21 Apr Celebrating A County’s Leadership in Outdoor Adventure
Erwin’s Great Outdoor Festival, coming May 6th to its downtown, is Unicoi County’s tribute to its leadership in outdoor adventure. In its sixth year, the festival brings thousands to the town and county through a collaboration between the town and R.I.S.E., a community-based organization that promotes local business.
This year, more than 65 vendors of outdoor-related items, 15 food trucks and a kid zone built for fun is just part of the line-up. Locals will love it, as well as visitors who can spend the day falling in love with the county. From animals that kids can pet to a USA Raft demonstration pool for trying your hand at kayaking or standup paddle boarding, there’s plenty to experience. In the early afternoon, mountain bikers are invited to a ride on the new Unaka Bike Park. Visitors will browse at some of the town’s local merchants for everything from leather to lace.
Or visitors can spend some time at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, or paddle on one of the world’s top whitewater rivers, the Nolichucky. A leisurely walk along the town’s linear trail, a drive to Beauty Spot, or hike to the Pinnacle Tower near the Town of Unicoi are only a few options. There are plenty more. The event is likewise a draw for hikers along the county’s trek along the Appalachian Trail (AT).
“Part of our strategy is to lure AT hikers who are headed toward Trail Days in Damascus, VA that begins May 19th,” says Jamie Rice, the Town of Erwin’s Communications Director. “We’ll invite them to a hearty pancake breakfast in the morning, then provide a medical clinic to help with any minor injuries they might have from their trek. They can enjoy our fun events and purchase things they need for their next stop in civilization in Damascus.” The southern hospitality will support continued growth in outdoor adventure as an economic engine, and some hikers may return to make Unicoi County their home and even open a business.
“Tourism generated $28.8 million in revenue to Unicoi County in 2021.”
State of Tennessee
Outdoor adventure is one of the most powerful engines for the economy in Tennessee and Unicoi County. State of Tennessee figures from 2021 found that tourism in the county equaled $28.8 million. It accounts for 220 direct and indirect jobs and $5.4 million in payroll to local families. State and local taxes from tourism is $1.4 million, enough to save residents $178 a year in property and other local taxes that otherwise they would have to pay.
Since Millennial aged Americans (born between 1981–1996) are drawn to the great outdoors, promoting the county’s outdoor adventure can encourage more to call Unicoi County their home. It should be a welcome response to the county’s population growth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2022 Unicoi County saw an increase in population for the first time after years of decline, reaching 17,676 people.
There are many factors that affect a county’s growth or decline. Quality of life, available jobs, quality of its school system, access to entertainment and amenities, housing costs, and friendliness of its people are just a few. Celebrations of one of Unicoi County’s important assets is fun for locals, good for local business and an important part of the county’s future.