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Spectacular view from a spectacular facility Richard Pena | Sat, Mar 19 2011 12:00 PM

Something we had forgotten about was a camping experience we had back in 1987 at the Sweetwater Regional Park before it opened to the public.

Zula and I joined a few other couples and camped a couple of nights in exchange for a bit of work in the day time.

The idea was to get the camp ready for public use. As I recall, we picked up trash and did a bit of weeding on the acreage. We were given a T-shirt that said, "We took the bugs out of the Regional Park," and, I think, they fed us a steak dinner on our last night there.

I thought of that experience, that was so long ago, as I sat at one of the regional park's newest developments, the deck of a brand-new spacious community room that overlooks the Sweetwater Lake and the imposing Mount Miguel.

The occasion was the dedication of this welcome addition to this South Bay attraction that is known familiarly as the Summit Campground.

County Supervisor Greg Cox was the dedication speaker and rightly so as he was, and has been, the champion of the regional park for many years. Cox describes it as "...the crown jewel in county parks system with something here for every San Diegan. If you want to get away and enjoy nature without traveling far, Sweetwater is perfect."

Cox was joined by other local agency leaders who were also major instruments in this $10-million addition to the park. Speaking for these agencies were Greg Hulsizer from South Bay Expressway, Laurie Berman from the California Department of Transportation, and Brian Albright, director of the county Parks and Recreation Department. As we recall there was a bit of land trading between the park and transportation during the building of SR125, the toll road that runs through the valley. These transactions seemed to benefit all since both the park and the road seemed to be operating with no interference from one another. And this has all been to the public's good.

The community room is something that has to be seen to be appreciated. It is of a very unusual architecture, graceful yet practical with 2,000 square feet of space that would handle most local functions. It is a spot that would be ideal for receptions, meetings and other such events and it is open for reservations.

Nearby they have built an amphitheater that overlooks the campground. We recall amphitheaters at other campsites where we have visited and remember them as a place where learned docents or rangers enthrall audiences with tales of the area.

Sarah Gordon, a young lady who works in county communications, pointed out to me one big addition, that being the construction of 63 new campsites that are complete with fire rings, picnic tables and full RV hook-ups.

We understand that two of the campsites are designated for disabled users. These campsites are in addition to the existing 60 sites that have been in the park since 1990. Reservations are currently being accepted.

Other additions include the splash park, playground and covered pavilion at Eastview Park, and the day-use area on the park's south side.

Camping excursions for most families are generally long on preparation and planning. Over the years my entire family, in the beginning, and then just Zula and I in recent years, have enjoyed many of these. It was, therefore, rather strange to pack a car and travel to Summit Park, a full 10 minute drive from our home.

After that first time we took advantage of our own park and used it on a number of occasions. Some people might have thought it foolish to sleep on a cot in a tent when a house with a reasonably comfortable Simmons was a scarce two miles away. But we thought nothing of it.

In recent times we have skipped the camping part but not the day use.

It was a rather simple task to make a couple of sandwiches, load a thermos with cold drinks or coffee, pick up a couple of cookies and head for the park. There, under the watchful eye of the mountain, amidst a day of wall-to-wall blue skies, we would quietly eat our lunch and count our blessings.

Life is great when you live in the Sweetwater Valley and you have your own park at hand.

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