25 Years of Preservation and Exploration at Blue Sky Ecological Reserve

Sometimes nature needs a helping hand. Twenty-five years ago, a group of concerned citizens united to save the Blue Sky area from pollution and development. Today, under the care of dedicated docents and volunteers, the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve has grown from 410 acres to over 700. Poway resident Annie Ransom first volunteered for the reserve in 1998 and is now the Interpretive Services Coordinator. We chat with her about the reserve’s many accomplishments over the past twenty-five years, from protecting biological diversity to creating educational opportunities to maintaining safe hiking trails for fitness and exploration.

Q&A with BSER Interpretive Services Coordinator Annie Ransom

What is the history behind Blue Sky Ecological Reserve (BSER)?
The Blue Sky Ecological Reserve we see today is significantly improved. The area had become a place to dump trash and vehicles traveled from Poway to Ramona on the Green Valley Truck Trail, which is now the primary hiking trail in the reserve. In the mid-1980s ranchers living in the canyon sold their properties and the area was destined to become a new housing development.

Fortunately, a small group of concerned citizens, recognizing Blue Sky’s significance as an area rich in biological diversity, banded together to save the area. Their efforts were rewarded in October 1989 when the California Department of Fish and Game (Now California Department of Fish and Wildlife) dedicated the original 410 acres as an ecological reserve.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is the primary landowner. There are also parcels within the reserve owned by the City of Poway and the County of San Diego. With the reserve within our city limits, Poway takes the lead in preserving and protecting this valuable resource, which is now more than 700 acres.

When did you become involved with Blue Sky Ecological Reserve?
Shortly after arriving in Poway from England in 1993, I discovered Blue Sky as a place where I could observe nature and hike – two of my favorite things to do! In 1998, I saw a flyer asking for docent volunteers and immediately signed up. As I became more involved, I served on the Friends of Blue Sky Canyon Board as the docent coordinator and then took a paid position in 2000.

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What is your current position and what duties does it entail?
I am the interpretive services coordinator directly responsible for the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and the Kumeyaay-Ipai Interpretive Center at Pauwai. My responsibilities include serving as a liaison to other agencies, planning and developing interpretive programs and tours, resource management, recruiting and training docents and field volunteers, scheduling school, scout and community tours, and promoting conservation education.

What attracted you to your current position?
My job gives me an opportunity to combine my love of nature with public interaction. I feel fortunate to have such a direct connection between my work and interest in preserving and protecting Blue Sky. It is important and meaningful for me to connect with our natural world and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Much of our interpretive programming at Blue Sky focuses on inspiring children to spend time in and enjoy nature. It’s my hope that this ultimately engages them in preserving and protecting native habitat.

What do you most enjoy about Blue Sky Ecological Reserve?
So much! I consider myself extremely lucky to work alongside a wonderful group of volunteers who are also dedicated to Blue Sky’s preservation and protection. The volunteer docent program was established in 1993 and it remains incredibly successful today.

How has Blue Sky Ecological Reserve changed in the past twenty-five years?
Blue Sky was designated as a 410-acre reserve and today it encompasses more than 700 acres. With preservation as a natural environment as the number one priority, our goal is to ensure that it does not change significantly. Staff and volunteers have taken on several projects over time to eradicate invasive species, restore areas damaged by off-trail activity, and install nature education displays. In 2013, and with funds from the Blue Sky Foundation, we were able to construct an amphitheater and scenic outlook on City property. Both increase accessibility to all visitors regardless of physical ability.

Interest in the outdoors has grown substantially over the last couple years and this has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of visitors we see each year. With this increase, our hope is to minimize impact while inspiring a love for what must be protected.

What celebrations have been planned in honor of Blue Sky’s 25th birthday?
It’s super important to us to offer a day of celebration for the local community and those that have dedicated so much time to Blue Sky. On Oct. 11, from 1 to 4:30 p.m., we’ll host nature-themed activities and crafts, Discovery Tables showcasing the plants and animals, and a really fun scavenger hunt. Everyone will be able to meet Simon the Safety Bloodhound and hear the story of how Blue Sky became an ecological reserve. Most important – remember the free shuttle services from a parking lot at Espola and Old Coach Roads!

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What is the biggest challenge facing Blue Sky Ecological Reserve?
I feel like we do a good job of keeping preservation and protection as our number one priority. Nature can sometimes be hard on itself though and like many areas, the drought is of concern. A seasonal creek running through the heart of the canyon has been dry for some time and a prolonged drought, following the Witch Creek fire, could severely limit the full recovery of many of the trees. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a very wet El Niño!

Please tell us your most memorable moment as a part of Blue Sky Ecological Reserve.
The most memorable moment was unfortunately also my saddest. Walking the trails in the aftermath of the Witch Creek fire was devastating. However, it was also inspiring to watch nature rebound so quickly in many areas.

Please provide us with lesser known facts about the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve.
I’m not sure this is a complete secret, however, many people come to Blue Sky to hike conquer the trail and make it to the Ramona Dam in record time. I personally think they are missing those quiet moments of intently observing how amazing nature really is. It’s these moments that foster an appreciation for a place as special as Blue Sky.

What activities can visitors participate in when visiting Blue Sky Ecological Reserve?
Visitors can enjoy hiking, nature observation, nature photography, and birdwatching. Each year we offer several nature education programs, including Insects at Night in the summer and Hoot, Howl and Prowl in October. Additionally, we try to offer something new or different from the previous year like Reptiles Rock and a Solar Walk/Stargazing evening. One weekend a month, we offer smaller, more intimate docent-led hikes. These are perfect for individual hikers or families with young kids and lots of questions! Five times a year, kids love earning their certificates in our Junior Nature Ranger programs. Around New Year’s, we offer our six-week fitness hiking program for beginners. It promotes the reserve and health and wellness and it’s super popular.

Currently, what is Blue Sky Ecological Reserve’s biggest need?
I don’t know if you could categorize it as “need” but we’re looking at grant or donation opportunities to fund a shade structure for our amphitheater. It’s an excellent location for school and scout groups to gather and to host public programs but in this Southern California sun it can get pretty warm out there. The sun certainly won’t stop us from using it but we’re keeping our eyes and ears out for funding options. With more than 40,000 visitors per year, the return on investment for a donor could be pretty good.

What are your short-term goals for Blue Sky Ecological Reserve? Long-term?
Our short and long-term goals are perfectly aligned and every decision and effort we make is dedicated to the preservation and protection of Blue Sky. Our number one priority is managing the reserve to protect the habitat for the health of the plants and animals that thrive there. Second to that, we provide interpretive programs to foster stewardship, and create opportunities for the public, schools, and community-based groups to connect with nature.

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Do you need any volunteer assistance at Blue Sky Ecological Reserve? If so, how can readers of 92064 Magazine help out?
We can always use extra help! We offer two options: docents and field volunteers. As volunteers, people meet others with similar interests, make a positive impact, and contribute significantly to the preservation and enjoyment of a natural area.

Docents assist year-round in a wide variety of capacities. Whether leading regularly-scheduled nature hikes, working with scout or school groups, helping with special events, habitat restoration projects, or conducting patrols in the reserve, Blue Sky docents are a dynamic group of people whose assistance is invaluable. Specialized training to lead nature hikes is hosted in each spring.
Field volunteers perform all of the duties of a docent with the exception of leading nature hikes. Field Volunteers can join our volunteer team at any time throughout the year.

Tell us about the Friends of Blue Sky Canyon. How do they impact the reserve?
The Friends of Blue Sky Canyon have supported Blue Sky in many ways since their inception in the 1980s. Initially they were instrumental in the effort to save Blue Sky from development, as well as combatting trash dumping in the canyon. To this day, they continue to provide funding to support environmental programming and organized restoration projects. They are working hard to install twelve nature education signs in the reserve. The Friends also conduct quarterly tracking transects to monitor wildlife, and each year they organize a Christmas bird count.

Who has been instrumental in the preservation of Blue Sky Ecological Reserve?
Historically, citizens and agencies collaborated to establish the reserve and today they continue to support the original mission. On a day-to-day basis, our volunteers continue to serve in a critical and significant role. Ultimately, the reserve has been entrusted to the people and it’s important to me that every visitor and program participant understands how they can contribute to preservation.

Blue Sky is home to a wide variety of native plant and animal species. Can you please elaborate on the vegetation and wildlife?
In short succession, a hiker can find riparian, oak woodland, mixed chaparral, and coastal sage scrub environments. Each ecosystem offers its own unique variety of wildlife, and the closeness of these habitats allows a great diversity of species to exist in close harmony.

Is there anything you would like to add for our 92064 Magazine readers?
The Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is home to diverse species of very special plants and animals. I encourage our visitors to enjoy their surroundings and respect the environment by following the rules and regulations. Visitors play a huge role in our effort to protect the Reserve for future generations.

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