TOWNSHEND -- For Nevin and Sue Lescher there's no better way to go camping than in a Volkswagen Westfalia, and they're not the only ones.
Over the weekend the Leschers were joined by 71 other groups from throughout New England, New York and Canada at the Bald Mountain Campground in Townshend for the ninth annual West River Westies.
During the weekend, campers purchase raffle tickets for the chance to win various prizes with all the proceeds donated to the Grace Cottage Hospital and the Otis Health Care Center.
"It's just a great time to hang out in beautiful Vermont and raise some money for a good cause as well," Sue said.
In the eight years they've held the raffle, they've raised more than $5,000 for the hospital, $2,000 of it coming this year and last year as more and more people have made the trek.
The Leschers weren't always enamored with the Volkswagen camping vehicles. It wasn't until the 1990s, when they were trying to set up a tent while staying at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, that they saw the vehicle's ease of use.
"I was pounding away at tent stakes when a guy drove up next to us in a Westy, opened the side door and out popped his tent," Nevin said. "I had to spend the couple hours trying to get those tent stakes into the ground. That's when we knew we had to get one."
With the Westfalia also comes a sense of camaraderie, Sue said. Nearly every year at the campground, someone is bound to have some car trouble and because of people's passions for the campers, there always seems to be someone who knows what the problem is.
Sue said they had been to other camping events for "Westies" with the Late Model Bus Organization, or LiMBO, and when one of the organizers for the Northeast decided to retire, she and Nevin became the new "Wagon Masters."
It didn't take long for Nevin to choose where to host their annual event.
When he was a child, his parents owned a second home in Newfane and the family would spend their summers traveling around southeastern Vermont.
After touring several other camping sites, Nevin stopped to talk with Bald Mountain owner Abby Abel and he knew it was the right choice.
"It's a perfect location to mingle, converse, relax, enjoy the scenery or jump in the river to cool off, just like when I was a kid," Nevin said.
Abel said she's always glad to see the group.
"They're always super easy to work with and they're a shot in the arm to our local economy," she said. "What they do for the hospital is great."
Each year the participants race down the West River in inner-tubes and costumes during their annual "Limbo Regatta."
This year's race was won by a 7-year-old and 9-year-old.
"They had a huge advantage because of their size," Nevin said. "They were able to float down a lot more of the river and run the other half faster than the rest of us."
Nevin said he can't wait for next year and hopes to raise even more money for the hospital.
For more information visit www.limbobus.org/westies.html
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.