Hundreds of people who camped out overnight Sunday on South Padre Island waited in long lines early Monday morning for their chance to make summer reservations for RV sites at Isla Blanca and Andy Bowie County parks.
Toward the end of last year, Cameron County Commissioners Court ended a decades-old policy at the parks that allowed RV enthusiasts to essentially endlessly renew reservations for pads in the parks.
Now, summer reservations for each year will open up starting on Jan. 15. Reservation requests had been on hold since last May, which irked many longtime park-goers.
Andy Hernandez, of Rio Grande City, said he showed up Sunday night at 7 p.m. to get in line.
However, that line was unofficial, and law enforcement dispersed it.
Cameron County Park Ranger Assistant Chief Silvero Cisneros said Monday morning that not only had an unofficial line formed, people were handing out unofficial tickets as well.
“They kind of decided to form their own line and made their own tickets,” Cisneros said.
Hernandez was one of those in the unofficial line.
“We were all organized but for some reason the cops told the people that this is an unofficial line,” Hernandez said.
Cisneros said there were some people who were unruly and on Monday morning, the head life guard had to check out a couple people who were overwhelmed but said nothing was serious enough to warrant calling an ambulance.
For Hernandez, though, his grin was ear to ear Monday morning. The wait was worth it.
“It’s the reason we were here early. There was no way we were going to miss out. It was worth the wait,” Hernandez said. “And we were lucky that we were the first ones in line.”
Hernandez was one of the first to be issued a sanctioned ticket. By 8:30 a.m. Monday, more than 300 tickets had been issued.
Kathy Garza, of Pharr, also came down to South Padre Island Sunday night.
“I rented a room but when I saw all the people here I let the room go and waited out here in front,” Garza said.
She said she observed pushing and shoving when the gates opened, noting that one man fell down in front of her.
Typically Garza makes her reservations a year before she plans to spend some time at Isla Blanca.
“I think they’ll be better organized next year,” Garza said.
Cameron County Parks Director Joe Vega said he hopes Sunday and Monday’s long line for reservations is a one-time occurrence. The county barred overnight camping for those who wanted a reservation, but people did not heed that order.
“Hopefully, we’re going to avoid the situation next year because we are currently working on an online reservation system,” Vega said.
That could tentatively be ready by April or May, Vega added.
Most people waiting in line had mixed views of the changes to the RV reservation policy.
Harlingen resident Nick Araiza said he showed up at 8 p.m. Sunday night in hopes to reserve the spot he and his family have enjoyed for the last eight years.
“It’s good they’re doing it. It’s bad that they should have found another way to do this,” Araiza said of the long lines and uncertainty for people who have rented the same spot for decades. “There’s a lot of people who have been here for 30 years already. They should have just let them stay there, man.”
That’s one reason commissioners approved the changes. They hope the new policy gives everyone a fair chance at the park.
“The sites are in big demand, but, you know, there’s people here that have been staying here in the park for many years and want that opportunity to continue staying in the park and there’s many people in the line here who are saying, ‘I’m so glad I’m finally going to get a fair chance to rent a site,” Vega said.
However, not everyone who showed up Monday morning was there to reserve summer spots.
Two Winter Texans showed up to see how the process will work because they want to make sure they know how the process works for when winter reservations open up. The Parks Department hasn’t opened up winter reservations yet because of planned construction in the RV park.
David Church, of Michigan, has traveled 1,785 miles from his home to Isla Blanca Park for the last 14 years.
“We put a lot of money into our site, as far as cement work and updating, but right now we don’t know if we’ll have the place,” Church said.
He said he’ll do whatever he has to do to get a spot.
“It’s a learning curve, I’m sure. It’s their ball game. I want to know the rules so I can get my game plan like they’re getting theirs,” Church said. “I want to continue to keep coming down here. We love it down here. And I’m in my 70s. I don’t know how many more years I got. I’d like to keep on coming down for as long as I can.”
Dick Olson, of Minnesota, and a friend of Church’s, also felt uncertain.
“I’m a fisherman. And we have a boat together,” Olson said of Church, whom he describes as his Winter Texan family. “That’s the other thing. We have to make sure that we have a space where we can put the boat.”
And while Olson and Church were just two of more than 300 people in the area Monday morning, Vega said the phones inside the RV office were ringing off the hook.
The reservation lines and office were to stay open until 8 p.m. Monday, but Vega said he couldn’t yet tell whether the summer would be completely booked by the end of the day.
“If we still have sites available, people are welcome to come back tomorrow (Tuesday) morning,” Vega said.
People who were issued tickets Monday but didn’t get called can have those tickets honored Tuesday morning if spots are still available, Vega said.
The reservation policy is the first of many changes to come to Isla Blanca Park, which is undergoing an all-encompassing renovation.
On Wednesday, the park’s department is scheduled to break ground on a new amphitheater and multipurpose building at Dolphin Cove, which is the start of renovations that will eventually touch all corners of Isla Blanca Park.