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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | WEST COUNTY / LAKE CASITAS

Work Begins on Water Park for Children

January 13, 1998|NICK GREEN

Visitors to Lake Casitas next summer will actually be able to find watery refuge from the Ojai Valley's torrid heat.

Construction of a $745,000 water playground aimed at children ages 2 to 12 and their parents began last week at Lake Casitas Recreation Area, 12 miles north of Ventura.

Lake Casitas Municipal Water District officials haven't relaxed the well-known ban on body contact with the reservoir, however.

While the mini-water park will hold 51,000 chlorinated gallons of lake water, the stuff won't be returned to the pristine waters. And just to ensure no accidental contamination occurs, the 9,000-square-foot playground is being built about a quarter-mile from the waters of the lake in the 6,200-acre park.

The playground's construction is a response to requests for more amenities at the lake that were made during the public debate on modifying the body-contact prohibition after the district opened a $9-million water treatment plant in 1996.

While officials opted not to allow swimming in the lake, such activities as kayaking were approved, along with the decision to study the feasibility of building a pool or mini-water park.

"It gets hot here in the summer and if you don't fish, your [recreation] options are rather limited," said Doug Ralph, park services manager. "This is our interpretation of what the community's been asking for and we think it will be popular. . . . I don't know why you would want to get in the lake if you go into something like this."

Features of the interactive mini-water park will include two 20-foot-high waterfalls, four 8-foot water slides, eight mounted water guns, a 1 1/2-foot-deep wading pool as well as assorted water jets, rope pulls and crawl tunnels.

Aware of the anti-growth sentiment in the Ojai Valley, Ralph is quick to note that the 200-person capacity playground is not an attempt to boost park attendance. Rather, the idea is to encourage more of the 900,000 to 1 million visitors that now visit the park annually to come on quieter weekdays and stay longer.

"Right now, we have people who say: 'We're done fishing, we're hot, let's go someplace else,' " Ralph said.

The water playground is expected to be completed by mid-April. Admission fees will range between $1 and $3.

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