By Brad Hicks
For outdoors enthusiasts, braving the elements often comes with the territory.
Attendees to the 2nd Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival, held Saturday, May 6, in downtown Erwin and presented by the Town of Erwin, faced cool temperatures and overcast skies throughout the morning and early afternoon to take in the sights and sounds offered by the young event that showcases Unicoi County’s opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Those who filled Main Avenue from the Erwin Post Office to Love Street were undeterred by the weather as they picked up items for their gardens, received advice to prepare for their own outdoor adventures, enjoyed live music, observed watercraft and fly fishing demonstrations, and caught a glimpse of Erwin’s first-ever public art project.
“The window of nice weather that we did have, the crowds were great and everyone was really pleased with the vendor selection. People loved the music,” Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said Monday. “I think we’ll definitely do it again next year and probably keep the same formula as far as everything is nature-inspired and outdoor-related.”
Vendors offered various crafts and items, including a variety of annuals and perennials, lawn furniture, pottery, yard art and birdhouses. These vendors, Rice said, turned out in force despite the unfavorable forecast.
“I didn’t think all of our vendors would show up with the weather report being as bad as it was, but they were set up and ready to go and excited to be there, and they stuck it out until the bitter end,” Rice said.
The Erwin Great Outdoors Festival also provided local businesses and agencies the opportunity to give information to and discuss the services they offer with attendees. Among these was Matt Moses, owner of USA Raft, who drew onlookers throughout the day as he provided paddle boarding demonstrations from a small pool set up on Main Avenue in front of Keesecker Appliance, Furniture & Flooring.
“I know that he had a lot of really great exposure for his business and he what he does out on the river, and he was just really appreciative that the town is really making an effort to help with the tourism side of the outdoor business for him,” Rice said.
This year’s Great Outdoors Festival also featured a kids zone, which included a petting zoo, mock rafting and lassoing.
“We’ll definitely do that again next year to bring families downtown,” Rice said of the Kids Zone.
The rain began to fall around 3 p.m. Saturday, clearing out a portion of the attendees on hand. Still, the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited- and Project Healing Waters-sponsored showing of the International Fly Fishing Film Festival at 3:30 p.m. at Capitol Theatre managed to attract a crowd, Rice said.
“They sold several tickets on the street that day and had a good crowd, and I hope that they’ll return,” Rice said. “We haven’t talked about it yet, but I think it will be a great partnership in the future.”
Acts such as the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band and Porch 40 provided live music throughout the day. Along with a variety of food vendors, Johnson City Brewing Company manned a beer tent in the Gathering Place Park throughout the day.
“They had a great day. Despite the weather, they were really happy,” Rice said of Johnson City Brewing Company. “Even the food vendors, as wet as it was, everybody still ate and they all want to come back next year, so that means it was a success.”
The Erwin Trunk Project also proved to be a big hit among attendees of the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival. The eight elephant statues painted by regional artists through the public art project were set up in front of the Unicoi County Courthouse Annex, attracting crowds clamoring for a closer look.
“I would love to know how many pictures were taken of those little elephants,” Rice said. “People were so excited. As soon as they saw them, they couldn’t help but smile. Everybody was just so happy seeing such cheerful little creatures on Main Street.”
The elephant statues were purchased prior to last year’s Erwin Elephant Revival. Now that the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival has concluded, the painted statues will remain on display in downtown Erwin throughout the summer. Rice said it is hoped the statues will be set up for display along Main Avenue by the end of the week.
These statues will remain on display in downtown Erwin until Oct. 21, when they will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee located in Hohenwald.
Rice said even with the rainfall, the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival received positive feedback and allowed attendees to get a jumpstart on their summer activities.
“I know (Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley) was very pleased with the turnout and with the quality of the festival, so I think she’ll definitely want us to do it again,” Rice said.