Tawney Farm is part of a growing trend of agrotourism in West Virginia where farmers allow visitors to camp on their land.
The proximity to the Gauley River makes this primitive campground an ideal place for kayakers to stay during the whitewater season in September and October. That's when the meadows and hills around Tawney Farm will be filled with tent campers ready to ride the rapids.
James and Susan Tawney are the perfect hosts because they're super nice and sincerely interested in talking about their sheep farm, the history of Panther Mountain, and the best places to swim, fish and kayak on the Gauley River.
I enjoyed a couple nights of "glamping" when I stayed at the Tawney Farm "Nut House," appropriately named because James crafted it from recycled wood, including cherry, beechnut and black walnut.
The primitive cabin has electricity, a full-sized roll-away bed and a futon. There's no bathroom or running water, so I used the clean port-a-potties and community propane-heated shower and had access to a fire pit and charcoal grill.
Great hospitality! James prepped my fire pit with free wood and Susan made sure I had plenty of charcoal, then loaned me BBQ tools so I could grill my dinner without scorching my hands.
The Wild and Woolly Primitive Campground includes a group area where guests can cook, wash their dishes, and hangout. There's a small store with raw wool crafts, fresh farm eggs and black walnuts, plus and a stage for live music during the peak season.
I wanted to make sure I got some nice photos of their sheep, so James and Susan brought the flock down for a closer look and encouraged some young guests to pet them.
The access road to Tawney Farm is gravel with a tree growing in the middle, so take caution at night. The nearby roads leading to the Gauley River National Recreation Area are in good shape but a little nerve-wracking because they're so narrow there's not much room to get out of the way when you come face-to-face with tour buses shuttling paddlers to and from the Gauley River.
I checked out Mason Branch and Woods Ferry where I enjoyed some nice hiking, paddling and swimming. Since it was summer, the kayakers I spotted were using "rubber duckies" so they could negotiate the rocky river without getting stuck.
Mason Branch has an unmarked, unmaintained trail near the parking lot where you can see a couple of nice waterfalls. There's a trail to the left of the lower falls that takes you to a higher waterfall the locals call "Janie's Hole." The story I heard is Janie was a young lady who died after she either fell or jumped from the top of this falls.
There's another interesting local story about the nearby Summersville Lake. This crystal clear lake was created when an earthen dam was built that covered the small farming community of Gad with water. My 98-year old mom says no one wanted to call it the "Gad Dam" because it sounded like they were using the Lord's name in vane, so they settled on the next closest town and named it the Summersville Dam. Water released from this lake in the fall is what creates the world-class whitewater on the Gauley River.