A bill that aimed at helping make it easier to secure a campsite in Montana is still alive in the Legislature, with a lot riding on a hearing set for next week.

GOP Representative Steve Gunderson of Libby introduced House Bill 440 this session in an effort to ease the crunch for campsites at Montana State Parks. The parks were already getting busy during key weeks even before the pandemic. But the combination of additional interest in outdoor recreation, and the ability for travelers to reserve campsites they might not even occupy is resulting in complaints. Many of those come from Montana residents, who say their ability to go camping spontaneously has been ruined by the avalanche of reservations.

Gunderson's proposal seeks to ease that situation by creating what could be called "walk-up campsites."

The numbers tell the tale

Montana FWP says nearly 3.4 million people used a state park in 2021. And even though numbers were quite as robust last year, many parks were still filling up, even outside of the "normal" summer campaign season.

That's an increase of 71% from 2010, at least in part driven by the demand for National Park and National Forest campgrounds, which can force campers to hit state parks as an option.

Montana FWP
Montana FWP

Gunderson's bill would create some reservation limits

HB 440 would create "limits on the number of reserved campsites in state parks", creating a cap for reservations at "no more than 80% of all available campsites" for overnight stays.

Plus, if a party that reserved a campsite for multiple days "fails to arrive" and claims the campsite by 10 am on Day 2, that site can then be given to others on a "first come, first served" basis. It's estimated the change would affect about half of the 25 Montana State Parks that allow camping.

Montana FWP- Dennis Bragg photo
Montana FWP- Dennis Bragg photo

One issue that might limit the proposal is the state using money from the Land and Water Conservation Funds, which FWP has said could limit the ability of to take a step that could discriminate against non-resident campers.

The bill is in the Senate now, where it's set for a hearing on March 28th before the Fish and Game Committee.

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