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Where can you skinny dip when our blistering Arkansas summer rolls around? Anywhere you want. Where can you legally skinny dip? Nowhere.

Arkansas's got one of the most restrictive laws on nudity in the nation, various nudist websites who've done the comparisons claim. Arkansas law (Sec. 5-68-204) prohibits persons from exposing their “private parts” to anyone except a spouse or doctor. Not only can we not go about in the nude, we can't even “advocate, demonstrate, or promote” nudity. Which would make it illegal to try and change the law.

But as we all know, the law is a ass, in this case one that's covered up. It's blithely ignored anywhere there is water, of course, unless perhaps in those snaky sloughs that flow slowly through the flatlands.

The private part of private property is cover enough (though the Arkansas law, read literally, doesn't even allow that). But for those of us who don't have our own lake or river to cool our skin in, public property will have to do. And it does.

So, where can you skinny dip, we asked, on Lake DeGray? “Anywhere you want,” said Mark Campbell, assistant superintendent of the state park. He was, of course, being facetious. He knows the law. He also knows that there are quite a few “secluded coves” where people have been known to swim in the buff. There's a beach off Highway 7, and some people claim to have taken it off in that quite public area, but Campbell hasn't seen it. “It's a good place to look at girls in bikinis,” though, he added.

The only nakedness DeGray's park personnel see commonly is at Caddo Bend Recreation Area, where sometimes they'll see “a young lady with their top undone,” lying on their stomachs, reading a book in the sun. That's OK, he said, until they rise up and someone is affronted.

Greers Ferry has a reputation for nude frolicking — it won a 2003 “Best of Arkansas” prize from this newspaper for best place to skinny dip, and the Greers Ferry Lake/Little Red River Tourist Association ran an advertisement in the Times expressing its gratitude.

Benny Rorie, the natural resource specialist (who better to ask?) for the Corps of Engineers lake, acknowledged that bare skin is dipped into the 31,500-acre lake. When rangers on boat patrol after quiet hours, which start at 10 p.m., shine a light on people bobbing up and down, their clothes on the bank, they “kindly ask them to depart,” Rorie said. A couple of years ago, a ranger in a boat came across a man shooting photographs of his nude wife posing against a bluff. They were asked, kindly, to cut it out.

Being discovered by a ranger can be embarrassing, of course. On the Cossatot River, which is designated a national wild and scenic river and natural area, things do get wild and scenic. A park employee who came across a couple on a gravel bar enjoying one another's company was going to give them their privacy, but the man decided to try and act naturally, asking the park employee questions about the river as he pulled on his shorts.

The Highway 278 bridge over the Cossatot, by the way, would not be a good place to break Arkansas law. There's a camera mounted there to take river readings. Ranger Steve Walker, quoting his boss, said, “You have to be careful what you do in the wilderness because somebody will probably see you.”

Eureka is also famous for natural bathing in Beaver Lake and the Kings River. The website swimmingholes.org/ar/html notes that Hogscald Hollow south of Eureka off Rte. 148 was once a hotspot for skinny dipping until word got out “and over to the marina.” Eventually, the writer says, a flotilla appeared to “check out the nekkid people” and watch them leap from a 50-foot cliff into the river there. According to the website, which features descriptions and directions to 37 swimming holes in Arkansas (only Hogscald gets the skinny mention) and was last updated in January, a petition drive to keep the boats from coming to the Hogscald Hollow cove is under way.

Nudity does not equate with hanky-panky, contrary to the fantasies of the members of the Arkansas legislature. Families do swim undressed — especially if they aren't American. This writer was at Cedar Falls on Petit Jean Mountain when a family of four casually doffed their clothes for a plunge into the lovely deep pool at the bottom of the falls. They were speaking French, and it was the most natural thing in the world to them to slip out of their togs and into the water. And surely, natural it is.

— Leslie Newell Peacock

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