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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Beach-Bound Travelers Get Head Start on the Holiday

Labor Day: Campgrounds fill up quickly, and traffic is expected to be heavy today and Monday. Temperatures will be cooler than usual.

September 01, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Waves lapped softly onto Susanne Hampton's feet as her golden retriever jumped into the water after a tennis ball. Near the shore, a line of dolphins made lazy arcs in the warm water.

"I love having the waves crashing on my doorstep," said the 51-year-old Palmdale woman. "When I see gutter water I get excited because I think it's a river. Here I am at the ocean with all this water."

As the long Labor Day weekend kicked off Thursday afternoon, a line of RVs wound down the stretch of beachfront at Ventura's Rincon Highway. By early afternoon, nearly every parking spot was filled, overflowing with families playing in the water, couples nursing beverages and enjoying their last shot at summer reading and groups lounging and laughing in chairs.

Hampton and her husband, Greg, had arrived Tuesday to make sure they got a prime spot. "We wanted to get here before they were all taken so we came early," Hampton said. They brought a cell phone to monitor their carpet business from the camper, but they planned to spend most of their time close to the ocean.

The balmy weather contributed to Hampton's cheery mood. Throughout the holiday weekend, the National Weather Service expects sunny but hazy skies after morning cloudiness on the coast and inland.

"The temperatures will be pretty cool, below normal for this time of year," said John Gorman of the National Weather Service in Oxnard. "There is low pressure off the coast and in winter that would bring us rain, but now it will keep us cloudy through part of the days."

Although many youngsters started school this week, Carol Stolz of Santa Barbara was camping along the Rincon with two of her children, who don't start until Tuesday.

Ten-year-old Michael Stolz spent the day surfing and dealing with a squirrel that had wiggled into their trailer. "It kept popping up behind boxes and looking at me," he said.

Finally Carol shooed the creature out with a towel. "It was bold," she said. "I was surprised. People must feed them."

While many campgrounds are filled to capacity, a last-minute cancellation opened an overnight site at Circle X Ranch near Boney Mountain in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

"If someone wants the site, they'll have to come pick up the passes at our office," said park ranger Judy Lively. "We don't even have time to mail them."

Lively anticipates that the trails throughout the national park will be crowded with day hikers.

"Especially, if it's cool like it's been," she said. "It should be really nice."

Officials with the Conejo Recreation and Parks District in Thousand Oaks expect the milder weather to fill their parks as well.

"We know people will be out because it's their last chance," said Steve Wiley, recreation services manager for the district.

Although the early arrivals didn't have to brave much traffic getting to local campgrounds, the highways are expected to fill up today.

The California Highway Patrol is on maximum enforcement, meaning that 75% to 85% of the 63 local officers will be out on patrol this weekend.

Last year there were 26 traffic collisions in the county, 10 of those causing injury, said Officer Dave Webb. Six were related to drunk driving. Webb said the CHP arrested 44 drunk drivers during last year's holiday weekend, which starts at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at midnight Monday.

Heavy traffic will start this afternoon going northbound, with potential bottlenecks where the Ventura Freeway meets California 23 and Oxnard Boulevard, he said.

On Monday afternoon, the traffic will stack up going southbound, he said.

"We recommend that you leave a little early and inspect the vehicle before making the trip, so you know everything is working," he said.

What will Webb be doing?

"Me? I never leave on holidays. I know better than to go out there with everybody else," he said.

*

Times Community News reporter Katie Cooper contributed to this report.

* KILLING TIME

With flight delays rising, creative (and desperate) travelers make waiting an art form. E1

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