Fire Island’s famed nude beaches have become the latest casualty of Superstorm Sandy.
Fire Island National Seashore officials announced in early February that they will start enforcing New York State laws against public nudity at Lighthouse Beach, a clothing-optional beach between Robert Moses State Park Field 5 and Kismet that drew up to 4,000 nudists on summer days.
“We have school groups and tour groups coming to that area and right next door there’s thousands of nude people,” said Lena Koschmann, chief FINS ranger, referring to the Fire Island Lighthouse, an adjacent tourist attraction. “That beach was never meant to be a heavily used beach.”
Koschmann said that the Sandy-damaged boardwalk to the Fire Island Lighthouse means visitors will have to walk down the beach through the area where the nudists gathered. She added that the decision was also based on an increase in criminal activity at the nude beach, the lack of lifeguards and restrooms and the impact the crowds are having on the environment. Violators who ignore the ban face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Save Lighthouse Beach, a naturalist group, had tried to pre-empt the decision by starting a “Beach Ambassador” program to have volunteers remind the beach’s users to clean up after themselves and not break the law. But Koschmann said that despite such efforts, the nude beach increasingly became advertised online as a meeting place for public sex and prostitution.
Lighthouse Beach was technically a pair of clothing optional beaches separated by a patch of non-nude beach in the area closest to the lighthouse to separate tourists and nudists. But even if the boardwalks were repaired in time for the summer season, the fact that the dunes had been decimated by Sandy means the beach is now visible from the lighthouse.
Larry Jensen, who runs the nude beach website Lighthouse Beach Times, posted a farewell letter online suggesting he may leave New York and blaming the National Park Service that oversees FINS for the decision.
“Many of you may have seen the thousand or so photos I have captured in an attempt to record just how amazing it was to me,” he wrote. “But alas it is but a memory now as the National Park Service has decided that me and my people are no longer welcome here.”
The beach has been a destination for nudists since as early as the 1960s but it wasn’t formally recognized by FINS until 2005, according to Koschmann. New York State outlawed public nudity in 1984, but as a federal park, FINS had opted not to enforce that law.
The new no-nudity rules comes as Robert Moses State Park remains closed four months after the Oct. 29 superstorm that ravaged Long Island’s barrier islands—especially FI. The ban will also be enforced in other nude-friendly beaches along FI, such as Cherry Grove to the east.
“I’ve had a mixed response,” Koschmann said. “The majority of them are disappointed and asking us to rethink our decision, but I’ve also had some people calling in…who are supportive.”