Trip report: Northeast Naturist Festival 2015 (Empire Haven, NY)

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We are back from the Northeast Naturist Festival in upstate New York! A big thank you to everyone who came out and helped make this such a great weekend.

A Packed Schedule

The NENF schedule was packed with activities and workshops. They ranged from the practical (such as an online marketing workshop run by our friends Jordan and Felicity at YNA), to the introspective (a communication workshop by the Human Awareness Institute), to the far-out (ramblings about UFOs, energy healing seminars and other such things).

A diverse selection of music included drum circles, meditations backed by beautiful bowed gongs, karaoke as good (bad) as any karaoke in a downtown bar, and a ’70s-style disco pavilion with a 2000s pop/club DJ.

Fun And Comfortable

With beautiful upstate New York weather keeping everyone’s clothing where it belonged (in the cars), Empire Haven’s pool and hot tubs were a major focus of attention. A small cadre of vendors offered beautiful sarongs, wraps and other such products. (It’s interesting to note that most of our favourite sundresses and sarongs have come from naturist venues!)

Empire Haven is a truly beautiful park. Nearly surrounded by unspoiled state forest, it is clean, well-kept and alive with acres of vibrant green grassland and woodland. The park is relatively easy to find, being just a short hop off I-81 along paved sideroads.

The single best thing about the naturist community, we think, is the ease with which one can quickly meet great new friends. We met more people than we can remember how to keep track of, each with their own fascinating stories, perspectives and ideas.

Room For Improvement

There’s always room for improvement, and here our attention fell on the registration process and fee structure.

The Empire Haven / NENF registration process was… well, somewhat less than smooth or clear. We would highly recommend that, next year, the registration forms be clearly organized and unambiguous. (This year’s documents were reminiscent of a corporate tax filing form, if it were re-typed in Word by someone unfamiliar with columns and tables.) We emailed in our forms, but never received an acknowledgement or reply; nevertheless, they were already on file when we arrived.

In addition to the festival fee ($50/person regardless of how long you stay), the park charges day fees ($18/person/day with an 11 AM checkout), and camp site rental fees ($12 to $15/camp/night).

Then, we were dinged an extra $18/person day fee for all of Friday, even though we arrived late after dinner when the day’s activities were over. It was too late in the evening for us to argue over this, but it meant that our first impression of Empire Haven was one of petty profiteering. No other park we know of charges 3 days of fees for a 44-hour visit.

This fee structure means that while the festival is somewhat reasonably priced if you arrive on Tuesday morning and leave on Sunday morning, virtually any shorter schedule (or staying for lunch on Sunday) is heavily penalized. Not surprisingly, retirees were over-represented and young folks (who would be working during the week) were relatively few in number.

It would be far better to charge only a per-person, per-day fee (as other naturist parks do) or a per-vehicle/site, per-day fee (as non-naturist parks, like state forests or Canadian public parks, do).

Will we be back next year? Maybe. It’s too early to say what our 2016 schedule will be like. If Empire Haven’s management and the festival organizers were to fix the problems with the pricing structure, we might consider making NENF a regular feature of our calendar.

Favourite Nude Places: Freedom Fields, Eastern Ontario

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Ontario’s newest major naturist venue, and the one that’s closest to us here in Kingston, is Freedom Fields Naturist Ranch.

Freedom Fields viewed from Carroll Road

Turns out we’ve never actually brought our cameras to FFNR, so this Google Street View shot will have to suffice for today!

Freedom Fields is a relatively new venue; 2015 will be only their fourth season. They’ve made a lot of progress in those few years – while the ranch remains relatively rustic, the current set of amenities includes a pool with swim-up bar, a bed & breakfast, a seriously rockin’ party barn, several kilometres of great hiking, and the most awesome hot tub in the tri-county area.

Media coverage of the park has been universally positive. The most recent story, penned by the widely respected Hollie Pratt-Campbell at the Heritage, was pegged on that publisher’s top-stories list for over a month.

FFNR is an adults-only venue. This policy is sometimes misinterpreted as meaning “sex ranch”, which is most certainly not the case; we’ve never seen any hint of inappropriate behaviour and the atmosphere is very much in the “relaxed, social and respectful” category. The 18+ policy stems largely from safety and liability considerations. Of FFNR’s 100 acres, all but 4 are either natural and unimproved, or fenced off for the horses. It is a working ranch, after all, with a complete herd of Equus caballus, energetic free-range farm dogs, tractors and so on. Marketing the venue as family-friendly would, we imagine, significantly change the insurance and liability picture, as well as the culture, in a way that FFNR appears uninterested in pursuing.

FFNR’s culture is a bit more free-wheeling than at some other parks. The jokes are a little raunchier, the laughter’s a little louder, and the park’s two bars are a bit more central to the social scene. On special weekends, live classic-rock bands play late into the night atop a stage of hay bales in the barn, stirring up seriously awesome party vibes and making the admission fees a genuine bargain. Even so, those who prefer peace and quiet are equally welcome; the lush lawn is a perfect place to while away an afternoon with a good book, and the campsites – of which there are a few more every year – are quiet, private and immersed in nature.

The venue’s pricing, currently at $30/person/day or $40/couple/day, is comparable to other naturist parks, although perhaps a bit on the steep side considering the amenities FFNR has to offer. This, we think, is unavoidable; the park is investing heavily in upgrades and new features, but lacks the steady revenue of older private parks that can survive on trailer lot rental fees and need only worry about operating, not capital, expenses.

There are only a few complaints that can be justifiably levied against FFNR. The washroom facilities, as of 2014, were somewhat rustic, and some of the main walking routes have not yet been made barefoot-friendly. Perhaps most noticeably, FFNR has so far been unusually tolerant of smoking. While cig-toting guests have generally been respectful about staying downwind, provincial anti-smoking laws and cultural anti-smoking attitudes are (rightly) much stronger in 2015 than they were a few years ago.

FFNR holds a special place in our hearts here at the Kingston-Frontenac Free Body Society. As the closest naturist park to us, and with a wonderful owner who has been very supportive of our group’s purpose (and is a KFFBS member), they’re naturally a favourite destination when time and travel considerations allow us to visit.

This part of Ontario is rather poorly documented in most mapping programs. FFNR is easiest to find by entering its co-ordinates directly into a GPS: 44.501N by 76.917W. Access is at #592 Carroll Road, reached by heading east along Mountain Road from Tamworth and then south on Carroll.

Naturist Demographics (or, Part Of Why KFFBS Exists)

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We took a bit of flak, in some circles, with our recent post explaining why the Kingston-Frontenac Free Body Society has membership restrictions. This was not unexpected.

We can completely understand the position, taken by many folks, that naturism should be completely inclusive, regardless of age or gender. That’s a nice ideal to strive for.

It is, however, not working.

Consider the population pyramid for Canada (shown below). It’s pretty well balanced male-to-female and, while birth rates are falling, the age distribution is also fairly well balanced.

pop pyr CAN 2015

Within what you might call the “naturist community”, the picture is somewhat different. Anecdotally, we’d peg it roughly along the red overlay on the following graphic:

pop pyr CAN 2015 b

In other words, what we actually see at many of the naturist venues we’ve been to is a population that is about 70% male, with a median age around 50 to 55. People our own age (the KFFBS co-organizers are, at the time of writing, in our late 20s) are a relatively rare sight.

There are exceptions. Wreck Beach, undoubtedly Canada’s most successful clothing-optional venue, attracts a crowd that’s evenly split along gender and age lines. Bare Oaks goes to great lengths to ensure that the under-25 crowd can afford to visit and will feel welcome when they do.

On the whole, though, the younger crowd does not identify with “naturism”. They’re fine with skinny-dipping, with topfreedom (in circumstances where it feels safe and everyone’s doing it) and with body-positivity, but naturism is often seen as something for older people, for our parents’ generation.

The Kingston-Frontenac Free Body Society is meant for this group. Our events, our ways of doing things, our discussions – it’s all geared for the 18-to-late-30s demographic. We omit the older male crowd from our membership simply because if we didn’t, the demographic structure would actively repel people our age. We have lots of older friends, and we go to plenty of places that are either all-ages or 18-plus, where we get along just fine with naturists of any age.

Within our own group, we have a balanced culture that’s comfortable and welcoming for younger adults, and particularly for women.

pop pyr CAN 2015 c

We’re far from the only group to make this call. OCETPFAS welcomes all interested women, but allows men to join by personal invitation only, for the simple reason that having too many men around tends to make women uncomfortable. We could probably rhyme off a half-dozen naturist sites that welcome women and couples, but not single men, for the same reason.

If you’re a woman or a couple and you’re a bit out of our age range, but identify as “young at heart”, you’re still welcome to join us. And finally, if you’re a single older guy and feel excluded by all this, then by all means go say hi to the folks at TNT!MEN in Toronto, where single men of any age are always welcome.

Our core membership is (and will continue to be for the foreseeable future) mostly in our 20s and early 30s, the gender split being 1/2 to 2/3 female, and this is one of many factors we keep in mind when deciding whether to accept or reject membership requests. Men in our age group are of course welcome to join – with the understanding that clean, respectful behaviour is expected, and any creeps who try to sneak in will be quickly and unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

Your First Clothing-Free Experience (Will Be Great!)

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You’ve found your way here, which means you’re at least slightly open to the possibility of a clothing-free experience – even if you’re nervous, or worried, or just not sure yet. Having seen this quite a few times now, I can give a pretty accurate timeline of how it will go for you.

T minus 3 months: So, there are places / groups where everyone’s naked? Is this, like, some kind of strange sex ritual?

T minus 2 months: OK, I think the Internet’s convinced me that this is a real non-creepy thing, but I’m way too (fat / skinny / shy / unattractive) to be naked around other people.

T minus 1 month: There’s a naturist park near my town? OK, maybe – just maybe – I can go, just to see what it’s about, just for a look. Just to say I’ve tried it.

T minus 1 day: Tomorrow, everyone’s going to see me naked. I can do this. I can do this. Really, please believe me, I can do this.

T minus 1 hour: Am I actually about to be naked in front of 50 strangers? I’m terrified! I’m so looking forward to this! I have to chicken out! This is going to be so great!

T minus 10 minutes: Am I lost? Where is this place? Does this one-lane dirt road actually go anywhere? What’s going to happen when I arrive?

T minus 5 minutes: OMG, naked people! This can’t be happening. They’re all going to be staring at me!

T 0: OK, I am going to do this. I’m taking off my clothes now…. I am so nervous about this…. I can’t be doing this….

T plus 30 seconds: So… they aren’t staring at me?

T plus 5 minutes: This actually feels kind of good….

T plus 20 minutes: Oh, right, I’m naked. Did I actually make a big deal of that a few minutes ago?

T plus 1 hour: It’s official, I am never wearing a swimsuit again!

T plus 2 hours: Why, oh why, did it take me so long to try this? I should have started years ago!

T plus 3 hours: These are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. I think one of them’s a janitor and one’s a CEO, but I don’t remember which is which.

T plus 6 hours: The sun’s going down and it’s getting cold, but I am NOT getting dressed yet.

T plus 8 hours: Clothing feels so freaking weird. What’s with all this chafing?

T plus 24 hours: Can we go back again today?

The hardest part is psyching yourself up to the point where you say “OK, I’m doing this”. Everything after that is easy. Seriously, just try it!

Posted by Matt of KFFBS

Why We Have Membership Restrictions

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We get a lot of questions along the lines of

hi im 52 m like getting naked want to meet like-minded people can i join ur group

No, unfortunately, you can’t. Our decision to limit who can join the group was not an easy one, and we feel we owe you an explanation of why.

There are already a lot of options around here for older folks to enjoy the clothing-free life. We have at least four naturist parks (FFNR, Lakesun, The Grand Barn and Sunward) within a short drive of Kingston, and there are several active non-landed groups in the nearby Ottawa area, all of which attract a middle-aged demographic. There are also several clubs in Toronto for single men. Of the naturist sites around here, FFNR in particular is a great place that is quite welcoming to everybody, and we do a few trips up there each summer.

But, except for us, there’s nothing specifically for the younger generation.

The reason the Free Body Society exists is because Kingston needs a safe, fun and comfortable clothing-optional space for our large student and young professional population, and in particular, the female & trans* members of that population. 25% to 50% of these folks are open to some form of body-positivity; less than 0.5% are comfortable going to existing naturist parks. We want to bridge that gap.

Our priority, in determining who we welcome into the group, is to keep the kind of culture that will be supportive and welcoming to this demographic. (We are, proudly, a no-creeps zone!). Yes, we often go to parks and events that appeal to a broader age group, but our core focus is on the student and young professional crowd.

Remember, also, that we try to provide a forum for intelligent and open discussion of the complex social and cultural issues facing the GenY / Millennial generation. If your only reason for wanting to join us is “because naked”, well, that’s simply not enough to go on.

And so we vet our membership rather carefully.

To actually find us in the real world, you have to read our Join Us page, then email us. You have to tell us a bit about yourself and why the group appeals to you.

Your introduction has to be honest. If your profile is that of a 25-year-old woman but you show up as a 50-year-old man, you’ll be sent home, blocked and reported. Similarly, if you claim to be a couple but only the man shows up, you won’t be staying – or coming back. We don’t require personal details or full names, but please provide enough of a profile for us to see that you are:

  1. A real live individual human (not a spambot or someone who writes like one).
  2. Genuinely interested in what we’re trying to create.
  3. Part of the demographic we focus on:
    • Women are always welcome (and if you’re worried about being too old, don’t worry, you aren’t!)
    • Couples and young families are welcome.
    • Those who identify with a non-traditional gender identity are welcome.
    • Single men are welcome if you are in our age range, and if you convince us you’re the kind of person who would be a net positive to the group. (This isn’t that difficult – just write us a nice, well-thought-out email introducing yourself.) We do not accept single men past late-30s unless one of us personally asks you to join.

Some of you are about to comment that these rules are “draconian” or “against the inclusive spirit of naturism”. Believe us, it wasn’t an easy decision. But we’ve seen what happens without these rules, and they must be like this if we’re to create a welcoming, fun and comfortable space for our own demographic. We would rather the group be something that grows slowly and incrementally into exactly what we need, rather than quickly taking off but losing its purpose along the way.

Boats good, swimsuits bad

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Okay, so even if the weather permits it, we can’t be nude all the time.

Out at the boat ramp, for example, it is customary to wear swimsuits and/or T-shirts. There’s no practical reason to do so, it’s just what everyone expects, so we play along.

Once clear of the launch ramp, though, it’s perfectly OK to do the logical thing and just get rid of the swimwear. The Kingston area has many, many spots where you can drop anchor, strip off, and alternate between baking in the sun and cooling off in the lake for the better part of an afternoon.
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The debate over whether or not PFDs count as clothing is ongoing. They are, of course, required on this particular powerboat while we’re underway. Safety first!

Very few of the anchorages around here are busy enough for anyone to see whether you’re dressed or nude. In any case, our experience suggests that it’s highly unlikely that anyone will care. This is Canada, after all. We’re pretty easy-going.

Boating is perhaps one of the best ways to experience naturism. There’s virtually complete privacy out on the water, despite being completely out in the open. You have the sun, the breeze, the wonderful sounds of the water and the gentle rolling motion of the boat at anchor. Sail or power, it’s your choice – we’re into both, depending on wind, weather and which boats are available.

An awful lot of people have told me, over the years, that they like the idea of learning how to run a boat, of getting out there on the water, but they feel it’s just too expensive – fuel, repairs, insurance, marina fees, plus the boat itself. This need not be the case!

$1000 will get you a decent, used two- or three-person 14-foot sailboat. $2500 to $4000 scores you a perfectly serviceable 14-foot aluminum powerboat with a trailer and 10 to 20 hp engine, just the ticket for a small family or two couples to get to the best skinny-dipping spots. You won’t be taking it across Lake Ontario, but hundreds of inland lakes are now within your reach. The cost of ownership of such a boat? Less than $500 a year, if you learn how to do basic maintenance yourself. Share the boat among a few friends and it could very well amount to little more than pocket change.

If that’s still too steep, just pop over to Kingston’s Ahoy Rentals (or your local equivalent) and take your choice of canoes, kayaks or small sailboats out for a while, complete with a friendly instructor if you want one for your first trip. The Power & Sail Squadron will be happy to teach you the necessary safety and navigation knowledge over the winter.

Canadians are winterizing our small-craft fleets now, so there are some serious bargains to be had at the moment if you want to get out on the water next summer and can spare a bit of garage space in the meantime.

We’ll see you on the lakes just as soon as everything thaws out. And don’t forget to skip those swimsuits!

Posted by Matt of KFFBS

Nudity, sexuality or both?

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There are many popular misconceptions about nudity and sexuality, and these misconceptions often scare people away from activities and places they’d actually enjoy. Perhaps it’s time to outline where our group fits into this complex spectrum.

Sexy, Naked or Both?

If you’re new to this, the first key point to understand is that nudity and sexuality are not the same thing. They’re not completely unrelated concepts, but one does not necessarily imply the other.

If you doubt this, you can find proof by visiting any traditional naturist park. Nobody’s wearing anything, and there’s no more sexuality on display than at a church picnic. Indeed, you’re far more likely to encounter sexual behaviour at a classy restaurant or at your office Christmas party than at a traditional family-friendly nude venue like Sunward or Bare Oaks.

Fears of being hit on, of becoming aroused (and therefore embarrassed), and of being cornered in sexual situations are, in the naturist world, largely unfounded. Everyone worries about it until they work up the nerve to actually try stripping off, at which point they invariably discover that it’s not actually a problem.

Still, there’s an often-repeated claim that social nudity is completely non-sexual, and this isn’t exactly true either. Sexuality is an important part of the human condition; to deny its existence is unnatural. It’s part of our biological hard-wiring, and we should be honest about accepting that fact. After hanging out for a few minutes in clothing-optional circles, most people seem to realize that appreciating sexuality and acting on it are two different things, and that it’s really quite easy to maintain a respectful distinction between them. It’s a marked difference from the rather less civilized, less sophisticated attitudes that are commonly on display at bars and nightclubs in our area.

Sexuality, like most aspects of human life, does not lend itself to clearly defined categories. It covers a broad, multi-dimensional spectrum of activities, beliefs and ideas. No two people can even agree on an exact line delineating what is or is not sexual.

You can be sexy without being naked; you can be naked without being sexy; you can be both or, at times, neither. All without changing who or what you are. It’s your attitude and your actions, not your attire, that set the tone.

At KFFBS events

Where, then, does the Kingston-Frontenac Free Body Society fit in?

We’re not about sex, hookups or the “swinger” scene. Are you interested in that sort of thing? As long as your own beliefs work for you, great! You’re quite welcome to join us. Just don’t expect to find that degree of sexuality on display at our events.

Some of the issues we touch on – gender equality, the elimination of “rape culture”, body positivity – overlap with what sex-positivity groups work on, and we’re friends with the leaders of many such groups. And some of our membership will inevitably overlap with groups that have a more sexual focus. This doesn’t mean that we’re promoting sex, only that we’re accepting of people who have different opinions and beliefs about sex. We don’t really care whether you’re a nun or a porn star – if you genuinely appreciate the values on which the group is based, you’ll find that you are among friends here.

We accept sexuality, without dwelling on it. We appreciate it, but we also know to regulate and control our impulses as appropriate. And, as it turns out, this is surprisingly easy to do. Just try to be respectful and mindful of what others are thinking and feeling, and the rest follows naturally.

So, despite what you might fear at first, sexuality simply doesn’t cause any problems here. It’s just one component of the great beautiful tapestry of human life.

By Matt of KFFBS