As we packed our bags, Tatyana Triguboff ’17 turned to me and said, “Be sure to pack a swimsuit. They have a pool.” Immediately, we both lit up and exchanged a knowing glance. We would need nothing of the sort. Fellow Ephs, the good thing about planning an afternoon outing to the Berkshire Vista Resort – nudist community, clothing-optional recreational facility and campground – is that one can pack light.
We set out for the atypical destination last Friday on a gorgeous and sunny afternoon. Located at the end of Kittle Road in the rolling hills of Hancock, Mass. and only 25 minutes away by car from the College, the Resort is open every year from May 1 to Columbus Day for “nude and clothing-optional recreation.” In the heat of spring, the trees were donning a new coat of leaves, a cruel reminder that we were about to shed our own outer coverings. Driving past the ever-idyllic farms and fields of Berkshire County, though, went a long way in helping us to emotionally prepare for our “return to nature.” As we pulled up to the entrance, a sign at the gate reading “Beyond this point, social nudity is the norm” aptly set the tone for our tour and visit.
We drove into the campground, which consists of three different clusters of trailer units parked along a sloping hill. Residents have affectionately named the clusters The Ghetto, Snob Hill and Heaven in order of ascension. Our first nudist sighting was of a proud resident of The Ghetto, reclining under the pergola of his almost menacingly sleek and decked-out RV. We left our chaperone, Eva Fourakis ’16, clothed and in the vehicle. Not as lion-hearted as her subordinates, Fourakis opted instead to study for a psych exam. (Much to her dismay, she inadvertently had parked in front of the camp’s main walkway, making her an unenthusiastic audience to a parade of residents and visitors in their birthday suits.)
We were greeted in the Clubhouse by an array of variously clad bartenders and customers. One woman, Julie Coneau, who has been working and living at the resort every season for 15 years starting when she was 30, enthused about the positive effects of nudism on her body image, claiming life in the Berkshire Vista community taught her that “there is only one Beyoncé” and that being yourself is more than sufficient. The other female bartender, clad only in unzipped jean shorts and hiking boots, walked past us to begin maintenance for the pool, stopping only to exclaim “I love my job!” Indeed, at every point of our adventure we were met only by the friendliest and most effusive of countenances. Also of note was the age bracket of those occupying the resort; almost all of the people we encountered were over 60.
Virginia “Ginny” Bookstein who gave us a tour of the grounds and facilities, is one of the founders and managers of the resort as it stands today, along with her husband Dan. Neither Ginny nor her husband is a nudist. Back in the ’70s, they bought the strictly nudist campground and the neighboring farmland at auction from a man named Hiram Hart, who had owned and operated the campground before declaring bankruptcy. The community’s longtime members and attendees pleaded that their refuge from the world of the clothed not be snatched from them. After being persuaded that the community’s financial ruin was due to the previous owner’s poor management, not the liberated lifestyle of its members, Ginny and her husband agreed to retain the nudist element and set to work renovating the campground.
Today, visitors can swim or lounge at the Resort’s pool and hot tubs, play Pétanque, a French-Canadian form of the game boules, tennis or volleyball, sun on the grounds, porches or lawns, walk in the nearby trails or grab a bite or drink at the Pool Bar and Clubhouse. For the entrance fee of 25 dollars, one can get a day pass to enjoy the views, clubhouse, activities and recreational facilities at the Resort. If you go as a couple, you can get a discount of just 40 dollars for you and your companion. Longer overnight stays in trailer units are also available at the camp, which houses 700 people at maximum capacity.
Aside from the activities available everyday, the Resort also hosts large-scale special events, beginning with the weekly DJ-ed dance parties Saturday nights at 8 p.m. in the Clubhouse. (A sign upon entering the Clubhouse reads “Warning: DJ’s jams may be too hot and dangerous.”) All 700 units in the Resort are already booked up for both of the camp’s largest annual events: September’s Spaghetto, a boisterous festival filled with live entertainment, drinking, dancing and spaghetti, and the World Record Skinny Dip in July, an event with nationwide participation that remains the long-standing title holder of the Guinness World Record for the most people skinny dipping at once. Next Saturday, May 16, the Resort will even host a dance party with a DJ called the Nude New Year Black and White Ball. (Many questions were raised for these reporters as to how one could simultaneously maintain integrity as a nudist and appropriately dress for such a theme.)
In an effort to be more newcomer friendly, the Resort has fluctuated its policies over the years. The previously strictly nudist Resort has switched to “clothing-optional” in most areas, except the pool and hot tubs. In a Resort brochure, the owners and managers expressed this new flexibility, writing, “Whether you’re a first-time nudist, or it’s old hat to you, we hope to make this an experience you will remember joyfully and want to repeat many times over.”
Other rules in the otherwise liberal environment, though, make it possible for Berkshire Vista to remain a place where family-friendly, non-sexualized nudism is possible. As the rules of the camp dictate, “We do not allow cameras or cell phone and other internet devise with cameras in common areas. Generally, introductions are first names only. No genital jewelry. Overt sexual behavior is not acceptable!”
We were shocked to discover the campground is also open to children of all ages, parental permission provided. As it turns out, the Resort is affiliated with and operates under the auspices of the American Association for Nudist Recreation (AANR), a national organization that advocates for and protects the legal right to be nude in appropriate places. Item number four on the “Nudist Bill of Rights” drafted by the AANR states, “Nudists have the right to exercise decision-making in the upbringing of their families in a manner consistent with their beliefs and without interference from others.” According to Ginny, certain states are receptive to such a philosophy, while others are sternly opposed to it. Nonetheless, at Berkshire Vista Resort there is even a Kids Play Area with a swing set and monkey bars adjacent to the sunning lawn and Clubhouse, from which parents can watch their kids.
As committed journalists and honest reviewers, we felt that in order to comprehend and empathize with this stripped-down experience, we had to fully participate. After we thanked Ginny for the informative tour, we headed to the Pool Area. While this component of our visit had the potential to be the most intimidating and unpleasant, we reviewers realized that in this community, where the vulnerability was universal and all interactions seemed earnest and unaffected (despite campers’ slight vagueness about their identities in the outside world), we were not going to be judged for our physicalities or viewed in a sexual way. So we felt surprisingly comfortable inverting typical conceptions of public and private, baring all and soaking up some vitamin D in a judgment and tan-line free zone.