White Thorn Lodge part of multimillion-dollar 'nude tourism' industry

Says one member: 'It's just camp to us'

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It's your typical Thursday morning in Darlington. Someone is mowing the lawn, someone is cooking breakfast -- and everybody is naked.

Young, old, skinny, rotund, tan, pale but all naked. The 300-some members of White Thorn Lodge won't discriminate, or even ask you your last name, but they will expect you to disrobe.

"After the initial tour, we give people about 15 minutes to warm up to it," said board member Louis Maxwell, 64. "But you came here to be nude. If you don't want to be nude, go to a KOA."

Hundreds of visitors descend upon White Thorn Lodge nearly year round, but this weekend's celebration of National Nude Recreation Week is the pinnacle of what the club is all about. A 5K run, dance parties and cookouts -- all in the nude -- intermix with lying by the pool, hiking through the 200-acre property and just plain relaxing.

Nude tourism, often called "nakationing," generates $440 million annually at more than 250 resorts nationwide, according to the American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR).

White Thorn Lodge, which was founded in 1961, was ahead of the trend. The patch of land off Route 251 in Beaver County has become one of the region's largest nudist clubs, complete with campgrounds, permanent homes, clubhouses and sports complexes, all hidden from view by a thick forest. Some members live on the grounds all summer, but most visitors come for a weekend at a time.

But lately, as the population of nudists who got their start in the 1960s and 1970s grows older, people like Mr. Maxwell are concerned for the future of the resorts. White Thorn's membership is primarily older than 50. The 35,000 members of the AANR are almost entirely older than 35.

"It's younger, more athletically minded people we need now," Mr. Maxwell said.

Eileen Breckstein's preferred level of clothing, a thin grey sweater only, provided little cover as she explained who she believes is the future of nudist camps: children and grandchildren.

Ms. Breckstein's daughters were raised at White Thorn along with dozens of other children who frequently tag along with their parents. Although they now live in North Carolina, her daughters still visit the resort as adults.

"This is the perfect place to raise kids," Ms. Breckstein, 67, said. "You can't keep clothes on them anyways. Here, they learn to be comfortable with who they are."

Brian, a member from Monaca who asked not to be identified by his last name, started bringing his son to White Thorn when his wife was still pregnant.

"Now, he's 12 years old," Brian said. "We don't say, 'going to the nudist camp,' it's just 'camp' to us."

The nudists are perfectly aware of what the idea of naked children sounds like to outsiders.

"This is not a place for perverts," Mr. Maxwell said. "The weirdos think they can come here and look normal, but they stand out."

And if they don't abide by the etiquette rules, they're promptly escorted out.

White Thorn has an extensive list of rules, meant to protect children and adults. Among them: no gawking, no photos, no sitting down without a towel, no heavy drinking and most importantly, no overt sexual behavior. Swimsuits are prohibited, particularly those that might be considered racy.

"Provocative clothing like that indicates a sexual factor to nudism. That's not what we are here," said board member Margie from Canton, Ohio, who declined to give her last name.

"When it comes to touching, if you wouldn't do it at a regular campground, you don't do it here."

With the sexual element removed, everyone is on the same level, Margie said. After meeting her husband at White Thorn, the couple had a naked marriage on the property.

"Clothes have a way of changing people. They can disguise themselves as rich in designer clothes or you can hide yourself in shabby clothes," she said. "When you're a nudist, you are who you really are."

Margie's first experience at White Thorn was the club's signature event, the Nude Volleyball Superbowl. Started in 1971, the event draws more than 2,000 people from across the U.S. and Canada.

Many come just for the competitive volleyball -- but they're required to get naked anyway.

The weekend of events begins Saturday morning with the naked 5K run/walk. Visitors will then join in a skinny dip occurring at all AANR resorts simultaneously, in an attempt to set a world record. The rest of the day will include massage therapy, a bocce tournament and a cookout.

They'll be having strip steak.

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Jessica Contrera: jcontrera@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1458. First Published July 13, 2013 4:15 AM


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