(DAWSONVILLE, Ga.) -- Nudist resorts are dropping the figleaf.
Clothing-free resorts have traditionally been rustic, mom-and-pop campgrounds hidden deep in the woods, away from prying eyes and bluenosed politicians. But now, fancy nude recreation spots are springing up along major highways, and resort owners are joining chambers of commerce, sponsoring charity drives and hosting civic events.
"We're no longer hiding," said Joe Lettelleir, owner of Dawsonville's Paradise Valley Resort, who this summer proved his point by taking a cross-country trip on a bus that dared onlookers to call a toll-free number for more information.
The Dawsonville resort was once so secretive it was called Hidden Valley. It is tucked along a winding country lane tucked along a winding country lane, and once consisted of little more than a few RV sites around a foot-deep pond.
But now it is undergoing a major luxury expansion. Neighbors and business owners are encouraged to stop by for a look at the 108-acre property, which was turned into a clothing-optional resort to encourage more visitors. And annual fundraisers for local charities draw hundreds of motorcyclists and joggers to its gates.
The new let-it-all-hang-out attitude is reflected right down to the name of the resort, which dropped "Hidden" from its modest welcome sign three years ago.
"Once upon a time, people built walls. And the feeling was, 'We've got to have walls. We've got to be obscure,"' said Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation. "That really left people wondering what happens behind those walls. Folks didn't realize it was basically just a club, what a swim and tennis club would resemble."
Owners regularly look to one of the oldest nudist spots, the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa in Kissimmee, Fla., as a pioneer of this openness.
For 20 years, the resort has hosted an annual July open house to welcome neighbors. More recently, it has sponsored a yearly chamber of commerce event and an annual Body of Art show featuring about 25 artists and their nudist artwork.
"By demystifying it, people understand us better -- and people don't think we're a bunch of crackpots," said Dean Hadley, the resort's manager.
One way to do so, a group of residents at Tampa's Paradise Lakes Resort decided five years ago, was to form the world's first nudist Lions Club. Members meet twice a month at the resort's restaurant and raise more than $10,000 each year to buy eye care for the needy and give to the blind.
"We've got to raise money from people who don't have pockets," laughed the civic group's 71-year-old president, Bob Moore. "But when it comes time to give us money, they go home and find the money!"
Big construction projects also reflect the new, not-so-shy attitude. The sprawling Desert Shadows Inn Resort and Villas in Palm Springs, Calif., built a "Bridge of Thighs" that links two parts of the resort across a major road, serving as a very public reminder to passing drivers in the "textile" world.
At Dawsonville's Paradise Valley, contractors are laboring on the first phase of a $30 million project to construct 152 condos and 40 townhouses, mostly for residents of nearby towns looking for a scenic weekend getaway.
The resort has only five full-time residents, but dozens of members gather each Saturday for theme parties at the Bare Cheeks Lodge. On weekends, the Valley's three pools are standing-room only, and the diner (motto: "No top, no shoes, no problem") is packed.
Gary, the Valley's resident pastor, has married at least 25 couples, many of whom met at the resort. He moved to the resort 10 years ago and never looked back.
"I've got safety, contentment and happiness," said Gary, who prefers not to use his last name. "And I've got naked people. Some pretty. Some not."
The resort is a few miles outside the Dawsonville city limits, and Mayor Joe Lane Cox said "people just kind of ignore it."
"They don't cause any problems," said Cox, a 67-year-old lifelong Dawsonville resident. "They come out in the community, attend meetings. And they're just like everybody else when they do -- they blend in."
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)