For even tan lines, then, most swimmers head out to Cape Cod.
Of course, skinny-dipping isn't exactly legal on the Cape, either. Not since the town of Truro, majorly irked at the influx of perceived hippies back in the 1970s, petitioned the National Park Service to ban nude bathing, on the grounds that it was destroying the environment and clogging town traffic. But while the 1975 ban on Cape Cod National Seashore is still on the books, many officials admit that, when it comes to nude ocean-goers, they simply look the other way.
Last year the National Seashore Rangers on Cape Cod issued just 38 violation notices (a fine of "no more than $50") and 64 warnings, mostly concentrated on the northern end of the Cape. "We don't send rangers out specifically to look for nudists," says head ranger Bob Grant. "We've got too many things to do."
In another popular nude-bathing haunt, Aquinnah (formerly known as Gay Head, on Martha's Vineyard), Board of Selectmen member Camille Rose says the town does "not enforce" a bylaw that prohibits nude bathing on the beaches. "It's more a custom," she explains. "In the last 30 years or so, [skinny-dipping] has become more popular, more entrenched."
Acknowledging that admitting lax enforcement puts town governance in a bit of a pickle, Rose adds, "The problem is that we don't want the news to go out that there's a sanction for nude beaches."
Of course, the nude bathers not only clash with decades-old fine print; they clash with other residents. The cliff face on Moshup Beach in Aquinnah is a historically significant site for the Wampanoag tribe, and in order to get to the cliffs, the beach is unavoidable.
Bettina Washington, historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag of Gay Head, speaks softly but with evident frustration. Leading groups of schoolchildren to visit a piece of their ancestors' history is a problem in the summer, all because of constant nude bathers. Washington says she has to send a note home with students before they visit a site, advising parents that their children might see naked strangers. And a lot of students just don't want to go.
"While we don't mind people coming and sharing the beauty of the place," she says, "This is our home. Have some respect."
CAPE COD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE | 508.362.3225 | capecodchamber.org | MARTHA'S VINEYARD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE | 508.693.0085 | mvy.com | CURLEY COMMUNITY CENTER | 1663 Columbia Road, South Boston | 617.635.5104 | lstreetcurley.com
Au Naturel: Organized Naturism
If you're uncomfortable with nudity, it's best to avoid the Appalachian Trail on the first day of summer — and not just because you may run into a lustful South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Unofficially, June 21 is Naked Hiking Day, a holiday that has yet to earn a commemorative stamp from the US Postal Service. But don't worry: for the most part, naturists are extremely polite, average folks who merely enjoy socializing without the pretension of clothes. They do so mostly in "landed" clubs (like Sandy Terraces, an hour away from Boston, in Marston Mills, Massachusetts) that, for practical reasons in the Northeast, are open only during the summer.