adventure side of the smokies

Newport Harvest Street Festival Oct. 7-8: Harvesting Memories

Bringing with it an atmosphere of nostalgia and a chance to create new memories, the Newport Harvest Street Festival has for 37 years served as a premier East Tennessee community celebration event

Heralding the onset of fall and launching the start of Cocke County’s annual season of weekend festivals, the Street Festival strikes a cheerful balance between old and new.

Many of the vendors and participants have been returning year after year, becoming an integral part of the festival’s identity. This continuity is essential for the festival’s charm, as it allows visitors to relive cherished memories. Whether it’s savoring a favorite treat from a familiar food stall or reconnecting with long-time friends, the Newport Street Festival has a unique ability to transport attendees back in time.

But what makes this festival truly exceptional is its capacity for  renewal, year after year. Alongside the familiar faces, there are new vendors, attractions, and activities waiting to be discovered. This delicate blend of tradition and innovation is what keeps the festival fresh and exciting. It’s a testament to the organizers’ commitment to providing a diverse and engaging experience for both long-time attendees and first-time visitors.

“We’ve got vendors that have been coming for as long as I know and  before, and then we’ve always got new ones,” said Lynn Ramsey, Cocke County Chamber of Commerce director and an organizer of the event since 2008. “We have everything from crafts and Christmas and fall decorations to children’s toys. Some people are selling different kinds of stones and herbs and handcrafted soaps and a lot of handmade arts and crafts. A lot of churches will come and give away information, and sometimes they give away free stuff like bottles of water to drink.”

Ramsey said this year’s festival will be expanding over its previous layout — something that hasn’t been done since she was attending the festival as a child.

“We are going to go out on Main Street out in front of Roscoe’s Treasures, opening that back up,” said Ramsey. “It used to be open years ago, so we are excited to be expanding it again.”

If the weather is beautiful and the sun graces the streets of downtown Newport with its warm glow, turnout can run as high as 6,000 people or more. Clear blue skies and crisp autumn air set the stage for a weekend filled with laughter, music, and delicious food.

Food trucks and tasty treat-serving tents line the streets and fill the air with the enticing aromas of all your favorite festival snacks and beverages, from fresh squeezed lemonade, corn dogs and spiral taters to funnel cakes and deep-fried desserts.

And of course, no Tennessee festival would be complete with music, and the Newport Street Festival always serves a wonderful variety guaranteed to get your body moving to the sweet beats and lively melodies. This year’s lineup includes: Stone Mountain Band, Southern Addiction Band, Mikki Norwood Band, as well as soothing harmonies by Classical Strings. Energetic dance numbers by talented local youth from Max Movement Dance and Fitness will also be showcased. On Sunday, start your morning off with a Sunday service by Bridgeport Freewill Baptist Church, everyone is invited to attend.

Make sure to see all the lovely ladies and babies that come to compete to be 2023’s Harvest Queen in their appropriate age division. Children up to 16 years of age will compete in pageants according to their age bracket. The ever-popular Miss Newport Harvest Festival, for females ages 16-21 years old, will be the last pageant of the day. All pageants will be on the Broadway side of the Courthouse lawn on Saturday at 10:30 am.

The Newport Harvest Street Festival is a testament to the enduring spirit of close-knit community and the power of Appalachia traditions. It’s a place where locals and visitors alike come to relive old memories and create new ones, where the past and present seamlessly merge in a celebration of life in Cocke County.

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Honoring Cocke County’s Century Farms Highlights TN Agricultural Heritage

As part of the festivities celebrating the Cocke County Fair‘s diamond jubilee this month, an appreciation event is scheduled Aug. 19 to honor local families whose farms have been in continued operation for many generations.

“Century Farms” are an essential part of the Tennessee Heritage Farms Program. Administered by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University, the program recognizes and works to conserve farms that have remained in the same family and in continuous agriculture production for 100 years or more.

About 2,100 such farms have been certified across the Volunteer State — a dozen of them in Cocke County:

  • Baxter Farm, 1875
  • Bible Farm, 1887
  • Dwight L. Bundy Farm, 1907
  • Heritage Farms, 1849
  • Jim and Alice Freeman Gulf Farm, 1910
  • Leibrock Farm, 1886
  • M.G. Roberts Poplar Tree Farm, 1859
  • Neas Farm, 1885
  • Oakleaf Farm, 1902
  • Ottinger Farm, 1894
  • Pitts Farm, 1897

River Dale Farm, established in 1794, is also a designated Pioneer Century Farm, meaning that its operation dates back to the founding of the State of Tennessee in 1796 or before.

“Despite drought, floods, the Civil War and the Great Depression, these families have remained tillers of the soil, persevering where others have failed,” wrote state historian Carroll Van West in his 1986 book, “Tennessee Agriculture: A Century Farms Perspective.”

The Tennessee Heritage Farms Program plays a crucial role in preserving rural culture and regional identity – especially in small, mostly-rural counties like Cocke. The program provides educational resources and extension outreach to farm families and the general public, raising awareness of the importance of keeping Tennessee’s agricultural heritage well tended.

The program helps encourage and promote a sense of community pride among the farm families, local historical societies, county extension offices, student groups, city and county governments, and other stakeholder individuals and organizations interested in conserving Tennessee’s countryside and maintaining authentic connections to our cultural roots.

The Heritage Farms Program also aims to promote economic development in rural areas by highlighting the importance of agriculture to the state’s overall economy. Historic farms often attract visitors and tourists who not only appreciate the beauty of the pastoral landscapes, but admire the character, persistence and resourcefulness of Tennesseans who make their livelihoods as producers of civilization’s sustenance.

Given the range of continuing challenges facing today’s farmers, words that Van West penned more than three and a half decades ago — in the midst of the 1980s American Farm Crisis — take on even greater import today: “In a time of agricultural crisis, the legacy of the Century Farmers is a potent reminder that farmers in the past have survived similar hard times to prosper in the future.”

 

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Local Lure Company Angling for Big Bites

Growing up on Douglas Lake, angler and business owner, Hobie Rice knows a thing or two about fishing lures.    The sport of angling is about so many variables- skill, equipment, fish, and weather.

A lure is as essential as the bait for fish. The first lures were brought to this country by the English settlers.  The lure replaced live bait by mimicking the  “action” of live bait, whether the lure mimics a deep dive, zig-zags, or floats near the surface.  There are dozens of types  and colors of lures to choose from.

At Ledge Hog Fishing Supply in Dandridge, TN, they have reengineered the blade lure for fishing a multiple depths. This is a lure that is popular with professional anglers for its ability to attract trophy size fish.

In May, Cocke County Tourism and Brad Wiegmann from the Fishing Guide Podcast had an opportunity to sit down with Hobie and talk about Douglas Lake fishing and other attractions in Cocke County.  Listen in and get a few “tips” on fishing for the big bite.

If you are heading to Douglas Lake for a fishing trip, stop by Bucks an’ Bass to pick up a Ledge Hog lure.   Find a place to stay here.

 

 

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The Legend of the Moon Pie- A Campfire Story

Summer’s sticky sweetness is often celebrated around a blazing campfire with the delicious making of  the confection called ‘smores and the storytelling of tall tales and folk legends.

Here on the Adventure Side of the Smokies, the legend of the Moon Pie is a story worth telling.

Marshmallows and graham crackers are the stuff legends are made of. Near one of the entrances to the sprawling Union Cemetery in Newport, you’ll find the grave of Earl Mitchell, a salesman for the Chattanooga Bakery and the force behind the Moon Pie.  Mitchell was born in nearby Greene County and his travel route brought him to towns in East Tennessee and Kentucky.

According to the company website, Mitchell got the idea for the Moon Pie  after a conversation with a Kentucky Coal miner in 1917.  The miner wanted a snack “as big as the moon” and Mitchell delivered with a snack that would fit in a lunch pail.   A small marker at the foot of Mitchell’s grave gives him credit for “inventing” the Moon Pie.  Quite often folks will leave a Moon Pie and an RC cola at the foot of his grave

Which gooey confection of graham crackers, marshmallow, and chocolate came first?  The Moon Pie was being sold by 1917, and has been continuously produced for over one hundred years.

Legend has it that roasting marshmallows began as early as 1890.  The first recipe for ‘smores appeared as a recipe in a Girl Scout handbook in 1927.

It seems that the irresistible  combination of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham crackers have continued to be a sweet treat for many generations.

Contributed by Clayton Hensley, #knoxroadtripper

 

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Stop in Hartford and Start a Journey into Cocke County’s Recreation Heartland

Welcome to Your Wild & Woolly Destination for Wilderness, Whitewater & Open-Air Wonderment

Exit 447 along I-40 about 14 miles south of Newport doesn’t really look like much on a map. But this wide spot in the road just five miles from the TN-NC state line is brimming with all manner of nature-based activities to please outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Hartford, Tennessee has become a magnet for adventure seekers. It offers a range of sensory stimulation suggestions that’ll ignite your spirit of exploration and set you on a course for seeking more of everything the waters, woods and wild landscapes of Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains have to offer.

With genuine hospitality and an eagerness to please those with a predilection for embarking on outdoor excursions, Hartford invites visitors to embrace an escape into the wonders that abound in the mountains and valleys all around.

Hiking: Backpackers and day trekkers can go trail stepping along countless footpaths and arboreal alleyways that wind through primeval forests and past falling water, leading to an abundance of awe-inspiring vistas and innumerable hidden treasures of nature.  Want to get your feet on the Appalachian Trail?  You can do that in Hartford.

Rafting: The Pigeon River, with its roiling freestone currents and rough-and-tumble rapids, promises to swamp you with invigoration. Trip Advisor recently featured the Volunteer State’s most adrenaline churning river-running put-in points, and Hartford topped the list. For that matter, it’s regarded as one of the most praiseworthy whitewater joyride jumping off spots in America, if not worldwide. Expert guides navigate you through Class III and IV rapids, ensuring a delightfully soggy but assuredly safe experience.

Ziplining: The 37753 zip code offers the kind of thrill-filled airborne escapade you’d normally associate with an amusement park. But on this ride, you can experience the weightless sensation of flight while immersed in nature’s wonders. Get familiar with a bird’s eye perspective on the landscape below as you soar through the tall temperate rainforest canopy, suspended by a harness from which you will be held safe and harmless.

Fishing: Sink a line in the pristine rivers and many gurgling high mountain creeks surrounding Hartford. A variety of gamefish species inhabit these scenic waters, providing ample hook-setting opportunities for action-seeking anglers. Lay back and reconnect with nature as you lazily await a twitch of the rod tip. Or get hyper-focused and hone your fly casting skills as you try to entice a hungry trout or bass to burst the surface and slurp up a hand-tied bug you’ve pitched into the strike zone.

Biking: Strap on your helmet, mount your trusty steel-and-titanium steed, and pedal into an exhilarating network of bike trails  and more planned for in the backwoods forest service roads around Hartford. From mellow slow-roll meandering to intensely sheer gravity-fueled down-mountain descents, Hartford’s rugged terrain beckons mountain biking enthusiasts of all skill and age levels.

So whether you’re looking for a chill weekend getaway or a thrill-charged vacation of a lifetime, the endless opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, rafting, zip lining, and mountain biking make Hartford a gateway where exhilaration and rejuvenation are always available in a heartbeat.

Discover your next adventure here.

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Play it Safe on the Waters

The Adventure Side of the Smokies is a veritable outdoor waterpark for paddlers, float trips, kayak fishing, and swimming, all surrounded by some of Mother Nature’s most beautiful mountains and forests in the southeast.

During this week of National Water Safety,  we want to remind you to play it safe on our waters.  Each of the rivers offers a different experience, but also different risks.

The Pigeon River is known for its exhilarating whitewater, but the inherent danger comes from the rapids and  the rocks.

In the spring, the French Broad can vary in depth and current from rains and extreme weather. Popular for float fishing and backpack paddling, the level of the river and weather conditions are your best guides before entering the river.

The Nolichucky can also vary in water flow and depth. Flooding rains upriver, will create hazardous conditions downriver.

Never enter the water without wearing a personal floatation device (PFD).   Even strong swimmers can get caught in a current on the rivers.   When the water is high, eddies can form from submerged rocks and trees.  Make sure the PFD is sized properly for both adults and for children.  PFDs can be purchased locally at most large box retailers in the area if you have forgotten to bring on.

Come play, but play it safe in and around our rivers and lake.

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Down by the River- 2024 Rhythm on the River Summer Concert Series in Newport Kicks off May 30

Ten Years of Rhythm on the River

After a day of play, come enjoy the outdoor summer concert series held at River Walk along the Pigeon River in downtown Newport beginning on May 30.  The event is free.  Each concert runs from 7- 9 pm.

The series continues on Thursdays- June 13 and 27, and July 11 and 25.

Concessions are available from 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm.  Festival seating, so bring a chair or blanket for an evening of music and absorb the history of this  river community which dates back to 1783.

See the concert schedule here.

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The 3 Rivers of the Adventure Side of the Smokies

The three rivers of Cocke County are destinations for exciting recreational adventures on the Adventure Side of the Smokies.  The history of these rivers shaped the past and are now shaping the future of recreation in Cocke County.

The Pigeon River is synonymous with some of the best white water rafting in the southeast. The river extends 70 miles, beginning  in the mountains of North Carolina, flowing northwest into Tennessee.  The river is impounded at Walter’s Dam in Waterville.  It is the scheduled dam releases that create the exciting white water rafting between Waterville and the take-out in Hartford TN. The lower end of the Pigeon continues to the confluence of the French Broad in Newport, TN.

The 216 mile French Broad River also begins in North Carolina and serves as a drainage basin for the both the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests.  When the river enters Cocke County, it flows along the East Tennessee Crossing National Scenic Byway before entering the Holston River.  The river is known for spring time rafting and kayaking when the water is running high, and both fishermen who bank and float fish.  All thirty three (33 miles) of the river flowing in Cocke County were designated as a state scenic river.  Read more about the scenic portion of the river from local paddler and birder, Michael S, here.  ling

The Nolichucky River runs 115 miles from the highest mountains in eastern North Carolina and Tennessee until it reaches Cocke County creating the upper basin of Douglas Lake.  The river serves to create a county border with Hamblen County.   This area and the adjacent Rankin Bottom WMA is known for birdwatching, and when the lake begins to fill in the spring, locals know that the fishing is excellent.

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Vacation in the Smokies- Your Planning Starts Here

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US, but did you know that the national forests and public lands surrounding GSMP offer an abundance of trails, waterfalls, camping, and pet-friendly options away from the more crowded trails and heavy traffic on the roads?  Planning your vacation?  Start here in the Gateway to the Smokies.

Your journey begins with the drive.   For visitors traveling the south and from the east, consider taking a different route to avoid congested roads and the many traffic lights.

Sitting in the shadow of the national park are two affordable destinations – Newport and Cosby- for your Smokies vacation.

Which are Gateway Exits?

From I 40, make exits 443 (Foothills Parkway), 440 (Wilton Springs), and 435 (Newport, SR321) as your Gateway to the Smokies exits.

Exit 432 needs to be your preferred exit for staying on Douglas Lake and day tripping to your favorite attractions.

When you stay away from the more expensive portions of the Smokies, your vacation will be more relaxing and more affordable.  Plus, you are were you will find funky small shops, uncrowded trails, and those mom and pop restaurants that make vacations fun. Parking will not be a worry.

Here are some of our favorite lodging choices to make your basecamp:

Holiday Inn and Suites Express and Hampton Inn are two branded chains in Newport.  Depending on the dates of your travel, prices can range from $125 to $180.

If you are bringing your pet, consider the Econo Lodge off exit 440.  You will be close to the GSMP, Cherokee National Forest, Douglas Lake, plus an outdoor pool after a day of adventure.  Your pet is welcome on the trails of the National Forest and the Martha Sundquist State Forest.   One exit up is Hartford, with some great BBQ dining along the Pigeon River.

Camping- New this year is Roamstead.  Not only are there traditional campsites, but you can book a cabin or a yurt.  Prefer a place along the river?  Check out Pigeon River Camping.  There are options for RVs, tents, and small cabins.

Cabins- If you are looking for that special place with cozy cabins, crackling campfires, and star filled skies, look no further than Creekwood Inn at Whisper Wood Farms.  Not only is their onsite dining, but the Inn will prepare a picnic basket for your day on the trails.

To see more, click here Come see why we call this I40 corridor the “Gateway to the Smokies.”

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Packrafting the French Broad River – 2 Day Paddle Adventure

The mud from the crudely cut road flew into the air on either side of the SUV. We were slowly making our way parallel to the French Broad River on a prime piece of property being developed into a campground. The goal was to get on the river close to the Tennessee/North Carolina border but the road was presenting an early and unexpected challenge. The last thing we wanted was to get stuck and have to walk all our gear to the put-in. Luckily, the road was just cooperative enough to allow us through.

The owner of the land was gracious to let us access the river for what was to be a two-day pack rafting trip. We crept down the road for two miles, passing old fishing shacks that may or may not still be in use. Finally, the road abruptly ended at a small beach on the water. We quickly unloaded and began inflating our rafts.

For this mini adventure, I’d brought along my friend and expert paddler, Bobby Johnson. Bobby is one of the best endurance paddlers in the world, having won numerous long-distance races. This trip would be both of our first times in a packraft though, so we both went into the experience with plenty of unknowns.

As we began the process of inflating our rafts and compiling our gear, I found myself staring out across the river to the mountains partially shrouded in fog. Even before getting on the water, we were already in a beautiful setting that would be tough to beat. Instantly, it felt like we were the only people around for miles and miles, and this adventure was going to be special.

We pushed our rafts off the beach and within less than a minute we were bouncing over small shoals. Other than the river in front of us, all we could see were the misty mountains rising sharply on either side. It felt both otherworldly and uniquely East Tennessee.

The plan was to divide the 21-mile trip into two days, giving ourselves the opportunity to enjoy our surroundings at a pace barely faster than the river would carry us. The end destination was a take-out spot near Newport, a town built on moonshine distilling and ripe as a potential hub for outdoor recreation.

The beauty of packrafting this section of the French Broad is that every bump and ripple is magnified. You don’t need Class 2 and 3 rapids to feel like you’re having a whitewater adventure in these boats. We were treated to some easy rapids throughout the first day, which gave us plenty of time to get used to how the rafts operated in the water.

High above us, a variety of birds made the trees lining the river their home. I counted no less than 20 bald eagles during the entire trip and each sighting was as special as the last. When the river would flatten out, I would grab my phone from its dry case and attempt to get video of the eagles in flight overhead. The river would spin the boat around in slow circles as I focused on these majestic creatures.

We had a predetermined stop about halfway through the trip at the Bobarosa Saloon. This gritty bar and restaurant next to the river is a biker’s paradise. We had heard that the food was really good and that was enough to convince us to stop. Less than 200 yards from our destination though was a rather large rapid, easily the largest so far of the trip. The roar ahead of us from the water crashing against itself was slightly anxiety-inducing but the thought of a burger and opportunity to dry off was enough to push us through. Steering to the right side, Bobby hit the rapid at a perfect angle, showing me the way through. The packraft easily absorbed the impact from the rapid and he was quickly through and paddling up to the restaurant. It was the perfect final exciting moment for our first day of paddling.

Day 2 began with temperatures in the low 50s and darker skies. After staying overnight next to the saloon, we slowly pulled on still-wet clothing and walked to the river’s edge. Less than 20 yards from the put-in we could see the first rapid of the day. It didn’t appear to be too challenging from a distance as we pushed our rafts off the shore. Immediately, our initial assessment of the rapid was proven wrong. What we hadn’t seen was a second set of rapids around a slight bend that were much bigger. Before we knew it, we hit them head on, water shooting over the front of the raft and completely soaking both of us. It was the perfect way to immediately wake up and prepare us for what was ahead that day.

After a quick stop to dump out the water in our rafts, we restarted our adventure. The first day had been a fairly easy, relaxed paddle. Today was going to be a bit more action-packed. The rapids were more frequent and slightly bigger now. The rafts handled each one quite well but it took some skill to keep them going straight with each encounter. The river current seemed to always want to pull us somewhere we didn’t want to go, forcing us to paddle harder and faster in order to hit the right line.

Sometime after an hour or so of continuous bumping over shoals, the river flattened out and we were treated to high cliff walls on one side and farmland on the other. It was a stark contrast between shores. With calmer waters, the silence all around was suddenly more obvious. It would only be a brief quiet though.

Throughout this area of the country, cryptozoology is all the rage. If you’re not familiar, this is the study of the legendary creatures that have graced the covers of tabloids for decades—the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch, likely the most famous. Bigfoot stickers cling to countless cars and every gift shop offers t-shirts and trinkets in honor to these creatures. Sightings have been reported for years and years in the area. It’s easy to dismiss these things as just another tourist item and an attempt to make it something uniquely Appalachian.

Our tranquil moment in this section was abruptly broken by a sound that can only be described as something between a shout and a growl. We had just floated past a small section of trees between two high cliff walls. Though we had joked about a potential run-in with Sasquatch a couple of times earlier, this suddenly felt less humorous. As is the nature of a flowing river, we were well beyond the source of the sound before we could fully digest what we had heard. Could it have been the legendary creature? We would never know.

The current was progressively slowing as the area around us became more flat and houses became more abundant. Before we knew it, we were at our takeout next to a historic bridge and the journey was over. Soaked to the bone, we pulled the rafts from the water and began the process of deflating and finding our dry clothing. We retrieved the car we had dropped off a few days before near the takeout spot and began driving back to my SUV deep in the woods.

Twenty-one miles down the French Broad River had been the ideal introduction into packrafting. But more importantly, it was the perfect way to see Cocke County, TN in a way that few others have. From the natural to the supernatural, this water adventure had everything you could want in a weekend in the outdoors.

Greg Wingo is the owner of ROAM Projects, an outdoor recreation consulting company. He is the race director for Great Alabama 650, the longest annual paddle race in the world.

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