As I neared the end of my drive, the road shifted from pavement to gravel. Armies of trees surrounded the roadside and covered me like a vibrant green awning that allowed sunbeams to peek through. When I turned into the entrance of Cedar Trails, I was overcome with the feeling that my journey had only just begun. I stepped out of my car and into my most natural form.
Cedar Trails Nudist Retreat is a family campground that started as 60 acres of land 28 years ago. Fred Roessler, the owner, built the sanctuary from scratch. He started with only his own mobile home on the property. Now, the camp
Modern nudism in America evolved from a 19th century self-help reform called naturism. This movement was considered a reaction to industrialization and urbanization. Many individuals concluded that people needed more exposer to natural healing elements, like sunlight, fresh air and water, while in loose clothing or no clothing at all. It wasn’t until the 1970s that locations wishing to practice nude recreation could advertise to the public in magazines or newspapers.
I began my all-natural experience by stripping down to my backpack, sneakers and camera. Kelly Stevens, the manager, greeted me with a friendly face when I emerged from the bathroom. She told me that not very many people my age are comfortable with nudity because society makes us self-conscious of our bodies, but that was exactly why I chose to do it. People often associate nakedness with sexuality, but my hope was that experiencing nudism properly could change that perspective.
I decided to take on the trails. Thirty minutes into my hike, I met James Whitaker from Indiana. He showed me some of the better spots for photos and told me about his personal experience with nudism over the past 13 months.
James told me nudism did not start as a serious thing for him, but once he took his first hike and came out of the clearing, the sun and wind hit his skin, it became a spiritual self-experience.
I hiked with James for around two hours before we made our way back to the community area. It was a unique experience for both of us. I was the first person James had ever taken a nude hike with, and I had never even practiced nudism outside of my home before. I did not feel out of place being nude; I felt strong and self-aware in all the right ways.
I ate lunch and thought more about what I wanted to ask Kelly and Fred. It occurred to me that there had not been a single point in the day when I wondered if I looked okay or not. Much of that had to do with stripping away material things, like clothing.
Days prior to my visit, I spoke with Kimberly Rios, the associate professor of psychology at Ohio University (Athens).
“We tend to think people are paying a lot more attention than they actually are,” says Rios. I think being in a community where everyone in the same situation can reinforce that.”
This phenomenon is called the spotlight effect. For some people, practicing nudism is a coping mechanism that eliminates the mindset.
Professor Rios described the optimal distinctiveness theory, which is the idea that humans are characterized by the opposition of two key needs that control our relationships with ourselves and social groups. One is a need for inclusion and assimilation, which drives individuals to immerse themselves into social groups, and the other is a need for differentiation.
“One way that people fill both of those needs is to associate with groups that are not so mainstream, like nudist communities, ” Rios says.
I thought about optimal distinctiveness theory as I talked to Kelly and Fred. That being said, Cedar Trails satisfied both needs.
“We want to provide a safe space for likeminded people,” says Stevens. “We are nudist, not nuts.”
Their mission is not solely applicable to adults, it was also applicable to the children who come to the camp ground with their parents. For the last full week in June, the campground shuts down to the public and hosts a “Kids Kamp.”
This past summer was their 10th anniversary of the event. Children and their parent come to stay at the campground and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. they leave their parents and go with other children to conduct science experiments, play volleyball and much more.
“We want our children to know the body is beautiful and all shapes and sizes are beautiful… we have also noticed that many of them are better at communicating with adults afterwards,” says Stevens.
I finished my day at the retreat with a swim. I then made my way to an outdoor shower, covered by a tin roof while hot water kissed my skin. Before I departed, I thanked Kelly and Fred for their time and for allowing me to spend the day. I felt renewed, my insecurities dissipated and prepared to come back next May when they re-open again.