The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Pay stations proliferate in campgrounds


The newest generation of solar-powered credit card pay stations like this one, at the Seward waterfront campground, have been popping up all over, ready for use by the time the summer season begins.

Spring has sprung in Seward, and daisies, crocuses and – wait a minute – credit card machines are popping up all over the campgrounds and the waterfront park.

The new solar-powered wireless digital "pay stations," 12 units in all, are being installed in Waterfront Park and other campground areas including Iditarod; Tent Area; Resurrection South; Resurrection North; William's Park; Marathon; Harborside South; Harborside North and Forest Acres.

Because they operate on solar power and wireless digital connectivity, no additional infrastructure is required. They replace the old self-registration system by which people placed their checks, or exact amount of cash into envelopes, and deposited them inside a red metal tube safe, using a plastic poker to push them all the way inside.

The city began piloting the idea of using pay stations four years ago, installing two in the South Parking Lot. Then they added more to the North Lot and Northeast Lot. Then stations were put in to receive both boat launch fees, and parking fees at the South Harbor Lot and the Northeast Lot. The most-recent pay station was put in on the SHU (pronounced "shoe") or South Harbor Uplands.

This is the first year of using pay stations in the campgrounds, however. They will replace the do-it-yourself system where people pick a lot, sign up for it, put the correct cash or check in an envelope, and drop it in a wooden box.

There are many good arguments for their use, although admittedly not everyone is credit card machine savvy, and the experience may be challenging at first.

"These have been working very well. They are convenient for customers who pay by credit card and convenient for staff who no longer handle (as much) cash," said Seward Parks and Recreation Director Karin Sturdy. "The pay stations are faster for the customer. They will now have immediate proof of when they paid, and if a customer pays for one or more nights, he or she has the option to add time or additional nights from the comfort of their RV or tent. It will be recorded digitally and updated for any campground staff via the pay station, office computer or smartphone."

The use of checks is going away, and the Parks and Rec campgrounds have received too many bad checks over the years. In the past, the staff was unable to determine which camper paid first for a camping spot, so now that everything is documented, it makes it easier to prove and settle disputes between campers. Also, staff used to spend a significant amount of time collecting, counting, verifying, recording, re-counting and depositing cash. This work will be reduced tremendously as the pay stations deliver neatly sorted and pre-counted cash to the accountants.

Many customers also are seeking on-line registration and advanced site reservation these days. Adding pay stations now may be the first step toward a more customer-enhanced or customer-driven site reservation system. That process leads to its own set of pros and cons, so the Parks and Rec department is hoping to work through this initial phase of converting from paper to digital one step at a time.

This wooden booth is the way visiting campers have been paying their daily fees to date, placing exact change or checks in envelopes and leaving them for Parks and Rec staff to collect.

The latest group of pay stations cost $100,000 to purchase, install and program. The new Luke II is an upgrade from the machines already installed in the city parking lots as they are even more secure, faster and more convenient for staff.

At the height of the season, the pay stations will reduce labor by seven staff hours per day. SPRD intends to devote this time to regular and campgrounds maintenance as well as deferred maintenance. The overall goal is to provide improved park experiences for playground kids and parents, picnickers, softball players, cemetery visitors, campers, hikers, flower garden visitors, birders and dog-walkers.

Seward City Code lists an official start date of April 15, each year. However, parks maintenance and campground staff sometimes requests a delay from the city manager, depending on when water service can be turned on for restrooms and hook-ups.


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