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CODY, Wyo. (AP) – Wal-Mart’s policy of allowing RV drivers to park overnight for free has drawn criticism from tourism and government officials.

“The RV parks in the area are required to collect lodging tax,” said Claudia Wade, Park County Travel Council marketing director. “The people who stay at Wal-Mart aren’t paying that.”

To park at two Cody campgrounds costs $24 or $27 a night, including hookups for water, sewer and electricity. One campground also offers cable television.

Tourism agencies benefit from a 4 percent lodging tax and city, county and state government receive funds from the 4 percent sales tax.

The cumulative effect “really adds up,” said Ted Blair, general manager of the Holiday Inn.

He said he counted 13 units parked at Wal-Mart on a recent evening, and 26 on another night.

“That’s getting to be one of the larger campgrounds in town,” he said.

Health and safety issues are also a concern, City Administrator Laurie Kadrich said.

“The parking lot was not intended to be used as a campground,” she said. “We’ve asked Wal-Mart for voluntary compliance, but they tell us that unless there is a city ordinance not allowing (RVs), that’s what they’ll do.”

Cody Wal-Mart manager Aaron Bishop said he has not noticed very many campers as a result of the practice, known as “boondocking.”

“I know that allowing RV’s to park here helps our business,” he said.

Not every RV owner stays the night. Some just stop for lunch, Bishop said.

“People need to realize it’s a nationwide thing, almost a tradition for RVs to stop here and it’s not just a Cody issue,” he said.

Trailer-trailer rigs are also allowed to park.

“I’ve worked at nine Wal-Marts,” he said. “And the last store I worked for was right on the interstate so we had more semis than we had RVs.”

For travelers, it’s more than just a great way to save money.

“We stay here because it’s convenient,” RV tourist Reynolds Stanley, 58, of Windsor, Calif., said. “Wal-Mart offers everything we could possibly want.”

“We know we’re not welcome to park at every Wal-Mart and we know it depends on the town,” he said.

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