published Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

RiverRocks ramps up in Chattanooga


by Andrew Pantazi
Volunteers Melissa Pinion, left, and Kate Warren help as a balloon is inflated Saturday at Coolidge Park during RiverRocks. Balloon pilots were unable to fly because of wind, and they had to deflate the balloons shortly after inflating them.
Volunteers Melissa Pinion, left, and Kate Warren help as a balloon is inflated Saturday at Coolidge Park during RiverRocks. Balloon pilots were unable to fly because of wind, and they had to deflate the balloons shortly after inflating them.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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RiverRocks, an 11-day festival celebrating Chattanooga's landscape and outdoor life, kicked off Thursday with major events starting Saturday.

For athletes, RiverRocks had a 50 km trail race, two hikes, a guided bicycle tour through downtown and an officially sanctioned paddleboard race.

For landscape lovers and photographers, RiverRocks planned hot air balloon rides over Coolidge Park for Saturday and Sunday.

For environmentalists, a river cleanup, aimed at kids, was held at the Tennessee Aquarium, while a second cleanup brought about 900 people to the Tennessee River on Saturday.

BALLOONS GROUNDED

At 7:30 a.m. Saturday, when most people might be hitting snooze on the alarm, brewing coffee or, best of all, sleeping deeply, dozens gathered in a 40-degree chill at Coolidge Park, hoping to rise in a hot air balloon. They didn't.

The wind was too powerful, Steve Davis, the leader of the balloonists, told them. It would be too dangerous to put people in a tethered air balloon.

"Mom," a young boy said, "we're not going to be able to ride one?"

His father, Craig Lawson, answered, "We'll find something else to do."

Lawson said he and his wife planned on joining the 3 Sisters Festival and Wine Over Water later in the day.

To make the early-morning venture worthwhile, Davis told the gathered crowd, the balloon pilots would set up the brightly colored balloons for everyone to see.

But the gusting winds were too powerful even for that.

RIVER RESCUE

Students crawled on the rocks along the Tennessee River's north shore, picking up a hair weave, soda bottles and Styrofoam cups.

Every year since 1988, the Tennessee River Rescue has rounded people up to clean up trash along the river on the first Saturday of October.

This year, about 900 people showed up at sites from Rhea to Bradley to Hamilton and Marion counties.

At Coolidge Park, near the RiverRocks site, students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Industrial Organizational Psychology graduate program scoured the rocks, the river and the shore from the Veterans Memorial Bridge to the Olgiati Bridge. They filled one of the 21 Dumpsters collected Saturday.

PADDLE FASTER

While her husband paddled upstream standing on a paddleboard, Traci Dostalek cheered and took photos on her iPhone.

Then she got ready for her own event: the 6-mile 2011 SUPSplash Paddleboard Race on the Tennessee River, competing against pros such as national champion Candice Appleby.

The officially sanctioned race, with purses of $3,500 for the fastest man and fastest woman on a 12-foot, 6-inch board, brought Dostalek to Chattanooga from Gainesville, Ga. But she admitted that against professional athletes, "It's not a lot of competing for me; it's just paddling."

Athletes came from as far as Puerto Rico, Florida, Michigan and California to compete for the prize. Brooke Holder and her two fans came from Atlanta.

Holder, who has been paddling for about a year, has been in a few competitions. She said this one, a 2-mile novice race with strong winds and currents, was the hardest.

Her sister, Courtney Akin, and friend, Matt Smith, watched as she completed the race in about 30 minutes.

Appleby and Chase Kosterlitz took home the purses in the event.

about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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