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Shenandoah National Park is launching a new alert system to notify subscribers about campsite availability and hazards or closures within the park, officials said this week.
On the weekends, subscribers will receive an afternoon message detailing the number of first-come, first-serve campsites that are available within the park. They will receive another notification when the last campsite is claimed, notifying them that the campgrounds have reached full capacity.
Hikers can make camping reservations for Shenandoah National Park up to 6 months in advance via Recreation.gov, but each campground retains a certain number of first-come first-serve campsites as well. Until now, park visitors could manually check for last-minute cancellations, but these spots are notoriously difficult to snag. Traveling to the park without a first-come first-serve tally was a gamble since it wasn’t clear how many sites were available. Many hopeful hikers would show up to the park only to be turned away for the night.
Shenandoah National Park officials say that the new system will make visiting the park an easier, and less stressful, experience for hikers.
“We hope this new system will provide valuable information to the public for planning their visits to Shenandoah,” said Park Superintendent Pat Kenney.
Booming visitation in Covid’s wake has exposed issues in national parks’ capacity to handle both day-trippers and campers. Chief among them are a booming number of no-shows: While canceled camping reservations are usually recycled back into the system, no-shows are not, which leaves spots empty and would-be campers frustrated. While it’s not clear whether the park intends to add no-shows at reserved campsites into the new alert system, having a direct line of communication between campgrounds and visitors could be a good first step toward reducing the number of empty spots.
Those who don’t want to refresh the reservation tab over and over again can also use private companies like CampNab and Campflare, which integrate information that is readily available on recreation.gov and turn it into alerts about permits, shuttle tickets, and campsite availability.
In order to receive alerts about Shenandoah National Park’s hazards, Skyline Drive status, and additional safety information, the public is encouraged to text SHENALERTS to 888777. Those who are interested in getting alerts about campsite availability can subscribe to messages by texting SHENCAMP to 888777.