Stretched between the communities of Mira Mesa and Rancho Peñasquitos, from the merge of the I-5 and I-805 in Sorrento Valley into Sabre Springs east of the I-15, is the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. It is home to abundant wildlife, lush vegetation, and the oldest standing residence in San Diego County – the Rancho Santa Maria de los Peñasquitos adobe ranch house. And with the rapid development of remaining open spaces across the county, the 4,000 acre-property is a welcome oasis for its surrounding suburban neighbors. For over 30 years, the Friends of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve has been dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of the preserve and its adjacent open spaces. The Friends, in collaboration with city and county park rangers, assist in leading nature walks, conducting endangered plant and animal surveys, training volunteers in wildlife tracking, and coordinating Scout projects, among many other activities. Read along as we speak with Board of Directors President Les Braund, as he shares with us the many ways to enjoy the preserve’s natural beauty.
QA with Friends of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve Board of Directors President Les Braund
Can you give us a brief history of the Friends of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve? When was it started and why?
In the early 1980s the Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve was formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to protect as much of the old Peñasquitos Rancho lands as possible. As the preserve became a fact in the 1980s and 90s, the Friends turned their attention to the other open space lands to the north and decided to organize to expand them and connect them up with wildlife and trails corridors. With broad community support, the Friends were able to shift Route 56 out of Deer Canyon, San Diego’s last undeveloped coastal canyon, and up onto the old agricultural lands. Broad public support and a strong volunteer effort also stopped the city from building more roads across Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, leaving us at least one place we can escape the din of the city. As these lands were acquired, the Friends also began to help in managing and interpreting them through a wide variety of activities.
What is the Friends’ mission?
The Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and management of the preserve and the adjacent open spaces. We support educational and recreational activities that foster an appreciation of the natural environment.
In what ways does the Friends support the preserve?
The Friends have always supported maintenance and preservation of the canyon and surrounding open space. The Friends have continuously preformed cleanups, removal of exotic species, and restoration of disturbed areas. The Friends continue to speak out in support of preservation of the canyon when it’s threatened, such as the proposal to build Camino Ruiz across the canyon.
From the beginning we have led interpretive walks to educate the public about the canyon and why it is important to save areas like the canyon. We have led nature walks of various kinds: geology, birds, plants, night walks, and local history. We help manage the preserve’s endangered plants and animals through surveys and restoration projects.
How did you personally become involved with the Friends?
I began hiking in the canyon while it was still in private hands late in 1970. At that time there were just three structures in the canyon and vast open spaces to the north, south, and east. One could travel for miles on primitive dirt tracts. One of those tracts was Black Mountain Road. Wildlife was abundant. Large herds of deer were common, as well as large flocks of quail. Other wildlife included bobcat, coyotes, and rabbits – all plentiful.
Distressed to see all this open space being lost, I discovered that Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon was working to save as much of this canyon as possible. I joined. I’ve been volunteering on a continuous basis for over 33 years.
Name: Les Braund
Profession: Retired general contractor
Community of Residence: I have lived in Mira Mesa since 1970
Hobbies and Interests: I collect wood, duck decoys, and split bamboo fly rods
What is your current role within the organization? Please elaborate on your specific responsibilities.
I’ve been the president for the last five years. My responsibilities include conducting the regular bimonthly meetings. I represent the organization in various public forums when necessary. I also keep in contact with the city and county rangers. Contact keeps both the rangers and the Friends aware of what is happening in and around the canyon.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I most enjoy talking with people about the canyon and what a remarkable place it is. I enjoy leading nature walks. I have varied interests that many people are unaware of. In addition to the plants, birds, and animals, I talk about mushrooms, lichens, plant galls, and occasionally about butterflies.
Who are the other Friends board members? How are they chosen to be on the board?
Most of the board members have been active for more than twenty years, some over thirty years, but we also have new board members brought on board in 2017.
The board includes a geologist and astronomer/ornithologist, a professor, attorneys, an environmental restoration expert, retired and active scientists, retired business men and women, and a landscape architect. I myself am a retired general contractor. Board elections are held every two years and every current member has a vote.
How does the Friends receive funding?
We receive funding from many sources including membership dues, grants, and gifts. We have received grants for various restoration projects in Peñasquitos Canyon, Black Mountain Park, and the Friends’ own parcels in Peñasquitos.
Does the Friends partner with any other local organizations to achieve its goals?
Over the years we have joined up with dozens of other groups in support of environmental and planning issues either directly or indirectly affecting the canyon. A special partner has been the California Native Plant Society.
Are there any upcoming projects, programs, events, or activities the community should know about?
In the coming months the Friends have dozens of hikes, restoration projects, and street fairs we are leading or involved in. Visit www.penasquitos.org for details.
Why is the preserve an asset to the community?
The preserve offers a chance for residents to view nature either on their own or on one of the many scheduled hikes. The preserve offers some solitude and great natural beauty to those seeking it. The canyon is also a break from the urbanization that surrounds the canyon; imagine if there were no green belt separating Rancho Peñasquitos from Mira Mesa. The preserve offers miles of hiking and biking trails.
How can the community support preservation efforts?
Citizens can support all efforts to preserve as much open space and wildlife habitat as possible. The pressure to develop more open space is constant. People should be aware of threats to wildlife and open space by pollution and invasive species. Care should be taken when using pesticides and planting gardens with potentially invasive plants. Most important is while in the canyon, respect the native plants, animals, and the natural beauty and quiet.
How would interested community members become involved with the Friends?
People can attend our board meetings or volunteer for one of our many ongoing restoration projects. Or they could learn to be a hike leader. If someone has special knowledge of certain plants, animals, or anything else that might be of interest to visitors we would welcome them.
What are the Friends’ short-term and long-term goals?
Most important is the preservation of the canyon and its rich biodiversity. We and the rangers are always seeking to improve facilities and the flora and fauna of the canyon for the long term. The Friends are also in possession of several small parcels of open space that we are responsible for in perpetuity. So our organization must remain functional and solvent.
If you could grant the organization one wish, what would it be?
My wish would be that more people in the area take an active interest in preserving the existing open space and the canyon in particular. We would love to have new people join our board of directors.
Name of Organization: Friends of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve
Address: P.O. Box 26523, San Diego, CA 92196
Phone Number: 858-863-7393