South Dakotans deserve a break on reserving GFP camping spaces, state House panel says

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state lawmaker from Pennington County pounded a stake in the ground Tuesday for tens of thousands of South Dakotans who camp in state parks and rec areas.

Legislation from Representative Taffy Howard would give South Dakota residents a 14-day head start over nonresidents in reserving state camping spaces.

The House Local Government Committee liked the idea so much that representatives voted 11-2 to send HB 1138 to the full House for a debate Thursday.

“It gets harder and harder to get into our parks and to do camping,” Representative Rhonda Milstead told the panel. “So if we can give the residents of South Dakota a favor with this bill, let them make a reservation two weeks earlier, they still have to plan, but what a privilege to be in South Dakota, and citizens deserve this.”

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks didn’t like the idea.

“Seventy percent of campers outside Custer State Park are residents, so a majority of the competition for campsites is between residents,” said Scott Simpson, director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation that manages the camping areas. “Providing additional time for residents does very little to mitigate this competition.”

Howard said Game, Fish and Parks already provides all kinds of advantages to residents for hunting and fishing by charging nonresidents higher prices for licenses and letting them hunt for shorter times or, for some prized species such as elk and mountain lions, not at all.

“I would argue that this would have a huge for residents and it will reduce barriers for residents,” Howard said. She added, “Just remember, please, that G-F-and-P does this all the time for hunting.”

Howard said more nonresidents will go to private campgrounds. “That’s great for local businesses. Our local businesses should be fuller.”

Simpson warned there could be a negative side effect.

“Residents can reserve a site today, but cousins or in-laws or out-of-state folks must wait another two weeks to make their reservations. We see a lot of that in state parks, we see family reunions that one person will book a site or two and then have other folks come in and book some other sites,” he said. “Now if that involves a nonresident, we cold potentially have some issues where groups won’t be located the way they would like to be located, and I think that adds some complexity.”

Lorin Pankratz, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Visitor Industry Alliance, said the lodging industry in South Dakota doesn’t give residents a two-week advantage in reserving rooms.

“If you call up and say ‘I’m from Minneapolis, I want to stay at the Holiday Inn in Spearfish,’ they say, ‘Well, you have to wait two weeks, because we gotta make sure that our residents get a hotel room.’ I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense,” Pankratz said.

Representative Will Mortenson asked Simpson a series of questions about the role of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission, the governor-appointed board that sets rules for the department. One was, “Does the commission have authority to set differential rates for residents and nonresidents?” Simpson replied, “They absolutely do. We do that in some sense right now. Nonresidents currently when they make a reservation are assessed a seven-dollar and seventy-cent fee. That was put in place several years ago, with the intent of paying for the reservations system itself.”

Simpson said state parks and rec areas previously didn’t have a reservation system and instead used a first-come first-served policy. “Until this came forward, I had not a lot of rumbling about this not being a system that is fair to all the users,” he said.

Mortenson asked if any citizen had brought two-week idea to the commission to the consider. Answered Simpson: “No.”

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