WILLMAR -- A proposed policy would give preferential treatment to repeat customers at Kandiyohi County campgrounds, but at the same time equalize opportunities for choice camp sites.
"My whole goal was to get consistency across the parks," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.
He said he also wants "everybody to have an equal shot at campsites."
The issue of assigning sites to seasonal camp-ers came up on Tuesday afternoon as the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners met as the park board with managers from the county's parks.
While it would be rare to have someone turned away because of a shortage of seasonal camping sites, said Kleindl, there are questions about which site a camper gets at a county park.
Both Kleindl and County Commissioner Harlan Madsen said they had received calls during the summer from seasonal campers who said the same families always got the same, and best, campsites. The callers complained they were never given a chance to get a nicer site, no matter how early in the year they called to reserve a spot.
Madsen said he had been telling callers that if they were the first to pay for and request a certain site, they should be able to get it, no matter who had it last year. It's a method that is "fair," Madsen said.
But that's not what was happening at all the parks.
Longtime campers at some parks were given the same prime site year after year, even if other campers had requested it.
Terry Clark, manager from Park 5 on Green Lake, said there was a "gentleman's agreement" about who got which spot.
Susan Anderson, manager from Park 3 on Diamond Lake, said it would not be fair for a first-time seasonal camper to demand a site that a family who had been there for 15 years had traditionally occupied.
Kleindl said the repeat business of loyal customers is appreciated but said, "We've got people who think they own the site." He said it isn't fair if other campers never have a chance to "move up" to a better site, like one that's closer to the lake.
Commissioner Richard Falk said seasonal campers who have been to the park before "should have first chance" to select the site they want, and after that first-time campers can have their pick.
In a draft policy, the commissioners agreed that repeat customers should get preferential treatment when making reservations, but there will be no guarantee those campers get their same site.
Under the proposed plan, from Jan. 1 to Jan. 15 reservations and requests for specific sites will be processed only for repeat seasonal customers.
However, whoever gets their full payments to the office first can select which site they want.
That method will ensure that "campers have an opportunity to have the same equal chances at campsites," said Kleindl.
After Jan. 15, sites will be allocated to new seasonal campers.
Kandiyohi County owns and maintains seven parks. Five of those parks have camping sites and four of those offer seasonal camping. For a price that ranges from $900 to $2,100, depending on the park, recreational vehicles can remain at the same site for 90 days.
In related matters:
- The commissioners reminded managers that campers must be removed at the end of the season. Some managers had allowed customers to keep their recreational vehicles parked on their campsites during the winter for free.
Commissioners agreed that recreational vehicles could be parked for the winter in storage areas at parks that had available land for a fee of $100.
- A 3 percent rate increase is being proposed for camping fees in 2009. Kleindl recommended not increasing rates, but Falk said if taxes are going up, camping fees should also increase.
- A proposed policy change will require full payments within 10 days of making a reservation.
Final action on the park rates and policies will be taken at the Dec. 16 County Board meeting.
2008 was good year for county parks
High gas prices that kept travelers, especially those driving big recreational vehicles, closer to home benefited Kandiyohi County's parks.
Revenues for the five parks that offer camping were higher than ever this year.
Despite a cold, wet spring and fewer campers at some parks early in the season, County Administrator Larry Kleindl said 2008 revenues exceeded 2007 by $27,500.
Parks 1 and 5, which offer seasonal camping, generated the most revenue, in part because of increased numbers of campers who stayed 30 to 90 days.
In the past, those campers probably would have traveled farther north. Once they got to Kandiyohi County, they were surprised how much they liked it, according to the park managers. That positive experience could entice campers to come here again in 2009 even if gas prices are lower than they were in the summer of 2008.