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.