Wisconsin authorities on March 19 said they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays because of failed efforts to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods.
Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But, says the state, visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs.
Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point March 19, when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though.
Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area.
"Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."
Nate Kroeplin, who supervises DNR law enforcement in Dane County, said wardens reviewed data on citations and determined most violations happen on weekdays, when fewer people are around to police each other's behavior. Of the 92 citations wardens issued for disorderly conduct or drugs in the beach area between 2008 and 2012, 83 were given on weekdays, he said.
"Obviously we're disappointed when we have to shut any portion of our property down," he said. "But our ultimate goal is to have a safe place anybody can feel comfortable using. And with the current activity going on down there, that's just not the case."
The DNR purchased the area in 1949 in an effort to open up more land for public hunting, fishing and recreation. Nudists claimed the beach as their own, though, emboldened by local prosecutors' indifference. Wisconsin law makes exposing one's genitals a misdemeanor, but a long line of Dane County district attorneys have said naked people must cause some kind of disturbance before they can be prosecuted. The DNR estimates as many as 70,000 people, some from as far away as Florida, have visited the beach some summers.
The agency closed the area at night and banned beach camping in the late 1990s. Authorities also installed a gate blocking vehicles in hopes of stopping people from driving down to the beach in search of quick sex.
In 2007, wardens closed off parts of the woods around the beach to discourage sex in the underbrush and cut down brush around the beach to eliminate cover. But arrests for sex and drugs around the beach still hit a five-year high in 2011; wardens arrested 26 people for sex and 16 people for drugs in just nine days of surveillance.
The DNR closed another 70 acres around the beach last spring, but Kroeplin said it hasn't stopped people from cruising the beach parking lot on weekdays, when relatively few people are around to complain. Last summer, wardens issued 19 citations for sex and three for drugs over five or six days of surveillance, Kroeplin said; 16 citations were issued on weekdays compared with six on weekends.
"It's pretty incredible to see the amount of traffic that pulls onto the property," Kroeplin said. "Everything we've done has not made any difference."
The press release from the state:
In a renewed effort to curb illicit sex in public, drug use and cruising on Mazomanie Beach, the Department of Natural Resources today announced that it is closing the entire property including the beach, islands immediately off the beach, and wooded areas to all public access either from the water or land Monday through Friday from today through September 15. In subsequent years the closure will be in effect March 1 through Sept. 15.
The beach will be open for public recreation Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the year. New signage is being prepared and will be installed as quickly as possible, according to property managers.
“The goal of this closure is to make Mazomanie Beach a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone who visits or floats past the area,” said DNR Conservation Warden Nate Kroeplin. “It is clear from our records that the majority of illicit activity is taking place on weekdays. Along with the closure we will add extra law enforcement presence.”
This closure expands upon an existing closure of wooded areas of the property that left the beach area open and is the latest in a series of access policies the department has implemented over several seasons in an attempt to curb sexual activity, drug use, cruising for sex and complaints.
The beach along the Lower Wisconsin River located in the northwest corner of Dane County in the Town of Mazomanie has attracted people to its open and expansive shoreline for decades. Property along the river was acquired in parcels by the State of Wisconsin since the 1950s to provide a full range of nature based activities including hiking, wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing and wildlife habitat.
National websites have portrayed Mazomanie Beach as a destination spot for naturist activity. Some individuals from states as far away as Florida have traveled to the beach for this and to look for a sexual encounter. Illegal drug use has also been documented.
On the Web…