Last Saturday, Appalachian Trail hikers and supporters from throughout the area came together at the Fourth Annual April Fool's Trail Days Festival, held along Main Street in historic downtown Franklin.The Trail Days Festival, along with the Annual Hiker Bash, celebrates Franklin’s appreciation for the thousands of Appalachian Trail hikers that pass through the area each year, and for the Appalachian Trail culture.
The Festival also serves to kick off the spring hiking season for thru-hikers. Traditionally April 1 is recognized as the beginning of the hiking season, as temperatures warm and the weather improves. Over the years the event has evolved into a celebration of the outdoors rather than just the Appalachian Trail. The crowd consisted of hikers, local residents and visitors to Western North Carolina. Residents and hikers mingled and got to know each other while they listened to music from The Elderly Brothers, ate great food and browsed the booths.
Franklin’s group, Venture Local (VLF) launched Venture Local Connect during Saturday’s event.
VLF designed a booth to connect festival goers and A.T. hikers alike to the internet. Laptop computers were donated from within VLF’s supporters and DNET Internet Services provided the wi-fi connection. “Venture Local Franklin’s first initiative, Venture Local Connect, was agreat success! We set out to offer a service to the folks that came out to the downtown festival, and the service was used,” said Matt Bateman “We had a good number of A.T. hikers sit down with us to check their email.” Additionally, VLF - Connect was designed to hand out local information about the Franklin, NC area. VLF handed out Franklin Chamber of Commerce
Visitor Guides/Area Info Brochures, Economic Development Commission’s (EDC) Biz Week flyers and Franklin Main Street Program Info Brochures.
Venture Local Franklin promotes positive & sustainable community advancement. As a citizen maintained movement, they value inclusivity and participation that is action based and outcome focused. They work to collaboratively strengthen the regional economy and utilize our natural resources, establish common goals, nurture entrepreneurial ventures and drive innovation withthe goal of moving Franklin forward.
The Festival featured facepainting for children, hulahooping and dancing. Among the many vendors, were those selling tents, hiking gear, shoes, jewelry, and much more. One visitor to the event, Angela Allison, stated “of all the vendors here, my favorite are the shoe vendors!”. Most of the vendors agreed that business has improved quite a bit since last year. Elizabeth Ellis, owner of Macon Soap, said that the new location of her booth this year, beside the gazebo on Town Square, compared to last year at the top of town hill, made a significant difference in the amount of business she received. “The music was great and the crowd was much bigger than it was last year,” she said. There were several first time vendors and a few that have been selling their products at the festival since it’s inception.Terena McCall, a licensed massage therapist from Tangles Salon, hosted a booth offering chair massages. This was her first year working an event such as this. “The event was very successful, and it was nice getting to meet so many different people from different places. I am so glad I could be a part of it, and I will be back next year!,” she said.
Franklin is located only 11 miles from the Appalachian Trail, which makes it a convenient place to stop in, resupply, and hang out with other hikers and take a “zero day” to clean up and rest and recuperate. This is especially true for “thru hikers,” who plan on hiking all the way through the trail in one season.
The Trail Days Festival was followed by The Annual Hiker Bash at Sapphire Inn, hosted by Commissioner Ron Haven, making for a long weekend of fun for the hikers. This was the 8th Annual Hiker Bash that Haven has hosted.The gathering has been continuing to grow since it began in 2004. The bash brings together hikers and locals for an evening of eating good food, sharing stories, listening to live music and speakers and celebrating the AT. Milton Bennet, a sectional hiker of the AT, stated, “It is nice to know that there are so many people in this area who support hiking and once the word continues to get out to all hikers, it will be great publicity for Franklin.”
The Festival is a great opportunity for people to learn about the Appalachian Trail and about hiking. Shawn and Leslie Basil, were very happy with the turn out. “This event is a lot of fun, all of the vendors are great, and it is very nice seeing people we know from the trail,” they said.
The the great weather, food, music and vendors may have played a factor in the event being such a success, however, without the hikers, the festival would have been incomplete.