Petition may mean second vote on nudity
By Dawn Nieters
WILMINGTON- Voters may have the opportunity to weigh in for a second time on the issue of public nudity in town, if a currently circulating petition meets with success.
The petition calls for reconsideration of the petitioned August 27 special Town Meeting vote, which upheld Wilmington’s recently-adopted public indecency ordinance by a seven-vote margin. Selectboard members adopted the ordinance in June, in response to issues raised about the Ledges, a popular clothing-optional swimming area on Harriman Reservoir. If the second petition effort, now underway, is successful, selectboard members will be asked to schedule a second special town meeting on the issue for the purpose of reconsidering that vote.
The lengthy petition makes a number of assertions about the public indecency ordinance, followed by the request for reconsideration.
Among those assertions are that the ordinance “was not premised by factual study or basis that clearly identified a problem which warrants new laws;” and that it “was conceived in bias, hatred, misinformation and propaganda, rather than fact.”
The petition also asserts that no study was undertaken of less costly and “more reasonable” solutions to complaints about nudity at the ledges, that the ordinance supports excessive governmental control, discriminates against women, alters Vermont tradition, will be difficult to enforce, is redundant, confusing and overly broad in restricting non-sexual nudity and nudity of infants and children.
Phil Markham, an Albany, NY resident and organizer of the Friends of the Ledges campaign to preserve the traditional clothing-optional use of the Ledges and address issues related to that use. Markham says his organization is “thrilled” by the petition effort, and says that’s not all the good news of late for Ledges supporters.
“We are equally thrilled with the recent and obvious support from many of the concerned people of Wilmington,” Markham said. “I do hope the selectboard will prevent a vote by repealing the ordinance and seeking rational solutions that have been suggested and used elsewhere.”
The Friends of the Ledges organization was created last year following complaints from Vernon resident Margaret Frost, whose family owns a camp near the Harriman Reservoir shoreline. Frost came before the selectboard last year complaining that nude Ledges users had begun to encroach on her property, moving further down the shoreline away from the “Ledges proper” to the shoreline adjacent to her family’s property. Frost and supporters of her position also alleged overt sexual behavior was taking place in the area around the Ledges. The Friends of the Ledges group met with Frost, selectboard members and property owner U.S. Generating Company, to discuss solutions to the problems, including patrols by Ledges users to insure naturists were staying within accepted boundaries and not engaging in lewd behavior.
But Frost returned to the selectboard this year, claiming the problems continued unabated. At their second meeting of the year on the issue, the board adopted the Wilmington Public Indecency Ordinance of 2002. The ordinance came into effect following the failed attempt to rescind it. Since that time, three individuals who were found nude at the Ledges by police have been cited on the ordinance, and issued no-trespass orders which prohibit them from returning to any U.S. Generating Company property. The patrol details are funded by an allocation from U.S. Generating Co.
Wilmington Police Chief Joseph Szarejko says his department will apply the ordinance evenly to all Ledges users found in violation. “One of the three men whom we ticketed clearly knew about the ordinance,” Szarejko said. “Two of them denied knowing about it.” Szarejko said signs put up by the landowner, one of which contained the full text of the public indecency ordinance and the other which stated that public nudity violates the town’s ordinance, were taken down within a day. It is unclear at this time who might be responsible for their removal.
Patrols were conducted on Friday and Saturday last weekend, and Szarejko says they are the same type of patrols conducted since U.S. Gen. provided the funding.
Markham has told Ledges users to enjoy the area without violating the ordinance and says supporters will try to work with the community “on this important matter of freedom.”
“There are many successful cases of managed clothing optional recreation areas,” Markham says. “National parks and other wise administrators support more reasonable solutions that serve the interests of all.”
Markham added the ordinance is inconsistent with the town he has “come to know in the past 26 years,” and characterized it as “a...shotgun being used to kill a mosquito.” He and two other Ledges users have filed a suit asking a Newfane Superior Court judge to declare the ordinance invalid. Markham has previously indicated he will allow local processes to unfold before proceeding with the suit.
The petition has not yet been submitted to the town.