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070818-OUTTAKES-006

A visitor to LeClaire, Iowa dips her feet in the Mississippi River to cool off at the Levee in 2018. The city has banned overnight stays at the levee, after an RV website listed it as a place to camp for free.

You can drive your Chevy to the levee in LeClaire, but you'd better not park your RV there overnight.

Camping of any nature — in a tent or shelter, a sleeping bag or other bedding, a motor vehicle, motor home or trailer  — is now prohibited.

Earlier this summer, the city saw an inordinate number of recreational vehicles staying overnight on its levee. City staff discovered LeClaire had been listed as a destination for RVers by Harvest Hosts, a website dedicated to RVers.

"We started having more and more coming in," LeClaire Police Chief Shane Themas said.

He said the website promotes free sites across the United States that welcome overnight RV camping. 

Themas said visitors did not damage property or cause problems although some hooked up to the city's power overnight. "But some would come in on Thursday and if we were having an event on the levee on Saturday, which we often do, we had to get them to leave."

Without an ordinance prohibiting overnight camping, it was not illegal. That prompted a new no-camping ordinance as part of the city's levee regulations. The LeClaire City Council voted 4-0 at its meeting Monday night to adopt the new rule. Council member Jason Wentland was absent.

City Administrator Ed Choate said the issue of camping vs. non-camping "has been on and off for decades." "At times it was allowed, other times we didn't allow it," he said, adding that of late the city had been "turning a blind eye" until the increased visitors arrived.

Bob Schiffke, executive director of the Buffalo Bill Museum, also located on the levee, said campers visited the museum and patronized businesses. "I just don't see what the problem is," he said at the meeting. 

Mayor Ray Allen said the city received "a lot of complaints and complaints from business owners too" over the increased RV parking. "No one should have given authority for them to camp on the levee without the city being involved." 

Themas estimated three or four RVs parked there daily this summer, and five or six on the weekends. 

"We had RVs parking up and down the levee," Council Member Barry Long said. 

LeClaire since has been removed from the site's interactive map of RV-friendly spots.

"It clearly isn't a camping area," said Cindy Bruhn, LeClaire's tourism manager, who did not attend the meeting. "We have great campgrounds nearby so I always send (visitors) to those." 

Most levee events post a sign a week in advance warning visitors the levee will be closed for the activity, she said.

"I don't think (the new ordinance) will discourage people from visiting LeClaire," Bruhn said.

Choate said new signage will be installed as early as next week. Camping on the levee now will result in a city ordinance violation. 

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