We should preface this section by noting that the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) is covered by a federal anti-nudity regulation (36CFR7.67). It is the ONLY national seashore within the National Parks Service (NPS) that has such a regulation, and only one other NPS unit has a similar prohibition. CCNS controls most of the beaches on Cape Cod from Provincetown southward to Welfleet and some parts beyond as a part of the agreement with the townships on the Cape that formed the CCNS back in the 1960s.
Much of Cape Cod had a long-standing tradition of nude sunbathing and swimming but there were never any formal accommodations for this specific user-group. It was just a natural thing for Cape Cod.
The anti-nudity regulation stems from problems allegedly experienced in the mid-1970s when nude use at some remote out-of-the-way beaches was on the increase as our society was taking a more mature approach to body nudity and body self-esteem. Claims have been made that these problems stemmed from thoughtless nude users or gawkers trespassing on private property as well as damaging fragile dune eco-systems within the CCNS, rather than using appropriate beach access points. However is this an accurate portrayal? Were these people to blame or was this an early instance of the use of secondary effects when trying to ban harmless activities associated with body nudity?
We draw your attention to the following page at the web site of the Naturist Action Committee (NAC) for an interesting take on matters. Viewers will find a letter from Lee Baxandall (founder, The Naturist Society) of specific interest.
(Page opens in new window when clicked).
Seeing nudity as an attractive nuisance, the CCNS enacted the anti-nudity regulation in hopes that stemming nudity would abate the other alleged problems. Some opinions expressed in the last three decades since then, suggest that a better approach would have to been to enforce laws actually broken associated with tresspass or property damages. That however, was not the case.
Opinions expressed in some naturist circles suggest that after 25 (going on 30) years it is appropriate to revisit the issue for modification, formal or informal.
Unfortunately, in order to modify or remove the anti-nudity regulation formally from the books, that act would have to be published in the Congressional Record for public comment which would make it prone and vulnerable to every right-wing religious-influenced zealot therein. As such, until such time as Congress is more open-minded and less anal-retentive to the beauty and natural wonder of the human body, made in Gods Image, the regulation will likely remain.
One should be well out of sight of the textile (clothed) beaches before considering the nude option. Remain vigilant for rangers approaching on ATVs, jeeps, etc.
For the last 7 years, a coalition of free beach groups (free meaning nude) and national organizations representing social nudism (naturism) [Naturist Society, Naturist Action Committee, AANR, AANR-East, Sunchaser's Club, Pilgrim Naturists of New England, and others] have conducted annual clean-up efforts on the shores of the CCNS in cooperation with the CCNS management. The result of these clean-ups has been a better understanding of the agenda that organized naturism represents and to present to the CCNS information on how managed nude beaches elsewhere have been successful. While it would not be in naturists best interests to seek a removal of the anti-nudity regulation at this time (see paragraph above), this relationship has produced improved understanding and communication between the two sides regarding each others agenda as well as to seek middle ground for compromise. These clean-ups customarily take place in early June of each year.
It is an interesting side note that in recent history the Town of Provincetown atthe tip of Cape Cod has been seeking to formally establish a nude beach as one of its long-standing traditions. However a variety of technical legalities has prevented that from happening as yet. Such acts by a town municipality clearly point to the fact that nudity is a known and supported traditional usage and a part of the flavor of Cape Cods remote beaches, despite claims to the contrary.
With the CCNS anti-nudity regulation in place, CCNS rangers are expected to enforce it. However, enforcement is left to the discretion of the individual rangers on any given day. Certainly the established nude congregating areas are known to the rangers whose patrols may vary from one to several per day on any given beachfront.
For the last 3 decades since the anti-nudity regulation went into effect, the process for naturists has been simple. One accesses the shore at customary textile beaches then walk north or south until the access point and its clothed users are a substantial distance from you or preferably well out of sight. Many people then practice discreet nudity in these remote beach areas.
Should a ranger be seen approaching on his ATV or other vehicle, it is recommended that you stop everything and cover up. A bathing suit would be good, but for a quick cover a towel wrap might suffice. In this way, with the person covered, the ranger is somewhat relieved of any conflicts that obvious nudity might suggest.
Should the ranger encounter a nude person, he/she may request you to get dressed and remind you of the anti-nudity regulation in place. It is recommended that you cooperate with the request. The person is then left to their own personal judgement as to whether they can return to a nude state after the ranger leaves the area.
Many times a verbal warning is all that happens. In a few instances a written warning (no fine) may be issued as has been noted to us by those receiving them. In rare instances, a person may get a full citation which carries a fine, but again, these are rare and often only issued, per our observations, to those who give the ranger staff the most problems.
Remember, lewd behaviors are an infraction of state law and can be dealt with appropriately by the rangers who have appropriate enforcement powers. Naturists discourage such acts and in order to preserve simple nudity for families so inclined, naturists will often be a complainant when such acts are observed.
The remote nature of the CCNS beaches lends itself to discreet nudity. Nets for nude volleyball may be erected daily in some areas by day-trippers.
Access points from many of the textile beaches are open to anyone before July 1 and after Labor Day. In the peak summer months a beach parking permit is necessary for display on automobiles. (Call local townships to ask about mopeds and motorcycles). Beach parking passes are offered by some townships for a full season or limited stays on the Cape. Some motels and camps can offer you the how-to info if you are planning a stay.
Help us by taking the Cape Cod Questionnaire. This on-line fill-in form will be sent to Pilgrim and to the NAC area representative to help us compile information on your experiences at Cape Cod. This info will also help us with future meetings with theCape Cod National Seashore.
For those not interested in dealing with the cat and mouse situation at CCNS, the off-shore islands off of Cape Cods southern coast offer some great alternatives to the CCNS as well as some major improvements in tolerance to beach nudity. While nudity on the islands is under the veil of anti-nudity ordinances, these are lesser non-criminal offenses similar to that of a traffic citation. Further, with nudity accepted as tradition on a number of remote beaches, police usually only respond to specific citizen complaints over nudity. This is a rare occasion and we only know of one such instance of this happening (on MVI) in the last 5 years.
Marthas Vineyard Islands Moshup Beach at the town of Gayhead (recently renamed Aquinnah) has nudity at a distance from the NPS observation point at the Gayhead Lighthouse (again nudity should be out of sight). From the ferry terminals at either Oaks Bluff or Vineyard Haven you can hire passage to the beach via the islands circuit bus or by taxi. One can also bike there (about 10 miles). After reaching the Gayhead lighthouse use the available stairs to the beach level, walk to the right and continue hiking about 10-15 minutes to the nude area. Some of the way is rocky so have good sandals or sneakers on. Please stay out of the clay baths near the lighthouse. This is a fragile eco-sensitive area that erodes easily. It is also sacred land to the local Native American tribe. Anyone accessing this area or taking clay from it are liable to citation and prosecution.
Lucy Vincent Beach on the south side of MVI is known for its nude use but one must be a guest of a local property owner or staying at a local accommodation in exclusive Chilmark in order to gain access.
On Nantucket Island, the established nude area is adjacent to Miacomet Beach on the south side of the island. Users should stay away from a local shallow salt marsh pond that is a favorite of island dwellers with small children so as to avoid conflicts over nudity. The Coatue sandbar on the north side of the island has been noted for some nude possibilities in the past, but is only accessible by water taxi or other boat from across the harbor, or by ATV or horseback where it connects to the eastern shores of the island.
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