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Ahhh, Christmas trees. Whole forests of them.

Yes, we’re sure the one in your living room or family room is a thing of glittering beauty, but for many Wisconsinites it is a reminder that we have vast campgrounds across the state that offer up thousands of pines, balsams and spruce in all their natural glory and once the holiday season is past, our thoughts will once again turn to the outdoors.

Yes. This is the Christmas season, but the camping season soon awaits us.

This summer past, the cost of enjoying the state’s many campgrounds got a little pricier as the state Department of Natural Resources went to a “price-sensitive” system for park admission — boosting rates at popular parks and dropping them a bit at less-trafficked ones. That meant a jump of camping fees by as much as $7 per night for electric sites at top draws like Devil’s Lake and Peninsula state parks and camping fee drops of as much as $5 a night at the less popular parks.

Daily admission fees also went up by as much as $5 at some of the popular parks.

The camping fees went up at 38 state parks and were cut at 36.

The pricing changes – which had a goal of spreading some of the campers around to lessen overcrowding at the popular parks—came at the behest of the state Legislature three years ago when it cut off general revenue funding for state parks and directed the DNR to go to a new business model that supports parks with fees.

The new pricing system was expected to generate an additional $1.1 million a year for the state DNR — and we’re hopeful that some of that new money will go toward maintenance and upkeep.

We have yet to hear whether those pricing changes will be tweaked again in the 2019 camping season, but after the camping sticker shock of last summer, we’re hopeful they won’t dip too heavily into campers’ wallets.

So, we were buoyed by the news that campers will get a few bucks of relief in 2019 because the DNR is switching to a new reservation system with a new provider, Camis USA. That firm currently runs reservations systems for state parks in Maryland, Michigan and Washington and is now in the process of adding Wisconsin to its system. According to news reports, a call center is being set up in Kenosha that will employ between 12 and 15 operators. The new service will also have a mobile-friendly website and enhanced online campsite search functions in addition to the call center (1-888-947-2757). The system will be down from Dec. 1 to 16 as it transitions from the old provider, Reserve America.

For state campers that means the cost of making a state park reservation will drop from $9.65 down to $7.75. That’s not big bucks, but it will buy a few extra marshmallows for the campfire.

Enjoy your Christmas tree — and start thinking about all those other trees that are waiting for you next summer.

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