For years, Howe Caverns, a venue known for its appeal to nature lovers, has been approached by nudist enthusiasts about hosting an event that patrons could attend "au naturel."
Last week, Howe Caverns announced that the wait was over, telling followers of the venue's Facebook page that it is set to host an event dubbed "Naked in a Cave," a pun off the nude-themed survivalist TV show "Naked and Afraid" on the Discovery Channel. The after-hours event, scheduled for July 14 at 7:30 p.m., will feature a "leisurely naked stroll through the cave by lantern light" for $65 per person.
Howe Caverns General Manager April Islip said part of the theme of the event is a celebration of "body positivity."
"It's something that we've kind of thought about over the years, and this year we were taking a look at the calendar and we saw that Saturday the 14th was International Nude Day, and we decided to go for it," she said. "Just like we put in the ad, Howe Caverns believes that natural is beautiful. And right now in society there is a big issue with body shaming, and we believe strongly in this message. We are fortunate enough in our line of work to come across people of all walks of life, all sizes, shapes, colors, on a daily basis, and we love that."
Howe Caverns is a venue that boasts spectacular tours of a natural cave that appeals to both science enthusiasts as well as romantics, with its heart-shaped calcite formation that has been the site of many wedding proposals and nearly 700 weddings. But one challenge the tourist attraction has had is reminding people where it is. Many in the Capital Region, and around New York state and the Northeast, often first visit Howe Caverns during field trips, bussed in from schools or summer camps. When those children grow up to be adults, some of them don't have a clear idea where the cave is located.
"People kind of forget what's in their own backyards. We've done a lot of travel shows in the Albany area, and people forget how close Schoharie County is. People say, 'What are you an hour-and-a-half away,' and we say 'No, we're only 40 minutes,'" she said.
From a marketing standpoint, the Naked in Cave event has already drawn huge attention for Howe Caverns. The event announcement went viral, with over 11,697 shares on Facebook and nearly 2,000 comments, including one from Sarah Danser, a former winner of the show "Naked and Afraid," who commented "Woo!"
"That was pretty cool," Islip said of Danser's comment. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing since we put the post up on Facebook. We had over 1 million views in the first 48 hours. We've gotten calls from guests all over the country."
Bunk Bingham, the owner of the Full-Tan Sun Club in Sprakers, said his business, which is a 50- to 60-member private club for fully nude tanning and other activities, became immediately interested in offering a nude camping event to coincide with the naked cavern stroll.
"We're hoping one hand can kind of wash the other," Bingham said.
Full-Tan Sun Club is offering a $35 day pass and tent site for night camping to Naked in a Cave participants. The pass includes access to the club's pool, walking grounds, cafe and catch and release fishing pond.
Bingham said a nude recreation business has been in operation at his location for 50 years, with him as the owner since he bought the place in 2001. He said that nude recreation is becoming more accepted and more popular, and applauded Howe Caverns for hosting its event, with one caveat.
"We want as many people as possible to try this lifestyle," he said. "But, the only thing I question, having been a nudist for 35 years, is 50 degrees is kind of chilly to be a nude."
Islip explained how the Naked in a Cave event will work. She said participants must be 21 or older, as the event will begin with a social hour that will include a complementary alcoholic beverage, with soda and water also offered. Participants will be given a robe to wear before entering the cave.
"It's definitely not a party. We're keeping this a nature event. It's low-key, classy event; privacy will be strictly enforced, no phones or cameras in the cave," she said.
After the social hours, groups will enter the elevator and travel down into the cave, where they will disrobe, be given a lantern light and then enter the cavern. Participants must wear socks and closed-toe shoes. Staff, who will be fully clothed, will be on hand to assist people with directions and to operate the Howe Caverns boat, but not to provide tours.
"People will be able to go at their own leisure, so if people want to do it quickly, just to mark it off their bucket list, just to say 'Hey, I was hear and I did it' that's cool, or if they want to really take their time and enjoy the cave at a slow pace, they are welcome to do that as well," she said.
Islip said there will be a limited amount of tickets available for Naked in a Cave, but she hasn't decided what that number will be yet. She said she thinks the event shouldn't be more than a few hundred people at a time, so Howe Caverns may decide to have multiple rounds of the event, with later times on July 14 and possibly an additional day.