SAN DIEGO -- Gold Beach, where generations of Marines have trained for amphibious assaults, is now the scene of another kind of battle.
The strip of sand on Camp Pendleton is the latest flash point between nudists and California state park rangers -- with Marines caught in the crossfire.
The nudists say zealous state park rangers have followed them onto the federal property in an effort to cite them for violating the state's coverup laws.
A spokesman for the state park system denies the allegation and says the nudists do protest far too much.
Gold Beach is directly south of San Onofre State Beach, which for several years was the object of legal skirmishing between nudists and officialdom. Two years ago a court ruled that the state had the authority to ban nudity at so-called Trail 6, long a spot favored by nudists.
The problem is proximity. Trail 6 is only a short walk from Gold Beach.
The Marine Corps says it does not want any civilians -- naked or clothed -- on its beach. Signs warn sunbathers to stay away.
But in an effort to avoid park rangers at San Onofre State Beach, nudists have ventured south. An apparent confrontation about a week ago, details of which are in dispute, between a nudist, rangers and military police has brought the issue to a head.
John Squicciarini of San Clemente says a friend of his, Andy Pollock, had his camera grabbed by a Marine who was apparently working in tandem with park rangers. The Marine Corps says it has no record of such an occurrence.
Squicciarini says park rangers have been provoking the nudists by hiding behind bushes and up on the bluff, spying on them with binoculars and cameras.
"The state park rangers are creating their own problem," he said. "It's very childish."
Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, disputes this version of events.
"I'm told that we are not harassing them or chasing them," Stearns said. "I think they're exaggerating their plight."
Both sides invoke the specter of the state's financial distress, which has led to the planned closure of 70 state parks.
The nudists wonder why a cash-strapped parks system can afford to spend time and money on enforcing a prohibition on what they see as the victimless crime of going au naturel. The Trail 6 beach, Squicciarini said, is kept tidy and self-policed by hundreds of people who prefer their recreation, including use of a volleyball court, in the buff.
"We've gone to great efforts to keep the beach pristine," he said.
Stearns said if the nudists are that dedicated to their recreation style, they should consider renting one of the closed parks.
All the beach property in question is owned by the Marine Corps, which leases the property that is San Onofre State Beach to the state.
A Marine spokesman said state park rangers are allowed to cross onto Gold Beach to tell beachgoers they are trespassing. The Marine Corps also does periodic patrols, said 2nd Lt. Ryan K. Welsh.
"Civilians without Department of Defense authorization may not cross onto the Camp Pendleton side of the beach, regardless of their beach use intention," Welsh said.
The issue of nudity at San Onofre State Beach, as it has in the past, appears destined for court.
A handful of misdemeanor citations are pending in San Diego County Superior Court.
One of the lawyers is Allen Baylis of Huntington Beach. He fought the losing fight to keep Trail 6 clothing optional. He represents nudists facing charges; one tactic is to request jury trials in hopes prosecutors will decide it is too costly and time-consuming for such a minor matter to go to trial.
Baylis said his group, the Naturist Action Committee, does not recommend that nudists trespass onto Gold Beach. But he said he understands the impulse to defy authority. The group's promise to nudists: "We've got your back."
Baylis likens the nudists of Gold Beach to other Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience to protect their rights: blacks, women, gays.
"When the government does something we don't like, we have a duty to push back," he said, "and we have."
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