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By Sandi Miller
Vice president of outdoors for NIC, now a part of Tyler Technologies

The Great Outdoors have never been so popular. Over the last 18 months, undoubtedly a time of incredible stress and very few social options, nature has been a safe space. Individuals and families flocked to the outdoors in record numbers – and continue to do so.

Even with communities reopening and competition for entertainment and leisure returning, people continue to choose outdoor recreation activities in record numbers with a greater increase in diversity spanning all incomes, ages, backgrounds and geographies. Hunting and fishing licenses have increased by double digits, with park visits seeing an uptick like never before, according to data from YourPassNow and NIC hunting and fishing states.

Stats like those are incredible – exactly what outdoor advocates have wanted for decades – yet such a surge is not without implications. In fact, the pressures on outdoor management are growing right along with the crowds.

Fortunately, there is a solution – and one that’s easy and quick to implement.

Digital passes and permits

Digital passes and permits are key to efficient internal management and improved customer experience by:

  • Creating a low-risk, high-confidence experience
  • Eliminating frustration of waiting in line
  • Reducing administrative tasks for employees, thus allowing more time for visitor engagement

Add in digital payments, and you have a truly comprehensive park management solution.

One area of outdoor recreation benefitting dramatically from digital passes, when combined with timed entry permits and digital payments, is national and state parks. Parks offering entrance passes see more than 10% of visitors buying their passes online and in advance, with time entry passes often selling out in the first 10 minutes.

A success story

Maryland is a great example. The state recently partnered with NIC to launch YourPassNow for all government parks. In 2020, Maryland sold 211,000 digital passes across more than 70 state and federal properties.

At the popular Kilgore Falls, 58% of those digital entry passes were purchased after hours, and 79% were bought on a mobile device for an overall user satisfaction rate of 99%.

The future

Up next in digital passes is adding activity passes to the mix, allowing nearly any transaction or activity to be booked in advance. Think picnic shelters, fire pits, boat launches, and sporting amenity reservations.


As concert venues and sporting stadiums fill back up, government will need to renew its focus on retention, ensuring the exciting momentum from the last year and-a-half isn’t lost.

In fact, 71% of citizens nationwide are asking for simplified, consolidated access to outdoor recreation services, according to a 2018-2020 citizen survey conducted by the University of Utah and the Governing Institute, along with NIC.

To that end, agencies would be wise to create a centralized digital area where users can purchase, upgrade, and store their outdoor recreation information.

Other considerations

While digital passes, permits, and payments are critical, other factors are at play. Agencies managing outdoor recreation at the national, state, and local level need to remember to:

  • Manage expectations. Longtime visitors, local residents, and “power users” will feel squeezed at times, with longer lines or bigger crowds slowing down their experience.
  • Expect frustration and noise. Be willing and able to listen to feedback.
  • Communicate the availability of technology tools to help with planning and help visitors avoid disappointment.
  • Make it fair. Use technology to diminish bots, resale, and scalping, and recognize how programs like first-come/first-served can limit accessibility. 

About NIC Outdoors

NIC has 21 years of experience in outdoor licensing solutions across 11 states, in addition to extensive expertise in managing digital government services and secure payment processing for government.

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