By Russ and Tiña De Maris
While the partial shutdown of the federal government hasn’t affected camping at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds, changes at Lake Allatoona in Georgia may have caught some winter campers off guard. At the turn of the year, folks who formerly paid cash to camp found themselves at a loss – the Corps now requires payment via credit or debit card only.
For Star Trek fans, you may reckon that not enough Klingons camp with the Corps. For the uninitiated, Klingons are an interstellar species that highly prizes honor. The problem is, says the Corps, not enough humans are honorable enough to actually pay for their campsites. In the past, payments were made via “honor vaults” (“tin rangers” in other parlance), wherein campers would put their fee in an envelope, tear off the receipt as “proof” of payment, then drop the payment in the steel payment vault. Seems like a lot of folks tore the receipt off, but never did the honorable thing and put their cash in the vault. As well, some other criminal types took to jimmying the honor vaults, or just took off with the vault.
To end the whole mess of vandalized vaults and honorless campers, the Corps replaced the vaults with electronic fee machines at campgrounds and day-use areas at Lake Allatoona. The machines don’t recognize greenbacks, only plastic. For those who don’t use the latter, fee paying becomes a bit more difficult. For them, they’ll need to locate a place to buy a prepaid credit card for cash – then use it at the electronic check-in machine at Lake Allatoona.
All of this got us to wondering: Is this the wave of the future for all Army Corps campgrounds? We reached out to the (still open) headquarters of the Army Corps and asked about it. Doug Garman, a public information representative in D.C., responded that, “Each Army Corps of Engineers’ lake project is managed independently, and each project has its own unique requirements. The projects in the [Allatoona Lake] area are moving towards automated fee machines at the day-use areas (swimming beaches and boat launches). Campgrounds for the most part remain under the reservation system with Recreation.gov. Some very small campgrounds use a vault to collect camping fees, but these vaults are likely to be replaced in the next few years with fee machines as funding allows.”
As to whether or not you’ll see an electronic collection system replace the “honor” system at your favorite ACE campground is something that will be up to local managers.