Maine Parks Fight Back on RV Parking Issue

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May 11, 2009 by   8 Comments

The Yonder Hill Campground in Madison, Maine, used to be filled to capacity every summer night with recreational vehicles. But that was years ago. RV owners have found they can skip the $36 campground fee and park overnight at the Skowhegan Wal-Mart for free.

The campground’s owner, Allen York, said he often sees 25 to 30 RVs parked at the Wal-Mart.

In recent years, he said, there has been a cultural shift in how RVers travel, influenced in part by websites that use searchable databases to guide RVers to free parking spots, according to the Central Maine Morning Sentinel, Augusta.

“What has happened is nothing short of a phenomenon,” York said. “All of a sudden, we are looking at empty lots when we should be in the prime season.”

The owners of the state’s 275 campgrounds are pushing legislation that would ban RVs from parking overnight at commercial lots, such as Wal-Mart. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee voted 8-2 to endorse the bill, L.D. 114, which may come up for a vote in the House this week.

Proponents say the measure would help local campgrounds and RV parks stay in business and also allow the state to recoup nearly $1 million in lost state lodging taxes. They say it’s unfair that licensed campgrounds must comply with regulations, such as supplying drinking water and waste-removal facilities, while parking lot owners don’t.

For the campground owners, the enemy is Wal-Mart, which has a national policy allowing RVs to park overnight in most of its parking lots. While Wal-Mart doesn’t charge a fee, it does make money when people shop at the stores.

“It’s Goliath versus David,” said Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which has 220 members. “This is the monster versus the little guy.”

Wal-Mart by tradition has offered free parking to RV owners as part of an effort to serve communities, said Alexandra Serra, a lobbyist for Wal-Mart, which has 24 stores in Maine. She said the company has never had any problems with RVs staying on its Maine properties and welcomes them.

Nevertheless, Wal-Mart is not fighting the bill, she said. “Wal-Mart is going to do whatever the Legislature tells us to do, of course, and happily so.”

While Wal-Mart is staying on the sidelines, RVers around the nation are mobilizing. News about the legislation has spread via the Internet on message boards and newsletters. People are sending e-mails and making phone calls to legislators, Gov. John Baldacci’s office, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine tourism offices.

If it passes, Maine would become the first state in the nation to ban RVs from commercial parking lots. Similar bills in Montana and Nevada were defeated after protests from RVers, according to a press release by the Escapees RV Club, a Texas-based club with 32,000 members nationally.

“If this legislation passes, it may well set a precedent for the rest of the country, and we could see our freedom to choose where we park permanently revoked!” the club said in an electronic newsletter.

The callers are delivering a simple message: If the Legislature passes this bill, RVers will no longer to come to Maine. “I like Maine. I want to visit there. But I don’t want to be told I have to pay to camp,” said Jim O’Briant of California, who administers, which tells RVers were they can park for free.

The site lists more than 30 Maine locations where RVers can park overnight for free, including L.L. Bean in Freeport, Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon, DeLorme in Yarmouth and the Kittery Trading Post.

The Wal-Mart in Scarborough is not listed because the town has a municipal ordinance banning overnight parking. David Labbe, a senior official at the Kittery Trading Post, said that allowing RVers to park in the store’s lot is just good customer service. For many RVers, the store is a destination stop, he said.

“They are on their way from Florida to Canada and want to get off the highway and park in our parking lot, which is safe and convenient,” he said. “And they are on their way the next day. What’s wrong with that?” 

But York said he’s seen RVers park at Wal-Mart in Skowhegan for four or five days at a time. He said they sometimes come to his campground wanting to pump out their waste tanks, but he turns them away.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said state law requires that businesses obtain campground licenses if they receive compensation from four or more RVs at a time, either directly or indirectly. She said the law is difficult to enforce.

She said that local police, though, could easily enforce an outright ban. Her bill calls for a one-time warning followed by a $100 fine. She said there have been isolated incidents of RVs at parking lots dumping waste into storm drains.

She wants RVers to feel welcome in Maine, she said. But if RVers avoid the state because they aren’t allowed to park for free, that’s not a great loss.

“If they are parking one night in parking lots, they are not staying in Maine,” she said. “They are driving through.”

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8 Responses to “Maine Parks Fight Back on RV Parking Issue”

  1. Dave Sparke on May 11th, 2009 4:52 pm

    I agree with with Mr. York’s comment. I have been RVing for over 37 years and have never, NEVER, spent a night in anybody’s parking lot. If you can afford the RV and the fuel you can afford the RV parks.

    I think Maine has the right idea and I think it should happen in every state, far too many parks and campgrounds have closed due this “I want it free” mentality.

  2. Big Bubba on May 12th, 2009 2:17 pm

    I think it is great that in Mr Sparke’s 37 years of rving he has always had the time to get to a park in time to check in, set up, unhook his toad, enjoy the area for the evening, and not leave too early in the am, so as to not disturb his neighbors. While I can afford campground fees, I have used a Walmart or Flying J for convenience, if I it is on my way to ultimate destination. I don’t “want it free”, I want to sleep a few hours and then be on my way without bothering my fellow rvers with a late arrival and early departure. Please don’t force all of us to follow your travel pattern, Mr. Sharpe.

  3. DH on May 12th, 2009 4:29 pm

    The real problem here is that the campground isn’t offering what a lot of people want. A simple overnight resting place (no hookups or dumping), that is convienient to the interstate, for a reasonable fee. I don’t need, nor do I want to pay for hookups, scenery, swimming pools, internet. I just want a short resting place. The fact that someone is willing to give it to me for free is my good fortune. Inversely, if I wanted hookups, scenery, pools, etc, I wouldn’t stop at Walmart. So, you see, the two aren’t really in competition at all. It’s actually an example of a flawed business model.

  4. Bluebird Bob on May 12th, 2009 6:58 pm

    I emailed Anne Perry, the originator of the bill. Typical politician, she didn’t bother answering me.
    We were going to Maine this summer to volunteer. We called the agency and told them we wern’t coming. I also told this to Mrs. Perry….who could care less.
    Leave it to the politicians to tell us how to live.

  5. David Gorin on May 13th, 2009 9:16 am

    There’s a difference between camping at a race track, festival, or other outdoor event and camping in store parking lots. I hope Maine revisits this issue and addresses the parking lot camping issue. Maybe a short-term temporary campground license for those events and attractions that have many RVers attending. And perhaps parking lot stays can be limited to no more than 3 nighttime hours at any one location – truly for resting and not camping.

  6. Hoppe on January 2nd, 2010 6:55 pm

    $36 a night times 30 days a month? Hmmmm, that does add a quick $1000 a month to the cashflow. I don’t often feel the need to spend every night in a full hookup site, or to have others in that close of a proximity for that matter. Guess I could get rid of the tanks, Generator, solar, etc. that would save a bit of weight. Of course I’m spoiled here in Colorado with the National Forests etc. Was in the preplanning stages of a Fall Color Tour. But perhaps we’re just not welcome in Maine?

  7. Johnny on April 25th, 2010 6:14 pm

    I well not go to maine.

  8. Jim Foreman on December 15th, 2010 9:04 pm

    My motorhome is fully self-contained so I have no need for the facilities in a campground. My simple solution for towns, businesses and states which do not want me to park in a public parking lot is to simply not go there. There are other states and places just as nice where I can park without behing hassled. That’s why RVs have wheels.