McLennan County has a new clothing-optional gay and bisexual private club for men that will stay open year-round on historic farm property as the owners seek to compete with similar retreats across the state and nation.

Eleven miles outside the city of Crawford on about 200 acres of farmland, husbands Mark Mattlage and Rob Snowden have completed the first phase of The Homestead at 3218 just in time for its opening Friday. With the club offering a variety of lodging options, a heated pool and a recreation room, the grand opening booked up with guests from across the state and Oklahoma.

The couple didn’t bother hiding the cameras at the entrance off Canaan Church Road. An expensive and intricate security system was designed to protect guests and to steer off trouble from anyone looking to cause a scene. The entrance isn’t cloaked in rainbow flags, but greenery, stone columns and a small plaque with a rainbow feather used in the retreat’s logo. Near the front door of the home of the couple that’s been together almost 37 years, is a plaque from then-Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Rick Perry recognizing the Mattlage Farm for 100 years of agriculture by the same family.

It’s not until guests drive down the long driveway lined in trees and pull behind the couple’s home that they find themselves at the retreat.

“There’s never ever been anything like this in this immediate area,” Snowden said. “There’s nothing quite like it in the state of Texas.”

Open year-round

Snowden said this retreat stands out from others, not just because it’s male-only and clothing-optional, but also because the facilities will be open year-round, unlike many other campgrounds that stay open for summer and spring months.

“People that are in the clothing-optional venues will travel great distances to visit. We think that’s one of the hooks we’re hanging the hopes of the success of this operation on,” Snowden said. “We’ve taken great pains to protect our neighbors from being exposed to naked men.”

Rainbow Ranch campground is just outside Groesbeck on Lake Limestone and offers cabins, pools, basketball courts and more, but there’s no nudity. Camp Circle J, or Circle J Ranch, is an all-male resort and campground on 107 acres that’s open March through January in Eustace, 70 miles southeast of Dallas. More commonly known because it’s open to everyone, Hippie Hollow is a public, clothing-optional park on the shore of Lake Travis in northwest Austin.

Guests at The Homestead at 3218, who must be 18 or older, can stay for the day or for several nights. Three other staff members, in addition to the couple, also work the grounds. Homestead offers open-area bunk rooms and individual hostels as well as furnished pool house rooms with full kitchens.

Membership is required and allows for one-time visits, semi-annual trips and more. Costs range from $10 for a one-time visit to $25 for a year membership. There’s also a licensed massage therapist available.

Only in fenced-in areas will guests be allowed to walk around in their birthday suits. Signs posted along the property alert guests to where clothing is required.

“It’s going to be strictly enforced. Anyone that has to be told twice will be asked to leave,” Mattlage said. “I run a tight ship.”

Snowden said they have a sizable investment in the retreat — about $1 million — and they are going to protect their investment and the members that follow the rules and regulations.

Mattlage said guests had been putting pressure on them to open for weeks, so they couldn’t hold off the opening much longer.

The two-story pool house with five fully furnished units with kitchens is in a home originally built to duplicate the house Mattlage grew up in. Mattlage said the original home burned down when he was 11 years old. The couple’s new personal home sits at the location of the original home on the property and is off-limits to guests.

There’s room for 20 people to stay in the pool house, which sits alongside Rainey’s Creek, and another 13 rooms in the 3,000-square-foot rec center, which includes a 70-inch TV, a steam room, pool table, and a “hippie room.” The hippie room serves as a dressing room during the day, featuring a retro-1970s look and fluorescent black lights and graphics.

“Whoever walks through there and what they do, it’s behind locked doors, you know, whatever,” he said. “It’s not a sex club though.”

Why just men?

“Because that’s what we know,” Snowden said.

‘A place to ourselves’

“Texas already has within driving range of here all the mixed-gender places like Rainbow Ranch,” Mattlage said. “We’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances say, ‘Oh I wish we just had a place to ourselves, where we could go somewhere, strip off, that we’re not around people with little children. We can’t sunbathe nude because there are little kids around.’ ”

While the McLennan County retreat is outside the city limits of Crawford and on county land, the Crawford address has drawn some attention to residents in a town known largely for being home to President George W. Bush.

More than two dozen Crawford residents Thursday expressed frustration to the Tribune-Herald about The Homestead at 3218 opening, yet none would speak on record about their feelings.

Crawford resident Krista Millsaps said there’s been some chatter about the facility. Some have expressed frustration at its mere existence while others see no problem with a private club opening in the county.

“Our family, we’re cool with it,” Millsaps said.

Snowden and Mattlage have faced discrimination from vendors and engineers during the past few months once they realize what is being built on the property. They expressed frustration at having to go through multiple companies to get systems in place.

“We’ve had things happen here before this even hit the news,” Mattlage said, describing beer cans that have appeared lining the driveway and someone running over their mailbox.

But despite the hiccups, the couple already has plans for expansion.

A campground area and 12 to 16 spaces for RV and travel trailer campsites is set to open later this summer.

“Most of the gay venues like this in North America are campgrounds, and the campgrounds may also accommodate RV travel trailers, a few of them may have cabins,” Snowden said. “We can’t wait to do that.”

Phase 3 includes the conversion of an old shed into a cafe and bar. That project would be a separate operation from the retreat because of state liquor laws.

Some time later in the year, the couple wants to build a barn with stables so the retreat can offer horseback riding. The barn itself could also be transformed into an event venue to host weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs or whatever else is in demand.

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