January 17, 2013

Opening Day for Reservations - 2013

Opening Day of Reservations - 2013

It can seem strange to be thinking about summer camping in the Park in January, but for many Park visitors, both thinking about and acting on securing a reservation for their favorite cabin, tent site or lean-to in the Park is a January ritual.  This year, the ritual was held on Tuesday, January 15.

For at least the past quarter century, the Park has started taking reservations for summer camping in January.  Until the early years of this century, the reservation office opened for summer camping on the first business day of the year and there were no restrictions on available dates or sites.  During the 1990's, the number of campers steadily increased until they exceeded the fire code limits for Park Headquarters.  We moved the accomodation of opening day visitors to locations off-campus.  The Park reservation system was still based on paper and pencil and since most opening day visitors were seeking a reservation in July or August and there was only one reservation book for each month, the reservation process was very slow.  We spent all day at it and by the end of the day both visitors and staff were frustrated and tired.  Administratively, we were concerned that the reservation process was providing an unfair advantage to those folks who could afford to take a day or two off from work in and hang out at Park Headquarters to make a reservation.

Waiting for the HQ doors to open - 6:30 am on Opening Day
About 10 years ago, Park staff began to work closely with the Baxter Park Advisory Committee to brainstorm solutions.  We began starting a multi-year process to computerize our reservation system.  Our reservation software is unique to the Park and was written primarily by Park volunteer Michael White.  Besides being a gifted programmer, Mike is also a descendant of Park donor Percival Baxter.  In addition to updating our system, we also developed changes to the reservation process.  We instituted the rolling reservation system, limiting the processing of a reservation to dates within four months of the first day of the reservation.  This process spreads the activity of reservations out over the winter and spring months.  By June 16, all the remaining reservation dates are within four months of the close of camping season on October 15, so reservations are limited only by site availability.  We also ensured fairness to Park campers by placing an opening day limit of no more than 20% of the sites in any campground on any day.   With this limitation in place, about 97-98% of the Park's site capacity remains available for reservation after we have completed our opening day reservations and moved to the rolling reservation system.

These actions significantly reduced the number of people that chose to participate in the Opening Day process, improving the experience for all involved.  While the numbers are smaller, Opening Day still retains an aura of competition - after all, the first person in line gets the best choice of dates and sites.  Traditionally, those most intent on securing their desired reservations have arrived early - often days early, to secure that spot at the front of the line.  For the past 5 years, there have always been at least 5 tents in the yard at Park HQ on the night before Opening Day.  This year was no different.  The earliest camper to arrive in 2013 was Sam Heyward of Bowdoinham.  Sam has been an Opening Day regular for many years.  When we opened the HQ Conference room doors at 7:00 am Sam was first in line, along with 44 other people behind him.  When we finished reservations at the end of the day, Park staff had made reservations for 92 people.  The great majority of our Opening Day visitors were from Maine (79 people) along with 13 committed souls from outside our State.

7:15 am - Park HQ conference room - waiting to make a reservation
Now we have moved to the rolling reservation system.  This year, we have expanding on-line and phone reservations as options within the rolling reservation system, and over the next four months, a significant portion of the Park's tentsites, lean-tos, cabins and bunkhouse bunks will be rented by campers planning on a visit to the Park.  To me, Opening Day has become a sign of spring in the deepest part of the winter - a reminder that summer is coming and it's not too soon to prepare!