A standard nine-month window for campground reservations at Oregon state parks could become a thing of the past.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department announced a proposed rule change Tuesday, which if approved would give the agency more flexibility in deciding both the campground reservation window and the transaction fees charged to campers.

For years, the agency has allowed people to book campsites, cabins and yurts from one day to nine months in advance, but the coronavirus pandemic this year has shaken the foundation of that system.

“The unprecedented process of closing all parks and canceling reservations in response to COVID-19 exposed a need for increased flexibility in reservation rules to enable the agency to respond nimbly to changing conditions,” the parks department said in a news release Tuesday.

State park campgrounds began to reopen in May, after closing to the public as the pandemic began to spread across Oregon in March. Reservations were initially limited to two weeks in advance, and the window eventually broadened to 30 days.

Parks on the Oregon coast added an additional restriction, barring same-day registration to cut back on crowds circling campgrounds looking for an open site.

Yurts and cabins at all Oregon state parks have remained closed since the spring.

Now, the state parks department wants to change its rules to allow more flexibility in deciding those reservation windows. Future reservations could range from same-day registration to 18 months in advance, depending on the campground, the agency said.

And instead of a standard $8 transaction fee for each reservation, the agency would have the flexibility to charge between $0 and $15 to make, change or cancel a reservation.

The public has until Jan. 15, 2021, to comment on the proposal. A virtual hearing will be conducted at 6 p.m. Jan. 7.

The proposed changes could allow the parks department to adapt more quickly to circumstances out of its control, a weakness exposed earlier this year by the pandemic, officials said.

As COVID-19 began to spread in the Pacific Northwest, the parks department carefully laid out a plan to advise all park visitors to maintain social distance, while beginning an orderly two-week shutdown of state park campgrounds.

But as the spring equinox brought warm weather to the region, people instead flooded state parks and campgrounds, alarming local residents and officials who swiftly established orders telling tourists to stay home.

That development shook up the state parks department’s plans, spokesman Chris Havel said last spring, and officials suddenly saw the urgency of the moment. Days later, the department closed all campgrounds and day-use sites immediately, shutting down the entire state park system.

That’s exactly the kind of situation the agency doesn’t want to repeat, officials said, and the proposed flexibility aims to make sure of that.

The public can comment on the proposed rule change until Jan. 15 at 5 p.m. Comments can be made online at oregon.gov/oprd/PRP/Pages/PRP-rulemaking, by email to [email protected] or by mail to Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, attn. Katie Gauthier, 725 Summer St N.Ee, Suite C, Salem OR 97301.

Registration is required to attend the virtual public hearing on Jan. 7. Register online at zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_l9v4YG05Q1-GeS9n_0nS9Q.

–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB

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