It's Time to Retire This Tired Old
Cape Cod Canard

by Bob Morton
Chairman & Executive Director, Naturist Action Committee

   When Maria Burks trots out these old untruths, Naturists cringe. There's no question that in the 1970s, severe damage was dealt to the dunes near the nude beach at Truro. However, the charge that Naturists were responsible, directly or indirectly, for the lasting damage was politically expedient fiction created years ago to justify a ban on nudity at Cape Cod National Seashore.

That fabrication had a definite purpose back in the mid-1970s. It was an early foreshadowing of the use of  "negative secondary effect" as an argument for the elimination of nudity. Decades later, that tactic has been formalized and fine tuned as a tool for shutting down nude beaches without having to bother addressing the rights of Naturists. After all, anti-nudity measures are taken to combat "the peepers, not the bathers."

     So who damaged the dunes? In documented reality, it was the Park Service rangers themselves, as they ripped raw new ruts in the fragile sand with their vehicles in their pursuit of the free beachers of the 70s. Of course, there were some in the Park Service who immediately began saying otherwise. And the fiction was born.

Maria Burks, Cape Cod National Seashore Superintendent. The quarter-century old claims she dusted off recently are bogus, and she knows it.

Setting the Record Straight

In mouthing those same bogus charges a quarter of a century later, Maria Burks is certainly not recalling a personal experience. She was, after all, just a school girl when the damage was inflicted and the original allegations were made. But by the time Burks became Superintendent in 1995, the story had become part of Park Service lore. Can Superintendent Burks be faulted for repeating the fiction that Naturists (or their "peepers") brought wreckage to the dunes in the 70s? Have Naturists presented her with accounts and evidence to refute the bogus allegations and establish the truth?

The answer on both counts is yes.

After Burks had completed her first year as CCNS Superintendent, she was sent a comprehensive document detailing the free beach events of the 1970s. That document was signed by Lee Baxandall, founder and president of The Naturist Society and Shirley Mason, who was then chair of the Naturist Action Committee. The work was called "Historical Review of Cape Cod Anti-nudity Regulation." Click here to view the text of the document.

And what of the buses of tourists imported to gawk at the Naturists on the beach? Read the text of the
1996 letter sent to the CCNS Asst. Superintendent by Barry Plaxen of Skinny-Dip Tours. The buses were apparently just another embellishment

The following photographs were taken at Cape Cod National Seashore in early September, 1976, by Lee Baxandall, who was at that time a leader of the Free the Free Beach Committee. Caption commentary shown here in red was written contemporaneously in 1976 by Truro Beach Commissioner Stephen Williams. You may click on the pictures for a larger view of each photo.

1976 photo: Lee Baxandall

1976 photo: Lee Baxandall

1976 photo: Lee Baxandall

1976 photo: Lee Baxandall

1976 photo: Lee Baxandall

1976 photo: Lee Baxandall

1976. A clothed sunbather hopes to avoid the paths of Park Service vehicles on an isolated beach of Cape Cod National Seashore, as a ranger in a vehicle approaches to see if the sunbather is "adequately" attired.

"High Dune and adjacent 'Free Beach' of Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the focus of contention between Federal Rangers who claim the Free Beach is an 'attractive nuisance' leading to ecological damage, and the Free Beach advocates who find the primary ecological damage caused by Rangers' enforcement measures in pursuit of 'nudes.'"

Brush Hollow (September, 1976): traditional path (left) and new cut (right), carved into the dune, not by tourist buses full of gawkers, but by Park Service vehicles.

"Closer view of the "new cut" leading up and away from the traditional path to the ocean, 'Brush Hollow.'

"Traditional path was made not by Free Beach users but by Truro citizens and visitors over many years. New cut is fresh in 1975, carved by Rangers needlessly into the fragile vegetation to permit patrolling by National Park Service jeeps seeking to catch and issue citations to skinny-dippers."

"Looking backwards down the 'new cut' to the established Brush Hollow access path.

"The National Park Service ruts slash through brush, hog cranberry and tall grasses and they are the only evidence of ecological damage to be seen."

"Another detail of the National Park Service Road.

"This route was never previously taken by visitors to the beach; the steep grade selected by the Rangers assures future erosion of the slope."

"Just North of High Dune's highest point: Erosion.

"A preview of future erosion to be anticipated from Ranger rutting. Foot trail was widened here to accommodate jeeps."

Truro Beach Commissioner Stephen Williams inspects the damage to the dune in this photograph taken in early September, 1976. Almost a quarter of a century later, the Cape Cod National Seashore Superintendent would be claiming this environmental damage was initiated by gawkers who were "chartering buses from Boston" to see nudity at the beach.

       There's more. A study conducted by the National Park Service itself concluded that the environmental damage of the 1970s was a direct result of the actions of Park Service personnel.

The Naturist Action Committee has posted this documention as a part of its continuing focus on the responsible clothing-optional use of public land.

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