By Scott Robertson
A late summer festival will highlight a new effort by the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership to showcase the importance of the outdoors to the region’s economic viability. The festival will be dubbed “Meet the Mountains.”
Based in Johnson City, it will intentionally coincide with several outdoor events elsewhere in the region. Kayla Carter, outdoor development manager for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership is coordinating the event.
“Erwin has the Nolichucky triple treat going on that weekend,” Carter says. “There is also the Watauga Lake Triathlon. We have also got Sugar Hollow in Bristol’s cycling series and the Children’s Triathlon going on that weekend.”
Between all those events, Carter says the partnership is hoping attendance will be around 10,000, with much of that coming at the festival headquarters, where activities including flycasting, a ropes course, a bike skills area and a dog agility course are planned.
“We will headquarter the festival in Founders Park where the vendors will be, but we are encouraging people to do these competitions that are outside the city and promote activities that you do in other communities. We really want to see people moving around for that weekend but we’ll still have one place where we all come together.”
Carter, a longtime outdoor enthusiast who lists hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine among her accomplishments says of the festival, “Its mission is also the mission of my position: to generate awareness and encourage use of natural resources and healthy lifestyles and to get people to be active and get outdoors.
People already use Johnson City as a basecamp for outdoor recreation around the mountain towns of Erwin and Elizabethton. “It takes all of us working together to get all the communication in order and get everyone working towards the same goal,” Carter says. “That is where I hope the festival comes in and helps us all come together and see what everyone is doing, because sometimes the hiking community doesn’t know what the mountain biking community is doing or the back country community is doing. I am excited to get all those assets in one place and showcase it to the community and hopefully, attract people from outside of the community.”
Carter sees the festival as low-hanging fruit in a longer strategy to brand the region as an outdoor mecca. “Once we market this festival together and get to know each other, then we can more collectively think about a brand,” Carter says. “I think we get behind this festival first, get to know each other a little better and figure out how we work best together, and then we can think about branding. The community development piece is super important and the community all working together and impress people outside the community to come here and support the economy. Somebody might come to this festival from Roanoke and say ‘Hey, I want to be a part of that community. Maybe I will start a business in downtown.’ I think for right now the festival is our brand until we can come a little closer together in our branding efforts as a region.”