Chattanooga Now RiverRocks Retooled

Chattanooga Now RiverRocks Retooled

August 30th, 2013 by Kelsie Bowman in Get Out - Features

Over the past three years, October has annually attracted thousands of adventure athletes from across the nation to the Tennessee Valley to Swim the Suck, conquer the Stump Jump or scale boulders of Stone Fort all in the name of RiverRocks.

This October 2-13, the fourth installment of the unique event is featuring some big changes that go beyond a new logo, and they're going to be of Olympic proportions-literally.

"Everybody loved RiverRocks and that time of year, but no one could really tell you what it was," says vice president of marketing with the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau Dave Santucci, who is coordinating the marketing of RiverRocks. "Now it will be easy to see. It's adventure sports games. The idea is that this will become the place for the best athletes in their field to compete. It's still going to be the greatest time in Chattanooga and it's only going to get better."

Adventure Sports LineUp

Rock/Creek Stump Jump 50k and 11-mile Trail Race ' October 5; 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Sequatchie Valley Century ' October 5; 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Canoe/Kayak Race ' October 5; 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Chattanooga Head Race ' October 12; 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Triple Crown of Bouldering at Stone Fort ' October 12; 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Five Points Fifty ' October 12; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Swim the Suck: 10-mile Swim ' October 12; 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Urban Nature 10k ' October 12; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Duathlon ' October 13; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

ChattaJack 31 ' October 26; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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After three years of running RiverRocks, founders Mike and Stormy McGauley decided to step back from the festival. The RiverRocks board-made up of various leaders throughout the Scenic City-stepped up to fill the void and propel the festival forward. "It takes someone like Mike and Stormy to create the festival and nurture it; we wouldn't even be having this conversation without them," says board chairman Paul Brock. "They got to the point where they said, 'We think we've built a very solid foundation; if we want to move forward with it more people need to get involved.' I think Mike's pleased that the festival's future looks bright."

As the centerpiece of the newly tooled festival, officials are putting their focus on 10 main, major sporting events, with the hopes of getting world-class, Olympic-caliber athletes in their respective fields to annually set aside the first week in October on their calendar for Chattanooga. "From the athlete point of view it's turning this week in Chattanooga into a must," says RiverRocks board member and owner of Rock/Creek, Dawson Wheeler. In place of gold, silver and bronze, RiverRocks will be awarding the top two winners in each field with a medal made of-what else?-river rocks. The design of the stone medals is being created by Set in Stone, local concrete casters situated on Main Street. "We're excited to be a part of it," says Set in Stone owner Nathan Smith. "Hopefully these medals will be something people hold onto and cherish for a while-something they can show off to friends and family."

In its first three years of existence, RiverRocks has already become a destination for many of these top athletes, as climbers descend on Stone Fort for the second leg of the Triple Crown of Bouldering or trail runners fly in from far-flung outposts to take on the Southeast's top race. Swim the Suck now sees more than 80 competitors come to town to swim the Tennessee River. The Head Race tops 1,200 racers as crew teams from the Southeast and beyond compete in the event. "I really kind of marvel at all of them. To ride 100 miles on a bike, to swim 10 miles is incredible to me. And what I think is really incredible is that you can do it all here-we have the natural amenities here to host them," says Brock. "It'll be a refining process over the next few years, but I hope that as these games grow and word gets out and we continue to attract more and more of these athletes, it becomes very prestigious."

Festival officials are not only upping the ante when it comes to attracting elite athletes; the events themselves are getting the same attention. "It's a big goal of ours with RiverRocks to have this outdoor festival be some of the premier events in the South. Some already stack up, like the Stump Jump-it's an event on the national level, with 750 athletes that draw 30 states into it," Wheeler says. "As time goes on you just begin to build a national reputation when you take things that are drawing people from all over the U.S. Many of our events have an unbelievable heritage."

The lineup of 10 major sporting events looks similar to past years' but with two changes: the RiverRocks Duathlon, which mixes cycling and running into one grand race at Enterprise South Nature Park, and the Five Points Fifty mountain bike race, which is being introduced into the Lula Lake Land Trust. "It was important to kind of add some events that will round ourselves out," explains Wheeler. "We are trying to touch as many different adventure sports as possible."

And while the board is focusing on the 10 main sporting events, officials are still encouraging locals to get outside and create their own events during the 10-day festival. "We hope that people get out," says Brock. "For residents of Chattanooga, there will be opportunities to volunteer and observe. Maybe that will inspire them to get out themselves. A healthy lifestyle, that's what we wish for everybody."


The closing ceremonies will again allow the fourth annual festival to go out with a bang and, this year, a twist. Instead of inviting the community to enjoy entertainment in Coolidge Park, the RiverRocks 2013 closing ceremony will take over Broad Street-something Brock calls a "spectacle" that will shut down the section of road from The Block to the Tennessee Aquarium. "I think that's going to be awesome; the Aquarium backdrop is really inspirational and powerful," says Wheeler.

During the closing bash, High Point Climbing and Fitness is set to debut its indoor climbing haven with an open house-giving attendees the opportunity to demo the highly anticipated and sure-to-be iconic outdoor climbing wall. Scenic City Roots is providing the musical entertainment and, as a plus, local restaurants will be in on the fun, including Mellow Mushroom, Ben and Jerry's and Big River Grill. "It's important for us to be able to utilize our local businesses," Wheeler says.

"Some festivals block off streets and bring in food concessions from outside the city and some local businesses actually suffer from it. We want to go the other way; we want to enhance it."