STURGEON BAY — Wisconsin residents could move to the head of the line when it comes to reserving campsites in Wisconsin’s most popular state parks, according to a bill proposed by Sturgeon Bay’s state representative.

Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) are proposing legislation, however the plan would cost state residents more in fees.

The early reservation window would only apply at Wisconsin’s most popular state parks such as Peninsula State Park, Devil’s Lake State Park and Kohler-Andrae State Park.

Campers can reserve beginning 11 months ahead beginning at 9 a.m. on that day, but within seconds the most popular campsites are gone at many parks, leading to regular complaints to DNR officials.

This week, Kitchens and Marklein introduced legislation that gives Wisconsin residents the chance to call “dibs” on the best camping spots in the state.

“We have heard stories of families using multiple devices in multiple locations in an attempt to make camping reservations,” Kitchens said.

Under the current system, the reservation window opens at the same time for Wisconsin residents and non-residents.

The current system creates an environment where Wisconsin residents are losing out on their favorite campsites to non-residents because their internet wasn’t fast enough or they didn’t click on the campsite soon enough, Kitchens said.

The bill would create a 14-day window where Wisconsin residents would have the ability to reserve state park campsites prior to non-residents.

In order to take advantage of this early reservation window however, residents would pay the non-resident camping fee (generally $10-$15 more per night) on any reservation made during the early window.

At all other state parks, such as Yellowstone Lake in Blanchardville, the current reservation rules would still apply. Like other activities where individuals pay to move up in the queue or “skip” the line, Wisconsin residents would have the choice to pay a premium for a better opportunity to secure their favorite campsites.

During the 2023 summer season, Wisconsin State Park campgrounds saw an overall occupancy rate of 72%. At some of the most popular parks, such as Peninsula State Park and Kohler-Andrae State Park, the summer season camping occupancy rate is more than 90%. At the most popular state park campgrounds, it can be nearly impossible to reserve a campsite.

This legislation follows the lead of Wyoming and Florida who also provide an early opportunity for state residents to reserve state park campsites.

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By Dan Plutchak

Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.