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Columnist Touts No Frills Camping

July 5, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s Note: Chuck Woodbury, editor of RVtravel.com, published the following column in the current issue of his online newsletter.

Most RVers would rather pay for a campsite than stay for free in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In a May edition of this newsletter we asked if you would rather pay $10 for a no-frills campsite in an RV park or stay for free in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Nearly three-quarters of you answered you would rather pay.

This is significant because in an earlier survey, 57% of you said you have stayed in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

When I wrote about this before, I received letters from several RV park owners, who said they could not afford to offer a $10 campsite. They listed reasons that basically boiled down to “how could we distinguish the $10 campers from those paying the going rate?” They explained their need to cover their overhead: there were restrooms to clean, pools and a dump station to maintain, Wi-Fi to pay for, etc.

Frankly, their responses were predictable.

It’s a whole lot easier to maintain the status quo than to change. A combination lock on restroom doors would keep the $10 campers out. With no password, they couldn’t use the Wi-Fi. Few of them would want to use the pool anyway: they’d just want to park and sleep. Charge them $5 to dump.

Put the $10, self-contained campers in a corner of the park or overflow area with a self-pay box like at Forest Service campgrounds. I bet 98% of them would play by the rules. And some of those folks would return again if they liked the park — paying the going rate next time to stay awhile.

IF I WERE A CAMPGROUND OWNER I would ask myself, “Is it really THAT hard to provide a $10 no-frills service?” I would then address the problems and see if they were insurmountable. If I knew that every night there were 20 RVs down at the local Wal-Mart, I’d try my best to lure some of them my way. I could dispatch an employee there to put a flyer on their windshields: “Next time stay with us in a safe, secure place for $10.” And provide them with a two-for-one coupon for the next time they’re in town.

If five of them stayed a night for 200 nights a year, that would put an extra $10,000 in their piggy bank with no effort. I bet some of those folks would buy a quart of milk at the campground store. And if 10% of them came back once a year paying the full rate, that could add another $35,000 to the pot.

Soon — maybe in a year, maybe two, maybe five — Wal-Mart will post NO OVERNIGHT PARKING at all its stores. It will happen, for one reason or another. And then all those freebie campers will stay by the road, in rest areas, in truck stops, in supermarket lots, on city streets — anywhere to avoid paying $30-$40 for one night in an RV park when they want only to sleep and then move on. For RVers on a tight budget, not having a free or cheap place to stay on occasion might force them off the road.

A creative, “can do” business person needs to come forward with an innovative plan to find a way to enable cheap, safe overnight RV parking in campgrounds across America. I know I will get letters from RV park owners saying it’s impossible. I say it is not. It’s easy to say “Can’t.” It takes vision to say “Why not?”

Mayor Wants to Protect Campground Businesses

May 18, 2011 by · Comments Off on Mayor Wants to Protect Campground Businesses 

The city of St. Albert, Alberta, will look to tighten up its bylaws to restrict the use of store parking lots for overnight camping and selling used vehicles, the St. Albert Gazette reported.

Mayor Nolan Crouse spearheaded the push because he thinks parking lots like Wal-Mart’s are being transformed nightly into campsites and defacto used car lots.

“If you want to sell something, get a license to sell stuff and do it in the proper format,” he said.

“If you want to park and camp and do camping kinds of activities, do it in campgrounds … a parking lot right next to a busy street isn’t that location.”

Crouse said he often sees vehicles with “For Sale” signs parked at the Wal-Mart and also RVs with pets tethered to them and barbecues in the open. This is an inappropriate use of the land that creates an unsightly city, he said. He sees the trend growing in the coming years as box stores compete with each other by offering up their lots to users.

“We should nip this in the bud in the next year,” Crouse told council Monday.

Limiting overnight parking would allow the Kinsmen RV Park and used car lots “to do their job,” Crouse said.

He made a motion calling for changes to the land use bylaw to restrict the length of time a recreational vehicle can be parked and to limit “camping-type activities” such as fires.

Most Wal-Mart stores in North America allow overnight parking, according to research conducted by city administration. In some cases, individual stores or municipalities have banned overnight parking. The city hasn’t received any complaints about parking at the St. Albert Wal-Mart, said a background report.

The city needs to research the best way to regulate the overnight parking of RVs, the report states. The land use bylaw would not be the most appropriate means because enforcement falls to development officers and not bylaw officers, it says.

Nevertheless, Crouse pursued his motion to amend the land use bylaw and it passed in a 4-3 vote. Voting in support were Wes Brodhead, Roger Lemieux and Cam MacKay. Voting against were Malcolm Parker, Len Bracko and Cathy Heron.

“I have a bit of a problem with this because it is private property of Wal-Mart’s and it should be up to them to decide,” Heron said.

She said she understands the concern about unsightliness but believes overnight parking is a benefit to the business and even the community.

“Travelling in an RV myself, we have done the Wal-Mart parking thing because sometimes campgrounds are full, you can’t find a spot,” Heron said. “Before we get too far into this I think we need to think of the rights of the businesses … that allow this.”

City administration has until Feb. 28, 2012, to bring forward a recommendation.

Florida City Sides with RV Parks on RV Parking Issue

January 28, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Enforcing a Lake City, Fla., law for no recreational vehicle camping in commercial parking lots is an issue of fairness, said Cecil Shaw, owner of E-Z Stop RV Park.

“The only thing I ask is you be fair about it,” he said. “Enforce the law where RV park owners can make their money.”

Overnight parking has been an issue Shaw has battled for several years, but he is finally starting to see results, he said. Signs have recently been put up in Wal-Mart’s parking lot indicating the ordinance to RV travelers, the Lake City Reporter reported.

The decision to enforce the ordinance has elicited some negative responses from travelers to this city of 10,000 in north Florida. In an e-mail addressed to Lake City Reporter publisher Todd Wilson, Gary Campbell wrote:

“Just to let you know that I have just learned about the placement of No Overnight Parking (sign) in the local Walmart (sic) parking lot. You will be happy to know that I will not be stopping anywhere in Lake City to spend any money and I will request that any person who is a friend of mine do the same. If your town is going to be unfriendly to long-distance travellers, we are going to vote against you with our wallets. Want our money, open the parking lot. Simple as that.”

Cities from Sacramento, Calif., to Nova Scotia, British Columbia, have ordinances on the books that prohibit overnight camping, Shaw said.

Shaw sits on the Tourist Development Council (TDC) board, said Harvey Campbell, TDC executive director. He brought the existing ordinance to the board’s attention. It was in place, but not necessarily enforced.

Lake City’s Wal-Mart is conveniently located near a major interstate, Campbell said. He’s seen a range of a few to around 35 RVs camping in the parking lot over the years.

RV parks pay an occupation license fee, assessment on property taxes and more, whereas Wal-Mart doesn’t have these associated costs, Shaw said. RV park owners lose money when RV travelers park in commercial parking lots.

“We have an ordinance we have to go by and abide by just like any other company or business and they don’t have to have anything,” he said.

Most RV travelers stop at Wal-Mart to buy supplies, but they also put their jacks down, cook meals and more, Shaw said.

“It’s camping, really,” he said.

Tourists in a car make arrangements to find lodging if stopping through town to rest, Shaw said. RV parks are available just the same for overnight accommodations.

The ordinance is not just singling out Wal-Mart, said City Manager Wendell Johnson. The law affects any commercial area not designated as a campground.

Wal-Mart has been the only one allowing RV travelers setting up there, he said.

“RVs have a tendency to use Wal-Mart as campground and that’s not something the law allows,” Johnson said.

The city has no problem with RV travelers stopping at the store to take a break and buy groceries, or visit local shops and restaurants, he said. The problem occurs when they set up camp.

“If you get right down to it, Wal-Mart is not a campground,” Johnson said.

Nationally, Wal-Mart is known as RV-friendly, he said.

Wal-Mart does not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV travelers, but values and considers them among its best customers, according to the store’s website. It does permit RV parking on the store lots as it is able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws.

RV travelers are asked to contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking.

Wal-Mart is responsible for complying with the laws of the city, Johnson said. The local Wal-Mart has been very cooperative in upholding the law by posting the signs.

Several out-of-town RV travelers have contacted the TDC, saying they are going to alert their groups that Lake City is not RV-friendly, Campbell said. The travelers will no longer spend money at local restaurants and shops or visit the area.

There are examples of RV groups blacklisting a community.

“We’d hate to have people boycott the community,” he said.

Lake City isn’t the only community dealing with this issue, Campbell said. He recently spoke with the executive director of the Florida Campground Association, who indicated other cities also have similar regulations.

“It’s one tough issue with arguments on either side,” he said.

Ultimately he thinks the impact of the ordinance will be minimal, Johnson said. Eventually people will accept the law.

“People traveling in RVs know where they can stop,” he said. “We want them to stop in Lake City and they can find a place to park.”

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