Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hearting Mt. Helix

Look at this sneaky little guy. Isn’t he cute? I caught him trying to sneak up the front door a while back. He crept up the door so smoothly, carrying his house on his back and generally didn’t make me feel better about myself huffing and puffing me and my bicycle up the local mountain that bears his species' name.

A startled Helix aspersa AKA garden snail, trying to decide if the camera presented sufficient amount of threat to retreat into his shell (and fall off my obviously-not-snail-proof door) to hide from.
This, of course, is a  generic brown garden snail, also known to biologists as Helix aspersa. He came to America from Europe sometime after Columbus, and has since made quite a pest of himself. You can find the garden snail just about everywhere in Southern California (perhaps except in the dry desert east of the mountains), so I'm not sure why the prominent spiky hill that dominates the San Diego neighborhoods of La Mesa and Casa de Oro was named Mt Helix, after the slow-moving slimer. At any rate, the name stuck, and there are more things to love about this petite neighborhood 'mountain' than its resident gastropods. 

Mt Helix Nature Theater
A long while ago (months ago, actually) Ms Tracey Stotz, generously granted me a cyber interview about the Mt Helix Park & Nature Theater (it's a private property that's being kept open to the public), but your procrastinator-in-chief here kept getting busy doing other things and hadn't managed to properly written it up until now, just a week before this year's HeArt of Mt Helix Festival (Saturday September 15th from 5:30-10PM)!

HeART of Mt Helix 2012 poster on Mt Helix Dr
Smorg: Can you tell us a bit about Mary Carpenter Yawkey (the park was built and dedicated to her)? 
Tracey Stotz: Mrs. Yawkey loved Mt. Helix. She would hike up for quiet contemplation. Her children (Mary Yawkey White and Cyrus Yawkey) wanted to build the Park in her memory. They added the amphitheater to bring the cultural arts to the people of San Diego.

Smorg: How was the park built? How long did it take? (I see that it was dedicated in 1925, but there's a stone on top-right of the auditorium with the date February 1st 1954 on it)
TS: The Park was built by hand, donkey, wheelbarrow and lots of sweat. It was opened in 1925 and dedicated at that time. We are unsure what the 1954 date is from. We too were mystified and tried to research that date a few years ago. The county ran the park from 1929 - 1999 and they didn't have anything in their historical records about that date. I would love to know!

Smorg: I should disclose outright that I'm not religious, and I hope this question isn't offensive. There is a big cross on top of the park (nothing wrong with that in my book, it's a private property), but the park's mission statement on the website is very religion-neutral. Is the cross something of a heritage (rather than religious) symbol for the park founders?
TS: The cross is actually the memorial that the two children chose to remember their mother. The cross you see is the original one build in the 1920s!

Smorg: I've been up at the park many times now and it is always so clean and well maintained. Do you have any problem with graffiti or other types of vandalism (is being surrounded by private properties keeping graffiti vandals away or is the lack of graffiti the result of the park elves cleaning up storm after hours?)?
TS: We do have graffiti issues but that has gotten better with the increased daily use by our classes (yoga and pilates) and by having an office in the Park which is open 3 mornings a week. People that spray and vandalize don't want to be seen so the more positive activities we have going on the better. We also have an wonderful "elf" volunteer by the name of Larry Kennard who cleans up graffiti on a weekly basis to ensure guests find a clean, safe space.
A few locals watched the partial solar eclipse from the top of Mt Helix earlier this year.
Smorg: What is most special to you about Mt. Helix Park?
TS: The most special part of Mt. Helix Park to me is the history. I am honored to be able to work with our Board of Directors and volunteers to ensure that Mt. Helix Park is here for future generations to enjoy. I get a kick out of sitting in the amphitheater and speculating on who else sat in that same spot in previous years. Did Ed Fletcher sit there to attend an Easter Sunrise service in 1932? In 1949 did someone sit in that exact spot and cry when their child graduated from Grossmont High School? Did some sweet old man sit in that spot in 1925 at the original dedication? I LOVE the connection to the past and being trusted to be a guardian for the future.
A comfy spot on the Yawkey Trail.
Smorg: Since this is a private park that is open to the public, rather than a regular public park, what should visitors know when they visit?
TS: "Private Park" means we get no government funding so we encourage anyone who values the Park to become a "Friend of the Park" and make a donation to help keep things going. The western view from up by the cross is spectacular on a clear day in January. That is a definite "must see." I would also encourage any new visitors to walk the newly constructed "Yawkey Trail". It is a loop in the west side of the Park which can be accessed from the ramp going up to the cross or from the drinking fountain on the north side of the amphitheater. There are benches and overlooks (thanks to some wonderful Eagle Scouts) and soon will be interpretive signage.
Views from Mt Helix's Yawkey Trail.
Smorg: Are the park staff paid or are they all volunteers?
TS: We have 3 part-time paid staff (me - the Executive Director, an office administrator and a wedding/memorials coordinator). The rest of the work is done by volunteers.

Smorg: What can park visitors  do to help keep Mt. Helix park open and maintained?
TS: Become a "Friend of the Park" or attend the Fifth Annual HeART of Mt. Helix, a Sept. 15 food/music/beer/wine event which is a blast. Tickets will go on sale in late June.

Smorg: On a whim, has the park ever appeared on a movie or television series yet? It is such a spectacular site... If I'm a Hollywood movie director I'd probably find some excuse to use it in a film or something)
TS: Not that I know of! We have been featured in Ken Kramer's KPBS show on San Diego but we would be a great back drop for a show!

So... This year's HeART of Mt Helix Festival is on next Saturday September 15th from 5:30-10PM. If you are in town and looking to escape the late afternoon heat to enjoy good music, local arts, and spectacular Mt Helix and its scenery - and all to support a good cause - I say this is a great ticket to buy!


Sarah said...

Snails are certainly sorted for their cycling headgear! It looks like a lovely place to visit - locals are clearly proud of it.

Anonymous said...

I was up there 2 months ago and didn't notice the yawkey trail! Where is the trail head?

Good interview. Will try to go to the festival next week.

JJ Herring