As a former director and officer of the New England Naturist Association (NENA) I was on the front lines for anything and everything that took place at Moonstone Beach from 1984 through 1994 and in the periods of time immediately prior to that, and through the dissolution of NENA in 1996.
NENA dissolved at the end of 1996 and became a part of our group at Pilgrim Naturists of New England in Boston at the beginning of 1997. Since then we have served the skinnydipping community through out New England.
The land at Moonstone Beach was owned by the local chapter of the Audubon Society which administered it as a wildlife sanctuary for many years. A section of the beach at the end of Moonstone Beach Road was leased to the Town of South Kingston to use as a town beach.
At about 1980, the Audubon Society concluded that it could not afford to continue to support the property. Word of this spread to the beach and in an attempt to assist the Audubon financially, many of the nude beach goers joined the Audubon chapter assuming their donations would allow the beach to continue as it had for many years. This was misinterpreted by the Audubon chapter as a possible attempt at a hostile take over. Empowered to act on the behalf of the chapter, the board at the RI Audubon voted to transfer the property to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1980 thus avoiding the perceived hostile take over by nude beach goers.
The USFWS indeed took over the land at that time and immediately tried to ban nude bathing but the users formed NENA and challenged the USFWS on grounds that there were no laws that prevented nude use of federally controlled lands. The USFWS did back down on this technical point and signs banning nudity were removed and nudity continued unabated.
**Beachfront boundaries are calculated from known surveyor's bench marks on the shore and are used in conjunction with NOAA tide measurements based on the the 18-year Metonic Solar Cycle, and then used to calculate ocean shore boundaries such as "mean" (average), "high" and "low" tide in most USA coastal states. It is not a visible mark left by tides or other similar obvious visual markers such as washed up vegetation or rocks. Because of erosion factors, legal boundaries of property owners can and have been located well into the water at times. Unresolved however is a conflict with how the state's charter guarantees passage atteh water line. For now, the ruling says the Metonic Cycle measurements are the legal ones.**
This association lasted for 2 years at which time the property owner and NENA voluntarily parted company based on the property owner's misperception that there was an increase in usage. Rumors of pressure from elected officials against the property owner were never substantiated. Daily figures were kept by NENA and overcrowding was never the case. Demands by the property owner eventually became troublesome and at the end of the 1992 season both parties voluntarily opted out of the lease agreement. This brought to an end the only nude beach operating on the east coast on the ocean that included a staff and lifeguards for the safety and well-being of its members and other users as a part of its operation.
At about the same time the USFWS became frustrated over some people who were still hiking nude in front of the bird fences at Card and Trustom ponds. Because shore access was a right in that state, they needed another way to prevent nude access to this area. This resulted in the USFWS entering the RI state courts and obtaining a redefinition of the state disorderly person statute. This statute which included a component on genital exposure was ruled to be useful to prevent nude hikers in front of USFWS property. The judge also ruled that any person could be a complainant to invoke this statute. Until this point in time it was considered necessary for a property owner to complain. In all the years that NENA and its predecessors used Moonstone Beach, and later its leased land known to many as NENA Beach, this technicality of law was all that allowed people to be nude - a misunderstanding of the law by local authoritities. With the petition of the USFWS this was changed making all nude (ie genital exposure) use of RI beaches illegal.
At about the same time some people continued to try and use the former leased area near Roy Carpenter's Beach only to be cited for nudity or tresspass - some paying high fines and being required to appear in court. NENA continued to warn users about this as best they could but outdated Naturist publications and other listings continued to send people to this location only to face legal problems.
As this situation deteriorated, local land owners bent on getting NENA and nude use out of the new area started to complain about sexual misconduct at NENA Beach. Police, frequently in plain clothes, often came to the beach to see if they could observe such behaviors. They even arrived with video camera equipment but none of this activity was ever seen, because it never took place. And given that NENA ran a legitimate family nude beach such conduct would never have been tolerated anyway.
It should be noted that nudity along the RI shore continues to be illegal, at least genital exposure, due to the rereading of the state disorderly person statute. It is speculated that the law could be overturned on constitutional grounds but at present the political climate is not favorable for such a challenge and is not being considered.
Further, while the state disorderly person statute makes genital exposure illegal it DOES NOT make topfree usage by women illegal, and on some remote beaches women are indeed going without tops. However, I would not suggest that on the more populated state beaches. Know the law and know your rights and have copies with you at all times if you try it. The police cannot be expected to know all laws by heart.
As to old Moonstone Beach, the shore front at the end of Moonstone Beach Rd. is still there, and due to the state's right of way to the ocean, a flared area of USFWS fencing has been removed but user but access is limited. The parking lot at this location is overgrown, can only hold a few cars if that, and without a town parking permit (in season) autos are towed out without warning. Further, nude use continues to be illegal as noted above and police may visit the beach telling people to get dressed without warning. Congregating within the right of way may be considered trespass. Any lack of law enforcement on any day should not lull anyone into complacency that the police are not bothering the nude users or trespassers. They can and do visit, and will cite those offending. I have this directly from a police officer who used to work in that township. Those who may have used this area nude are doing so at their own personal risk and should not be encouraging other people to use it. The average cost to get out of jail if arrested is $125.00 bail and bond with release on personal recognizance, with a court date ordered to appear on charges of being a disorderly person, specifically on genital exposure. If convicted you could be branded a sex offender in some states and be required to register as such for the rest of your life.
DMK for Pilgrim Naturists of New England