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Youth nude camp faces criticism from politicians


Karina Bland
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 1, 2003 12:00 AM

NEW RIVER - Naked kids gather around a swamp cooler at the Shangri La Ranch as if it were a campfire, talking about taking a swim and tonight's pizza party.

They are slathered in sunscreen and protected by a security fence from the controversy nationwide about this and other weeklong camps for nudist children run by the American Association for Nude Recreation.

The furor started last month when Florida Congressman Mark Foley, a Republican planning a run for the U.S. Senate, asked Gov. Jeb Bush to investigate a nude youth camp there. He said the children were being exploited and in danger of sexual abuse.

Here in Arizona, Speaker of the House Jake Flake said he would encourage the county attorney to investigate the camp, which is about 45 minutes north of downtown Phoenix.

"I have to think they are breaking some laws somehow, indecency or something," said Flake, R-Snowflake.

State law allows nudity on private property, even among minors with parental permission. Lewd behavior is against the law.

There was nothing lewd going on at Shangri La Ranch on Thursday. There were naked people, adults and kids, but it was pretty mundane, with people sunbathing, playing cards and visiting on lawn chairs in the shade.

Camper Danielle Faber, 16, naked except for pink flip-flops on her feet, is sporting tan lines from a field trip Tuesday to Waterworld, where the campers had to don bathing suits.

Faber has grown up a nudist. Her grandfather, Horst Kraus, bought the Shangri La Ranch, a nude resort with rental units, RV and camping space, in 1997. Her mother is camp director. Shangri La has existed as a nudist camp since 1959.

At an age when girls throw T-shirts on over their bathing suits and boys worry about the size of their biceps, Danielle is happy with her body.

"I'm not the one in the locker room, hiding behind my T-shirt or standing on the scale saying, 'I need to lose 10 pounds,' " she said. "I've grown up knowing that I don't have to look like Barbie or a supermodel."

And she is more comfortable around nudist boys than the boys at her high school, who tend to be more suggestive or goofy about things sexual.

The 15 campers, ages 11 to 17, all have been raised in nudist families and come from California, Oregon, Texas and Canada.

"Our youth camps are for our children," said Pat Brown, president of the American Association for Nude Recreation, at a news conference.

The camp, which is not open to the public, costs $200.

Congressman Foley's attack has brought much media attention to the nude association's expansion of its summer youth camps. The first opened near Tampa 10 years ago.

This is Arizona's second nude youth camp. Another camp opened in Virginia last month, and a fourth camp will open in Texas by 2005.

In New River, campers sleep in tents, cooled by huge swamp coolers. Besides taking part in regular camp activities, the kids attend hourlong seminars on positive body image, leadership and nudism.

The youth camps are on campgrounds at nudist resorts where adult nudists also live and visit.

Foley and Flake are concerned that adults see the young campers naked.

But Kraus said adult nudists see naked kids, theirs and those of other nudists, all the time. He said the kids are safe.

Anyone in a nudist resort who displays inappropriate behavior is thrown out and placed on a "do-not-admit" list that circulates to nudist groups nationwide within 24 hours.

There are 15 staff members watching over the 15 campers. There are strict rules about adult contact with campers and who enters their quarters.

But Flake said, "If it's not the parents themselves, that's not enough chaperoning for me."

Counselors and camp staff must clear background checks and present recommendations from their home nudist group.

In 10 years, Kraus said, there have not been any incidents of child abuse or unwanted teenage pregnancy at a youth camp. A check of court records shows no complaints against Shangri La Ranch

Still, Flake said, "These are teenagers when the passions run high and the adrenaline flows."

Kraus said nudists are often conservative, politically and morally, and nudist children typically are less sexually active than other kids.

Jesse Ferrier, 18, a camp counselor who lives at Shangri La Ranch, said campers are respectful of one another's bodies. Nudity is not about sex, he said, but of freedom and comfort.
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