Founding of the Friends of Sycamore Canyon – A reflection by Paul Kucharczyk


Paul Kucharczyk

I was the supervising ranger assigned to the Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon from 1996-2000. Prior experience in managing a sixth-grade camp program utilizing Urban Corps personnel, providing interpretive programs, and operations experience from my first 11 years at Agua Caliente and William Heise County Parks helped me in this promotional opportunity. My residence on-site was the stone house (est. 1939), still standing today as a burned ruin since the devastating 2003 firestorm. Twenty years ago there was no office, no computer, no Visitor Center. There was no park truck and no other staff or volunteers assigned. The park budget was $1,000.00 a year. Sycamore Canyon Road was mostly unpaved. Think ‘Dances With Wolves’ when Kevin Costner’s character was sent to the furthest Union outpost in the west; that was how I felt when I arrived. I encouraged Boy Scout projects to help repair our trails, gates and fences. Other than that I was pretty much on my own, 24/7.

I did have resources through the docents of the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve ( . Hosting trainings for them at the Goodan Ranch brought good ideas my way. Integral to Blue Sky was the Friends of Blue Sky, a supporting non-profit. There was no similar organization I could call upon for Goodan Ranch/Sycamore Canyon support. During these years the County of San Diego’s Department of Parks and Recreation updated their 5-year plan document. Upon my review, one line-item stood out from all the others: “There shall be established a Friends group for each of our open space preserves”.  Sounds great, but how does one start? Back at Blue Sky I started sharing to a few docents my dream of a support group. I desperately needed help in the form of volunteer labor, and a supporting non-profit could be the catalyst.

Blue Sky Reserve docent, Karen Larson, understood the mutually-beneficial support linking volunteer opportunities to a worthy cause. Planning meant more meetings with more people, and our circle grew. The very first Friends of Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon meeting was held on March 9th, 1999 at President Karen Larsen’s home. Its Mission Statement paralleled the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation’s Mission Statement. The Friend’s Vision Statement was an inclusive one recognizing the needs of bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians. David Breitweiser, Lee Fowler, and Bill Golightly represented hiking and cycling trail use. Mike Kelly’s long-standing with the Friends of Los Penasquitos provided a parallel experience in supporting an open space preserve. Nancy and John Conney of Sky Hunters brought non-releasable birds of prey to the forefront at interpretive and community events. I’m sure this inspired Garden Road residents Jerry and Mary Kay Tomlinson in their design of the Friends logo. So far, so good, but, what I needed was help… volunteers with boots and gloves. By the end of June, the National Charity League, in which Karen and her daughter belonged, provided the first Friends volunteer cleanup on-site. Avid trail user and cyclist Terry Callen and equestrian DeAnne Erickson joined the Friends. In September we sponsored our first Friends booth in Poway’s Community Day event. By 2000, Blue Sky docent and near-by resident Carol Crafts joined our efforts. Our Friends group continued to engage the public at community events and street fairs in Poway and Rancho Penasquitos. Also in 2000, a boy scout took on the project of constructing an amphitheater which is still in use today. My time as the resident ranger was by this time coming to a close. This led to the promotional opportunity for a new supervising ranger, Maureen Abare-Laudy, who still patrols the trails and boundaries of the Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve with her great staff. Trail maintenance, effective signage, perimeter security, staging areas, and, of course, the Visitor Center’s native gardens, nature displays and interpretive programs thrive under Maureen’s care and protection. Ann Laux and Robert Coates, avid equestrians and trail riders, joined the group in 2001. Carol Crafts stepped up to become the next president of the Friends in 2002.

It was my pleasure to visit the Friends board meeting in February at the Hamburger Factory and see it continue for another year. Of course, I renewed my membership. The Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve is still my favorite place to ride my horse, ‘Sedona’. Goodan Ranch history and my time living and working there will always be intertwined as I reflect on the past while riding in the present, and pondering its future.

sycamore canyonHappy trails!