Behind an electronic gate off a country road near Worley lies a community of individuals who share an uncommon state of mind, and an unusual state of undress.
The Sun Meadow nudist resort, now in its fourth year, this week hosts about 200 vacationers who like to recreate in the buff.
“I undressed before I hit the front office and I haven’t had a stitch of clothing on since,” said Shirley Gauthier. “I don’t like the confines of zippers, elastic and snaps.”
Sun Meadow members – they pay $300 a year for access to the grounds – say nudism is about health, comfort and body acceptance, not sex.
“Your body needs air and sunshine. To me it’s just like exercise. It’s a necessity like brushing your teeth,” said Terri Capshaw, whose family built a home on property next to the resort. Capshaw has raised two children in the nudist community.
“I’m more comfortable telling people I’m a nudist than saying I’m … a Democrat,” she said, whispering the last word.
The nudists are at Sun Meadow’s 75-acre resort for the 61st annual convention of the American Association of Nude Recreation’s Northwest regional chapter. The week’s activities include music, volleyball, bocce, yoga and even tamale-making – all in the nude.
Skinny-dipping in the two pools is a given. Towels and sunscreen are musts.
The resort welcomes families, does not serve alcohol and is classified as “clothes-free,” meaning guests are expected to take it all off. Other “clothing-optional” nudist resorts allow members to disrobe when they desire.
First-time visitors to Sun Meadow get an orientation, and the resort allows newcomers to adjust to nudism at their own pace. A long T-shirt is recommended for those expecting to be uncomfortable on their initial visit.
One of two nudist clubs in Idaho, the resort is the brainchild of Tom Janson, a Moscow-area developer who battled opposition to build the resort. The other is the Bare Backers Nudist Club near Boise.
There are four land-owning nudist clubs in Washington, including Kaniksu Ranch in Loon Lake. Washington also has several “travel clubs” which venture to spots such as Sun Meadow.
The majority of the Worley resort’s 150 nudist members are in their mid-50s, Janson said. The resort offers a 20 percent “non-senior” discount to those 35 and under. Most members are professionals with disposable income who lean to the right politically. But discussing politics is something they try to avoid.
This is the second time Sun Meadow has hosted the convention for the regional organization, which has 2,500 members in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana. The national group has 45,000 members.
This week, the resort’s main lodge, with 11 guest rooms, is booked. All 43 of the RV hookups are taken. Tents are scattered throughout the pines.
Resort members, in varying shades of tan, wander about the lodge’s central meeting room, kept at a constant 78 degrees. A couple is seen strolling along a hiking path, walking sticks in hand. A giggling toddler runs through the clubhouse, and children’s water toys litter the outdoor pool area. The atmosphere resembles that of a mellow family reunion.
“You leave your stress with your clothes at the gate,” said Alice Anderson, who lives at a nudist camp in Mount Vernon, Wash.
Anderson, like many female nudists, was introduced to the movement by a male friend. She said she was initially nervous during her first visit to a nude club, but she quickly became less self-conscious.
“I realized nobody was paying any attention to me,” she said.
Eventually, Anderson felt she could form stronger friendships with fellow female nudists than she could with clothed women because there was less competitiveness among those who were equally bare.
Many people who try the clothes-free way of life stay committed to nudism, Sun Meadow members say. But it’s not just nudism that’s habit-forming. Putting on unnecessary clothes is just as baffling to nudists as hanging out with a bunch of naked people is to the “textile” crowd.
“Wearing clothes is an addiction,” Janson said, wearing only white Adidas sneakers and athletic socks. “When I put on a tux, some people say, ‘Gee, you look good.’ I say, ‘How can you tell? I’m all covered up.’ “
Fellow members agree. Swimsuits come in for particularly harsh treatment as a half-dozen members sit around a patio table in the sun, discussing their inclinations.
“I feel more self-conscious in a swimsuit than I do nude,” Gauthier said to a chorus of fellow nudists’ complaints about wet suits. “It feels like an anchor.”
Skinny-dipping can be the first step for those new to nudism, which proponents say is an expanding phenomenon.
“It’s a huge growth industry,” said Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the national American Association of Nude Recreation. There are 268 nudists clubs across the nation, up from 212 in 1998. Resorts, nudist real estate and nude cruises are a $400 million industry, Schuttauf said.
“The Internet has helped people find out about it from the comfort of their own homes, after hours,” he said, adding that his group is reaching out to find new members, especially younger ones.
Anyone can be a nudist, Janson said. “You’re a nudist, actually. You just don’t know it yet,” Janson told a clothed reporter with a laugh. “You have all the qualifications to be a nudist.”
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