12:01am

Thu July 7, 2011
Business

Yosemite Cracks Down On Campsite Scalpers

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:42 am

As people hit the road for summer vacation, there's a problem at one major destination: Yosemite National Park. Scalpers started snatching up cheap campsite reservations online and selling them for as much as six times their face value. Now, the National Park Service is cracking down.

If you show up to Yosemite to camp without a reservation, your first stop should be the campground office. You probably won't get a campsite on the spot, but you will get wait-listed. And in the afternoon, park ranger Kirk Robinson hands out any sites that come open.

For those who don't get to camp in the park, Robinson hands out lists of nearby campsites. He says the closest campgrounds are about an hour from Yosemite.

Nearly two million people will visit the park this summer, but Yosemite Valley has fewer than 500 campsites. Only a handful are saved for walk-ins. The rest sell out for the summer on the day reservations open.

One man who did get a spot had an easier time than the rest. He bought the $20 reservation for $60 from a scalper. The park is still trying to determine whether what he did was illegal. Regardless, scalping is against the rules and because of that, the man asked us not to use his name.

He says rangers let him stay at his campsite, but they're starting to check campers' ID's at the gate to make sure they match the names on the reservations. This camper only decided to make the trip two weeks ago.

"And it was easy, and not ungodly expensive, and I didn't have to plan my vacation six months in advance," he says.

The park is cracking down on the problem, because every time a scalper snags a campsite, someone else gets robbed of their chance at a cheap night's stay. Rangers say sites this year sold for up to $120 a night on Craigslist. That's enough to get a hotel room in most cities.

For people who did follow the rules, getting a spot started back on a February morning at 7:00 sharp. Mark Seed and his brother-in-law both started clicking at the same instant.

"But within a minute, everything was booked for the entire month," Seed says. "It was instantaneous, like you just kind of had to take what was there."

They only got one campsite, but it's enough space to bring the kids and roast some marshmallows.

Seed says when he did this four years ago, it took 20 minutes for the campsites to fill up, as if real people were online picking and choosing. But this time, he says, there was "something unnatural" happening.

Like most campers, he believes scalpers used a computer program this year to book campsites faster than humanly possible. The Park Service is investigating that theory and how to make the reservation website more secure. There's already self-policing going on as well. Since the problem came to light, most of the scalpers' posts on Craigslist are flagged as prohibited and removed in a hurry.

Back at the campground office, ranger Kirk Robinson helps three road-tripping young men from Colorado plan the rest of their day.

"Whatever way you're going out, stop at one of the giant sequoias going out," he tells them.

The crackdown on scalping comes too late to do them any good. But the generosity of another camper who did get a campsite salvaged their plans. He offered to split his space with them.

And the park doesn't have any rules against sharing your good fortune.

Copyright 2012 KUNR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kunr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And as people hit the road for summer vacation, there's a problem cropping up at another park - a major destination, a big park, Yosemite.

Scalpers started snatching up cheap campsite reservations online and selling them for as much as six times their face value.

From Reno Public Radio, Brandon Rittiman reports on how the park service is cracking down.

BRANDON RITTIMAN: If you show up to Yosemite hoping to camp without a reservation, your first stop should be the campground office. You probably won't get a campsite on the spot, but you will get waitlisted, and in the afternoon, Ranger Kirk Robinson hands out any sites that come open.

Mr. KIRK ROBINSON (Ranger): (Unintelligible) or Gail(ph). And that is it.

Unidentified People: Awww...

Unidentified Woman: Sorry, guys.

RITTIMAN: For those who don't get to park in the camp, Robinson hands out lists of nearby campsites outside of Yosemite.

Mr. ROBINSON: The closest campgrounds are probably about one hour from here.

RITTIMAN: A disappointed group of three young men looks on and one asks the ranger a painful question.

Mr. JEFFREY NUESTADT: What would you do in the park if you had six hours?

Mr. ROBINSON: If I had six hours, I'd first start crying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RITTIMAN: Jeffrey Nuestadt and his two friends from Colorado have a road trip to continue. Getting a campsite was their only hope of spending another day in Yosemite. Now they plan to cram in a couple of quick hikes before the sun goes down.

Here's why they're so bummed.

(Soundbite of waterfall)

RITTIMAN: It's a great time to be in the park. Snow from a heavy winter is melting, swelling up rivers and making the park's many waterfalls even more dramatic.

(Soundbite of waterfall)

Mr. COREY HAMZA: Pretty awesome.

RITTIMAN: Corey Hamza stares up at Vernal Fall, which soaks hikers on the Mist Trail below. He's one of nearly two million people who will visit the park this summer. But Yosemite Valley has fewer than 500 campsites. Only a handful are saved for walk-ins. The rest sell out for the summer on the day reservations open.

Are you camping in the valley?

Mr. HAMZA: No, we're outside the valley a little.

RITTIMAN: You couldn't get a spot?

Mr. HAMZA: No.

Back at the campgrounds...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RITTIMAN: One man who did get a spot had an easier time than the rest.

Unidentified Man #1: It came to me as just a thought. Hey, let's get on Craigslist.

RITTIMAN: He bought the $20 reservation for 60 bucks from a scalper. The park is still trying to determine whether what he did was illegal. Regardless, scalping is against the rules, and because of that the man asked us not to use his name. He says rangers let him stay at his campsite, but they're starting to check campers' I.D.'s at the gate to make sure they match the names on the reservations. This camper only decided to make his trip two weeks ago.

Unidentified Man #2: And it was easy and not ungodly expensive, and I didn't have to plan my vacation six months in advance.

RITTIMAN: The park is cracking down on the problem, because every time a scalper snags a campsite, someone else gets robbed of their chance at a cheap night's stay. Rangers say sites this year sold for up to $120 a night on Craigslist. That's enough to get a hotel room in most cities. For people who did follow the rules, getting a spot started back on a February morning at 7:00 sharp.

Mark Seed and his brother-in-law both started clicking at the same instant.

Mr. MARK SEED: But within a minute, everything was booked for the entire month. It was instantaneous. Like, you just kind of had to take what was there.

RITTIMAN: They only got one campsite, but it's enough space to bring the kids and roast some marshmallows.

(Soundbite of laughing child)

RITTIMAN: Seed says when he did this four years ago, it took 20 minutes for the campsites to fill up, as if real people were online picking and choosing. But this time...

Mr. SEED: I think there was something unnatural going on...

RITTIMAN: Like most campers, he believes scalpers used a computer program this year to book campsites faster than humanly possible. The Parks Service is investigating that theory and how to make the reservation website more secure.

There's already self-policing going on as well. Since the problem came to light, most of the scalpers' posts on Craigslist are flagged as prohibited and removed in a hurry.

Mr. ROBINSON: Whatever way you're going out, stop at one of the groves of the giant sequoias on your way out.

RITTIMAN: Back at the campground office, Ranger Kirk Robinson helps our three road-tripping young men from Colorado plan the rest of their day. The crackdown on scalping comes too late to do them any good. But the generosity of another camper who did get a campsite salvaged their plans - he offered to split his space with them.

Unidentified Man #3: Awesome...

RITTIMAN: And the park doesn't have any rules against sharing your good fortune.

For NPR News, I'm Brandon Rittiman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.