Pioche, Nevada, population 1,435, is one of those quiet little towns that you might stumble on in your travels. Pronounced “pea-oach”, its name is in honor of François Louis Alfred Pioche, a French investor who was instrumental in helping develop successful mining in the town. The town itself has a colorful, albeit bloody history, along with a “Boot Hill” cemetery that received many dead, often shot or otherwise killed in the town’s early history. The fighting today doesn’t involve bullets, but, interestingly, it does affect RVers. Free camping is at stake.
An ideal overnight pullout
Pioche has a small, town-operated RV park. It’s a tree-lined park, of the “nothing to write home about” variety, but it’s relatively quiet, and a good spot to drop off the long Highway 93 that travels from Los Vegas to Ely. The 10 sites have water and sewer drops, and garbage cans. The cost of a night’s stay? That’s entirely up to RVers. There’s a voluntary donation container on-site: free camping for some, with goodwill “good dollar” gestures from others. The town clerk reports donations vary, usually a few hundred dollars a month during the travel season. For the weary RVer, Pioche is an ideal overnight or multi-night pullout.
But there’s a bit of a snarl. It seems when the area was originally platted, there was some legal confusion about “who owns what.” The Pioche Town RV Park is right in the middle of that dispute. While the town has always operated and maintained the park, Pioche itself is unincorporated. So when a kerfuffle recently arose involving utilities and who had oversight of what, somehow the free-camping town RV park got caught up in the middle of it.
County commissioners “see green”—and it’s not the leaves on the trees
Since Pioche is unincorporated, the real power of decision-making rests with Lincoln County commissioners. This isn’t to say Pioche citizens are voiceless. There is a town board, elected officials who handle much of the day-to-day operations of this small town. Those board members definitely heard the voice of the County when it made rumblings about what should be done with the free-camping RV park. The county commissioners somehow saw green, aside from the trees in the park. Perhaps, they mused, that little spot should be sold off. It’s ironic, perhaps, that the little park sits just behind the courthouse.
Last month the town’s board members met to discuss the free-camping RV park. Russ De Maris was able to attend the meeting—we were handily set up in the town RV park. The board met in the local fire hall, and it was a somewhat informal affair. The only “suit” in the place was the town’s attorney—the board members largely outfitted in blue jeans and open-collared shirts. But to describe these folks as a “bunch of country bumpkins” would be far from the truth. While one expressed a water run-off problem near the courthouse as, “If a grasshopper spits, that road washes out,” the board members are decidedly sharp.
Town board weighs in
At issue: What would the town board recommend to the commissioners? Sell the place? Let Pioche keep it? And if that were the case, how would the town handle the park? Free camping (with contributions) is certainly attractive. There are two other RV parks in town, commercially operated ones. One charges $25 a night but is typically “full to the gills” anytime we’ve been past it. The other is a bit down on the heels, exclusively with “back in” sites, and runs $35 a night. The town RV park is strictly a pull-through campground.
Suggestions were made that perhaps the town should keep the park, but put in a mandatory overnight camp fee. “If we do that,” ruminated one board member, “we’ll have to charge more than the commercial RV parks” to keep them from raising “unfair competition” noises. And some wondered, how should the town deal with “rule breakers”? Apparently, the biggest issue falls on long-weekend holidays. One memorable Labor Day weekend we watched as the 10-site park filled up with 15 or more rigs—folks cramming two rigs into the small sites.
After kicking the issue back and forth, “double parking” problems aside, the benefits of the free-camping RV park rose to the top. RVers like Pioche, and since they do, they spend money eating in the town’s restaurants and pumping fuel up the hill at Tilly’s convenience store. “Tell the county commissioners we want to keep it and run it as it is.”
What can RVers do to keep free-camping parks open?
Just how the county commissioners will respond to Pioche’s recommendation remains to be seen. Should Pioche continue to own and operate the town park, like small-town parks around the country, it will be one more place for RVers to stay in a too-often-crowded RV park world.
What can RVers anywhere do to encourage small towns to keep the welcome mat out? Financial support is obvious. In Pioche, a contribution is certainly welcome, and really essential. Other things shouldn’t even need to be mentioned. Keep your site clean. Dump your trash in the dumper, if there is one, and if not, pack it out. Encourage the maintenance folks. In Pioche, we’ve had pleasant conversations with the folks who come out to maintain the irrigation system. Commending them for their work always brought bright smiles. And who among us doesn’t respond to that pat on the back?
We’re hopeful to hear good things from the county commission. And we’re looking forward to experiencing other small-town free-camping RV parks.