I might be a closet nudist.
The realization began this summer while I was in Montreal covering a story. I was producing a radio story on an all-nude yoga studio in the heart of the old city — much safer than a video, I thought. Before the class began, I was confronted with a logistical dilemma when the prophetic-looking yogi asked that I be naked too. I wanted to make sure his class remained comfortable with my presence, and he didn’t think that was possible.
So I reluctantly disrobed. And it was spectacular.
While an initial shock and awkwardness was expected — I can’t remember the last time I was stark naked in front of 16 French Canadians — I didn’t anticipate an overwhelming wave of euphoria would replace it. It didn’t feel creepy or depraved or wrong. Being naked frankly felt better than being clothed.
It is (or was) my little secret.
Southern Ohio also has a similarly little-known secret: It’s crawling with confirmed and potential nudists. Nudism is all the rage in the pastoral, bucolic settings in and around Cincinnati and other major cities. Nudist resorts — bastions of naturalism and freed inhibitions — dot the lush Ohio wilderness around the state.
You can virtually find nudists everywhere: Ohio currently has seven nudists resorts registered with the American Association for Nude Recreation (AAMR). Most are open seasonally, and some operate year-round.
The AANR was founded in 1931. They serve more than 213,000 individual members and have over 260 affiliated clubs, resorts and campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada. In 2008, The New York Times estimated that nude recreation is a $440 million per year industry. Nudism is increasingly attractive to a variety of demographics but is growing most quickly among young adults.
One of the year-round resorts can be found nestled in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Paradise Gardens in Colerain Township. Another is near Amish Country like Cedar Trails Nudist Retreat in Peebles, Ohio.
Jo Anne and Fred Roessler are the founders and primary residents at Cedar Trails, the 60-acre, screened-in campground near Peebles. The Roesslers opened Cedar Trails in 1992 and the facility is open to full-time and part-time residents, vacationing families and day visitors alike.
The Roesslers are veteran nudists. Fred’s first nudist experience was in the late 1970s on family trip to Lake Manitoba in Canada. When he met Jo Anne, he introduced her to the Midwestern nudist lifestyle.
“I didn’t know there were (nudist) clubs around in the Midwest,” Jo Anne says. “When we went … I realized that no one was paying any attention to me anyway.”
The Roesslers live on the grounds and make their living by running the facility.
“It’s basically like any other campground with standards better than a state park, except that the people here are nude,” Fred says.
Cedar Trails has lots to offer naturalists physically. The camp borders the rim of a 300-million-year-old meteor crater, and the Great Serpent Mound, the 1,330-foot-long, 3-foot-high effigy mound, the longest on the planet, slithers against the northern edge. Cedar Trails offers a wide variety of activities for the rugged and the adventurous. Residents can hike bare around the meteor crater, skinny-dip in the lake or play an unrestrained game of beach volleyball.
On an average weekend, Cedar Trials gets 100 to 150 visitors. They have 100 regular members on nearly 30 campsites.
The busy season is May through September, but people can rent campsites and cabins and then come as they please even in the winter. Certain members visit only during the winter. However, most of activities must wait for warmer weather.
“Nudists aren’t nudists when its 10 degrees out,” Fred says.
As a member club of the AANR, Cedar Trails is required to follow a regimented code of conduct that ensures the facility remains safe and family-oriented. Foul language and sexual innuendo are all but forbidden. Alcohol is allowed, but only within designated areas.
Some residents are such committed nudists that they don’t leave the camp. LaVerne McGowan, 52, and her boyfriend Ken Christiansen, 54, have been permanent residents of Cedar Trails since 2006. McGowan’s stepson’s fiancé introduced her to nudism on a camping trip in 1998. She converted Christiansen in 2006 after dating several years.
“That was one part of her life she wanted to share with me,” Christiansen says. “We came down here and I was nude within five minutes.”
McGowan and Christiansen first began camping at Cedar Trails in 2006 and gradually eased into making it their home. Sundays were hardest for the couple because they had to make the two-hour commute back to their house in Columbus in order to be at work the following day.
As each Sunday passed, their departure time from Cedar Trails became more delayed. After six months, they downsized from a two-bedroom house into an RV on the site and started calling Cedar Trails home.
“It was a freedom that I never experienced and that I loved,” Christiansen says. “We didn’t need the next new big house. We just wanted to get out of the rat race.
“We cook, we clean, we shop — we do everything that everybody else does,” McGowan says. “We just live nude.”
McGowan’s and Christiansen’s experience as nudists affirms many of the facts boasted by the AANR. They think of nudism as a great equalizer. People of all ages, income levels and lifestyles create a rich tapestry of friendship for the couple. All of McGowan’s children — one of McGowan’s daughters is also a nudist — and both their mothers have visited them at Cedar Trails.
Cedar Trails residents insist nude recreation camps are fiercely family-oriented and note the misconceptions about nudists, such as nudist colonies being a Petri dish for lewd and lascivious behavior, are often wrong.
“(Nudism has) been excellent for our relationship,” McGowan says. “This place is very couple oriented and relationship oriented.”
Jo Anne Roessler is aware how nudists are perceived, but she insists the nudist lifestyle is less sexualized than plain-clothed society.
“You’re going to find that you’re far more comfortable here,” she says. “It’s a different atmosphere.”
Christiansen thinks most people would warm to nudism once they tried it.
“They’d make their lives a heckuva lot easier,” he says. “If people could just get past (the hang-ups of nudism), there’s actually a place where people don’t care what you do or what you look like. That’s what motivated us to stay down here.”