Discover more from Planet Nude
Wisconsin nudity ban: DNR throws a curveball
New rule amendments from the Department of Natural Resources add to the mounting challenges facing naturists in Wisconsin
Editor’s note: Planet Nude subscribers will note that we have been closely following the recent Wisconsin anti-nudity bills as they course through the state legislature. This evolving situation has recently become more complex. Our latest article aims to clarify the latest developments.
For more background and context on this controversy, and the current legislative bills, be sure to check out Planet Nude’s previous reports linked at the bottom of this article.
Historically, there has never been a state anti-nudity law on the books in Wisconsin. Naturists in the state were recently caught off guard when two bills surfaced in the state legislature aimed at curtailing the World Naked Bike Ride, seeking to criminalize public nudity and to prohibit minors from attending any events where adult nudity is prevalent—provisions which could have serious repercussions for naturist businesses, groups, and individuals in the state.1 If enacted, one of these bills will categorize all instances of public nudity as a Class A misdemeanor—accompanied by a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum of nine months in prison.2
It was in this heightened climate that new rule amendments unveiled by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) threatening to outlaw nudity on state lands, sent naturist activists in the state into full red alert, highlighting a historically separate battle from the one the naked bike riders are fighting in Madison—the battle over Mazomanie Beach, a traditionally clothing-optional beach that was shut down by the DNR in 2016.
The newly unveiled DNR rules, stemming from the protracted Mazo Beach fight— entirely separate from the state legislative bills naturists are already reeling from—nevertheless would effectively work in tandem with the bills to presumably deliver a final coup de grâce to nude swimming on the embattled beach by essentially criminalizing the exposure of the human body on any public land in the state. With the coincidence of these separate serious legal changes looming over Wisconsin, naturists in the state now face the potential establishment of a stringent and unprecedented legal framework to govern bodily exposure, in the very state which is famously home to The Naturist Society and the Naturist Action Committee.
Some background on Mazo Beach
For decades, Mazo Beach on the lower Wisconsin River flourished as a haven for the naturist community despite its unlikely setting in America’s Dairyland. At its peak, the sandbar attracted up to 70,000 visitors annually, making it one of the most substantial nude beaches inland of America’s coastlines.
However, over the years Mazo beachgoers have been dealt persistent controversies and conflicts. Despite naturist groups like Friends of Mazo Beach and the Badger Naturists diligently working to steward the beach, authorities claimed issues such as illicit drug use and explicit sexual activities were rampant—allegations fervently denied by the naturists who spent time there during the day.
In 2016, Jim Dickey, a spokesperson for Friends of Mazo Beach and the Naturist Action Committee, shared his perspective with WORT radio host Johnathan Zarov: “The whole activity that the DNR has noted and monitored and cited these people for, over the years and their stances change from administration to administration. There're different people that are in charge of law enforcement. At the administrative level, there are techniques in which to have [a] limited term employee walk up and down the beach and have conversations with the people, as opposed to a sting operation where the tickets are not written till the very end of the day. I've never seen anybody come out and put handcuffs on anybody or write them a citation during the day... Illegal, inappropriate behavior just hasn't happened to my knowledge.”
This tumultuous undercurrent led the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce restrictive measures like setting curfews, prohibiting camping, and limiting access to surrounding areas in an attempt to curb the unseemly behaviors threatening the beach’s existence.
The ongoing challenges intensified in the mid-1990s with the beach's popularity booming, partly facilitated by the internet. Authorities clamped down further by closing public access to adjacent forested areas and intensifying patrols. Raids were conducted and arrests were made.
Despite collective self-policing efforts by these committed nudists and groups, the challenges proved insurmountable. Citing issues of public sex and drug use and the considerable enforcement resources these problems consumed, the DNR closed the beach to public use in 2016. For the last seven years, Friends of Mazo Beach has been working both with and against DNR to reinstate nude day use at Mazo Beach, with progress sometimes gained and sometimes lost. The proposed DNR rule changes appear to seek to deliver the death blow to any lingering hope of winning back this cherished nude space.
Jim Dickey on WORT 89.9 FM’s “The Friday 8 O'Clock Buzz” in 2016:
Last week saw the report by WORT 89.9 FM of new language within the property management rules administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.3 These actions by DNR to change their statutes have been an ongoing concern for naturist activists in the state for the last several years as they’ve navigated the 2016 closure of Mazo beach, but recently it bubbled back up after a financial risk assessment report came back, and new anti-nude language was added to the rule amendments, under Section 35:
SECTION 35 establishes a specific prohibition of going nude in public on department managed lands and defines nudity.
Later in the document, under section 9, “Summary of Factual Data and Analytical Methodologies Used and How Any Related Findings Support the Regulatory Approach Chosen,” this explanation is given in support of the nudity rule changes:
These rules establish a specific prohibition of going nude and a definition of nudity that would apply on department managed lands statewide. Nudity, especially at the Mazomanie day use area located on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway has been occurring for decades. This beach is a state owned and managed property open to all the public. Due to the prevalent nudity, the beach has been almost exclusively used by individuals choosing to go nude. Other problems have included public sex acts, disorderly conduct, and drug use. This type of use has prevented people who do not want to be exposed to activities at the property from recreating there.
Law enforcement efforts have been difficult because laws do not specifically address nudity. Lewd or lascivious behavior requires that a sexual act occur and does not address simple nudity. Disorderly conduct requires a disturbance or complainant. Nudity has become common place at Mazomanie and now people who choose to go there expect nudity and thus there is no complainant or disturbance. Law enforcement efforts against lewd and lascivious behavior or drug use are time intensive, require a lot of manpower, are expensive and are still unable to address the nudity aspect.
These proposed new rules seek to establish a specific prohibition of mere nudity, and an attempt to apply a restrictive definition of nudity that would apply on department managed lands statewide. Their proposed definition outlines specific anatomical coverings required to be in adherence with the proposed stipulations. Buried on page 53 of the proposed amendments, the full text of the definition reads:
SECTION 35: NR 45.04 (3) (am) Nudity.
1. In this section, “nude” or “nudity” means being clothed or unclothed in such a manner that the person’s genitals, pubic hair, buttocks, perineum, anus, anal region, or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view or is not covered by an opaque covering.
2. No person may appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk, or otherwise be nude on any lands under the management, supervision, or control of the department. This does not apply to breastfeeding by nursing parents and does not apply in any of the following areas not open to public view: restrooms, bath houses, showers, changing facilities, or privately-owned camping units.
What does this mean for nudity in Wisconsin? And what does it mean for body freedom advocates and activists in the state looking to challenge these measures?
Breaking it down
Though the new rules proposed by the Department of Natural Resources have apparently been a separate issue that only by untimely coincidence has bubbled back up just one week after the recent state senate bills, the concurrent efforts seem to work hand in hand to orchestrate a cohesive legal approach against all public nudity in the state of Wisconsin.
The DNR rules mainly aim to stop people from being nude on the lands they manage, by clearly defining what counts as nudity. However, these rules, while official, don’t specify any penalties or fines for those who break them. This is where the senate bills come in handy, providing strict punishments, including legal consequences, even if you are clothed but your “buttocks” or “any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola” are visible.
Together, the DNR rules and senate bills seem to be geared toward more than just stopping public events like the World Naked Bike Ride in cities like Madison or Milwaukee. They aim to ban and criminalize nudity even in the more natural and remote parts of state lands. Mazo Beach, which has been closed to the public for seven years to try and curb nude use, will be able to reopen to the public as a textile beach with state rules and a criminal code supporting the arrest and prosecution of skinny dippers.
For naturist advocates in the state of Wisconsin, this move brings into acute focus an even broader attempt at a more draconian shift in Wisconsinites’ right to bare all, and it spotlights a more complex and deeper history of conflict over nudity in Wisconsin’s public spaces, specifically with regard to Mazo Beach.
What’s at stake?
The future of public nudity and naturism in Wisconsin is hanging in the balance. The recent legislative efforts aim to strictly regulate and criminalize public nudity across the state. Wisconsin, known for being home to The Naturist Society Foundation and the Naturist Action Committee, is at risk of becoming one of the most restrictive states in the country regarding nudity laws. This isn’t just about naturism; it seems to be part of a broader move against various progressive and individual freedoms, including LGBTQ+ rights and freedom of expression.
Taking action: What you can do
DNR will eventually hold a public hearing where these issues may be discussed further. The exact date has not yet been announced, but it’s crucial to stay informed and participate. We are still in the early stages of the rule-making process according to DNR procedure, and there are several more steps before public hearings take place. For more details on the specific rule procedure, you can visit this link.
The DNR rules will be a battle to fight in the near future, but the immediate focus is on opposing and defeating the Wisconsin senate bills 477 & 478. There is no defeating the DNR measures if the senate bills pass.
It’s essential to stay updated as the public hearings are frequently announced with very short notice. Keep an eye on local Madison news, and check the resources in our Action Guide to stay informed. We will do our best to keep tracking and reporting the latest developments on Planet Nude and with the #KeepBodiesFree hashtag on social media.
Your participation is vital in voicing concerns and opposition to these legislative changes. Let’s stay active and informed to make a difference in the outcome of these proposed rules. 🪐
Stay up to date on the Wisconsin legislative situation:
Planet Nude is a free newsletter that is possible thanks to the support of a few generous subscribers. If you value our work and can afford to, please consider going paid.