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Great Outdoors Festival set to return May 7

By Richard Rourk

Contributed Photo by USA Raft Adventures Resort • A large pool will allow attendees to try their hand at stand-up paddle boards and kayaks.

The Town of Erwin is kicking off spring with the return of one of its most popular festivals.

Erwin is scheduled to host the fifth annual Great Outdoors Festival on Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m until  5 p.m. 

“We are very excited to be able to host this wonderful event again,” said Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice.

This spring event celebrates all the recreational opportunities available in Unicoi County and welcomes hundreds of Appalachian Trail hikers passing through the area. 

“We are an outdoor recreation hub and enjoy seeing familiar faces return to town,” Rice said.

Rice was excited to see this event return following the past couple of years of COVID-19 restrictions. 

This year promises to be even more special. A project that has been in the works for the past few years is finally ready for its public unveiling.

“The much-anticipated Unaka Bike Park will be open to the public and local mountain biking organizations will be on-site to offer group rides and free giveaways,” Rice said.

The Unaka Bike Park features mountain bike trails as well as hiking trails and will be opening on May 7 to coincide with the festival.

The East Tennessee Old-Time Music program will fill the streets with casual busker-style performances on the sidewalks of each block of downtown. 

USA Raft sponsors a large demonstration pool allowing festival-goers a chance to try out a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.  

Local businesses coordinate efforts to sponsor a free kids zone, including live animals, dig pits and archery.   

Nature-inspired craft vendors and food trucks will line the streets.

Although the Great Outdoors Festival will feature both new and old features, the festival will be missing one of its most popular attractions. 

“Unfortunately we will not have our elephant herd,” Rice said. “Not sure when or if we will get our elephants back.”

The elephant herd consisted of several elephant statues that were hand-painted by local artists and displayed on the streets of Erwin from spring through autumn. The elephants were sponsored by local businesses and residents and then were auctioned off in the fall. Funds received from the auction went to various charities. The first revival partnered with the Elephant Parade and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee as a way to raise money and awareness of rescued elephants in memory of Mary, the five-ton Asian elephant executed in the Clinchfield Railroad Yard in Erwin on Sept. 13, 1916. 

For more information about all of the festivities for the festival, please follow the Town of Erwin on social media.