The State of Florida is blessed with several year-round, gay or gay-friendly camp grounds: Sawmill in Dade City, Camp David in Inverness and Camp Mars in Venus, among others.
Add to the list Vitambi Springs (vitambi.com), a members only, all male, year-round wilderness camp and resort near Clewiston (82 miles from Fort Lauderdale). Before business partners Steve McCloud and Martin Ruddock bought the land, it served as a camp for wayward boys, among other things.
The partners, McCloud said, “set out several years ago to find a suitable camp/resort to better meet the needs of South Florida’s gay population. The gay community should have a place with good food and good drink in a natural secluded location that allowed us to be us. We all need a nearby escape and a place to meet like-minded friends and make new friends. Traditional gay bars, restaurants and gathering spots are not always the best for meeting new people, quiet conversation, star gazing, long walks holding hands and the chance to cuddle in a cabin in the woods. We wanted to create a country club setting and an overnight option away from home.”
Ruddock and McCloud named their park Vitambi, a Swahili word meaning “pride.”
McCloud described Vitambi Springs as a “private members only, gated, 21 and over, all male, year-round resort camp set on 269 tropical forest acres below Florida’s frostline.”
Among Vitambi’s more popular amenities are the Bongo Bar, the Bolo Cafe and the Garden Quarter pool area. Accommodations range from secluded tent sites to cabins, the Barracks bunk house and the lush Pine Tree Inn. And while “connections for RVs and trailers are currently not available, a plan to provide temporary RV and Trailer accommodations is currently underway.”
Women are not allowed at Vitambi Springs, though plans are currently being made for future “mixed” events. On the other hand, pets are welcome, as long as they are well behaved and kept on a leash. Membership in this private club is required for everyone, even for holders of day passes.
Vitambi Springs is a work in progress, which is why it hasn’t had a grand opening yet.
“Sometimes I remind people that we are just a few good guys with great ideas. Sure this would have been much easier if we were a Hyatt or a project with major financial backing, but we all know there is a loss of vision in that route. We have slowly moved this project forward with the help of great friends, volunteers and a small underpaid staff,” McCloud said.
This year a swimming pool finally opened at the Garden Quarter, along with a spacious modern shower house and a Myst Room. Long-term plans include a larger resort-style pool near the Lodge and Wood Shed area. Fortunately, unlike other gay resorts in Florida, Vitambi Springs has not had any trouble with the nearby community.
Like other gay resorts, Vitambi Springs has a clothing-optional policy. Though clothes are required in all public buildings and designated areas (the North Loop); the Garden Quarter and campgrounds (the South Loop) are clothing-optional. During special N-VS weekends, nudity is permitted everywhere in the park except inside the Big Oak Lodge (which houses Registration, Bolo Cafe, Bongo Bar, Safari Outfitters General Store and administrative offices).
Not surprisingly, Vitambi Springs is very much a part of the gay nudist or naturist movement. As McCloud tells me, “Vitambi Springs is very proud of their connection with Gay Naturist International (GNI). We support their goals and ideals and are very happy to play a part in bringing their members together and assist in anyway in helping them gain new members. The same is true for other nudist groups that have participated in activities here such as Tamiami Area Nudists, the Gold Coast Bare Skins and Wildfyre.”
Like other LGBT social groups, Vitambi loves acronyms. According to McCloud, N-VS - pronounced “envious” – “was a name we decided on to note any of our weekends that have an expanded clothing optional policy. N-VS - Naturist Vitambi Springs - has developed a following with guests looking for those weekends by name. NUDgE - Nude Devil’s Garden Enthusiasts - is our own in-house nudist group. (Devil’s Garden is a folklore name of the area that surrounds Vitambi Springs.) Neil Sweeney oversees activities for this group and has put together several events; the most popular being the Boots ‘n’ Buns hike and the late-night full-MOON hike.”
I attended the most recent N-VS Naturist Weekend, “Spring Breeze,” held on Easter Weekend. My friend Ron and I made camp at Robur Woods, a primitive campground within walking distance of the Garden Quarter. Along with our friends Dan, Steve, Sal, Benson, Seth and others (almost 100 in all), we took part in a weekend full of activities, nudist or otherwise. Among the bareass activities we took part in - often led by the always-delightful Sweeney - were the Boots ‘n’ Buns wilderness hike, burgers and brews by the pool, wine tasting, Easter egg hunt, introductory yoga class at the Gym, and a bonfire drum circle. Needless to say, by the end of the weekend I was exhausted.
Vitambi plans to hold its next N-VS Naturist Weekend, “Taboo”, on June 7-9. But those who are not nudists will still find much to enjoy at Vitambi Springs. Future weekend events include Earth Day (April 19-21), Lumberjock II (April 26-28), Hombre Latino weekend (May 3-5), Hot Ash-Commando (May 17-19), Labyrinth Yoga Retreat (May 31-June 2), leather and bear weekends. But this is just the beginning for Vitambi Springs.
According to McCloud, “we would very much like to develop programs and housing opportunities on this large property that can help to meet the needs of the aging gay community. It is an issue close to our hearts. We continue to look for funding that could make this dream a reality. The acreage and amenities here can provide the perfect setting for many forward-thinking ideas.”