September 26, 2011

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Chattanooga, how do you define dedication? Is it the drive to beat the sun to his morning wake-up call and get in a training run, ride or swim despite a warm bed’s temptation to stay inside? Is it the countless hours working with dirt-encrusted fingernails and characterized by careful devotion to cultivating organic, sustainable food? What about the moments when day and night blend together while you are trying to locate that one word or phrase perfectly encapsulating the emotion in your lyrics?

Mike and Stormy McGauley, co-founders of Chattanooga Presents!, have a dedication to the Chattanooga community that resulted in what is quickly becoming the Southeast’s premier outdoor festival—RiverRocks. Celebrating its second year, the RiverRocks Festival is quickly becoming become a brand name, hosting more than 90 activities ranging from kayaking to hot-air balloon rides to wine tasting, and including competitive events drawing participants from other states and countries. At the heart of the festival is the entertainment, providing festivalgoers with a spectrum of talent, ranging from locally grown to world-renowned.

RiverRocks is not just another cotton-candy, popcorn, pony-ride festival that gets checked off the to-do list, like mowing the yard or cleaning out the gutters. This festival has its own to-do list. This festival is on a mission—and comes complete with its own mission statement: “Produce a fun-filled, family-friendly, environmentally conscious event that celebrates the incomparable natural resources of the region and the activities they inspire, the health benefits of an active outdoor lifestyle and Chattanooga’s commitment to environmental stewardship and land conservation.”

But what does it take to accomplish such an involved task? The McGauleys spent the better part of three years developing what they envisioned to be an “amazing community celebration.” Considering that last year’s RiverRocks brought 41,000 people—roughly a quarter of Chattanooga’s population—it is fair to say, “Mission accomplished”. However, with future goals including the number of participants reaching 100,000 by 2014, it seems the sky’s the limit. For this year’s festival, Mike McGauley hopes “to expand our offering of adventure sports activities, continue to showcase the city in a different way and create a sense of pride.”

The McGauleys began by removing barriers, allowing the festival to spill into the community in order to “shine a light on the remarkable story of a city that has reinvented itself.” There is much to celebrate, with 60,000 acres of protected land within a 15-mile radius bringing nature enthusiasts, hardcore outdoorsy types and casual observers many opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing, bird watching, running and climbing. RiverRocks has two very important agendas: to create awareness of the eight supporting land trusts and conservancies, and to engage kids in an active lifestyle at a younger age.

The gatekeepers of much of this protected land are the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, the Trust for Public Land, Lula Lake Land Trust, North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, Cumberland Trail, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, Friends of Moccasin Bend and Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden. In an effort to preserve “our unique assemblage of natural resources” and maintain Chattanooga’s reputation as the Scenic City, RiverRocks plans to donate 50 cents of every dollar given by contributors and sponsorships to these trusts and conservancies. The bottom line is that without these entities, Chattanooga’s outdoor playground would be much smaller—or even nonexistent. Each one of the trusts and conservancies provides festival participants an opportunity to learn about the local environment and gain a better understanding of exactly what they do for Chattanoogans. And many of these events are designed with kids in mind, especially on Saturday, October 1:

• The Family Nature Games introduce children to the outdoors and encourage physical activity while getting in a little family time. Come out and play as a family and learn about nature’s unique capabilities.

September 26, 2011

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