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Wis. Parks Coexist With Wal-Mart Camping

September 21, 2007 by   - () Leave a Comment

At the front of Dan and Linda Rowland’s recreational vehicle is a Texas license plate and a sign that reads “Home is where we park it.” Four years ago the couple sold their house and became “full-timers,” traveling the country and living out of their RV, according to a report in the Onalaska Life, West Salem, Wis.
The couple spent an evening in Onalaska over Labor Day weekend in one of their favorite camping spots, a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Parking lot camping is an issue that divides the RV community. Some campers think it’s practical, while others find it unseemly. Wal-Mart finds it profitable, and local campground owners say it affects business slightly. A state campground association says RVing is more popular than ever, but their major question is, “Who would want to camp in a parking lot, anyway?”
The Rowlands like it because it is cheap, easy and convenient. They say they feel safe and connected to the community and always ask permission to camp in a lot.
“(Parking lot campers) all agree there’s certain etiquette they should (have). Keep the place clean when you leave and spend all the money you can (in the store),” said Dan Rowland.
Although it is more popular in the American South and West, camping in Wal-Mart parking lots is widespread. In an unscientific drive-by survey, at least five campers appeared to spend the night in the Onalaska Wal-Mart parking lot last week.
Still, Cheryl Price, who manages the Lake Neshonoc Lakeside Camping Resorts in West Salem, said Wal-Mart has not affected her business much. Price said most of her sites are reserved in advance.
“Wal-Mart doesn’t have a 730-acre lake out their door. Wal-Mart doesn’t have activities for kids. Wal-Mart doesn’t have a game room — well they might have a little game room — but they don’t have the attractions that most campgrounds have,” Price said.
Most parking lot campers spend only a night outside a store before moving on to their next location.
Dan Howe is the owner of Whispering Pines and FMB Trailer Sales in Holmen, which he said loses business to Wal-Mart when campers purchase their RV supplies at the retail chain.
“When an RV owner camps at a Wal-Mart, they’re taking one night of camping away from us at our campground. Even if it’s just one night, it’s still money to the community, money to us,” Howe said.
There is no uniform policy governing camping in the 4,082 American Wal-Mart stores, said company spokesperson Jami Arms. The decision is left to individual store managers who must abide by local laws.
“We think that allowing our customers who enjoy traveling in RVs (to camp in the parking lot) can enhance our one-stop shopping… It’s really just a convenience for our customers,” Arms said.
Although some municipalities have banned overnight camping in parking lots, Lori Severson, a director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners, said her organization is not advocating new laws. She said urban aesthetics and safety concerns keep many RVers from choosing to spend a night in a parking lot.
“Camping has been up this year, more popular than ever. Even with (higher) gas prices, stays have been longer,” Severson said.

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