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Mission: To enrich the region’s quality of life, health, and wellbeing by increasing awareness and use of our outdoor recreation resources.

Several months ago I was asked to join a planning team committee for a new outdoor related festival that the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership was wanting to host. Little did I know how quickly this thing was going to grow in a short time!

In the first few months of planning our team was busy figuring out all the major logistics of who, what, where and when for the festival. We set the date for AUGUST 24-25, 2018 with “Basecamp” at FOUNDERS PARK – 225 Commerce St, Johnson City, TN 37604. This turned out to be the perfect venue to host this event in downtown with many supporting amenities around the site!

We wanted to make it a free festival for all who attended, so we got to work in trying to secure sponsorships to cover all the costs of hosting a major festival of this nature (which is $$$). Thankfully we quickly secured Ballad Health as the presenting sponsor for the festival. This sponsorship gave us the financial support and clout to secure many other great supporting sponsors during the time leading up to the festival. We made the goal of a free festival and hope it will serve as an annual coming together of the region’s outdoor community.

We divided the festival into 3 major zones for areas if interest: Water, Air and Earth. I volunteered to help oversee the organization of the water zone with Matt Moses of USA Raft. I pledged event support with the Jackson Action Wagon for kayak demos in the demo pool at the event. Matt became the presenting sponsor of the water zone with USA Raft and he was charged with acquiring a demo pool for the event and standup paddle board demos in the pool. Then we became focused on getting together as many local paddling, fishing, scuba, sailing, and various other watersport related groups together to help showcase the water zone. We had a great show of support coming from many groups to present at the festival: Johnson City Chapter of Team River Runner, Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute, Washington County’s Swift Water Rescue Team, Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts, Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, USA Raft, Badfish SUP, and Jackson Kayak.

Matt secured us an awesome 40 feet by 70 feet inflatable pool to use as the demo pool at the festival. Matt and his USA Raft crew got it setup the evening before the festival started. We were thankful to get the help of the Johnson City Fire Department in helping to fill the pool with over 10,000 gallons of water!

The Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts setup a really neat interactive photo booth where you could take a photo in a kayak looking like you were running a local famous waterfall! They also put a good safety spin on the photo booth by requiring you to wear a PFD and helmet. We also impressed this safety standard in the demo pool at the festival to make folks aware that they should always have this gear on when in the water.

We all got our vendor tents setup on the first day of the festival and we wondered how the crowd would be now that everything was in place. Within the first hour of the festival the place became packed on both days! The lines of kids and adults started forming to try out all the different activities. Matt and I were quickly overwhelmed with many kids wanting to try out kayaks and SUPs in the demo pool, but thankfully we had some great APE members, MTM Fest volunteers and other USA staff to help us.

We were blessed with perfect warm & sunny weather on both days of the festival and we put hundreds of kids, teens and adults in kayaks and SUPs for hours on end in the demo pool! It was by far the busiest demo I have ever hosted with the J.A.W. I was amazed at hearing multiple times, “This is my first time ever trying to kayak.”

I did make time to take a couple of breaks to walk around the rest of the festival grounds to see all the other happenings. I nearly shed a tear of joy a couple of times in my rounds in seeing all the smiling faces! The MTM planning team truly pulled together the most dedicated groups in our region to show off some of our greatest outdoor assets. There were kids and adults enjoying a mountain bike course, swift water rescue scenario setup, ropes course, axe throwing, rock climbing, One Wheel demos, fly fish casting, interactive nature exhibits, ice cream, tasty beverages, great food and even air dogs jumping into a pool!

One highlight of the festival for me was serving on the “Safety Crew” with Brandon Irish for the Team River Runner rubber duck race down Brush Creek adjacent to the festival grounds. We made sure all the cute rubber ducks did not end up in eternal surfs or stuck in undercuts/strainers down the course. We had a Green Race style “5-4-3-2-1-GO” countdown with everyone helping to start the race and many kids enjoyed cheering their racing ducks along the course. This turned out to be a great fund raiser for Team River Runner!

The grand finale at the demo pool turned out to be the major highlight of the water zone. Toward the end of the day on Saturday we were closing down the demo pool and starting to clear paddlers out of it. We had just managed to clear all paddlers out of the pool except one little girl who was still having a ton of fun in a Jackson Kayak Mix Master. I was keeping an eye on her in the pool from a short distance away. One of the USA Raft crew decided to start letting some of the air out of the side walls of the pool during this time to speed up the tear down process and all of the sudden one of the sidewalls of the pool gave out. A 6’wide sluiceway formed quickly from water pouring out of the pool into the parking lot and I noticed the little girl was quickly getting sucked out of the pool on an unintended whitewater ride! I ran over to her and grabbed her just in time only a few feet from the pool breach. After I secured her in hand she exclaimed to me “Let’s do it!” I said “You want to ride the lighting?” and she said “YES!” So I lined her up and guided her by hand through the newly formed rapid. She got the first descent of the MTM Pool boof ledge and the flow was so concentrated on landing that she floated for a couple of hundred feet across the parking lot before she went aground! She cackled with laughter the whole time and we made a memory I’m sure she will never forget! Her dad was a good sport laughing about the whitewater ride also. Good times, good times!!

Overall MTM Fest was a WINNING event from start to end and I’m sure it will be a staple for years to come with this first year’s success! I know I look forward to supporting it again next year. Check out all the great MTM Fest media coverage we received: