Tent and RV campers with reservations in the Lakes Basin may be relocated to other areas around Mammoth this weekend. (Photo: Kirkner, 2010)
Entities band together to try to avoid more unhappy campers
This weekend expect to see visiting campers set up in unusual areas. After a snafu over the June 24-26 weekend that led to gridlock in the Lakes Basin, the Forest Service, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, California Land Management, Mammoth Lakes Tourism and the Town of Mammoth Lakes came together on Wednesday to come up with a solution for camping overflow. The result: a temporary campground for RVs at the Canyon Lodge parking lot, and potentially a temporary tent city at Sam’s Woodsite.
California Land Management (dba Inyo Recreation) is the campground concessionaire for the Inyo National Forest. CLM in turn sublets the reservation portion of camping out to the National Recreation Reservation System (NRRS), better known as recreation.gov. Usually the reservation system helps streamline the process for visitors.
“If you want to make a reservation in several different spots, you can just go to recreation.gov and it’s one-stop shopping,” explained Inyo National Forest Recreation Officer for the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts, Jon Kazmierski.
Last weekend, however, the process broke down.
With Mammoth’s record winter, all of the campgrounds in the Lakes Basin were still closed last weekend, many buried under snow. In a typical situation NRRS contacts those people with reservations to let them know the spot they have booked is still closed, giving them time to figure out other arrangements. Last weekend the NRRS only contacted a portion of people with campsites reserved in the Lakes Basin, Kazmierski said.
A conference call with NRRS revealed a larger, national problem that caused the breakdown in communication.
“The NRRS handles permits and reservations for all federal agencies,” Kazmierski explained. With all of the floods, fires and heavy snowpack around the country, the system was simply unable to keep up with the demand of closures.
“The volume of closures nation-wide made it an unprecedented situation,” Kazmierski further explained. “We were not the only forest in this situation.”
CLM also had some breakdown in the process, which is still being unraveled.
With the breakdown in communication many campers arriving to town, quite a few in large RVs, attempted to access their sites at places such as Twin Lakes and Lake Mary campgrounds. When told their sites were not available, many of these large RVs attempted to drive to the end of Lake Mary Road to turn around. Unfortunately, again due to heavy snow, the road is closed before one gets to the Horseshoe Lake parking area with its easy access to turn around. Families quickly discovered just how difficult it is to make a 100-point turn in a large RV.
According to the Town’s Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles, who was on scene last weekend, many visitors left Mammoth very unhappy campers.
This weekend the entities at the table expected more people due to the Fourth of July holiday weekend. With Coldwater and Lake George campgrounds in the Lakes Basin still closed, and all other reservable spots, reserved, plus all walk-in spots about 80 percent occupied as of Wednesday, there will most likely be a lot of overflow.
“The reservation system said it has contacted everyone with reservations in the closed campgrounds, but had to leave messages on answering machines for some of them,” explained Kazmierski. Some campers may already be vacationing elsewhere before they arrive in Mammoth and might not get the message.
Kazmierski expected a shortage of about 120 campsites, which is why on Wednesday, Julie Brown, General Manager for MMSA, got together with the group and offered the Canyon Lodge parking lot, which can hold about 75 RVs comfortably, as part of the solution.
“We can open the bathroom and water facilities inside the lodge for those who need it,” she said.
Fortunately the ski area’s permit already covers this type of use, which lessens liabilities. CLM representatives at the table said they would review their insurance to make sure the lot wasn’t a liability on their end. The group planned to allow the RVs to park around the perimeter of the lot in order to give all campers room to move around and maneuver their vehicles.
Which left the tent campers. It would be too much of a liability to allow them to camp with the RVs, since a tent set up in the wrong spot could easily go unseen by a RV backing up and be run over. Plus, the asphalt parking lot was not considered to be ideal for a tent camper.
Several ideas were thrown out including Shady Rest Park, the school sports fields, and the future bowling center property, but the one with the most potential was Sam’s Woodsite. The Town’s Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Lehman spoke with Sam Walker, owner of the site, on Wednesday to see if he would donate the site to the cause.
Lehman told the Sheet on Thursday morning that Walker was kicking the idea around. Insurance was the biggest issue. The same went for Dan O’Connell, owner of the bowling center site. Lehman expected a definite answer from both men sometime on Thursday.
Editor’s Note: As of Thursday the bowling center site was a go.
Lehman’s biggest concern at the Woodsite was the open flame that often accompanies campers for cooking and evening campfires. The group agreed that if the Woodsite were used, no fires would be allowed. No open flame will be allowed at the Canyon parking lot, either.
Campground fees will still be collected at temporary campgrounds, although at a discounted price. Campground rules will also still be enforced and campground hosts will be stationed at the site[s]. Visitors who are staying at Coldwater or Lake George campgrounds are asked to check in with the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center, located on Hwy 203 at the entrance to the Town of Mammoth, before trying to reach their campsites.