I’m poking around Ontario along the eastern shore of Lake Huron, doing day stays in provincial parks and sleeping in Walmarts. No problemo down in Goderich – we spent Thursday on the beach, seeing maybe ten people total all day, and enjoying the cool fresh breeze with that deep water smell coming off the lake. That night, we drove the ten miles back to Goderich, slept in the Wal-Mart where we had stayed last year, shopped, bought gas, and headed north.
We went all the way to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, where Lake Huron and Georgian Bay meet. Beautiful scenery all the way up there, but not many places you can hang out on the water without doing business with the commercial interests. As the sun went down, we headed back south, and made it as far as Port Elgin, where we had spotted a Wal-Mart on the way up.
Checking in, we notice the “No Parking 2-7 AM” signs, and a quick chat with the manager on duty revealed that, although he had no problem with letting us stay, there was a municipal ordinance against parking overnight, even on private property. What is going on here isn’t a crime wave by marauding RVers requiring towns to pass protective legislation, it’s a power play by the RV park owners. As part of a national RV park owners association initiative, draft legislation prohibiting overnight parking on private property is being circulated, lobbied for, and passed by increasing numbers of municipalities. Its purpose, although the park owners won’t admit it, is to make them more money by forcing people to patronize their businesses. Boy, that gets me mad.
I’m a good neighbor – I shop in towns I stay in, buy gas and groceries, and visit the local parks and other attractions. I just don’t need to stay in overpriced commercial RV parks with 12 channels on their “cable”, weak WiFi, dumpy bathrooms, rusty well water, and crowded lots full of ill-behaved children. I bought a self-contained RV, a Roadtrek 190 Popular, for a big chunk of change, and spent another $10,000 making it even more self-contained with solar panels, TV and internet dishes, and so forth. All I need is a reasonably level place to park and I’m good for the night, with many more TV channels and better internet connectivity than I would get in most RV parks.
Wal-Mart corporate policy is that anyone, truck or RV, can spend a night in their parking lot with permission. They don’t have a problem with it, as long as people arrive late, leave early, park out of the way, and don’t litter or spread out with slideouts, awnings, lawn furniture, etc., like they’re homesteading the place. Many other businesses, like Cracker Barrel, Canadian Tire, and Sam’s Club, have a similar policy. The businesses don’t have a problem with it, and I go in and ask each and every time I stay anywhere just to make sure. The RV park owners are the ones with the problem.
Many of these ordinances are sporadically enforced – one case in point is Deland, FL. I’ve stayed at that Wal-Mart several times, despite the local ordinance. I check with the manager each time, and they tell me that, although they can’t give me permission because of the ordinance, neither they nor their company has a problem with me staying. So there I am, in the far corner of the lot, curtains drawn, TV dish up, obviously overnighting, and the cops drive by. I wave. They wave back, check the rest of the lot, and drive off. They have their hands full with real duties protecting the citizens, and aren’t enthusiastic about wasting their valuable time rousting law-abiding citizens just to make the RV park owners more money.
This little bit of civil disobedience in Port Elgin ended in a victory for the forces of freedom and justice – we didn’t get rousted. Even if I had gotten a citation, I’d rather have my money go to the city, who needs it, instead of those dissembling, grasping RV park owners. I make it a point never to spend a dime on RV parks in towns with such ordinances. I don’t like getting pushed around.