The following article is from the Virginian-Pilot, Wednesday, July 12, 1978:

Ocracoke Island – Sheriff Stops Nudity Arrests Awhile

By Doug Gardner, Virginian-Pilot Staff Writer


OCRACOKE- Hyde County Sheriff Charles Cahoon said Tuesday that he is throwing the problem of enforcing the state’s public nudity law back to the National Park Service on Ocracoke Island.

In Washington, a Park Service spokesman said rangers have no statutory authority to arrest anyone for public nudity in a national park and don’t warrant such authority.

Cahoon, whose deputies arrested four people Thursday under the state’s indecent-exposure law, said he planned no more arrests soon. He would not eliminate the possibility of arrests later. “We’re going to slack up some and see what they do,” Cahoon said of the Park Service.

Ocracoke Beach
Ocracoke Beach

Cahoon said he checked with the N.C. attorney general’s office to see if he had the authority to make arrests on federal land. He said he has the power, but thinks the Park Service has the responsibility.

Cahoon said deputies do not patrol the island on a regular basis.

Asked why he ordered deputies to make last week’s arrests, Cahoon said, “It was just my decision.”

Cahoon said he thought the arrests had helped put a damper on nude bathing, a tradition of long-standing on the isolated beaches of Ocracoke Island.

“I don’t think people want to come to court on this,” Cahoon said.

Monday, two Raleigh residents forfeited $50 bond each when they failed to appear in court in Swan Quarter to face charges of indecent exposure. A Maryland man is scheduled to appear in court July 24 on the same charge. He is free on $50 bond.

Duncan Morrow, a public information officer with the National Park Service in Washington, said national headquarters is aware of the arrests on Ocracoke Island. He said nudity in national parks is a problem around the country, but Park Service rangers are powerless to deal with it.

“There is no federal law prohibiting public nudity in the national parks,” Morrow said.

Nude bathers in Cape Cod National Park attracted so many gawkers that the situation created “environmental problems,” Morrow said, with the spectators blocking traffic and trampling fragile sand dunes. As a result, Cape Cod has the only regulations in the national park system prohibiting nudity, he said.

“We have real difficulties with the issue. I don’t know how it’s going to be resolved. Quite frankly, we don’t want to get involved in what is essentially a moral problem,” Morrow said.

“As long as they aren’t interfering with the law-abiding activities of other people, we aren’t inclined to deal with it,” he said.

Morrow said arrest of nudists under state laws are avoided because the cases have not stood up in court.

Morrow said the Park Service will rely on reports from Cape Hatteras National Seashore rangers to keep tabs on the situation.

“At this point it’s just one more case. On principle we’d rather not get involved in this situation. We are not that enthusiastic about breaking new ground,” Morrow said.

Part Supt. Bill Harris and Chief Ranger Larry Roush were not available for comment Tuesday.