• A camp to get away from it all — even your clothes
     | August 18,2014
    Stan Grossfeld / BOSTON GLOBE PHOTO

    Pete Wilson plays golf at Abbott’s Glen Clothing-Optional Inn and Campground.

    WEST HALIFAX — Ask the guests at Abbott’s Glen Clothing-Optional Inn and Campground, and they would tell you there are many advantages to golfing naked — no overpriced golf shirts, no uneven tans, and, as guest Pete Wilson puts it, “You feel the wind and the warmth of the sun.”

    The downside? There’s no place to put your scorecard.

    But such small inconveniences do not deter the people, or “naturists,” who flock to this 55-acre resort to golf, fly-fish, play Frisbee, and swim. Those standard camp activities take on a special quality, they say, when you add nudity to the equation.

    “Everything is better naked,” Wilson says.

    Nude tourism, also known as “nakationing,” is on the rise in the United States. Clothes-optional vacations have doubled since 2010, according to a 2013 survey taken by MMGY Global, a travel marketing firm. It’s a $440 million-a-year business at 250 resorts nationwide, according to the American Association of Nude Recreation.

    What makes it so attractive depends on whom you ask, but here, at least, the typical stereotypes do not apply. The Abbotts screen every guest to make sure they’re coming here for the right reasons. Voyeurs and swingers are definitely not welcomed.

    The guests are more Thoreau than yahoo, mostly empty nesters eager to relax where nobody will judge them or, perhaps more important, judge their bodies.

    “Everyone’s on an equal ground here,” says Renee Duchene of Albany, N.Y. “I have wide hips, I have a belly, there’s no judgment. It’s freeing. It’s relaxing, and you’re not hiding anything.”

    On one recent day, Duchene was passing the time fly fishing in the North River wearing just a hat and sunglasses. The trout were not biting, but she was having fun anyway.

    “People assume nudism is swinging or sexual in some way,” she says.

    Wilson, her partner, finishes the thought for her: “It’s in no way, shape, or form like that,” he says. Duchene nods her head in agreement.

    Another guest, Andy Elder, 65, of Hillsdale, N.Y., a retired packaging engineer who was practicing yoga by standing on his head, echoed the sentiment.

    “To me, it’s just a natural way to be,” says Elder. “Why would you want to wear clothing on a beautiful, gorgeous day when the sun is shining?”

    The emphasis at Abbott’s Glen is more about relaxation than competition.

    “We have lots and lots of guests that are in very stressful jobs,” says Amy Abbott. “You come through the gates, your cellphones don’t work here. Once you drop your clothes, you undress to de-stress.” It’s a back-to-the-garden mentality.

    The Abbotts say they are having their best year; business is up over 10 percent from last year. But initially, they had problems here in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

    “We got a new selectman in the town of Halifax and he was kind of a Bible-thumping guy,” says Abbott. “As soon as he found out about us he said, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to close down that place,’ and they tried to pass an antinudity law.”

    But neighbors rallied around them. A nearby farmer confirmed they were invisible neighbors.

    “He said, ‘Well, I drive by on my tractor, I drive real slow, but I ain’t seen nothing yet, and I’m trying,’” Abbott says.

    The selectman eventually had a change of heart.

    “The cops come in just to say hello on occasion,” she says. “We’ve never had an incident. Naturists are by nature pretty mellow. We asked two people not to come back because they were here for the wrong reasons. In 10 years, that’s a pretty good record.”

    Intrusions at this remote site just miles from the Massachusetts border are rare. One Sunday afternoon, two fishermen came around the bend in the river and started smiling.

    “I said, ‘Oh, you can fish here, but you’re going to drop your laundry and pay us,’” says Abbott. “The following weekend, one of the guys called and said, ‘Hey I really want to fish nude.’ He came the next weekend.”

    But there is no pressure to wear only your birthday suit. Some women wear sarongs, some men wear open dress shirts with tails that cover their privates on a peek-a-boo basis.

    Nakedness is the great equalizer, guests here say. There are no status symbols, no Armani and Versace.

    “I think when you lose the cover of clothing, you gain the need to be human, to socialize again, to be nicer to people,” says an unnamed visitor from Massachusetts.

    He gestures at another guest.

    “When I’m talking to him, he’s nude. I don’t know if he’s a doctor or a trash collector, so when you remove that status from people, it just becomes real.”

    Nearby, Liz Fournier of Massachusetts floated blissfully in an inner tube in the pond.

    “It’s comfortable, it’s protected, and it’s safe,” she says. “Naked bodies are naked bodies. It doesn’t matter what they look like. There’s no reason to be self-conscious.”

    A few naturists refused to give their names because of what they say is a double standard. A software engineer feared repercussions at his job.

    “There are so many different factions of society demanding tolerance these days,” he says, “but when it comes to nudity, it seems like that’s the hardest one to get acceptance.”

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