In a landmark move aimed at enhancing the camping experience in California state parks, the State Assembly has given the green light to AB 618, a game-changing bill conceived to simplify and streamline the campsite reservation process.
The legislation, authored by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, received overwhelming support from Assembly members, reflecting their collective commitment to making the great outdoors more accessible to Californians.
California is home to the largest amount of state park land in the United States, comprising 279 individual parks.
Despite the plethora of parks and approximately 15,000 campsites available, over half of would-be campers reported difficulties when trying to reserve a campsite, according to a survey by camping website The Dyrt. This issue primarily arises from having to book spots months in advance and the narrow 8 a.m. window for reservation openings.
AB 618 aims to solve this accessibility challenge and alleviate camper frustration by instituting crucial amendments to the existing reservation policies.
A primary objective of the bill is to prevent late cancellations and no-shows by imposing stiffer penalties on these actions.
Under AB 618, a cancellation made at least seven days before a reservation will be incentivized with a credit that can be used for another reservation within five years, while those who do not show up after the first day of the reservation will forfeit the remainder of the booking.
Further, the bill introduces an innovative reservation strategy: a lottery system for a select number of the most sought-after campsites in the state.
This system will debut in 2025 and is expected to make the booking process fairer by randomizing allocation. The selection of campsites for the lottery will be determined by the State Parks department based on the booking interest observed six months prior to the reservation date.
In an effort to ensure equitable access to the state’s stunning natural resources, AB 618 also takes into account the financial circumstances of campers.
It features provisions for a substantial 25% discount on campsite bookings for holders of the Golden Bear pass. This pass is granted free of charge to approximately 41,000 low-income individuals, including recipients of CalWORKs, supplemental security income, and households falling below a specific income threshold.
Moreover, AB 618 establishes caps to moderate usage of campsites. It restricts campers to a maximum of 30 days per year at the same campsite and limits peak season reservations to a week-long stay. These regulations are applicable to all state parks, even those outside the purview of the Reserve California booking system.
Despite the benefits expected from this legislation, the bill does come with a price tag. The State Parks department estimates ongoing annual costs of around $256,000 from the general fund, primarily to cover two additional positions in the department’s accounting office.
After clearing the State Assembly, AB 618 is now awaiting committee assignment from the Committee on Rules for legislative hearings. If successful, this legislation may serve as a beacon for other states looking to improve access to their own natural treasures.
As this bill advances, many outdoor enthusiasts, campers, and advocates for equitable access to public lands are watching closely. The passage of AB 618 underscores the importance of ensuring that everyone, irrespective of their financial status, should be able to enjoy California’s stunning state parks and revel in the state’s abundant natural beauty.