Waverly area resort draws scant protest
by Jay Reeves
The Associated Press [Oct. 2000]
WAVERLY - A gravel road winds through John Bales' wilderness resort. It looks like any of the paths leading to hunting lodges where countless Southern men spend weekends this time of year.
Then, you come to the sign: "Clothing optional area."
This isn't your ordinary, out-of-the-way spot in the woods of east Alabama. Bales owns Black Bear Camp, a 33 acre resort catering to gay men who enjoy nature au naturel.
Black Bear Camp isn't for hunting. It's for socializing.
The clientele tends to be gay men best described as the rugged type. Many have beards and bellies and would rather sit around the lodge watching football on television than go to a gay bar.
"Probably more than 50 percent of our customers are married or divorced with kids." Bales said, "We don't get the flamboyant type."
There were rumblings when another clothing-optional campground for gay men opened near the south Alabama town of Geneva a couple of years ago. A lesbian-operated retreat where guests wear clothes, Camp sister Spirit, drew heated protests in 1993 after opening in rural Mississippi.
But Bales hasn't heard any complaints from surrounding Lee County or nearby Waverly, a town of 160 people, many of them elderly.
"I know my neighbors. They know I'm gay, and they know I opened this place," he said. "There hasn't been a problem with it."
Many residents don't know the camp exists: Bales doesn't advertise locally, and there are no signs indicating that a clothing-optional resort for homosexuals is just off busy U.S. 280. But people who do know about the camp don't seem concerned about what's going on in the woods north of Auburn.
"If that's what turns them on, let 'em go on," said Waverly town clerk, DeLene Cawley. "If I belonged to a nudist colony, that's where I'd want to be."
A leader of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Alabama isn't surprised by the lack of controversy. "As long as there's no loud music and people keep to themselves I wouldn't think people would have a problem with it", David White said.
Bales, a 57 year old math professor at Tuskegee University, didn't set out to get into the clothing-optional resort business.
He began buying land around Little Loblockee Creek in 1982 and began building years later with plans for the camp to provide a source of income when he retires in 2009.
The 3,600 square-foot lodge has a tin roof and all the comforts of home plus some: Internet access, satellite TV, a hot tub and an above-ground swimming pool with deck.
Bales has had as many as 30 customers on a weekend, but the more typical crowd is six or seven.
"It was not my original intention to be clothing-optional", he said. "But shortly after I opened, I began to get inquiries from clothing-optional groups asking whether that was allowed.
"It didn't take me long to realize that the remoteness and seclusion of the camp made that a natural option and a good niche market to enter."
Bales hopes to break even this year as far as operating costs go. He weeds out the occasional unannounced visitor just looking for a good time.
"No one wants to come down here and have people who are looking at naked guys and propositioning them for sex," he said. "That would drive away my business."