Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I know you have used the term, “Combat Camping” in past articles. I thought it was a joke when I first started reading your column. I have come to understand the reality of it in some popular areas. My husband is not a lawyer, but he plays one at some of the campgrounds we visit. Recently, we were at Utah’s Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Most sites are reservable. We were able to secure a site that was not reserved. The next morning when my husband went to pay for another day he was told the site was already taken. Knowing a reservation must be made 48 hours in advance he questioned how this could be. The woman in charge tried to explain the situation away, but my husband is not one to be “Slam Dunked” if he knows the rules and they are not being followed. I said we should just leave, but he insisted on talking to the managing ranger. That conversation went no better. We were told it shouldn’t have happened but there was nothing that could be done. We were told we would have to leave the park for the day and return late in the afternoon to try for one of the three overflow sites. If we stayed in the park we would need to pay a six dollar day use fee as we waited for overflow. My husband does not like inconsistent, irresponsible management. He ran a business for many years and insists that things only go smoothly if there are policies and the policies are adhered to. He must have drove that point home because they finally decided to let us pay for another day and stay in our site. I personally don’t understand the whole system. Do you think it is worth fighting for site rights? Moving on would be more my style, but my husband has different ideas.
--Legally Blonde near Bryce
It is unfortunate that you have to “Lawyer Up” just to camp peacefully. I have to agree with your husband. If not for yourself, then for the next campers that come in and get the same unfair treatment. The system is complicated enough without local managers making up their own rules. It is very important to understand the many different reservation systems you have to deal with. They are basically the same, but some are farmed out by the Feds and some are run by the individual states. Many parks are becoming 100% reservation. This disenfranchises completely the many campers that prefer to travel unimpeded by a schedule. Often people charged with managing these systems do not fully understand how they function. You can ask three different people the same question and get three different answers. Do not expect a site just because the online reservation listing shows the symbol “W” (Walk-In). I have been told numerous times by State and Federal campgrounds that “W” does not mean walk-ins are available. You would almost have to do a tour of duty as a campground host to understand all the little nuances of trying to manage the campground “Bingo” game. It is not a perfect system and scat happens sometimes. Wires get crossed. Sometimes you may need to use a little common sense and have a little understanding when things do not go according to plan. That said, if you discover it is simply favoritism or nepotism that is getting you evicted, you should yell foul, throw down the penalty flag, grab your husband and “Lawyer Up.”
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink