Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts flocked to Dahlonega on Saturday, Sept. 8, for the eighth annual Trail Fest outdoor festival.
Created in 2011 to celebrate Dahlonega’s declaration as an Appalachian Trail Community, the festival brings together all aspects of non-motorized recreation such as hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain biking and orienteering.
Throughout the weekend, visitors can enjoy numerous food and product vendors, speakers, authors, workshops, and several demonstrations and hands-on activities sponsored by REI Co-op.
Brian Mathews has been mountain biking since 2001 and is now an outdoor school instructor for REI. He performs demonstrations over the weekend.
“Mountain biking is my pride and joy and happiness in life,” he said. “I love being able to share that passion with other people. Last year, we brought out a 160-foot wooden mountain bike pump track which was extremely popular, so we’ve brought it back for this year. Attendees are more than welcome to try it out with a bike from the store, or even bring their own bike.”
Zach “Athens” Aument, an avid hiker, has been coming to the festival for four years and enjoys it because of the atmosphere.
“This festival is always just so fun because it’s like a big get together of ‘your people’ — people who are passionate about the outdoors, whether you like hiking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, canoeing or anything else,” he said.
Aument explained that the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, is a model trail for all the other thru-trails in the United States.
“I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail almost twice, and it’s definitely one of the most popular thru-trails in the U.S.,” he said. “The people who work with conserving the trail are also working to push the trail away from populated areas, and other thru-trails are following in their footsteps.”
Richelle Saucier and her daughter Dakoda came to Trail Fest for a fun Saturday afternoon.
“We’re local to Dahlonega, so we come every year,” Richelle said. “It’s neat to just browse through the products and information the vendors have to offer.”
Derek Jones of Escalade Rock Climbing Gym instructed many adults and children alike on the rock climbing wall.
“There are a lot of first-timers here as well as experienced climbers,” he said. “For those who are new to it, it’s a good and safe environment to try it, and for those who are experienced, the rock wall is also fun because it gives them the chance to do something they love in a public place.”
Jocelyn Glenn and her children Hagen and Hadley have been in attendance at the festival for three years.
“My whole family loves the outdoors, so the festival is a good way to experience new things,” she said. “My kids love the rock climbing wall and the bike track, and there are also a lot of vendors catering specifically to the outdoors lifestyle.”
Deanne and Jeff McWaters, owners of Dahlonega-based Etowah River Pottery, have been vendors at the festival since the beginning and make specialty pieces for the event.
“Trail Fest used to be in March because that’s when thru-hikers start the trail, but it eventually moved to September to try and draw in even more people,” Jeff said. “REI became a sponsor three years ago, and since then the festival has grown bigger and bigger.”