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The naked man of James River
Thomas Roane's 30-year battle to be nude in nature in Richmond, VA
When I first moved to Richmond, VA, I turned to Google hoping to find fellow nudists in the area and places to be nude outside. Sadly, my search returned very few relevant hits, but there was one frequently mentioned spot—Texas Beach— that kept appearing in local news articles.
Texas Beach, part of the 600-acre James River Park system, is a popular destination for hiking and dips in the river. In the more remote areas, it’s not uncommon to spot a naturist sunbathing on one of the large rocks, but perhaps none are as well know as the subject of the news articles I had discovered, Thomas “The Naked Man” Roane.
Months before his 80th birthday, the retired agricultural engineering professor was banned from the park after five arrests for indecent exposure over a more than 30 year stretch of nude sunbathing. The charges were generally dismissed in court by argument that nudity without sexual behavior or intent is not obscene, though at least one charge in 2006 did result in a conviction and fine. Roane explained it, “Two different state Supreme Court judges ruled in two different cases that nudity itself is not obscene. To be indecent you have to do something that is weird, crude, rude and all those kind of words.”
Despite the ban, Roane continued to visit the park he loved, telling a reporter he found spending time nude in nature helped ease his depression and Parkinson’s disease: “[the park] gets me away from my head, which has been discomfortable for years and years” […] It’s the mental freedom that you have. We’re all brainwashed to keep our clothes on.”
Roane was also a steward of the park, removing a bag of trash each day he visited, clearing paths, helping others navigate the park, and collecting more than 300 signatures in an attempt to create a clothing optional section of the park.
Roane passed away in 2020, at the age of 83. He was known as a kind and generous man with an insatiable curiosity and a dry sense of humor. He loved to volunteer, make people laugh, and even performed some magic tricks. His legacy lives on as a reminder of the joy and healing potential of time spent nude in nature. 🪐
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