Squamish's newest campground a winter home for 20 van-dwellers

Man behind Mamquam River Campground says the van-life trend is here to stay and his site is part of the solution

Home is where you make it.

For about 20 locals, home for the winter is currently the Mamquam River Campground. The non-profit with rustic sites set up on seven acres along the Mamquam River has welcomed those who may otherwise be sleeping in their vans and RVs on Squamish's side streets and parking lots.

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While it is bare-bones, the campground does have outhouses, fire pits and wood, garbage service and slacklines, of course. Only the drive-in sites, about one-third of the campground — are available for the winter season, because the walk-in sites are too vulnerable to the elements being along the river and near tall trees.

"This is real affordable housing going on here and I assume five years down the road we will be booked," said the executive director of the Mamquam River Access Society, John Harvey, while waving his arms at the campers, vans, and tents behind him.

The campground officially opened on Canada Day.

Harvey said the low price per night for long-term winter stays at the campground — $10 per night for one vehicle until April 15th — is deliberate. The idea for the campground is that it is affordable for almost everyone. For campers who stay more than two weeks over the winter, it is $5 a night.

"[Squamish] for a young person, is unaffordable. This is a niche of society that is only going to grow. These young people can't afford anything [else]."

Some who come to stay are workers who can't afford the local rent, including a couple who were raised in Squamish, others are travellers just passing through, according to Harvey.

In the next 20 years, van-life living will be an even bigger trend, Harvey predicted, as people flee the high mortgages and rents of cities and larger towns.

A sense of community has developed among the current campers, Harvey said.

Residents hang around together at night around fires and exchange neighbourly banter.

But Harvey acknowledged he has had the odd skirmish with people who come to stay. While he wants the campground to be accessible, he has to protect the peace of the site, he said.

"I fear the wrong clientele," he said.  "We have a homeless problem as well as mental health issues in Squamish. The campground will try to keep these folks out, as sad as that might be."

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As funds allow, Harvey has plans for additions to the site and more staff.

"We've really just started. I've got so much to do. We've got to set up two picnic shelters — which are each $20,000 — two dishwashing facilities — each $15,000, and signage," he said.

Harvey stressed that many in the community have been hugely supportive of the project over the five years since the idea was born.

Most recently, the developers behind the Waterfront Landing housing project quietly offered to gift the Mamquam campground an in-ground plastic tank to hold water that the company is using only until May. It is a donation that will mean a huge savings for the non-profit, Harvey said.

To donate to the campground, go to mamquamrivercampground.ca.

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Source: Jennifer Thuncher

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