Starting next year, Iowa campers may have to make reservations to stay at some of Iowa’s state parks. Department of Natural Resources officials want to require reservations for half of Iowa’s five-thousand camp sites. Sherry Arntzen of the D-N-R’s state parks bureau, says it’s the only way to give everyone a fair chance at some of Iowa’s most crowded parks. Right now the system’s “first come, first serve” and it’s a race, she says. Especially on holiday weekends, there are people who fight over campsites, claiming each paid for it first. “It becomes a ‘he said, she said’ situation,” she explains. Arntzen says campers would be charged up to six dollars to make a reservation by phone or e-mail. There’d be a 10 dollar fee for canceling. But the policy may get killed by legislators. Republican Senator Jeff Angelo of Creston sits on the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee and that panel could put the kibosh on the plan to require reservations for state park camping spots. Angelo says it’s a major change for Iowa, who’ve had easy access up till now to all their parks, when they want them. D-N-R parks overseer Arntzen says fairness was a major reason for coming up with a reservation system for park campsites, pointing out half the sites will require no advance reservation.Arntzen says they were trying to find a balance, for the “spontaneous campers” and those who “absolutely needed to know they had a place to go.” Angelo questioned during a statehouse hearing whether the reservation system makes camping in state parks more fair — or less. Angelo says it “creates a system of haves and have-nots” with people who’ve paid the reservation fee getting a spot, and someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay a fee not getting a spot. “That’s certain something Iowans are not used to,” Angelo says, “and I think they have a right to expect that their tax dollars allow them maximum access to their parks.” Arntzen says with first-come-first-served policies at all fifty state parks, some Iowans find they have to drive out on Wednesday and park there to stake out a campsite for the coming weekend. A reservation system levels the playing field for everybody. “We have received a number of e-mails from people who are Iowans who simply quit camping in state parks because they can’t get a spot. They go out of state now,” she says. Arntzen said the DNR doesn’t have to wait for some legislator to write a bill authorizing the reservation system, as the agency has rulemaking power and can simply make it a requirement for using the campsites. But Senator Angelo said it’s more fair to talk the proposal out, on the floor of the legislature. Legislators “need to be out there arguing this out,” he says, “on behalf of the people of Iowa,” and directing the D-N-R whether not to initiate a reservation system and a fee. The D-N-R will hold a public hearing on the proposal on September 27th.
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