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Naked volleyball and painting classes typify life at Michigan nudist camp

John Carlisle, Detroit Free Press

The elderly newcomer wanted to make friends, so he took off his pants and waved hello.

Gloria Wright was going about her morning, talking with her neighbors outside their trailers, when this gray-haired visitor drove inside the nudist camp, stepped out of his truck and stood in the hot sunshine before them wearing nothing but a red T-shirt and flip-flops, the Detroit Free Press reported. And everyone just yawned.

This is what sometimes passes for an icebreaker at the Cherry Lane Nudist Resort in North Adams, a village of 477 people on the southern border of central Michigan. The remote nudist camp is surrounded by farms, affording seclusion that allows adults to wander naked and free, like overgrown babes in the woods. The resort is like a typical RV campground where people can swim, barbecue and hang out. Only difference is, everyone’s naked most of the time.

“It’s just a wonderful place,” said Wright, 63, a retired education consultant from Lima, Ohio. She first came here in 2002 with a now ex-husband who wanted freedom from a life of Pentecostal shackles. He left, she stayed, and she now lives at the resort half the year in a trailer with an expansive deck that overlooks a shaded valley in the woods.

“We just have all groups of people, all the way from truck drivers to lawyers — a lot of nurses and teachers, and everybody finds their own little niche and has a really nice time,” said Wright, who was wearing a light summer dress. Nudity isn’t required anywhere here except the swimming pool. But like the bold, geriatric visitor who dropped his pants as soon as he arrived, people who are drawn here don’t usually need encouragement to get naked in front of others.

“It’s a sense of freedom that you normally don’t get. I mean, if you were meant to be naked you’d have been born that way,” said the Rev. Dennis Bevis, Cherry Lane’s 66-year-old longtime owner and dispenser of wry slogans. “And so it’s going back to nature, basically.”

On top of his managerial duties, Bevis also is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church. “As a holy man I cannot only provide you with a place to sin, but also absolve you of said sins at the end of the weekend if you so desire,” he reassures people on the nudist camp website.

Many members of the nudist camp say being naked in public is just innocent fun, a way to move past self-consciousness while also enjoying the sensation of the warm sunshine and the cool breeze on their bare skin.

“It’s free and open here,” said 83-year-old Floyd Hoover, who’s been a member of the resort for a quarter-century. “You run around without any clothes on. You’ve got a beautiful pool, you can lay out and be yourself like nature intended. Kind of like a Garden of Eden thing.”

Well, except for all the swingers.

Cherry Lane started back in the freewheeling late ’60s, when nudist resorts were springing up all over the country.

Bevis’ parents, who’d tried nudism and liked it, grew tired of the resort they’d been attending in mid-Michigan. Too uptight, they thought. So the family converted a small farm they owned in the little village of North Adams into their own public nudist camp.

Back then the resort was barely more than a few tents and trailers. Fifty years later, it’s become an 80-acre community with high-end campers, a clubhouse, a performance stage, a swimming pool, utilities, amenities and security. It’s one of seven nudist resorts left operating in Michigan, set in conservative Hillsdale County, of all places. Membership costs up to $1,800 a year.

The crowd here skews distinctly older. “We’re starting to get a younger group now, but there’s a lot of people between 50 and 75 that’s from that Baby Boomer commune generation,” Wright said. “But we’re starting to get a younger, maybe 40 to 50-ish group in here. And you have the occasional 25-year-old girl who comes in with some old, rich man who wants to show her off.”

There’s lots to do here, from naked volleyball tournaments to nude painting classes to Saturday night dances in a clubhouse — usually with a theme, like ’70s night. There are a dozen or so minibars that residents set up in front of their campers, and on weekend summer nights there often are bar crawls from one camper to another for bouts of naked drinking.

They’ve also got pudding wrestling. Blind golf-cart races. And the annual “Shave-a-Thon,” when people take razors to each other’s most tender parts in broad daylight by the pool, memorialized in a graphic photo display in the clubhouse.

There are rules galore here: Visitors have to be buzzed in at the gate and must register with the office. No children are allowed at any time. Cameras are prohibited. Drugs are forbidden. “And ‘no’ always means no,” Wright said.

Most people here on a given day are dues-paying members who leave their campers here year-round. Though, since nudism requires good weather, the resort is closed to all but the die-hards from October to April every year.

But it’s open in the summer to visitors, who can hang out during the daytime and sample the nudist camp way of life. It’s a way to attract new members. It’s also a way to draw creeps. Residents call them “pay per views” who often come to leer. Some try to sneak in past the front gate. Everyone watches out for them. They’ve earned the scrutiny over the years.

“You wouldn’t believe the people that come in here,” Wright said. “They automatically believe that everybody’s naked all the time, everybody’s screwing everybody all the time. I mean, those are the kind of questions you get all the time.”

Wright remembers sitting outside having coffee and donuts one morning with her 83-year-old neighbor when a lone, male visitor walked over and asked them to expose themselves. “And he’s like, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,”” Wright said. And he did just that. The women were uncharmed by the move.

“People that are vanilla about this automatically think just because you’re a nudist that you must go along with everything else,” said Lisa Klingler, 52, of Windsor. She and her husband Joe, 65, have a camper parked here permanently, and spend an entire month here every summer. To them, nudism is a social activity. They like to throw naked dinner parties for their neighbors.

For them, public nudity is simply liberating. Especially, she said, for women.

“Because we sit there every day of our lives, we have to put our masks on, we gotta put our makeup on, we gotta put our uniform on or our scrubs on,” she said, seated topless on a stool at their camper bar, known as Lisa and Joe’s Bar and Grill. Her naked husband was nearby, building an outdoor covered kitchen next to their camper as she spoke. It was her birthday present.

“There’s no fashion show here,” she said. “We come in all shapes and sizes. My favorite line is, ‘If it don’t droop, sag, drag or jiggle it’s not all real.’ And you become real. You just become real with it.”

And yet, when you get a bunch of naked people together, things are going to happen.

“I don’t care what nudist camp you go to, be it traditional or whatever, there are swingers there,” Bevis said.

It’s not obvious, though. There’s no public sex allowed here. Arrangements are made quietly, privately.

“Sometimes two people will disappear from the dance for 30 minutes and they show back up,” Wright said. “Every couple has their own rules.”

Since most people here are longtime residents, there aren’t many anonymous encounters to be had. But that just adds to the charm of the resort, some members say.

“It is kind of different than a swing club here. It’s more personal and you build more of a friendship, as opposed to just going to a swing club and hooking up and you go home,” said Carina Travis, 46. She came originally to swing with her now ex-husband. “You get to know people and make friendships. I would do anything for them and they’d do anything for me, which is really cool.”

The closest thing to a public swinging spot here is a place called Fantasy Land, which people swear with a wink doesn’t actually exist. It’s a large, screened tent hidden in the woods and stocked with tables and benches.

“Pretty much anything goes out there,” said Bevis, noting that he never visits that part of the resort. “I don’t really get too much into the details. If people are swingers or nudists I really don’t care.”

And even if they’re neither, some people come here for a visit anyway — not to participate in anything, but just to immerse themselves in the sexually charged atmosphere for thrills.

“We get this whole range of people, and even people who aren’t swingers who come out here and who aren’t even nudists,” Bevis said. “There’s a certain amount of excitement about the possibilities, you know, the potential and all that thing. So it adds a little spice to their life, even if they don’t participate, per se.”

Night had fallen, and the little strands of lights on the campers and trailers were twinkling in the dusk. The resort was quickly coming to life again, as residents got off work and came back to their alternate world.

Three dozen shot glasses filled with candy-flavored liquors were lined up on table at Connie and Daryl’s bar, located in front of their camper. Karaoke was set up under an adjacent canopy, where tipsy guests could launch a massacre on their favorite classic rock songs. It was Friday night, and it was time to party.

“Would you like to see my Twinkie?” a 43-year-old woman named Lexi asked a newcomer during a break between songs. This could meant anything at a nudist camp.

But she was referring to her ancient camper, a tiny 1976 Airstream Argosy, nicknamed by the resort’s regulars for its shape and color. She first brought it here 13 years ago, when she came as part of a swinging couple with a now ex-boyfriend. She stays in it on weekends with her current boyfriend.

She calls herself Lexi when she’s here because like many members, she’s got a job and a life outside this remote nudist camp, and as much as times have changed and social mores have relaxed since the resort was founded half a century ago, being branded a nudist — or worse, a swinger — can still wreak havoc on a life.

“There’s families that will disown. You’d be amazed,” Travis said. “I always find it amazing how judgmental people are in this world.”

Because of that fear, discretion is paramount here. “We protect people’s privacy out here to the nth degree,” Bevis said. “We don’t want to bust anybody. A lot of these people, we don’t even send mail to a lot of them, like their bill and stuff, ‘cause their kids open their mail.”

Among all the lawyers and nurses and teachers here, members say there’s also a small-town judge and at least one politician from a neighboring state. Pretty much everyone who’s not yet retired has something to lose. And that shared need for secrecy has created a unusual, tight-knit community based on trust.

“These people party together, they cry together, they laugh together, they have a good time together, and they form these lifelong bonds,” Bevis said. “It’s almost like a family thing at some point, you know?”

Indeed, he’d just returned from a six-hour round trip to Flint to see a longtime member of the nudist camp who was on her deathbed. She had cancer, was in hospice, and had no family other than her adoptive one here, led by the Rev. Bevis, godfather of the nudists.

“It’s my second family, and it’s fun,” Travis said. “I get to be somebody that I’m not in the real world. You always have to be something proper and everything else there, and here you just come out and get to relax, be a kid in a sense, an adult kid, and do things you don’t get to do at home. Like being naked.”

The party grew larger and the clothes started coming off and the shots were downed and the songs were shouted. At the end of the weekend, everyone would scatter to their boring jobs and their loving families and their stifling wardrobes. But for now, everyone got to be someone they weren’t outside of here, and the possibilities the good reverend spoke about hung temptingly in the night’s warm air.

“When you’re here, the whole rest of the world doesn’t exist,” Bevis said. “The only world that exists is right here.”

This is an AP member exchange story.


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