Nudity ban on Fire Island begrudgingly accepted by 'naturists'

Susan Rothberg of Lindenhurst and Carmelita Downey of Susan Rothberg of Lindenhurst and Carmelita Downey of Babylon stand next to a sign that marks the entrance to the section of beach where bathers used to bathe nude just east of Robert Moses State Park in Babylon on Aug 16, 2014. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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When Susan Rothberg visited Fire Island's Lighthouse Beach for the first time, she was 35, accompanied by a boyfriend and completely nude.

That was 1995.

When Rothberg strolled the beach Saturday, she was merely topless -- a concession to a ban on total nudity imposed by park rangers more than a year ago.

Rothberg, 54, of Farmingdale, spent a lot of summer weekends at the beach over the years, becoming part of what she felt was a family of clothes-shedding "naturists."

"It was never anything lewd, just people comfortable in their body," she said.

Like Rothberg, most beachgoers appear to have begrudgingly accepted the prohibition that began being enforced in February 2013, reducing the once-brazen nudity to bare breasts and thongs. State law allows women to go topless anywhere a man could, but park rangers have the power to issue citations to anyone who strips bare.

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"A lot of people would prefer if we didn't have the law," said James Judge, 53, of Valley Stream, who walked the beach Saturday in a sarong.

"We're wearing ridiculous clothing that we wouldn't wear anywhere else," he said.

There are some who still defy the ban, lying nude in far corners of the beach or flaunting their skin in the surf, but they are the exception, said Carmelita Downey, 45, of Babylon, who was socializing with friends in nothing but a blue bikini bottom and a wide-brimmed sun hat.

There have been only a few citations issued for nudity violations, said Duane Michael, a park ranger with the Fire Island National Seashore.

Public nudity had been tolerated for many years at the beach, Michael said, but superstorm Sandy ravaged the dunes that served as a buffer between the nude beachgoers and people on the boardwalk to the iconic lighthouse. Rangers began getting complaints from surprised boardwalk people who caught glimpses of bare skin.

Since the ban began being enforced, Lighthouse Beach has seen a substantial drop in visitors, according to Downey.

Regulars who had once traveled from Connecticut and New Jersey to enjoy the beach with Long Island friends now stay home on their own nude beaches, she said.

But Michael said rangers are spending less time monitoring the beach than when it was clothing-optional, and there were more reports about trash piles and drug and alcohol use.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story, and its headline, use the wrong term to describe beachgoers who don’t wear clothes.

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