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Simon Park Preserve, a diminutive new patch of dedicated open space, has recently opened adjacent to San Diego Country Estates near Ramona. The preserve, which is maintained for wildlife habitat and light recreation by the county, is probably prototypical of other such open-space preserves we'll likely see in the future throughout the county's rural areas. As the population climbs and development continues apace, developers will deed parcels of open space they own to governmental agencies in exchange for rights to develop more housing tracts.

Presently, the Simon Park preserve is open for use by hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. Both equestrians and bike riders will surely have trouble negotiating the excessively rocky trails leading to the preserve's higher elevations.

To reach the preserve's obscure gateway, drive east from Ramona on Third Street, which quickly becomes Old Julian Highway. After two miles bear right on Vista Ramona Road. Proceed 1.2 miles to a wide spot over the curb and on the right (south) side of the road, where there is parking space for a handful of cars. From your car, walk (or ride) around a vehicle gate and proceed south on a dirt road paralleling a shallow ravine. The ravine carries a seasonal stream and is lined with a pleasant assortment of coast live oaks, Engelmann oaks, willows, and at least one tall cottonwood tree. After only 200 yards travel, a small stock pond (dry through perhaps January) appears on the left.

At 0.4 mile into the hike, new housing construction in San Diego Country Estates appears ahead and to the left. A narrow dirt road branches right, roughly following the course of a small powerline. That road leads circuitously west toward the top of a narrow ridgeline trending north and south. Rounded cobbles that have weathered out of the conglomerate rock of the hillside coat the often-steep roadbed, spelling difficulty for hikers and possible disaster for equine- or bicycle-mounted travelers.

Once you're atop the ridge, you can head north toward its high point, Ramona peak, 550 feet in elevation above your starting point. From anywhere atop the ridge, however, your gaze will take in nearly the whole of San Diego Country Estates -- the most isolated patch of suburban sprawl in the county -- and encompass the great wall of the Cuyamaca Mountains nearly 20 miles east.

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