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Colton Sandlin, 7, plays a handheld video game as he waits for his mother Sandra to sign up for a reserved campsite at Point Mallard Campgrounds on Wednesday.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Colton Sandlin, 7, plays a handheld video game as he waits for his mother Sandra to sign up for a reserved campsite at Point Mallard Campgrounds on Wednesday.

Constraints at Point Mallard camp
Site seekers turned away
after 75 reservations filled

By Chris Paschenko · 340-2442

A line for campground reservations started about 4 a.m. Wednesday, as bundled patrons queued at Point Mallard Park to secure sites for the Alabama Jubilee Hot-Air Balloon Classic and Spirit of America Festival.

Some braved the cold weather by huddling near propane heaters, while others went home empty-handed when park officials announced they were booking only 75 reservations for the Memorial Day and July 4 events.

Campground maintenance worker Scott Jones said the remaining 135 sites with electrical and water hookups, and possible overflow sites, would be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“There’s got to be a better way,” said Hartselle resident Harry Puckett, who left campground headquarters about 11:30 a.m. with his wife Margaret and their reservation. “We were here four hours and 15 minutes. We were No. 57, so a lot were here before 6 a.m.”

Maurice Gautreau of Flint said he waited in the line, which grew about 90 people deep, about six hours for his reservation. He questioned a policy that turns reservation seekers away when spots are available.

“Some people took off work to get down here,” he said. “When a man gets up early to get in line, and there’s not a spot, and then to let somebody else get the spot? It ain’t right.”

Jones said the present solution is the only fair way to handle the situation.

“Last year, we took reservations for all the sites, and they were filled up on the second day for Memorial Day,” he said. “This way, if they didn’t get a site today, they still have a chance to get one later.”

Those with campground reservations can avoid the traffic gridlock at Point Mallard Park during the busiest weekends of the year.

Sandra Sandlin of Decatur said she skipped the Jubilee last year when she wasn’t able to secure a reservation.

“Some people waited two hours, got tired and left,” Sandlin said as she waited to make a reservation.

Kim Carter of Athens said changes to the reservation process were confusing.

“I called and was told I’d be better off standing in line because all the sites would be gone by 10 a.m.,” she said. “They need to do it one way or the other. When the rules change from yesterday to this morning, it makes it real confusing.”

Jeff Dunlap, director of Parks and Recreation, said all campground sites until two years ago were available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“Then we started to take reservations,” he said. “The main reason was so people from out of town could get reservations.”

Barry Smith, the campground manager, said he spoke to about 35 people Wednesday morning while taking phone reservations. He said he received compliments from people seeking reservations from as far away as Illinois.

“We had coffee for the people waiting in line this morning and tried to accommodate their needs,” Smith said. “None of the employees took lunch until all the people were served.”

The campground stands to make more money when the sites are first-come, first serve, Dunlap said.

“When it’s first-come, people are getting there a month, maybe more, in advance to make sure they get a site,” Dunlap said. “We’d get a month’s worth of rental, when those that were making reservations were reserving sites for as little as one day.”

Gautreau said the city should expand the campground.

“I don’t think that’s the most feasible thing to do,” Dunlap said. “We’re looking at the cost of extending water and sewer to section D.”

Those in line also complained about how long it takes to reserve sites.

“The campground has no wireless connection and is using a dial-up modem, which slows the computer process down, too,” Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said. “We’re looking at better connectivity for the campground and other parks and recreation sites.”

Kyle said trees at the campground block the line of site for the city’s wireless Internet, and the city is working to solve the problem.

“If we can get the kind of connectivity we need, then we can load up other computers out there,” Kyle said. “Hopefully we’ll have a hot spot so campers can log on themselves, too.”

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