What happened to the Raystown


It died a rather abrupt death a few years ago. No one specific reason.

That’s a shame. It was a good event.

Yes, I first met dozens of great people there.

NT died

McCrea left this site

@coronaboy said:
McCrea left this site

But he is alive and well on another site!

I never attended the Raystown gathering. Being from Wisconsin, it was quite a haul for me and I have committed to the two annual Ozark gatherings which amounts to 2400mi round trip/year. Raystown, I felt, was just more than I could afford to do. I know Pete and DuluthMoose and Puffingin went on at least a few occasions. I envied them that.

But I always followed it on the board here and it sounds like it was a blast. I even visited the site a few years ago when a friend bought a travel trailer in Gettysburg. We stopped and camped there on the return trip to see “the scene of the crime.” Beautiful spot.

We get to this page by going on the “community” heading on this site. A real physical community of paddlers sure seems like something worth trying to maintain. Our Ozark band is dwindling also. We have had and are suffering our losses, as all groups do, but the folks who do come are mostly veterans of many such gatherings. We have all together too little “new blood”. Other clubs (and not just paddle related ones) I’ve belonged to seem to be suffering the same effect.

What is going on? What’s happening to us as a community (or is it as a society?) that we seem to have so much trouble simply doing things, things which have been done before, that all concerned have evidently enjoyed and from which, by all accounts, we derive benefit? It just seems like such things shouldn’t be a “hard sell.” This isn’t like organizing a trip through the Grand Canyon or something. Its getting together at a campground. Its camping and paddling, doing things we all enjoy doing.

So has anyone who lives somewhere near there thought of re-initiating that gathering? It would be a worthy project, no?

The Raystown event dried up and blew away with surprising rapidity. Certainly, a loss of key people due to relocation, death, infirmity, and the awkward imposition of various obligations played a role. Norbert Thompson died, Topher moved to California, Ness W. maintained a webpage for the event and kept up interest until her husband got a job that interfered with their attendance.

It seemed that once individual X no longer attended, individuals Y and Z no longer came. For others, after they had attended a couple of times and gotten the T shirt, so to speak, they moved on to new adventures.

But in truth, the Raystown Lake did have some drawbacks as a venue for that type of event. It is a big, man-made lake and while quite scenic, is perhaps better suited for fishing and motor boating sports than paddle sports. The Raystown gathering was always scheduled after peak season so the motor traffic had died down considerably, but the lake could be windy at times which wasn’t great for extended canoe paddles. There was a somewhat protected area adjacent to the camp ground between the shore and an island that many paddlers pretty much stuck to, but after paddling back and forth to the island and around the island a few dozen times it could get a bit stale.

The camp ground, run by the Army Corps of Engineers, was really better suited to RV camping than tent camping and if one did not arrive early enough, all the sites on the lake shore could be taken up by RVers.

Although there were a handful of rivers to paddle in the area, the water was not always high enough to make them enjoyable. Far and away the best thing about the event was meeting people and seeing new and different boats. The paddling was so-so.

I went to many of the Raystown gatherings. It was due to Raystown that I met so many other paddlers, many that I am still in touch with. It is my understanding that a few people still go, but many of us have moved on. I now go on a yearly trip to Maine, the usual paddlers are Scottb, dougd, Jvogt, kayakken and myself. Be going again in a few weeks.

A while ago, I received an email description of the history of Raystown from one of the original organizers and attendees. With his permission, here it is:

"The first Raystown was in response to a P.net solo canoe thread; 5 or 6 guys were looking for a convenient location to test paddle each other’s boats, and most of them hauled up two canoes. Raystown was selected because it was equidistant, had waterfront campsites, didn’t require a PA Fish Commission permit and fronted a large no-wake cove with an easy wet-foot launching beach for test paddling canoes.

"The second year there were a dozen or more paddlers and 20+ boats, and it became an annual “Solo Paddle and Compare” gathering. The third year there were twice that many again, with some tandem canoes, and even a kayak or two.

"It was unorganized, do what you want when you want, or at least not clip board and whistle timed and structured. The one custom that quickly developed was the concept that if you left a boat on the beach, upright at water’s edge, it was an open invite for anyone to test paddle.

"Even boats that indicated the need for owner’s permission were always out being test paddled. One boat-a-holic friend largely succeeded in paddling every new him boat available, from old Sawyers and Blackhawks to fresh from the factory hulls, at least 100 different canoes over a few years time. There was always some conversation about “Who has canoe X out now, I want to give it a try”, and continuing discussion amongst test paddlers about their impression of different canoes.

"The lack of schedule and structure helped in that regard, and just listening in as knowledgeable canoeists discussed the relative design merits was an education. If that was not your thing, just wander down to the next campfire, where folks were taking wilderness trips and plans, planning day long explores on the lake or pondering water levels for tomorrow’s small group float down the some branch of the Juniata, dodging Fish Commission patrols at the take out. Do what you want when you want.

"At the peak of the Raystown years there were 50 – 70 people in attendance, including manufacturers and designers hauling canoe trailers (Curtis, Yost, Wilson, Swift, etc). I remember their peculiar joy sitting around the campfire remarking “Damn, this is just like the old days” and spinning tales of 1970’s gatherings with luminaries of the day.

"I also remember standing on the hillside with friends and counting 70+ high end canoes on the beach waiting to be test paddled, calculating that $150K in canoes were lined up there ready to try, and another 50K available if you asked nicely.

"No offense to the organizers, participants or to the manufacturers who now attend and display their wares in more organized fashion, but the Western PA Solo Canoe Rendezvous contributed, in my opinion, to sucking the remaining life out of Raystown. As the folks that wanted structure and schedule, vendor tents, freestyle demonstrations and instruction found a new home, fewer people came to Raystown with fewer boats.

“While I admittedly wouldn’t want to return to a wild weekend 70 person gathering, Raystown times hold a special place in my heart. If you had an interest in older composite canoes, classics to oddities, there may never again be an opportunity quite like it.”

Myself, I was only at Raystown once, and much enjoyed meeting lots of folks. There was one now-amusing aspect. I had a full size van with three boats atop, including a 22’ outrigger canoe. To load those, I had a high step-stool. Sunday morning I temporarily departed the campground to attend church, and left my stool in my parking slot as a signal (in my mind) that it was still occupied.

While I was gone, there was a mass exodus and someone took my stool, thinking it was abandoned. So, there I was, mostly alone, with no way to load my boats. I had to drive to the nearest Walmart to get a new step-stool. Fortunately, I got in touch with the the fellow who reasonably assumed I had abandoned the stool – Sawyer George, who had hauled an entire trailer full of beautiful old Sawyers – and without being asked, he kindly returned the stool on his dime. Even more fortunately, Walmart has a nationwide 90 day return policy.

I believe Pete Blanc and I were the last to depart, on Monday. I immediately drove to Hemlock, NY, to have Dave Curtis put one of the first “Conk seats” in my Bell Wildfire, which Paul Conklin had told me about at the gathering.

Sadly, as I personally observe the continuing death of open canoes and single blade technique, as well as the departures of so many of the people who contributed to the “solo canoe revolution” of the 1970’s-1980’s, on both flat water and whitewater, I concur that there may never be another Raystown.

welcome back

I thi nk I went to the first and second events… The first, I shared a rooming in a house with ScottB and that house got really friggin hot that night.Avery nice experience paddling a Rapidfire, my dream boat…

The WPA Solo Canoe event is by intention unstructured… Its pretty much a gab and play and swop event… Nothing much is written in stone… Some people do informal instruction or informal gabfests and its beyond me ( though it is wonderful) that some manufacturers bring boats to the mulling over the hull forever crowd… Sales don’t often happen on site though may happen later. It is still free with a small camping charge. Bring your RV if you want but beware no services at each site and the ground can be muddy…
The venue is about as far from Raystown Lake as you could get… That is in physical appearance. Coopers Lake is about 10 acres and exceptionally shallow…Needless to say no motorboats.
It is also more Ohio centric so attracting paddlers from New England just doesn’t happen.

These events come and go… Florida Canoe came and went and so did the canoe symposium in Texas and also La Lou near New Orleans. Maine Canoe Symposium has had a hard time attracting paddlers from west of VT though it is a fairly large event. I don’t think any of the events has had a detrimental effect on attendance at another.

It may be time for a new informal gathering to start up… Some of you middle agers are becoming old farts with stories to tell. Or we may start a memorial event for those gone… Such as may happen at the Ozark Rendezvous this year( which has a drop off in attendance too)

There were not only canoes present, but quite a few kayaks as well. I even brought a surf ski one year. Quite a few people tried paddling the surf ski, it was quite amusing I have a photo of David Yost paddling a kayak.

I could say that Raystown was a progression of meet-ups at Allegheny Reservoir(before there were meet-up groups NT,me ,tripplehex, Pyker, nightswimmer,then ScottB and Ness and Dave,McCrea came and still does I think… and the gatherings got a bit bigger…A few lives changed and some came and went. I think Conk came or maybe it was Coopers Lake when he came aboard. Mostly it get to paddle and camp, but it started out at campgrounds. McCrea once found a stainless steel tampon dispenser that he was quite enamerd with. Most don’t post here anymore and I’m out of the loop for about 6 years, but a number of us got together there and at Pymatuning Lake(border of Ohio/Pa multiple times. One time and it probably was the beginning of the end to that… a few boats were stolen off the beach from us…I don’t think any were recovered. The theives had a good eye as they took the higher end stuff… I forgot to mention “Doc” he had a carbon Magic stolen I have a whitegold Magic and it was there in the morning with my Valley Aquanaut.

I forgot to mention Topher, If you ever met him, you’d never forget him. You can find him at Copious Glass on the net

@Andy_Szymczak said:
There were not only canoes present, but quite a few kayaks as well. I even brought a surf ski one year. Quite a few people tried paddling the surf ski, it was quite amusing I have a photo of David Yost paddling a kayak.

Not surprising … DY does like the double blade! I have a mental photo of DY chasing a loose RapidFire through a campground in a gale at 2 am and another of him trotting down the trail RF over shoulder double blade in other hand.
He had the burnt orange boat.

Raystown was definitely an interesting event. Great for meeting people, seeing new boats and trying them on flat water, socializing, and learning. I doubt there will be another event like it in the canoeing world.

Unfortunately, I did not know about it until after I moved from Pennsylvania. I would have attended more often but it was a long drive from southwest Indiana. I think I first attended in 2007. At least, I recognize my campsite, truck, and boats in the slide show below from that year. I had dislocated a finger paddling whitewater on the Ocoee River about a week earlier and still had enough pain I had to medicate myself most nights to sleep.

I arrived early and found a nice site down on the water and set up shop. About an hour later, a couple of salty looking guys showed up hauling a trailer with a 22’, 8 person Clipper Mariner canoe on it with “Bloody Mary” stenciled on the side. They took the site right next to me and proceeded to erect an enormous MSR Pavilion tent, which I later learned was nicknamed “The Den of Iniquity”. For the remainder of the week, intoxicating fumes billowed from under the eaves of this tent well into the evenings, which did not always blend pleasingly with the pain medication I was taking. This was my first experience with Topher and his friend Hap.

This pair had little difficulty debauching Bill Swift, Jr. who accompanied them on many after midnight cruises on the Bloody Mary. Unfortunately, my campsite proved to be the most natural point of access to the lake shore from the Den of Iniquity. One evening, Bill Swift tripped over one of my tent guy lines and fell, partially collapsing my tent as I lay inside in a mixed, drug-induced stupor.

Here is a slide show from Hap and Topher from that event. Many of the above-mentioned malefactors and miscreants are pictured, some now sadly departed.


Here is a nice report on the 2008 gathering the following year by Ness:


Andy has some nice photos from the 2008 gathering in this thread:


If I remember correctly, the original idea came from mcwood4 (Mick). wesd (Wes) had purchased a Mad River Explorer so that he could go fishing with a buddy. It turned out that the buddy didn’t go very often and Wes was interested in picking up a solo canoe for when he went out by himself. Mick suggested that those of us with solo boats get together, with Wes choosing the venue. I think the reason given earlier in the thread was what I remember - good location, reasonable driving distance for most folks. It was always held on the same weekend in October, either the first or second one, I don’t remember which. The first year was a pretty small group, but they were all hard core paddlers. I don’t think there were more than ten of us, and I doubt I can remember all of them. Some of the folks were wesd, mcwood4, me, NT, windwalker, Topher, I don’t remember if Conk was at the first one, but he was there a lot of years. Pyker was usually there. I think he brought an SOF kayak to the first gathering. I don’t remember if Scottb was there the first year or not, but he was there for several of them, as was Dougd. I am sure I am forgetting a couple of people from the original gathering, but most of them made it for the first few years.

The gathering was always at the Senoia loop of the campground. It had great water access and was still open that time of the year when most of the other areas were closed. Early on there wasn’t much organization. Mostly someone would ask if we were doing Raystown, Wes would verify that the campground was open, and folks would just show up, usually starting Wednesday or Thursday.

The nature of the gathering changed quite a bit over the years. I think the last year supposedly drew about 70 people. The next year no one said, “Hey, are we doing Raystown this year?” and that was the end of it. There were many people that made contributions to the success of the event over the years.

The original event achieved its purpose. Wesd wound up buying a Swift Shearwater and a Bell Magic. Pyker wound up with a Bell Magic to go along with his kayaks. It was a real treat having a chance to try so many different boats, and people were always very generous in letting others try out their canoes and/or kayaks.

I don’t think the Western Pennsylvania Canoe Symposium or whatever it is called had much of an impact on Raystown. I know some folks attended both events, but they were held at different times of the year and seemed to me to have a different feel, although that is coming from someone who never attended the WP event.