State parks email floods inboxes

Posted December 26, 2011

It wasn't exactly a Christmas present to thousands of patrons of the state's online park reservations system.

A state parks email list had to be shut down on Christmas Eve after a technical error flooded users' inboxes with hundreds of messages from other users. The list is made up of people who've used the state's online reservation system for park accommodations.

State parks officials say the email list includes about 47,000 patrons. It was only the second time the list had been used.

On Friday, NC Parks director Lewis Ledford sent out a general holiday message to the list, thanking members for using the system, and promoting a new mobile app for state parks.  

Ledford's message drew an angry late-night response from one user who complained about the gas tax, set to rise about 4 cents January 1st.  

"Raising gas tax is just plain stupid. Everything is bad enought without adding to the problem. I can bearly afford the gas now, I have cut my driving down quite abit and there is no need to send me any more informatioin on state parks. I will not be traveling or camping, with the increase of fuel cost. The cost of fuel is bad enough without north carolina adding more tax to fuel."  

After complaining about police and rangers driving new cars, he concludes,

"Stupid dumb taxes...you know where you can put them.....up yours.....I dont need any information about state parks...save you email....."

The angry response went out to every member of the list. So did a similarly angry counter-response from a supporter of the gas tax hike. And so did hundreds of frustrated requests from people who wanted to be removed from the list altogether.  

Most email list systems don't allow members to send messages to the list without moderator approval. But in this case, that safeguard had either been turned off or was never put in place. 

By the time the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources got wind of the problem Saturday morning, members' inboxes were stuffed with about 500 messages, leading some to believe the system had been hacked. 

"There were people who found this so disturbing, they were calling state emergency management about it," said DENR spokeswoman Diana Kees.

Kees said the list was shut down Saturday afternoon. But some backed-up messages are still finding their way to users' inboxes.

"We are looking into how the problem occurred in the first place, so that we can take measures to assure it never happens again. We sincerely regret the inconvenience," Kees said.

Some users said they never wanted to be on the list in the first place. The reservations system website does not ask users' permission to put them on an email list, and Ledford's holiday message didn't include opt-out information as required by the 2003 federal CAN-SPAM Act.  And the link to the site's online privacy policy is broken. 

"We regret and apologize for any inconveniences and problems this created for our valued park visitors," added state parks assistant director Don Reuter. "We will thoroughly evaluate the issues this year's holiday message created and make decisions about future use based upon that evaluation."


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  • aharrill Dec 29, 2011

    I was one of the folks who had ended up on this email list and got hundreds of messages as a result. One of the major problems that caused the flood of emails is that you can usually send an email back to the listserv with the word "unsubscribe" in the header field in order to get off the list. One early responder suggested this (usually reasonable) tactic, which only compounded the problem because these unsubscribe emails only got forwarded back to the entire list. The other frustration was that, as the article mentioned, the unsubscribe button on the park website wasn't functioning.

    While some folks sent out profanity-laden messages (one person even went so far as to claim that the flood of messages was ruining their holiday!), it was also nice to see that other folks asked to be off the list and added how much they enjoy NC state parks. I think most people were just concerned about their business email accounts getting clogged up or shut down during the holiday weekend while IT sta

  • oldrebel Dec 29, 2011

    If the state had outsourced this to India it wouldn't have happened. However there is a possibility there would have been a missive about celebrating Lord Ganesha the Five-Faced Maha Ganapati—Lord of Categories during Pancha Ganapati.

  • wstotten Dec 27, 2011

    Wow, all someone does is wish others a Merry Christmas and it somehow becomes a political issue. Thousands of computer glitches happen everyday both is the private and public sector. For this to become an issue just proves how angry our society has become "even at Christmas." My question would be, what was the intent? The intent was to say thank you....just like your mama taught you. Get over it and just let it be!

  • faperrigo Dec 26, 2011

    ncpilot2: get real. If you pay attention, the executive branch is the limb that needs to be reset.

  • ncpilot2 Dec 26, 2011

    Just another in a continuous stream of proof that the state government is inept. Yet, we keep voting in the same people over and over. We need REAL leadership to hold the beauracracy accountable. It's time to clean House . . . and Senate.

  • wayneboyd Dec 26, 2011

    What about our state isn't broke?