When: Sept. 8-10
Where: Downtown Dahlonega
From running shoes to kayaks to climbing walls, Dahlonega will celebrate all things outdoors in September with its annual Trail Fest.
Event organizers are showing off the Southeast’s wild side during the three-day event beginning Sept. 8 in the Gold City’s downtown. There will be talks about the Appalachian Trail from accomplished hikers, a film festival, more than 40 vendor booths and a few new — and unusual — offerings for festival-goers.
Some new treats are coming from outdoors retailer REI, which this year has jumped into Trail Fest in a big way, said festival chairman Tom Lamb.
REI will set up a mountain bike demonstration track, a 160-foot wooden path with twists and bumps that will test your bike’s suspension and handling. People may bring their own bikes or try out a model provided by REI. The company is also setting up a rock-climbing wall.
“Last year they just kind of had a booth — it was their first year,” Lamb said. “This year they’re making Trail Fest their major event of the year. They’re going to have a lot … more giveaways. They’re doing boot fittings, pack fittings.”
Other hands-on workshops happening during Trail Fest include mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, trail running and paddleboarding on the Yahoola Reservoir.
Runners will be able to try on shoes and give them a spin on the Yahoola trail.
For those who want to spend time outdoors without the dirt and bugs and sweat, REI is holding a “glamping” exhibit.
“It’s kind of luxury camping,” Lamb said.
Glamping often involves a vehicle — whether it’s an RV or a decked-out van — but more and more is based around yurts. These are heavy-duty, semi-permanent tent structures that can offer all of the benefits of spending time outdoors with none of the inconveniences.
Other outdoor equipment vendors include Dawsonville’s Outside World and Dahlonega’s Woodland’s Edge, which will be selling gear during the festival. Most of the other equipment booths are for demonstrations, Lamb said.
There will be local craft vendors selling pottery, jewelry and other goods geared around hiking or the Appalachian Trail. Nonprofits and agencies like the U.S. Forest Service will have information booths at the festival.
Food, beer and wine from local restaurants and vineyards will be sold at the event.
Troncolli Subaru and Troncolli Jeep, both based in Cumming, will have trail-specialized vehicles on display in the square, Lamb said.
But at the heart of the event is a love for the Appalachian Trail. Dahlonega is an AT community and sits near the southern starting (or ending) point of the trail on Springer Mountain.
The second-ever man to complete the trail, Gene Espy, will talk about his experience in 1951 on what was then a little-known trail. Oree Critenden, a quadriplegic, will talk about his experience completing the trail in sections with a unique wheelchair.
“The speakers I think are always interesting,” Lamb said. “... For an hour on Saturday and an hour on Sunday, we do what’s called a through-hikers panel. We get about six people that have through-hiked the whole AT, and we let the audience ask questions.” He said that's the most popular event of the weekend every year.
Trail Fest has in the past couple of years drawn about 3,000 people to Dahlonega. This year — with REI’s deeper involvement — the event could draw many more. Lamb said the company is hoping to draw closer to 10,000 people to the festival.Lamb said the University of North Georgia will keep its parking deck near the square open during the festival.