Monday, December 04, 2006

Never Say Never Naked

Sea, sand, skin
Published December 3, 2006

TIERRA VERDE - For 10 years, the county has said no.

But nudists say they're not giving up the fight to make part of Fort De Soto Park clothing optional.

In their latest plan, naturists say they will try to rally tourism leaders around the idea. They argue that clothing-optional beaches could bring in $1-million a year for local businesses because they would attract beachgoers from around the world looking to bare it all.

If the tourism panel gets on board, the naturists figure it will be an easier sell to the County Commission, showing that they have the support of the public.

But commission Chairman Kenneth T. Welch, who also leads the county's Tourist Development Council, said the chances of nudists' getting their beach any time soon is slim.

"Everything isn't a pure economical decision," he said. "Some things are more important than that. Folks want to bring their family to the beach without worrying about running into folks that don't have their clothes on."

The struggle to make a section of North Beach at Fort De Soto clothing optional has been going on since 1996, when members of the Tampa Area Naturists, or TAN, began calling the parks department. County officials vetoed the idea in 1999 and 2001.

"Even if people won't admit it, they cannot imagine how you can be naked without being sexual," TAN secretary Ken Kushman said, referring to the repeated defeats. "And that, of course, is not true."

For Kushman, being bare skinned at the beach with the wind caressing his body is like riding a motorcycle.

"That feeling of communing with nature, it is pretty sensational, and when you have strings and straps digging into you, it spoils that feeling," he said.

A county ordinance on public nudity says women can't take off their tops, genitalia must be covered and thongs are discouraged, said Carl Brody, an assistant attorney for the county.

"Once they start riding up, you are back in violation of the ordinance," he pointed out. "So you might want to wear something bigger just to be safe."

In some places, the freedom to go au naturel is a significant draw for tourists.

In Pasco County, six clothing-optional resorts pull in more money than nearly any other attraction in the area, said Diane Jones, spokeswoman for the Pasco County Tourism Development Office.

But convincing Pinellas' tourism leaders that there is money to be made in naturist beaches might be a tough sell.

Tony Satterfield, chairman of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks setting aside part of the beach for a minority group could be a "dangerous precedent."

Naturists said if there were enough beach space in Pasco to give a slice to clothing-optional bathers, they would leave Fort De Soto alone. But there isn't, so the saga continues.

Richard Mason, president of the Florida Naturist Association, which helped to make Miami-Dade County's Haulover Beach clothing optional in 1991, said he will start sending hotel owners and tourism officials information packets next month. They will include a picture of an empty beach in Fort De Soto and a picture of bustling Haulover Beach, one of the state's few clothing-optional beaches.

"We are not going away," he said. "This is just the beginning."


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