Steckel Park campground transformed by new operators

By Alex Wilson 04/28/2011

Like the mythological phoenix bird rising from the ashes, a campground owned by the Ventura County Parks Department has undergone a radical rebirth since it was taken over by a well-regarded private company about a year ago.

A scenic Steckel Park campground near Santa Paula endured years of conflict between county officials and the former concessionaire for a general lack of upkeep and people living in trailers far longer than permitted.

Now, Kampgrounds of America, often referred to as KOA, has made substantial improvements, including extensive children’s play areas featuring a rock climbing wall and colorful giant jumping pillow. There are new options besides traditional tent and recreational vehicle sites, like tepees and lodges with all the comforts of home. There are horseshoe pits, a new disc golf course; a zip line through the trees is under construction and a swimming pool is also planned.

County Parks Deputy Director Ron Van Dyck says recent improvements at Ventura Ranch KOA benefit county government and the surrounding community. “We’re real happy with them as a tenant, and they’re doing great things in bringing in a lot of revenue to the county. Not just to the park system but to the county because the people that they’re bringing into their KOA haven’t been here, probably, locally before, and that’s helping the county out with the taxes that people are paying in the grocery stores and things like that,” says Van Dyck.

Park Manager John Smith says people know what to expect when they camp at a KOA that has nearly 500 facilities.

“KOA goes out once a year and reviews every campground in the system, and they have to meet certain standards to be a KOA,” says Smith.

In addition to the tepees and lodges, KOA is working on what it calls luxury tents that will have sinks, refrigerators and patios. Smith says many people appreciate having a variety of lodging options when they camp, and enjoy the novelty of sleeping in a tepee. “These are a little bit more glamorous than your average tepee since they have beds in them and chairs, and they’re on wood platforms,” says Smith.

Also offered are scheduled programs like crafts instruction and bird watching. During a Bigfoot night adventure walk, kids are surprised to see some fur stuck to a tree, leading to debates about whether Bigfoot is real.

During a recent visit, peacocks roamed the grounds and entertained the guests with their displays of colorful feathers. Other critters like bobcats and coyotes are also spotted in the area.

Crystal Campfield of Palmdale was there with a camping club from her work. “We really like it. We were just commenting that it’s really nice, there’s a lot of grass, the trees, the facilities, this play area for the kids and the tepees. It’s really nice,” says Campfield.

She says the kids especially enjoy the climbing wall. “We didn’t think they’d even have any success at that wall, but even the little one, the 6-year-old, made it up to the top. So they love it. They love the rock wall and the jumper, and everything here is really nice. We think this is a great campground.”

Campfield says that even though it’s not too far from civilization, it feels like really getting away from it all. “Even the traveling to get here, seeing the farms along the side and the orange groves and all that stuff,” says Campfield.

“So you really feel like you’re getting away, but you’re not that far away from home.”   

outdoors@vcreporter.com

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