By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Regionalism has become a buzzword among local politicians, business owners and other civic leaders in our area, and rightfully so.
While there have been several recent examples of cooperation between cities, towns and counties that have traditionally fought tooth-and-nail over restaurants, retailers and manufacturing plants, this weekend’s Meet the Mountains Festival is a prime example of a regional endeavor that came together organically. The inaugural festival will be held this Friday and Saturday. The event will be based in Founder’s Park in downtown Johnson City, but several satellite activities affiliated with the event will be happening around the region.
For Kayla Carter, the Outdoor Development Manager for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, Meet the Mountains was born in part out of a vague sense that the outdoor recreation community was not as cohesive as it could be.
“It was really rooted in recognizing that our outdoor community is kind of disjointed,” Carter said. “So we want to bring them together in one place so there’s more chance for collisions to happen and people to interact. Ideas will spur out of that, and hopefully people will want to set up more businesses.”
For those who already own businesses that cater to outdoor enthusiasts – particularly in the retail sector – the new festival is another chance to build credibility and foster customer loyalty by providing the sort of knowledgeable customer service that is becoming increasingly rare in our digital world.
“Our competition is not Dick’s Sporting Goods anymore. It’s Amazon,” said Dan Mahoney, owner of Mahoney’s Outfitters. “That tentacle is getting wide. But as it’s getting wider, I’m hearing people that are getting dissatisfied, too. Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again. I want to go back to touchy-feely.”
In addition, festival organizers want to convince others to get outside and join in on the outdoor fun. This weekend’s free festival will provide folks with the opportunity to try out mountain bikes, kayaks or learn to cast with a fly rod, all in the comfort of Founders Park.
“It’s pretty much to let everybody know what they’re missing out on and what is available to them that they don’t even realize,” said Hunter Greene, a Mahoney’s employee and a member of the Meet the Mountains planning committee. “It’s proactive. It’s not going to be one of those things where (we say), ‘You should try this sometime.’ We want you to do it.”
In addition to trying out new activities and equipment, festivalgoers will also be able to sample food and drink while enjoying live music, all without paying admission.
“We don’t want to have a barrier to entry,” Carter said. “We want people to be able to come here and experience as they do in our natural world. You don’t have to pay to access our mountains, so we wanted to have that same feel here at the festival.”
For those planning to head over to Founder’s Park this weekend, the festival will run from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Saturday. Offsite events affiliated with the festival can be found by visiting mtmfest.com/off-site. Some offsite events will include a fee.
Although planning an inaugural event of this magnitude is quite an undertaking, those involved in Meet the Mountains are ready to get the show on the road with an eye toward making the event even better next year.
“There’s always going to be something that goes wrong,” Greene said. “You’ve just got to roll with it. We’re very excited, because it’s huge. People don’t quite understand how big our area is for outdoor recreation. Our mindset is to show everybody what we’ve got.”
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