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Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?

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Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 19, 2016 06:01PM
I found myself very frustrated after being unable to book a single site in the valley this past week. So I sent this letter to Don Neubacher. Interested to hear other people's thoughts on how we can make the campground reservation system more fair and available to all.

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Greetings Superintendent Neubacher,

I am writing you regarding campground reservations at Yosemite National Park, specifically in the valley. I would like to recommend that you move to a lottery system, or year-to-year priority system for campground reservations.

Here is my story. I had made a note of the date to book a site in Upper Pines for our June camping trip. Friday January 15th at 7 am PST. I logged on to Reserve America the night before, re-familiarized myself with the site, noted where we wanted to camp, etc. Then in the morning at 6:40 am I logged on. I monitored the NIST clock and clicked right at 7 am. I could not get a single site in Yosemite Valley for June 10/11/12th. I tried and tried, and the system would show a site available, but when I clicked on it, it would say Inventory Not Available.

We have a decent computer and (what I consider) fast internet (15 Mbps, Comcast cable internet). I was at the computer earlier, I had logged on. I am not sure what else I needed to do to get a site. If someone has written a software that can grab sites, that is beyond my reach. If someone can sit in their office that is equipped with fiber optic links or is simply younger and can click faster, that is beyond my reach.

I love Yosemite; the summer I worked for ]Yosemite] Curry & Company in Yosemite was one of the best summers in my life. I want to come camping there with my children. But I cannot get a site. I do not have the option of going off-season as I have school-aged children.

I have given this some thought and I think the only way to make the system fair is either a lottery system, or a lottery + past stay system. That is, if you stayed one year, you get lower priority the next year. Yes, implementation won’t be easy, with people’s different dates and site requirements, but it’s a solvable problem. The way the system is now is not fair to many of us. Please do something about it.

I am happy to help work with your staff or other volunteers to devise a more fair system.

---------------------------------
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 19, 2016 08:25PM
Did you log on to ReserveAmerica or Recreation.gov? It's been a long time when you could actually do a federal recreation reservation through the ReserveAmerica website. You have to do it directly through Recreation.gov. They're kind of linked since you can check availability, but then it would send you to Recreation.gov for final booking, and the login is separate.

That being said, there are lots and lots of people trying to book at the same time. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes not. The "bots" probably aren't as big an issue as before since they instituted a system to foil the campsite scalpers. They used to be able to transfer reservations, but that's not possible now. Then they would book, cancel, and then immediately rebook with the name of their "clients". That's no longer possible since cancelled reservations must be manually restored into the inventory by a human operator. I've actually seen this happening at the Valley Campground Office when they were trying to get me a reservation to make up for a mixup where my reservation was messed up. They were very much worried that someone online might see it in the few seconds it was available and were using two terminals to release and book the campsite.

Right now I wouldn't attribute this to anything more than just demand. I've thought that maybe a lottery system might work, but at this point I don't know. I've been shut out before and I've gotten lucky.

I'm not even that sure that Neubacher cares.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 19, 2016 09:25PM
Given the way this things works, it's a bit like a lottery now anyway--restricted to those who really care enough to try and get a site at the crack of dawn on the day it becomes available. If it were a broader lottery, even more people would participate, and your odds would go down, not up.

We've given up trying. If needed, we can usually get a spot at Hodgdon Meadows or somewhere else...



Balzaccom

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avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 19, 2016 10:10PM
I have a better solution; restore the River Campgrounds.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 20, 2016 09:33AM
I agree with Balzaccom...if it were a lottery, more people would be involved and chances would be more like winning Super Lotto.

I don't believe that your computer system or internet provider has that much influence on your success. I have been able to secure reservations almost every year since they were available on the computer. I have an old computer and was still on dial-up until last fall.

Before that, we had to call in on the phone...same protocol...dial at exactly 7am.

I have got reservations 15 to 20 minutes after the initial bookings. Full weeks will pop up if folks have payments denied or other reasons. When I didn't get reservations on the designated day, I keep randomly looking for cancellations.

recycling1991 I also have an issue with your "past stay" proposal. Yosemite is the closest national park to where I live and some years, it may be our only camping trip of the year. It is an affordable vacation for people who live nearby.

I still don't understand how big groups are allowed to buy and resell camping sites. Last year, we had a humongous event tent set up near our site, banquet chairs and tables, breakfasts and dinners cooked daily. A table was set up on the side of the campground road and people picked up their campsite mirror tag there. Tremendous pressure was put on the restroom close by. And how do travel companies, that cater to foreign tourist campers, get their reservations?

I agree with Dave...the River Campsites area is designated for transient use. What is more transient use than camping? I think one of those campgrounds should be used as a group site. The groups (scouts, churches, etc...) are camping in the regular campground, buying several sites but making one site as their base. Sometimes there are ten tents in one site...how is that allowed? And maybe the other River campground should be tents only.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 20, 2016 10:08AM
Quote
hikerchick395
I agree with Dave...the River Campsites area is designated for transient use. What is more transient use than camping? I think one of those campgrounds should be used as a group site. The groups (scouts, churches, etc...) are camping in the regular campground, buying several sites but making one site as their base. Sometimes there are ten tents in one site...how is that allowed? And maybe the other River campground should be tents only.

The final Merced River Plan includes new campsites in the River Campgrounds area (north of the road and just east of Majestic Meadow), additional campsites in the Upper Pines area (between the main access road and the river and between the westernmost loop and the road), and additions to Camp 4.

Even with these additions, I'd bet everything will still sell out in seconds.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 20, 2016 01:37PM
..."And how do travel companies, that cater to foreign tourist campers, get their reservations?"

I've always wondered that myself. The only think I can think of is that DNC is/was in cahoots with the travel companies. Maybe that will change now.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 20, 2016 02:21PM
Here's a rather long post I wrote a few years ago about how the travel companies game the system at the Grand Canyon.

http://sammydee.net/blog/hikes/gaming-the-system-getting-a-grand-canyon-backcountry-permit

...Sam
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 20, 2016 02:30PM
Quote
The Other Tom
..."And how do travel companies, that cater to foreign tourist campers, get their reservations?"

I've always wondered that myself. The only think I can think of is that DNC is/was in cahoots with the travel companies. Maybe that will change now.

DNC (or Aramark) are not involved with the campground reservation system. Unlike many national forests, there is not a concessionaire (such as American Land and Leisure) running the park's campgrounds. Any policy for group sites and reservations would be set by the NPS and implemented by Active Network/Reserve America* on recreation.gov.

* ReserveAmerica was sold by Ticketmaster to Active Network in 2009.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 22, 2016 12:02AM
I woke up at 8 minutes before 0700 on jan 15th, fumbled onto recreation.gov and set up 4 request windows on my iPad for Lower Pines #39 for June 14th thru 20th. Hit submit for 1st window at 5 seconds before 0700 and kept submitting 1 window at a time. Snagged the site...this time. That's the second time in the past 5 years. All the other years I was able to pick up cancellations in the Valley or Wawona or Tuolumne and usually for 2 or 3 sites. So what I'm sayin is it is not really that hard or unreasonable to access Yosemite campsite under the current system if you really want!
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 12:53AM
Quote
hg50
I woke up at 8 minutes before 0700 on jan 15th, fumbled onto recreation.gov and set up 4 request windows on my iPad for Lower Pines #39 for June 14th thru 20th. Hit submit for 1st window at 5 seconds before 0700 and kept submitting 1 window at a time. Snagged the site...this time. That's the second time in the past 5 years. All the other years I was able to pick up cancellations in the Valley or Wawona or Tuolumne and usually for 2 or 3 sites. So what I'm sayin is it is not really that hard or unreasonable to access Yosemite campsite under the current system if you really want!

In the past several years it hasn't been that hard to find a first-come, first-served campsite in Yosemite if you arrived before noon at most FCFS campgrounds (excluding Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley). It's just reserving a campsite within Yosemite Valley that's been a pain.
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 22, 2016 07:45AM
Quote
basilbop
Quote
The Other Tom
..."And how do travel companies, that cater to foreign tourist campers, get their reservations?"

I've always wondered that myself. The only think I can think of is that DNC is/was in cahoots with the travel companies. Maybe that will change now.

DNC (or Aramark) are not involved with the campground reservation system. Unlike many national forests, there is not a concessionaire (such as American Land and Leisure) running the park's campgrounds. Any policy for group sites and reservations would be set by the NPS and implemented by Active Network/Reserve America* on recreation.gov.

* ReserveAmerica was sold by Ticketmaster to Active Network in 2009.

Some national park concessionaires handle reservations directly and run the campgrounds. They're not as high demand as Yosemite though.

Those FS campsites are still reserved via the NRRS.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 08:06AM
Thanks for your thoughts everyone. A few comments:

1. I was on recreation.gov; just got the website name in the email wrong (thanks for the correction).

2. Re: moving to a lottery system, my husband also commented that the odds for us getting a site would be worse with a lottery system, and I understand that, but I would feel it is more fair than the current system.

3. I guess I can understand Neubacher not caring. Who does? I actually looked for a Yosemite org chart online, but was unsuccessful. Who is in charge of camping? Is that information publicly available? I know it's not DNC, because you go through the park service directly. Another topic for another day, what does Neubacher care about? What should he care about? I guess I would hope he works hard to lobby congress to get Yosemite more money. Maybe that's his #1 priority? I've also wondered why the big high-tech firms donate so little to Yosemite conservancy.

4. Lucky the folks who got a site. I have gotten sites before and maybe I just got unlucky this year, but something seemed odd this year, as whatever I clicked on, it would show available, and then switch it to Inventory not available on the next screen.

5. I can't really count on first-come, first-serve sites, as we're a family and go camping with another family, and Yosemite's a 5 hour drive for us, and if we don't get a site, people won't be thrilled to have to spend more time in the car. Though it's good to know about their availability if I'm there with a more flexible group.

6. Re: past stay comment, Yosemite is a special national park; you're lucky that you live close by, but I think everyone should get a chance to see it, it seems to me. I think for me the issue is fairness, and while again, I may end up there less with a lottery system than the current one, I would not be upset because I feel it's fair.

Thanks for everyone's comments.

As a side, if you've camped at a forest service campground that is reservable around the high-sierras and that you like it, let me know. Having running water is a huge plus.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 11:25AM
Quote
recycling1991
Thanks for your thoughts everyone. A few comments:

1. I was on recreation.gov; just got the website name in the email wrong (thanks for the correction).

2. Re: moving to a lottery system, my husband also commented that the odds for us getting a site would be worse with a lottery system, and I understand that, but I would feel it is more fair than the current system.

3. I guess I can understand Neubacher not caring. Who does? I actually looked for a Yosemite org chart online, but was unsuccessful. Who is in charge of camping? Is that information publicly available? I know it's not DNC, because you go through the park service directly. Another topic for another day, what does Neubacher care about? What should he care about? I guess I would hope he works hard to lobby congress to get Yosemite more money. Maybe that's his #1 priority? I've also wondered why the big high-tech firms donate so little to Yosemite conservancy.

4. Lucky the folks who got a site. I have gotten sites before and maybe I just got unlucky this year, but something seemed odd this year, as whatever I clicked on, it would show available, and then switch it to Inventory not available on the next screen.

5. I can't really count on first-come, first-serve sites, as we're a family and go camping with another family, and Yosemite's a 5 hour drive for us, and if we don't get a site, people won't be thrilled to have to spend more time in the car. Though it's good to know about their availability if I'm there with a more flexible group.

6. Re: past stay comment, Yosemite is a special national park; you're lucky that you live close by, but I think everyone should get a chance to see it, it seems to me. I think for me the issue is fairness, and while again, I may end up there less with a lottery system than the current one, I would not be upset because I feel it's fair.

Thanks for everyone's comments.

As a side, if you've camped at a forest service campground that is reservable around the high-sierras and that you like it, let me know. Having running water is a huge plus.


I am sorry that you are disappointed but, not that this will make you feel better, believe me that you are not the only one. I have also been in your shoes not only trying to get a campsite but other lodging inside the park, so I completely understand. I also live 5 hours away so I can relate to the issue of not wanting to depend on first come first serve. The one big problem is supply and demand and the demand for camp sites and the lodging inside of the park is huge and ever growing. Let me also assure you that this has been an on going issue for decades and there have been different ways to make reservations in the past and none of them made it easier to get a campsite. We used to camp in Yosemite in the late 80's and early 90's and it was really hard even then to get a site when you wanted one. I would go to the market on the street where we live that had a bank of public phones and be on all of them trying to get through to the reservation offices. (This was before internet reservations) Luckily during that time we didn't have a child so we would go when schools were in session and were also able to be more flexible. With the removal of campsites after the flood there are even less sites coupled with more demand because more people want to camp. Hopefully it will get a bit better when they restore some of the camp sites per the Merced River Plan. As for Neubacher, I am not sure that it can be said that he doesn't care about camping but it is just one of the many issues he has to deal with. It might take him a while but don't be surprised if you eventually get a letter. I have written Superintendents before and have gotten a reply but it took months. Also, he was not the one to make the decision to use Recreation.gov so you would have to go higher up on the chain of command. Maybe go right to Jon Jarvis with a letter. You can find a list of corporations that have donated to the Yosemite Conservancy in the past 18 months at http://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/corporations I don't know why the hi tech firms don't donate but you could call the Conservancy and ask. Hopefully the next time you will be one of the lucky ones to get a campsite.
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 01:28PM
Quote
recycling1991
Thanks for your thoughts everyone. A few comments:

1. I was on recreation.gov; just got the website name in the email wrong (thanks for the correction).

2. Re: moving to a lottery system, my husband also commented that the odds for us getting a site would be worse with a lottery system, and I understand that, but I would feel it is more fair than the current system.

3. I guess I can understand Neubacher not caring. Who does? I actually looked for a Yosemite org chart online, but was unsuccessful. Who is in charge of camping? Is that information publicly available? I know it's not DNC, because you go through the park service directly. Another topic for another day, what does Neubacher care about? What should he care about? I guess I would hope he works hard to lobby congress to get Yosemite more money. Maybe that's his #1 priority? I've also wondered why the big high-tech firms donate so little to Yosemite conservancy.

4. Lucky the folks who got a site. I have gotten sites before and maybe I just got unlucky this year, but something seemed odd this year, as whatever I clicked on, it would show available, and then switch it to Inventory not available on the next screen.

I personally have experienced cases where the reservation system said that a specific site/date combination was available but "inventory not available" popped up when I tried to snag it. Then when I checked again it showed availability. I posted about it and most comments suggested it was some sort of glitch, but that the site were probably already reserved by someone else.

I've thought of a lottery system, but it could get messy with things like second choice dates or second choice sites.

Even if the River Campgrounds were reopened, demand will well outstrip supply. It might improve your chances, or it might make more people think they have a chance and thus increasing demand.

As for ReserveAmerica, there was a time when one could reserve a federal campground on that specific site using a ReserveAmerica account. The availability is linked and I supposed you could reserve, but eventually you're going to need your own Recreation.gov account.

There were different means to handle reservations. At one time the primary way to reserve was through Ticketron. One could call them up or visit one of their licensed locations. The reservation was in the form of an event ticket, and was basically a bearer instrument without any name.
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 01:53PM
Quote
recycling1991
.....3. I guess I can understand Neubacher not caring. Who does? I actually looked for a Yosemite org chart online, but was unsuccessful. Who is in charge of camping? Is that information publicly available? I know it's not DNC, because you go through the park service directly. Another topic for another day, what does Neubacher care about? What should he care about? I guess I would hope he works hard to lobby congress to get Yosemite more money. Maybe that's his #1 priority? I've also wondered why the big high-tech firms donate so little to Yosemite conservancy.
Decisions like this are not made at the park level. The Associate Director for Park Planning, Facilities, and Lands, takes care of that. That's several levels above the person in charge of the Yosemite campgrounds. It might not even be in the hands of the NPS, but with the Dept. of the Interior.

For lobbying Congress, that would definitely NOT be the job of any park superintendent. The National Park Service Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs would do all that. You can call them at 202-208-5656 or email andrea_dekoter@nps.gov.

There is no system that could be developed by humans that would make everyone happy. Don't blame the local park employees. They're just doing what they can within the rules they are given.
Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 03:57PM
I can't figure out how to quote parts of a message easily. Tried it, gave up. :-)

Thanks for the information on who makes the camping decisions.

It is interesting to me that the job of a superintendent does not involve lobbying for more money. I'll have to go educate myself on what a superintendent's job is.

>> There is no system that could be developed by humans that would make everyone happy. Don't blame the local park employees. They're just doing what they can within the rules they are given.

I don't think anyone here blames any park employees. The question is, is there a better system in place for camping reservations than the existing one.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/23/2016 03:57PM by recycling1991.
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 05:34PM
Quote
recycling1991
I can't figure out how to quote parts of a message easily. Tried it, gave up. :-)

Thanks for the information on who makes the camping decisions.

It is interesting to me that the job of a superintendent does not involve lobbying for more money. I'll have to go educate myself on what a superintendent's job is.

>> There is no system that could be developed by humans that would make everyone happy. Don't blame the local park employees. They're just doing what they can within the rules they are given.

I don't think anyone here blames any park employees. The question is, is there a better system in place for camping reservations than the existing one.

Click on "Quote" by "Reply" and you will get the original post bracketed with "left bracket"quote=postername"right bracket" blah blah blah yada yada yada "left bracket/quote right bracket". Just go into the original post text and edit it anyway you want but just be sure to leave the original post "quote" things intact and add your post outside the original post "quote" things. Do a "Preview" to see how it looks. then "Post message". When you click on "Quote" you will see how I did it.



Old Dude
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 05:37PM
Don't forget that whatever system is in place has to stymie scammers that would scarf up blocks of reservations to sell on Craig's List as we've had done in the past..



Old Dude
avatar Re: Camping in the valley- Lottery system ?
January 23, 2016 08:01PM
Quote
recycling1991
I can't figure out how to quote parts of a message easily. Tried it, gave up. :-)
That's easy. Just use "quote" and "/quote" but with [square brackets].

Quote

Thanks for the information on who makes the camping decisions.

It is interesting to me that the job of a superintendent does not involve lobbying for more money. I'll have to go educate myself on what a superintendent's job is.
It's a complicated job. They have to go to a special NPS school before being considered for the job.

Quote

I don't think anyone here blames any park employees. The question is, is there a better system in place for camping reservations than the existing one.
I know those that work here. They try very hard to do what's right and to make things fair for everyone. The problem is, as is with just about any situation like this, there is no system that will make everyone happy.
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