ANNAPOLIS- Years ago it wasn’t just horses that ran wild on Assateague Island — in summer naked sunbathers cavorted in the waves beside them.
Now an association for nudists has been lobbying the General Assembly to let them return to the natural habitat.
But the Maryland lawmaker who represents the island is wildly opposed.
Delegate Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, said he’s listening to his constituents, and they are strongly against nudism on Assateague.
“My people would eat me alive,” Bozman said about the idea of introducing legislation to allow naked bathing. “I don’t think that is right. We do try to maintain a family image.”
But Susan Weaver, the public relations chairwoman for the American Association for Nude Recreation, said nudism is just about good community-oriented people who enjoy getting out of their clothes.
“We have made a real point of making sure people know what skinny dipping is and that we represent wholesome family nude recreation,” Weaver said.
There are two nudist groups in the United States with approximately 47,000 members, and in Maryland there is a nudist resort in Catonsville and another in Davidsonville.
“The polls do show that people do understand that it is a lovely wonderful relaxing way to be close to nature,” Weaver said.
Weaver remembers Assateague fondly — there she had her first skinny dipping experience. She enjoyed being naked, frolicking in the waves and at the end of the day being environmentally friendly — they collected debris on the two-mile walk back to the parking lot from their remote beach.
But there are indications over the past two years that nude bathers aren’t the innocent freedom lovers of Weaver’s youth. There have been two incidents where National Park Service workers were solicited by naked bathers, according to the NPS superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore.
“We didn’t have any reports of anybody doing anything hinky up until the last couple of years,” Superintendent Michael Hill said.
The 37-mile-long barrier island has three areas, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague State Park and Assateague Island National Seashore. Part of the wildlife refuge is located in Virginia. The island is famous for its migratory birds and feral horses.
Recently, Hill has received complaint letters from people trying to enjoy the park who have witnessed lewd acts. The park service has begun to ticket people for nudity on the Maryland part of the island, the fine is $250 and in Virginia, $150.
Before that, he said they had a gentleman’s agreement whereby the park service would not expend precious staff time enforcing the laws because historically sunbathers clothed themselves whenever a non-nudist appeared. That, he said, has changed.
Weaver said her group did clothe themselves — they just want to be near nature.
“It’s a delight seeing ponies just as natural as we feel on the beach,” Weaver said.
Her group has visited both Capitol Hill and Annapolis to present their viewpoint to lawmakers.
“We were representing a constituency that was asking for what we consider an appropriate use of the beach with the understanding that we would respect and use it well,” Weaver said.
But legislators may be hearing more complaints than praise of the skinny dippers. When questioned on the idea of such legislation, a bemused House Speaker, Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel said, “I basically don’t have any thoughts on it.”
On the other side of the aisle, the House minority leader has heard of the lobby.
“I have heard some rumors that there is a nudist lobby,” said George C. Edwards, R-Garrett. “I haven’t seen them nude yet.”
Puzzling over the likelihood of nude campaigners in winter weather too cold for such activity, Edwards said he isn’t in favor of the Assembly legislating the nudists’ return.
“The Feds are the ones who cut them off. The Feds would be the ones to let them back on,” Edwards said.
But the nudists’ lobbyist, Don Murphy, said it is Maryland law that prohibits disrobing on the beach, which wasn’t enforced until the late ’90s.
It’s Maryland’s law that will need to be changed, Murphy said, and given lawmaker’s opinions, that may take a while.
“I’m not into nudist colonies,” Edwards said. “That’s a public place. If they want a nudist colony, let them go buy some land somewhere.”
So while the group may continue to send its lobbyist to the General Assembly, lawmakers aren’t keen on reintroducing a flock of nudists to Maryland shores.