By Kendal Groner

On Saturday, May 5, Erwin will once again celebrate its love for the natural world during the third annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival. The event will take place in downtown Erwin, and from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., participants can enjoy an array of outdoor themed activities, music and several vendors.

“RISE Erwin (community organization) wanted to find a way to bring more attention to Unicoi as an outdoor tourism destination. We thought with the Appalachian Trail and Nolichucky River, we have all these natural assets and we really wanted to promote that,” said Jamie Rice, RISE Erwin president and communications coordinator for the Town of Erwin.

Rice said they chose to host the festival on this particular weekend because a surge of hikers will be coming off of the Appalachian Trail as they make their way to Damascus, Virginia.

“It takes about 10 days to get from Erwin to Damascus and all of those hikers are trying to get to Trail Days, an event held in Damascus,” said Rice. “We really tried to plan some hiker-friendly things for them to do when they’re in town. That way when they leave Erwin they can have a great experience and spread the word as they go up the trail.”

Some of the festivities will include a kids’ zone, live animal demonstrations, food trucks, a craft beer tent, and several unique vendors.

“A lot of events in the kids’ zone have been sponsored by local businesses or organizations,” Rice said.

The Appalachian Christian Service Camp will be providing an archery course, North Ridge Community Church in Erwin is supplying a climbing wall, and the FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter at Unicoi County High School will have a petting zoo set up.

Children will also have the opportunity to do target practice with a pellet gun, fish in a catch and release trout pool, and have their faces painted.

“Bays Mountain is coming and they will be bringing a bunch of native live animals and doing show and tell demonstrations all day,” said Rice. “Kids can hold snakes and see the big birds of prey. All of our vendors have to be outdoor related or nature inspired. We have some people bringing plants to sell, Scott’s Strawberries will come, and even people who make jewelry from seeds … just really unique things that are nature inspired.”

Overmountain Trout Unlimited, the local Trout Unlimited chapter in the Tri-Cities, is showing the International Fly Fishing Film Festival at Capitol Cinemas starting at 2:30 p.m. the day of the festival. The nature film includes beautiful scenery and showcases people fishing all over the world.

“It (International Fly Fishing Film Festival) travels all over the world, and we’re so lucky that this Overmountain chapter here in our region wanted to come to the festival again and have the show here for the Tri-Cities,” Rice said. “They will also be giving away prizes. They are actually giving away two all expenses paid passes to send two Unicoi County girls ages 12-15 to trout camp in the Great Smoky Mountains for a week.”

Five musical performers will be playing at the festival, with the Ripple kicking off the music scene at 11 a.m, followed by Folk Soul Revival at 1 p.m., the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band at 3 p.m., Annabelle’s Curse at 4:30 p.m., and 49 Winchester at 6:30 p.m.

Rice said as if all of that wasn’t enough, the 2018 herd of baby elephant statues will also be making a debut during the festival as part of the Erwin Trunk Project.

“We want to get people outside and together as a community to become more healthy and see the natural beauty around us and take advantage of it,” she said. “We want people to get excited about being outside … whether it’s digging in your garden, hiking on one of the trails, fishing or whatever it may be.”