OAKLAND -- Overnight camping: It's not just for the young and those with spines tough as nails.
The East Bay Regional Park District, trying to lure in first-time campers, will add its first "convenience" overnight campsites featuring tent cabins or yurts on elevated platforms. They will feature mattresses on cots or bed frames.
The district's camping master plan, approved Tuesday on a 6-0 vote of the board, also calls for 13 new family and backpacker/equestrian campsites to meet increasing demand for camps close to home rather than hours of driving away.
Park managers say they hope to appeal to first-time campers without tents, or aging or disabled campers who want an outdoor experience without roughing it.
"It's one step up from sleeping on the ground," said Jim O'Connor, the district's assistant general manager for operations. "It can be for people trying out camping for the first time or baby boomers who still want to be outdoors but find it a little harder to sleep on the ground."
Adding convenience campgrounds is top priority over the next seven years in the district's camping program, a set of long-term priorities for the regional park system and its 112,000 acres of parkland in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
Other Bay Area park agencies have already opened six convenience camps with some form of elevated structure and a wood or tent roof. They include Mount Tamalpais State Park, in Marin County, and Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, near Napa.
Before building one of the camps, the East Bay park system must do planning studies and environmental reviews, and come up with the money to build one.
Sites being considered are Sunol Regional Wilderness, south of Pleasanton, Chabot Regional Park, near Castro Valley, and the site of an old brick plant at the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, west of Martinez.
The convenience camps can be a "gateway" to camping for people who don't own tents or sophisticated gear, consultants from 2M Associates of Berkeley told the park board.
Campers still must bring their own sleeping bags, food and coolers, but the tent or cabin roof provides protection against rain and sunlight.
The convenience camps could enable the park district to serve a broader variety of campers, attract more campers in the offseason and generate more revenues, said Steve Spickard, a 2M economist.
The convenience camps would be expensive to develop, though. One at Sunol Regional Wilderness could cost up to $1 million, according to preliminary estimates.
Park managers say they will need to look for grants and other money sources for new camps as part of the district's annual budget process.
The district's camping plan also calls for an overhaul of the aging Chabot Regional Park campground, where campsites run $22 to $30 a night -- and would be higher for "convenience" sites.
Among the new facilities would be a family camp at Carquinez Regional Park, east of Martinez, a Delta regional park east of Brentwood and Dumbarton Quarry Regional Park, near Fremont, and a group camp at Vargas Plateau Regional Park, by Fremont.
The plan also calls for new backpacker/equestrian camps at Diablo Foothills, near Walnut Creek, and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, near Richmond, and conversion of a group camp to a backpacker camp in Briones Regional Park, near Lafayette.
The district currently has 225 overnight family campsites that may be reserved, 75 at Chabot and 150 at Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore, plus many group campsites in other parks.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
To read the park plan, visit http://bit.ly/1t4PVis