[Editor’s note: MTRP Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Morrissey contributed to the reporting for this story.]
On March 31, the Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) Foundation debuted its new film about the geology of Mission Trails based on the work of SDSU geology professor Dr. Patrick Abbott.
The 20-minute film titled “Rise and Fall of the Mountains at Mission Trails Regional Park” was set to be part of an educational attraction in the Visitor Center. However, due to the closure of the park during the pandemic, the foundation released it on YouTube. Since its debut, the video has had over 5,000 views.
Abbott, who has served as an MTRP Foundation board member in the past, said his interest in studying and sharing the geologic history of Mission Trails began when the foundation wanted to create educational panels about the park’s geology that could be installed on the fence of the Visitor Center patio.
“Me being a geologist, who better to write it up than me?” he said.
But when Abbott looked at the research that had been done on the park’s geology, he found an incomplete record and some conflicting conclusions.
“So I spent a lot of time doing original research to pull together a geological history,” he said.
His research for the educational panels lead Abbott to write a book titled “GEOLOGY – Mission Trails Park,” which is sold in the Visitor Center. All proceeds go to the park.
What Abbott found studying Mission Trails is that the oldest formations in the park are 126 million years old and that the park went through four categories of geologic transformation.
“In a very simple sense, the four categories are: one, the mountains being built; then it goes through an interval where we’re simply eroding, destroying them; then we’re burying everything under an alluvial fan; and then we’re uncovering it again,” he explained.
Abbott credits MTRPF executive director Jennifer Morrissey for the idea to make a short video of the book’s main findings.
“She located and signed up a director, who incidentally was nominated for an Oscar last year — so really a talented guy,” Abbott said.
Director Alexander Juutilainen filmed Abbott explaining Mission Trails’ geology throughout the park over three days. Some of Abbott’s explanations were made into script and read by a voice actress for the video “to give it some balance,” Abbott said. Along with the scenes of Abbott explaining the geology of Mission Trails, the video also has animation sequences, file footage of volcanic eruptions and some aerial drone footage of Mission Trails.
“Rise and Fall of the Mountains at Mission Trails Regional Park” was finished and ready to be shown at regular intervals in the Visitor Center when the COVID-19 outbreak forced park closures throughout the state.
“With the Visitor Center closed, [Morrissey] talked the foundation into streaming it, putting it online and I’m shocked that in the first two weeks, there were more than 4,300 views,” Abbott said.
One of those now over 5,000 people who have viewed the video on YouTube is science teacher Todd Linke.
“The video contains earth science concepts that I teach at Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley,” Linke said. “I will definitely share this with my students through distance learning.”
After Linke discovered the video, the Grossmont Union High School District sent the film’s link to all of the district’s science teachers. Linke also took the film and embedded a quiz so he could test what they learned in the video in real time.
At the end of the quiz, Linke asked students whether they’ve been to Mission Trails. Though the students live in nearby Spring Valley, most haven’t been to the park. Here are some of their thoughts:
“If I were to visit Mission Trails, I would hike to find the interesting rock formations. Snakehead Rock and the rounded boulders seem like fun things to explore, especially now that I know how these rocks formed over many years.”
“Now that I have learned about Mission Trails, I want to go so I can take a look at the rocks and their different colors and layers.”
“I haven’t been to Mission Trails Regional Park but if I ever go there, I want to see how it changed. I would also walk around to just admire the park.”
In the past, Linke has had the opportunity to bring a few classes to Mission Trails, and plans are underway to take students there again, once groups are permitted to gather in the park, and as funding allows.
Morrissey pointed out that donations to the MTRP Foundation underwrite school field trips and also funded the geology film.
“You can provide enriching education programs to local students, restore habitat, improve trails, and support a host of other park initiatives by making a gift of any amount to the MTRP Foundation,” she said, adding the contributions can be made at mtrp.org or by mail; checks can be sent to the MTRP Foundation, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119.
With “Rise and Fall of the Mountains at Mission Trails Regional Park” now completed, there are no current plans for more geology education projects, Abbott said. With the down time created by the quarantine, he is instead working on completing a 12th edition of the college textbook on geology he wrote for McGraw-Hill that is used in schools around the world, including SDSU. Abbott is, however, about to start another video project.
“It’s going to be set in Texas,” he said, adding that he received his doctorate from the University of Texas. “There’s a very fascinating geologic story down there.
“I sort of found where I fit in the world,” Abbott continued. “You call them work projects, but for me this is fun and pleasure. I have those ideas lined up in my head and I just keep going from one to another and it adds a lot of value and enjoyment to it.”
To view “Rise and Fall of the Mountains at Mission trails Park,” visit bit.ly/2W8m1B8.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.