Responding to outraged Fort De Soto Park visitors who have stumbled across men and women on the beach in states of near total nudity, Pinellas County may toughen its swimwear rules.
Skimpy thongs and G-strings that offer only superficial coverage of the backside will be banned in favor of bottom wear with more stopping power.
Officials said that after getting complaints from dismayed visitors for years, it's time to take action and protect Fort De Soto's image as a family vacation destination.
But nudists who have lobbied for a clothing optional beach at Fort De Soto say the move is misguided. Among their arguments: The new rules could hurt tourism.
"It's certainly going to have a negative impact," said Ken Kushman, 62, secretary of Tampa Area Naturists, "because it's going to turn people away who want to wear less bathing suit than their grandmother does."
The new rules would apply at Fort De Soto and also at Sand Key and Fred Howard parks, the two other major county beaches. They're consistent with rules that regulate attire on municipal beaches like those in Clearwater.
Bob Browning, park district supervisor at Fort De Soto, said some of what people wear to the beach is pretty amazing.
There are men, he said, who will sport an athletic sock that's held up with fishing line. The look reveals the pubic area and buttocks, but the sock covers the genitals.
"It's very hard to explain to visitors, whether they are local or otherwise, that it's okay, because it's perfectly legal," Browning said.
The behavior of the most skimpily clad is at times exhibitionistic and confrontational, he said. Angry fathers have threatened violence and the near naked have told the disapproving to go elsewhere if they're upset, he said.
Kushman, of Tampa Area Naturists, or TAN, noted that there are clothing-optional enthusiasts not associated with his group who frequent Fort De Soto.
TAN is unlikely to wage a battle over the proposed new swimwear rules, he said. The group's goal is a clothing-optional beach in the Tampa Bay area, but the proposal is certainly a move in the wrong direction, Kushman said.
Specifically, the new rules would ban exposure of that area of the buttocks where the cheeks slope inward, the cleft region. And Kushman said he's concerned that men and women without model bodies will be unfairly targeted.
"It allows the patrolling officer in charge on the beach … an awful lot of leeway," Kushman said. "And people feel there is going to be some discrimination."
It's expected the County Commission will vote on the new rules by the end of March. Violators would face noncriminal citations and escalating fines that couldn't exceed $500 per offense.
Browning said it's unlikely first offenders would be cited.
"We won't go in aggressively and start enforcing and ticketing," he said. "We'll say, 'Did you know this is now the law?' We'll post the proper signage and do the education."
Will Van Sant can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4166.