Park works on getting the word out, clearing up sign, reservation glitches"Welcome to Fort Clatsop - do you have a reservation?"

Clipboard in hand, Chuck Julien greeted visitors Wednesday as they arrived at the Netul Landing shuttle stop, checking to see if they purchased reserved tickets to Fort Clatsop National Memorial and directing them to the waiting area for the bus that would take them into the park itself.

INFOBOXBuy tickets online at (http://reservations.nps.gov) or by calling (800) 967-2283. The $5 tickets cover park admission for the day, and the use of the shuttle for three days. Reserved tickets allow entry to the park at a set time, although visitors can stay in the park as long as they like.It's a new experience for Fort Clatsop visitors, as well as for park staff and volunteers like Julien, who this week are working out the kinks of the park's brand-new entry system that controls admission into the park from now until Labor Day, Sept. 6.

As workmen put the finishing touches on some railings nearby, Julien checked off the names of those with reservations, and wrote down names of other visitors who arrived without advanced tickets. He was quick to reassure people that, today at least, there was plenty of room available on the shuttle for those who hadn't purchased a ticket in advance.

That was good, since many people showing up Wednesday seemed unaware of the new admission system, which is designed to limit the number of people entering the park at any one time.

Fort Clatsop Superintendent Chip Jenkins said the park intentionally inaugurated the system on a Monday before the prime tourist season in order to have the opportunity to iron out the glitches. As the summer progresses, however, park staff are counting on the new program to control overcrowding inside the park and ease congestion on the surrounding roads.

The park plans to operate the system during the summer of 2005 and 2006.

"We know there are a lot of systems we need to get experience with," he said.

Some of the glitches that arose included a lack of signs around Astoria and other towns identifying parking areas where people can leave their cars and catch buses to Netul Landing. More signs are expected to be installed in the next week or two.

Despite that problem, people seem to be using the shuttles, Jenkins said, noting how he watched one bus carry two dozen people back to Astoria. While people can drive to Netul Landing and park there, Fort Clatsop staff hope that the shuttle system becomes the primary means people use to get to the park.

"Clearly people are getting the message to leave their car at the Transit Center or other parking area and ride the bus," he said.

Another problem has been the reservation system itself, particularly the Web site, which has proved to be cumbersome, Jenkins said. The online system is part of the park service's nationwide ticket network, so working with the Washington D.C.-based contractor to make improvements has been difficult, he said.

Tickets can be purchased online at (http://reservations.nps.gov) or by calling (800) 967-2283. They are also available at the Astoria Transit Center. Those who take the bus or drive to Netul Landing without reservations buy their tickets when they arrive at the park visitor center.

The $5 tickets cover park admission for that day, and the use of the shuttle for three days. The reserved tickets allow entry to the park at a set time, but visitors can stay in the park as long as they like.

Once at Netul Landing, visitors transfer to another bus that carries them into the park itself. Before boarding Wednesday, they heard an introduction to the park from Lindsey Warren, a seasonal staff member from the Student Conservation Association.

"People are being very patient," she said.

Very few visitors arrived at Netul Landing with reserved tickets, but the number of those with reservations, though small, was growing each day, which suggests that motel owners, merchants and others in the community are getting the word out to tourists about the new ticketing system, said Park Ranger Janice Elvidge, who was helping coordinate staff and volunteers at Netul Landing.

"If we were doing this when we were busy, that would not be good," she said. "People have been pretty good sports about it - one of the best compliments we got was from a man who said 'if this is your first day, you're doing pretty good.'"

Frequent Fort Clatsop visitors, accustomed to just driving into the park, tend to be caught off-guard by the new system more than first-timers. But with the bigger crowds expected thanks to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, visitors need to be aware that some planning may be required before they arrive head out to the park, Elvidge said.

One group that arrived at Netul Landing and learned about the new shuttle system turned around and left, saying they didn't think they had enough time to visit the fort and return to Portland later that day if they had to use the shuttle.

"People think, 'this is a small place, it's no big deal,'" she said. "But that's the problem - we're such a small place. (The crowds) are a much bigger problem for small sites like us."

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