A minimalist approach at lone nudist resort in Berkshires

Sunday September 16, 2012

HANCOCK -- The Berkshire Vista Resort provides an opportunity for guests to dress down.

Way, way down.

Nestled just off of Route 43, the gated getaway offers visitors camaraderie, fun and majestic mountain views from May 1 through Columbus Day.

In the middle of it all sat Springfield natives Todd and Terri, sipping frosty beers from a bottle one sunny Saturday in August, each without a stitch of clothing on, each fitting in with 300 other vacationers in a place where birthday suits replace business suits.

Welcome to Berkshire Vista, the only clothing-optional resort in the county.

"Call it a bucket list thing," newcomer Todd said, asking that his last name not be used so that his privacy would be protected. "We went back and forth all summer about coming until we finally decided to do it. We'll definitely be back."

"I was a little bit more nervous than he was," Terri added. "It took awhile for us to get naked. It took some extra courage, too."

She took another sip of beer.

One of 260

Since 1956, naturists, nudists and curious visitors have arrived on the grounds to drop their worries, their responsibilities and their undergarments to take advantage of the non-judgmental atmosphere, where people of all ages, backgrounds and careers can become fully nude outdoors without the fear of public scorn or legal ramifications.

Berkshire Vista is one of about 260 clothing-optional or fully nude facilities sanctioned by the American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR), a $450 million industry based in Kissimmee, Fla.

According to mapmuse.com, Massachusetts has five clothing-optional facilities. The closest one to the Berkshires is in Ludlow.

Current Berkshire Vista owners Dan and Ginny Bookstein bought the 100-acre property at auction in 1996. The couple kept up the clothing-optional tradition despite not being nudists themselves.

Vista has been the only nudist resort in the Berkshires since it was founded 56 years ago.

"I fell in love with the views," said Dan Bookstein, a former aerospace engineer, in reference to the surrounding mountains, including Jiminy Peak.

Closer observations of his clientele were a different story.

"At first, I didn't know where to look," Bookstein said. "I'd just look down when I walked, and when people would say, ‘Hi,' I'd just wave and not look up."

"You get used to it after a while," said Ginny, the resort's accountant. "It's not for me, though. I understand the intellect behind it, but it's just not for me."

Few from the Berkshires

Berkshire Vista Manager Paula Liuzzi said she's seen visitors come from as far as England, but most are from nearby states. Few come from the Berkshires, she said.

Berkshire Vista Manager Paula Liuzzi said she's seen visitors come from as far as England, but most are from nearby states. Few come from the Berkshires, she said.

Despite nudity at every corner at Berkshire Vista, a sexual undercurrent is absent. Most of the people who show up are coupled with their significant others, Liuzzi said.

"My rule is, if it's inappropriate to do with your clothes on in public, it's inappropriate to do here without clothes," said Liuzzi, who is a naturist but was clothed for work on this sunny August day.

There is no age restriction at the resort, but children must be monitored at all times, she said. Berkshire Vista also requires nude guests to sit on a towel so that they don't expose their bare bottoms to any seating, and the only spot that requires full nudity is inside the pool.

About 2,000 people visited the resort last year. Already in 2012, the figure is nearly 2,100, and Dan Bookstein said that number should reach at least 2,300 by the time the resort closes for the season on Oct. 8.

"People are starting to understand their own mortality," Liuzzi said. "They're wanting to try new things."

Since taking ownership 16 years ago, the Booksteins have spent $1.5 million on a new, self-contained sewage system, and Wi-Fi connectivity is available. There are 150 RV sites, eight rental cottages, and 200 tent sites.

Prices range from $20 for a single-day visitor to $1,700 for site rentals for the season.

"It's almost like its own little city," Dan Bookstein said.

The utopian mind set inside the gates doesn't trickle into the rest of the town of Hancock, however. The resort owners and town have disagreed on the property.

The Booksteins filed a civil suit against the town's Planning Board in 2008 after it wouldn't grant the owners preliminary approval to divide their land. The board said the public portion of Kittle Road didn't provide adequate access to the three proposed lots to be divided. The Planning Board signed the plan after the Booksteins won the suit in 2009.

Dan Bookstein said he wanted to divide the land in part to increase the value of the resort by obtaining a piece of the public road.

"The planning board still feels that it's right, but the courts decided differently," board member Joan Burdick said.

When asked to give a personal opinion of a clothing-optional facility in Hancock, Burdick said sternly: "No comment."

‘Very private people'

When The Eagle visited last month, the resort ran as smoothly as any traditional getaway -- a competitive game of petanque, similar in style to bocce, took place in a large sandbox just outside the clubhouse.

Residents caught rays poolside without the worries of tan lines. Mouth-watering beef and chicken served at the 150-seat food bar were the perfect mates for chilled daiquiris and beer. And chatter and laughter echoed through the maze of mobile homes.

"I've brought my neighbors out here, and they love it. Everyone should try it at least once in their lifetime," said Gary Komarowsky, a Justice of the Peace in Beacon Falls, Conn., and a self-proclaimed social nudist.

Any Berkshires residents on the grounds on this day made it a point to avoid a reporter and photographer from The Eagle.

"A lot of naturists are very private people," said AANR spokeswoman Carolyn Hawkins. "This is what they do to relax. It's very stress-free."

All AANR resorts are occupied by both self-proclaimed nudists and naturists.

"In my opinion, there's not much difference between a nudist and a naturist," Hawkins said. "Naturists prefer to be closer to the Earth and nudists are ... nude."

‘This is the real world'

Rita St. Onge, 54, is an almost lifelong nudist, having spent every summer at the resort since she was 3. Her family vacationed here one Fourth of July weekend and ended up staying the rest of that summer. When the grounds open every year, St. Onge reports back to her maintenance job and living full time at the resort.

"For me, this is the real world -- not out there," she said.

In the past, St. Onge and her family retreated to their home in Worcester during the resort's off-seasons, but they didn't keep up the nudist tradition because they entertained relatives a lot, she said.

"Back then, the grounds were almost all families," she said. "They only allowed three single men and three single women on the grounds at a time."

When the resort closes next month, St. Onge and her partner will go back home to Stephentown, N.Y., where they will remain nudists all year.

"In the wintertime, my house is 72 degrees," she said.

Not once on this Saturday afternoon did St. Onge have a shirt on. She wore Daisy Duke-style jean shorts while she was working, but even those came off on occasion. A small metal chain around her waist ensured she didn't lose her walkie-talkie.

‘Obsessed with ... image'

Doc and his wife, Gail -- he an education professional in Connecticut, she a retired teacher -- are naturists, having visited the resort for nine years. They block out two weeks every summer to spend at Berkshire Vista.

"It's great to come out with so many like-minded people," said a nude Doc. "Out there, in the textile world, people are obsessed with body image. Here, you are who you are."

Doc persuaded Gail to try out a nudist resort years ago. She said she originally had hang-ups and reservations, but that isn't the case now.

"You lose all taboos out here," Gail said after taking off her shirt. "There's such a positive energy."

Liuzzi said the openness creates a small family among frequent vacationers.

"This is the best group of people. They're open, they're honest," she said. "They'd give you the shirt off their back -- no pun intended."

To reach Adam Poulisse:
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse


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