The public finds the system “very confusing,” said Linda Devlin, executive director of the… Allegheny National Forest Visitor Office, one of the co-signers of the US Travel letter. “If they want to rent a cabin at Red Bridge in the Allegheny National Forest, they have to go through several pages to find the Allegheny National Forest first, then the right campsite, then the cottages. It is not a user-friendly system.”
Online versions of a reservation system have existed for decades, as parks have tried to avoid traffic and overcrowding. In 2018, the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton took over the management of the online booking, stir up hope for improvements, including real-time updates and a more usable interface. Recreation.gov’s new version was a step forward from the previous model, but had been ill-prepared in the past two years to handle the major uptick in pandemic-driven users. It didn’t help ease the confusion caused by the parks’ changing demands as they tried to deal with pandemic restrictions and record-breaking crowds.
As a frequent traveler to national parks, Kelsey Falkowski believes that a reservation system is important to avoid overcrowding. Mr. Falkowski, a high school social science teacher from Vernon, NJ, has been traveling with his brother and sister to national parks for the past six years, usually visiting two or three parks per trip. He has not encountered any major problems using Recreation.gov.
“It really comes down to research,” he said. “We start planning about a year in advance and my brother will put together a 50-page itinerary. We’re going on Facebook pages, Instagram accounts for the national parks, to make sure we don’t miss anything.”
‘Happy being uncomfortable’
In addition to a high-speed Internet connection, accessing and booking on recreation.gov requires a level of computer literacy that not all travelers can have (talking about technology, problems with camping-grabbing bots and third-party sites have plagued recreation.gov for years).
Last December, months after her search for campgrounds, Ms. Prado was able to book one campground for three nights in Glacier, a much shorter period of time than she hoped to spend in the park. As for the rest, she decided she had to play it by ear.