If one word can describe the activity of Friends of the Ledges, it is facilitation. Premise for formation of FOTL is that the most effective avenue for solving problems is the establishment of communication between parties. Its mission is to create win-win situations that are harmonious to all involved with the Ledges. In the absence of good communication, myth and rumor prevail, resulting in losing situations for most. When communication is used to break down barriers the result is harmony.
Often communication is direct, by providing a voice in public meetings. Often it is to facilitate the conveyance of needs and desires between users and local authorities. More subtle communication is established by encouraging means of mutual understanding between townspeople and Ledges users, a group that is often quite misunderstood in the community. An example of this type of facilitation is providing a source of tee shirts that can be worn by users when in the community to demonstrate that Ledges users are respectable people. The feedback side of this subtle communication is that most Wilmington people have no animosity toward Ledgers and readily accept them as tourists, guests, and friends.
Friends of the Ledges has no members and no strict organizational structure. Although many readers and subscribers are very involved in organizational events, the primary purpose of FOTL is to keep people informed and to exchange ideas. We do encourage two way e-mailing via FriendsofLedges@hotmail.com . Registering at this address is encouraged so that urgent and timely information may be sent directly. Information on Wilmington and the Ledges can be found on our website at http://ledges.dimentech.com.
Supporting this premise is the success of similar groups at similar beaches throughout the world. Many FOTL participants have experienced this success at nearby places like Gunnison Beach or Lighthouse Beach. If not by desire, the formation of FOTL was of necessity, not just to resolve current issues, but to prevent such issues that would threaten future use of the Ledges. It is important to note there is no clothing-optional beach in the United States larger than the Ledges that is without an active "Friends of.." group, yet many beaches without, both large and small, have been eliminated from the list of areas of clothing-optional recreation. Beaches with active "Friends of.." groups are stable, not threatened for being problematic to the local community, and are most often those that are the most pleasant to visit.
Many individuals, groups, and organizations have an interest in the Ledges. Friends of the Ledges serves as a center of communication between them. Although FOTL organizes social events, both to develop a spirit of camaraderie as well as to develop public relationships in the community by fundraising for various groups, Friends of the Ledges is not a club and has no members. Instead it has subscribers who are interested in solving problems and who come from all of the groups named below.
First are the people who visit the Ledges, numbering 300-400 on any good summer day and totaling an estimated 5,000 who visit annually from all over the world. Of these, some 300 currently subscribe to FOTL e-mail, the prime method of disseminating relevant information. Hundreds of others are estimated to get information from printed bulletins and from web sites that carry FOTL information. Input is sought by all and a closer knit group of more involved users communicates by e-mail on a regular basis.
Pacific Gas and Electric National Energy Group, the power company, is the owner of the location of the Ledges. Interest of this company is one of business and due to strict Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing regulation, is bound by law to provide reasonable recreational access to the lake on a non-discriminatory basis. Interests of the power company are in providing good public relations with the local community as well as issues of related safety and public health. Of major interest of, as well as mandate to, the power company is providing fair and shared legal use of the reservoir's 28-miles shoreline.
The Ledges is within the town of Wilmington, Vermont, a community of 2,200. One of the greatest of assets to this community is the undeveloped and unspoiled shoreline of Harriman reservoir and the several picnic and recreation areas provided by the power company. Although few residents visit the Ledges, many have an interest that the place not be one to erode the quality of life in this community. Others recognize the importance of the lake as well as the Ledges as part of the summer economy of this tourist-dependent town. Others merely have an interest in maintaining the serenity of the undeveloped and pristine reservoir.
Representing the people of Wilmington is a five-person elected selectboard. Others involved with Ledges situations are an appointed Town Manager and a Chief of Police whose duties include jurisdiction of enforcing the law within the Wilmington portion of this shoreline (not all of the reservoir is situated within the town of Wilmington). Naturally, as in any other community there are many others such as health officials who may from time to time, have an interest in the Ledges. Public safety and law jurisdiction is assigned to the Vermont State Police and, because Ledges users make up a high portion of lake recreationalists, the state police often have an interest in the Ledges.
Neighboring landowners also have an interest in the Ledges, most often in not wishing to be imposed upon by a large group of nude recreationalists. With the exception of the minority who wish more than a fair share of a slice of paradise, the relationship between Ledges users and neighbors is tolerant and generally good.
The Naturist Action Committee (NAC), The Naturist Society, and The American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), all large organizations with an interest in responsible clothing-optional recreation, also have a great deal of interest in the Ledges. It is these groups who have overseen problems common to those at the Ledges at many other locations worldwide. Their experience, advice, and when needed, political or legal intervention has been essential in preserving many free beaches and clubs. Many of the actions taken by FOTL have been as a result of the voice of experience of these groups.
"Friends of.." (other worldwide beaches) have encountered the same types of problems as we have at the Ledges. Communication between these groups has created a successful model for problem-solving that has been implemented at dozens of public land recreation areas throughout the country. When this model is enacted with local input and cooperation, the result is success. "Friends of" is a concept that is widely supported and encouraged by the national organizations. When communication and the spirit of cooperation can be established in the incidence of conflict, favorable results are obtained without need for legal action. In cases where all parties are not willing to cooperate in such a manner, NAC and AANR will often expend legal resources, and though often effective, this is the least desirable of all solutions.
People involved in Friends of the Ledges are often doing background work and research to learn as much about a situation as they can. Two years prior to last season's introduction of the current indecency ordinance, FOTL people had researched the zoning hearing of the real estate development now being built close to the Ledges, had researched the Vermont Land Trust agreement to understand how this might ever affect the Ledges, and had studied related parts of the FERC license, the governing document of the power company.
Although it is not the objective of FOTL to attract the media, when the press comes to us we are well prepared to deal with it. In cases of television, which tends to create sensationalism with 30-second clips, the way to deal is often to avoid. In the case of local newspapers seeking full and objective information FOTL is fully cooperative and would rather see the press informed than misinformed with the bias of Ledges opponents.
Fundamental to the success of a clothing-optional beach are a few simple factors. The first is to maintain a good line of communication with all parties involved, as well as among the users of a beach. Boundaries must be designated and observed in that nude recreation never imposes on outsiders. Self-policing to prevent any environment for improper behavior is essential. Efforts also must be made to develop a good relationship with the local community who may otherwise be tainted by the myth and misperceptions that so often surround clothing-free recreation. Of utmost importance to any Friends of .. group is the involvement and participation of all involved.
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