The reasons behind how these municipalities became stewards of campgrounds may vary, but officials agree that having the amenity within their city or town is a benefit.
City of Austin Parks Manager Kerrie Thompson said the city has about 189 parks, but Emma Long Metropolitan Park is one with campsites available. Thompson wasn’t sure when the campsite started but believes they have been available at least 40 years, if not longer. She said there are about 45 tent sites and 20 RV sites.
The campground at Emma Long Park operates much like a state park, according to Thompson. People can reserve sites through the city of Austin’s park and recreation website.
“When they show up at the park, there’s a cashier who’ll check them in and give them a reservation card — very similar to a state park,” she said.
Thompson thinks having a campground in a city park is a good benefit for the community, and with many of the campsites being right on Lake Austin, it’s very attractive.
“The campground is used a lot by scouts, the YMCA, rec kids — a lot of youth,” she said. “We’re working to get more seniors out camping.”
The city also gets out-of-state campers, including some regulars. The park has a maximum 14-day stay to avoid having someone living at the campground.
She said, “Every once in a while we have someone who wants to stay longer — especially if they’re working in the area on a construction job — it’s more economical than a hotel.”
Campers need to leave for a day and then they can come back for another 14-day period.
Thompson said the fees are on the website along with a helpful camping guide, but the sites in the grove and the bluff are $10 a night, camping sites with utilities are $20 a night and the waterfront sites are $25 a night.
She said the biggest challenge is “people who don’t want to pay attention to the rules and want to party all night. We’ve had situations where people were screaming and yelling at 2-3 a.m. and we had to call 911.”
The park rules state that quiet time is from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m.
Another issue has been RVers overloading the electrical system. “People with RVs want to run air conditioners, TVs, microwaves, etc., and we were burning out a lot of fuses.”
In the last two years, the parks department upgraded all the electrical, but despite that, campers are still putting too much strain on the system.
Thompson said she’d like to have a camp post with someone on property 24/7, like state parks have.
“It would be something completely new for the city — having someone on property all the time, but if there was someone patrolling the area on gators, it would help alleviate some issues.”
She said she’d also like to add more ADA campsites for people with wheelchairs. There are about four to five wheelchair-accessible sites now.
Austin is currently undergoing Phase II of its upgrades — a brand-new bathhouse pavilion. Thompson said the park is 1,400 acres and has an entire motorcycle track through the woods, a five-mile round trip bike and hiking trail and “lots of endangered species out there.”
The park is reportedly only 20 to 30 minutes from downtown Austin. Thompson said, “I’ve really utilized scouts with beautification projects.”
For other cities and towns thinking of starting a campground, Thompson advises, “Do your homework — have a plan; there’s tons of liability being open 24/7, 365 days. Have an evacuation plan and be prepared.”
However, she added, “It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work. The park is used and abused a lot — it’s a cool amenity.”
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