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Patty Nelson

Rediscovering nudity in retirement



Twenty miles outside of Boise, tucked away in the mountains, lies a 130-acre resort where people go to be free. Free of cell phones, free of stress and free of clothing. Patty Nelson has been a member of the Idaho Bare Backers, the family oriented nudist club that owns the resort, for 12 years.

For years, when Nelson was still working, she kept quiet about her trips to Bare Mountain, afraid of the stigma that often accompanies nudists. Now, happily retired at 64, she doesn't hesitate to share her nudist life style with others.

So how did you become a nudist?

I am a reluctant nudist.

What does that mean?

That means [my husband] was always one, but I wouldn't go down to the nude beaches with him. We used to go to Portland, to Sauvie Island, and he would go down to the beach and enjoy himself, and I would sit in the camper and swelter. I wouldn't go down there.

Why didn't you?

Probably body image--self-conscious. One day I decided this is really silly. He would come back from the beach and he'd just have this glow about him. He'd just be so mellowed out. And here I'd been walking around the parking lot. So we went down the path to the beach, and the first naked person I saw was a man. I was telling myself, "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this," all the way, and then I saw him, and I was like, "I can't."

So when your husband first told you that he is a nudist, how did you react?

I think I fought it for quite a while. But I didn't like him driving eight hours over to Portland to sit on a beach for two hours and come back the same day. So I was concerned about his safety driving that distance, and that's when I decided to go with him. I don't know if you've been to Sauvie Island, but it's along the Columbia River, and we would go really early, and I'd go out to the river in my bathing suit, take my suit off, swim around, and put my suit back on before I got out. But it's second nature now.

What draws you to it now, now that you're comfortable?

It's just a very relaxing atmosphere up there [on the Bare Backers grounds]. We have one fellow up there that said we needed a sign that says, "leave all your cares at the gate." It's just that there's no cell phones up there. We do have a telephone, but you don't have to answer it if you don't choose to. It's up on the mountains and there's clean air. There's hiking areas, the campground, pool and hot tub, and it's just very relaxing. And we love volleyball--water volleyball. It gets a little competitive every once in a while and people from all age groups play.

Would you rather go to a nudist beach than a regular beach?

Yes, I'd rather go to a nudist beach. We go to Sauvie Island in Portland once or twice a year, and we go to Arizona when it's cold here. It feels better to be around the nudist family. The people are more caring. They watch out for you. You can walk down the beach and leave your stuff and not worry about it. It's a nicer culture.

How does one recruit people for a nudist organization?

We've held open houses over the years, and we have a national organization that we have all of our events featured in. We have the website [] with our events listed. We have booths at fairs. We allow visitors up there that are affiliated with the national organization, the AANR--the American Association for Nude Recreation--and the Naturist Society.

Now, do you prefer the term "nudist" or "naturist"?

Probably nudist. The Naturist Society is a nude organization, too. But a naturist, to me, is a bird watcher. I don't know. I guess I haven't thought about it.

So tell me about the Bare Backers Club. What's the demographic like?

Right now, there's 90 members. Last year, we had 118. The average age is somewhere between 50 and 60, which is 10 years younger than when I joined. The members are about 22 percent single, 78 percent couples. Men and women are pretty evenly balanced. Once teenagers are about 14, they stop coming, but the little ones love it.

How would you convince someone to join, especially young people?

I think it does enhance your self-confidence, and I think the safe environment is probably more important, especially to young women. There's nothing worse than sitting around in a wet soggy bathing suit after going for a swim. It's just free with the air and sun cleansing your body.

More Nelson on nudism:

We say we're nudists; we're not stupid. When it's cold, you hardly see anyone without something on up there. We dress according to the weather just like you do on a normal campground. But the most fun we have is during the summer when we do night water volleyball. We put glow sticks around our necks and hang it on the net and have a fire up there beside the pool and have hot chocolate and s'mores or whatever we want.

It is about as cheap an entertainment you can get. We spend three or four days a week up there, and our lot fee is only $150 a year to park our trailer. Membership fees are $80 per person per year, and that gives you unlimited access all year.

You said you didn't want to admit you're a nudist when you were in the workforce, why?

Mainly because there's still the stigma that you're perverted somehow if you're a nudist. But I think it's changing. It's more acceptable now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. A sex club is the farthest thing from what it is. At the club, if there's any hint of sexual behavior, those people are escorted out. We have rules. No sexual innuendos, no alcohol abuse, no obscene language. It's a family environment.

For a membership, we do a background check. We look for anything that makes them not a good member so if they're a sexual predator, violent behavior, and we have a do-not-admit list.

So do you prefer being in the nude at home as well?

I don't, but [my husband] does. The thing about the club is that it just feels right up there. In our yard, we could do gardening or mow the lawn in the nude if we want. You can't do that if you have neighbors. Idaho is such a conservative state, it's really surprising they even allow a nudist group! Some members come up from Utah, where there is no organized club.

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