The first weekend of the reservation system at Kilgore Falls at Falling Branch went “better than expected” and park rangers are gearing up for a busy holiday weekend.
The Maryland Park Service this summer implemented a new reservation system to control the crowds to the popular waterfall destination that is part of Rocks State Park.
June 29 and 30 were the first weekend days the reservations were required.
Park rangers turned away about 150 people on Saturday and 99 on Sunday, Park Manager Andrew Hangen said.
“That was on par with what we have been turning away earlier this summer. It is also well below what we were turning away last year in July and August on hot days,” Hangen said. “We hope that as people become familiar with the system that number will continue to decline.”
Those who were turned away took the news well, he said, which was “somewhat surprising.”
Three or four people each day were upset, and one woman yelled at the staff on Saturday, but overall no issued required a police response, Hangen said.
Reservations are issued in two shifts on a given Saturday, Sunday or holiday — 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to sunset. The park opens at 8 a.m. and closes at sunset.
They can be requested the Monday before the Saturday or Sunday for which the reservation is sought and 30 will be issued at a time for a total of 120 for the weekend.
For the first weekend, the Saturday afternoon slot was the most popular time to visit and those reservations filled up in advance.
The park issued 97 permits over the phone. The bulk of them weren’t made on Monday, rather they trickled in during the week, Hangen said.
Because so many people waited until Thursday or Friday to make their reservations last week, someone will be available to answer the phones on July 4 and 5 — when state offices are closed — to get reservations on Saturday and Sunday this week.
The remaining reservations were issued at the gate when visitors arrived, Hangen said.
“I would not encourage people to show up without a reservation, trying to get one of the few remaining permits, as they will likely be disappointed,” he said.
Hangen said it would appear a percentage of people waited until Friday night to research their visit or woke up Saturday or Sunday morning and checked the website before they left home. When they saw that a reservation is required, they chose to do something else and “hopefully planning ahead for a future visit,” Hangen said.
“We received several calls confirming this on Saturday morning,” he said. “In the future, if we can implement online reservations we will better be able to accommodate those last minute folks.”
To explain the system during the transition, park rangers are doing three things: explaining the rationale for the permit system (environmental concerns, crowding, traffic, etc); providing information about how to make a reservation; and providing a list of alternative activities they can do at Rocks State Park or other nearby state parks.
“The alternatives really seem to help,” Hangen said.
Feedback from the people who made reservations was “overwhelmingly positive,” Hangen said.
“We kind of expected that,” he said. “Even when people are being asked to leave at 1 p.m. they are still telling us how much they enjoyed their visit and that the permit system was easy and user friendly.”
The July 4 weekend is the busiest in Maryland state parks, he said.
“If there is a test, the Fourth will certainly be it,” he said.
Because so many of the state park facilities will be filled for the holiday and the subsequent weekend, Hangen encourages visitors to Kilgore Falls to get their reservations early and visitors to other parts of Rocks State Park or any other state park to arrive early with their entire group.