Fall Fest: the gift that keeps on giving

Betsy PickleOur Town Outdoors

It’s typical that the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club isn’t making a big deal out of its 10th annual Fall Fest, taking place on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Baker Creek Preserve. No pats on the back. No grand celebration.

“It’s not anything out of the ordinary,” says AMBC president Wes Soward. “It’s the same premise as we’ve had in the past.”

Well, there is one thing they’d like to see change. At the monthly AMBC meeting this past Monday at South Coast Pizza, there was discussion of recruiting more members. The roster stands at 333. Speaking after the meeting, Soward said, “I’d love to get another 70ish members by the end of the weekend.”

Hitting 400 would be a nice trophy for the 10th annual fest.

Fall Fest – being held at Baker Creek Preserve for the fourth year – is many things. It’s a gift to cyclists and non-cyclists; to members and nonmembers; to South Knoxville neighbors who live around the Urban Wilderness as well as the city at large; and to enthusiasts from other parts of Tennessee and even adjoining states. It’s a display of all the fun of mountain biking and a paradise of demos by numerous bike vendors. It’s a chance to enjoy a silent disco and hear some great music free. News broke this week that the popular group The Pinklets will perform at 7 p.m.

And there’s a chili supper that’s free and open to all, starting at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s not just for members,” says Soward. “We estimated last year we probably had about 1,500 people, so that’s about five times our membership. It’s a community event. We welcome anybody that wants to come.

“You don’t have to be a bicyclist to come enjoy it. It’s just a good time to come out and socialize, and you might find something at the silent auction that you want. You might win a bike and become a mountain biker!”

Soward says getting into mountain biking is easier than ever.

“There’s a lot of opportunity now to connect to people that are willing to help you and people that may be also in the same situation where they’re trying to learn, they’re trying to develop skills or are interested in learning about it. It’s a pretty inviting community. It’s not a competitive group.”

At its heart, Fall Fest is a fundraiser for a nonprofit that thrives on giving back to the community. AMBC members not only ride trails throughout the Urban Wilderness in South Knoxville, around Knox County and beyond, they also maintain and build them. Many of the trails they service benefit multiple types of users.

“It’s the biggest fundraiser we have,” says Soward. “We have a bunch of different fundraisers and efforts to raise money through the year, but this is the biggest single source of income that we have.”

The money doesn’t just sit in an account somewhere.

“Pretty much all the money that we raise goes straight into trail work,” Soward says. “There’s not much administrative costs that come out of that. It’s pretty much all trail projects and materials and paying for professional trail builders to come in and do work and things like that.

“We don’t have any staff. It’s all managed by volunteers.”

There’s no admission charge to Fall Fest, but there are many ways members and the general public can help AMBC’s fundraiser. One of the most popular is simply drinking beer. Beer sales start at noon, and all proceeds go to AMBC.

“We’ll have multiple breweries (participating) – Yee-Haw, Albright Grove, Balter, Elkmont – so they’re all local breweries that are going to provide beer throughout the day.”

This year, in an effort to minimize the impact on the environment, AMBC is selling commemorative mugs, which beer drinkers can use throughout the day and then take home.

There will also be “beer gardens” for the first time.

“We’ll have a couple of tents set up around the beer-serving area where you can hang out and talk to your friends if you’re not riding bikes or talking to somebody at the bike show,” says Soward.

Another part of the revenue stream is a raffle for a bike provided by Ibis and Harper’s. The raffle has evolved from a one-price/one-ticket model to multiple-ticket options for higher prices. “It’s more attractive to buy a larger number of tickets,” Soward says. “You can spend more money and get a bunch of tickets, so you have more chances to win.”

A silent auction offers stuff that cyclists will love, but there are also many items of general interest, such as a behind-the-scenes tour of Zoo Knoxville, getaways to remote, natural resorts, handcrafted local items and artwork.

The club also gets income from member dues and from donations.

This year’s fest will have a slightly different layout than in years past due to construction to upgrade Baker Creek Preserve and connect it to the new Urban Wilderness Gateway Park. Unfortunately, that means the kids’ pump track at Baker Creek Preserve will be unavailable.

The event site will use Sevier Heights Road and the parking area adjacent to Baker Creek Bottoms (the old Sevier Heights Baptist Church). Parking will be at South-Doyle Middle School and in the triangular lot bounded by Sevier Heights Road, Lancaster Drive and Wallace Drive.

Sevier Heights Road will be the only street closed. Soward says the festival should have a minimal impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

“There will be a heavier volume of traffic over there on Saturday, but other than that it shouldn’t impact anyone,” he says. “There’ll be more noise than normal until about 10 o’clock (when the silent disco starts), and then it’ll be quiet.”

Soward advises attendees to dress for the chilly weather, but there will be heating resources on site.

Even without fanfare, Soward thinks Fall Fest is pretty special.

“I just think it’s really cool to see that many people come out to support what we’ve been doing over the years. For me, that’s probably the best thing. It’s a big celebration of all the accomplishments that everybody’s put some blood, sweat and tears into over the years.”

Find more details on Fall Fest and other outdoor activities in the Outdoor Knoxville calendar.

Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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