Richard Moore enjoys being nude. He enjoys it so much that he regularly strips down to experience life au natural. Not only is he shedding the fabric that covers his body, he says he believes he is also shedding the stresses and hassles of everyday life.
"To me, it's kind of a phenomenon," he said. "You just don't feel any stress out here. I forget about all my worries, all the bills I got to pay, work. I come out here to enjoy myself, enjoy the people. We all have fun. It's almost like a close-knit family."
Welcome to Oaklake Trails Naturist Park, a family nudist resort covering more than 400 acres in Depew, about an hour southwest of Tulsa. Nestled in the rural, tree-covered land off historic Route 66, Oaklake offers everything one might expect of a rustic Oklahoma resort true to its roots: camping grounds, cabins, swimming pool, hot tub, horseshoes and more.
But there's a major difference between Oaklake and other camp-like settings. At Oaklake, everyone is nude or nearly nude. Women and men wearing nothing but hats and sunglasses splash in the pool. A young woman sits outside her cabin in a lawn chair, with nothing on but a look of concentration, reading a book. She waves as fellow nudists ride by on golf carts.
To step foot into Oaklake is to step foot into a whole new experience of life uncloaked.
"Like our sign says out there, 'Welcome to our world,'" said Dennis Duncan, an Oaklake staff member who works at the front office. "You can almost feel the difference when you come through the gate."
It's not that the people at the resort are doing anything titillating, it's that they have simply created their own community, one where anyone with an open mind is invited and bodily inhibitions are thrown out the window. (Privacy is a relative term here. Individuals or couples can rent their own cottage that comes with a view of the park's grounds but without blinds. There are separate bathrooms for men and women but no doors.)
To be clear, Oaklake is not only for those going nude. It is a clothing-optional park, meaning, according to Duncan, nudity is "encouraged, but we also accept the fact that some people are shy and maybe a little reluctant to get into the lifestyle."
However, visitors are required to disrobe if they wish to use the pool or hot tub. Besides those two places, guests can walk around wearing jeans, boots and a parka, if they wish (or, a t-shirt for a man and a thong for a woman).
Unlike on the other side of the gate, fabric covering any part of the body will garner looks within the resort's premises.
"People are more noticeable if they are wearing clothes because you're definitely in the minority," Duncan explained.
He said social and family nude recreation creates positive body awareness and acceptance; even if someone is uncomfortable, they can make eye contact with the other person.
"For those folks who enjoy social and family nude recreation, they have a place where they can come and enjoy it and not worry about a ranger coming and tapping them on the shoulder and saying, 'You're breaking the law or you know you're causing a public nuisance' or something to that effect," Duncan said.
For Moore, 53, Oaklake is a home away from home.
He first discovered Oaklake Trails on the Internet four or five years ago.
"I was looking for something new or different, rather than going out to the lake or a swimming pool or public pool, and I thought about it at the time, and I kicked it around and then winter came and I kind of forgot all about it," he explained.
Then, about a year ago, he had breakfast with some friends and they asked if he would like to visit the resort. He agreed, and the rest, he said, is history.
"I was here for half a day, and I knew I was going to be a member. It just clicked," he said. "By the next day, I knew I was going to buy this cabin. That's how taken I was with it. The lifestyle is like no other."
He didn't realize how much emphasis society puts on clothes, he explained.
"Clothes dictate everything, and no one really notices that until you come to a place like this, and everybody you meet, they don't have clothes on, so automatically you are put on an equal playing level, equal plane. Everybody is equal. I think that's what intrigued me the most... Everyone was just equal. I think that's what really set it off for me," Moore said as he sat at a table near the Bare Buns Bistro snack bar. (Hungry nudists need not worry about carrying around change for snacks, as a charge card system is used. As Duncan said, "Most people here don't have pockets.")
Moore and his girlfriend stay at the resort every weekend. Sunday nights are hard, he said, because he doesn't want to leave the community, so he sometimes spends one more night, just to have 12 more hours of freedom.
"The problem is you get out here... you get so relaxed, have so much fun, you forget about all your worries. You just really hate to go back to the norm," he said.
Friends have not been very open-minded to his way of life, Moore said. He has invited many to the resort to experience the same feeling of liberation he enjoys every weekend. However, few have taken him up on his offer.
"When I tell my friend I joined a resort like this, out here, the first thing that comes through their mind, is, 'Oh it's a swingers club,'" he said, adding, "[That] couldn't be further from the truth. I try to tell them it's not about that, by any means."
But Moore said he understands why some people are reluctant to embrace this lifestyle.
"But that's the way we were all brought up, ever since we were little, 'Put your clothes on. Put your clothes on,'" he said, laughing that he's always been "a nudist at heart."
Both of Moore's daughters are aware of the life he leads on the weekends, although they differ on how they feel about it, he said. His 30-year-old daughter won't discuss nude recreation, which he said he respects, while his 29-year old daughter seems to be fine with his choice. She told him, "That's cool, Dad. I'm glad you found a place you're happy." Moore noted that he is not ashamed of his choice to be nude and is very open about it:
"I'm not ashamed of it. If I was ashamed of it, why would I come out? It makes sense to me. You're brought into this world nude; you leave this world nude, basically."
However, some members and visitors are not able to be as open as Moore, so Oaklake is careful about privacy, Duncan said.
"Some people work in careers where their employers don't accept this lifestyle, like the fields of education, politics. They don't want their co-workers to know," he said, adding, "They're not hiding it, they just probably know they'd run into a stone wall if it came out."
To protect privacy, photos and videos are not allowed without first being granted permission.
One Oaklake member who must be careful about her privacy is Pat, 61, who works at a school as an education technician. Pat, along with her husband Bob, travel from Maine every summer to stay at Oaklake from June to August. The two of them have been taking part in nude recreation for "a long, long time," according to Pat, although she admits she was reluctant at first.
While married to her first husband, she said she never would have done anything like nude recreation, so when Bob told her he was attending a nudist park, she decided to tag along to see what it was all about. She received more stares with her clothes on, she said, and finally made the decision to take the plunge and disrobe.
"I thought, 'I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it.' And I took my clothes off, and it never bothered me," Pat said. "I thought it would, but it didn't. It really didn't."
She adds: "And there are people that are big. I mean heavier women. There's (also) skinny, skinny girls. I mean, nobody has a perfect figure."
Only one of her three children, all with her first husband, knows she lives at Oaklake three months out of the year. She said she spilled the beans to her eldest daughter after her daughter visited a nude beach on her honeymoon.
"The only reason my oldest daughter [knows] is because she got married again, and she told me, '"We went to a nude beach. Don't be mad.' And I said, 'I'm not mad. I've been going to a nudist resort forever.'" said Pat, who hopped out of the pool, wrapped her towel around her body and sat down in front of Bare Buns Bistro to answer questions.
She wore a pink baseball cap and spoke with a distinct Northeastern accent as she explained that she is not keeping her lifestyle choice a secret because she is embarrassed, but because some people are narrow-minded.
"I'm not ashamed of it. It's just what people think of nudist parks, and that's why I wouldn't say anything," she said, adding, "But if my kids come out and ask me, I wouldn't lie to them."
More than 200 permanent members, ranging in age from two or three years to 70 or 80, belong to the resort, with about 25 living on the grounds full time. On average, Oaklake will see about six visitors during the week. The weekends are the big draw, with 60 to 75 singles, couples and families enjoying the au natural lifestyle.
"It's definitely focused on family values," Duncan said. "The fact that nude recreation is a wholesome, fun, legitimate, legal way to enjoy yourself."
Visitor numbers tend to flatten around Halloween, although cold weather is no excuse to not take part in nudity, said Duncan.
"I tell people you aren't a real nudist until you've sat in the hot tub with snow falling on your head," he said, laughing.
Oaklake Trails got its start in 1992, when a group of individuals decided to invest and create their own park after a nudist park near Tulsa closed down.
"They'd come out on weekends, clear the trails, clear trees and so forth, and they'd all go back home and go to their jobs, whatever," Duncan said.
Eventually, the park progressed from land to a campground resort. The transformation is commemorated in several collages, which depict the changes throughout the years, which hang in the clubhouse.
Today, Oaklake Trails Naturist Park covers 440 acres, 60 of which are developed. A pool, hot tub, clubhouse, pavilion, volleyball court, playground, shuffleboard and fire pit make up the tent and picnic area, and RV sites surround the area. Several trails lead hikers into the outlying meadow.
Although Oaklake prides itself on offering nudists a safe haven, Duncan notes that it is also a business.
"We're a legitimate, recognized business. The Stroud Better Business Bureau and Sapulpa [Better Business Bureau] all recognize us as being a viable business enterprise," he said.
He adds, "We're here to provide people the avenues to come out and relax, but we're also here as a business."
That business includes a nine-member Board of Directors, stockholders and officers, as well as an S corporation designation and is one of more than 270 clubs and resorts affiliated with the American Association for Nude Recreation. AANR, which boasts more than 50,000 individual members, is, in turn, a member of the International Naturist Federation, which holds a World Congress every two years.
In 2003, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), who resigned from Congress in 2006 after allegations surfaced he sent suggestive emails to teenage boys, expressed outrage after reading a New York Times article about one of AANR's youth camps, saying the camp was exploiting kids for money.
Rules of Engagement
But contrary to common misconceptions, sex is not part of the experience of Oaklake, and sexually explicit behavior is not allowed at the resort.
"Nudism is the shedding of clothes, not our morals," state the guidelines given to every visitor at the resort.
"For the most part, it is like any other park or RV, but it is unique in the fact that people are nude," Duncan said.
All guests undergo background checks, he said, as a way to weed out serious offenders who have a history of violence or sexual abuse, and guests must buzz into the front office before they are allowed on the premises. Minor offenses, such as a speeding ticket, are not a problem, he said.
Duncan normally sits in the front office nude, but as a courtesy, he wears an Oaklake Trails nude run t-shirt, shorts and sandals, explaining how he conducts his own screening of potential visitors.
"You can almost tell what the intent is," he said of phone callers. "You can tell if they are an enthusiastic camper, or if they're just someone who thinks they are going to come out and gawk at nude bodies."
If he thinks someone is interested in the resort purely for a "wow" factor, he begins by making sure they know Oaklake Trails is family-oriented and "behavior not requiring an apology is expected of everyone."
People can file grievances if they wish, and a membership committee ultimately decides what happens.
"[The grievance is] heard and it's listened to, so we maintain minimal law and order, but we don't want to make this a park of rules. 'Don't do this. Don't do that.' People come up here to have a good time," he added.
A few times people have had to be told not to come back, but the front office screens pretty well, Duncan said.
By law, Oklahoma citizens are allowed to take part in nudity in the privacy of their own home or a secured property, as long as it is not in the public eye, said Lt. Wayne Williams of the Creek County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over Depew. He adds that guests could be cited for indecent exposure if they leave the Oaklake premises.
During his more than 10 years at the Sheriff's Office, Williams said he remembers only one time when an Oaklake visitor was arrested for "nudity issues." Besides that, nothing, he said.
"They're pretty quiet," he said, adding that most calls to the Sheriff's Office from the resort are regarding vandalism or larceny.
That's not to say that normal body reactions don't occur with the abundance of bare skin. It's inevitable, Duncan said, and that's one reason why every visitor to the resort is given a towel to keep with them at all times.
The towels are also used when sitting on any chairs or benches for hygienic purposes.
Sitting on his towel at another table in front of the Bare Buns Bistro, Jerry Randall smokes a cigarette and explains why he decided to visit the resort for the first time.
"There's just something about walking around not having to worry about how you look, what people think of you," Randall, 46, said, adding that he has always been able to separate nudity from sex.
Pat, the education technician from Maine, says being a female made her more resistant to stripping down the first time she visited a nudist camp.
"With nudity, people think there's a lot of stuff that goes on. At first, when you first start, you think that. But it's nothing like that--nothing."
When she's at the campground, she said she doesn't even notice the other naked bodies, adding, "When you come in you have clothes on and people kind of stare at you, but the minute you're here and take your clothes off, I don't know. It's just relaxing. It's just nature. It's just real comfortable. Everybody here is just so friendly."
As relaxed and low-key as Oaklake comes across, an influx of visitors from around the country will undoubtedly liven up these travel-light lifestylers August 10, when the camp hosts the weeklong 2009 AANR convention. The event allows the resort's parent organization an opportunity to discusses business, elects officers and gather member input.
A large part of the convention, Duncan said, is the opportunity to meet and spend time with other nudists from across the country.
He said Oaklake was awarded the chance to hold the convention two years ago and is proud to show off the resort.
"It's our chance here at Oaklake to showcase our park. A lot of times these conventions are held on either coast, down in Florida, at resorts probably a little less rustic than we are," he said. "So a lot of our conventioneers are in for a real treat because they're used to going in and seeing fancy restaurants and high rise hotels. It's still a nude setting. But still, this is camping to me."
Last year's event was held in Turtle Creek, Mich., he notes.
From the beginning to the end of the week, 400 to 500 people are expected to attend the "Celebrating Our Heritage"-themed convention, which will recognize Native American culture and include a performance by a Native American dancer and Civil War re-enactment, Duncan said. Also, a wedding vow renewal ceremony will be offered at the resort's chapel, used for non-denominational church services.
Earlier this summer, on July 11, Oaklake participants helped set a new Guinness World Record for skinny dipping in North America. At 2pm "Central Nudist Time," nudists from across the United States and Canada jumped, plunged and dove into pools and oceans bare-skinned.
Through events like these, Duncan said stereotypes about nudists are slowly diminishing.
"You know, we're no longer referred to as a colony. We're nudist, not lepers," he said.
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