Pridefloat Celebrates 35 Years in June
Each June more than 150 people – and in some years over 400 – converge on the Niangua River in downstate Missouri for five days of river rafting, kayaking, good food and drink, and even costume and drag shows in the evening.
Greg Bigham and Daniel Ramming have run Pridefloat for the last five years, since taking it over from Jeff Brown, who moved out of state, and the original founder, Jeff Williams.
“We’ve had the ‘Camp Daddies’ designation for quite a while now,” said Bigham.
In addition to Bigham and Ramming, they credit the other 'Camp Daddies' including John Caimi, Owen Gilchrist, Ron Pierson, Kenton Wilcox, Scott Lokitz, and Elyse Riley who come from St. Joseph, Kansas City, St. Louis, Maryville, and Springfield.
The participants are primarily an LGBTQ group of gay men and lesbians, but straight friends are welcome to join in the camping/rafting weekend.
Previous years have sold out. Attendance was up to 500 people in 1994, up from the 15 people who started the inaugural event. One hundred fifty people attended the weekend last year.
This year’s Pridefloat will be June 6-10, and the theme is “Under the Sea.” Previous themes include “Rocky Horror Pridefloat,” “I Love a Good Paddling,” “Fractured Fairy Tales,” “Nightmare on the Niangua,” and “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.”
The trip only costs $50 per person, which includes the canoe, kayak or raft. Bigham said that a few people bring their own kayaks or canoes and that the outfitter charges a minor fee if participants choose not to use its equipment. Participants must be 21 or older. People bring their own food and beverages, and some have cookouts. They are also expected to bring tents or their own campers. Pets are allowed, with campers required to follow good manners and good pet hygiene.
Ramming said that a few people over the years have chosen to stay in the nearest town, Lebanon, Missouri.
One year, he said, two campers showed up in their car with no camping equipment whatsoever and drove to the Kmart in Lebanon to buy what they needed.
“They showed up in their car and a credit card,” said Bigham.
Bigham and Ramming said the most creative use of space was one year when two lesbian women showed up with their dog in their two-seat Pontiac Fiero and still fit all their camping needs in that car.
“We’e had people show up with everything from a two-man pup tent to a half-million dollar, 40-foot motor home, and everything in between,” said Bigham.
Bigham and Ramming said they have had good support from the people running the campground, where there is also a small restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for those who choose not to cook their own meals.
They said there are restaurants in Lebanon and also shopping at Walmart.
“Everybody makes at least one trip to Walmart. That’s a tradition,” said Ramming with a laugh. “I think every single person forgets something. And we’ve probably hit Walmart twice over the course of the week. The people of Lebanon have figured out what a financial impact our group has, and so we’ve never had a problem with any issue.”
On Saturday night, Bigham said, the group does a beer bust and “some kind of a dance party or something to get everybody to socialize as much as possible.” They also have a movie night with a projector showing the movie on a large sheet strung from trees. There is also a zipline at the facility.
They said the location has shower and bathroom facilities and also port-a-potties in other areas so that the camping is not totally rustic. It is secure, with some security patrols managed by the campground’s owners.
“They hire off-duty county sheriff’s patrols. They will make, like, one pass at ours because we were never a problem,” said Ramming.
The campground is about a three-hour drive from Kansas City and halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, where most of the attendees come from. However, they said, 15 or more states have been represented every year, as well as some campers from Mexico and Brazil.
Bigham said that he has been attending Pridefloats nearly from the beginning and that Ramming has also been part of them for many years as well before they took over. They live in St. Joseph, Missouri, and have been together for 26 years after meeting in Oklahoma City. They were married in Iowa in 2010, before it became legal in Missouri.
In addition to their day jobs and running Pridefloat, they are part of the Midland Empire Equality Coalition (MEEC), which runs the St. Joseph Pride festival every year. In past years their Pride festival has been in mid-June, only a few days after they returned from Pridefloat. But last year they changed the date of Pride to September, where it will continue on Sept. 13-14, 2019.
They ask people to register by May 13 so they can plan how many rafts or kayaks and canoes might be needed. Early registration also includes a theme T-shirt. It is possible to register onsite, but they highly encourage people to register early.
For more information and to sign up for Pridefloat, visit www.pridefloat.net.