Source: Tribune-Star, Terre Haute and Wabash Valley

Vigo County Parks and Recreation is moving to a reservation-only system for camping spots, shelters and facilities such as a barn or log cabin.

The Vigo County Parks Board on Monday approved the change this year for Fowler Park, Hawthorn Park and Prairie Creek Park. The parks previously had operated on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We did research on the reservation system and on different parks and what they do,” Brian Gilbert, assistant parks superintendent, told the board Monday. “We found that only two parks (departments) in our area are not doing reservations, and that is us and Sullivan Lake, but their website says they are starting reservations.”

The parks board voted to approve a reservation system, which includes a $2 fee, plus an optional $5 fee to lock in a particular camp site or shelter. The reservation system uses credit cards, removing a cash payment option.

The board voted to keep the parks’ base price the same, with primitive camping at $12 per day; $20 daily for electric camping; $25 daily with water hookup added; and $50 a night for a new log cabin, still under construction, at Fowler Park. The board also approved a $100 damage deposit for the cabin and barns.

Emily Starbuck, recreation coordinator, said four companies were reviewed and software systems were demonstrated. The parks department then reviewed the pros and cons of each system.

“We narrowed it down to ReserveAmerica and Campspot,” Starbuck said. “We came to the conclusion that Campspot looks like the best fit for our three campgrounds,” Starbuck said.

Campspot has free website set up and training, with no annual or monthly fees, Starbuck said. It takes about four weeks to build a parks reservation web site, Starbuck said. “Campspot does all web site maintenance and builds an interactive map. It will have three separate reservation sites (for the three parks) … so there is no confusion,” she said.

“It is a cloud-based system, so it is easily accessible with WiFi and data. The standard booking fee is $2 for all reservations,” Starbuck said. “We plan on consolidating our camp sites and our shelter reservations into one site,” she said. If a camp site is rented plus a shelter, the fee is $2 for the camp site and $2 for the shelter, she said. The fee covers the term of the reservation, whether it is one day or one week, she said.

CardConnect is the credit card company used with the site, charging a 3 percent fee on credit card transactions. People can go the Campspot web site and select Vigo County, then be directed to the three parks, Starbuck said. The parks department can also add events and programs at no cost.

If someone wants to reserve a specific site, that would add a $5 lock fee, Starbuck said.

The board approved Campspot for its reservation system.

After the meeting, Parks Superintendent Adam Grossman said “most campers have wanted this for a long time. It is a huge shift in our department, which has long been first come, first served, but I believe it is a change that almost all campers want to see.”

The reservation system also will benefit the parks department with better data, Grossman said.

“I can highlight Ash peninsula at Fowler Park and see how many camp sites were reserved and which ones were reserved most often, all within seconds,” he said. “It also gives the ability to market the parks nationwide to so many more people. It gives us the ability to (attract) people who did not want to travel three to four hours to our parks where they did not know if they could get a camp site,” Grosssman said.

“State parks, which use a reservation system, were all full last year. People want to be outdoors and people want to know they have a site. I think this will increase our revenue by 40 to 50 percent. I would not be surprised to see $30,000 to $40,000 more in revenue this year,” Grossman said.

The board also approved a new gatehouse at Hawthorn Park, relocating the gatehouse to the park’s entrance, instead of inside the park. The new gatehouse will have a lane for campers and a second lane for people just visiting the park.

With front entrance gatehouses at Fowler and Hawthorn parks, a gatekeeper can reserve a camp site through Camp Spot for a “walk-in” customer who cannot access a phone or computer tablet. At Prairie Creek, a customer must call a displayed telephone number to reach a staff worker who can make such a reservation as that park does not have a gatehouse.

Vigo County has 138 electric camping sites across its park system and 22 primitive sites, Grossman said. A breakdown has Fowler Park with 49 electric sites and 10 primitive camping sites; Hawthorn Park has 51 electric sites, with 10 primitive sites; while Prairie Creek Park has 38 electric sites, with two primitive sites.

Fowler Park has two shelters, a barn and a log cabin, expected to be available in March; Hawthorn Park has three shelters; and Prairie Creek as two shelters.