Camping out for a cottage: South Park locations draw lines a year in advance

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As darkness falls on South Park, things get pretty quiet. A few runners remain on the trail, but that's about it.

Over at the park office though, a mother and daughter are camping out in front of the permit office. They aren't waiting for tickets to the biggest concert of the year or the introduction of the latest smartphone. All they want is to rent the Cottage in the park.

Sandy Wagner and her 17-year-old daughter, Emily, from Bethel Park, want to hold Emily's graduation party at the house -- next year. Mrs. Wagner found out the hard way the Cottage is a popular place. A week earlier, she showed up at 7 a.m. and was sixth in line to try to rent the house. So she moved the date of next year's party and tried again a week later.

The house can be reserved one year in advance of the day of the event, so if you want the Cottage, you've got to be there when the doors open in the morning.

Mrs. Wagner and her daughter have been to parties at the house before and think it's perfect for the graduation.

The house gives guests protection from the weather and there are kitchen facilities, but Emily likes some other things too.

"It's a really nice place," she says. "It has a volleyball court in the front, a playground in the back, a big open grass area, indoor bathrooms; it has pretty much everything."

But there's one more important reason to enjoy her party in the park. "I did not want to have it at my house," Mrs. Wagner said with a laugh.

They aren't too worried about staying at the office overnight. The two are under cover and the Allegheny County Police Department is right behind them. In fact, an officer came to make sure they had everything they needed and to let them know he's just a couple of steps away.

There are only a few concerns: bats flying around and all the insects drawn to the yellowish light in front of the office.

"I hate bugs," Mrs. Wagner said, and added, "the things we don't do for our children, huh?"

Emily staked out the spot at 7 p.m., and her mother joined her an hour later. Emily works at the park's wave pool and needs to be there at 11 a.m. the next day, so her mother made here leave at 10:30 p.m. Before going, the teenager expressed her gratitude. "I know she loves me and she wants my party to be perfect."

Mrs. Wagner was ready for the night. She had a stack of magazines, a blanket and plenty of bug spray. She got a little sleep through the night, tossing and turning on her folding chaise lounge until she got company at 3:30 a.m. and then again a half hour later -- some folks were looking to reserve other areas of the park.

The next morning at 8:30 a.m. Mrs. Wagner was first in line and reserved the Cottage for her daughter's graduation party exactly a year to the day.

"People at work think I'm crazy," she said smiling.

And this won't be the last time she sleeps over in front of the office either.

"I'm going to do it again next year," she said, for her son's graduation.


Doug Oster: or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog at Twitter: @dougoster1.


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