Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I should probably be writing to my Congressman instead of you, but I’ve decided to write to both. My wife and I have waited for years to be able to travel during the fall when campgrounds in popular areas are less crowded. Now I am discovering that the government camping sites like National Forest and National Park campgrounds are closing in mid-September to early October. Often we can’t get into a park campground because they have only left one loop open. It might as well be the 4th of July, everyone is fighting for a site in a single loop. The weather in areas I am referring to is often mild until late October. I can see the need to cut back on the activities offered during prime time but how hard is it to leave a gate open. I don’t care if they shut the water off, close the bathroom, board up the visitor center, and send the seasonal rangers home. Just leave the campground open so I can find a place to park near the places I love to hike. Am I missing something, asking too much, being unreasonable?
—Fall Guy in Freeport
Dear Fall Guy:
It is probably not a bad idea to write your Congressman. Whatever side of the fence your representative resides on, I am almost sure a vote to increase the Park Service budget is not on the top of the priority list. In their defense I have to say I have noticed the park service monitoring usage and reopening loops, especially on weekends, into the late fall. There is definitely a shift in shoulder season crowds. As more and more seniors retire, shoulder season usage will continue to rise. Many families take advantage of fall weekends to get out and enjoy these same areas. I believe the Park and Forest Service see these same subtle changes and are trying to deal with them and still maintain a balanced budget.
I can think of a lot of things the government could cut to pay for better maintained parks, but don’t get me started. Everyone has their own pet projects and needs. I am just grateful so much public land has been set aside in this spectacular country of ours. You may get a clearer picture of what is happening in the park or parks you are referring to by talking to management there. I would start with an explanation from them before I wrote someone in Washington with six aides pumping out form letters.
Other than that, use prime season tactics like showing up early or making reservations where you can.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink