With trails, campsites and state and national parks so crowded now that the COVID pandemic is on the wane, UM researchers are using the website recreation dot gov to see how and why people choose certain campsites.

Will Rice, a UM assistant professor of outdoor recreation and wildland management joined forces with Soyoung Park of Florida Atlantic University to look at 23,000 campground reservations made through recreation dot gov.

“Recreation.gov is an interagency website managed by the Forest Service, Fish Wildlife Service, even the National Archives, and you can reserve tours there,” said Rice. “It's just a way of really reserving any recreational leisure experiences through the federal government, so most Forest Service campgrounds that require reservation are there, and a bunch of national parks as well. It's a really familiar experience for anyone who's camped before, whether you're reserving the campsite online or you're circling the campground you're trying to pick a campsite and which one looks best, and we're interested in which one's book first and what drives that that decision making.”

Rice discovered an interesting link between price and one particular amenity.

“So for every dollar increase in price, we actually saw a booking window increase by one day and that's interesting, because normally as price goes up, demand goes down but in this case, price is aligned directly with access to electricity,” he said. “So if you have an RV and you want to plug it in, you're going to have to pay a $10 premium for that.”

Rice was saddened to realize that with the rapid increase in online campsite bookings, just traveling from park to park may not be possible for much longer.

“There's this iconic American experience which is very much aligned with national parks and that's the National Park Road trip. Like, you're taking the family or you're going with friends, you're going park the park to park, such as going to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier, and in some ways, we're really we're kind of limiting the possibility of that even happening anymore because you have to book these campsites so far in advance.”

Rice said however, that booking your campsites online does have some advantages.

“If you get your camping permit, we can send you a message through recreation.gov a couple days in advance and say these are Leave No Trace principles, so please review them beforehand,” he said. “Here are the regulations for this campsite. So there's a lot that recreation. gov offers in terms of experiences and creating a better experience for people and also preserving the resources that that provide those experiences.”

Read more about Rice’s study here.

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