Mountain Mama: Celebrating the Gauley

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With the cooler air, bluer skies, and shorter days my thoughts turn to fall and paddling the Gauley River.  September 11th I’ll be making the drive to my favorite kayaking festival in the Southeast where there won’t be any vendors or long drives to the river the next day or all-night partiers sleeping next to my tent. For the past few years, Tawney Farm hosts Not Swiss Fest at their Gauley River Wild & Woolly Primitive Campground. Located at the top of the hill from Mason’s Branch on the Middle Gauley (off of Panther Road), it’s convenient for paddlers.

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This homegrown festival started when the park service prohibited boaters from camping at Swiss, the take-out for the Lower Gauley.  The group of friends who camped at Swiss every weekend for the first release searched for an alternative spot and found Tawney Farm.  A small-scale sheep farm, it offers a concert venue with fire pits and primitive camping. The group moved to the new location and coined the name “Not Swiss Fest.”

“What began as a half dozen guys in a field and a pot of spaghetti has grown to eighty or ninety people,” says John Moran, a kayaker from Virginia. Over the years, he’s continued his tradition of making a spaghetti dinner for everyone Friday night. He expects to serve sixty people this year, all for free.  Inspired by his kindness, other kayakers have self-appointed themselves as bartenders and bring food to share.

The Old Mill Stage, an extension of an old sawmill, provides a great music venue. Friday, September 11th The Echo Canyon Players and Pilgrim, both Ohio bands, will play. On Saturday, September 12th, The Allegheny Ramblers, a 4-piece string band from Glenville, WV, will also take the stage.

Susan and James Tawney, both West Virginia natives, opened their hundred- acre farm to campers in an effort to cultivate appreciation for the area’s beauty. They cater to paddlers, keeping the registration booth open late and offering a hot outdoor shower. There two of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, and if the opportunity to share a campfire and pass around a bottle comes along, jump on it. James, a storyteller at heart, shares his perspective as a son of a coal miner or tales from his first time rafting the Upper Gauley.

Best of all, camping at the farm provides paddlers with an easy opportunity to contribute to the local economy. Check out their website at or call to make a reservation at 304-619-7332. Reservations are recommended, but not required, during Gauley season.

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