August 11, 2013
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Leigh Ann Meadows and her son, Reiden Hylton, tried their hands at fly casting Saturday at the sixth annual Smith River Fest, the most well-attended yet.
“I enjoyed it. It’s harder than it looks,” Meadows said.
She and her son were among the approximately 2,200 to 2,400 people who attended the festival, according to Jennifer Doss, director of tourism for the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). Last year’s festival drew about 1,500 people, she said.
“It went off perfectly,” Doss added Saturday night.
Earlier in the day Meadows watched as Reiden, 11, tried fly casting. The instructor went out of his way to attach a strap to Reiden’s hand to help him hold the rod, she noted.
Reiden said he had fun fly casting, and the demonstration made him want to go fishing.
Casting demonstrations were among the many activities held during the fest at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton. In addition to a 4.8-mile River Race for canoes, kayaks and other boats and both a competitive and fun Helmgramite Hustle Mud Run, there were crafts, music, inflatables, booths with information and more.
Among the activities were performances by Boys and Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge Steel Drum Band, Triad Highlanders Bagpipe Band and Dr. Z & The Riff Raff; tree ID walk; beer garden (with longer hours); and free canoe rides for children.
Reiden said he enjoyed such things as the inflatable bungee run, in which a participant runs at full speed only to be pulled back by a large rubber band attached to his back; the climbing wall; and the dunking booth. To cool off, he sat on the seat and his mother threw a ball at a target to dunk him.
“We love the music. ... We slid on the (inflatable) slide,” said Meadows, of Martinsville. “The food is so good,” she added.
Charles and Heidi Speakman of Ridgeway brought their grandsons, Charlie Comer, 7, and Ridge Radtke, 6, to the festival. As they spoke, Charlie attempted to scale the climbing wall.
Charles Speakman said he was enjoying walking around, seeing the booths and hearing the music.
Virginia King of Martinsville said she came to see her daughter Cindy Edgerton of Fieldale compete in kayaking and granddaughter Grace Ann Edgerton compete in the mud run. King also planned to visit vendors and listen to music.
King said the festival provides activities for both local residents and out-of-town visitors.
Robin Smith of Martinsville, daughter Holly Borkert of Portsmouth and Holly’s daughters, Lila, 4, and Melody, 2, were waiting while Carl Smith (Robin’s husband) and a friend kayaked. Holly planned to compete in the 5K mud run and then take part in a family and fun mud run.
She said the girls also probably would visit the petting zoo.
“It’s a fun event,” Robin said.
Jim Adams, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, said the Smith River Fest is a good opportunity for people to get outside and enjoy the activities and vendors. He said a lot of work went into organizing the event, and he praised the organizers.
Doss said the parks and recreation departments of Henry County and Martinsville, MHC tourism division under the umbrella of the EDC, the Smith River Sports Complex, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge, Dan River Basin Association and Activate MHC organized the event. It was a year-long effort, she said.
Doss estimated more than 50 volunteers were involved and more are needed for next year.
“I’m thrilled,” she said of this year’s festival, which was scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The number of vendors was three times that of last year, she said.
Doss said the festival attracts people from throughout the region and beyond. She talked with one resident of Pennsylvania.
She said outdoor recreation and tourism are a fast-growing sector.
According to visitmartinsville.com, the festival is a celebration of all things associated with the Smith River: paddling, hiking, biking, fishing and nature watching.
“(Forty-five) miles of scenic river flow through our community from the base of Philpott Dam down to Eden, North Carolina where it meets the Dan River. Alongside the river and throughout Martinsville & Henry County are nearly 20 miles of shared-use trails that make up the Smith River Trail System,” the website states.
It adds that the Smith River ranges from calm floats to class I/II rapids.
Andy Parker of Collinsville and his son Drew were safety boaters at the festival, offering help if needed at the rapids.
Over the years, the festival has “grown exponentially,” Andy Parker said.
Doss said organizers seek people’s input about the festival to help make it better. She encourages people to comment by visiting https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SmithRiverFest.
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