- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

Campers seeking on-line reservations at national parks are being forced on a detour that runs through Western Maryland.
The Cumberland call center hasn't seen a big impact yet from the month-old shutdown of the National Park Service Web site, but that could change Jan. 15, when Memorial Day and early-June camping dates at popular Yosemite National Park go on sale, said a Park Service official.
"It's extremely busy then," said Joe McGown, who helps manage the telephone-reservations contract. "There will be an impact, if this continues."
Unless the Web site is restored, the Park Service will advise contractor Spherix Inc. to prepare for a flood of calls that, even in a normal year, can overload the system, Mr. McGown said.
"Some parks have a tremendous following," Mr. McGown said. "A lot of visitors want to come. They have a campsite they want to come to. They already have it pinned to their refrigerator."
Web sites run by the U.S. Department of the Interior remain down because of a federal court order stemming from a lawsuit over Indian land royalties.
The sites, including those for the National Park Service, were blocked to the public Dec. 5. A message tells Internet users access was suspended "due to conditions outside our department." The 3-year-old Web site accounted for 25 percent of national park reservations last year, Mr. McGown said.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued an emergency order closing the site after a report showed that a computer system, which handles $500 million a year in royalties from Indian land, had little security and was an easy target for potential hackers.
Each of the department's agencies must prove to Judge Lamberth it has no online connection with the Indian Trust Fund and that the fund cannot be accessed through agency Web sites.
Spherix, based in Beltsville, won a five-year, $12 million contract to run the park service's toll-free telephone-reservation system out of Cumberland in 1998. It allows callers to make reservations up to five months in advance, Mr. McGown said.
Campsites for parks other than Yosemite can be reserved for the period including the Memorial Day weekend through the phone-reservation system, Mr. McGown said.
The number is 800/365-2267 for parks other than Yosemite National Park, or 800/436-7275 for Yosemite. The number for hearing-impaired callers is 888/530-9796. The lines operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Camping reservations at more than 30 of the most popular national parks are available through the call center, Mr. McGown said. Campers can also make reservations in person at the parks or by mailing requests to NPRS, P.O. Box 1600, Cumberland, Md. 21501.

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