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Travel: The skinny on vacationing au naturel

Sunday, July 09, 2000

Today is the start of the 25th annual National Nude Recreation Week, but enjoying the outdoors without clothing has been a popular activity since nudity was normal attire for Homo sapiens.


Discreet nudism is quietly condoned in many countries, with firmly established naturist organizations in most well-inhabited corners of the planet, and a few that aren't. There are dozens of naturist beaches in Europe, particularly Germany and Scandinavia. In Denmark, for example, nudism is legal on all but two of the countries and 4,500 kilometers of coastline.

From Puritan times, however, America's attitude toward nudism has been, well, on again and off again. Over the decades, dozens of naturist movements have enjoyed their time in the sun, and skinny-dipping down by the old mill stream has long been regarded as a youthful rite of passage.

Unfortunately, old mill streams aren't quite as common as they once were, and being nude still tends to be illegal or officially frowned upon in public places.

Although the Woodstock years may have been a Golden Age for nudism, the mainstream of modern naturism is certainly not a swinging singles scene. In fact, millions of families and individuals of all ages, shapes, size, and walks of life have learned to appreciate the joys of recreation free of both garments and shame. Some zealous naturists claim that people can truly relax only when they lose their clothes-compulsive anxieties. Other nudists just enjoy playing in the sunshine with no clothes.

At any rate, one visit to a nude or clothing optional beach generally reveals that they are less sexually charged than those where people conceal themselves in string bikinis and floss thongs.

Although there is no national law prohibiting nudism, naturists still often fall afoul of a wide variety of local restrictions, and get caught up by campaigns against pornography and public lewdness, such as those that seek to prohibit nude dancing and topless bars, as evidenced by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last March in the case of Erie vs. Pap's AM.

While local communities often enact specific ordinances regarding issues dealing with nudity, the writing of laws regarding public decency are generally determined by individual states.

Pennsylvania law Title 18 Section 3127 states that "a person commits indecent exposure if that person exposes his or her genitals in any public place or in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm."

Indecent exposure is generally prosecuted as a misdemeanor, the degree of which depends largely on the age of other individuals present. Nudism, however, generally is tolerated when practiced in private places away from non-prying public eyes.

Federal law, on the other hand, is largely neutral on the issue of nude recreation. According to the National Parks Service, nudism is a legitimate activity in appropriate locations on federal lands, unless thrust upon unwilling citizens, in which case it can be punishable as disorderly conduct. Often, however, the local enforcement of these guidelines is somewhat subjective, depending on the community mores and the sentiments of park supervisors.

Nudism conducted with discretion and sensitivity to the varying values of others is a philosophical tenet of the Naturist Society. Among its other organizational and promotional activities, the society lobbies for the elimination of legislation that criminalizes social nudism, setting aside certain public areas for nudists, and the right to print text and photographs that decently and naturally represent nudism as it is actually being lived and practiced.

There's certainly no shortage of nude recreational opportunities these days.

The "World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation," published by the Naturist Society, lists hundreds of discrete, clothing-optional camps, clubs, beaches, B&Bs and resorts, both across the United States and around the world. Many of them are planning special events and outreach activities this week, from a "Nudestock" to Red Cross Blood Drives and a Habitat for Humanity fund-raiser.

Another resource, the 20th edition of the "North American Guide to Nude Recreation," is published by the American Association for Nude Recreation, the country's other major umbrella organization for nudists. The AANR has 225 affiliated clubs and 50,000 members in the United States and Canada. There are nude and clothing-optional cruises, canoe trips, tours, hikes and 10K races run in the buff.

The "World Handbook of Naturism," published by the International Naturist Federation, lists more than 850 clubs and resorts.

Several travel agencies and tour operators specialize in planning trips for people who like to travel very light.

For readers interested in experiencing the lifestyle without taking a long trip, there are several landed nudist clubs in southwestern Pennsylvania.

White Thorn Lodge, a 105-acre family campground near Darlington, in northwest Beaver County, is open year-round for members and from mid-May through mid-September for invited guests. A private club owned and operated by its 350 members, White Thorn is also the site of the Nude Volleyball Superbowl, which attracts some 2,000 participants each year on the weekend after Labor Day. In fact, the club has become so popular in recent years, they don't have much room for new members.

Pen-Mar Club, a cooperative campground discreetly tucked in the hills of south-central Pennsylvania near Hancock, Md., is even older. In operation since the 1950s, it has about 60 memberships representing about 100 people, who enjoy its 60 acres of woodlands, hiking trails, pond and pool. To observe this year's National Nude Recreation Week, Pen-Mar's will hold an open house Saturday for anyone interested in finding out more about nude recreation. There will be a taco and burrito potluck supper. Call 717-294-3262 or for directions and details.

Interested visitors should take plenty of sun screen.

For more information:

American Association of Nude Recreation: 800-TRY NUDE or

Naturist Society: 920-426-9009 or

Another good resource is

Numerous trips, resorts, and travel agencies that specialize in nude recreation are advertised in N (Nude and Natural) magazine, published by the Naturist Society. They include Skinny Dip Tours: 800-828-9356 and Bare Necessities Tours: 800-743-0405 or

Host of "The Traveler's Journal," David Bear can be heard each weekday at 8:59 a.m. and 5:59 p.m. on WDUQ-FM (90.5)or on the Web at Readers can send e-mail to

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