There’s More to Poway’s Landmark than Potato Chip Rock

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter lately, chances are you’ve seen one of your friends standing (or hand standing) on a thin slice of rock that juts out into the sky. The iconic “Potato Chip Rock” has become a world-famous photo opportunity right in our own backyard. Sitting near the top of Mt. Woodson, the snack-food shaped landmark is far from the only exciting experience on the 2,000+ foot mountain. We talked with Senior Park Ranger Edward Christensen about what it takes to care for one of San Diego County’s tallest icons.

Q&A with Senior Park Ranger Edward ChristensenMtWoodson02

What is the history behind Mt. Woodson?

Dr. Marshall Clay Woodson homesteaded the area circa 1895. Before his arrival, Native Americans were known to have frequented the area, and called the mountain “The Mountain of Moon-Lit Rocks”. Later Pioneers called it Cobblestone Peak. Mt. Woodson has changed hands many times with the BLM, State of California Department of Forestry, City of Poway, County of San Diego, and City of San Diego owning and managing the mountain. Currently, County of San Diego, CAL FIRE, and City of San Diego own the east side of the mountain while the west side of the mountain is owned by the City of Poway.

Please provide us with a brief summary of your background and experience.

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, I began working as a seasonal park ranger in the National Park Service. I worked at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Cabrillo National Monument here in San Diego, CA. After nine years in the federal system, I was hired on with the San Diego Park and Recreation Department as a Sr. Park Ranger at Mission Bay. In 2007 I began working in the Open Space Division with Mt. Woodson as one of my areas. I’ve been enjoying my work here ever since.

When did you become senior park ranger, if you did not begin in your current position?

After working with the National Park Service, I was hired on as a Senior Park Ranger with the city in 2005. The first position I was offered was in the Developed Regional Parks Division at Mission Bay Park. I started working in Open Space in 2007.

What attracted you to your current position as senior park ranger?

Over the years I’ve worked in some amazing places, had many unique experiences, and met lots of great people. I’ve always liked the idea of teamwork and I jumped at the chance to come here and be a part of this team. The man who hired me described my position as a ‘blank slate’ meaning there was some room to leave your mark in how the park develops. I saw coming to Open Space as a chance to use my college degree in Natural Resource Studies/Wildlife Biology in a way I never could have in a patrol oriented position.

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What do you most enjoy about Mt. Woodson?

Like most people, I’m fascinated with the enormous boulders that have grown out of the earth through erosion. Exploring around the mountain amongst the piles of building-size rocks is pretty amazing. The elevation of the park also forces a change of plant types and what grows out there is mostly healthy native vegetation, which is really nice to see. Parks in other areas are challenged with bumper crops of invasive plants that crowd out the native vegetation in certain areas. And the view from the top of Mt. Woodson is one of the best around!

What is the biggest challenge facing Mt. Woodson?

As with most of our parks, being ‘loved to death’ is an issue. What I refer to is simply the large number of people that visit the park and create some unavoidable impacts. Hiking trails become worn faster, the amount of trash increases, wildlife responds to crowds, the overall experience changes. A certain rock feature on top of Mt. Woodson, ‘Potato Chip Rock’, has gone viral and draws large numbers every weekend looking to get a classic photo. The wait for a photo may be over an hour.

Please tell us your most memorable moment as senior park ranger of Mt. Woodson.

The 2007 fires that swept through the region were memorable. With all the highly sensitive communication equipment located on top, Mt. Woodson was a high priority area for fire suppression and saw a lot of tanker drops. The western slopes were burned over pretty well, but the top and eastern sides were saved. At this point the vegetation that was burned has come back really well, and the area is looking healthy again.

What activities can visitors participate in when visiting Mt. Woodson?

Hiking, observing wildlife, and rock climbing* are the main activities visitors take part in at the park. The climbing community has been active at Mt. Woodson since the 70s and there are a large number of bouldering rocks and top rope climbs as well as sport climbs in the area.

*It should be noted that rock climbing and bouldering can be extremely dangerous and are not activities for the uninformed.

Currently, what is Mt. Woodson’s biggest need?

Everyone can do a little to conserve this and other parks by being careful about trash, treading lightly and attempting to leave the place slightly better than how they found it. Shortcutting trails; going off trail has incremental impacts to the environment that add up over time. We each tend to see things from our own immediate scale and timeline. One footstep on a patch of ground isn’t much, but multiply that by ten million footsteps over years and it’s a different story. One Manzanita branch collected and taken home for its unique beauty goes unnoticed, but if every hundredth visitor does the same the plant is wiped out of the area. It’s natural and often healthy for people to want to interact physically with their environment, but being an observer is less impactful in the long run.

What are your short-term goals for Mt. Woodson? Long-term?

To continue to manage the park in a very low impact manner and with progressive education; which allows for regular users to continue use of the park for rock climbing, bouldering, hiking and in addition allowing newer users of the park to become better informed and educated about the area.

Do you need any volunteer assistance at Mt. Woodson? If so, how can readers of 92064 Magazine help out?

Volunteers can be a big help on certain projects. For big projects that are planned out ahead of time we notify the volunteer office. We have also posted notices at park kiosks for smaller or on-going projects. Volunteer projects can range from weeding and planting to doing trail maintenance and construction. People interested in volunteering can call the Ranger office at 858-538-8021. More information can be found at www.sandiego.gov/volunteer-program.

Who has been instrumental in the preservation of Mt. Woodson Open Space Park?

Generations of agencies, park ranger staff, and the public who volunteer their time in cleaning, and maintaining the park; all of which have been instrumental in the preservation of the park.

Mt. Woodson is home to a wide variety of native plant and animal species. Can you please elaborate on the vegetation and wildlife?

Wildlife of Mt. Woodson is varied and dependent on which specific area of the park that one finds themselves. A few animals that can be found are ravens, red-tailed hawk, bobcat, rattlesnakes, and cottontail and desert rabbits, a variety of songbirds, hummingbirds, horned lizard, turkey vultures. The vegetation is a mix of Southern California Chaparral, with Oak Scrub plant communities.

Is there anything you would like to add for our 92064 Magazine readers?

Come on out and enjoy the park!

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Mt. Woodson At-A-Glance

Name of Location: Mt. Woodson Open Space Park

Website: www.sandiego.gov/parksandrecreation

Phone: 858-538-8021

Email: eachristensen@sandiego.gov