May 10, 2024

Faculty, Students, and Community Collaborate to Open New Mesa College Interpretive Trail

One of the largest displays of labeled native plants in San Diego County

By Emma Rodriguez

woodland trail entry

Many Mesa students have paused to look at the views we enjoy from the top of our mesa – from the Library Resource Center you can see to UTC and La Jolla, and from the Flagpole, now proudly flying the flag of the Kumeyaay nation, you can see out to Tecolote canyon.  But you don’t need to look out or up to see something incredible- you can just look down.

The Upper Interpretive Trail section of the Mesa Woodland Nature and Interpretive Trail wraps around the slope of the west side of campus for about 7/10ths of a mile. Incredibly, it is one of the largest displays of labeled native plants in San Diego County. That’s right, San Diego Mesa College students are steps away from being able to view and identify more native plants than any other place- including the Torrey Pines State Reserve near UC San Diego. 42 native species are currently labeled, including four endangered plants identified in a recent biological study- the San Diego Barrel Cactus, Chalk Dudleya. Willowy Mint, and Torrey Pine. If you’re on the trail, you can help them survive by sharing a bit of your water when you walk by. There are also meditation spaces along the trail, with seating that takes advantage of Torrey Pines, Manzanita, and Lemonade berry bushes to create little bubbles of calm.

While the Upper Interpretive Trail is open, the full Mesa Woodland Nature and Interpretive Trail recently took a step toward completion thanks to the building of an underpass beneath Genesee Avenue.watering plants on the trail

“One of the main motivations for the trail is to give the students, faculty, and community a safe way into the Tecolote trail system that does not require walking along the fast-moving and dangerous Genesee roadway,says Professor Ron Sandvick, head of the Environmental Sustainability Committee Trail Subcommittee.

Tecolote Canyon is a massive canyon system with a rich history in San Diego. From time immemorial, it was home to Kumeyaay Indians, who used many of the plants you can see in the Upper Interpretive Trail for food or medicinal purposes- including the endangered Chalk Dudleva. Spanish settlers named the canyon “Tecolote” after the owls that can still be seen and heard by lucky bikers and hikers wandering the ancient paths. Eventually, Tecolote canyon was settled by ranchers for cattle rearing. In fact, according to the City of San Diego, some of those cows could still be found grazing as late as 1953, just a decade before classes began at Mesa.

Student, community, and faculty volunteers, led by Vice President Lorenze of Administrative Services and the Environmental Sustainability Committee, have completed most of the work of clearing, maintaining, and labeling the trail.

"Mesa Trails are vital for local communities and guarantee future generations can enjoy accessible outdoor recreation. I feel enriched by our preservation projects. It boosts my well-being and enables me to live more sustainably.” says Gina Queck, a psychology major at Mesa who volunteered on the trail project. “Reconnecting with our roots teaches us how much we rely on natural environments for our survival, health, and happiness.”


Enjoy the Upper Interpretive Trail starting from the North Trailhead at Parking Lot 1 or the South Trailhead behind the BT building.

For an ADA accessible alternative, the trail extends to Main campus around the Quad and MS building.

The Mesa Upper Interpretive Trail is open to Mesa students now, and the trail to the undercrossing is expected to be completed by this summer.

And, to learn more about the trail system status and the best attractions along the trail, visit the map here:

Woodland Trailhead Map

Follow San Diego Mesa College on Social Media: sandiegomesacollege sdmesacollege sdmesacollege 

Youtube: sdmesacollege 

Snapchat: sdmesacollege 

LinkedIn: San Diego Mesa College 


Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Nature Center | City of San Diego Official Website. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

‌Swank, B. (2016, April 2). Tecolote Canyon – Part 1 | The Clairemont Times.

Chalk Dudleya. (2019, April 11). Nature Collective.


Tags: Sustainability, LatestNews, ESC Committee