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Cancelling a permit

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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby chulavista » Thu May 26, 2016 10:05 am

What we are experiencing now is some growing pains in technology and some philosophical pricing questions. The internet thing is still new for the government. Probably the best setup for most people is a mix of reservable and walk-in permits where you can apply online in winter for a lottery and then are able to reserve in advance where spots are available after the lottery is over.

My opinion is that there should be a charge for reserving in advance that a walk-in does not have to pay. Not necessarily no charge for a walk-in, but a higher charge for the ability to reserve. I'd pay a good bit of cash (knowing it is going to a hopefully good cause) to avoid waiting for the ranger station to open.

Now where it gets tricky is at what price-point can we set the permits to discourage hoarding permits and what refund can we set to give an incentive for people to cancel (online) while still discouraging hoarding permits. Some of these permits at national parks are getting reserved for 6 people for x days for $20. $20 is nothing compared to the cost of getting to these parks from across the country, so it is understandable that a lot of people are getting in the lottery without travel plans set in stone (especially when the dates of permit applications are sometimes variable). If there is a per person per night cost paid upfront (a can of worms I know), then there would be a lot less no-shows. It's easy to see why there is a lot of disagreement on how things should be run!

Hopefully none of us complaining about permit availability or crowding would ever think about complaining about the low cost of NPS entry or permits [-X

It also would be nice to have a window open within a few days of popular trailhead entries where people could get in a lottery for some of the advance permits already knowing what the weather will be like. Some people will cancel if they see any rain forecasted and some will go no matter what.



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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby balzaccom » Thu May 26, 2016 12:46 pm

Apropos of this topic. Tom Stienstra in the SF Chronicle wrote this today:

"For camping, a phenomenon developed this past winter when roughly 15,000 Californians gamed the reservation system and locked up the sites at a relative handful of marquee campgrounds for weekends and at the most popular areas. This includes Point Reyes National Seashore, Yosemite National Park, the coast at Monterey Bay and Big Sur, and the Steep Ravine Cabins on the Marin Coast."

Anybody know what he is talking about? Here's a link to the full article:

http://www.sfgate.com/outdoors/article/ ... 945965.php
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu May 26, 2016 4:41 pm

I disagree that "$20 is nothing" compared to the cost of a backpack trip. That may be so for people from afar who backpack a few times a year. For we retired locals on fixed incomes, who go out 10-20 trips a year, and only drive 50-150 miles to the trailhead, $20 is a large part of the total trip cost and multiply that by many times each summer and it prices out many. My only real cost is gas- I have to eat anyway and I usually drive and get on the trail the same day.

Responsible people should not have to pay more because some are irresponsible. Keep the relatively low reservation fee, but then add a per-person "no show" fee if not cancelled (or changed) within so many days of the trip. Chronic "no-shows" could be barred from obtaining reservations. That does not prevent these irresponsible people from going, just makes them get "walk-in" permits.

I am totally against raising fees just to make a penalties hurt enough to be effective. This just penalize the lower income people. The well off do not mind paying for the consequences, as it is just pennies to them.

Any reservation system can eventually be taken advantage of. And any system run on the internet can be hacked. Warm bodies, show up at the ranger station, get permit -- that is the most honest way to go for the solo or twosome. Larger groups are another thing - they need to plan in advance and reserve. It would help too if the quotas were a bit more flexible. Perhaps one or two over one day, to be compensated by one or two less the next day or so, and let it even out within each week.

I also heard about the locking up reservations at campgrounds. I understood (maybe not correctly) that it is similar to concert ticket scalping.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby Ska-T » Thu May 26, 2016 6:02 pm

Hey buddy! Need a permit? I got some JMT permits with great dates! Only $100! :unibrow:

One thing I don't like about SEKI policy, and probably other national parks, is that they charge more per per person for a 1-person permit than they do for a multi-person permit, although it isn't as unbalanced as it used to be. Additionally, the cost of a 1-night trip is the same as 14-day trip so the cost does not reflect the impact.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby chulavista » Thu May 26, 2016 8:54 pm

Probably should mention how thankful we should be that a very high percentage of Americans aren't into backpacking and also don't mind subsidizing those of us who are to keep the fees low. The low fees come with a price, low availability, but it's much preferable to the alternative for most of us.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby LMBSGV » Thu May 26, 2016 9:26 pm

I realize this thread has drifted from its initial premise, but I think it's sparked a good discussion.

Phil, thanks for your insightful post and historical background. I especially found it interesting you mentioned Fletcher Lake since that was where my wife and went on our first Sierra backpack in the 1970s. The people set up as you described. We walked past four or five different occupied campsites as we followed the trail on the north side. When we got to near the far end of the lake, we found a great site. No one camped near us. They all stayed relatively far away at the other end.

The way I see the permit fees for reservations is one pays by the permit since I consider the fee to cover the administrative processing costs for a reservation. Walk-in permits should be free since there are no processing costs. However, I'd love to see public disclosure of Recreation.gov's finances.

I agree with WD that they should do similar research as Phil describes once again. Things have really changed over the last few years. I also agree the group size should be smaller though I think ten or twelve would be okay. The worst damage I’ve seen as always been by large groups, whether they are pack-in or hike-in. A few years ago I did witness the two groups meeting up phenomena WD mentions. This was in SEKI so the backcountry ranger caught them and made them split up. I don’t know if he cited them or not or whether they simply met up again later since I was going the other direction.

Which brings me to my last point: we need more backcountry rangers. I’ve seen a lot of illegal behavior in Yosemite the past few years simply because there are no longer enough rangers patrolling the backcountry. In Inyo, they seem non-existent and the wilderness suffers accordingly. The regulations are meaningless to those who choose to ignore them unless someone is there to enforce them.
Last edited by LMBSGV on Thu May 26, 2016 10:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby balzaccom » Thu May 26, 2016 9:32 pm

In the last ten years and roughly 1000 miles of backpacking in the Sierra, we have met exactly three rangers. One near Vogelsang in Yosemite who was hiking with a group and did not ask for a permit or anything else. One hauling a tired/injured/disabled hiker out on his mule in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. And one near Mono Pass who was doing trail repair work. He's the only one who checked our permit---but also shared a lot of good information about the area...
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby AlmostThere » Fri May 27, 2016 5:10 am

I guess no one will ever want to backpack with me. I see rangers a lot.

I may be the only person who remembers that Yosemite used to let people reserve permits online. I don't think they will go back to that.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri May 27, 2016 8:23 am

There can never be enough rangers if the backpacking public does not buy into the regulations. The flagrant disregard of the rules that seems to be showing up in backpackers is part of our modern culture that seems to glorify breaking of rules. As always, when the participants in an activity are engaged in actually setting the rules, there is more compliance. I see the backcountry ranger as more of an educator, than enforcer. They really need to have a serious conversation with the rule breakers and point out the benefits of the rules. The same thing I do when my 5-year old grandchildren break the rules. I hate the bear can, but I do buy into the need for it, so I comply. Getting a permit is a pain, but I buy into its need, so comply. But once on the trail, it is my own wilderness ethics that prevent me from plopping my tent down on top of another camper, brush my teeth in the stream, or poop on the trail. That is a result of education, not enforcement.

I backpack a lot in the Wind Rivers where there are no quotas or permits required (except you need a permit to go on the Indian Reservation lands - but no quota). Only commercial outfitters need permits and have quotas. Commercial regulations are more geared to protecting each outfitters turf so they can remain economically viable. Otherwise it is pretty "hands off". Just to the north, Grand Teton NP is highly regulated. Mostly, the no permit system works, but it is hit and miss in the popular areas - you can be the only one there, or there can be dozens of others. I am not sure simply regulating daily entry from trailheads prevents this very same thing. Not that I want per-camp regulations - I really like that I am free to go as I want to once I get my permit.

Regulations that cannot be enforced often just make users ignore the regulations.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby dave54 » Fri May 27, 2016 9:16 am

chulavista wrote:Probably should mention how thankful we should be that a very high percentage of Americans aren't into backpacking and also don't mind subsidizing those of us who are to keep the fees low. The low fees come with a price, low availability, but it's much preferable to the alternative for most of us.


I looked up the numbers. The total cost of the US Forest Service wilderness management program divided by the total wilderness visitor days comes to $38.75 per person per day (2014/2015 FY). Yeah, a big subsidy. Something to remember the next time somebody brings up grazing fees or timber sales.

This cost is for the Forest Service, not the NPS, the original topic, but I suspect the costs are similar.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby dave54 » Fri May 27, 2016 9:23 am

balzaccom wrote:Apropos of this topic. Tom Stienstra in the SF Chronicle wrote this today:

"For camping, a phenomenon developed this past winter when roughly 15,000 Californians gamed the reservation system and locked up the sites at a relative handful of marquee campgrounds for weekends and at the most popular areas. This includes Point Reyes National Seashore, Yosemite National Park, the coast at Monterey Bay and Big Sur, and the Steep Ravine Cabins on the Marin Coast."

Anybody know what he is talking about? Here's a link to the full article:

http://www.sfgate.com/outdoors/article/ ... 945965.php


What he calls 'gaming the system' is really ordinary families planning ahead and getting reservations in early. Something everyone here has done on occasion.
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Re: Cancelling a permit

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri May 27, 2016 11:18 am

FS is really good about making the no-show permits available for walk-ins. Point Reyes is horrible. I do not think they care as long as the campsite is booked. I supposedly got the "last permit" on an earlier trip this year, only to find that at camp, there were plenty of empty sites. I have had this experience repeatedly at Point Reyes. I found the State Parks system for front-country campsites works quite well. When you book a spot, it technically is not that particular spot. The camp host tries to get you into your designated spot, but they also manage the campsite on an as needed basis, and can legally assign different sites. Some campers do not like it; I think it is good managing.

I do think it is "gaming" the system if you reserve many campsites at different campgrounds for the same night, just because you cannot decide earlier where you want to go, or, book a site for several different times, just to be able to change your mind later, or book several sites just in case someone wants to go with you later. All that is selfish in my opinion. Particularly in campsites that are hard to get. To me good planning is to do your homework enough to make a real commitment.

One reason I do not reserve much is that I like flexibility that is hard to have with reservations. We now do not even reserve RV campsites when we do an RV trip. It just works out better. We have never been left high and dry and often have very positive experiences finding a new place we had not previously thought of. And after I had to reserve a permit, way to early, and paid too much to reserve a Whitney Permit a few years ago, and after 5 months wait, others bailed on me without paying their share, I just went to the ranger station and easily got a new permit due to tons of no-shows and cancellations, due to everyone's paranoia about getting a permit. If I want to go into the Whitney Zone again, I will do a "walk-in". It has been years since I reserved anything.
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