Going Tahoe streaking | TheUnion.com

Going Tahoe streaking

An invigorating swim in the mountain waters of Lake Tahoe is, for many, a great highlight of summer. But for some, what makes it even better is to swim in Tahoe’s crystal-clear waters without the limitations of those pesky bathing suits, and afterward lie au naturale in the sunshine.

In fact, Tahoe’s remote east shore beaches have been a favorite hang-out for naturists for more than 75 years. With an enticing combination of granite boulders, soft white sand, the meeting of emerald green and deep blue waters, and an off-the-beaten-track location, these lovely little beaches are irresistible.

According to North Swanson, the 91-year-old leader of the Tahoe Area Naturists (which perhaps conveniently boasts the acronym “TAN”), enjoying the east shore beaches without clothing began with casino show girls in the 1940s.

Legend has it that they enjoyed frolicking topless while joining the parties at the Whittell Estate. George Whittell once owned the land where the public beaches are now located, and built the Thunderbird Lodge, a unique and spectacular estate about a mile south of Sand Harbor. At that time, the only access to the Thunderbird Lodge was by boat, as Highway 28 had not yet been constructed.

Swanson says the remote mix of boulders and small coves that make up the east shore has continued to be a favorite spot for naturists since it became public in the early 1970s. At that time, the U.S. Forest Service purchased more than 10,000 acres of land, and more acreage was added to the public domain later.

TAN was created in the early 1980s, when one day a group of naturist friends looked around and realized that just about everyone on the beach was wearing a hat, and nothing else.

Thus, the annual tradition of Hat Day began, which is now held on the third Sunday of August. TAN also gathers groups of volunteers for a beach clean up day in June, and a party on the beach in July.

In addition to being a social gathering organization, TAN has worked in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service to improve the conditions of the beaches.

They pick up garbage and encourage people not to litter. And they have put a lot of time into maintaining and upgrading the trails. They’ve worked with the USFS to replace dozens of steep-use trails which formerly dropped down from the highway, and replaced them with a few, less-steep trails that are less likely to degrade the environment.

The folks from TAN — through their Tahoe Area Nudesletter — and another interested citizen with his secretcove.org website conduct an education campaign to help ensure that fellow beach users protect the beach and be sensitive to all of the people who make their way down to the lakeshore.

They strongly suggest: no lewd conduct, no drugs, no glass containers, no public intoxication, no fires and no littering. In other words, they remind people to use common sense to keep a heavily used resource as lovely as it can be.

Don Lane, Supervisory Recreational Forester with the Forest Service for decades, says the Forest Service wants people to enjoy the area, but not love it to death.

“It’s a beautiful area, but also fragile. We’ve done a lot of trail work (and) taken out many tons of garbage over the years,” he said.

They developed several restrooms on the main trails to focus travel to the beach. And they encourage common sense. Lane says, “Take a moment and help us pick it up. We don’t have the resources to do what needs to be done down there.”

Another recent problem on the beaches has been graffiti spray-painted onto the spectacular granite boulders. A group of volunteers, with the support of local businesses, have held several Bonsai Beach Clean-Up days to painstakingly remove the graffiti from the rocks. The next step is to figure out how to keep the taggers from tagging. As to public nudity, there is no law against it on federal lands. While some say that it is illegal to be nude in public in the state of Nevada, Swanson said he couldn’t find a statue that says it is.

The area is also under the jurisdiction of the county of Carson City, which does ban public nudity, but in practice, as long as people without clothes stay on the more remote beaches and off the trails, the sheriff’s office doesn’t enforce it.

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author. He may be reached at writeonrex@yahoo.com.

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