SACRAMENTO - A new law recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom will bring big changes to how campsites are reserved across the state.
COVID restrictions led to a surge in demand and a marketplace that benefits illegal third-party vendors.
The lure of a campfire and sleeping under the stars draw Robert Rodgers and his wife Jan to the outdoors.
"Everything is kind of encompassing around nature. There are fewer areas to choose from and I think we have to take advantage of it while we're still around," said Robert Rogers.
"It's sitting at the campfire. It's a starry night. It's the fresh air smells," said Jan Rogers.
The retired couple is traversing the state in their RV, but know how difficult it can be to book sites at popular state parks during peak points of the season.
"By the time we look at it, we may look at campsite photos, it's gone. And then you try to find the rest of the campsite, and it's gone and there's no availability," said Robert.
COVID restrictions led to a surge in demand for camping sites, and an extremely competitive market.
Illegal third-party vendors -- acting like ticket scalpers -- employ online scavengers and bots that gobble up reservations as soon as they become available. They are making camping a "pay to play" recreation.
"This move to take our most popular sites and put them on lottery will make it harder, as there will be more monitoring. And the ability to screen out at least bots and others," said Assembly Member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, who represents the 16th District in Orinda.
Bauer-Kahan introduced AB 618. It will also increase the forfeiture of reservation fees for anyone who hoards campsite reservations, and then cancels the ones they don't need on short notice.
"Ensuring that we have access for all to California state parks means redoing our reservation system and making sure those sites are being used," said Bauer-Kahan.
More than 6.5 million people camp in California parks each year.
The hope is for more folks including Robert and Jan to have a better chance to book sites so more people can cook under majestic redwoods and breathe in the beauty of nature.
"I do think if we get back to regular people registering, we could probably solve the problem and a lot of hassles," said Rogers.
Another change under the new law will lock out a user or third-party vendor for a year if they end up being a no-show multiple times.
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