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Sunday, September 26, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Skagit County Club Caters To Naked-Recreation Buffs

Skagit Valley Herald

LAKE McMURRAY, Skagit County - Mike and Astrid King wore clothes to greet jazz-festival visitors at the gate of a private club where nude recreation is the norm.

"We want people to feel comfortable," he said.

The August jazz festival is a summer highlight at Lake Associates Recreation Club near Lake McMurray. The public is invited - to test whether nude recreation might suit a person's lifestyle.

A wooded path leads to a grassy hillside. Naked people in front of the stage listened to the music - true jazz buffs. Topless picnickers assembled sandwiches. A nude group soaked in a hot tub. Eagles soared overhead.

The Kings checked visitors in and collected a $3 cover charge to help pay for jazz groups from Seattle.

"We don't want people to come up here to be lookie-loos," Astrid King said.

The rules for "social nudity" are posted by the gate. No cameras or excessive gawking allowed.

Why do people shed clothes to play outdoors stark naked?

"If you take your clothes off, you take your stress off. People don't believe it until they try it," Mike King said.

The Kings have multiple business interests and enjoy the relaxation of nude recreation. They own the 65 acres of forest and meadows the club rents from them. Developing the campgrounds and RV sites, and eventually a clubhouse and sports facilities, is just like any other long-term investment, they said.

"We are just like a KOA campground, except you don't have to wear clothes," he said.

The Kings didn't set out to own a private nudist camp. They were members of a club in Sultan, in eastern Snohomish County, that split apart in 1987. Back then, Mike King was flying back and forth to Hawaii. The Kings own DKS, which constructs commercial and residential buildings.

Washington's climate and the natives are less hospitable to nudity than Hawaiians. Nude bathing is illegal on Washington's public beaches. Even so, Teddy Bear Cove in Whatcom County was a popular spot until the whistle was blown. And conservative lawmakers threatened to yank funding recently if nudity were allowed at Clayton Beach, a state park also in Whatcom County.

Thousands of acres of public beaches and none for nudists, Mike King said.

"It's not democratic," he said.

The Kings belong to the 50,000-member American Association for Nude Recreation, based in Kissimmee, Fla., which boasts a government-affairs division and a legal-defense fund.

Astrid King said, "Nudists vote, too."

The local club boasts about 70 members, not enough financial and political clout to replace the Sultan site. The Kings stepped in, invested personally. Exposure to expense wasn't skimpy.

The Kings paid $95,000 for an initial 40 acres. They dug two wells, but both failed to produce drinking water. They paid $175,000 for an additional 25 acres. Water from this source will be piped to the campgrounds. They installed miles of road that loop through the scenic, rolling countryside. The Kings and club volunteers cleared brush by hand to create natural-appearing campsites amid the greenery.

Club members continue to help with upkeep, cutting grass and performing grounds maintenance.

The Kings owe no money on the campgrounds. They say they are adding improvements, paying as they go. Is the campground a moneymaking venture? Maybe one day, the Kings say.

The Kings showed visitors the type of camping sites that will be developed. One family has built a deck off the site where members park their RV. The deck is rimmed with flowers and bird feeders. When winter arrives, the family heads south to a park in sunnier zones, Mike King said.

Fees are modest because some of the niceties are not yet installed, said Bob Van Limburgh, who handles membership dues for the club. A couple pays $356 annually for unlimited visits, and an RV site rents for $360 per year, he said.

Astrid King is concerned about the bad reputation nudists get when the public misunderstands and lumps them in with strip clubs and topless bars. The grounds here offer privacy, safety from hassles and a place for family oriented recreation, she said.

The Kings live on the property, moving here from Mill Creek three years ago.

"Some people say it's morally wrong that we don't want clothes," Mike King said. "Odd, because I wasn't born wearing anything."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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