By Dave Ongie, Editor
On an unseasonably warm late-February morning in 2018, the media converged upon Founder’s Park where a group of young professionals, business owners and outdoor enthusiasts were set to unveil their plans for a new festival.
The vision cast that morning turned into Meet the Mountains, an event that debuted last August and received rave reviews. Over 7,000 people attended the two-day event, which allowed people of all ages to paddle kayaks, test out bicycles and open their minds to the possibilities that exist all around us in the great outdoors.
The event was ultimately a success, but on that morning almost exactly one year ago, there were definitely some nerves for those responsible for introducing the concept of Meet the Mountains to the community.
“It was quite nerve-racking to go public with an idea that wasn’t fully funded yet or supported at that time,” said Kayla Carter, the Outdoor Development Manager for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership. “It had never been done in our region, but we had seen so many other communities like Roanoke pull it off that we knew it could be done. We had enough people at the table at that time to know we could get it done.”
After the press conference, the work of selling the vision to corporate sponsors began in earnest. A broad coalition of organizations – including NeTREP and the Johnson City Convention & Visitors Bureau – certainly helped bring sponsors on board, as did the goal of helping the region embrace a healthier way of life. Ballad Health, Tennessee Valley Authority, BrightRidge and the East Tennessee Foundation were among the 22 entities that sponsored the inaugural event.
Like Carter, Jenna Moore – sales director for the Johnson City Convention & Visitors Bureau – is excited to build on the momentum generated last August.
“It was definitely a good event, especially for a first year event to have that type of participation and attendance,” Moore said. “I think it’s going to be a much easier pitch this year.”
Carter noted the power of word-of-mouth marketing this year as plans are being made for the second Meet the Mountains festival. She said every sponsor that has been asked to recommit has agreed to do so, and she anticipates that it will be much easier to recruit vendors this year given the foot traffic generated in Founder’s Park last year.
While there will certainly be some expansion of Meet the Mountains this year, the focus seems to be on refinement in order to further crystalize the identity of the festival. For example, a festival with a healthy focus will likely sport healthier food choices this year. Or as Moore put it, “less funnel cakes and more smoothies.”
Carter said event planners have zeroed in on what worked and what didn’t and will adjust accordingly. The silent disco, for example, was scrapped at the last minute. On the flipside, the AirDogs dock jump proved to be a crowd favorite.
“This year we are more focused and plan to pour more energy into the entertainment aspects of the festival in terms of music and spectator friendly on-site and off-site events and installations like the TreeTop Canopy obstacle course and AirDogs dock jump,” Carter said.
A year ago, Meet the Mountains organizers had a clear vision. This year they have a firm foundation to go along with that vision, and the hope is to continue building toward a bright future.
“We loved seeing all the families come out to learn new outdoor adventure sport skills and make memories together,” Carter said.