The Living is Easy, and the Clothing is Optional

Eureka Springs has long been known as a charming artist’s community nestled in the Arkansas mountains. It’s also a city thriving with LGBT-owned businesses and a vibrant LGBT community. The city is the first in Arkansas to officially endorse same-sex marriage and the only one in the state with a Domestic Partnership Registry.

Eureka Springs has three LGBT-themed Diversity Weekends each year – in spring, summer and fall – with entertainment and other events. The city soon will be celebrating its last Diversity Weekend of the year, Nov. 1-3. This year’s previous events were in April and August.

Alvin Byrd and Charlie Thomas are life partners and business owners of both A Bird’s Eye View Lodging & Gift Store and the Magnetic Valley Resort in Eureka Springs.

Byrd explained what motivated the couple to expand their business by converting a bunch of cabins into a gay men’s resort. “Charlie and I were looking for a house to buy, and we had been in Eureka for about four years. We were living above our shop, and we wanted to get a little bigger space since we were living in 650 square feet.”

Shortly after finding a house, he said, they were told the adjoining properties were also for sale. “We just started looking at it and the layout of the property, and I could see a place where we could build a pool in a nice, beautiful setting. When we travel, where we like to go, we enjoy male-only, clothing-optional places in Mexico, Florida, and California. And so since everything in life that you do is a risk, it was like, ‘let’s give this a shot and see how it works in Eureka Springs.’”

Byrd said that although the resort is in the Bible belt of Arkansas, they’ve only had good experiences in the city. “Eureka Springs is a very diverse community. You have the gay people, the Christians, the hippies — there are many different aspects. Everything that we do here is legal, and there’s been no opposition from anyone, at least nothing that’s been said to us.”

The cabins offer different suites and amenities, including the “3-Way House,” “DudePlex” and “Barn.” The resort features a heated saltwater pool, hot tub, dry sauna, outdoor showers, bar and grill area, wi-fi and more. It offers day passes for people who just want to use the pool, and there is also an area for RVs.

Byrd said that although the resort’s peak business is on spring, summer and fall weekends, including the three annual Diversity weekends, business is increasing during the winter months and weekdays. They were even full for New Year’s Eve this year.

“My best experience has been walking out here to the pool and seeing 50 guys in the pool enjoying themselves and having a good time. It makes it all worth it. … When you buy a place that was as rundown as this was, there have been a lot of things that have made me think, ‘Why did I do this?’ But when I see guys having a really good time, that makes it all worthwhile,” Byrd said.

Aug. 18, he said, was the couple’s 15th anniversary, and they moved to Eureka nine years ago.

And has the resort strengthened or tested their relationship? “A little of both,” he said. “I do believe it has created a bond between us that has, over time, strengthened it, and there have been times it has also challenged us because of the amount of work, stress and bills. We just keep working together, trying to make this place more beautiful for everyone who comes here. Charlie and I are the first ones to tell you this place is not for everyone.”

They recently bought the adjoining property, which has expanded their property to four acres and added two more houses. They’re cleaning up the new houses and will be remodeling them as cabins. As far as future plans, Byrd said, “We would like to have a place with on-premises massage and have a workout room for our guests. That would take us to the next level of a spa atmosphere.”

“There’s an old saying that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I feel very comfortable with what I’m doing. I wasn’t smart enough when I was younger to work for someone or save enough money for retirement, so I’m never going to get to retire. So if I’m not going to get to retire, why not do something I enjoy? I enjoy being around people, number one, and number two, who wouldn’t want to be around a bunch of naked guys?” he said with a laugh.

For reservations and more information on the resort, go to www.magneticvalleyretreat.com or call 479-253-0200.

For information on Diversity Week-ends in Eureka Springs, go to www.gayeurekasprings.com.

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