Recently my colleague Ric Reilly published an article in South Florida Gay News (SFGN) about gay campgrounds in the United States. Reilly’s article was criticized for omitting certain campgrounds, mainly Vitambi Springs in nearby Clewiston.
Another gay campground that was left out of Reilly’s piece (though he probably did not know about it) was Whispering Oaks Retreat (www.mywhisperingoaks.org), an all-male clothing optional resort in central Tennessee.
Whispering Oaks Retreat, not to be confused with Whispering Oaks Campground in Manchester, TN (a “family owned campground”), is located near Mount Pleasant, 1 ½ hours SW of Nashville. Though not as famous as Timberfell Lodge in east Tennessee, Whispering Oaks has earned a reputation for itself during its half decade as a gay resort.
Like other clothing-optional campgrounds, Whispering Oaks is rustic and private; nestled in “a scenic natural wooded environment on a creek” which, in my humble opinion, is a perfect place for a bare buns and boots hike. (Vitambi Springs is another.)
It has a heated pool, a hot tub, a kitchen, deluxe cabins with a shared bath, private rooms with private baths, private cabins, and a bunk house with bunks. Since my idea of “roughing it” is staying in a room with air conditioning, I appreciate Whispering Oaks’ creature comforts. On the other hand, if you want to pitch a tent, you can do that, too. Whispering Oaks provides its members (it is a private club, as is common with gay campgrounds) with tent sites and RV sites with full hookups.
Whispering Oaks provides its members with a variety of events, or even nothing to do if you are so inclined. But, Whispering Oaks’ best-attended events are sponsored by California Men Enjoying Naturism (CMEN), which calls itself “an international social organization for gay and bisexual men who enjoy being nude for social and recreational activities.” (www.cmen.info) Though most CMEN events are, obviously, in California – CMEN’s main event, the West Coast Gathering, will be held in Santa Monica September 2-11 - CMEN hosts its Summer Camp, Southeast Gathering and late September Open House at Whispering Oaks.
For the last two years I have had the pleasure of attending CMEN’s Southeast Gathering at Whispering Oaks. Though it is not as well-attended (or as expensive) as the Gay Naturist International Gathering in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, CMEN’s SE Gathering is a near-perfect get together for those of us who live nearby, hate crowds, or can’t get out of work during the first week of school. (This year’s event, held June 5-12, was only marred at the end by the tragic news from Orlando.)
The Southeast Gathering describes itself as “a full week of all male, all nude fun, fresh air, camaraderie, activities, shows and workshops.” In addition to the bare buns and boots hikes (watch out for the ticks!), I enjoyed naked yoga, social hour, playtime by the pool, workshops, playshops, camp-style breakfast, lunch and dinner, game shows, beauty contests, movies and the company of other, like-minded men. Participants add to the camaraderie and keep the costs down by doing various chores around the camp; and everyone gets together in one big circle by the flagpole before dinner.
In addition to gay or bisexual men from around the world who attend the Southeast Gathering, Whispering Oaks Retreat is a popular weekend getaway for men who live in central Tennessee or north Alabama. Tennessee has a thriving LGBT community, not only in obvious places like Nashville but also in mid-sized cities like Clarksville. I met some nice locals at camp, including two country bears who own a nearby farm and a bisexual Army veteran who is an AIDS social worker in Nashville. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I plan to go to next year’s Southeast Gathering, from June 4 to 11. Perhaps I will see you then.