Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mountainers Naturists: Wild Wonderful West Virginia

The Naked Truth
Posted 9/22/2005 06:00 AM

Tucked away in Hampshire County, a clothing-optional resort caters to needs of stressed-out city dwellers.
Story by Christine Miller Ford

PAW PAW -- Despite a lineup of activities ranging from fishing, swimming and nature hikes to tennis, yoga and dancing, it's easy to pack light for a trip to Avalon Resort.

You'll need shoes, but forget about bringing your swimsuit, eveningwear or sports clothes. Avalon is a clothing-optional resort, the only such vacation spot in all of West Virginia.

"There's a wonderful sense of freedom that comes back to you as you spend time nude,'' explained Phyllis Gaffney, the North Carolina native who founded Avalon 10 years ago along with her husband, Patrick. "It's really just very natural, very relaxing, very freeing."

The Gaffneys have been hooked on the lifestyle since they first went skinny dipping at an abandoned quarry in Northern Virginia as grad students in 1975.

Two decades later, they came across the property near Paw Paw, which was on the market after having served as a church conference center.

Today the site includes a full-service restaurant called La Belle Pomme, two bars, two heated pools, a gaming room with video lottery machines (a spot known not as a casino, but the "nude-sino"), a sauna, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, an exercise trail, a stocked pond for fishing, three hot tubs and more.

Overnight guests can choose from hotel-style rooms, one- or two-bedroom condos with kitchens or camping sites for tent or RV. For Avalon visitors who plan to spend a week or longer, Gaffney's staff stands ready to offer assistance in planning off-site trips to nearby attractions including the historic Paw Paw Tunnel, the outlet mall in Hagerstown, Md., nearby Civil War sites such as Antietam and Gettysburg, antiques shops, white water rafting, wineries, golf and other pursuits.

Though Avalon is described as a "clothing optional" resort, nudity is the absolute rule in Avalon's pools, sauna, hot tubs and the nude-sino.

"People are expected to be nude whenever weather and health permit,'' reads the mailer sent to prospective Avalon visitors. "No one is forced into being nude; you may get undressed at your own pace. If one member of your family does not wish to get undressed, they will not be required to disrobe except for using the pools, sauna, hot tubs or gaming room.''

Avalon's location at the edge of the Eastern Panhandle allows it to attract visitors from all over the Northeast, particularly from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. A small advertisement for Avalon recently appeared in The Washington Post's Sunday travel section.

From inside the Beltway, it takes about two hours to get to remote, bucolic Paw Paw.

"It's close enough to get to easily, but also far away enough to feel as if you're truly getting away,'' Gaffney said.

Nude recreation is an ideal antidote to fast-paced city life, Gaffney said.

"Everybody today is dealing with so much stress," she said. "It seems like the closer you are to D.C., the more stressed out you are. People tell us they can feel their stress level decreasing as they drive out."

Autumn in Paw Paw, when the surrounding mountain ridges are full of vibrant color, is something to see, Gaffney said.

"Early fall and Indian summer offer a beautiful time to experience nature in the nude," she said.

Some of the special events slated for the coming weeks: an Autumnal Equinox Celebration and Dance (Sept. 24), Hunter's Moon Dance with the band Living Out Loud (Oct. 15) and the popular All Hallow's Eve Party (Oct. 29).

As the weather cools, Gaffney said, the aquatic center will put up its space-age roof and sliding glass walls to become an indoor facility. Massage workshops also help guests ease into the cold-weather months, she said.

Any time of year, Gaffney said, nude recreation delivers an opportunity to "just be your true self" and to turn off the messages sent by the culture's perfectionist image makers.

"We face these impossible standards of appearance," she said. "Most people can't begin to imagine how good it feels to just accept your natural body.

"It's a too-well-kept secret how relaxing and safe a clothes-free getaway can feel. Once you try it, you find yourself wondering, 'Wow. What took me so long?'"



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