Campgrounds In Maine Can't Compete Against Free… So Want It Outlawed

from the ain't-that-great dept

Chris was the first of a few of you to send in the news of a proposed law in Maine that would outlaw the ability of any company to let RVs park overnight for free. The battle basically pits campgrounds, which charge fees, against Wal-Mart, which has always allowed RVs to park in their parking lots for free, recognizing that many who stay overnight in their parking lots will likely pick up supplies at Wal-Mart as well. There doesn’t seem to be any actual rationale for the “no free overnight parking” law, other than that the campgrounds are upset that they’re losing business. The whole thing seems rather silly, though. A Wal-Mart parking lot is hardly a scenic location. Are these campgrounds offering so little that they can’t compete against a giant empty concrete parking lot? Of course, if this law does pass, the end result is pretty predictable. Rather than driving more RVs to campsites, RV owners may just start avoiding Maine altogether.

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Companies: wal-mart

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Comments on “Campgrounds In Maine Can't Compete Against Free… So Want It Outlawed”

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Bob (RV owner) says:

Re: Re: Or Walmart can charge a spite fee

Exactly! Except make it a $3.00 coupon and a 50 cent fee (coins, not bills). The dispenser would probably be overwhelmed because every customer would make a bee line for the machine, RV or not, so the coupon would have to have a time limit (24 hours) and require some evidence of RV ownership and parking. Heck, Walmart should adopt this idea, law or no law. A great traffic increaser!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Or Walmart can charge a spite fee

Unfortunately, they can’t charge any fee, because then they would have to comply with state regulations regarding mobile vehicle facilities. They would have to provide designated spots with potable water hookups, showers, etc. My guess is that they would just turn a blind eye and let people still do it until the state starts to make a big stink trying to regulate what is extended parking vs. camping.

Bob (RV owner0 says:

Re: Re: Or Walmart can charge a spite fee

Not so. Parking lots and parking facilities charge fees and certainly are not classified as campgrounds. I’ve
pulled into center city parking lots that were willing to charge reasonable overnight fees, allowing us to spend a night on the town in many a major city (no Walmarts in downtown Chicago).

Ima Fish (profile) says:

I love how businesses praise the free market without government interference, until they face competition, then suddenly they demand that laws be passed to protect their failed model.

I’m from Michigan, and in the old days, like back in the 60s and 70s, all state campsites were free. Of course they had no amenities, just pit toilets and hand-pumps for water. But you really shouldn’t need anything else for camping. If you need electricity on your camping trip, stay in a fricken motel!

Ok, I’m done ranting.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I was thinking about the time a “camper” had a bread maker plugged into an outlet in the public bathroom. First, it was utterly gross, who’d want to eat bread baked in a bathroom? Second, if fresh bread is that important to you, stay the frick home.

Needless to say, we didn’t have GPS and digital cameras back in the 70s. Flashlights… er… I seem to remember those. But back then they were large sticks wrapped with oil-soaked rags which we’d light on fire by rubbing sticks together. You’re probably to young to know this, but electricity was not invented until June of 1986.

A Dan says:

Well that's embarrassing

I agree, that’s a stupid law. Maybe the campgrounds shouldn’t charge so much? And I would guess that RV traffic in general is depleting everywhere. No amount of legislation will change that. The last thing Maine needs right now is to drive away more of its tourists.

Nice tie-in to the “compete with free” concept, by the way. I wouldn’t call this a tech article, but it’s interesting to see that the same basic concepts apply to non-tech industries.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Are you seriously under the impression that campgrounds are required to provide electricity and water? They’re not.

Campgrounds provide a value add experience and charge for it. Consumers are apparently deciding the value add isn’t worth the price. Outlawing the cheaper and less scenic competitor is a bizarre response to a changing market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Was this an idea inspired by fermented beverages?

I guess Maine has moved onto protecting the “authentic rustic backwoods lifestyle”..?

Next, burning oil drums will have to be licensed to the homeless so they can keep warm by having a fire.

The whole concept it isn’t that bad of an idea: I see a department of 50 put on Maine’s Payroll to protect this “authentic rustic backwoods lifestyle”! Raise sales and property taxes 0.1% to finance it. Wow, the possibilities for spending taxpayer dollars are endless!

Joseph M. Durnal (user link) says:

Who wants to camp in a parking lot

I don’t have an RV, but it is on my list of things to shoot for in the next 5 years. I’ve seen the occasional RV in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Wal-Mart is not the destination, but a convenient place to park and get some overnight rest on your way to that destination. My bet is 1/2 of the folks who park their RV at Wal-Mart in Maine are on their way to a campground in Maine. I guess folks will just stop in New Hampshire or New Brunswick or Quebec (I really wanted to write New Quebec) on their way to Maine.

Joseph Durnal
Joe’s Blog

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s, uhm… dangerous! Yeah, it’s dangerous. These people could, y’know, get mugged or something… while in a Wal-Mart parking lot. For free, and stuff. See, we need to outlaw it to protect people! They simply don’t know any better. They don’t know how dangerous it can be.

Eponymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Nick, I thought your area of expertise was search engine marketing. What the hell, man?

I could see a “Parking with validation” development, where you’re ‘charged’ a nominal fee to park, but the fee is waived with any purchase at Wally-World. Similar to the spite fee mentioned above, but in reality still free.

Paul Reinheimer (profile) says:

Offer Service

I stayed at campgrounds coast to coast growing up. We stayed at camp grounds that were great: well spaced lots, nice trees and privacy, scenic walks, etc. We also stayed at crappy ones, essentially poorly gravelled grass lots with power outlets.

Given the choice between paying $40 and staying in, what is essentially a parking lot anyways, or for free in a WalMart lot, I’ll take the lot (with the money saved go see a movie, or put it towards a sig-flags pass).

Compete on service, not legislative power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even if Walmart agreed to charge the fee, how would they enforce it. I don’t see them hiring more employees just for that purpose and how will they know whether a RV is there to stay the night vs late night shopping as to my knowledge there is no limit to how long you can shop in the store so at what point would they make the determination that you are not actually in the store shopping?

nasch says:

Re: Re:

If I were managing Wal-Mart and this law actually passed, I would put up the smallest reasonable sign indicating the fee, and then make absolutely no effort to enforce it. What are the campground people going to do, stake out the parking lot and call the cops? I’m sure Maine’s finest would be thrilled to get called out to settle a parking dispute. The law would not even have any effect.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re:

Finally someone said it.

Walmart is not going to provide free fresh water. You can get it but you have to pay for it. Walmart will not, and cannot, provide waste disposal, too many health codes. Walmart will not provide an outlet to plug into. Walmart cannot provide privacy or scenic walks. I’d bet I’m missing a few things, I don’t go camping in an RV.

If the RV drivers want to deal with these sever limitations instead of paying for parking then something seems insanely wrong with the pay option.

Adam (profile) says:

RVs at Walmart

Nova Scotia tried this a few years ago with precisely the expected result: RVs stayed away in droves. Now I see on ( a topic featuring a letter from someone in the government of NS assuring the writer that parking in Walmart parking lots is perfectly legal. Maine, if this legislation passes, will have precisely the same experience. RVers communicate with each other via several forums — prospective tourists will know to stay away in no time.

tennsmith says:

Free Parking for RVs

I think it is a great idea and I don’t think it hurts campgrounds that much. Most folks, including myself, use this convenience for a “one night stopover” while enroute to the ultimate destination.

I agree with the author who says if the law passes, RVs may avoid Maine altogether…it could happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

$1 fee for parking + $1 coupon!

As others have said, I don’t see how this is enforceable if Walmart puts in a program that is a $1 fee for parking and $1 off any purchase coupon.

The real biggie is that this is how to value services. If the free option doesn’t give you water, sewage dump, or electricity, and no one is going to the paid version that does, then the paid version is asking way too much for these services.

James Saunders (profile) says:

You are wrong on this one.

Sorry Mike, but you missed the mark this time. I agree with most of what is said on this site, but either you haven’t been given the whole story, or you are missing some important distinctions that make this more than a “compete against free” situation.

The issue, which has been fought in several states before with varying results, is not that Walmart is allowing RVers to park in their lot overnight. It is that they promote their program as “camping,” and they do so without conforming to the numerous regulations that the campgrounds are required by law to conform to. The number one example is access to waste facilities. Campgrounds are required to be able to facilitate a certain amount of waste based on the number of sites they offer, which is a major overhead cost, especially for seasonal campgrounds that need to winterize their entire water network. If Walmart were made to abide by the same legislation as a campground, they would conceivably need to offer facilities proportional to the number of parking spots they have available, and they would quickly see that it probably wasn’t economically feasible for them to continue promoting “camping” in their lots.

Because they are somehow exempt from the rules that campgrounds need to follow, they are being given an unfair market advantage, which they can exploit by offering as a free service because they have essentially no additional regulatory overhead. I figure someone who constantly preaches the power of markets to balance themselves can see how this sets up an environment that the campground owners are justifiably opposed to.

All that said, it is unfortunate that the response from campers and most press coverage ultimately views the campground owners negatively on this issue. They get painted as money-grubbing grinches who are trying to avoid “competing” with free, rather than (more often than not) small businesses trying to make sure the “Big Guys” have to play by the same rules.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: You are wrong on this one.

Like I said before, I don’t go camping in an RV so I may have missed this, but can you show me where WalMart is advertising “camping” in their parking lot? Or was it more of someone walking in and asking an employee “can we camp* here overnight?”, the employee said sure, and the campers spread the word that WalMart lets them camp* there for free?

*Campers would use the word “camp” instead of “stay” since they are in that frame of mind.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

PS: and even if they do use the work “camp” and it’s just a legal issue (witch would be easily gotten around by not using that word) then campers would see that walmart doesn’t offer all the amenities that true campgrounds do. Then it just gets back to campgrounds still can’t compete with an empty stretch of concrete.

CastorTroy-Libertarian says:

Re: You are wrong on this one.

so what your saying is that wal-mart promotes camping and you still can’t compete with a LARGE NOISY CONCRETE PARKING LOT WITH A HUGE BUILDING…God help us all..

Cause i know every year me wife and i sit down and plan a trip around the country in an RV by hitting just wal-marts cause all the hot big concrete parking lots are great stress reducers and much much prettier than say WOODS and stuff, or natural beauty… and cheaper to boot…

Comboman says:

Re: You are wrong on this one.

I have to agree with James. It’s NOT free-market competition if campgrounds have to meet regulatory requirements that Walmart doesn’t. Additionally, many of these “Walmart campers” will stay 4 nights at Walmart then 1 night at a licensed campground to dump the 5 days of waste from their storage tank. Waste management is a significant portion of the operating cost of a campground, so these people are basically being subsidized by the other campers, causing prices to rise for everyone. Making a law against free camping may not be right answer, but the issue is not as simple as most of you (Mike included) are making it out to be.

lulz says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

But Wal-Mart isn’t claiming to be a campground; because RV’s park there doesn’t mean that they are camping.
They have no expectations of electricity, waste disposal, or any other campground amenities, because it isn’t one.
If they wanted to camp, they would go to a camping ground that does provide those amenities.
Maybe the campgrounds are losing money from the people that are just passing through that don’t want to pay for something they don’t need.

You can’t force people to pay money to park in a public parking lot (that doesn’t charge of course).

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

I have to ask. You’re saying that if walmart had the capabilities and was legally allowed to remove the waste then all campgrounds would go out of business instantly? No one would ever go to a campground that offered things like water, outlets, privacy, security, mechanics, wooded surroundings?

No, I still think this falls under “if you can’t compete with a concrete parking lot then you’re doing something wrong.” Hell, if you can’t compete with a concrete parking lot you can’t compete with the side of the road or someone’s driveway or one of those rest stops that I see truckers sleeping in every time I drive down the highway.

Valkor says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

“many of these “Walmart campers” will stay 4 nights at Walmart then 1 night at a licensed campground “

Are you serious? Your anecdotal assertion is directly contrary to my gut reaction of complete disbelief, therefore we are at an impasse. I would really like to see some citation that there is a large, or even significant, number of people vacationing in parking lots anywhere. Feel free to include homeless people living in RVs in your argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

Additionally, many of these “Walmart campers” will stay 4 nights at Walmart then 1 night at a licensed campground to dump the 5 days of waste from their storage tank. Waste management is a significant portion of the operating cost of a campground, so these people are basically being subsidized by the other campers, causing prices to rise for everyone

The same thing would happen if the RV were on the road for 4 days before arriving. So, if that’s a problem then the problem really isn’t Walmart, it’s the campground’s business model.

Mark says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

I happen to live in an RV and park at Walmart lots, not all of which allow this. We come in late at night and leave early, and make sure to buy everything we need from Walmart. Many states either do not have any regulations, or they are seriously lax. I have stayed in campgrounds that don’t offer any waste removal, water, or power, and all configurations otherwise. We have never been in a lot more than 12 hours, usually more like 8. Hard to enforce that. Still, Flying J offers dump services for $5 for members, and that was free until recently. Of course, some Flying J’s offer electric, water, and dumping, FREE! Ohio’s interstates now have $15 nightly parking with water, power, and dumping at some of the rest areas. Surely, these are governed being owned by the state. Also, MOST campgrounds, if you ask to dump waste, will charge $20 to let you dump. They are making the money, I talk often with small campground owners who are doing just fine, thank you. They also don’t care about Walmart.

Bob (RV owner) says:

Re: You are wrong on this one.

Campers vs. parking…..see my other comments. I’ve spent the night in many a Walmart parking lot and never recall the word “camping” being utilized on signs, stores or websites……just as highway barebones rest stops will usually post signs saying “No Camping” but allow overnight parking. I’ve shared many a “pull-over” area with several long haul truckers who, like me, have simply run out of steam and need the rest……and, like me, have cabs with all of the comforts of my RV. This is not about fighting for a level field or “competition.” There are fewer RVs on the road because of current economics and those that are out there are seeking as many ways to economize as possible…..including avoiding campgrounds that haven’t lowered fees to reflect the current economy. Many have….see Good Sam Association and others that offer all kinds of incentives. Enough government…..More Lehman and less AIG!

James Saunders (profile) says:

Re: Re: You are wrong on this one.

I’m not sure about your claim that there are fewer RVs on the road; I’d be interested to see some sources. I am aware that RV sales have taken quite a hit over the past couple years, even before the major downturn last fall, but overall campground occupancy rates haven’t been much affected (see RV Business Indicators1-20-09). People are still camping, although they tend to take shorter trips closer to home, etc. Actually, MORE people are turning to camping because it is cheaper than many other vacation options.

I also see the difference between someone spending a few hours late at night parked at a Wally-world and someone setting up their awning and firing up the grill. Most people would feel that the latter is ridiculous. And it is unlikely that anyone is taking their family vacation in a parking lot.

The problem is simply that campgrounds are being undercut on a large scale by a company that has the reach to promote something even without having “official promotional material”. Google “RV Walmart” and you will see the number of other sources promoting the practice of hopping from Walmart to Walmart for “free camping” without Big W Corporate having to even bother. The response is to try and hamper the practice. It might not be the right response. I am merely providing the counter-argument, and maintain that this is certainly not a simple “can’t compete with free” situation.

Common Sense says:

Campgrounds can compete

They just need to let RV’s park in their parking lots for free, and not grant them access to certain things that paying customers get to use. Of course, most people willing to sleep in a parking lot will still probably head to Wal-Mart as like mentioned before, they’re probably after some cheap supplies more than anything.

tubes says:

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. When I was younger we used to go on trips with my aunt & uncle in their RV. We used to stay in the Wal-mart parking lot for a little while so my uncle could get a few hours of sleep so he could drive on to the campsite that we would STAY at which provided electricity, water & waste disposal. Thats why we paid to stay there. There is absolutely no comparasion between the two.
The thing I questioned while reading this, what about the RVs that park at rest areas on the highways cause we used to stay there also and are they going to do the same thing with truckers too because they use Wal-mart parking lots too?

Andrew (profile) says:

But this just proves Mike's point

Here is a classic example of the argument that instead of complaining about someone giving away something for free, they should be competing by showing the added value of what they charge for.

And if the issue is with having to comply with regulations while others do not, well, that is a case for persuading government NOT to create long lists of restrictive regulations.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

That reminds me of an interview I recently heard of a poet. He simply posts his poems online. He was attacked by other writers who said that he was preventing them from making a living. They were arguing that he was a disloyal competition in the anti-trust law sense. It was ridiculous and similar to this. Competition is good. If the service that you are offering can be offered for free, that is good for the economy, not bad. Also, this is honestly a very easy problem to solve. Make your campground free and open a restaurant. (Or rent out a building to a restaurant if you don’t want to move from your primary business) One of the bill’s supporters said that people were going to him to get their waste pumped. Offer that as a paid service! It’s easy!

Sam Walton says:

Walmart isn’t advertising itself as a campground at all. RV owners, on the other hand, seem to be constantly talking about “Walmart camping”. The simple fact that the Walmart customer service experience includes free overnight parking for RV’s doesn’t make it a campground, or make it compete with campgrounds. It’s also free to park an RV at a lot of other places, including almost all Bureau of Land Management land and National Forests (though most have a 2 week limit). You don’t see the KOA suggesting that National Forests be shut down because it’s hurting their business model. Of course, there are a lot more Walmarts than there are National Forests (OR RV campgrounds). BTW, K-mart also offers free overnight RV parking, as do Costco and Flying-J Truck Stops. Legislating away free overnight parking certainly is no way to increase business, it simply makes RV owners avoid your locale.

Bill Jackson says:

WalMart Lawsuit & free overnight parking

I’ll tell y’all this… as much as I love your beautiful state and nice people, I won’t go there if this law passes. Don’t need to. If your private campgrounds can’t compete with folks doing OVERNIGHT camping – mayber 1-3 days, then y’all don’t have much to offer, huh? And why should we go to a state where where an industry lobby forces me to do it’s biding? Sure hope your state politicians aren’t that cheap to be bought off for so little. It’s not WalMart thats causing these private campgrounds to go out of business, it’s the prices they charge and… well, CAPITALISM! Business doesn’t need welfare!

Anonymous Coward says:

Journalism at its best - not

“The Yonder Hill Campground in Madison used to be filled to capacity every summer night with recreational vehicles. But that was years ago.”
– Was that BEFORE Wallmart opened a store nearby ?
I doubt it.

“The campground’s owner, Allen York, said he often sees 25 to 30 RVs parked at the Wal-Mart.”
– Has this number increased proportionally in the past few years?
Probably not.

– Reading this article, one gets the impresion that they think the number of RVs is constant and are going elsewhere. Most likely the number of people driving RVs has taken a nose dive. But the author seems to skip over that minor detail.

EGLord says:

Free overnight parking for RVs at WalMarts

This is not a frequent event. Just drive around and see for yourself. Camping at WalMart is really not considered parking, is it? I suppose it would be a rare occasion ~ do not be so greedy as to want to pick up such a minute amount of business. I would encourage camground owners to take a serious look at their fees and consider giving RV owners a break. Now that would be a great topic of disucssion.

EGLord says:

Free overnight parking for RVs at WalMarts

This is not a frequent event. Just drive around and see for yourself. Camping at WalMart is really not considered parking, is it? I suppose it would be a rare occasion ~ do not be so greedy as to want to pick up such a minute amount of business. I would encourage camground owners to take a serious look at their fees and consider giving RV owners a break. Now that would be a great topic of disucssion.

Wendell T. Fleming says:


Like Maine’s not on the way to anyplace. Even better, much of Maine has outlawed big box stores over a certain square footage like Wal Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes. Maine’s Opressive taxes have driven out the rich, no opportunities for good jobs runs off the youth of the state. All this next to a state with no sales tax and no income tax that welcomes anything that comes to it,the flourishing New Hampshire. Maine has one of the worst economies in the US. Wonder why?….Besides, the weather sucks about 330 days a year………..

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