By Susan Shopiro
The biggest naturist beach in the northeast US is Gunnison Beach, on Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is the New Jersey part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and is home to the Fort Hancock Historic Landmark including the oldest surviving lighthouse in the US.
Gunnison Beach is one of 7 beaches at the park, and nude use dates back to the late 1970’s. It is extremely popular because of its clothing optional status and is the busiest beach on Sandy Hook. The status of Parking Lot G (Gunnison) is a closely watched statistic for attendees. The parking fees from people going to Gunnison and other beaches go to support park infrastructure and maintenance. Naturists are the biggest group contributing to this fund.
About two years ago we began to get emails from regular Gunnison beachgoers concerned about the shortening of the beach for nude use, and rumors of closure of the entire beach to nude use. Rumors of closures have a long history on this beach but this time it was accompanied with the claim that one of the Park Rangers had said this was pending. The other concerns they reported were the large crowds drinking and smoking, loud music, inappropriate and unruly behavior. Gunnison oldtimers noted that over the last five years a new crowd had started coming to the beach that were not always nudists and were apparently there to party without consideration of the beach or other beach attendees. The crowds on the weekends were reported to be reaching 510 thousand. At this time the Park Service outlawed alcohol on all beaches at Sandy Hook and put limitations on tents and screens that blocked view. The Park Rangers began searching coolers coming onto the beach as well as those already on the beach. They began walking the beach and demanding the removal of tents and screens they deemed against the new regulation*.
Also at that time NAC began regular communications with the head Park Ranger and staff with the intent of understanding what the issues were from their point of view. The behavior and trash were unsurprisingly their biggest concerns. The Park Service has been severely underfunded for many years and the head Ranger reported that he only had 10 rangers to cover the entire area of Sandy Hook. NAC made it clear we were there to listen and to work to make the beach atmosphere pleasant for the management and the attendees alike. Over the last two years we have kept in contact with the management to understand their issues.
Our primary efforts have focused on the beach attendees, mostly through their Facebook pages with 5000 or more followers. NAC, with the input of the Facebook followers, has developed and published a Naturist Beach Etiquette document, posted the History of Gunnison Beach from Nude & Natural magazine and provided educational posts on the role of Beach Ambassadors.
This year Gunnison Beach regulars report reduced numbers and a more pleasant time except for the loud music. They report that the beach is much cleaner and more attendees are picking up trash and carrying it off the beach to the trash cans in the parking lot.
Our desire is identify and support a group of regular local attendees who will organize a new Friends of Gunnison to help take care of the beach, educate beach goers and work with the Park Service to have a safe, clean and pleasant beach experience for all.
*From a Federal level law clerk friend: “The Federal government has the right to protect its property in any way it deems appropriate as long as it applies these means equally across all groups, and with justification it can apply these means unequally. And I will remind you that Nudists are not a protected class.”
Published in the NEF & NAC Pages of History Newsletter, July 2021.