The town of Canmore has published a plan to better understand the local van life movement, or as Canmore refers to it: the vehicular-housed community. Over the past two years, hundreds of seasonal and full-time vehicular-housed campers have settled in a section of gravel roadway near the Elevation Place climbing gym and grocery store.

Other popular climbing areas, such as Squamish, struggle to deal with the rise in popularity of climbing and the growth of the vehicular-housed community in their municipalities.

The American Access Fund recently published a piece called The Rise of Climbing and the Hidden Cost of Fame, in which it said, “Climbing has gone mainstream, with Red Bull sponsorships, President Obama tweeting about the Dawn Wall, Alex Honnold at the Oscars, and the upcoming Olympics. If you were climbing 20 years ago, you probably saw the same couple of cars in the pullout every weekend, and could count on one hand the number of people you saw at the crag. But today, those five or six cars have ballooned into literally hundreds on a busy weekend. And it’s the same story at climbing areas across the country.” Read the full story here.

Canada has no national access group, which leaves regional and provincial groups to try to find solutions to busy parking lots and crags. In the Bow Valley, the town of Canmore has taken control of the situation and is hoping to better understand the issues.

The Town of Canmore developed a strategy to deal with overnight camping on municipal lots. “In the summer of 2018, the Town of Canmore noticed that the number of individuals who live or camp in their vehicles increased significantly,” the Town stated here. “Most apparent were the overnight parked vehicles behind Save-On-Foods and beside Elevation Place. The people who reside on this land do so for many and sometimes complex reasons.

“Although affordability challenges were a recurring theme, the Town needs more information before we can truly understand the needs of the people who reside there. A municipal working group formed to develop potential municipal options and examine key considerations.”

To see the town’s summer plan to deal with the busy parking area, visit here. It includes installing a porta-potty, hiring a seasonal social support worker, collecting information on demographics of vehicular-housed community, monitoring other municipal lots across the municipality to connect with campers and to regularly connect with other resort-based municipalities to relay information.

Van lifers in Canmore

Most climbers believe there should be a spot to park and live in their vehicles in most climbing towns and many support paying a small weekly or monthly fee. However, long-term homeowners in climbing towns don’t all want to support the booming vehicular-housed communities in their municipalities.

In Squamish, top climber Thomasina Pidgeon wrote an open letter about the issues where she lives. “My lifestyle of van dwelling encourages a strong connection to place,” she wrote. “It exposes me to different experiences unlike that of staying in a hotel or campground.

“Yet when my daughter and I are peacefully sleeping and abruptly woken and told to relocate, I feel most unwelcome in the town I call home. My lifestyle is an ecologically responsible lifestyle choice. To be unjustly criminalized because of irresponsible wild-campers or residents uncomfortable with alternative lifestyles is wrong.” Read the full letter here.

Time will tell how climbing towns deal with the influx of visitors and seasonal workers who choose to live in their vehicles, because the issue will not be going away anytime soon.

Lisa Brown, manager of community social development, talks about why the town allows a community of people to sleep in their vans in 2018. Listen below.

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