The man behind the star parties

By Leslie Perkins

Fun activities at Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) are the regular star-viewing parties that are held by trail guide George Varga at the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Day Use Parking Lot. George is a special person to MTRP who is enthusiastic and dedicated, and I have quickly learned how appreciated he is by all who get to experience his astronomy program. At a recent Saturday evening star viewing, people were able to see a beautiful, thin crescent moon, Saturn and its magical rings, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), its companion M32, and Globular Cluster M22, and even the bright International Space Station passing almost overhead.

George, age 78 and married to Nancy Varga, became a U.S. citizen in 1956 after being a refugee from Hungary. He went on to serve in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, and after retiring attended San Diego State University to achieve a teaching credential in mathematics and physical science. He went on to teach for 16 years at National City Junior High and Sweetwater High School.

Volunteer trail guide George Varga leads nature walks and hosts regular star-gazing groups at Mission Trails Regional Park. (Courtesy MTRPF)

George first started volunteering at Mission Trails Regional Park in 1995, first at the Visitor Center and then as a Volunteer Patrol member. While volunteering, it was suggested back then that he consider doing a star-viewing party once month and he jumped at the chance and scheduled monthly events. After retiring from teaching in 2001, George expanded his volunteer efforts by joining the San Diego Natural History Museum Canyoneer Program and taking the MTRP Trail Guide Class and becoming a trail guide leading nature walks.

Besides being so active locally, George and Nancy Varga started volunteering at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in 2004. They worked as volunteer rangers. George enjoyed doing preventative search and rescue patrols, holding star parties, leading nature walks, presenting programs on sky photography and the Southwest Monsoon, and even driving the ambulance when needed! Most years, George and Nancy were gone from San Diego from the end of May to mid-October for 10 seasons.

To this day, his star-viewing program at Mission Trails Regional Park is appreciated by visiting school kids through the foundation’s sixth grade campout program, special events held at the Visitor Center, and people of all ages.

When you meet George and Nancy — awarded “Volunteers of the Year” in 2003 — you can tell they truly enjoy being volunteers, giving of time and talents so others can learn about, experience, and enjoy the night sky above. His next star-viewing party is at 6 p.m.–9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28 in the MTRP Day Use Parking Lot. Please check for more information.

More fall events

Fall is in the air and people are enjoying the changing season at Mission Trails Regional Park. Besides enjoying a hike or walk in the beautiful surroundings, you might be interested in stopping by the Visitor Center for a free afternoon concert inside the theater, or view the current art show exhibit in the gallery.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, Jeff Pekarek is performing and presents The Queen of Calafia Ensemble. On Sunday, Oct. 29, Fred Benedetti will perform on guitar. All concerts begin at 3 p.m. (limited seating for 93 people).

Artist Susan J. Osborn’s oil pastel works of art will be on display every day until Nov. 3, 2017. Stop by to see the variety of pieces and a portion of the proceeds from any art sold will directly go to benefit the MTRP Foundation programs.

— Leslie Perkins is executive director of the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation. Reach her at

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