Pasco Nudist Resorts Attract Local, International Naturalists
Geoff FoxLAND O' LAKES They frolic naked in the sun, defend an often misunderstood lifestyle and boost the local economy in ways few people realize.
Published: June 6, 2008
Published: June 6, 2008
As many industries struggle, Pasco County's nudist resorts are enjoying the kind of success that would make even Donald Trump smile.
Despite recent controversy, Caliente Resorts, one of three major nudist or clothing-optional destinations in Land O' Lakes, says its revenue is up 120 percent. That's thanks, in part, to an influx of European travelers taking advantage of the Euro-to-dollar exchange rate.
The resort's 350-plus home sites also are popular. County property appraiser's records show more than $7.8 million in real-estate sales at the resort since January 2007.
A few miles to the south, Paradise Lakes Resort, which markets almost exclusively to locals, has reported more than $12.4 million in real-estate sales in the last 15 months.
Those figures might surprise people who know little about nudists, but it's no shock to Sen. Victor Crist, the Tampa Republican who represents Land O' Lakes.
"People are flying in from all over the world," said Crist. "[Nudists] are funding our school districts, law enforcement and firefighters, and they're not users of these services.
"A big portion of the revenues in Pasco are generated from that industry - much greater than people realize."
Although it's hard to say how much nudists help the local economy, county officials know they have "a pretty big impact, tourism-wise," said county spokesman Eric Keaton.
Along with the Gulf Coast Resort in coastal Hudson, the major resorts - including Caliente, Paradise Lakes and Lake Como Family Nudist Resort - are in Land O' Lakes, the heart of what used to be an isolated expanse of ranches and farmland in the middle of the county.
Not all of Pasco's nudists are from out of town, either.
"I heard there were 12,000 nude votes out there," Crist said.
The Nudist Capital
With about a dozen nudist destinations, Pasco is unofficially known to naturalists as the "nudist capital of the United States."
Commonly recognized as the state's first nudist mobile home park, Lake Como opened in the 1940s. Locals say Florida's warm year-round climate has lured naturalists here ever since. Gulf Coast Resort opened in the late-1960s, followed by Paradise Lakes in 1981 and Caliente in 2002.
The industry has flourished globally in the last two decades, according to the American Association for Nude Recreation, which markets the industry.
"We were a $200-million industry in the early-1990s, and now we're a $450-million-a-year industry, worldwide," said Carolyn Hawkins, the association's public relations coordinator.
Over Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of people found their way to Caliente, where middle-aged naturalists and younger people mingled in the resort's pools, relaxed in its bars or escaped the sun beneath a man-made waterfall.
Recently, Caliente, whose membership hit 1,800 in December, has been aggressively pursuing a younger crowd through advertisements in Creative Loafing, a local alternative newspaper, and on a local sports talk radio station, where public relations director Angye Fox and events and entertainment director Deb Bowen are occasional on-air guests.
Theme Parties Popular, Controversial
What lures many younger people to Caliente is its theme parties, such as this month's "Arabian Nights" event, where guests will dress as genies, kings or queens, or next month's "Eyes Wide Shut" event, an homage to the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film with Tom Cruise. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks.
Caliente e-mails a weekly newsletter and connects with the younger crowd on MySpace, the popular social networking site. The resort also is creating national and international media kits with photos, videos and podcasts, which people can download and listen to on their computers or iPods.
"We've also revamped our Web site, trying to reach the millennials, and they're pretty savvy," Fox said. "They communicate via the Internet and text-messaging, and once they communicate it becomes viral. It spreads."
Those efforts may have gotten Caliente into trouble. Recently, AANR, which expects its clubs to adhere to family-friendly principles, temporarily suspended the resort's charter after hearing complaints it was hosting swingers parties.
Losing its charter permanently - something AANR says has happened to only two resorts in the last decade - would cost Caliente considerable marketing and lobbying muscle.
While the association investigates the complaints, Caliente still enjoys its member benefits, and it's hard to say how much losing its affiliation with AANR would hurt the resort, which is pushing ahead with plans to attract overseas customers.
Bob Shepherd, a recently hired publicist, is translating Caliente's Web site into Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, Portuguese and German.
While Caliente markets globally, Paradise Lakes, which distributes a weekly newsletter to about 6,000 members and regular guests, is content to market to locals, said manager Christian Schrangl.
"Gas is up, and people don't travel as far," he said. "The economy is challenging for everyone, and we want more locals who were always curious about that type of lifestyle but never had the guts to step across those eight-foot walls.
"A lot of people have misconceptions about the nudist culture and clothing-optional places, but it's just a very natural thing."
A Volunteer Spirit
At nearby Lake Como, which has about 200 residential units, the philosophy is much different.
"Our visitors like nature, sports and the world-famous Butt Hutt," said general manager Van Bradley, referring to the resort's beach bar. He said the resort's five clay tennis courts also regularly draw visitors from the area's other clubs.
Considered more rustic than Caliente and Paradise Lakes, Lake Como is a nonprofit company looking only to break even.
"As a co-op, we put our money back into maintaining the facility," Bradley said. "That spirit is also in our customers. They have donated money to put in hedges, streetlights, a dog walk, a gazebo and landscaping. Others help out with labor. There's a real volunteer spirit."
Eve Ferber, 88, has been a Lake Como resident for about 30 years and has been a nudist for seven decades. Open-minded and possessed of an X-rated sense of humor, she understands that younger people must be exposed to the lifestyle for it to continue to thrive.
She also understands most people will never understand nudism.
Although she could afford a fancier home, Ferber, echoing the mindset of many local naturists, said she feels lucky to have found her way here.
"This is all I need or want," she said with a smile.
Reporter Geoff Fox can be reached at (813) 779-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.