Reserve America vs Recreation.gov

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steelmooch

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Hello, all...and thanks for your time and consideration.

I was hoping to get some thoughts/experiences on Recreation.gov versus Reserve America.

Aside from reservations being challenging to get in certain places at certain times, we've generally had very positive experiences using Reserve America to book State Park campsites in numerous eastern states. Most importantly, there has always been an *open site* for us with our name on it (clipped to the site post) upon arrival.

My perception of Recreation.gov has (perhaps unfairly?) been tainted by one negative experience of a site *not* being kept open for us, and by observing numerous Corps of Engineers campgrounds being understaffed, not closely monitored, apparently under-funded, and "first come, first served" for most of the camping season.

Have you, in your travels, seen Corps campgrounds monitored by rangers, campsites reserved and with reservation papers on the site post, etc in a way that inspired confidence for future travels?

I know everyone feels differently about reservations and such, but our work/child situation is such that things have to be planned and a travel itinerary adhered to and without major surprises.

Any experiences/thoughts much appreciated regarding the reliability of Recreation.gov Army Corps of Engineers (typically around *lakes*) facilities.

Thanks and happy travels! :)
 

Kirk

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What system you use to reserve a site makes no difference at all in what happens when you arrive since the reserving entities have no management connection to the parks available. It is just a service so need to compare reservation systems to each other and compare parks to parks.

As to the Army Corps of Engineers parks, we have stayed at many of them and use them more than any other government owned parks. We do that mostly because we have the Senior Pass and so pay only half price when we stay in their parks. If you reserve a site with the Corps via the internet, just print out the document and take it with you. Since the majority of parks have an attendant at the gate you just hand it to the attendant and they will check you in, then drive to the previously selected site and park the RV. COE parks don't usually have anything on the site or even a provision to put something there, in the same way that many state parks do, if that is important to you. We just drive the the selected site and occupy it and don't worry about our name being there.
 

steelmooch

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Thanks, Kirk! Point taken re: "reservation service" vs "conditions on the ground".

I should re-phrase as, "Our local ACoE campgrounds are woefully understaffed...when you've shown up to an ACoE campground with a reservation, was your site unoccupied and available"?

Thanks, all!
 

Kirk

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.when you've shown up to an ACoE campground with a reservation, was your site unoccupied and available"?
Yes. I have never had a site previously reserved by me, occupied when I arrived. I did one time have them move me to a different site that they held for me because of a problem with the reserved site's hookups but that has only happened one time in the 40+ years that we have used COE sites. That incident was about 5 years ago. The gate attendants are contract workers who usually work a 6 month contract and they get them by a bid process. Almost all of them are RV folks with many of them fulltimers.

As one who has volunteered with the COE I will say that they do not have nearly the staff that one would find in many other parks. Because they are part of the Army (US Army Corps of Engineers) the constitution prohibits them from enforcement actions so there are no LEO park rangers in the COE but the parks depend on local law enforcement agencies for that function. In addition, parks are not a high priority now because all revenue that is collected now goes into the US general fund and so has no real impact on a lake manager's budget. They are also very dependent on the district commanding officer's view of park importance, since each district has an active duty, Army Colonel in command, even though there are no active duty soldiers in the department. The Army protects those positions as they do all positions for O6 and above throughout the Army. As a result the parks tend to vary by district and often change policy when the Colonel in command changes. I once heard a commander of the Ft Worth district state that "customer service is on no concern to the Army." To me it would make more sense if most lakes and water ways were to be shifted to another department such as the Bureau of Reclamation who also manage some lakes, but the senior office corps will fight that as long as possible.
 
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NY_Dutch

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We stayed at a COE park in PA this summer and had no problem with our reservation. The park seemed to be adequately staffed, although I don't know if the ratio of volunteers to paid staff was any different than usual since we haven't been there in several years.
 

Kirk

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The park seemed to be adequately staffed, although I don't know if the ratio of volunteers to paid staff
At least in the Ft Worth district, the amount of staffing that is by volunteers has grown dramatically with the tight budgets that the COE lake managers must deal with. As mentioned above, the gate attendants are paid but it is a bid contract and goes to the lowest bidder and they are not government employees like the other paid staff. In the Ft Worth district the majority of maintenance is now done either by volunteers working for an RV site only or by outside contractors. I can only speak to this district as I have not volunteered in any other district in the past 15 years. The COE staff can be identified by the uniform that they wear, as can gate attendants(different uniform) and sometimes volunteers have a uniform shirt. We still have several COE volunteer t-shirts and a ballcap or two.
 

ChasA

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I have found that RA seems to serve only state properties and Rec.gov seems to only handle federal properties
 

UTTransplant

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As others have said, the way you reserve a site has nothing to do with the site itself. We don’t stay in COE locations often because we generally travel in the west where the public land is mostly NFS and BLM. We have certainly used them though. I have never had an issue with a COE park except sometimes weird check in time (6:00 pm? Really?). The campgrounds have pretty routinely had dirty campsite rings, but that happens at a number of spots, both private and public. As for LEOs, the ”real” rangers have federal law enforcement powers, and you do NOT want to mess with them. In the ancient, dark days of my youth, I was a summer park tech at a COE park. They absolutely could give you a federal summons for the federal court which meant you had to show up in person half way across the state. I, of course, had no LEO powers at all, but usually just the “But the ranger will give you a federal summons if you don’t put out that illegal campfire,” was enough to convince people of the error of their ways.
 

JudyJB

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I have stayed about 30-40%% of the time in the past 9 years that I have been full-timing and NEVER found my site not available. (Note that my map shows I have camped in 46 of 50 states.) There may not be a sign on the post in a COE park, but there may not be a sign on a post in a state park or ANY campground.

The one time I had problems with the electrical post, I had COE engineers come quickly to help solve my problems, and they were actual regular employees, not camp hosts. It was 104 degrees out in July in Washington state.

I keep my reservation confirmation in folder by month on my cell phone, but have never had to show it to the gate or attendant or anyone. Recreation.gov has always worked fine for me.
 

NY_Dutch

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At least in the Ft Worth district, the amount of staffing that is by volunteers has grown dramatically with the tight budgets that the COE lake managers must deal with. As mentioned above, the gate attendants are paid but it is a bid contract and goes to the lowest bidder and they are not government employees like the other paid staff. In the Ft Worth district the majority of maintenance is now done either by volunteers working for an RV site only or by outside contractors. I can only speak to this district as I have not volunteered in any other district in the past 15 years. The COE staff can be identified by the uniform that they wear, as can gate attendants(different uniform) and sometimes volunteers have a uniform shirt. We still have several COE volunteer t-shirts and a ballcap or two.
Yep, as I said, we hadn't been there in several years, so I really don't recall if there were more paid staff on hand the prior time. With the various budget issues, etc, I'm not surprised that more volunteers would be the norm now.
 

John From Detroit

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It is not recreation gov v/s reserve america.. It is both

When I was full timing I'd winters I'd spend 2 weeks in a Thousand Trails park then I had to spend a week out.. I spent those (Generally) IN a government park. My two favorites were a county park Reserve America is where I went to reserve and a COE reserved via Recreation dot Gov.

By the way if you are near Senect, SC.. South Cove Park (Oconee recreation reserve via RA) is a beautiful little park.
 

Kirk

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As for LEOs, the ”real” rangers have federal law enforcement powers, and you do NOT want to mess with them.
While that is true for some agencies, it is not true for the COE. Even with the NPS most rangers do not have arrest authority, only the LEO rangers and they are so identified. But the COE has no law enforcement rangers because of the US restrictions on Army activities toward citizens. Many state park rangers do have arrest authority, but not all of those either. In KS (we volunteered there) they have rangers that are LEO trained who have arrest authority, but not all rangers do. In Oregon the state parks depend on local law enforcement officers. The USFWS who cares for our national wildlife refuges is like the NPS in that only the rangers with LEO training have arrest authority, although most of the facility managers also have that training and authority.

That said, none of this has anything to do with the subject asked in the thread.
 

garyb1st

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While we've never had a problem with a reserved site not being open when we arrived, we did have a problem changing a site while at a park. It was only for two nights. The first ranger said, no problem if a site wasn't reserved. The next day a different ranger said we couldn't occupy the space unless we contacted rev.gov. So we called rec.gov and was told to talk to the ranger. That disconnect is probably the bigger issue for most parks.
 
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