Editor’s Note: This column was written by Sue Bray who is well known in the RV community, primarily due to her work as executive director of the Good Sam Club. In 2009, she was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. When she retired in 2012, she started her own consulting business; visit www.suebray.com.
To dress or not to dress? Probably not a question RVers ask each other too often. And probably not something which crosses the minds of those in the campground business. But believe it or not, there are a growing number of RVers who choose not to dress when they are camping, preferring to recreate at campgrounds in the buff.
Approximately 30,000 of them belong to the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), an organization that has been around since 1931, advocating and protecting the rights and benefits of nudity in appropriate settings. And according to Erich Schuttauf, AANR’s executive director, a “vast majority” of those members own RVs and campers.
AANR also boasts 200 member clubs, which can be either landed or non-landed venues. Landed clubs tend to be campgrounds catering to nude guests, according to Schuttauf and Carolyn Hawkins, AANR’s director of membership club and member liaison, while non-landed clubs are temporary venues like cruises or other group tours.
Campground activities and facilities appear to be remarkably like what the group refers to as “textile campgrounds,” other than the fact that guests are not wearing clothes. “A number of textile parks have become naturist parks,” said Schuttauf. “They offer similar amenities such as pools, fishing spots and other recreation common to both types of parks. Some parks are clothing optional so people can break into it gradually, but it’s always naked at pools and hot tubs. It’s a natural way to relax for people of all ages. The environment is an atmosphere with no apologies — what a person would find at any RV park.”
Located 70 miles east of San Diego, DeAnza Springs Resort was built in the early 70s and originally attracted (clothed) country music fans on weekends who came to camp and listen to top performers. After damage from a typhoon followed by the 70s’ gas crisis, the park went bankrupt and was eventually purchased by Thousand Trails. It never reopened and in 1997 was purchased by Dave Landman, who had recently retired as vice president of a major mortgage banking firm.
Dave and his wife had been members of another California nudist resort but had never been in the campground business. “The park was a semi-retirement project, and something we wanted to do with the possibility of making some money,” he said. Today, he has 311 RV sites built on 125 acres, along with a motel, park models and cabins. The family-friendly resort offers two pools, a hot tub, gym, restaurant, bar, convention center and a dog park. Guests can play pickleball and tennis and hike numerous trails on the surrounding 522 acres. There’s even an annual “Bare Booty” 5K race.
On the other side of the country, BG Parkes and her partner Tom Gillenwater purchased a former Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) campground eight-and-a-half-years ago, renaming it Suwannee Valley RV Resort. They had previously owned a non-landed motorcycle nudist club, Bare Buns Bikers, traveling around the United States marketing tours which raised money for veterans, but had always wanted to settle down and open an RV resort.
Unlike Landman’s park, Suwanee Valley requires that their guests be 21 years of age or older and primarily cater to military, police, fire and EMS personnel. “Our guests want peace and quiet to relax and really don’t want to be around kids. It’s a very tranquil environment,” says BG.
Situated on 30 acres which includes 584 feet right on the Suwannee River, the park offers 102 RV sites, four cabins and twelve tent sites. There is a bar and restaurant, a nine-hole chip and putt golf course, and BG and Tom have installed a new pool and hot tub. There’s even a chapel and reception hall where clothing-optional weddings can take place.
Suwanee Valley is also in the entertainment business, offering two large music fests every year. “We try to offer a different event every weekend,” says BG. “People like to have something to do and something to look forward to. We want to give them a better bang for their buck.”
Shangri La Ranch, located in the Arizona desert north of Phoenix was built as a nudist resort back in 1959 and has operated as one ever since. Patty Faber, who now co-owns the 48-acre park with her four siblings explains how her parents purchased the property in 1997. “My parents were from Germany and had always been nudists. Dad had been a business owner all his life, and when he retired they hit the road in their RV. Mom had bronchitis, so they decided to head west and wanted to buy a park. Shangri La was a natural extension.”
Today, Patty manages the park along with her daughter Cindi. Her husband handles the maintenance. There are 160 units, including about 100 RV sites, plus park model RVs and mobile homes. Guests come from the greater Phoenix area, but in the winter, they attract snowbirds from all over the United States and Canada.
Like the other parks, they put a big emphasis on activities. “During the winter, we have something going on every night of the week,” said Cindi. “There’s line dancing, yoga, games, cards, karaoke, a DJ dance every Saturday, tennis, and more. Various groups go hiking and take ATV day trips or just soak in the Arizona sun. We try to offer a little bit of everything for everybody. From the very beginning, my grandparents wanted this to be a family-friendly resort.”
All three parks offer membership programs. DeAnza Springs requires that guests join their annual membership program, which includes AANR membership. Shangri La only requires that their full-time guests purchase a membership, although a membership option is available to everyone after three visits. Suwannee Valley asks that guests visit two to three times before purchasing a required annual membership. Says BG, “We do that so that people who come here are truly nudists and not gawkers.”
They may vary by park, but there are also rules and guests need to follow naturist etiquette. None of these parks allows photography. No inappropriate sexual contact is permitted. While clothing may be optional around the park, the pools and hot tubs are limited to nude bathing. Suwannee Valley even requires first-time guests to undergo a background check. “We’re basically looking for sexual offenses,” says BG. “We do that to keep our park and people safe.” In short, the parks’ management do all they can to keep their guests comfortable and at ease.
None of these parks spend much time or money on marketing, relying on word of mouth and the AANR connection. Weekend occupancy at Suwannee River runs at 90% and they’ve never advertised. “All the money we’ve made, we’ve put back into the park for improvements,” said BG. “And for the past four years, we’ve been the fastest-growing AANR club.” Dave Landman’s DeAnza Springs Resort relies heavily on social media and Shangri La also has an active Facebook presence. All three parks also enjoy a healthy share of full-time guests.
All three park owners agree that the demand for nude vacation experiences is growing. “Traffic is up,” says Dave.
“I’ve been raised here, and I only see it getting more popular, especially with families,” says Cindi. “Nude camping is a great way to overcome self-esteem issues and normalize body esteem issues. As a lifestyle, it’s so beneficial for your physical mental state.”
Says BG, “I think there’s a strong future. A lot of people enjoy it for relaxation. It’s good for body and soul, and people enjoy it because it’s nonjudgemental. When you’re naked, you’re not competing with the Jonses.”
AANR’s Erich Schuttauf cites a recent survey that consistently shows that 18% of the traveling public would appreciate some kind of clothing-optional experience while on vacation.
Schuttauf also sees more opportunities for textile campgrounds to get involved with nude camping, particularly if there are private areas that could be designated as clothing-optional for certain periods of time.
Parks interested in exploring these options can contact Carolyn Hawkins through mail at American Association for Nude Recreation, 1703 North Main Street, Kissimmee, Fla. 34744, by phone at (407) 933-2064 or email: [email protected]