Shenandoah National Park officials have created a new text message alert system that could help campers find unoccupied campsites.
Park users can join a text-based channel called Shencamp, and officials will send text updates about available campsites at the park’s five campgrounds. The alerts – which will say either “Plenty” or “Full” – will be issued on weekend afternoons, as officials monitor campgrounds to see how many are unclaimed or unattended.
Shenandoah National Park has 623 individual campsites and three group sites, and like other national parks, these sites are a mix of reservations-only and first-come, first-served. Campers can reserve spots up to six months in advance through Recreation.gov, and many more are heading to the park hoping to claim a site. Previously, potential campers could drive to the park and inquire about last-minute cancellations, but that was a gamble, and many hopeful campers were turned away overnight.
Shenandoah National Park officials believe the new system will make it easier for potential campers to see if sites are unclaimed before heading to the park. And if there are spots available, the alert system will tell campers which campground to target.
“We hope this new system will provide valuable information for the public to plan their visits to Shenandoah,” said Park Superintendent Pat Kenney.
If successful, the new system could be a boon for beleaguered national parks, many of which are struggling to notify the public of campsite availability. Booming visitation in the wake of COVID has exposed issues in national parks’ ability to handle camping reservations. While canceled camping reservations are generally recycled through the system, no-shows are not, leaving empty spots and frustrated would-be campers.
Park spokeswoman Claire Comer said Outside this new alert system has limitations – managers are unable to update information on campsites that are booked but whose occupants do not show up.
“We’re not able to be that specific,” Comer said. “There is no connectivity in the park, and due to the staff and the size we are trying to cover, it is not possible to get that level of information.”
Still, Comer thinks the rough capacity updates will help direct potential campers to the right campgrounds and keep them from driving around the park for hours asking for availability.
Those who don’t want to refresh the booking tab again and again can also use private companies like CampNab and camp flarethat take information 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 hazards, Skyline Drive status, and additional safety information, the public is encouraged to text Shenalerts at 888777. Those wishing to receive alerts about the availability of the camping can subscribe to messages by texting Shencamp to 888777.