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August 13, 1992|APRIL JACKSON

Campfires in Orange County are most often associated with the beach, but Placentia's Parque del Arroyo Verde offers an alternative to salty hot dogs and sand-covered s'mores.

The secluded park, near Yorba Linda Boulevard, is also an ideal site for midday lunches, nature walks with preschoolers and weekend outings. Thick with trees, the narrow strip of lush parkland has several shade-covered picnic tables, offering a welcome break from the heat of summer and a pleasant alternative to the chill of air-conditioning.

Not only is Richard McKee, crew leader for the Placentia Recreation and Human Services Department, proud of the fact that the park staff takes such excellent care of Arroyo Verde, he also takes advantage of the park.

"I come here because it's so quiet," said McKee, a Yorba Linda resident. "At lunchtime, there are office workers with takeout food, or mothers pushing kids in strollers along the walkway. I can do paperwork, read and have lunch. It's very peaceful."

But the park is never so crowded that McKee cannot find a table. "Truth is, I don't think most people even know this park exists," he said. "The entrance is so small you can't really see the park from the street."

The secluded environment is a major plus for the Scout troops that frequently use the fire pits for ceremonies and informal gatherings. Pat Woodard, a leader for her children's Scout groups, has used the park for both daytime and evening events.

"We have to consider the safety of the children first," Woodard said. "I prefer that the kids stay at Arroyo Verde to other larger parks in the area."

Another boon to the Scout troops are the eight campsites next to the fire rings. Although the sites are available only for use by the troops and must be reserved in advance with the Placentia Recreation and Human Services Department, the campfire pits are open to the public.

Woodard also cites police protection as a positive aspect of the park. "The police are able to walk through and really keep an eye on things," she said. "And since the park is difficult to find, no one shows up who doesn't belong here."

Convenience is another reason Woodard and other Scout leaders frequent the park. "Even though you're in the city, the back of the park is very isolated," she said. "It feels very woodsy . . . yet you're only 10 minutes from home."

That backwoods feeling is enhanced by a thick grove of coastal redwood trees, planted when the park was built in the early 1970s. The redwoods and pines tower over the fire pits. A creek bed, now a victim of drought conditions, winds through the park and into a shallow pond. The name, arroyo verde, Spanish for "green river," refers to both the small creek that once ran through the park and Carbon Creek (on the west side of the parkland).

"Parque del Arroyo Verde is a great escape into the wilderness without having to go out of town," Woodard said. "On weekends, I really don't want to drive very far for an outing. This gives my kids a chance to have fun, cook out and play games. And everyone gets a break from the daily routine."

Hours: Dawn to dusk, daily.

Address: 1001 E. Palm Drive, Placentia

Telephone: Placentia Recreation and Human Services Department, (714) 993-8184

Miscellaneous Information: Reservations for parties at the park are available. A minimum cleanup deposit of $100 is required.

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