The Good 'Ole Days
Many of us are quick to complain about the legislative process, but most of us also zealously defend it as being the best system there is. The perk is, if you have the inclination, the time and the perseverance, you can make a difference. But let’s face it, many pursue the RV lifestyle to simplify their life, not complicate it. They would rather not spend their time trying to track legislation. However, monitoring detrimental bills, working to defeat adverse laws, and educating city, county, state and federal officials about the amazing community of full-time RVers is a commitment that Escapees RV Club continues to fulfill.
Overnight RV Parking at Retail Stores
Protecting RVers’ privilege to park overnight in places other than commercial campgrounds has been an important advocacy focus for decades. For those who have more recently begun RVing, the ability to park overnight between destinations at retail stores like Wal-Mart may seem second nature. Many are unaware that if Escapees had not taken the initiative to block new county ordinances and defeat restrictive state and federal legislation, that this choice may not be available today.
In the 1970s and 1980s, full-time RVing was scarcely discussed outside RV enthusiast circles. It was rarely reported in the media, and basically undetected on legislator radars. Some claim “these were the good ‘ole days” and many of us agree!
While full-timers were able to figure out ways to handle their mail, get cash as they traveled, and stay in touch with housebound friends and family, those things were not necessarily simple. Remember, there was no Internet, social media platforms, or even cell phones in those days. There were no precise legal guidelines available to nomads, other than those outlined by fellow full-timers and shared though publications like Escapees.
Welcome to the Limelight
It wasn’t until the 1990s that full-time RVing gained more widespread notoriety. As a larger segment of the population discovered that the full-time RVing “dream” was a realistic choice, the lifestyle became less obscure. Suddenly it seemed that a bright spotlight shone on it. At that point, county, state and federal laws quickly came into question. What address can I legally use on my driver license? Where do I register my vehicles if I’m moving around all year? Where can I vote if I’m not deeply committed to one state? How am I to handle my health insurance?
As more people questioned their local governments, state and federal agencies began to recognize that there were many variable and conflicting components in the various state regulations. Officials worked to clarify language and refine laws, but all too often the revisions created even more convoluted regulations. Backlashes from these issues sometimes proved to jeopardize the fundamental constitutional rights of full-time RVers.
"From Alaska to Montana, Nevada to Ohio, Illinois and beyond, Escapees scrambled to defeat new ordinances that would prohibit overnight parking anywhere except in campgrounds."
Welcome to Politics
The late 1990s and early 2000s proved to be a particularly critical time. Escapees RV Club refused to stand idle while fundamental freedoms were being stripped away from full-time RVers. Americans who simply chose to forego a comfy rocking chair on the porch for an up-close-and-personal relationship with the country we call home.
As we tried to help to educate lawmakers about the lifestyle, the lack of solidary within the RV industry became apparent. Industry organizations were powerful and well represented on the state and federal levels, whereas RV consumers (especially full-timers) went mostly unheard.
One of the most difficult times in Escapees RV Club history occurred in the early 2000’s. One political struggle after another seemed to surface. We were deeply engaged in a two-year battle defending close to 10,000 full-timers right to vote. At the same time, we were working to defeat a discriminatory U.S.P.S. mandate, and fighting to block unfair RV-specific taxes that affected thousands of RVers. (See the complete Advocacy Timeline for more details.)
In addition to these serious struggles, we at the Escapees RV Club found ourselves continually confronted with new detrimental city and state parking ordinances in multiple states. These assaults came in sporadic waves at first, but unbeknown to them at the time, a full-blown typhoon was brewing!
What could be best described as gut-punch hit when it was reported that ARVC had quote: “approached several state governments in an effort to get them to outlaw camping at rest areas and other sites not specifically set aside for overnight RV parking.”
To make matters worse, then Vice President and Publisher of Trailer Life Campground/RV Park & Services Directory wrote: “It is not the intention nor the desire of any division of Affinity Group, Inc, the parent company of Good Sam Club, to promote or condone overnight camping at anything other than established RV parks and campgrounds. We in fact, discourage the use of trucks stops, vacant parking lots, Wal-Marts, rest areas and the like as overnight camping facilities.”
Escapees immediately rallied its members with a “Call to Action.” They were encouraged to make their voices loud and clear! Grassroot campaigns and even some state boycotts took place. As crazy as it seems now, segments within the industry were at war with each other.
Escapees RV Club stood toe-to-toe peering down what felt like a double-barrel shotgun, as some of the most powerful players in the industry rested its fingers on the trigger.
It was imperative that specific legislative bills be rescinded. Bills that had the potential to prohibit overnight parking of RVs in any unauthorized places. Bills had to be closely monitored because they were popping up across the U.S., often cleverly hidden or disguised under misleading titles. At the same time, campground owners, with the assistance of ARVC (National Association of RV Campgrounds), continued to push hard for stricter regulations. All the while, individual campground owners were complaining to their local governments about RVs being allowed to park at Wal-Marts in particular. The storm raged on.
From Alaska to Montana, Nevada to Ohio, Illinois and beyond, Escapees scrambled to defeat new ordinances that would prohibit overnight parking anywhere except in campgrounds. There were so many simultaneous cities and states reviewing their laws that media kits had to be developed so that they could be quickly disseminated to chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus, city councils, city managers and the local media, explaining the RVers’ side of the story. Once these entities were armed with more information, they, more often than not, voted to reject new tighter ordinances.
Still there was no end in sight.
Unity is the Solution
In November 2005, Escapees published an article I wrote as the acting Escapees President and Chief Executive Officer, that publicly challenged all segments of the industry to compromise and unite on the issue once and for all:
“Unity is the solution. We can avoid cities that are inhospitable to RVers and we can avoid campgrounds that belong to coalitions that fight against our parking freedom, but I continue to believe that the only long-term solution to this age-old battle is unity. To be successful, RV clubs, campgrounds and RV consumer must reach a compromise.
- RV CLUBS must support and circulate the creed (Good Neighbor Policy) and encourage their members to abide by its guidelines.
- CAMPGROUNDS must back off on supporting and encouraging litigation, legislation and county ordinances that deny private enterprises the right to allow RVers to stay one night.
- RVers must agree not to abuse the system by extending their stays, even when a store manager has given them permission to do so!
Achieving this kind of unity is not going to be quick or easy. We need you to contact other clubs you belong to for support. We need you to alert us when you hear of a new ordinance or legislative bill that restricts overnight parking in private parking lots such as Wal-Mart. And we need you to stay informed so that you can assist with grass roots campaigns, when necessary, to ensure that the right to choose were we park is not legislated away by government officials or campground owners.”
Immediate results we not overwhelming, but it was encouraging to have FMCA, Airstream, and Gulf Streamers add their logos to the Good Neighbor policy. They promised to publicize the creed and pass it on to their own members. It was a good start, but it was still unknown if campground owners would support the compromise.
It wasn’t until 2006 when Woodall’s Campground Management published an article entitled: “Escapees CEO Cathie Carr Appeals for Compromise in ‘Wal-Mart’ Debate,” that a major decline in opposition became more evident.
Victory at Last!
The choices about where we park today are numerous and diverse. Whether you are new to RVing or a seasoned full-time RVer, it is important to recognize that this benefit should not be taken for granted or abused. The Good Neighbor Policy developed by Escapees, is now sanctioned by much of the industry and supported by many organizations. It stands as a shining example of what unity, honor, and integrity can accomplish.
Adopt the RVers' Good Neighbor Policy
RVing as a lifestyle is discovered by more people every day. It has never been more important to help educate those who don’t understand the repercussions of abuse. Using proper etiquette when parking in undesignated places will help ensure that these benefits will stay intact.
- Stay one night only!
- Obtain permission from a qualified individual.
- Obey posted regulations.
- No awnings, chairs or barbecue grills.
- Do not use hydraulic jacks on soft surfaces (including asphalt).
- Always leave an area cleaner than you found it.
- Purchase gas, food, or supplies as a form of thank you, when feasible.
- Be safe! Always be aware of your surroundings and leave if you feel unsafe.
And remember, if your plans include touring the area, staying more than one night, or necessitates conduct not within the code, please relocate to a local campground. It’s the right thing to do!
A Word About RV Advocacy
Escapees RV Club has always prided itself in weighing each issue carefully and then representing its members appropriately. We conscientiously resist speaking for all Escapees unless the issue is clear-cut. Some things are no brainers, like the right to vote. We feel there is no gray area on voting, every legal citizen should have the right to vote, period.
Other issues are not so black and white. In these cases, the club prefers to alert members and then let them voice their own opinions to the lawmakers. It would be far too presumptuous to take a firm stand when members have a wide array of opinions. In these cases, it’s the organization’s policy to provide members with specific contact information so that individuals can directly voice their opinions to the legislators and committee members working on the bills.
Timing is crucial, please feel free to alert us if you learn about a potential law or ordinance that threatens RVers’ rights. We cannot fight every fight; and, we will not win every fight we choose to fight. However, we will always fight to protect RVers rights.
Escapees RV Club has many ways of addressing advocacy for all RVers
Cathie Carr has been intimately involved in the RV lifestyle for over forty years. She was one of youngest full-time RVers working as she traveled when her parents, Kay and Joe Peterson, launched the Escapees RV Club. She was hired to help with its administration in 1983. Her first major challenge was to create a mail-forwarding service that catered to the specific and unique needs of RVers. Today it is the largest mail-forwarding service for RVers in the nation.
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