Will Speak for Bare Ass Beach
plan for the van: Dumping like this frustrates beachgoers
and the owner alike. Photo by: John Whipple
Without going public, regulars at a 60-year-old nude beach
and gay meeting area in Troy mourn its impending demise
the late afternoon of May 13, Joey*, a well-tanned landscaper
who says he’s about 40, is getting a leisurely hand job from
another man in the sunshine by a bend in the Poestenkill.
Next to the pair, another naked guy reclines on his stomach
on a towel. It was a lot more populated here in the 1980s,
Joey says. He laments the increasingly smaller numbers of
places where one can just go and be naked. He knows plenty
of spots in Vermont, but he works a long hard day, and would
prefer some place nearer by to work on his lineless tan—and
fool around occasionally if there’s no one present who would
be bothered by that.
Up above where Joey and his comrades are sunning, the rutted,
worn gravel pull-off from Brunswick Road across from the City
of Troy welcome sign gives little indication of what’s below.
On April 30 it is occupied only by a few cars and a bucket
of smelly fish left behind by an overenthusiastic but flaky
angler. Ten feet into the woods, there’s a 3-foot-by-2-foot
orange laminated sign lying face down on the leaves. It’s
a notice that a conceptual site plan review of a development
proposal for the land below will happen on May 13.
The guys getting into their cars have seen the sign, but they
don’t think the proposal will go anywhere. “How are they going
to do it? They would need to put sewers in with that river
down there,” says one. He pauses. “It’s a beautiful piece
of land though.”
He’s right about that. After a steep drop-off from the road,
the land flattens out into a lush floodplain on either side
of the Poestenkill, which flows swiftly through the middle.
Along the bank, the narrow trails of grey sand are marked
with many footprints, but the brand-new fiddlehead ferns at
the water’s edge are undisturbed. Overhead, the larger-than-expected
Woody-Woodpecker profile (and laugh) of a rare pileated woodpecker
moves up and down the trunk of a dead tree. A couple of paintball
shelters blend fairly unobtrusively into the scene, looking
like kids’ tree houses. The quiet seems more suited to the
wilds of Vermont than a spot just off busy Route 2.
At a point where the Poestenkill makes a 90-degree bend, there’s
a gravel beach. The wide open secret about this spot, and
the woods behind it, is that it’s been a nude swimming hole
and gay pick-up spot in consistent use since the 1940s.
At the top of the dirt road that runs up the hill to Route
2 is a No Trespassing sign whose black letters have been spray-painted
over in white. Bare Ass Beach, as it is known, is on private
land, and its long-standing coexistence with the landowners
may be about to come to an end.
The land was purchased by Dean Taylor, chairman of New York
Power and Light and a powerful local judge, in 1942. It had
been farmland. Taylor put it in his wife Mary’s name in 1957.
It was sold to Nordec Development and then to Troy resident
Leonard Devito in 1991.
According to its regular users, and Taylor’s son Peter, Taylor
allowed people to use the land for recreation the entire time
he owned it. Sometime in the late ’40s or early ’50s, it began
to be used for nude swimming, first by high school students,
then by gay men, says Andrew, who has been going to the land
for 30 years. It evolved into a known gay pick-up spot, though
regulars say that was usually confined to specific areas,
and families continued to picnic and swim in other segments.
Aside from gay raids in the 1950s and sometimes having kids
shout “faggot” at them when they emerge from the woods, beachgoers
report having been left fairly undisturbed, a precious thing
in a society that is repressive about sex and where the main
meeting points for gay men involve, as Andrew says, someone
constantly asking if you’d like another drink. “It’s a refuge,”
he says, especially because many of the people who go there
are people who, for one reason or another, “can’t be out elsewhere.”
In an era when getting the legal right to marry is the big
fight for gay activist groups, Andrew feels like any will
to defend meeting spots like this one has fallen by the wayside.
“I’m not even sure the gay community cares about its own kind
in this respect,” he says. Though closeted himself, Andrew
is frustrated with the sex-negative attitude of those who
freak out about a place like Bare Ass Beach.
you really want to know the truth, it’s a place of sexual
encounter,” he says. “No drug parties, no booze parties. .
. . It relieves the tension of a lot of people who would be
tense because they’re too afraid to go into a gay bar or solicit
people in other ways. Everybody is so afraid of sex in this
York doesn’t get it,” agrees Jared, an aging queen who is
hanging out in the lower parking area off the dirt road (generally
a clothed area) with a couple of friends, chain-smoking and
trading barbs with uber-straight Chuck, who comes to the land
to fish. “If you don’t bother people in the woods, they won’t
do these things on the streets, you know?”
Jared has been frequenting the land for decades, and his friend
Art, who’s about to turn 67, says he’s been coming since he
was 13. The group waxes eloquent about the community of users
and their live-and-let-live approach. Occasionally heterosexual
nude bathers mix in with gay folks with no problem, they say,
and plenty of folks come for other pursuits, like Chuck. Some
may get a gentle ribbing, but they are thoroughly welcome.
But Ed Esposito, of the Provident Development Corporation,
which is under contract with Devito to develop the land into
a 56-unit luxury condominium complex, sees the use of the
land a little differently. “We’ve gotta stop the riffraff,”
he told Troy’s Planning Commission on May 13.
[enter] at their own risk and without permission,” Esposito
told me the day before. “This is pretty land, but they’re
not paying the taxes.”
The plan he presented has compact row houses nestled on the
higher ground of the property, leaving the floodplain for
“an exclusive residential park,” including amenities like
a bocce court and picnic pavilion to be maintained by the
homeowners’ association. “We’d like the money to flow. It
would be a high-end project,” he said.
Neighbors of the property also had a few complaints at the
May 13 meeting. “We have other names for that beach, because
sometimes the people who go there park on our streets,” said
one resident of the nearby development Cheryl Court during
the meeting’s public comment period. She claimed she had heard
gunshots on the property at night.
just here to fish: (l-r) Jason Laffer and Brian McGarvey.
Photo by: John Whipple
O’Reilly, a Brunswick Road resident, echoed her: “There’s
activity there none of us want to see, none of us approve
But these were side notes. The main concern of the dozen or
so neighbors who showed up at the commission meeting was that
the development was too dense, would create too much traffic
on Route 2, and would spoil a prime undeveloped green space
along the Poestenkill, disrupting plans to put a trail all
along the river.
None of the speakers identified themselves as a user of the
land, certainly not in its Bare Ass Beach incarnation. Afterward,
a few were willing to defend general public use of the land.
“I walk the other side of the creek,” said one woman. “I’m
And Russell Ziemba, a member of the nearby Mt. Ida Preservation
Association and a strong supporter of urban green space and
a Poestenkill trail, said he cross-country skis up the frozen
river in the winter. “We’ve lost population, and yet developers
are building on green spaces that kids and people were once
able to go on and use and enjoy,” he says. And the nude swimming,
at least, doesn’t bother him so much. “I don’t think naked
swimming is particularly bad,” he says. “I did it as a kid.”
sure the city would stand behind” ending the nude activity,
said Esposito. But Mayor Harry Tutunjian said it hadn’t been
a concern of his, since it was on private property. He did
note that since it is private, the owner has the right to
stop allowing use of it at any time. He said the condo project
sounded “very appealing” as a way to raise the tax base, and
hopes public access would be included in the plan, though
he recognizes that would be entirely up to the developer.
Troy’s assistant chief of police, John Tedesco, also says
the land hasn’t really been a problem in his 28 years on the
force. They don’t patrol it regularly due to accessibility
issues, he says, but the complaints they do get about fighting,
disturbances or, rarely, exposure “if people don’t realize
how close they are to the road,” are very infrequent.
In fact, the only concrete problem that Esposito actually
mentions to the commission is dumping. “Len Devito has had
to personally fish rusted cars out of the creek,” he told
the commission. “It’s a dump.” He’s got a point. If you enter
the property from the dirt road rather than the foot paths
down from the upper parking area, you’ll see tires and a two-drawer
filing cabinet, among other junk, off the road to your right.
Just past the lower parking area, a black Dodge Ram is mired
in mud up to its axles, broken glass from the windows coating
its mauve upholstery.
That dumping is a big problem may be the one point on which
the beachgoers agree with Esposito. But it isn’t them, they
say. Teenagers come in at night and trash the place, while
they try to help keep it up. “The gays are out of there usually
by 6 PM,” for safety reasons, says Andrew. Jared saw the Dodge
Ram drive in, full of kids yelling “faggot” and “suck this,
suck that,” he recalls. When it got stuck in the mud, the
kids trashed it.
As they talk, Art picks up some small pieces of litter around
the parking area, including Chuck’s empty cigarette pack,
and makes a tiny bonfire to dispose of them, while the others
joke with him about being a pyro. He brushes off their banter
and talks about the time a deer fell down the steep embankment
behind the cars and broke its leg. He eventually called in
EnCon to come put it out of its misery; he felt it was the
least he could do.
Like Jared and Art, Joey has been coming to this area since
he was a child—his aunt and his father both came here—and
he values it as one of the few remaining natural places in
an increasingly built-up landscape. He points out where a
pair of herons spent most of last year, and another spot where
he just pulled some fishing line out of the water. The dumping
comes in waves, he says.
Of all these decades-long devotees of the area, only Andrew
seems to believe that the development will actually go forward.
“I really don’t think it’s going to be saved,” he says, sighing.
“My major concern is that no one will show up at these public
hearings. No one wants to get up and say I’m a gay man and
I like this because . . .” That includes him. “I definitely
can’t go and open my mouth. I can’t go,” he finishes.
His fear seems justified. Jared and Art unconcernedly say
they’ve seen development proposal after proposal come and
go, but never pan out. Besides, says Jared, he couldn’t afford
to be publicly identified as gay.
Andrew feels like the owner owes something to the community
that has enjoyed, and cared for, the land for so many years.
“I understand the new owner’s predicament,” he says. “But
they knew what they were buying. . . . It’s been open to the
public and being used by gay people for 60 years, so [we]
should be consulted. . . . If it were any other type of interest,
if it were birdwatchers, they’d have to set aside a piece
of property for that activity.”
Public access has not been ruled out as a requirement; some
members of the commission seem interested in pursuing it,
despite ominous rumblings from Esposito about how that would
be considered a taking that would require compensation. And
besides, say Jared and Art, it would hardly be the same with
all those houses there anyway.
Melanie Trimble, director of the Capital Region chapter of
the American Civil Liberties Union, says that unless the land
is being developed specifically to run the gays off the property,
rather than for profit, it’s not a civil-rights issue. “They
have the ability to gather together and buy that piece of
property from the owner. If they really want the land, they
should be brave and do it,” she says.
Andrew realizes this, but feels it’s too late. “My biggest
peeve is I should’ve gotten on the bandwagon when the place
was for sale and pushed the gay community to buy the property,”
Joey guesses the development might happen, but he’s hoping
it’ll take a while for all the permits to go through. (The
first zoning hearing on the project will be held on May 27.)
“I hope this won’t all be gone. I was hoping we wouldn’t lose
this summer,” he says. Less than an hour later, a sign that
change is coming faster than he had hoped for arrives in the
form of a nattily dressed man wielding (literally) a big stick.
He approaches Joey and his friend as they lie on their towels
and in the same casual way you might say “last call” tells
them, “I just wanted to notify you that your cars have been
reported to the police and they will be here shortly.”
is Joey’s curt assessment of how often something like this
has happened down here before, as he hurriedly dresses and
runs off to his car.
And “never” is when a spot like this will be replaced if it’s
lost, says Andrew. “There’s no other places for people to
names of beachgoers have been changed.