The practice of boondocking in Wal-Mart parking lots is not limited to the United States. RVers are setting up camp at a store in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, according to a report in the Vancouver Globe and Mail.
RV park owner Ted McAfee recently spotted a cluster of about 20 RVs in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Prince George on a summer night, sitting under awnings on their deck chairs, swapping stories around an artificial fireplace burning on the pavement.
The next morning, he knows they’ll pack up and leave to the Wal-Mart closest to the next stop on their trip – a ritual for thousands of RV enthusiasts who, armed with a special Wal-Mart atlas with directions to every store in North America, can vacation anywhere without leaving the sight of the retail giant’s familiar yellow face. Or – to the chagrin of those like McAfee who make a living off the tourist trade – never paying a penny for the overnight say.
“Boondocking” – RV slang for camping without facilities such as electricity and gray water disposal – has set Prince George on edge. Staying overnight in retail parking lots is illegal in the city, but since a Wal-Mart was built in the town two years ago, the vacationers have been coming in droves, often ignoring signs telling them to stay away.
RV park owners, who for years counted on the flow of American tourists up the Alaska Highway, are losing thousands of dollars, said McAfee, who owns Blue Spruce RV Park on the outskirts of Prince George.
“Before Wal-Mart came, we were full every night,” he said. Now, he fields calls from drivers looking to stay the night, but they never show up.
“You can drive down to Wal-Mart and you’ll see the exact description of the RV they just gave you sitting there. They’re on their way up, they see Wal-Mart, and it’s like a snowball effect. Once one or two is parked there, another one will pull in, and another, and another.”
Blue Spruce estimates it will take in $20,000 less this month compared to two years ago, before the Wal-Mart opened.
McAfee, who drives a logging truck in the off-season to pay his bills, said he understands people want the tourists to stay in town, but that money won’t stay in the city.
Wal-Mart is trying to strike a balance between supporting the local tourist business and offering a safer space than the side of the road for drivers to sleep – something that would never replace a campground, said spokesman Andrew Pelletier.
And Prince George Mayor Colin Kinsley said the city did all it could when it told Wal-Mart to put up signs in the lot. “I don’t know if we’ve got the police resources to knock on their doors at three in the morning and send them on their way,” he said.