If you’ve read RVtravel.com for any length of time, you know some of our readers’ “pet peeves” center on thoughtless campers. OK, maybe they’re not even campers. Rather, folks who reserve campground sites, then don’t even bother to show up to claim them. For those wanting a site and can’t get one, it’s a major burr under the saddle. Now California has written up new laws regarding its state park reservation methods. And maybe, just maybe, in one state it will be easier to find “room at the inn.”
Flake-out policies with no teeth
For years, if somebody reserved a spot in a California state park, they had to put down an $8 reservation fee and whatever the cost of the site fees would amount to. What happened if they didn’t show up? At noon the day after the slated arrival, the reservation would be canceled. The person would lose their reservation fee, get charged an additional $8 for a cancellation, and forfeit one night’s worth of site fees. And scads of people do just that.
Under a new law, the sting will be a bit higher for those who flake out on their promises. Come January, the state park reservation system will mandate anyone who makes a reservation and cancels out or doesn’t show up within the first 24 hours loses it all—reservation fee and any money put down for site fees. Let’s say somebody reserves five nights at a $40-per-night site. If he doesn’t turn up within 24 hours of the arrival day, he’s out $208: $8 for the reservation fee, and $200 for the site.
The teeth aren’t quite as sharp if good faith is involved. Cancel out at least a week in advance, all the money comes back, less the reservation fee. Cancel out two to six days before the start, forfeit the cost of the reservation for the first night plus any reservation fees. And those who are “chronic” no-shows? Those who poop out on three reservations in a calendar year can be banned from using the system. That ban will hold until a calendar year has elapsed since their third renege.
Other changes that should give sites more availability
Making sites more available is a new twist in the state park reservation system. People won’t be allowed to reserve a site for more than seven nights in a row during peak season. Nobody can reserve a site if they’ve spent more than 30 days in that same “unit” in a calendar year. A unit is a park or a beach, for example.
So what happens to the money of those bad boys who do the no-show? “Forfeited reservation costs … shall be deposited into the State Parks and Recreation Fund, established pursuant to Section 5010, and may be used, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for purposes of deferred maintenance projects.” We presume those would be projects in the parks!
Site lotto fever!
There’s yet another change coming in California’s state park reservation system, but you may have to wait until 2025 to see it. “On or before” January 1 of that year, the department is ordered to set up a reservation system “for up to five of the most popular units” of the state’s parks. These will be “units” that have shown the most interest by campers, based on reservations in the prior six months. Instead of envisioning a bunch of folks hovering over their keyboards at a given time, competing for a reservation by who’s fastest on the computer, now picture them waiting to see who wins the lottery for coveted parks and beaches.
Instead of awarding campsites to those “fastest on the switch,” the state will draw winners for the most popular parks. So which of these “popular” units will go to the lottery system? As of this week, media folks at California State Parks told us these were the current “top” reserved units: Bolsa Chica State Beach (Orange County); Pismo State Beach (San Luis Obispo County); Half Moon Bay State Beach (San Mateo County); Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (Del Norte County); and finally, San Elijo State Beach (San Diego County).
The lottery system will run until 2029, and then will end—unless the legislature decides to act and make it a permanent affair. Four years of relief? Maybe the idea will spread to other park systems throughout the country.