From the edge of the parking lot, Gatineau Park’s lofty pines welcome sweaty urbanites onto a trail marked 36.
The beaten path directs northwards toward a small footbridge, cutting through a narrow part of the lake — playing hide-and-seek between tree trunks, needles and twigs.
Bodies skim the water beneath, distracting and attracting.
The trail forks, the right arm of it of it leading to a waterfall and the left down, down, down to Meech Lake’s sizzling, sandy, clothing-optional beach.
Although unofficial, Meech Lake has been an established clothing-optional beach for nearly 70 years. It is the only one in the Ottawa area.
In this case, “unofficial” means that the National Capital Commission, which posts lifeguards and provides facilities like changing cabins, garbage cans and washrooms at Gatineau Park’s six official beaches, takes no responsibility for the beach or for the safety of beachgoers, says NCC spokesperson Annie Desrosiers.
Although it’s a popular summer destination for Outaouais residents of any sexual orientation, Meech has historically been a gathering point for gays and lesbians from Ottawa.
The beach isn’t just a space for dishy homos to get some colour on both sets of cheeks, though. It’s an established sex-positive space.
Andrew-John Jimmo, 20, has been attending Meech since the summer of 2006.
“It’s a place for gay people, mostly men, to feel free to be themselves — without the discomfort of expecting that people are judging them,” he says. “I don’t think having the beach officially recognized as clothing-optional would in any way change this atmosphere.”
Weather permitting, he says, the lightly toasted sand can have up to 40 pairs of feet buried inside of it — naturists and textiles (folks in clothes) mixing and mingling with complete tolerance.
As for Jimmo, he says he’s too shy to take it all off but that he has, nevertheless, made friends while at the beach and on bicycle trips to Meech. The trips are mostly organized through the Facebook group “Lac Meech (Gatineau Park, Quebec)”.
Jimmo said he started the group in hopes that he and his boyfriend could meet other people who are also interested in the beach.
“On nice days I’ll send a quick message to the group saying ‘We’re going! Meet us at X-time and place if you want to come too,'” says Jimmo, adding that it takes anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to two hours for an average cyclist to bicycle from Ottawa to Meech Lake.
Although no incidents regarding nudists have been brought to the NCC’s attention this summer, says Desrosiers, the commission still does regularly receive complaints — mostly from families with young children — about nudists.
“Sometimes people will go down the trail leading to the beach, not knowing to expect to see nudists, and get a surprise,” she says.
Jimmo said all of his experiences at the beach have been positive, except for the bloodsuckers. “The only negative is the bugs — they get you about 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock.”
The clothing-optional beach is located in the northeast section of Gatineau Park’s Meech Lake, about a 15-minute walk down path No. 36 from the officially-recognized and exclusively textile O’Brien Beach.
Because the beach is unofficial, it doesn’t technically open or close to beachgoers and swimmers on any particular date; however, notices sent out by the National Capital Commission said the park’s six official beaches were to open Jun 13 and close Sep 1.