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Park Board Closes ‘Tent City’ for the Winter

September 13, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Last week wasn’t a good one for newcomers to Williston, N.D., living in tents or RVs at publicly owned campgrounds, the Williston Daily Herald reported.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Corps of Engineers announced campers and RVers who have exceeded the 14-day limit at the American Legion Campground south of Williston will have to move out within seven days. Previously, the campground management was not enforcing the 14-day limit because of the housing crisis in Williston.

Then on Wednesday, the Williston Park Board made a decision not to allow any more campers into Davidson Park, and to close the park to camping on Nov. 1, mainly due to an increasing number of complaints involving alcohol.

It was a pair of twists on an issue that has seemed to grip the public’s attention since the Herald first reported on the tent city at Davidson Park in early August.

At the core of the issue are two things the Herald has been reporting on for a lot longer: jobs and housing. Specifically, the high number of jobs and the lack of housing available. As the majority of the rest of the country continues to struggle through a long reccession and high unemployment numbers, North Dakota — especially western North Dakota — still has plenty of jobs to fill, and not just high-paying oil jobs.

One married couple, who journeyed to Williston with their 4-year-old daughter from Utah, pitched a tent at Davidson Park for jobs at the local Wal-Mart, which is paying higher wages than other Wal-Marts due to the local labor shortage.

After reading a story about the family’s situation, a Williston couple with room in their basement eventually took the family of three into their home.

Williston residents have been extending a lot of compassion for the tent city residents, bringing food, blankets and other items to the newcomers. However, it was a growing number of complaints that eventually led to the park board’s decision to crack down on the tent city residents. Complaints about alcohol use, public urination and even reports of marijuana use — activities that probably are not uncommon for an average campground, but too risque for a camp of hard-on-their-luck job seekers living only yards away from a newly built children’s playground, tennis courts, youth baseball fields and the community library. And if all that were not enough, an elementary school is nearby, too.

Many folks thought cold weather would bring about a natural end to the tent city. In other words, the campers would pack up and leave when the temperatures dropped.

That’s possible, but it’s also possible a few die-hards would test that theory, choosing to stay in their tent even in below-zero weather. Chances are, such a scenario would lead to a bad ending.

As it turned out, the board made the decision to shut down the camping on a specific date — a date that allows campers plenty of time to make plans on their next move.

All things considered, the Park Board’s decision was the right thing to do. Whether Davidson Park hosts another tent city next year is still up in the air, but there is plenty of time to consider it during the winter.

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