OPINION COLUMNS

The naked truth about Welcome to Wise

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, September 29, 2012

It started as an extra incentive for advertisers.

What if we took our annual “Welcome to Wise” books to those travel centers that greet visitors at Gainesville, Wichita Falls and Amarillo, as they enter from Oklahoma or beyond?

Bob Buckel

It sounded like a great idea. W2W is chock-full of the kind of information travelers are hungry for: annual festivals, charming towns, recreation from hiking and kayaking to boating and bull riding, churches, hotels, restaurants. There’s a lot to see in Wise County, and W2W has it.

Including nudist resorts.

Yep, Wise County has two. Both bill themselves as family-oriented spots where you can rent a cabin or park your RV and swim, hike, jog, sunbathe by the pool, take a sauna and otherwise commune with nature – all without the encumbrance of textiles.

(Let me state up-front that I’m a textile guy. I was born in the middle of a half-million acres of cotton. It’s the fabric of my life.)

The Wise County folks I know are all modest, clothes-wearing types – but here, like everywhere, not everyone is on the same page. I see people almost every day whose clothes contain their body parts about as securely as a Mexican prison contains drug dealers – but we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about people who just enjoy getting outdoors in their birthday suits.

Wise County has something for everyone – including them.

But they almost got our guide banished from the state’s travel centers.

We got word a few weeks ago that someone at the Gainesville center had fielded a complaint about page 163. She faxed it to Austin, and the ruling came down to pull them from the shelves. The chafing point, as it turned out, was a photo of a woman jogging into the sunset with a caption that says, “BARE RUN – Bluebonnet Nudist Park has hosted a clothing-optional cross-country 5K run every fall for more than 20 years.” The caption implies that the jogger is naked, when in fact, she is not.

There’s also a directory listing on that page for the resorts and an ad for one of them. It contains a photo of a dog (fully-furred).

When we called Austin to question the decision, we were told that the bureau’s policy forbids literature that “contains terminology, advertising or pictures that are adult or sexually-oriented or are otherwise not directly related to family-oriented travel or tourism.”

But … what? Wise County’s naturist resorts are not, in any sense, “adult” or “sexually-oriented” businesses. For one thing, they’re secluded, behind secure fences, and reservations are required. You can’t just go there to ogle naked people, and the recreational activities do not include sex.

And for that matter, we’re not that kind of newspaper. Our news editor’s husband and kids are on the cover, for Pete’s sake!

So, with the help of a nice lady in the Austin office, we set out to make our case.

We sent her copies of the book and encouraged a look at the legal definitions of “adult” and “sexually-oriented” businesses. It took a couple of weeks, but we finally got the ruling this week: We’re back in!

That’s great news for our advertisers.

It does, however, kill a terrific opportunity for humor.

With a negative outcome and a tartly-worded column, we might have rated an entry on Texas Monthly’s annual “Bum Steer” list. We had visions of a tongue-in-cheek essay on public radio, extensive coverage in the Metroplex media, scathing tirades against a prude and overly protective state.

We were prepared to strip away all restraint, to declare that this emperor had no clothes. We were ready to bare all, to abandon all modesty and expose this travesty.

Instead, we’re very grateful to the state for a reasonable response, which we are happy to bring to light.

The last thing we’d want is a cover-up.

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