In 2014, I was invited by Richard and Shirley Mason, founders of South Florida Free Beaches, to visit Haulover Beach, the nude beach they created and persuaded the Miami-Dade County parks department to legalize in 1991.
Just a third of a mile long, Haulover is bounded by “textile” beach (the word nudists use for those wearing clothes) on both sides and is separated by a waist high snow fence at each end. Located in North Miami and rarely controversial now, the beach was a leap of faith for all concerned back in 1991. Today, Haulover Beach is known the world over as the most successful, safest and enjoyable nude beach in the US. To give you an idea, go to my Facebook page (Bill Schroer) and you will see a photo of the two sides of the beach (nude and “textile”). The difference is astonishing. Looking at the entire span of beach from a three story lifeguard tower (where I was given permission to photograph as one of Richard and Shirley’s Beach ambassadors) there is almost no one on the textile side of the beach. Those few textiles looked quite alone. The nude side was solid people.
As a first time visitor to Haulover Beach, I was struck by the astounding normalcy of it all. There was nothing special… nothing out of the ordinary. People were doing exactly what people do on a beach… play frisbee, lay in the sun, read under a beach umbrella, play with the kids, etc. They just didn’t have clothes on. No one was gawking or acting stupidly. People were on the beach enjoying the day. And the stark contrast with the emptiness of the textile beach told me that is an option many people prefer.
The statistics are even more dramatic. Looking at visitor counts and parking revenues the third of a mile nude beach at Haulover generates over 1.4 million visitors per year. Over $30 million in tax revenue and $1.2 million in parking revenue alone is generated. The nude beach at Haulover is like a Division 1 college football team whose revenues support other city parks and beaches. When Richard and Shirley have a beach ambassador training, the Miami-Dade Parks are present, the police send a senior sergeant, the rescue/lifeguard service sends a representative as all are working to make this, the nude beach, safe and enjoyable.
The Beach Ambassadors patrol the beach to ensure there is no inappropriate behavior and, because a plurality of visitors to the beach are first time visitors, the ambassadors share nude beach etiquette. No gawking, being stupid or inappropriate behavior is tolerated. One reason Haulover is so popular is because with the 8,000 visitors on a normal weekend day, the beach is safer and the visitors better behaved than occurs on most textile beaches anytime. Richard and Shirley have emphasized with the privilege to be nude comes the responsibility to behave.
Given the clear preference of visitors to Haulover Beach to pick the nude side, the tremendous economic impact of the nude beach and the thoughtful decision of Miami-Dade county to offer beach users a choice, what is the lesson for Michigan? With over 3,126 miles of shoreline (not as much as Florida… but not bad!) is there not room for a one-third or half mile section of nude beach somewhere in this state? Florida has five nude beaches totaling multiple miles of waterfront, and two more are being proposed (Jacksonville and Ft. Pierce). For those who don’t want to see “ugly, naked people” or have other similarly narrow views… you don’t have to go. Because some people don’t want to use a nude beach doesn’t mean it isn’t a legitimate option for others.
Non-sexual, family-friendly nude use of public lands is an option that is as legitimate as the government set aside land for snowmobile, cross-country skiing or horseback riding trails or public boat launches. While most of us don’t care about using those amenities, we don’t protest against them. A nude beach in the beach friendly state of Michigan is long overdue.