By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR)
Ready for a camping trip to one – or several – of the beautiful Alabama State Parks? Ensuring you’ll have a site for your RV, travel trailer or tent just became much easier recently when the new online campground reservation system (www.reservealapark.com) went live.
When ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship was appointed by Governor Kay Ivey in 2017, one of his first initiatives was to connect all Alabama State Parks to broadband internet service and to implement an online reservation system for Alabama State Parks. Parks officials spent months integrating the technology into the 17 parks the system will serve, and the new online tool will include a variety of features that park visitors have requested.
“One of the things we were intentional about providing to the customer was to look at a site’s availability for the whole year instead of one specific date range,” said Emily Vanderford, Natural Resources Planner with the State Parks Division. “This new system gives them a longer date range. If they have a favorite campsite, they can look at availability and book it. That is something customers asked for – being able to look at that site’s availability across the year.”
Another feature of the new reservations system is the ability to book at multiple parks during one online visit.
“If someone is making a road trip and they want to book several parks along the journey, they can do that in one booking,” Vanderford said. “There are some specific features that people have wanted, like saving their bookings into their account to know which sites they’ve stayed on in the past. Also, now you can purchase a gift card and use a gift card in that same system.”
Vanderford thinks people are really going to appreciate this tool with the user-friendly online system.
“But we also want people to know that if they have questions, they can call us, and we will be happy to help,” she said.
State Parks Assistant Director Rob Grant started the work on the new online system with a Request for Proposals (RFP) last fall. After Parks officials selected a vendor, Vanderford took the lead.
“We really appreciate the hard work Emily has done since she took on the role,” Grant said. “After the RFP was finally issued, Emily joined in and ran with it. And our staff has been fantastic in navigating the new system.”
Prior to the new system, nine parks had campground reservations on an online system, but that system linked to each park separately and did not include many features.
“Before, all our parks on the online system, ran their own system,” Vanderford said. “So, if you wanted to make a booking at Cheaha, you had to go to a Cheaha-specific booking link. If you wanted to make a reservation at Lake Lurleen, you had to call that park.
“With the new system, we have all of the parks we operate on the online reservation system. There were multiple pieces to the puzzle. One was to transfer the old reservation system into the new system. Then we had to prepare all of the campgrounds that had been in the old system for the new system. The challenging part was to do that in a way that provided some uniformity. With this system, everything comes into one centralized source that can make a booking for any and all of our camping parks. That was one of the bigger challenges, making sure we could bring everything into one system and make it work so the customers could pull up the sites and see all of our parks.”
With the new campground reservation tool, campers can go online and find numerous options to plan a trip to Alabama’s most scenic destinations, from the Appalachian Mountains to Mobile Bay.
“Visitors may not know which park they want to go to,” Vanderford said. “With the new system, they might want to camp in central Alabama. They could type in Birmingham, and the system will pull up a list of parks in the area. Then they can book any or all of those parks from the same place.
“Starting last fall, there was a lot of detailed setup work for pricing and availability. All of those things have to be ready to go so the customers can book online and avoid issues for them or Parks operations. We don’t want customers showing up to campgrounds they’ve made a booking for and the site not be available.”