Iowa has implemented an online reservation system for its 85 state parks, according to an Associated Press report.
The system was launched this month for cabins, and on Feb. 13 will begin providing access to around half of the state’s 5,200 campsites.
“People in this day and age, their time is worth a lot and it’s more structured. There’s been a lot of demand to have that sort of security – when they pack up the camper and their kids and their dog, they want to know that site is waiting for them,” said Kevin Szcodronski, state parks bureau chief.
That’s the national trend, according to Reserve America, which books sites at roughly 3,000 state and federal parks nationwide.
“You have to plan and book time off so far in advance … you want to make sure you have a spot when you’re doing that,” said John McDonald, senior marketing manager.
One of the most popular spots in Iowa is Backbone State Park, offering 16 cabins – eight of them open year-round – that draw thousands of visitors each year.
In past years concessionaires had to sort through about 300 letters on the first working day of January.
“All of those envelopes are opened at random,” aid Jerry Reisinger, northeast district supervisor for Iowa state parks. “They would look at the request and go to their calendar … and mark the reservation request fulfilled, set aside the money and go on to the second one.”
“On the second working day, you could begin to call in if you could find days available … the phone starts ringing off the wall,” he said.
Under the new system, Iowa state park patrons will be able to reserve a cabin or campsite by providing basic information online or by phone and using a credit or debit card. If paying by check, payment must follow within 10 days or the reservation is canceled.
Szcodronski said the new system offers a wealth of information the DNR didn’t have before.
“We’ll have everybody’s name on it. We can do research and surveys to better understand our customers – what are some of the amenities they’re looking for? We can keep ahead of the curve,” he said.
McDonald said such information helps staff “better manage and conserve the parks, whether it’s staffing, equipment or facilities.”