Meet The Staff

Ryan Robertson, Senior Park Ranger

Ryan Robertson is the Senior Ranger for Mission Trails Regional Park, responsible for the management of the park since 2016. He formally was the Senior Ranger for Balboa Park, and has served as a Ranger for the City of San Diego since 2007. A native San Diegan, Ryan graduated from San Diego State University with a B.S. degree in Recreation Administration with emphasis on Outdoor Recreation, and also holds an Associate’s Degree in Physical Geography from Grossmont College. Ryan enjoys family time with his wife and two children, keeping busy with youth sports, camping and remodeling projects.

Melvyn Naidas, Park Ranger

Mel Naidas joined the Mission Trails Regional Park staff in May 1999 and works in field operations. His primary responsibilities include park patrols and enforcement, volunteer patrol coordination and training, resource management, community outreach and interpretive programs, and leading Eagle Scout and other volunteer work groups. He has worked as a Lake Ranger and Reserve Ranger for other cities in San Diego county. Ranger Naidas enjoys music, dancing, education and sports.

Heidi Gutknecht, Park Ranger

Heidi Gutknecht has been a Park Ranger with the City of San Diego since 2001, and transferred here to MTRP in 2005. Prior to working for the City, she worked at Kartchner Caverns and Tonto Natural Bridge State Parks in Arizona, and at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for L.A. County Parks. She graduated from Cal State Northridge in 1993 with a B.S. degree in Outdoor Recreation, and completed a summer internship in Alaska for Kenai Fjords National Park. Currently, Heidi runs the monthly volunteer Habitat Restoration Crew, and helps control the spread of invasive, non-native plants throughout the park. She also loves nature and enjoys sharing her contagious enthusiasm with others.

Chris Axtmann, Park Ranger

After a career in the publishing industry, Chris Axtmann decided to trade in her desk for hiking boots. Lifetime nature lover, she began volunteering at Mission Trails Regional Park in 2008. Completing the Park's Trail Guide Training class, she donated much of her time educating the public during Trail Guide led nature walks, aided our patrons as Trail Patrol, staffed the Visitor Center front desk and gift shop, and assisted the Foundation at outreach events. A graduate of California State Parks Academy, Chris was ecstatic at being hired by the City as a Park Ranger and the opportunity to apply her training and her knowledge of our city's largest open space park to its care and preservation, maintaining and enhancing recreational opportunities. Chris is the Park's education coordinator, scheduling nature walks, school field trips and developing unique educational programs.

Rebecca L. Smart, Park Ranger

Rebecca has worked for City of San Diego Park & Recreation Department since 2012, and joined the Ranger team at Mission Trails Regional Park in 2014.  Prior to joining Mission Trails, Rebecca served as a Ranger Officer for Phoenix, Arizona Parks & Recreation Department; where she developed her skills as a Ranger in the Sonoran Desert and Salt River habitats for many years.  Rebecca grew up in the Los Angeles foothills and mountains, where she cultivated a love of the outdoors, camping, and all things Wild.

Rebecca is passionate about public safety and community outreach, and protecting natural resources and public lands for current and future generations.  She loves wildlife and domestic animals, particularly canine advocacy.  Rebecca is also involved in music, literature, meditation, and volunteering with the Trauma Intervention Program for Police/Fire Departments.

Andrew Miller, Park Ranger

Ranger Andrew Miller joined the Mission Trails staff in January 2014. Prior to Mission Trails Andrew worked as a seasonal/part time ranger at several parks including: Pfeifer Big Sur State Park (California), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), and Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming). In 2010 Andrew graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Recreation and Tourism Management with an emphasis in Outdoor Resource Management. While not working Andrew enjoys: hiking, surfing, spear fishing, camping, and spending time with friends/family.

Levi Dean,  Park Ranger

Ranger Levi Dean grew up in Virginia and graduated from the University of New Mexico with a BS in Geography and a minor in Earth and Planetary Studies. Prior to working for the City of San Diego, he worked as a Recreation Technician for the Bureau of Land Management in Southern Oregon where he was involved in environmental education, GIS mapping and served as the Trails Program Leader for the district. Levi gained much of his related experience working with multiple youth conservation corps in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. Levi is a musician and songwriter and finds inspiration while spending time in nature.

Araceli Dominguez, Park Ranger

Araceli Dominguez joined the Mission Trails Regional Park staff in January 2014. Prior to working for the City, she worked for numerous agencies such as the Department of Parks and Recreation (California State Parks), National Park Service, County of Ventura Agricultural Commissioners Office, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Channel Islands Restoration. She graduated from California State University, Channel Islands in 2007, with a B.S. degree in Environmental Science and Resource Management. When not working, Araceli loves to spend as much time with her dog Zak. She enjoys most, if not all water and outdoor activities.  She is in charge of the "Park Beautification Crew" and "Mountian Bike  with a Park Ranger". 

Jennifer Sanders, Center Director - Kumeyaay Lake Campground

Jennifer has been with the city for the last 7 years as a Recreation leader I where she ran ceramics programs, coached and refereed flag football, and ran summer camps for various locations in Community Parks I. As Assistant Center Director for the North Clairemont Friendship Center, a Senior Recreation Center Jennifer was responsible for fully furnishing the facility and keeping ongoing programs running as well as opening up the space for new senior user groups and activities. Jennifer enjoys watching cooking shows and then being inspired to cook something similar,  spending time with her family, and traveling with her fiancé.

Julie Aeilts, Park Ranger

A graduate of San Diego State University (SDSU), Julie began working as a Ranger Aide at Mission Trails Regional Park in September 2014. After moving from her rural hometown of Oakdale, located near the Stanislaus National Forest and the mountains where she enjoyed her spare time, she enrolled at SDSU to study English. She soon realized she was influenced by her experiences in nature and redirected her focus to recreation administration with an outdoor resource emphasis. She worked for SDSU's student newspaper as a copy editor and eventually the copy chief, while also interning at Mission Trails. Julie finds rejuvenation in most forms of outdoor recreation, primarily hiking and backpacking, and always has her camera and a set of watercolors on-hand.

David Lee, Visitor Center Director

David joined the Mission Trails Regional Park in May 2004 as Center Director I at the Kumeyaay Lake Campground. His responsibilities include assisting the Ranger staff and managing the operation of the Kumeyaay Lake Campground. He has worked for the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department for ten years. In October 2006, David was promoted to Center Director at the Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center. In his spare time, David enjoys Las Vegas trips, bike riding, walking his dog and playing basketball

Carmelo Esquer, Grounds Maintenance

A native of California, Carmelo graduated from SDSU with a BA in art with emphasis in sculpture. He has worked in landscaping and has been a managing supervisor of office furniture installation. Prior to becoming a grounds maintenance worker, Carmelo volunteered at Mission Trails for three years, as patrol, trail guide and worked on both Trail Improvement and Park Beautification teams. His hobbies include painting, ceramics, restoring old cars, fishing and hiking.

Tom Folk, Grounds Maintenance

Tom is a native Californian and has been a resident of San Diego all of his life. Tom worked for Children's Hospital for eight years in landscape maintenance, then was hired by the City of San Diego as an experienced Grounds Maintenance Worker II. Tom spent about eight years in Balboa Park. His work there resulted in his gardens being featured in coffee table books, calendars and post cards. Tom now enjoys the challenges of working in Mission Trails.

Leslie Perkins, Foundation Executive Director

Leslie joined as Executive Director in 2017 to support the goals of the Board of Directors. She manages the administrative operations and financial activities of the Foundation. Leslie grew up in San Diego, and now lives in the San Carlos community with her husband and son. Her background includes representing City of San Diego Councilmembers and managing Council Committees, carrying out policy development and community relations, and previously worked for the Foundation as a fundraising consultant. She holds a B.A. degree in Psychology from CSU Fullerton and a Sustainable Business Practices certificate through UCSD. Kayaking, hiking, and traveling with family and friends are favorite activities. 

Kristin Sweeney, Foundation Office Administrator

Kristin Sweeney is the Office Administrator for the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation and handles all accounting and bookkeeping functions, event rental reservations, and gift shop management. She has helped manage small businesses and has an extensive background in retail and customer service. A native San Diegan, Kristin is an avid hiker in the park, enjoys the outdoors, music and her cat babies!