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Research finds national park campground reservation system not equitable

Breeze Bay North campsite on Yellowstone Lake;
Jim Peaco
Yellowstone National Park
Breeze Bay North campsite on Yellowstone Lake;

In the last couple of years, national park campgrounds introduced reservation systems as a way to deal with an influx of users. A new study has found that this system is creating an equity problem.

Will Rice, University of Montana Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation and Wildland Management, said he realized a reservation system may not be fair when he saw that on any given day you might have 19,000 people vying for 57 campsites in a federal campground..

"When the odds are that low, any little advantage makes a huge difference to just having a little bit faster internet speed, or having one more friend out in the world who's also helping you," said Rice.

So he looked at cell phone location tracking data for five national park campgrounds that have a reservation system but that also allow campers to show up and pick a site. Rice said people using the reservation system had higher incomes than those at the first-come first-serve sites.

"It speaks to those having higher incomes, having more flexibility, having jobs that allow them to plan farther in advance, having potentially higher internet speeds," he said.

Rice said a potential solution is a monthly lottery system. Yellowstone National Park is currently trying this with backcountry permits but most developed campgrounds use an online reservation system.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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