People - June 2005

If business is good, he loses his pants
By Kathy Brown

Bar-S-Ranch is not your average country club, but it has the bare essentials. Play the nine-hole golf course or pingpong, go for a swim, fish in the 7-acre stocked lake, roam the nature trails on its 400 acres 10 miles west of Reidsville. Then get dressed and go home. Owner and founder Ellis Stewart opened the doors of this “clothing-free country club and resort” in 1990.

Bar-S — it’s a play on words — has about 250 members who pay $250 to $600 a year. The $600 buys unlimited use of the club and amenities. Visitors pay $40 per couple for a day pass. There’s an RV park and campground, as well as about 30 cabins. Their owners lease the land from Stewart.

Bar-S grosses around $100,000 a year. That might be pocket change for those with pockets, but it’s not bad for a threadbare country club. In fact, Bar-S is one of a handful of nudist clubs in the state that owns land. It is a member of the Kissimmee, Fla.-based American Association for Nude Recreation, which has 270 club affiliates nationwide. Bar-S draws members and visitors from all over the East Coast. Stewart characterizes them as people “pretty well-educated, pretty intelligent, who tend to run 40 and older.” He says nudity does not equal sex. “Rules are stricter here than at most church campgrounds.” That means no funny business between single men and women. The ranch is fenced, and legal authorities have never questioned him about its operations.

Stewart, 64, grew up “a good Southern Baptist in Georgia. As a kid we always went down to the creek and went skinny-dipping.” He joined the Air Force in 1959 and was sent to Louisiana, Georgia and Greenland. “Didn’t go nude up there.” Discharged in 1962, he spent a few semesters at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga before going to work as a specifications writer for Western Electric, now Lucent Technologies, in Atlanta. The company transferred him to Greensboro in 1978, and he retired in 1992 as an engineering manager. It was while in Atlanta that he first joined a nudist resort.

When the resort folded, Stewart and others he had met there formed a traveling nudist club that met at members’ homes for pool parties and such. In 1982, he and his wife, Wanda, bought what’s now Bar-S and started raising cattle. “I was uninvolved for years. I was still a nudist at heart, but there were no facilities around.”

That changed in the late 1980s, when he got wind of a Greensboro club. It didn’t have property, so members started hanging out at Stewart’s ranch. In 1990, he sold his cattle and turned Bar-S into a nudist club and resort.

In addition to running daily operations, he coordinates member activities such as the annual “Take Pride in Your Hide” 5K, a cross-country run and walk in the buff. The ranch has no employees, but volunteers and part-timers help out for events. His home sits next to the property, and Stewart plans to develop part of the ranch into a retirement village for nudists, a move that will require some out-side capital.

Why nudity? It is, after all, a human’s natural state, one in which people can relax and get relief from stress. “People tell me that when they come through the gate at Bar-S-Ranch they feel their stress just slip away.”