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Roughing It, Comfortably

Shade trees and creek make for a cool experience at camping park near Ojai.

August 03, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Down winding Creek Road a few miles between Ojai and Oak View lies Camp Comfort, a privately leased county park that offers camping, cooking and cooling off in nearby San Antonio Creek.

Once a Chumash campsite, Camp Comfort later was a stopover for stagecoach travelers making the trek from Ojai to Ventura. The current configuration of the park was built by Getty Oil in the early part of the century, when the oil business was booming in the Avenue area of Ventura, as a place for its workers to live.

The 13-acre site is shaded by huge oak and sycamore trees, but the comfort zone at Camp Comfort is rather thin these days. As it should be. This isn't one of those Ramada Ranger campgrounds where the park personnel do everything for you but light the fire. This is a place to camp, have a barbecue and hang out. Bring whatever you need--there's no store at Camp Comfort. The nearest civilization is a few miles up the winding road in Ojai.

Barbecue pits and campsites dot the place, which has a maximum capacity of about 400 people--and a few more ants. During the week, Camp Comfort is laid back and mellow, with no more than about 30 people on the scene. In addition to the smaller campsites, there's a large barbecue area, ideal for company picnics, and a large meeting hall with hardwood floors that in the past has been used for weddings.

Camp Comfort--which opened in 1904 as the first county park--has several children's play areas that include swings, a pair of old-style sheet-metal merry-go-rounds, a slide and horseshoe pits. But the main attraction has to be nearby San Antonio Creek, a basic tree-lined babbling brook that flows year-round in these parts. It's a great place to frighten the minnows and catch frogs, polliwogs and water striders.

"When the temperature hits about 95, everyone heads to the creek," said Sheri Conley, who runs the place with her husband, Jim.

Things change in the wintertime, and San Antonio Creek has been known to become a raging river, terrorizing residents upstream as well as down.

Campers can check out the debris to gauge the situation.

"In the winter, when we start to see golf balls, we know the creek's at the golf course; but when we see oranges, we know it's higher than that and time to get everyone away from the water," said Jim Conley.

As at any park these days, the first step is to read the rules on the sign before entering. For example, at many beaches there's invariably a sign with a big NO on it followed by a list of taboos including fires, dogs, overnight camping, fun and such. The rules at Camp Comfort are less restrictive and pretty much no-brainers.

Children must be supervised and pets must be on a leash. Loud music is prohibited, as are firearms and fireworks. No clotheslines and no auto repairs. No damage to plants or wildlife. No public intoxication. Or as Sheri Conley put it: "We don't cater to the partyers. This is a mom-and-pop place--a nice place to bring your family and let the kids run wild. I know, I have four kids myself."

A day use pass, which expires at 6 p.m., is $5. Everything has its price here, from dog permits ($2) to RV hookups ($15). It costs $10 to pitch a tent.

A bunch of German tourists were rolling up their gear recently after a night at the park.

"We're on the Internet on a list of student hostels, so we get a lot of foreign travelers," Sheri Conley said. "We also get a lot of business from the signs on Highway 33, and people come here when Lake Casitas is full."

To get to Camp Comfort from anywhere but Ojai, take California 33 north, then take the right turn on Creek Road just past Rancho Arnaz and drive a couple of miles.

DETAILS

Camp Comfort, 11969 Creek Road, Ojai. CALL: 646-2314.

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