City imposes time restrictions on campers using lake sites

A lone camper takes advantage of an almost empty campground to set up in a site adjacent to Lake Lawtonka. Beginning with the 2020 peak season, the City of Lawton will make it easier for more people to get campsites at city lakes, by forcing longterm campers to leave the campgrounds every two weeks before they can return for other sites.

Campers at City of Lawton lake concessions will face new limits on how long they can stay in campgrounds, under regulations approved by the City Council.

The change, which will be in effect for the peak camping season when it begins March 1, 2020, essentially means campers will be allowed to stay in one spot for two weeks, then must leave the campgrounds for two weeks before they could return for a new space. And, RV camping spaces may not be reserved with chairs or tents; an RV or other type of vehicular camper must be in the space before it is considered occupied.

Parks and Recreation Director Jack Hanna said the Lakes and Land Commission recommended the change to combat charges that the same people keep camping spaces throughout the peak season.

“We have complaints every season from people that they can’t get spots out there. People can’t find a spot because there’s never an open site,” Hanna said of campgrounds at Lakes Lawtonka and Ellsworth.

“Essentially, a group of people moves in in the spring and stays until October,” Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh said, adding that some of those people will reserve their RV sites with tents, then tell city employees that’s not what happened.

While existing city code specifies camping spots must be rotated (a change the City of Lawton made years ago to combat the same problem), it didn’t solve the issue. City staff members who monitor the lake said frequent campers simply rotate camping spots among themselves during the peak season between March 1 and Sept. 30, limiting opportunities for less frequent campers.

The change means that effective Jan. 1, for the peak season, camping sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sites may be held with pickups with a camper shell, camping van, travel trailers or motor homes. Tents are not allowed to hold vacant spots in RV camping sites (tent camping will be allowed only in the area known as ponds or primitive camping at Lake Lawtonka) and people may not hold spots for one another.

Camping permits will not be issued for more than 14 days for a single spot. Once those 14 days have elapsed, the permit holder and the camping unit must leave the campground for no less than 14 days. After those 14 days have passed, the camper and unit may return to use another spot; any spot the camper or unit has previously used will not be allowed.

The ordinance would not apply during the “off season,” defined as Oct. 1 through March 1, when campers are less likely to be at city lakes. Hanna and members of the Lakes and Land Commission said that might provide an incentive for campers to enjoy the lakes during those slower months, increasing campground usage and city revenue.

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