Sunday, February 11, 2024

Discussion time: Campground stays?

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To quote “The Sound of Music”: How to solve a problem like online campground reservations? As anyone who camps in DEC campgrounds knows, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to nab a great site. You have to time it just right, and hope someone else doesn’t get it first at 9 a.m. on the day nine months from when you want to go.

We’ve been following DEC’s idea to test longer stays at Rollins Pond Campground. The plan was recently put on hold. What’s your take? Should the Reserve America system get scrapped? Should campsite “no-shows” forfeit their sites?

Weigh in here!

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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and is currently digital editor for Adirondack Explorer, overseeing both the Explorer's website and its community forum the Adirondack Almanack. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and two cats.

16 Responses

  1. So, while I’m probably opening up a whole big can of worms here (or several), this is a subject I could talk on for hours.
    I can remember when the “system” (for the sites not already permanently claimed & posted by tent platform “owners”), was 1st come 1st served. I have clear memories of my dad (DEC Regional Director at the time) having one of his staff people go in and pre-place a tent, cooler & some camp items at the site he had chosen for our family’s next camping trip in order to hold it. Judge that as folks might, that was a different time. “Rank Had Its Privileges”. For my dad, that was one of them. So, having grown up as a beneficiary of such “systems” (or lack thereof), even though I agree, it is far from perfect, the Reserve America system is far better than its predecessors.
    As an annual system user, I might suggest that the primary problem is not the system, its simply the fact that on any given day during the reservation camping season, each & every available site is only open to ONE reservation. That means, no matter what system is in place, on any given day, only ONE camper/camping family is going to be happy & get the reservation they want. All others will have to adjust & make other plans.
    I think the problem is actually (and I experience this every year in my own family) that folks, unfortunately, have limited flexibility (either by choice or necessity), on when and where they can or are willing to camp. Some folks are limited by their jobs & vacation requests, which require they put in for time off well ahead. Other folks are limited by the distance they live from the site they wish to camp on (which greatly reduces flexibility), the type of access that site has (boat/canoe only- car, tent only, etc. etc.)
    I have found that the system actually works fairly well if folks are able to be flexible on WHEN they go & which site they actually occupy, & the means by which they ae able to get there. Most places actually have quite a number of great sites.
    If I were going to suggest a system improvement, at least for the Saranac Lake Chain of Lakes it would not be LONGER reservations, but SHORTER reservations. I personally think the current 2-week system max on The Saranac Chain of Lakes might be too long. I might suggest a 1-week consecutive stay max there/reservation, though I might not change the 21-day season total.
    I also might open the window sooner than 9 months, in order for folks who have to make vacation requests to do so timely, as many employees are required to submit their vacation requests a full year out.
    So, while I would support tweaks to the current system (there is almost always room for improvement), I would be very cautious about simply throwing out the current system without having a fully fleshed out (& well thought out) replacement developed. Otherwise, we are likely to find ourselves right back where we started- privately held tent platforms passed down in families through generations, and sites “reserved” by those fortunate enough to have had a dad who could send a staff member in to claim the site of his preference by pre-placing a tent & a cooler.

    • Lillian Antoci says:

      I would not suggest opening the window sooner than 9 months. It would not matter. It is not the time frame that is the problem it is the increase in the number of campers due to Covid-19. More and more people have become campers and as I mentioned there are only so many spots. You can have 10 people all trying to get the same spot for a particular day or week. Everyone wants summer or a holiday but you can only fit so much into a campground. o matter when the window opens, you will have an abundance of campers dueling it out for the campsite..

  2. Randy says:

    I used to show up … maybe get a site I didn’t like – then go down the next morning to see what was checking out and transfer to a site more to my liking.
    Ever since the stupid reserve America nonsense (not even a NY company) I have NEVER gotten a site that is on my favorites list.
    Campers that don’t show up by 9pm or whatever it is should forfeit their reserved site – there simply aren’t enough sites to let some sit empty.
    The ‘longer stay’ idea is horrible – it would effectively allow LESS people in a given year to stay at the campground so in a place that is already difficult to near impossible to get a site that you like the chances would be further decreased.
    Lastly I would vote to ban generators. Here you are camping in a wild forest area listening to the wind in the trees and it’s bad enough listening to the speeding cars but to endure two 2 hour (or whatever it is) blocks of internal combustion engines running each day is awful. I’d rather have the motor boats and aluminum canoe clanking boy scouts that used to be all you heard in the 70s and 80s rather than the incessant generators.

  3. Lillian Antoci says:

    As I mentioned, extending a stay would be unfair to others. It is bad enough that since COVID-19, people have been encouraged to go outdoors, causing an influx to campgrounds. Campgrounds are limited in numbers and can only support so many. ReserveAmerica works. It is only overwhelmed by campers all trying to reserve their favorite site all at once along with so many others. Too few sites for so many people is the problem created by Covid. There was a time when a reservation was not needed. You drove up to any campground and were able to get a site, not so true now. I do agree however that no-shows should forfeit their site. Many times sites sit empty for days. This does not allow others to camp. The current system works, it’s just too many campers competing for a site. Campground attendants need to recognize when a site is a no-show and return it to an unoccupied status.

    • In reply to both Lillian & Randy on “no-shows” & site forfeitures- Speaking from experience, there are many reasons why someone might not occupy their site precisely at the commencement of their reservation: car break down, boat motor wouldn’t start (with the boat loaded & sitting at one’s dock), sick child or family member, family emergency, or maybe most commonly- the weather. I don’t know how many times our family’s reservation has started on a Friday or Saturday, but when that day arrived, it was a rainstorm washout, or thunderstorm & we thought it more prudent to go in & set up dry the next day (or even the day after) instead of going in cold & wet (with young kids) & being cold & miserable for the duration of the trip. Any of these might cause a reserved site to be empty (either on the front end or back end of a reservation -b because there are many times, we’ve come out a day early due to exigent circumstance or inclement weather. So, I think it’s tough to judge a site “unoccupied” with the penalty being site forfeiture. Maybe someone’s dad had a heart attack on Friday & thus & the rest of the family couldn’t get into camp until Sunday. Would it be fair for a camping family with a valid emergency to show up a day late only to find out they had lost their reservation? Or fair to make every family set up camp even if it was in the midst of a thunderstorm? So, how does a DEC staff member fairly assess a true “”no show?” Plus, this involves enforcement, which involves staff, which is already in short supply. I do tend to agree with Randy regarding generators. And chain saws. I see lots of evidence of firewood procurement via chainsaw in camp. I think the rise of battery-operated saws has increased that. I know lots of folks now who carry a battery chainsaw on their boat as standard equipment. I also agree with Lillian that the primary limitation is not the reservation system, but the simple fact that there are only so many sites. Maybe one answer is for the powers that be, where possible, to look into expanding the number of available sites.

      • Randy says:

        I definitely feel someone should be able to call the campground and explain their extenuating circumstances as to not making it by the deadline.

      • Lillian Antoci says:

        Regarding forfeits, I understand certain situations may cause someone not to show up on the first day. I had that situation myself however I called the campground and notified them of my delay. I am talking about people who do not bother to call or show up at all whether it be one or two days, several days, or the whole week. I have seen the campsite empty for a full week. That is not fair to others.

  4. Richard says:

    The maximum 14 day stay should not be extended. As noted above, allowing people to stay longer at an individual site means fewer people overall get to enjoy camping. It’s hard enough now to get a campsite. Also, when people occupy a site for a longer period they take ownership of it and it turns into a semi permanent encampment.

    Yes, generators should be banned in Adk. Park campgrounds. We camp here for the peace and quiet, and it’s absurd that that quality can be ruined by an adjoining noisy generator. There are many campgrounds in New York outside the AP where they are permitted.

    Reserve America is an easy to use system, usually superior to the State-run systems, but the the extra charges for reserving and canceling should be lowered.

    I agree with Dick Monroe that no-shows should not forfeit their reservation, for the reasons he outlined. Bad weather, family emergencies, and many other reasons might work to delay a campers arrival for a day or two.

    Finally, people ought to be able to obtain a campsite if there’s one available, when they drive up. DEC may have adopted this policy already perhaps on a trial basis ,but it should be permanent. I arrived at a CG at night a few years ago, but couldn’t stay, even though there were available sites, b/c I didn’t have a reservation.

  5. Dave says:

    As a camper from the first come first serve days, the Reserve America site has been helpful, especially as someone that travels almost 400 miles to Saranac Lake Campground.

    I agree with Dick Monroe that reducing the two weeks to one week might be helpful on a campground to campground basis. I too have seen “occupied” sites with nobody actively using the sites for days at a time, as well as the vacant no-show sites. The other thing I’ve heard, but not witnessed is the booking of sites for longer than two weeks by spoofing the system by using other relatives or friends names to prolong use of a site beyond two weeks. This is all problematic due to the limited number of camp sites, relatively short season and the increase in campers desiring to use the campgrounds.

    As someone, like many, who really enjoys camping, I can understand the increasing popularity of camping in the Adirondacks. There was a time that you could generally get to camp at the site you wanted. Over the last 30 year or so, flexibility has become more necessary. However now, being flexible doesn’t necessarily make it possible to even book a site at the height of the season.

    Increasing the number of sites would be great, but may not be feasible in order to prevent overuse and environmental degradation of sensitive areas. More efficient use of the sites available seems like a good option. Yes, sometimes problems arise where a party can’t arrive as scheduled. I feel like requiring a telephone confirmation the day of arrival might be helpful. If a party experiences a change in plans, providing that information to the campground could allow another party to use the campsite. Unfortunately, it seems like sites do get booked for several days and sometimes the party never shows up. A confirmation system might help eliminate complete no-shows or allow others to use a site for a night or two before the original customer can arrive. It may be harsh, but if a confirmation is not received on the day of arrival, at a specified time, the campsite can be reassigned to help improve the usage of campsites.

    We all have a vested interest in making the system work as well as possible, so as many as possible can enjoy the beautiful outdoors New York has to offer. Constructively working to improve the system will help allow as many campers as possible enjoy this great resource.

    • Boreas says:

      Perhaps a no-show should prompt a 2-5 year ban from making another reservation. This should prompt more people to cancel properly.

  6. Jeanne says:

    As a camper who only n uses DEC campsites once in a while I can tell you my stay at Lake Eaton was really good BUT 85% of the campground was BOOKED on paper but having been there for those 4 days I can say that w/o a doubt that 85% of those Sites NO ONE SHOWED UP AT ALL !! What a shame they book them & never show..& there were many cars TURNED AWAY at the front Entrance . Yet 85% were E M P T Y !! I was sad for the people who were turned away from an empty Camping area because SELFISH PEOPLE book it all out!! I don’t know the answer for you, but Clearly this isn’t working !

    • Beverly Stellges says:

      Empty campsites for many days is definitely a BIG problem! If someone wants the Fourth of July weekend, they start booking two weeks out in order to get their site for the end of the two weeks. This happens all the time but then they don’t cancel for the unwanted days! There has to be a way to penalize those who don’t show up and make it worth while for them to cancel those days they don’t want. And yes, if an emergency then call the campground and explain that you will be there soon!!

  7. Anne Fitzsimmons says:

    It’s already hard enough to get a site at a NYS campground, extending the time people can camp would make it almost impossible to find a site. I’d also like to know if sites are being reserved by single parties for multiple sites at a time. Gone are the days when I grew up and you say, hey it’s going to be a great weekend for camping let’s go.

  8. Anne Fitzsimmons says:

    I think if you book a site and don’t show more than once, without cancelling it, you should be marked or warned that if it happens a second time you can’t book. It’s easy enough to cancel. And if the camper doesn’t show by a certain time without letting the park know if you’re checking in late, the site should be opened up. Just like hotel reservations.

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