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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 9/29/16. Brandon Lemming, top, Travis Price, bottom, and other members of the American Stage Company, set up a 60'x20' stage on Thursday, September 29, 2016, along the riverfront in preparation for this weekend's 10th annual 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival.

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River Rocks kicks off with renewed emphasis on commonfolk

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› 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival,P.What: Free bluegrass music festival

When: Today noon-10 p.m.

Where: Ross’ Landing in Chattanooga

› Ready to Rock Climb

What: A free rock-climbing session with Outdoor Chattanooga for beginners and advanced climbers

When: Sunday 5-7:30 p.m.

Where: Coolidge Park

› Rock/Creek StumpJump

What: One of the Southeast’s top 50K trail races and its companion 15K, plus a first-year kids run.

When: 50K today 8 a.m. (sold out) | 15K Sunday 8 a.m. ($45) | Kids run Sunday 8 a.m ($10)

Where: Both races start at Signal Mountain Middle School

*A full schedule of River Rocks events is online at riverrockschattanooga.com

Lula Lake Land Trust founder’s day weekend

What: The popular recreation area celebrates its founders weekend with an open-gate weekend and two days of activity, including a film festival today and a Sunday wine tasting.

When: Open gate today 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Film Festival gate opens at 6 p.m. (suggested donation $10) | Open gate Sunday 12-5 p.m. | Wine Walk 4:30 - 8 p.m. ($40-$50)

Where: Lula Lake Land Trust, 5000 Lula Lake Road, Lookout Mountain, Georgia

River Rocks is returning to its roots.

Chattanooga's annual weeks-long celebration of all things outdoors kicks off this weekend with a renewed emphasis on engaging a broader spectrum of the population, and not just those with an appetite for the extreme.

Premier athletic events like Swim the Suck, Stump Jump and the Triple Crown of Bouldering remain a part of the festival, but will be joined, or re-joined, by a series of events catering to casual outdoor enthusiasts.

"Yes, we want people to come here from out of town and, yes, we want to fill up the hotels and restaurants," said Ann Ball, operations manager for Chattanooga Presents. "But we also want local people to feel like River Rocks is for them, as well."

Chattanooga Presents produced River Rocks from its inaugural year in 2010 until 2013, when the festival's founders, Mike and Stormy McGauley, stepped back from their leadership roles.

After two years under the direction of a volunteer advisory board, River Rocks is under the direction of Chattanooga Presents once again, and the McGauleys are involved in a supporting role. The advisory board agreed to transfer the event back to Chattanooga Presents "after months of deliberation," the board's chairman, Max Poppel, said in a news release announcing the decision this summer.

"It had become much more focused on those premier, marquee events for the athletes that were drawing people in from outside the city," Chattanooga Presents owner Carla Pritchard said.

Now, the grueling 50K Stump Jump run features a shorter kids run for the first time, and the half-mile or 1-mile Snail Darter swim is back on the calendar to provide an attainable alternative to the 10-mile Swim the Suck.

Other family friendly, less-daunting events dot the schedule from this weekend until the end of the month, including some on weeknights. The bulk of the festival's events are between this weekend and Oct. 16, which is the day of the 7 Bridges Marathon.

"It was our hope as this year came around and the event was offered back to us, that we make that a priority so the average person, the community at-large, could find a role, find a way to participate and look forward to River Rocks as part of their calendar," Pritchard said.

A climb-paddle-run triathlon starting at High Point Climbing Gym's downtown location on Oct. 8 is a new event highlighting the festival's second weekend.

The Best Town (for)Ever party in the 700 block of Cherry Street on Oct. 14 headlines the third weekend. The street party will feature live music, food, drink and activities.

"There's at least 30 events on the schedule," Ball said. "And about half are new events or events that are back on the schedule again."

***

This weekend's schedule is symbolic of the festival's renewed focus. Stump Jump events are today and Sunday, but so are the Lula Lake Land Trust's leisurely founder's day weekend activities and the 3 Sisters bluegrass festival. Outdoor Chattanooga is hosting a Sunday evening rock-climbing session in Coolidge Park for anyone over the age of 5.

Stump Jump is at capacity once again, not that it's any surprise.

Now in its 15th year, the event is an early fall staple on the local trail running calendar, and a national draw.

Roughly half of the 364 runners registered for Saturday morning's run are from Tennessee, but the rest hail from around the Southeast and from far-flung locales like California, Washington, New York and Minnesota.

"We sold out in May," race director Brian Costilow said.

This is Costilow's second year as director of the race, which starts from Signal Mountain Middle School at 8 a.m. and takes runners along Signal Mountain and Walden's Ridge on a course that includes more than 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

Last year, the event dealt with pouring rain. This year, the weather is predicted to be sunny, with high temperatures around 80 degrees.

"We are going to have the perfect weather, and I think we earned it from last year when it rained the entire race," Costilow said. "It was a mess. This year should be great."

Slots remain in Sunday's 8 a.m. Stump Jump 15K. The debut kids run is Sunday at 8 a.m.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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