by KELLEY GUSICH | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography

Preserving the Preserve

“Being out in nature is often a spiritual experience for me,” Mike Kelly told us. “It nourishes my soul.”
This Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve resident has lived on the edge of the canyon since 1986. When a neighbor informed him that much of the land was threatened with development, he was inspired to join The Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, where he’s been organizing habitat restoration projects in both parks for the past twenty-five years. Mike represents the organization at public hearings when issues concerning the parks arise, and he leads day and nighttime hikes – both nature and history.

Mike has had many memorable moments leading hikes through the years. His favorite animals to find are tarantulas. “I picked them up and showed how harmless they are,” he laughed. “Most participants think they’re poisonous to us, which they aren’t.” There have also been a couple of scary events. “Once he didn’t see a rattlesnake until after he stepped over it.” “A kid yelled out to me ‘Mister, is that a rattlesnake you just walked over?’ Yep.” He continued, “Another moment was when a big mule deer buck exploded out of the brush next to me on a night hike. Scared the heck out of me!”


faces_mike_kelly_friendsMike also volunteers with the California Native Plant Society, Audubon Society, and the San Diego River Park Foundation. “I especially like volunteering with the California Invasive Plant Council,” he explained, “which I co-founded in 1992 and served as president for two years.” He enjoys being a teacher and field instructor at their “weed schools” where volunteers and professionals are trained in how to control invasive weeds in our parks. Mike has received conservation awards from the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, California Chapter of the Society of Ecological Restoration, California Invasive Plant Council, and various state, county, and city recognitions.

As he slides into retirement, Mike is excited to be freed up to do more volunteer work in our parks. He’s almost finished co-editing a book from decades of archaeological digs in the preserve. His advice to anyone interested in a career as a naturalist? “Find what part of nature ignites a passion in you and become an expert in it.”



Name: Michael (Mike) David Kelly
Profession: Wildlife habitat restoration, small business owner
Community: Mira Mesa on the edge of PQ canyon since 1986
Hobbies: Nature travel trips, the arts, reading, water sports
Favorite Local Spots: Torrey Pines State Reserve and Adriana Kabob Restaurant
Favorite Hikes in 92129: Miner’s Loop Trail on Black Mountain Open Space Park has great vistas, Peñasquitos Creek Crossing to Carson Crossing loop is great after dark, and Black Mountain Open Space Park’s Lusardi Gorge Trail takes you down a beautiful gorge and into a county park at the bottom.