This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Rivers, Trails & Ales Festival, a summer festival staple eagerly anticipated by folks across the region and beyond. Last year’s festivities featured more than 50 events for outdoor enthusiasts, scheduled over four days throughout Washington County, and saw record attendance.

“Every single year since Rivers, Trails & Ales (RTA) began, we’ve seen growth in attendance, growth in our outdoor recreation community, growth for support of our local breweries and small businesses, and growth in appreciation for our rivers and trails,” said Festival Director, Eric Dowler.

Organizers were looking forward to another record year, but amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the RTA Advisory Council made the difficult and informed decision to not host the festival in its usual format this year. Instead of hosting the event concentrated over an extended weekend, festival leadership launched a month-long celebration of regional outdoor recreation in which participants can engage in their own time while maintaining social distancing.

Photo provided by RTA Fest

“While this year’s RTA Fest will not be hosted physically – that’s right, no RTA Headquarters, no Beer Fest, and no group events – the RTA Advisory Council remains committed to our mission to uplift outdoor recreation and all things rivers, trails, and ales in our corner of Southeast Ohio,” said Dowler.

This year, RTA participants are encouraged to explore local rivers, trails and ales throughout the month of July through a variety of regional experiences. Sponsored by Marietta College, the celebration consists of Kids on Trails (including the beloved Gnome Hikes at the Kroger Wetlands and Broughton Trails), a series of hiking, running, cycling, and paddling trails to complete, and custom badges available through a mobile app called Untappd for supporting local and regional breweries.  

The shift in format allows for families and individuals to participate in activities at their own pace and time.

Dowler said it was important to their team to prioritize the health of the community above all else. “The shift in format allows for families and individuals to participate in activities at their own pace and time,” he said. “We won’t be inviting large groups of people in from the region to convene at any given time.”

Festivities officially kicked off on Friday, July 10th with downloadable checklists, guides, and maps made available on the RTA Facebook page and official RTA website. Paper copies are also available for pick-up at the Marietta Adventure Company and Marietta-Washington County CVB office at the Armory.

The gnomes were built by Sara Rosenstock and painted by campers at The Betsey Mills Club, taken by AJ Ligas

Jeremy Stackpole, the Ales Director for the Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival, is excited to be able to utilize the Untappd app to continue to uplift local and regional breweries. “Untappd has been around for a while, I’ve been using it for several years,” he said. “It is primarily a way for people that like to try many different beers to keep track of what they have had and how they liked it.”

The app makes it easy to discover new local breweries and beers, stay up to date with venue and brewery event alerts, and rate beers as you try them. The app has been used around the world and has hundreds of thousands of beers in its database.

Taken by Lineage Brewing, who participated in last year’s RTA Beer Fest.

Sponsored by Ameriturf, RTA has created the Summer Celebration badge with Untappd for 2020. For each beer you “check in” that is from a brewery that has participated in RTA’s Beer Fest in the past, or would have this year, it counts towards earning the virtual badge within the app. While tastings are not included, it’s a great way to show support for our craft breweries, many of whom have suffered during the pandemic.

That’s what my family and I love most about this area – a true sense of community.

A week in, families and outdoor enthusiasts across the valley are eagerly working their way through the RTA Summer Celebration activity sheets. AJ Ligas, also a member of the RTA Advisory Council, said he and his family are enjoying the opportunity to still participate with social distancing in mind.

“Now instead of a large group going out on a hike to look for gnomes or go for a bike ride, we can go when it’s most convenient for us, yet still be able to post our adventures to social media using #rtafest so that we still have some feeling of community while participating,” said Ligas. “My daughter and I just completed the Kroger Wetlands Gnome Hike today and we got to do it on my lunch break! I think that’s pretty sweet!”

AJ Ligas and his daughter Savannah posed with a gnome on the Kroger Wetlands Trail!

While Ligas said he personally would have loved for the whole community to be together to celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary, he believes they did the best they could given these uncertain times to still celebrate the outdoors and support each other. “That’s what my family and I love most about this area – a true sense of community.”

And that’s what the Rivers, Trails, and Ales Festival is all about – a community of people that come together to invest in all things local, uplift our region’s natural assets, and build friendship over pints of locally-brewed craft beer. Cheers!