Years ago, in less crowded, hectic times, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a tranquil and delightful stay at one of the 10 rustic wooden cabins at Steep Ravine in Mt. Tamalpais State Park in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. Today, due to surging demand for a sharply limited supply, we would be hard-pressed even to be able to snag a reservation.
Close by, below the bluffs, the timeless Pacific Ocean surf batters the bold, outlier rocks of North America’s outer edge in its ceaseless struggle to lay low a continent. Watching and listening to the tumbling sea strike the unyielding land again and again and again gives one perspective on one’s own life and the broader human condition. But it is getting harder and harder to enjoy this opportunity.
According to a recent article at KQED News, one couple who have enjoyed the beauty of Steep Ravine for decades have now been trying unsuccessfully for a year to land a reservation.
“When the registration window opens at 8 a.m. most cabins are booked by 8:01 a.m. Abigail and Steve have been trying to book a cabin for a year now, with no success.”
The article goes on to posit the possibility that “bots” may be responsible. Bots, or internet robots, are also called spiders, web bots and crawlers. They are software that can be used to perform repetitive, routine online tasks, such as searching at regular intervals for campsite availability on agency websites.
That may well be the case, but another likely cause of difficulty in landing prime camping and cabin reservations is simply skyrocketing demand. The nine-county San Francisco Bay Area population has exploded by more than ten-fold from 658,000 in 1900 to 6,684,000 in 2016. It has swelled by nearly a million since 2000 alone.
By contrast, open space, parks and natural resources are not expanding; they are fixed in size and number or even shrinking as a result of the growing pressures to which we subject them.
The KQED News article points out that Yosemite National Park, another prime destination for nature lovers and tourists, experiences similar issues with lack of availability and overcrowding. A Yosemite spokesperson told KQED that Yosemite Valley has 459 campsites, but is visited by more than four million people annually. Campsites are booked in advance for the entire summer and then some. During the offseason, availability improves.
I camped for a number of nights on several occasions in Yosemite Valley years ago, but I wouldn’t do it again. I would sooner visit an amusement park. At least there I expect crowds.
The sad truth is that with a swollen population pushing 40 million even now, on its way to 50 million and beyond in the next few decades, California’s fabled natural beauty and its world-famous national and state parks will be ever more stressed by the masses and ever more inaccessible to those same masses – for the foreseeable future.
Moreover, some 200 million tourists (whose numbers are also growing) visit the Golden State every year. I seemed to see a sizeable fraction of that number on my trek across the bustling Golden Gate Bridge last summer. It was practically shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow.
A spokesman for the California state park system says that campsite reservations increased by nine percent last year alone. The state parks are unable to keep up with the growing demand, and they lack the budget to build and maintain new campsites and campgrounds.
Alas, California is the poster child for being “loved to death.” It’s a sad state of affairs, one that is only exacerbated by state officials from the governor on down. There comes a time when the welcome mat, frayed and faded, should be given a rest.