Youth camps in the buff are "good old-fashioned naked fun," a leader of nudists says. A lawmaker from Florida considers them something else.
LAND O'LAKES - For 10 years, young people ages 11 to 18 have gathered in Pasco and other Florida counties to pitch tents, swat volleyballs and sing around campfires.
Typical summer camp, save one important distinction: They do it naked.
U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, one of Washington's leading advocates for missing and exploited kids, doesn't like the idea of a clothes-free camp for teenagers. After reading a story Wednesday in the New York Times, he decided to raise a fuss.
Foley, running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Bob Graham, plans to deliver letters today to Gov. Jeb Bush and Attorney General Charlie Crist, singling out Lake Como nudist resort in Land O'Lakes, which hosted a bare-skinned youth camp that ended last week.
Foley said the camp, sponsored by the American Association for Nude Recreation, appears to exploit children to make money.
The camps operate under a Florida law that allows people to be nude as long as they're not lewd. Foley wonders if state statutes should change. Thus the letters to Bush and Crist.
"What's wrong with your kids going to Boy Scouts, Campfire Girls or sports camps?" Foley, the West Palm Beach Republican, said Wednesday from Washington. "It's beyond the pale that this is a normal way to bring up a 14-year-old child."
The adult nudists who run the camps say they teach teenagers healthy lessons about accepting their sometimes awkward adolescent bodies. Aside from the Pasco camp, others are held in Virginia and Arizona.
Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the nude association, called Lake Como's camp, which attracted about 25 young nudists from June 5 to 13, "good old-fashioned naked fun."
"We have always been about a wholesome family-oriented environment suitable for people of all ages," Schuttauf said from his Kissimmee office.
Foley wonders about the wholesomeness.
The New York Times article noted that the kids were subjected to the unwanted gaze of a 40-something visitor to Lake Como peeping from a sauna window.
Lake Como resident Elf Andersen dubbed the man a "COG," which she said stands for "creepy old guy." This particular COG, like all others, was ejected from the 200-acre resort.
"The kids can spot when somebody is not pure of heart," said Andersen, who stressed that campers are protected by adult counselors and sleep in tents isolated from regular resort patrons.
Foley, a fifth term congressman, denies that he's raising the nude camping issue to bolster his chances for the Republican nomination for Senate.
As co-chairman of the House's Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, he lobbied for the AMBER network, a way to broadcast missing children's cases across the country.
He most recently tackled child erotica on the Internet. He said he was shocked by the newspaper article about the naked camps that have been going on in his home state since 1993.
Foley suggested the camps force kids to fixate on nudity during their impressionable, formative years. Normal teen sexual urges can become inflamed by the nakedness around them, he said.
"It's putting matches a little too close to gasoline," he said.
But nudists said the camp's goal is exactly the opposite. Most of the campers have grown up as nudists. Removing the clothes actually minimizes the importance of bodies, they say.
"As you know, kids are natural nudists," Andersen said. "It's so cute to see a naked baby and toddlers. But as we mature somehow that no longer is seen as a wholesome, healthy thing."