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R.I. Campsite Reservation Plan A Hit

November 16, 2007 by   - () Leave a Comment

The state of Rhode Island has designed its new campground reservation system to relieve some of the stress and drama from outdoor recreation. But for now, at least, the scramble for campsites has apparently only shifted to earlier in the season, according to the Providence Journal.
Campers deluged the new reservation website and call center almost as soon as the state launched the service at 9 a.m. on Wednesday (Nov. 14). About two hours later, 1,274 groups of campers had made reservations, claiming nearly 10,000 nights at some of the most desirable locations.
By 5 p.m., when the call center closed, the state had logged 1,756 reservations for 12,517 camping nights, according to a report by ReserveAmerica Holdings, the New York-based company hired to manage the system.
“It was a great initial day,” ReserveAmerica spokesman John McDonald said.
In all, the reservation system offers an inventory of more than 1,000 campsites in five parks. Nearly 70,000 groups of campers rent state sites annually.
Thursday’s tally was not available, but the two-day total, according to McDonald, exceeded 1,800.
Not everyone was enthusiastic.
Several angry campers have called the state Department of Environmental Management to complain about the call center. Despite a staff of 45 agents, some callers encountered busy signals or long waits on hold Wednesday morning.
For the convenience of advance booking, campers are being charged a fee — $10 for a phone reservation and $9 for using the website. (The price for renting a campground is unchanged: $14 a night for state residents and $20 for non-residents.)
“It’s like the Gold Rush back in 1849,” said Richard Beneduce, 68, a Warwick, R.I., bus driver who called ReserveAmerica to secure a site. “They cut the string and everyone goes to stake their claim.”
Although he reserved sites for July and August, Beneduce criticized the new system, saying he failed to scoop up his favorite location or to coordinate with friends, as he says he has done for a decade.
Most of the state’s campgrounds have never accepted reservations, forcing users to arrive at dawn on popular weekends to compete for vacant sites that were distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
But Fishermen’s campground (his choice) had accepted reservations by mail, beginning every Jan. 14, when Beneduce happily joined the midnight queue outside the main Providence post office to guarantee a competitive postmark for his application.
“I’ve always gotten the site,” Beneduce said. But at 9:20 a.m. on Wednesday, he said, “they said it was already booked.”
Still, the state Division of Parks and Recreation has declared the program a success.
Fishermen’s accounted for 1,235 reservations on Wednesday, 70% of the day’s total. Burlingame was the next most popular campground, drawing 339 reservations, according to ReserveAmerica, a Ticketmaster subsidiary.
Reservations are permitted 12 months in advance of a camping trip, so the entire next season –April 15 to Oct. 31 – is available.
“It’s all a learning curve for our patrons and ourselves,” Steven T. Wright, acting chief of the Division of Parks and Recreation, said. “But it went very well.”
At least 31 states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, allow campers to reserve sites.
In Rhode Island, state officials said they do not expect to keep up the pace of the first two days. But by late January, planning for spring vacations begins and another rush is expected, Wright said.

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