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Sunday, September 05, 2004 - Page updated at 02:10 A.M.

Group rallies to allow nudity

By Tan Vinh
Seattle Times staff reporter

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Nudist advocates at Discovery Park's North Beach play "metaphorically" naked beach games including this one where the object is to kick the ball through the hoop.
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They plopped their "Nude is natural" banner on a sandy beach at Discovery Park, laid out the beach balls and buckets and got fired up for their planned skinny-dipping.

"The only thing I swim in," said 59-year-old Richard Cummings of Seattle, "is my birthday suit."

But before most stripped beyond their bikinis and Speedos, party crasher No. 1, as Seattle Police Sgt. Clay Monson was dubbed, gave the organizers the news: "If we see any nudity, there will be an arrest. [Some citizens] declared they are offended by the nakedness," Monson told Mark Storey, who helped bring about 30 nudists together for a "naked beach rally" yesterday.

So most had to party on with something they didn't expect — tan lines.

This loose group of artists, activists and musicians who call themselves the Body Freedom Collaborative orchestrated the rally to push the city of Seattle to designate a "clothing-optional beach."

In Seattle, being nude is not considered illegal unless an onlooker finds it to be obscene behavior.

That someone yesterday was Randy Hansen of Magnolia, who lives at the end of the park and who called the police after one man took off his shorts. The nude man left before police arrived.

Another man who later went skinny-dipping was arrested for indecent exposure. And then the debate heated up.

Hansen said he was offended, especially since he had to cancel a beach outing so that his grandchildren wouldn't see adults exposing themselves. "I should not have to rearrange my plans," Hansen said.

"Frankly, I am offended that they are offended," said Storey, who teaches philosophy at Bellevue Community College. "All I am doing is being a human being ... Being naked does not cause any harm."

Nude beaches have existed in Washington — Teddy Bear Cove north of Bellingham, Clayton Beach south of Bellingham, Geoduck Beach in Olympia and Carkeek Park in North Seattle — but they drew only small crowds and were quickly stopped, mostly by park rangers and city or county governments after the word spread.

Nudists get nostalgic now for the days when there were so many remote beaches that they could be left alone.

"The urban sprawl is spreading toward the beaches," said Storey. "There is nowhere for us to go, so we have to learn to live together."

Storey said he has a list of beaches that could become clothing-optional areas. He would not divulge the list, but said he believes Discovery Park's north beach, near the lighthouse, would be ideal since no residential housing is within sight.

But as Storey learned yesterday, the uproar can still be loud. The city park won't put up signs designating a nude-beach area without public hearings, which supporters admit would kill any nude-beach effort because of public opposition.

Still, supporters are perplexed that a city that accepts naked bike riders in the annual Fremont Solstice Parade isn't open to nude beaches, especially since Canada, Oregon and California have them.

Wreck Beach in Vancouver, B.C., is one of the most famous nude beaches in North America.

In Oregon, state park officials have accepted nude beaches because it's not illegal to be naked. In the case of Rooster Rock State Park on the Columbia River, one of the Northwest's most popular nude beaches, park officials put up signs designating the nude area to warn other patrons.

In California, the acceptance is more implicit. Senior park officials said no "official nude beaches" exist in California but acknowledged there are areas where beachgoers are naked. "Unless somebody complains, we just leave them alone," said California state park official Roy Stearns.

Torrey Pines Beach in San Diego is home to a strip called "Black's Beach," arguably America's most popular nude beach, with up to 7,000 visitors on summer Sundays. The beach is owned by the city and the state park. In 1999, the city began to ban nudity so naked beachgoers now hang out on the state-run side.

Claudia Kellersch, a representative from Black's Beach Bares, a group that promotes nude-beach activities, came to Discovery Park yesterday to support the effort.

A former Bellevue resident, Kellersch said she was bothered that Washington has not been as open as its neighboring states. Nudists, she said, "are just another group of beach users. We are just like the fishermen, the water-skiers or the motorboat users."

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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