I live in a van and have for over 20 years. But who cares right? Well! Some do! The District of Squamish is working on a by-law that will outlaw sleeping in your tent, vehicle or RV for all people, within the entire district (the one exempt area is 20 min from town, requires 4x4 and lacks toilets).
Due to the rising number of complaints regarding irresponsible wild campers, to those uncomfortable with people who sleep in vehicles or tents, the District considers wild camping 'an environmental and social hazard.’ However, many residents live in vehicles due to socio-economic factors, rising rent, increased costs of living, and choosing minimalism for environmental reasons. We are now feeling the effects of irresponsible campers. Given the immense amount of development and gentrification encroaching into our green spaces, and the displacement of locals due to affordability, I question whether the district’s intention is to protect eco-sensitive areas impacted by “a small minority of campers” or merely, this is a money grab, and an effort to clean up the streets so they can sell more real estate. Regardless of the reasoning, this by-law unfairly stereotypes and punishes social-economic circumstances, and the necessity and choice to live in a vehicle.
As a climber, I am very disappointed in the ‘cautious support’ that the Squamish Access Society has shown for this bylaw. While I understand the impact of irresponsible campers, supporting a by-law that outlaws sleeping in your vehicle or tent for those with social-economic challenges and alternative lifestyles is a slap to the face to decades of climbing culture and those in need.
While climbers are often stereotyped and blamed for these situations, we must ask: How familiar are you with Leave No Trace practices? Given the connection between climber responsibility and access, one would assume that climbers are, however, it boggles my mind when I see climbers behaving the complete opposite!
It is HERE where climbers can make an impact!
How can you help? Contact council and the media to voice your opinion, sign and share the petition and practice and advocate Leave No Trace! We need to speak up and educate both high-impact climbers and campers everywhere we go! Be brave and talk candidly to the climbers unaware of Leave no Trace values. ‘Dirtbag campers’ leaving their belongings, garbage and shit all over the place is high impact, as is a tent at the crag or boulders in undesignated camping areas. Explain how their actions make everyone look bad, enable the negative stereotyping of climbers and risks everyone's ‘Freedom to Roam’, and possibly access. Remember, people see things differently. What may seem like a beautiful minimalist lifestyle to one, is seen as a tax-avoider, freeloader, illegal, derelict of society by another.
However, this problem isn't unique to Squamish. Bishop and other‘outdoorsy area’ face similar issues. But if there are no problems, there are no issues!
The emphasis here is BE DISCREET! No one cares or is impressed that you live in a van or in a tent by the river. If you think your actions may risk access or the Right to Roam, do NOT do it!!! If you are unsure, do NOT risk it! Residents and many climbers do not appreciate a van on the side of the road that looks like it is having a yard sale.
- do not lay your belongs out for the world to see. Keep it in the van
- use proper toilet facilities. Don’t shit outdoors for someone else to find it
- leave the place better than you found it, aka, pick up trash
- dispose of your compost, garbage and recycling properly
- advocate Leave No Trace
- avoid crowded areas
- don’t monopolize an area, aka, crowd it. Numbers attract attention.
- have a ‘wag bag’ for emergencies
- Cook in the vehicle. For discretion and fire prevention!
- keep the music to yourself
- people live in these communities so respect them and their backyard
It’s simple: Be respectful.
Last summer I drove by a camper van on the Mamquam Forest Service Road which had clothes hanging on a line, while they were outside suntanning on chairs and enjoying a spread of food on the table in front of them. Sounds dreamy right?! I had to stop and explain how this type of behaviour risks our Freedom to Roam and pisses off residents. Basically, it makes climbers look bad in the ‘eyes of society’. They didn’t realize the eyesore they created nor its impact on others. Thankfully, they were super cool and immediately put their belongings away.
Long story short, a van on the side of the road can look like a van on the side of the road, or it can look like a campground. The choice is yours. If you need to stay in a tent, find a campground or go far from town. If you stay in a van, keep your stuff in the van! Everyone's actions make a difference. We can make a good impression or a bad impression, but there is no in between. If there is no problem, there are no issues. These preventative solutions do not deal with the stigma vehicle dwellers face but at least it’s a good start.
Email your concerns to council here: firstname.lastname@example.org
See the Petition here
Squamish resident Vehicle Dweller? Fill out the survey here.
CBC article here
CBC TV blurb here (@6:20)
CTV video here
Leave no Trace Training FREE here.
Read my Letter to the Editor here.
View the by-law here.
View the by-law video discussion meeting here: (scroll down to April 9th)