By TRACEY GLAZENER
Capital News Service
LANSING — With only a few remaining kinks, Michigan’s Central Reservations System is increasingly yielding happy state park campers.
Managed by the Department of Natural Resources, CRS is the system through which reservations are made for accommodations at Michigan state park campgrounds and harbors. Users may call for reservations toll-free or reserve space online.
Lansing resident Sarah Blanck, a regular state park camper, said minor technical difficulties have not diminished her overall satisfaction with the once problem-ridden reservation system.
“I use their Web site to look up campsite availability and then call in our reservations,” she said. “We have been greatly satisfied with the system — the people are very helpful.”
According to a recent survey of state park campers, 93 percent of CRS users who call for campground reservations are satisfied with the system. CRS online, which became available in early 2001, received a 90 percent rate of user satisfaction.
That high satisfaction sharply contrasts with several years ago when many angry would-be campers complained about jammed phone lines and confusion when trying to make reservations.
In response to the highly publicized problems, the DNR first commissioned Public Policy Associates in 1997 to conduct a series of CRS-user surveys.
Whether the problem was an understaffed call station or technical difficulty, Silver Lake Park Manager Peter Lundborg said he thinks the system just took some getting used to.
“Every year there are a few bugs, but we don’t hear of any out-of-the-ordinary complaints,” he said. “I think as people are getting more used to it, they are finding that it works relatively well.”
In addition, CRS online has relieved the call center of a portion of its large user-volume.
Jim Ribbens, DNR chief of technology and visitor services, said the increased use of CRS online — now accounting for 25 to 30 percent of all reservations — has surpassed expectations.
“We are seeing a tremendous increase in online reservations — usage of the online system is up 65 percent from this time last year.”
But DNR officials admit that CRS is not without problems.
George Rob, DNR deputy chief of parks and recreation, said system problems are often limited to the most popular state parks — Ludington, Charles Mears, Grand Haven and Holland — and the root of those problems is the demand for campsites at those facilities.
“People tie up the system trying to get into those locations, preventing those who are more than happy to camp say, on Lake Huron, from getting through,” he said.
DNR officials suspect that the beaches and sand dunes of the West Michigan parks are the biggest contributors to their popularity.
Because there are a limited number of lakeshore parks — about 10 located on the west coast — callers often make multiple reservations at those locations. That sharply reduces the number of campsites available at parks like Ludington and Grand Haven, where reservations are required for all campsites.
Ludington Park Manager Mike Mullen said that even though Ludington has 347 campsites, demand far exceeds supply every year. Last year, Ludington booked 14,118 reservations and hosted an estimated 196,451 campers.
“More people would like to camp here,” he said. “But when there’s only so many rooms at the inn, there’s not much you can do.”
While many campers would like the popular parks to increase the number of campsites available to meet demand, Mullen said he doesn’t foresee any additions to the Ludington campgrounds in the near future.
“There’s a fine balance between providing recreation and protecting resources,” he said. “Nothing good will come from killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Rather than increasing the number of campsites available, the DNR is employing measures to reduce the competition for campsites at popular parks. For example, Grand Haven is testing a pilot reservation policy this year that limits the number of reservations a person can make each time they call the reservation system.
Under the policy, callers wishing to camp at Grand Haven are limited to two reservations per call — they may reserve a site for themselves and one other party. Online customers are already limited to one reservation per transaction regardless of where they wish to camp.
Despite the limited availability at popular state parks, Ribbens reported that campers are increasingly willing to camp elsewhere if their preferred campground is booked.
“Based on our most recent reports, 20 percent of callers requesting unavailable campgrounds were willing to camp at an alternative site,” he said. “That is up from the norm, which means more people are walking away satisfied.”
Campground reservations can be made no more than six months in advance of the arrival date by calling 1-800-44-PARKS, or online at http://www.midnrreservations.com.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By TRACEY GLAZENER