An online petition has been made on President Barack Obama’s official “We the People” website asking for the designation of portions of wilderness public lands under management of the National Parks Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service for clothing optional recreational use. Together those three federal agencies, based on figures gleaned from their respective official websites, manage more than 536 million acres of back country, seashore and forest lands.
The petition must reach the 100,000 signature threshold within 30 days of being posted, the requisite number required to receive an official response from the White House.
In an officially designated clothing optional recreation area, people are at liberty to go nude while pursuing ordinary outdoor recreational activities without fear of criminal prosecution or official harassment. Nude swimming, sunbathing, camping, kayaking and hiking are common examples of the activities that many find more enjoyable to do while nude.
A scientific poll conducted in California in 2009 by the Naturist Education Federation in conjunction with the prestigious Zogby International polling firm revealed that 70-percent of Californians agreed that areas should be set aside on public lands for people who enjoy clothing-optional recreation.
Despite strong support for clothing optional recreation, government agencies managing America’s wilderness areas have been slow to respond to the growing demand for clothing optional access. In fact, most notably the U.S. Forest Service and National Parks Service have in recent years been actively scaling back naturist access to forest and park lands that had been traditionally recognized for decades as clothing optional areas.
As one example, according to Bob Morton, executive director of the Naturist Action Committee, Spence Hot Springs, located in the Santa Fe National Forest outside Jemez Springs, New Mexico, was once as recently as 1994 designated as a clothing optional area. An official “Bathing Schedule” sign erected there in 1975 “declared that bathing suits were not required on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday” but were required on the other days of the week. Morton noted that “first federal signage for nudity in the United States” has since been replaced with a “Nudity Prohibited” sign.
Another example is the recent ban on nudity at Fire Island National Seashore under management of the National Parks Service. On February 5, 2013, Chief Ranger Lena Koschmann published a “To Whom it May Concern” letter announcing that effective immediately, New York state nudity laws would be enforced on all federally-owned Fire Island National Seashore property. While acknowledging that many responsible and respectful visitors had come to Fire Island for years to sunbathe in the nude, Koschmann stated that “NPS policies favor consistent enforcement of state laws on federal lands, and disfavor the designation of clothing optional areas.”
Paradoxically, clothing optional access is still permitted at Gunnison Beach, part of the Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey, also under management of the National Parks Service. Such inconsistent rules regarding appropriate conduct in recreational areas managed by federal agencies, which appear to be published by fiat at the whim of local land managers hampers the ability of users to enjoy safe recreational experiences and creates potential conflicts among users.
Supporters of the petition for more clothing optional access on federal lands hope to hit the 100,000 signature mark within 30 days so that the petition will be reviewed by policy officials and an official response received, understanding that simply getting a response is no promise of action on the part of the administration.
While chiefly advocating the naturist perspective, petitioners recognize that clothing optional recreation isn’t for everyone but point out many people do enjoy nude recreation and that there is broad public support for more clothing optional access to federal public lands. They maintain that officially designated and properly signed clothing optional recreational areas would not only provide fair and equitable access to naturists but would minimize the potential for controversy, conflict among users and provide for safe recreation experiences for users with divergent interests. Supporters have put up a website, Clothing Optional Access, which explains their position and the background behind the petition initiative.
Primarily driven by the persistent message that nudity equals sex, hawked by pornographers and the media, many Americans feel ambivalent about all public nudity and tend to accept that nudity is always associated with sex and sexuality. As a result many may oppose the idea of more access to public lands for clothing optional access.
Still, with more than 536 million acres of back country, seashore and forest lands under control of federal government agencies, arguably more equal and equitable access to federal-owned lands for those who enjoy clothing optional recreation could easily be accommodated without impinging on the recreational interests of those it doesn’t appeal too. After all, the federal government already accommodates special recreational interests like skiing, snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicle driving, surfing and hunting.