Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Naked History: The Basics of Nudity on Cape Cod

THE OTHER day the members of our Bare Platypus team were talking about the battles that have been fought with various government agencies over nudism in North America.  We turned to the critical need to preserve lessons and strategies learned because the membership and volunteers among nudist organizations experience regular turnover.  We must transfer “institutional knowledge” or risk losing whatever experience nudists have acquired in waging our battles.

Location.  With that in mind, let’s turn to a discussion of the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts.  The Cape Cod National Seashore spans a number of towns along the Cape.  If you haven’t spent much time in Massachusetts, we’re talking about that arm that hooks out into the ocean, almost as if the state were flexing a muscle.  Follow the “arm” to the very end and you’re in the Provincetown – Truro area, home to much of CCNS. 

Legal Changes.  Skinny dipping and nude sunbathing enjoyed a long tradition on many of the beaches now managed as the CCNS. Problem was, in the early 1970’s the fame of the nude beaches spread and it was not all a good thing.  Many visitors sojourned down to the CCNS in hopes of gawking at nudists much the way you’d view animals at the zoo.  There were even tour bus companies operating from as far away as Boston who organized “see the nudists” tours.  These gawkers brought their own set of problems with the law, as well as trampling through environmentally sensitive dunes.  By the mid 1970’s, seashore officials had had enough.

They secured passage of a federal regulation prohibiting nudity on the CCNS.  The regulatory process included notices in the Federal Register, an official comment period, etc.  Once completed that regulation---targeted only at CCNS---went into effect and remains in place to this day.  The regulation is one of only a handful of such federal nudity bans specifically targeted to parts of the National Park System. (There is one prohibition at Honokohau park in HI).

Volunteer Spirit.  For decades, local nudists, including Bill Falconer’s Sunchasers Travel Club  and the Pilgrim Naturists of New England, have been working to have the regulation rescinded.  They organize an annual CCNS Cleanup, which cleans miles of the beach every year and holds an impressive 15+ year track record. Such service projects have helped cultivate a positive working relationship between nudists and seashore staff to the point that some staffers would rather find other things to do than cite nudists if they don’t receive any complaints.  Yet the law remains.

Every seven years or so, National Parks on federal seashores take a status check and revise their Seashore Management Plans.  On these occasions, nudists have followed the process and put formal requests into the record (usually accompanied by hundreds of petitions in support).  Nudists have also traveled to congressional offices in Washington DC with a Massachusetts constituency to present officials with pictures of each year’s CCNS Cleanup volunteers and reports of the actual mileage cleaned and pounds of trash collected.   With each year more friends get made and more people educated.  Yet the regulation persists.
Lessons.  Many reading the Bare Platypus were not even born when the federal government banned nudity on the Cape and there are few left championing FOR the ban, but it remains.  Today’s lessons: (1) Thank those who are trying to change things; and (2) REMEMBER that it takes only a short time to lose a nude beach venue, but decades to get it back.