|photo submitted by Bruce-Michael Gelbert
Joe, Bruce-Michael & Hal sunbathing nude on the beach on Fire Island
The Fire Island National Seashore (FINS), the division of the United States Department of the Interior’s National Parks Service responsible for overseeing the beaches, woods, and so on of Fire Island, sent a letter on February 5, signed by FINS Chief Ranger Lena Koschmann, concerning its policy regarding Fire Island’s much-valued nude beaches, the text of which will follow in full below. The letter came to the attention of Fire Island Q News on February 9.
“Effective immediately, state nudity laws will be enforced at Fire Island National Seashore … Public nudity has been prohibited in the State of New York since 1984 … Fire Island National Seashore management recognizes that visitors have come to Fire island to sunbathe in the nude for many years, and that many responsible and respectful users of this beach have provided support to the park through volunteer efforts over the years. Fire Island National Seashore management is focusing its enforcement only on those areas in which visitor use conflicts are likely—specifically, those areas that are heavily visited by members of the public who are generally not attuned to nude recreation,” the letter says, in part.
In response to FIQN’s emailed questions, Ranger Koschmann elaborated as follows:
“Please know that this will not affect any community beaches (i.e. Cherry Grove), only federal beaches, and only those specified in the letter. This decision has already been finalized, and our change in policy made official. It is firmly rooted in the fact that public nudity is illegal in the State of New York, and given that we share jurisdiction with the state, has also been illegal on Fire Island since that state law was established.” She continued, “Public Nudity is illegal everywhere in the State of New York. That being said, as the letter states, we will be focusing our enforcement efforts only in the areas specified, and not on any community beaches. The Pines, the Grove, and other communities on Fire Island are responsible for managing use on their own beaches. However, we will be closely monitoring other federal areas for visitor use conflicts and illegal activities such as those we have seen on Lighthouse Beach. If we see problems increase elsewhere, we may expand our enforcement efforts. Rangers will continue to patrol all areas of the park, and will respond to illegal activity that they observe based on the totality of the circumstances they come across. Also, it is important to understand that other agencies (such as SCPD [Suffolk County Police Department]) have the ability to enforce this nudity law anywhere they choose on the island.”
Ranger Koschmann gave no specific response to FIQN’s question about the beach between Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines, due south of the Carrington Tract or Meat Rack, which has for a number of years been, by common community consensus, a popular nude sunbathing area.
Impresario and party-giver Daniel Nardicio, who first brought this matter to FIQN’s attention, wrote, in emails to this writer, “There are very few things I'll go crazy political over, but this issue will have me in a fury if they actually try to enforce this … If this in fact is true, I’ll spend all summer protesting this with naked sit-ins and all manner of making this public. Gay people need to defend their spaces and Cherry Grove needs to lead that.”
Concerned Cherry Grove citizen and activist Greg McMullen wrote, “[A fireisland.com] article mentions every beach but ours. It is wrong regardless but I question why ours was not listed … I am dubious after what's been going on the last few seasons … Maybe it's the weekend. Or maybe they are intentionally keeping it vague to avoid backlash while leaving room to adjust their position later.”
This is the text of Fire Island National Seashore’s letter:
United States Department of the Interior
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Fire Island National Seashore
120 Laurel Street
Patchogue, NY 11772
February 5, 2013
To Whom it May Concern:
Effective immediately, state nudity laws will be enforced at Fire Island National Seashore. While state laws apply throughout the Seashore, the park will focus its public education and enforcement efforts of the existing New York State law at the following federally-owned areas:
o Lighthouse beach, from the western boundary of the park to the western boundary of Kismet.
o The Sailors Haven tract, from Point O’ Woods to Cherry Grove.
o One half mile on either side of the Barrett Beach lifeguard stand.
o One mile on either side of the Watch Hill lifeguard stand.
o From the Wilderness Visitor Center to the breach at Old Inlet
Public nudity has been prohibited in the State of New York since 1984 under New York State Penal Code 245.01. Fire Island National Seashore shares concurrent jurisdiction with the State of New York, which means that state laws can be enforced on federal lands by federal, state, and local law enforcement officers. Although the National Park Service (NPS) is focusing its enforcement on the identified areas, the law still applies park-wide, and may be enforced throughout the park. NPS policies favor consistent enforcement of state laws on federal lands, and disfavor the designation of clothing optional areas. Public nudity on Fire Island has resulted in conflicts of use, despite past park management efforts to accommodate clothing optional recreation. On Lighthouse beach in particular, the dense visitation invited by the previously-designated “clothing optional beach” presented not only a visitor use conflict, but created a public safety hazard due to the lack of adequate facilities for trash and human waste, in addition to the heavy recreation on a non-lifeguarded beach. Additionally, Hurricane Sandy leveled the dunes in this area, which increases the visibility of the beach from other public use areas. The sandy overwash areas left by the storm created added habitat for sensitive species in the area. Finally, park employees have observed an increase in criminal activity in the designated clothing-optional areas, but have been unable to appropriately manage this activity despite significant attempts at education and enforcement.
Violation of this law is a class B federal misdemeanor, and can result in fines of up to $5,000 and up to six months imprisonment.
Fire Island National Seashore management recognizes that visitors have come to Fire Island to sunbathe in the nude for many years, and that many responsible and respectful users of this beach have provided support to the park through volunteer efforts over the years. Fire Island National Seashore management is focusing its enforcement only on those areas in which visitor use conflicts are likely—specifically, those areas that are heavily visited by members of the public who are generally not attuned to nude recreation. On all Seashore lands, however, other regulations such as disorderly conduct, creating an offensive condition, public intoxication, and drug and alcohol laws will be strictly enforced. Use and compliance on all park beaches will be monitored throughout the summer, with additional measures being taken as necessary. Should concentrations of nudity and/or lewd and lascivious behaviors increase in other areas of the park and cause similar conflicts with other visitors and/or protected natural resources, then the park may expand its enforcement efforts to other areas.
Questions about these changes should be directed to Chief Ranger Lena Koschmann at 631/687-4757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chief Ranger, Fire Island National Seashore
O: (631) 687-4757