Naked Retreat

Not in Kansas anymore


"The pagan community is convinced it's about religion, the gay and lesbian community is sure it's about sexuality, and the naturists are certain it's about nudity," someone named Clarity wrote in a letter to users of Camp Gaea, a controversial Kansas resort. "What's a poor naked pantheist faerie to do?"

The "it" to which Clarity refers is Leavenworth County's refusal in November to renew a special-use permit for the resort, a 168-acre retreat in Tonganoxie, Kansas, that was once a church camp but now caters to pagans, gays, and nudists. Normally, the renewal of such a permit is a formality. But Camp Gaea's neighbors petitioned the county to shut it down, which meant a unanimous vote was required to renew. Two of the county's three commissioners voted against the camp.

"Traffic was the concern," says John Zoellner, planning director for Leavenworth County. "The types of individuals using the facility was a concern."

Neighbor Beth Hecht was certainly concerned about both. "As a mother of two young children, everyone wants to raise their kids in a healthy and safe community, and they definitely don't fit the idea of that kind of community," Hecht told the Lawrence Journal-World. Such events as the Heartland Spirit and Heartland Pagan festivals would cause several hundred cars to travel past Hecht's property. "When you have that volume of people coming around, it's just like having a stranger in your neighborhood," said Hecht. "It puts the community on edge not knowing who'd be coming in and out."

Actually, it was knowing too much about who was coming in and out that bothered Hecht and other neighbors. The camp plans to file for an injunction in federal court against the permit denial, claiming it constitutes viewpoint discrimination and thus is prohibited by the First Amendment. The camp is also considering challenging the denial as an unconstitutional regulatory taking.

"I think they were probably going to sue us, last I heard," says Zoellner. "They have a significant investment in that site."