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NoliFest celebrates paddling in Erwin

W. Kenneth Medley II • Updated Apr 19, 2019 at 10:02 PM

NoliFest 2019 kicked off Friday at USA Raft in Erwin, featuring whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing. The festival also features a gear swap, food trucks, crafts, outdoor education and much more.

The festival is the largest on the Nolichucky, according to Jack Nelson, Hala Gear representative and Stand Up Paddle board instructor. Nelson has been to every NoliFest, and looks forward to the added outdoor education component this year. He said the river is supposed to be “big” this weekend and that the event is more for paddlers but still has a great lineup for music.

“This year there is going to be a lot more things that are offered,” Nelson said. “Anybody that wants to come paddle can. There will be paddle boards, one-wheels, hiking trails, the NOLI (Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute) is going to teach people how to enjoy the outdoors in a safe way. It has grown from the idea of paddling with a bunch of people and having a good time to actually seeing education elements to the festival. The whole thing is to raise money for the Wild and Scenic designation of the river.”

There will be music every night of the festival on the new stage at USA Raft. The lineup includes Duchess of Burl, Doctor Ocular, Big Like the Ocean, Stateline Shoals and Brushfire Stankgrass.

Food trucks and vendors were set up and setting up Thursday before the festival, including the Caribbean Grill. Ray Ingersoll and Carol Veilleux of Free Bird Concessions were the early birds and ready for business. Ingersoll said that he is looking forward to the camaraderie, people and environment of NoliFest.

This is the vendor’s first time to NoliFest, but Ingersoll said they are excited after Sol Slam. He was on the river earlier in the day Thursday, but Veilleux jokingly said she and her husband were too old for that now.

“The river is awesome and the water is perfect right now,” Ingersoll said. “It is going to rain this weekend, but we have had rain showers before, and that is OK. I am anxious to see the gear swap. I haven’t seen that before. Looking forward to hearing the music too.”

Veilleux said that she is mainly looking forward to the music. She hopes to sell a lot of food, of course. The vendor made the trip up from Spartanburg, South Carolina. They heard about the festival from a niece who works at USA Raft.

First time festivalgoers were also present Thursday. Mason Daniel made a trip down from Fayetteville, West Virginia. He said he heard about the event while previously camping and rafting at USA Raft.

“I am hoping to meet a lot of new paddlers from the South area,” Daniel said. “We don’t come down to North Carolina or Tennessee much, so we are hoping to meet some people that want to come up to West Virginia and raft there.”

Daniel added that the river is very level-dependent but fun for everyone. It has excitement if that’s what you’re looking for, he said, but it seems safe enough for all.

Organizers said NoliFest is family- and pet-friendly but parking is tight, so they asked visitors to carpool as much as possible. The event kicks off Friday and runs all weekend.

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