Nudists raising money for a place of their own
Sunday, September 29, 2002

Members of Searching for Paradise, a central Ohio nudist group, socialize during one of their swims last winter. Without a home, the group must move from place to place for events.

For now, they're nomads drifting from private pool to volleyball court as they plan a haven in central Ohio for frolicking in the buff.

Think the Garden of Eden with an indoor heated pool, volleyball court, snack bar and, to deter voyeurs, a high fence.

Their quest has been slow. It's not that central Ohio property owners are leery of selling property to those who prefer their fun au naturel. The hurdle has been pooling enough cash.

"The spirit is willing; the contributions are weak,'' said Jim Mills, president of Searching for Paradise, a central Ohio nudist group that last fall branched off from the larger local organization Buckeye Naturists, founded in 1985.

Before the split, central Ohio nudists held monthly skinny-dips at a pool run by Sub-Aquatics, a Reynoldsburg scuba-diving business. But the business needed storage space and drained the pool last year.

Searching for Paradise is looking for 50 to 100 acres between Marysville and Lancaster, and has raised about $10,000.

But that's not enough even for a down payment. The group needs about $250,000, Mills said.

If they lure enough investors, they'll gear up for the next challenge: the neighbors.

"We're not going to go in and say, 'Hey, make room for us.' Everyone will be well-informed of our intentions,'' said Mills, 61, a Gahanna bachelor and retired firefighter who joined Buckeye Naturists in 1998.

Although there are several nudist organizations -- with about 250 members -- in central Ohio, the only area nudist resort is Sunn Jammers Recreational Park in Licking County.

Statewide, there are seven nudist resorts.

Searching for Paradise members include computer programmers, accountants, a teacher, a writer, a floral designer and a salesman. Most are men, and most are 40-something.

During the summer, they travel among nudist-resort campgrounds. They rent indoor pools during the winter.

The activities are all G-rated, club members say.

"You won't see anything going on that you wouldn't see at a church social, except that everyone is naked,'' Mills said.

Guests who attend nude events must show identification, and members agree to a criminal-background check. Cameras are banned and so are staring and public displays of affection. A cardinal rule at any resort is that a towel must be used to sit on a chair.

The median age of members in the Naturist Society, which has clubs nationwide, has risen from 42 to 50 since the organization began 15 years ago, said Nicky Hoffman, the Wisconsin organization's director.

Hoffman describes recreational clubs as "family-oriented.''

"The public hears the word nudity, and right away they think it's a sex-orgy type of thing,'' she lamented.

Local nudists say it's all about relaxing at places where you can shed your clothes, shed your stress. And nudity, they say, is a great equalizer. When surrounded by nude people, no one thinks about their own or other people's bodies, they say.

That's not to say that some aren't initially shy about baring their bodies. A recent convert to social nudism, Sue Stuart said she attended her first nudist party in January with her boyfriend, a member and shareholder of Searching for Paradise.

She kept her oversize T-shirt on until she felt comfortable.

"The thing that is really cool for me is that 10 years ago I would be nervous in a roomful of dressed men,'' said Stuart, 41, a teacher and mother of three who lives on the Northwest Side.

A moment that clinched Stuart's interest in social nudism came last month when she attended a weekend volleyball tournament in rural Pennsylvania. After showering, she stepped outside naked, and a cool morning breeze rushed across her as she stared at the rolling countryside below.

"It was just one of those moments,'' Stuart said. "It was the sensation of the wind on my skin, like I was being kissed by Mother Nature.''

Still, most central Ohio nudists are squeamish about publicizing their lifestyle.

"This is definitely a conservative area, but I think people are at least accepting of it,'' said David, an Ohio State University freshman and social nudist who would give only his first name.

"My friends don't have a problem with me being a nudist as long as they don't have to see me nude.''

Copyright 2002, The Columbus Dispatch