Since the city of Duchesne began allowing free overnight camping near the scenic River Walkway in the summer of 1997, Duchesne business owner Keith Rowley said he's definitely been affected.
Rowley has been in the business of providing overnight camping hookups for travelers passing through Duchesne for the past 15 years. In 1996, his records show he rented out 100 spots for overnight stays; in 1997, that number slipped to 60. This summer he counted a grand total of 16 customers who stayed at his Hogan Park, located at the west entrance to Duchesne. Rowley says just under half of the campers he had this year were "overflows" who came during county fair week when the River Walkway was already full.Rowley says he realizes there is more than one reason for patronage to fluctuate, but he maintains his dramatic drop in customers has come because he can't compete with the free overnight camping the city sponsors.
When Rowley first discovered campers were being allowed to stay overnight at the picnic area near the River Walkway in June 1997, he approached the City Council with his complaint. He said the council agreed to place a sign at the River Walkway telling the public overnight camping was prohibited. The signs were ordered and went up this spring but only in the city's two parks.
Two months ago Rowley went to the City Council again to find out why it hadn't followed through on the pledge. At that meeting, with a 3-2 vote, the council determined the no camping signs would not be placed at the River Walkway. City Council member Kris Bancroft made a motion that the signs be put in place by July 24, it was seconded by Council member Jill Ketterer, but died for lack of a majority.
"The city said they changed their mind. To them, it's OK to compete with private business.
"They can't understand why I'm complaining. They don't feel it's hurt my business at all, but it's all there in black and white," Rowley said.
What's more, says Rowley, is that the people of Duchesne are subsidizing the free camping. Until recently, campers enjoyed access to running water at nearby restrooms as well as electrical outlets. There's also a sewage disposal hookup a short distance away at the county fairgrounds and a city employee must spend time keeping the area clean.
"What they're doing isn't right, it's not fair to me and it's not fair to the city taxpayers," Rowley said.
Rowley said he spoke with one man who was using the city's free overnight camping service and asked him how he found out such a deal was available. According to Rowley, the man told him a city employee directed him to the site when he called to find out about accommodations.
"He was told there was overnight camping at Starvation (State Park), but that there wasn't a business that offered overnight camping in Duchesne," Rowley stated, adding there are actually two businesses which provide facilities for overnight campers in Duchesne city.
"It's just not fair that the city is advertising free camping and makes me buy a (business) license," Rowley said.
Rowley has decided not to renew his business license this year and Hogan Park is up for sale.
City Councilman Clint Park says he doesn't feel the free camping is hurting Rowley's business and sees the city's offer to tourists as a "good gesture."
Park characterized City Council discussions on the overnight camping issue as "low key."
The presence of campers at the site just east of the fairgrounds helps the city more than it hurts them, he stated.
"It has cut down on vandals. I see more maintenance problems when there isn't anybody there than when there is."
Rowley disagrees. He says he's aware of an instance when campers cleaning fish flushed the entrails down the toilets, clogging them. And he points out, "it's free to them,; people don't do the best job of taking care of something when it's free."