The naked truth about nudists in Northeastern Pennsylvania

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First Posted: 5/22/2014

Food and drink festivals are not a strange thing for this area when the warm weather creeps in – but what would you say to an opportunity to sip carefully crafted brews while in the buff? (And no, your typical Tuesday night home alone does not count.)

Sunny Rest Resort in Palmerton is not just encouraging, but requiring patrons of its June 28 Bare Beach Beer Bash to do just that and then again, but this time with wine, on Aug. 16 for the Bare Vine Wine Fest.

Are these one-off instances of partying in a birthday suit? No, because since 1945, Sunny Rest Resort has been a premier clothing-optional spot for those vacationing and dwelling permanently alike.

A nudist resort, if you will.


Sunny Rest is one of the longest-running businesses in Carbon County, with a storied history. It began in 1945 with Reed and Jeanette Suplee, who opened it as the 72-acre Sunny Rest Lodge. After the couple’s divorce, Reed married Zelda, who then took ownership of the camp until 1961, when Wally and Shirley Rogers became partners with her. In 1978, Wally put Sunny Rest up for sale, offering it to longtime guest Irv Mesher. When Mesher retired in 1987, he sold his interest to his son Michael and Michael’s wife, Myra. When they divorced, Myra continued to run Sunny Rest.

Currently, Irv helps Myra with the managing, as does Myra’s daughter, Halsie Shoemaker, who is Sunny Rest’s general manager.

The facilities have continued to grow and the business hit the million-dollar mark two years ago. Shoemaker said the business has grown by about $100,000 every year since.

It’s now expanded to 190 acres and offers 30 year-round residential homes, 22 hotel rooms, 15 cabins, 150 trailer hook-up sites, and more than 100 wooded campsites. There’s a sand volleyball court, tennis courts, hot tub, sauna, gym, hiking trail, heated pool, a poolside bar dubbed Streakers, and Flashers Sports Bar and Night Club.

There are also seasonal events that draw in crowds, such as a packed Fourth of July weekend, the Sunny Bowl Volleyball Tournament, a pig roast, and a boat regatta, during which guests must build a boat from nothing but cardboard and duct tape and paddle it from one end of the pool to the other – while nude, of course.


The thing with Sunny Rest is that it truly is just a typical vacation spot, just one that caters to those who prefer to shun clothing. It’s also a growing industry.

“We grow every single year,” Shoemaker said. “I think it’s because people don’t all of a sudden decide they don’t want to be nudists anymore. People try it out, they love it, they stay with it. We have new people coming here every single day.”

Nudism, which is also referred to as naturism, is the practice of advocating nudity in both private and public settings. There are different definitions for those who live the life, including personal and family nudity (which occurs mainly in the privacy of the home) and social nudism (at events or resorts like Sunny Rest).

Shoemaker grew up in a nudist household. Her grandfather became a nudist in the 1970s, and her mother first visited Sunny Rest at the age of 18, eventually joining the lifestyle.

Shoemaker loves her way of living and what it has done for her outlook on life.

“Being a nudist strips you right down to who you really are,” she said, pun likely intended. “You get to know people for what’s inside, their real personality. You don’t know what people do for a living or what social status they are at first glance. You’ll find that nudists are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, and they’re much more open than other people.”


A lot of questions may come to someone who happens upon Sunny Rest Resort – and why not, in a world where nudity in public is not the norm and may be, in fact, shunned? We asked Shoemaker about some inquires that have popped into people’s minds frequently, finding a way to not only inform, but put those interested at ease.

Q: Do you have to be in perfect shape to be a nudist?

A: No way. Shoemaker said this is the No. 1 misconception. “It’s not true. There are all kinds of people that come here. It’s not all Victoria’s Secret models walking around.”

Q: Do I have to be naked everywhere?

A: No. It’s only required in the pool, hot tub, and any other areas with bodies of water. Sunny Rest is considered clothing optional. “We don’t want to force people to be naked all the time,” Shoemaker said. “We want people to be comfortable so they can undress at their own pace.”

Q: Are instances of sexual activity an issue with all these naked bodies strutting around?

A: Nope. Sunny Rest does not allow any sort of sexual activity in public, and if anything is ever reported, they act on it immediately. Plus, nudists tend to have a different view of sex. “It teaches you that the naked human body is a very natural thing and it desensitizes you to thinking sexual thoughts,” Shoemaker said. “It makes you separate the thoughts of nudity and sex, so when you see a naked person, sex is not the first thing that comes to mind.”

Q: I see Sunny Rest is a family-friendly place. Could it be considered unsafe for children to be in this environment?

A: Not at all, as Sunny Rest keeps a close eye on all activity going on. Again, the team acts on any reports immediately. “We always have security on the grounds and keep a close eye on what goes on here,” Shoemaker said. “We generally don’t have any problems at all, but if something arises, we take action as soon as it’s reported.”

Q: Is it a clean facility?

A: It is, and it’s due to the No. 1, and golden, rule. “Whenever anyone is nude, wherever they go, they’re required to sit on a towel,” Shoemaker said. “Naked bodies aren’t sitting directly on anything.”

Q: So is this a place for just a specific type of person, or is anyone welcome?

A: You will see all types of people at Sunny Rest. “All ages, all body types, races, genders,” Shoemaker said. “I always give the example that it’s like walking into a grocery store and just seeing what you’d see in public, people from all walks of life. People that come here are lawyers, doctors, judges, as well as farmers and blue-collar workers.”

Q: How private is it?

A: Very. All guest records are kept anonymous and no information is given out to anyone inquiring as to whether or not a certain guest is staying there. Shoemaker said many celebrities have stayed at Sunny Rest and no one has known. Also, there’s absolutely no photography allowed.

Q: What can I expect from a first visit?

A: Fun. “It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and we always have activities going on every week,” Shoemaker said. Her only suggestion? Make sure to bring sunscreen.