SALEM — An error in the Oregon state parks reservations system has left many unhappy campers across the state.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department offered an apology Thursday, after its highly anticipated spring and summer campground reservations opened six hours early, leaving many prospective campers in the lurch.

On Monday, the parks department announced that its reservation window would expand to six months starting Thursday, allowing campers to plan for spring and summer vacation. The department also announced that reservations would become available at 6 a.m. instead of midnight, as had been the practice for years.

But it didn’t work out that way.

Many people who dutifully woke up at 6 a.m. Thursday to book sites at competitive campgrounds or for coveted holiday weekends were suddenly left empty handed, beat out by campers who had grabbed the sites early.

State parks spokesman Chris Havel said the reservations system vendor, Aspira (which operates as ReserveAmerica), simply did not apply the new 6 a.m. start time to Oregon campgrounds, as requested. That meant campsites opened at midnight, as usual, he said.

“We have made it clear that this error must be fixed immediately,” Havel said. “We sincerely apologize for the mistake to the people who waited until 6 a.m. to make their reservations just like we asked them to.”

The 6 a.m. start time is now working, and will be in effect for anyone making reservations Friday morning and beyond, Havel said.

Among the disgruntled campers Thursday was Patty Langdon, a Southwest Portland resident who was part of a group of friends trying to book RV sites at Prineville Reservoir for July. She woke up at 5:30 Thursday morning, only to find the campsites were already being snatched up.

Langdon and her friends are not strangers to competitive campsite reservations. Every year they coordinate their plans to book a group of sites together, and most years they find success. The only wrinkle this time around was the announced time change from midnight to 6 a.m.

“We’re pretty experienced at this, so it was pretty disappointing,” Langdon said. “I just had to take the sites I could take for whatever days I get.”

She might have been lucky to get anything. Some people trying to book sites at more popular campgrounds – let alone coveted cabins and yurts – were left empty-handed, and will have to try again for dates later in the summer.

In fact, those who never heard about the 6 a.m. change may have been the ones who benefited from the error, logging on at midnight to find less competition than usual.

It’s been another twist for state park reservations, which have been out of whack for nearly a year since all campgrounds closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

When campgrounds reopened at the end of May, reservations were only taken for two weeks in advance, though the parks department later expanded that to 30 days. Prior to the pandemic, campers were allowed to book campsites, yurts and cabins up to nine months in advance.

A new proposal would allow state park campgrounds more flexibility in their reservation windows, and if approved it would allow reservations up to 18 months in advance, marking yet another change to the way people book campsites in Oregon.

Langdon said she’s just happy she got something at all this year. Her group of friends might not get to camp at their preferred spots, or all at the same time, but at least they’ll get to visit Prineville Reservoir one way or another.

“I think we did OK,” Langdon said. “I’m frustrated, but I bet there’s a lot of people who don’t even know the reservation window opened up.”

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