Fire Island nudity ban just on federal land, officials say

At a beach on Fire Island with nude, At a beach on Fire Island with nude, unidentified sun bathers. (April 16, 2002) Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

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The Fire Island National Seashore decision to enforce state law banning public nudity will not extend to the island's 17 communities and their beaches, officials with the National Park Service said.

"We only have authority over federal land," said Chief Ranger Lena Koschmann. "Those are not federally owned properties, so . . . we have no authority."

A spokesman for Suffolk County police, who patrol most of those beaches, said they don't plan to change efforts on enforcing laws against public nudity on Fire Island.

Soon after word spread in February that FINS would start enforcing state nudity laws, news outlets such as Queerty and Fire Island Q News, which blog about the gay communities at Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove, posted statements from Koschmann explaining that those beaches would not be affected.

Koschmann said Friday that while the Carrington Tract of land between the Pines and Cherry Grove — colloquially referred to as the Meat Rack — falls under the new order, it will not be the focus of enforcement.

"The Meat Rack is federal property," Koschmann said. While there have been complaints of public sex and lewd behavior on that parcel, she said, "We're focusing on those areas that are likely to be high instances of visitor use conflict, so we're looking at areas where other visitors who aren't nude recreators would potentially be offended."

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When FINS Superintendent Christopher Soller released his compendium for park use in February, he highlighted five areas where park rangers would concentrate on enforcing state nudity laws: Lighthouse Beach, Watch Hill, Sailors Haven, Barrett Beach and the beach at the Wilderness Visitor Center.

"This summer is kind of a trial run; we don't want to have to do an islandwide ban necessarily but it depends on how the summer goes," Koschmann said. "If we start enforcing state law in those five areas and see huge increases in nude recreating in other areas that are creating visitor use conflict, we will expand our enforcement."

Robert Morton, executive director of the Naturist Action Committee, which advocates for nudists' rights, said that's cold comfort to those who have enjoyed clothing-optional bathing at Lighthouse Beach.

"This is something that will have a major consequence," Morton said, adding that the group has retained legal counsel and hopes to see the decision to enforce state nudity law reversed. "If you've ever been to Lighthouse Beach on a summer afternoon you can see that there are a lot of people who will be affected, and there are a lot of people who are pushing back."

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