Union Street was alive on May 3 as First Friday events kicked off the 4th Annual Great Outdoors Festival. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The 4th Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival kicked off on Friday, May 3, with the First Friday events downtown. The First Friday events included the First Annual Union Street Chili Cook-Off, sponsored by Erwin Outdoor Supply, a beer tent was set up by Union Street Taproom, Union Street Gallery LLC was open for business, and Movie Night with Bite Food Truck. What’s the Scoop hosted a Creative Canvas party and featured free toppings. A Crystal Generation gave away a free small Rose Quartz with every purchase. There were specials from Beauty by MC and CHIPS offered a free bracelet with purchase. There was also live music downtown and the popular Erwin Cruise-In was set up at the Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot.

Vendors lined the streets on Saturday, May 4, and welcomed the community to the annual event. There was a Children’s Obstacle Course that was sponsored by Unicoi County YMCA that ran from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. At the Unicoi County Courthouse Plaza, there was Free Fishing for Kids sponsored by Cabela’s. There was a huge pool set up and with Stand up Paddle Board lessons provided by USA Raft, Jackson Kayak, and Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute (NOLI.) Numerous food trucks invaded downtown for the festival. There was a petting zoo set up for children to pet exotic animals.

Joining the Great Outdoors Festival this year was the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce’s Triple Threat Competition, which pushed competitors to raft down the Nolichucky River, compete on an 18-obstacle, obstacle course, run a 5K race and cross the finish line downtown. Completing the Triple Threat in just under 33 minutes was Wesley Taylor. Taylor was followed by Mark Grenti, who finished with a time of 36:22. Sarah Bailey finished with a time of 37:45. For more results and for more information about the Triple Threat Competition, please follow Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce and the Triple Threat Facebook pages.

There was live music at the Union Street Stage throughout the day on Saturday and the UCHS Bluegrass band was picking on the corner of Union Street and Main Avenue.

The weather cooperated for most of the day, but a sudden storm hit and hit quickly. Tents were uprooted and the community came together.

“I want to give a shout out to the community as a whole,” Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Tyler Bevins said. “They have been nothing but good to us, but when this storm hit the bystanders and ones enjoying the festival, jumped in and grabbed tents, and they helped vendors pack up in the rain. Everybody was just helping everybody; it was awesome to see community support.”

Oreon Millard and Jen Heglar of Owlery of Oreon took cover and rode the storm out. Despite the storm, Millard and Heglar enjoyed their first Great Outdoors Festival as vendors.

“We have been through worse,” Heglar said.

Millard would love to come back to Unicoi County for any upcoming festivals.

“We would love to pick up more events here, that would be awesome,” Millard said.

The festivalgoers that rode the storm out sought shelter in numerous downtown stores. Union Street Taproom was packed, but according to owner Michael Baker, the storm had nothing to do with that.

“We have been this busy all day,” Baker said.

Next door, Erwin Outdoor Supply had similar results.

“It’s been busy, busy; it’s hard to say how many people that have come through,” Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Mark Lafever said.

Erwin Outdoor Supply teamed up with Unicoi Medical Associates to provide hot foot soaks and medical attention for the hikers from the Appalachian Trail who came to the festival. There were five hikers from Florida up to Pennsylvania receiving care when The Erwin Record visited.

“Dr. Jason (Colinger) started seeing hikers, like an urgent care for hikers and it has just evolved,” Sarah Miller, M.A. said. “I love this and this festival is getting larger every year.”

A Crystal Generation was one of the businesses that remained open for those who braved the storm.

“We have had several hundred visitors over the weekend; we did very well,” A Crystal Generation co-owner Carmen Rosa said. “They loved the gem mining.”

A Crystal Generation had a gym mining station set up outside of their business located at 206 S. Main Ave. in Downtown Erwin.

According to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice, the 4th Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival, sponsored by RISE Erwin and the Town of Erwin, was a tremendous success.

“I would estimate we saw around 10,000-12,000 people throughout the day,”  Rice said. “We are very pleased.”