainwater from soaking into the ground.  This runoff flows to the lowest points.  Big storms during the winter season turn this creek into a raging river that impacts the natural environment.

Can you describe for us one of your most memorable moments in your current position?
1) Taking the reins of a team of Belgian draft horses and driving a large buckboard through the east and west fields surrounding the Ranch House.
2) Catching a 6’ Columbian red-tailed boa constrictor near Eichar’s grave site.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for the Preserve?
Continue planting native shrubs and trees. Saying “yes” to all the various groups seeking volunteer opportunities (it takes a lot of people to plant all those shrubs and trees).

Are there any new programs or classes or new activities planned in the next few years at the Preserve / Ranch House?
The County of San Diego is committed to its citizens engaging in healthy lifestyle choices.  Providing for a community garden at the rancho is one idea our parks department is considering.

What type of volunteer assistance is needed at the Preserve / Ranch House, and how can the readers of 92129 Magazine get involved?
We have many opportunities to get involved and immerse yourself in what you enjoy:  1) Rancho Docents meet monthly to share information about the history surrounding us here.  They provide tours for visitors and plan for and participate in various events held here.  2) Ranch Hands volunteers cooperatively tend a flock of chickens and coop for the bounty of fresh eggs as well as the opportunity for their children to participate in rural activities.  3) Trail Patrol can be enjoyed by hikers, cyclists and equestrians wanting to combine public service with their favorite activities.  4) Community Service is welcome here, whether for high school requirements, from the ranks of scouting, and any other social or professional organization wanting to help out.  For more details, contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Cheryl Wegner, at 858-966-1335 or visit our website at and click on Volunteer Opportunities.

Anything else you wish to share with the readers of 92129 Magazine about the Preserve / Ranch House?
The Rancho Peñasquitos Adobe courtyard is a beautiful location for special events such as weddings, receptions or family reunions.  We have many of the amenities you would need to plan something special at a fraction of the price.  Call the park office at 858-484-7504 to plan a memorable day.


[tabs] [tab title=”Paul Kucharczyk At a Glance “]

Full Name:  Paul Kucharczyk
Position/Title:  Supervising Park Ranger
Age:  54
City of Residence:  North Escondido, CA
Years in Current Position:  9 years
Education: BA in Recreation Administration w/ Outdoor Emphasis
Professional Background:   ’85-‘89 Agua Caliente (Park Ranger and Senior Park Ranger); ’89-‘94 Wm. Heise Park (Senior Park Ranger); ’94-‘96 Environmental Education Division (Senior Park Ranger); ’96-’00 Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve (Supervising Park Ranger); ’00-‘02 Environmental Education Division (Supervising Park Ranger); ’02-present Rancho Peñasquitos Adobe and Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (Supervising Park Ranger).
Family:  Son, Erik, 16 years
Hobbies/Interests: Trail riding my Tennessee Walking Horse, ‘Sedona,’ all over our various open space preserves; planting trees and shrubs (natives at work and ornamentals at home); birding; collecting books relating to the history of the southwest.

[/tab] [tab title=”Gina Washington At a Glance”]

Full Name:  Gina Washington
Position/Title:  Senior Park Ranger
Age:  37
City of Residence:  Lemon Grove, CA
Years in Current Position:  6 years as Senior Park Ranger, 4 as Park Ranger = total 10 years at LPCP
Education:  Community college and on the job experience
Professional Background:  Park Guide, US Army Corps of Engineers; Park Aide, Oregon State Parks
Family:  a wonderful husband
Hobbies/Interests:  I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses so I spend a lot of time involved in our ministerial activities, which I very much enjoy.

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