Chattanooga's RiverRocks festival is just in its third year, but the celebration of the area's outdoors identity already has grown from a few more than 40 events in 10 days to beyond 100.
One of its cornerstones, though - particularly from a national standpoint - is the 11th annual StumpJump 50k trail race.
The StumpJump, part of the Rock/Creek Trail Series, also includes an 11-mile option. Registration has been closed for a good while, but race organizers are expecting about 900 for the 50k and 300 for the short version Saturday morning at Signal Mountain Middle/High School. They represent 31 states, including Alaska, plus British Columbia in Canada.
"We won't know till the end of the year, but we're probably going to be the second largest 50k in the country this year," Rock/Creek marketing specialist Mark McKnight said Wednesday. "We're on track to be."
And while last year's 50k winner, David Riddle of Cincinnati, won't be back Saturday, his impressive course record could be in danger.
"We've got really fast people coming in," said McKnight, citing Max King from Oregon and Duncan Callahan from Colorado as internationally renowned ultra runners very familiar with trail success.
"And we have Kerrie Bruxvoort. She has to be favored to win the women's race," McKnight said. "She's the mother of two kids and a stay-at-home mom, but she's a killer runner. She has won all kinds of things."
The 36-year-old Bruxvoort, also from Colorado, has won the Mesquite Canyon 50k and Greenland Trail 50k with course records this year, when she also has won the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k and the Leadville Trail Marathon and finished second in the Speedgoat 50k, the Mount Evans Ascent and the Rabbit Run 50 Mile races.
Last year's women's winner, Lindsay Beckner of Nashville, is not running Saturday but is returning to the StumpJump as an aid station volunteer.
RiverRocks officially starts Friday, with a StumpJump Vendor Fair included, but the festival's calendar lists today's family canoeing opportunity with the Fireside at Greenway Farm. Friday features Over the Edge with nearly 70 people rappelling the 20-story SunTrust Bank building downtown throughout the day as a fundraiser for area Boy Scouts, and hot air balloon flights are on the Saturday and Sunday schedules.
Local geocachers have stashed 18 caches on eight land conservancies in the area to provide the fun of the hunt as well as great hiking opportunities, and anyone who finds 15 of the 18 will get a specially minted geocoin. The official kickoff is at 7 tonight at Mellow Mushroom downtown; it wraps up on Oct. 13 at Coolidge Park.
Friday's participation possibilities include a guided canoe trip with a Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center naturalist. Saturday includes the Sequatchie Valley Century bike ride from the high school in Dunlap, the Swim the Suck 10-mile swim, a RiverRocks canoe-kayak race and hiking opportunities on Lookout Mountain Conservancy Trails and at the Lula Lake Land Trust.
Hikes and walking tours are scheduled throughout the festival, in fact, and an equestrian trail ride is one of Sunday's opportunities.
For the full schedule and details for each activity, see www.riverrockschattanooga.com/calendar and click on whichever event you want to know more about.
One other opportunity Rock/Creek particularly is excited to present, McKnight said, is a slide-show presentation next Thursday by Alpinist Cory Richards, a photographer and videographer as well as a renowned climber. He was the first American to make a Himalayan winter ascent.
A VIP reception with Richards, benefiting Wild Trails, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at 1 North Shore Penthouse on Oct. 11, followed at 7 by the public presentation at Rock/Creek's Two North Shore store.