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When Nature Is Not Enough, Campground to Offer TV

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Campers at Lake Casitas in Ventura County soon will no longer have to worry about what to do when they tire of all that nature. They’ll be able to watch MTV, catch a game on ESPN or monitor the latest crisis on CNN.

The campground’s owner, the Casitas Municipal Water District, plans to install a satellite dish to pipe cable TV--including movie channels--into about a third of the 450 campsites around the lake in the hills between Ojai and Ventura.

“People are trying to figure out what they’re going to do with their time if they’re not fishing or out using the lake,” said Doug Ralph, Lake Casitas Park service manager. “Going out to enjoy nature is fine for adults, but these days parents wonder what to do with their kids.”

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The campground decided to join the growing number of private campgrounds installing satellite TV hookups after a survey showed that 93% of Lake Casitas campers were interested in the service. More than 70% of those surveyed said they would camp at Lake Casitas more often if TV hookups were offered.

State and county parks officials say they do not see the point. “One of the reasons people come to enjoy the outdoors is to get away from TV and telephones,” said Erwin Ward, recreation and wilderness officer for Los Padres National Forest.

So far, only a small percentage of the nation’s 15,000 private campgrounds provide television hookups. But close to half of campgrounds have sites upgraded with water and electricity, catering to campers driving recreational vehicles or trailers.

Industry representatives predict that as campers come to expect more creature comforts during their nature experience, the majority of private campgrounds will soon offer a variety of popular television stations.

“TV will eventually be as common as any other service offered at campgrounds,” said David Gorin, executive vice president of the National Assn. of RV Parks and Campgrounds.

Ralph said that by offering the specialized TV programming as well as water and electricity, the park at Lake Casitas will be able to attract more RVs, which pay a higher fee than other campers.

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Ralph said that after the park upgraded campsites with electricity and water hookups last year, profits rose 20%. The increased profit has put the park in the black for the first time, said Bill Austin, a board member of the Casitas Municipal Water District.

The park charges from $16 to $20 per night for the upgraded sites, and accommodates more than 1 million campers a year, Ralph said.

“The price is high enough now that they should already have cable,” said camper Gary Jackson, a retired house painter from Arizona vacationing at Lake Casitas. “They got water and electricity, they might as well have TV.”

B & N Communications of Los Angeles installs such satellite TV systems around the West. “People traveling now expect the convenience of a home,” said Bill Van Dusen, the firm’s president. “They want their television. They want their news and movies.”

Camper Gerhard Weise, a plumbing contractor from Los Angeles, said he would not mind an extra amenity.

“I’m not coming here because of the TV reception, but sometimes when it’s late it would be nice to get the news out here.”

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