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Whitingham board says no go to ban on nudies

By Mike Eldred

WHITINGHAM- Whitingham won’t be following in the footsteps of its neighbor to the north, at least as far as a public indecency ordinance is concerned. After a brief public debate at Wednesday evening’s selectboard meeting, board members voted to end discussion of the matter indefinitely.

Wilmington Selectmen recently enacted a public indecency ordinance after hearing a series of complaints surrounding activities at the Ledges, a clothing-optional beach on Lake Whitingham. Margaret Frost, a grandmother whose family owns a camp near the nude area, led a group of concerned citizens who advocated the ordinance.

At a Whitingham selectboard meeting two weeks ago, Frost and a group of concerned citizens from Whitingham and several other surrounding communities turned out to lobby for a similar ordinance in Whitingham. Frost turned out again Wednesday evening, along with four Whitingham residents, to further discuss the matter with the board.

Whitingham resident Johanna Boliver complained that the subject wasn’t being taken seriously by the community. She said she had witnessed laughter after last week’s discussion, had heard people in the community joking about the matter, and had been verbally accosted at work by an individual opposed to an ordinance. “I want people to know we’re not just a bunch of uptight prudes or homophobes as I’ve been called on the (Ledges information board) website,” said Boliver. “It’s insulting to those of us who know it’s a broader issue. There is some real danger, some real threats. It’s not just about people taking their clothes off for a dip in the lake. It goes beyond people wanting to express their naturalist tendencies.”

Neither Boliver, nor anyone else, cited any specific threat occurring within Whitingham’s borders. Boliver did note, however, that there had been an arrest for lewd and lascivious conduct at the Ledges on Sunday. Wilmington Police Chief Joe Szarejko confirms an incident took place Sunday at the ledges. He says charges are pending against an individual who was masturbating at the public beach. He will be charged By Mike Eldred WHITINGHAM- Whitingham won’t be following in the footsteps of its neighbor to the north, at least as far as a public indecency ordinance is concerned. After a brief public debate at Wednesday evening’s selectboard meeting, board members voted to end discussion of the matter indefinitely.

Wilmington Selectmen recently enacted a public indecency ordinance after hearing a series of complaints surrounding activities at the Ledges, a clothing-optional beach on Lake Whitingham. Margaret Frost, a grandmother whose family owns a camp near the nude area, led a group of concerned citizens who advocated the ordinance.

At a Whitingham selectboard meeting two weeks ago, Frost and a group of concerned citizens from Whitingham and several other surrounding communities turned out to lobby for a similar ordinance in Whitingham. Frost turned out again Wednesday evening, along with four Whitingham residents, to further discuss the matter with the board.

Whitingham resident Johanna Boliver complained that the subject wasn’t being taken seriously by the community. She said she had witnessed laughter after last week’s discussion, had heard people in the community joking about the matter, and had been verbally accosted at work by an individual opposed to an ordinance. “I want people to know we’re not just a bunch of uptight prudes or homophobes as I’ve been called on the (Ledges information board) website,” said Boliver. “It’s insulting to those of us who know it’s a broader issue. There is some real danger, some real threats. It’s not just about people taking their clothes off for a dip in the lake. It goes beyond people wanting to express their naturalist tendencies.”

Neither Boliver, nor anyone else, cited any specific threat occurring within Whitingham’s borders. Boliver did note, however, that there had been an arrest for lewd and lascivious conduct at the Ledges on Sunday. Wilmington Police Chief Joe Szarejko confirms an incident took place Sunday at the ledges. He says charges are pending against an individual who was masturbating at the public beach. He will be charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, a felony under state statutes. Because Wilmington’s public indecency law isn’t in effect yet, the individual won’t be charged under that ordinance.

Phil Markham, a spokesman for Friends of the Ledges, a nude beach-users organization, told the board his group had worked with authorities and the public to reduce problems at the popular nude bathing area. He said there was little need for an ordinance if there weren’t any problems in Whitingham.

“An ordinance like this is a huge expense to enforce,” Markham said. “And there are already existing laws to deal with any of the problems I’ve ever heard of in the area. Frankly I haven’t seen the problems they talk about, and I’m there a lot. I wouldn’t bring my wife if it was the way they describe it.”

Advocates of a public indecency ordinance focused on preventing incidents they say are likely to happen in the future. Whitingham resident Denise Foery told the board she was concerned about taking her children to the lake. “If people don’t see what’s coming down the pike, they need to open their eyes,” she said. Frost said that one of the problems she complained of to the Wilmington Selectboard was that nude people often made a point of wandering away from the Ledges area and coming within a few feet of her and her grandchildren while they were on the waterfront near their property. “One time we had a guy in a kayak come right up to the shore, which was fine,” she said, “until he stood up and was completely naked.”

Some residents at the meeting spoke out against an ordinance. Barbara Baum/Rachels said she was a frequent lake-goer, and had never seen any nudity-related problems at the lake.

“There are problems with the behavior of some of the operators of motorized boats, people drinking, and littering,” said Baum/Rachels. “The only problem I’ve ever seen is people on motor boats going by the Ledges with binoculars. And that’s more shameful, in my opinion.”

Town auditor Ken Hedburg told the board he has been a resident of Whitingham’s lakefront for 20 years and has never been offended by anything he has seen. “I’ve seen nude people,” he said. “Let them be nude. If anyone’s doing anything lewd and lascivious, with or without clothes, they should be arrested.”

Patience Merriman, of Whitingham, asked the board if there was actually a problem that needed to be addressed in Whitingham. She said she believed no one was willing to admit that the issue boiled down to some people’s aversion to homosexuality. “Apparently there are some gay men having sex in the woods in Wilmington, and we’ve heard complaints that people are defecating in the woods,” she said. “Those are highly charged words; gay, sex and defecate.”

She told the board, as a boater, she feared she could become one of the first people to be charged under the proposed ordinance, because “sometimes, in the middle of the lake, when no one else is around, I might go topless, or go skinny-dipping in the lake.”

“But, I don’t think the sight of my 50-year-old body is going to lead to the moral decline of Whitingham,” she added.

For James O’Hearn, the issue was one of freedom. “In this country we’ve been given the freedom to express ourselves,” he said. “In this state, we’re free to be nude if we want. I don’t see any reason to change that now, if there hasn’t been any need to change it before.”

Whitingham Lister Clyde Twitchell noted there was a petition circulating to bring Wilmington’s ordinance up for reconsideration at a special Town Meeting. He also noted that the problems that had been referred to during Wednesday evening’s meeting had occurred in Wilmington. “I don’t see why we have to worry about what’s going on in Wilmington,” said Twitchell.

Board member Steve Morse moved to table the discussion indefinitely. His motion, which was supported unanimously by the board, effectively closes discussion on the ordinance, but leaves open the possibility that it could be brought up again. Morse, however, indicated he wasn’t in favor of a public indecency ordinance. “I think it was Lincoln who said ‘whenever you give up some of your freedom for security, you end up losing both,’” Morse said. “I’m afraid this ordinance is a band-aid for problems that aren’t happening yet. If you see trespassing, littering, or loitering on private property, I urge you to call the state police, and keep after them until they do something about it.”

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