Nudity gets a look on county beachesBy Steve Estes
Topless women and unclothed tourists have long been relegated to extremely remote areas where prying eyes cannot see in this sub-tropical region called the Florida Keys.
For to show that much flesh anywhere else, outside the party zone of Fantasy Fest in Key West during a week in October, always results in a strong reprimand from the local constabulary, and sometimes results in spending time behind iron bars in these islands.
And that has flabbergasted many of our foreign tourists to whom topless, clothing-optional and nude beaches are simply a way of life.
There are clothing-optional and nude beaches scattered throughout the Keys. Most of them are privately owned, such as a small strip of oceanfront on Long Beach Road in Big Pine Key, some hotel beaches and privately held waterfront properties surrounded by large fences to keep neighbors at bay. And there are those that are de-facto nude beaches in public ownership, such as Old Boca Chica Road on Geiger/Boca Chica Key, where the practice of skin-only sunbathing and swimming has so long been practiced that the locals are well aware of the area.
Just because its general public knowledge, however, doesn’t mean that it’s condoned by county code.
That could become reality, however, sometime in the not-too-distant future.
During its regular meeting a couple of weeks ago, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners directed the legal staff to begin researching how, and if, the county could permit topless or clothing-optional use of its beaches.
The discussion opened up during a discussion of upgrades to Higgs Baech, which the county owns but is in Key West, after Sloan Bashinsky, a former candidate for commissioner and now a candidate for Key West Mayor, suggested that the county make part of that beach a clothing-optional facility.
“The part of that beach in front of the old fort that is rarely used is a good place for one,” said Bashinky. “There is a growing desire in Key West for a clothing-optional beach. I think you have a wasted asset.”
District Five Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said she was in favor of establishing a clothing-optional beach in the county.
“Not that I’ll ever use it,” she said. “But over many years that I have worked with the public, they have always asked why, with the carefree attitude of the Keys, ‘we’re such prudes.’ No one understands that.”
Murphy said with the rising number of European tourists, to whom topless beaches are normal, it is something that should be looked into.
“If there are 75,000 of us, and there are three million of them, why don’t we have a nude beach?” she asked.
District Four Commissioner Mario DiGennaro agreed with Murphy.
“I lived in Germany for 30 years, traveled all over Europe and there are nude beaches and partially nude beaches all over the place,” he said. “If we can draw more tourists for the economy, we should take a look at it.”
District Three Commissioner Heather Carruthers who started the Higgs Beach conversation by asking that the county set aside bricks and mortar money from the Tourist Development Council for upgrades to the facility, said that the only comparison she knew of in South Florida is Haulover Beach in Miami.
Carruthers said it was her understanding that Haulover Beach contributed millions to the tourist economy of that area every year.
“I’m not convinced that a beach in front of East Martello museum would be the best place for a nude beach unless maybe we could put a fence around it or something,” said Carruthers.
Carruthers said that a fence might allow the county to charge entry fees for use of the beach, but it would also cut out some line of sight visuals for families that use the area and might not appreciate the skin.
Commissioners didn’t lock in Higgs as the only potential location since it owns other beaches throughout the county.
“I’ve never been known as a prude, but you all are on your own on this one,” said Mayor George Neugent. District One Commissioner Kim Wigington echoed his sentiments.
For about two decades, the dead end of Old Boca Chica Road has been known by locals as a nude beach area, though it is more rock than sand. It is also located at the end of a runway from Naval Air Station Key West.
According to specialists in nudity law, there is nothing preventing the establishment of nude beaches as long as signs are posted warning people that they may see nudity in those areas.
County Attorney Suzanne Hutton said part of her research would be what options are available at the county’s locations due to how the property was purchased and what the intended use was.
On Big Pine, a small nude beach exists on Long Beach Road. The land is privately owned by one of the founders of the Florida Keys Naturists Society. The naturists have been promoting clothing-optional beaches in Florida for years.
Several members of the naturists locally still use the land, and suggested the county look into relaxing nudity laws on the water within its sphere of influence.