Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

April 3, 2014

Dust off your tent

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — After an extremely long winter, campers reserving spots all seem to realize that spring is really here.

"We've got parks with no reserved sites left," said Sheri Arntzen, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "After this long winter, we have people itching to get out."

The DNR oversees state parks like the one at Lake Wapello, as well as the camping spots there. Just keep in mind, she said, that all of the parks have some "same day" camping spots available that can't be reserved. Just show up.

"We have a centralized reservation system," she said, "with different numbers of unreserved and reserved spots. Lake Wapello has 50 percent of the camping spots in the reservation system."

May is really the big kickoff for camping, especially Memorial Day. That's when the most spots have been booked. But knowing the rules can help residents get a spot.

For example, the "window" for reserving a camp space is a maximum of three months out and a minimum of two days from the desired date.

"That means the Fourth of July, which lands on a Friday, has the opening window this Friday. There are two options: online, which can be used 24/7 to make a reservation. If they use the call center, they open 7 a.m. on Friday. A person could wait until [a later time]; however, there will be people going online at midnight to make reservations for the Fourth."

But there's another helpful rule: The three-month "window" is for the first day of your reservation, not the last. What that means is if you are willing to go camping on July 2 or 3 through July 4, you could go make reservations right now, without waiting until Friday.

Don't forget about "first-come-first-serve" options, Arntzen said. Though there's not always someone sitting around the park office, they may, if things are really booked up, leave a message warning that there are no spots at all.

Closer to home, in Wapello County, there are multiple camping spots located at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area. But according to director Kurt Baker, all camping at the center, located south of Ottumwa, is on a first-come, first-served basis.

To use the state reservation system for any DNR park, visit iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com or use the call center at 1-877-427-2757

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark