Editor’s Note: This column was written by Marc Peruzzi for Outside. 

Last summer, we reported on the abysmal online booking system that would-be campers had to navigate to reserve campsites on most federal lands. Turned out it wasn’t the government—the people who brought you the DMV and the IRS that was the root of the dysfunction, but rather the old private contractors that refused to share data on campsite availability with the public. Why and how that information got locked up is a story of crony capitalism and gray bureaucracy, but after four and a half years of hard fought advocacy work to little fanfare, the non-profit Access Land and the companies and people behind the “open data for open lands” movement have scored a major victory.

On Monday (Feb. 25), the online and app-based campsite booking service Hipcamp, whose founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio was the driving force behind Access Land, announced that its third-party platform is now the first to feature both public and private campsite availability in real time. The upshot: As with countless other non-governmental sites that rely on open data to make your life easier, you won’t have to jump through as many hoops to find campsites that work for you.

The freeing of the data happened because the government, through the administrators at recreation.gov, and their new primary contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, agreed to share availability for roughly 100,000 federal campsites, and, unlike the prior contractor, actually followed through on the promise. Thus far, say recreation.gov officials, a half dozen or more third-party vendors have signed agreements to tap into the data.

That’s welcome news to Hipcamp’s Ravasio. “Campers have known for a long time that it’s too hard to find and book a campsite,” she says. “Today, I woke up and said we’re starting to solve not just a part of the problem, but the whole problem. I can’t wait for the day when other entrepreneurs begin building a Spanish language app. That’s possible now. The entire idea of the Internet is to make it easier to meet people where they are. Now it’s finally happening for campers.”

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