This month’s Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival was another one for the books, with more than 50 events for outdoor enthusiasts scheduled throughout Washington County over the course of four days. Wrapping up its ninth year, RTA Fest brought hundreds of bicyclists, paddlers, hikers, and craft-beer drinkers to the Marietta in celebration of the region’s abundance of outdoor recreation and natural resources.
Since the festival’s launch in 2000, it’s transformed into a staple summer festival that folks all across the region and beyond look forward to for months.
“There have been several transformations of the event, and every step of the way it has changed to better represent the goals of the festival, volunteer interests, and new energy coming from the community into RTA events,” said Hallie Taylor, the festival’s Emeritus Director and Co-Owner of Marietta Adventure Company. After the first three years, she said the festival went through a restructuring to distill the schedule down to the things that really added to the primary goals of the festival like bike rides, paddling events, and craft beer events at local restaurants.
Pretty much all of the events are volunteer-driven, so the activities we offer are directly connected to local people willing to share their interests.Hallie Taylor, RTA Emeritus Director
Since then, the RTA Festival leadership team has been able to build from that foundation. “We have added even more family activities, community yoga, craft beer events, and moved our headquarters to offer more space for these expanded offerings,” said Taylor. “Pretty much all of the events are volunteer-driven, so the activities we offer are directly connected to local people willing to share their interests. Eric Dowler took over as Director of RTA the last few years and has helped grow the event infrastructure tremendously. This is truly a community event!”
Dowler said the festival would not be sustainable nor attractive to attendees without the help of volunteers. “Not only do we have more than a hundred volunteers helping out each year, but each of them is also high-quality and awesome.” Recruiting volunteers helps keep festival costs low, which is important to the RTA team. “RTA highlights outdoor recreation that can be done throughout the year. Having registration fees would deter people from participating in what we hope they continue doing even after the festival,” said Dowler. “This concept promotes attendance and then transfers money to local restaurants and downtown businesses.”
Accessibility is another major consideration for festival planners, who take great care to make sure events are available for adventurers of all ages and abilities. “The Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival is all about getting outdoors and having a good time,” said Taylor. “People of all ages, ability levels, and backgrounds should have the opportunity to explore.” Many times, attendees join up on a group activity for the weekend and then find out it’s something they want to do again, she said. “It’s a great chance to introduce new people to our outdoor resources, but also to re-introduce our own community to some of the great things they can do here locally.”
While the festival has always been strong in the rivers and trails aspects, it wasn’t until last year that the ales focus began to grow into a proper third leg. Last year was the first year for the RTA Beer Fest, a showcase of local and regional craft brewers. The festival’s Ales Director, Jeremy Stackpole, said this year’s Second Annual Beer Fest exceeded all expectations.
Breweries are a huge stimulus to local economies and when you support them, you are really supporting small businesses, and small towns, just like Marietta.Jeremy Stackpole, RTA Ales Director
“Every brewery present was popular and many ran out of beer by the end of the event – which is a good thing,” he said. “It’s important to support our breweries in Ohio and West Virginia because it helps to build community and keeps our friends and neighbors working. Breweries are a huge stimulus to local economies and when you support them, you are really supporting a small business, and a small town, just like Marietta.”
Of the fifteen breweries showcased at this year’s Beer Fest, eleven are less than a two-hour drive away, and five are within an hour’s drive. “This is world-class beer being made close to home,” said Stackpole. “Just like the rest of RTA Fest’s featured assets, our breweries are places you can and should visit year-round. While Beer Fest allows us to draw attention to them in one convenient time and place, the fun doesn’t have to end there.”
Stackpole is looking forward to growing next year’s Beer Fest even more, after expanding it from 300 tickets to 500 tickets in 2019. He said this is a reflection on the growing craft brewing industry in Ohio, home to more than 290 breweries as of this February.
With next year being the festival’s tenth year, attendees can expect it to grow in other ways as well. Dowler said the team has lots of ideas in store for their big anniversary but isn’t ready to make any reveals just yet, although he did mention digital registration is a goal to better streamline the process.
The festival began from an idea that Ryan Smith had, starting with just the name. ‘The Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival’ – from the name, the event grew, always out of the resources that the community itself already had.Hallie Taylor
Next year’s tenth anniversary is evidence of Marietta’s recent transformation into Ohio’s #1 Adventure Town and destination for outdoor recreation. This evolution did not come easy but from the result of years of hard work and sweat equity. “What is interesting, and not something that most people would expect, is that the Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival began before we opened Marietta Adventure Company,” said Taylor. “The festival began from an idea that Ryan Smith had, starting with just the name. ‘The Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival’ – from the name, the event grew, always out of the resources that the community itself already had.”
“When we first began, the Marietta City Trail System was a network of only 8-10 miles of trails built by the River Valley Mountain Bike Association. As we stand today, that same trail system includes over 35 miles of single-track trails!” Taylor said she and Ryan started the festival to highlight the trail systems and riverways that they had to explore. “Those options continue to improve and grow thanks to our local volunteers.”
Along with the trail system, Taylor said the regional appreciation for craft beers has increased while the local restaurant scene continues to grow. “Marietta Adventure Company opened with many of the same goals as the festival – to support our local outdoor adventurers, and to share our natural resources with others. We continue to see more and more people visiting Marietta to come to ride our regional trail systems, and there is no question that the visibility of the festival has helped make that happen.”