Devil's Lake campground

Campers remain at the Northern Lights Campground in Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo Monday morning. The park is part of a Department of Natural Resources pilot program allowing same-day campsite reservations.

Last-minute camping just became easier at 15 state parks, including Devil’s Lake and Mirror Lake, thanks to a pilot program that allows same-day reservations.

Before the program took effect, Devil’s Lake Superintendent Steve Schmelzer said people often would call about campsite availability, but by the time they arrived at the park an hour or so later, the site would be taken because park staff weren’t allowed to hold it for them. That scenario played out multiple times every week, he said.

But the 2019 reservation season is different, with the Wisconsin State Park System allowing anyone to make reservations online or by phone for 15 properties right up to the moment they want it. And there’s no reservation fee.

“If there’s a cancellation, even on a busy weekend, they could be online right after the cancellation and get one of those sites,” Schmelzer said. “So, I think it’ll really be beneficial for the campers.”

Chris Pedretti, section chief of the state Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Parks and Recreation, said the pilot is intended to provide customers with better and real-time access to campsites. Previously, campers has to reserve their site anywhere between 11 months to 48 hours in advance of their arrival.

Pedretti noted that the state’s new reservation system, administered by Camis USA Inc., made same-day reservations a possibility. During the season when reservations are available, the act of starting the reservation process online will remove the chosen campsite from availability to prevent double-booking.

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“I think it’s a great new tool for customers to be able to plan and get out and enjoy the parks,” Pedretti said.

Schmelzer also expressed optimism about the new Camis software, to which park staff is still adapting, but he already thinks it will be an improvement over the previous system. It took effect in December.

“There’s more options that may become available as we move forward. It’s looking like a really good system for Wisconsin State Parks, I think,” Schmelzer said. “We think it’s a really good benefit for the visitors.”

Sites can be booked at Devil’s Lake and Mirror Lake by visiting wisconsin.goingtocamp.com or by calling 1-888-947-2757. As part of the pilot, 10 parks, including Rocky Arbor State Park near Wisconsin Dells, will feature new yellow phones that connect directly to reservation call center staff and allow customers to book and pay for available sites.

Depending on how the pilot goes, the DNR may consider expanding the program to more properties — with the ultimate goal of spreading to all of them, Pedretti said. Staff will gauge customer response and track park occupancy rates, along with the number of same-day reservations that are made throughout the year, to evaluate the program’s success.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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