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VALLEY WEEKEND | JAUNTS

Humor Takes a Hike

Jim Holt, with his hat full of one-liners, leads the 'Jokes by the Oaks' trek through Malibu Creek State Park.

August 29, 1996|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Heard the one about the park ranger and the bear? No, seriously.

It may not be "Seinfeld," but Malibu Creek State Park interpretive guide Jim Holt has come up with a program for outdoor enthusiasts who like to trade one-liners while they soak up some nature on the trail.

Holt calls it "Jokes by the Oaks," and he is leading the program at the park near Agoura Hills at 1 p.m. Saturday. The 90-minute outing includes a leisurely walk for disabled people on the park's quarter-mile trail, a break for some joke action, then a longer two-mile hike for those who want it.

It sounds wacky, but Holt has been leading these programs for the last year and sometimes gets as many as 30 hikers who like a good joke with their dose of nature.

These are not polished performers. It's a loose crowd, many of them children. That means no raunchy, adult humor. But silly, cornball jokes are just fine.

In fact, Holt's favorite joke about the park ranger and the bear will likely draw groans. It goes like this: The ranger and his pregnant wife were hiking when they came across a bear who scared them. They had good reason to worry about their baby. As it turned out, the little tyke was born with "bear" feet.

That gem came from a collection of jokes Holt keeps on pieces of paper in his hat. They are for hikers to draw from when they find themselves joke-less out on the trail. "Some of them are so dumb," said Holt, who admits he loves a good joke. "I'd rather have people bring their own jokes."

If they don't, or if they suffer from memory lapse when it comes to telling jokes, he's got his ready supply compiled from joke books and other places.

Have you heard the one about the farmer's son who was driving his truck and hit a cow? "Was it a Jersey?" his father asked. "I don't know," the son replied, "I didn't see the license plate." And so on.

Holt mixes humor with the outdoors as a way to loosen up the group and make each of them feel involved.

He hasn't had anyone try to steal the show. "More often they're shy, especially young kids, but once they tell a joke they open up. Sometimes those who are the quietest are the best joke tellers."

Holt starts off the hike on the park's all-access trail, built two years ago for wheelchair users and the blind. It's a smooth 5-foot-wide path with accompanying braille signs that describe the plants, trees and geology along the way. (It also works fine for strollers.)

The trail follows a grassy meadow and soon brings hikers to a spot canopied by big oaks where they can sit at picnic tables in the shade. It's here that Holt turns on the humor.

Those who want to continue on a longer hike into the park can follow Holt on a little-used, shady trail that takes them to a grassy knoll with great views of the park and the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains.

Malibu Creek State Park encompasses 6,600 scenic acres and a lively past. Around the turn of the century, the area was owned by John Chapman, who was convicted in 1915 of smuggling Chinese people into the country. Some believe Chapman may have used his rugged mountain property to hide those he smuggled in.

From 1911 into the 1930s, an exclusive country club operated there for hunting and fishing. Redwoods planted by the club's owners still stand. The stone and wood lodge is long gone, as are two of the three homes built by the men who established the club. The third, built in the 1920s, now serves as a visitors center.

*

In 1946, Twentieth Century Fox bought the land that is now the park. For nearly 30 years, the place buzzed with film activity: "How Green was My Valley," "Planet of the Apes," "Dr. Dolittle," "Swiss Family Robinson" and the Tarzan films. The most famous was the TV series "MASH." The area became a state park in 1975, but the series was filmed there by special permission until 1983.

Holt relates tidbits to hikers about the park's colorful past. He also doles out information about the sights in the oak-studded park. On the way back, he swings by the visitors center, where they can see some stuffed animals--a mountain lion, bobcat, raccoon, birds. The center, open on weekends, has Chumash Indian artifacts and maps of the park. "MASH" fans can see photos of the set, and for $4 they can pick up a simulated dog tag.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Jokes by the Oaks."

* WHEN: 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday.

* WHERE: Malibu Creek State Park, near Agoura Hills. From the Ventura Freeway, exit at Las Virgenes Road and travel south three miles. The park is on Las Virgenes Road, just past the intersection with Mulholland Highway.

* HOW MUCH: Free. ($6 charge for parking.)

* FYI: (818) 880-0350, California Department of Parks and Recreation.

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