Maine Campground Owners Face RV Backlash

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May 20, 2009 by   9 Comments

Editor’s Note: This letter addressing recent legislation that would have banned boondocking — overnighting anywhere but at established public and private parks in Maine — was authored by Allen York, president of the Maine Campground Owners Association and owner of the Yonder Hill RV Park in Madison, Maine. It was published in Augusta’s Central Maine Morning Sentinel.

Commercial lots that allow free, overnight parking have become popular among owners of recreational vehicles. There’s no question that these parking lots serve an important purpose — in particular, they present tired drivers with an easy option to rest for the night. Allowing overnight parking helps keeps drivers safe so they can get to their next destination. 

But these commercial lots that allow free parking to RVs illustrate a real and growing threat to many of Maine’s 275 campgrounds. Fact is, each time an RV stops for the night in a commercial parking lot, a local campground loses out on a customer. And these days, each lost customer makes a larger dent on a campground’s bottom line. 

To address this issue, the Maine Campground Owners Association (MECOA), of which I am president, recently supported a bill in the Maine Legislature that in part called for the creation of a Web site and brochures to educate RV owners about alternatives to commercial parking lots, including the locations of approved free camping areas and campgrounds close to highway exits. 

The bill that emerged from the legislative committee, however, was quite different: It simply proposed a ban on RV camping in commercial lots. 

RV owners across the United States have complained that they felt the bill, sponsored by Rep. Anne Perry, was unfair and amounted to a black eye on Maine’s tourism efforts. MECOA encouraged Perry to withdraw the bill. 

But that hasn’t stopped the outcry. Campground owners continue to hear directly from RV owners angered that Maine’s Legislature would consider such a law. I have received hundreds of messages that range from simple opposition to the proposed legislation to personal attacks targeting my business and vowing to never again patronize my campground. 

It is unfortunate that these attacks have become personal in nature. What’s worse, I believe they mask a larger problem faced by some Maine campgrounds. Many of Maine’s campgrounds are struggling to operate their businesses in a difficult economic environment. The cost of running a campground rises every year, as state regulations and an evolving industry force owners to make changes to their facilities, from wastewater upgrades to more facilities to accommodate campers. Our campground alone has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on such upgrades in recent years. 

We also hoped to draw attention to a Maine law already in place that requires an entity that serves five or more camping parties, in exchange for direct or indirect compensation, to be licensed as a campground. As such, it would be required to follow the same rules and regulations as the state’s other campgrounds, from waste requirements to regular water testing. Since this law already is in place, why isn’t it being enforced at the state’s parking lots which are being used for RV overnight stays? 

Before it was pulled from consideration, the bill addressed enforcing that law. However, enforcement was pushed down the line from the owners of the commercial parking lots to the individual camper — and that wasn’t our initial intent. Similarly, we did not want the proposed legislation to target Maine businesses allowing camping in their parking lots during events such as races, festivals or fairs. 

We hoped the proposed legislation would alert citizens — from legislators to camping enthusiasts — that campgrounds located near these big commercial parking lots are struggling as more and more RV owners opt to save a few dollars by pulling up for the night at a lot that charges no fee and offers no services beyond a vacant patch of asphalt. 

Maine campgrounds offer more than a place to park: We offer a wide array of recreational activities and entertainment for the whole family, from fishing and boating to music festivals and theme weekends. We want to keep our industry healthy, ensuring that RV owners exploring Maine have wonderful campgrounds to visit for years to come. But to keep Maine’s campgrounds open and thriving, we must rely on RV owners to continue pulling in each night and taking advantage of everything we offer.

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9 Responses to “Maine Campground Owners Face RV Backlash”

  1. L. D. Reed on May 20th, 2009 9:42 am

    What the campgrounds don’t understand is that most travelling overnight RVers are not looking for campground amenities (swimming pools, laundry faciltiies, tennis courts, etc.), they just want a safe place to briefly rest for the night while they continue on to where they want to be, including destination campgrounds. Trying to force RVs into campgrounds will be detrimental to the entire State and its campgrounds.

  2. Rick Roberts on May 20th, 2009 12:13 pm

    I truly hope someone in the Maine legislature is reading this.
    I travel extensively with my motorhome, and I do it without a schedule because I worked on a schedule all my life and am now enjoying the fruits of all that. When I get to an area, I do NOT make reservations for several reasons, first, I may not get there when I say, I may make alternative travel plans, or I simply cannot drive the required miles to do so. So, what are my alternatives? To visit a state where I am interested in touring, I simply go there, sans schedule.
    Frankly, if I see a campground and I’m ready to stop. I WILL patronize them. However, if I’m getting tired I will pull into a Walmart, Flying J or other for a quick nap.(a safety issue perhaps?) I try to patronize ALL these folks that allow us this privilege and I NEVER park w/o asking permission.
    Am I taking income from campgrounds? Perhaps, but I DO buy fuel, food, etc from those who allow me to use their facility. Someone will say that I would buy these items anyway, and that is correct based on the assumption that I will even travel to an area that forces me to find a campground.
    Force me to do that and you will lose all around people, because I don’t need that kind of restriction, nor will I travel to where you insist on me doing so.
    Heaven help those with RV;s that mat stop in at a Walmart or such to do some shopping and they have their RV’s with them. Some zealous clown will surely use the opportunity to issue a summons or worse.
    Maine, you are a beautiful state, but DO NOT shoot yourself in the foot.

  3. John Nydam on May 20th, 2009 7:43 pm

    I understand the delema RV park owners face except when a person is traveling all those amenitys your speaking of really are not of interest to a traveler. I like them when I am interested in staying a few days but couldn’t care less when all I want is a place to park and sleep. No hook-ups are needed then and I really don’t want to pay for them if I don’t use them. When I use them I look for parks that have it all!

  4. Wayne on May 20th, 2009 8:24 pm

    Here’s an RVer’s prospective. Everyone is struggling these days. Free nights now and then help us to stretch a buck, and may even be the difference between taking a trip or not. We don’t exist to pay campgrounds. If we choose to stay in a Campground because we like the facility or the location, and feel comfortable with the price they are charging, then we usually come away satisfied, and there’s a good chance we’ll will come back. If we just need a safe place to get off the road for the night, than the less we have to pay, for the facilities we need, the better.

  5. e.a. foster on May 26th, 2009 3:12 pm

    I am disappointed the State of Maine is considering such legislation. I enjoy camping and do it in campsites. However, there are times when they are all full and you maybe too tired to drive on. As a female, travelling alone, it is nice to know I can pull into a Wal-Mart parking lot and sleep in relative security.
    Perhaps if the people sponsoring this bill saw it as a safety issue, they may give it some sober second thought.
    There is also the issue of “the pursuit of happiness”. If someone finds it in a Wal-mart parking lot, who are others to oppose it.
    I would also point out for some it is simply an economic issue.
    There is the issue of enforcement. How would this law, if passed, be enforced? I would suggest local law enforcement has more pressing issues than enforcing this law or will extra law enforcement officers be hired to enforce the law?
    These types of laws create problems where none exist.

  6. Pete & Linda on December 24th, 2009 5:35 pm

    I will just not go to Main!

  7. James O'Briant on April 21st, 2010 2:53 pm

    The Maine Campground Owners who want to force all RVers to patronize their campgrounds every night they are in Maine want RVers’ money, but the (fortunately defeated) bill neglected some extremely important points. If RVers are required to patronize campgrounds, then RV parks must in turn be required to:

    (1) Keep the office open 24 hours/day to accommodate arrivals at any time of the day or night.

    (2) Provide RV spaces large enough to accomodate all RVs, including very long rigs with slides on both sides.

    (3) Provide full hookups at every RV space, including potable water tap, sewer hookup, and 30 & 50 Amp electrical service — and the electrical service should be adequate so that voltage doesn’t drop when another RVer turns on an air conditioner or an electric coffee maker.

    (4) Provide roads (and if necessary, bridges) to their campgrounds that will accommodate RVs of any size, height and weight.

    (5) Provide inexpensive “dry camping” spaces with no hookups at a reasonable price ($10/night or less?) for RVers who need only a night’s sleep, and who do not need hookups or other amenities of any kind.

    (5) Collectively provide enough RV spaces to accommodate every RV that is traveling in the State of Maine on any given night.

    (6) Establish a mechanism that ensures that RV Park rates are commensurate with rates for similar parks across the USA and Canada.

    If the RV Park owners aren’t willing to do all of the above, then they are not in a position to force every RVer traveling in Maine to occupy a commercial RV Park space every night.

    Jim O’Briant
    …listing thousands of free Overnight RV Parking locations

  8. Warren Cooke on May 18th, 2010 6:20 pm

    One person’s opinion.
    I travel on trips of 1000 plus miles sometimes to my vacation destination, allowing two days to get there. That has included Maine. Never have I considered a Wallmart or even Flying J or other freebies, and would certainly not stay overnight in a rest area. I patronise both companies, however. We prefer
    a good nights sleep with a decent shower in our own coach, and not have to worry about whether or not to leave the slide open or the steps down, or truck noise, or floodlights or any other condition which opens us up to an unpleasant evening. Easy on-easy off parks are set up for over nighters and we use them. The comments about “saving a night’s lodging” begs the question about worrying about a 25.00 night while spending 300.00 to 800.00 on gas or diesel fuel for your trip. My friends with expensive units flabergast me when they say they “saved” on a nights lodging. Who’s kidding who.

  9. Rick Guhse on September 1st, 2010 10:33 pm

    I’ve owned an RV for the last 7 years and have enjoyed traveling tremendously. I do volunteer work at my expense 1,300 miles away from my home. I pay for fuel, campsites, food, etc. all at my expense. While some RVers don’t think its right to park at WalMart, Flying J, Cracker Barrel or what have you, I often do. And I usually spend money at these places. When traveling I avoid staying in towns that require RVers to go to campgrounds for the night if there’s a WalMart or other parking lot option available. I really don’t want somebody telling me where I must camp. This used to be a ‘free country’ but more and more folks want to take my freedoms away and I resent it. If Maine wants to restrict where I can camp then I’ll reconsider how much time I’ll spend there and this goes for any other state that considers restricting camping. Long before I got into RVing the Florida Keys used to allow RV’s to park and camp overnight anywhere. They banned it. Needless to say I’ve never taken my RV to the Florida Keys.