Officials with the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department are jumping head-long into the 21st century, now offering campers a way to reserve a spot online.
“Everybody expects to be able to do everything online,” said park superintendent Rama Sobhani. “And now they can.”
Sobhani said offering people a way to reserve either a cabin or a camping spot at Ouabache Trails Park via their website has been about a year in the making. They partnered with a company that was able to “seamlessly blend” both their booking software with their current website.
“It’s in its early stages, and we’re still figuring all the bugs out, but it is functional,” he said. “And we are delighted.”
Visitors to the parks department’s website at www.knoxcountyparks.com are now met with a red button in the upper right corner that prompts connection to its new online booking system.
People can easily check the availability of both the cabins as well as the tent and RV camping areas.
Previously, people had to call the parks department office directly to make those reservations, a laborious task, Sobhani said, for both himself and his staff.
And visitors to the park are already using the new online tool, he said.
“The reservations are rolling in,” he told his board of directors during their regular monthly meeting this week. “Our phone traffic is down so much.
“We used to spend so much time on the phone with customers,” he said. “It was a drain, and it was difficult to effectively serve everybody. Now people can go online and see exactly what our availability is.”
Sobhani said the program even allows RV campers to pick which campsite best fits their particular vehicle.
“So people with large motor homes can figure out quickly which sites they can fit on and which they won’t,” he said. “It’s really nice and saves both us and them a lot of time.”
And while it’s working fine now, it’s about to work even better as county officials look to improve internet access inside the park.
Internet access — as well as the availability of cellular data — has been a point of contention amongst county elected officials for years.
It’s difficult to get a cell phone signal anywhere in the park, and internet access, while there, could certainly be better, Sobhani said.
The county commissioners this year budgeted about $60,000 to increase internet access inside the park, and Sobhani said the ticket to doing that will be with the erection of a large tower.
They were going to purchase a new one, but they’ve gotten a lead on a used tower that can be bought, disassembled, brought to the park and reassembled.
The tower would then be used to connect the park to the county’s existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, and Sobhani hopes, in the future, to see cellular providers put equipment atop it as well, thereby both increasing internet speeds and finally allowing for more consistent reliable cell service.
The timeline for finishing the project is yet to be determined, but Sobhani is hopeful that it can be done in just a few months.
“Everything we do depends on internet,” Sobhani said. “Connecting to the county, even though its wireless and even though it’s going to be beamed across a bunch of air space, it will still be better than what we have right now. Plus, having this tower will hopefully allow us to improve cell reception if the providers use it. We can beam internet to the campgrounds, too, which is good for the guests and would allow us to put up security cameras on that side of the park.
“These are all things that have been on our wish list for a long time,” he said, “and this tower is the only way to get it done.”