Rivers, Trails and Ales kicks off tonight

File Photo Part of the weekend Rivers, Trails & Ales Festival includes a lock paddle from Lowell to Marietta.

MARIETTA — For the eighth year, Marietta is once again to host the Rivers, Trails and Ales festival downtown with excursions north to Lowell and south to Veto Lake.

The festival began to highlight the many outdoor recreation assets in the Mid-Ohio Valley, but what once was a few organized group rides, runs, paddles and hikes has grown into a full-blown festival Marietta is known for in the outdoor community.

“What’s exciting to me is seeing the community come together and seeing faces new and old,” said A.J. Ligas, who has participated in the event for seven years and been a volunteer for five. “I’ve talked with people from Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and southern West Virginia that have all participated and it’s pretty amazing how far people have come. Some drop in after being in town for something else but realize what’s going on and drop in. Others are actually coming in just for the festival.”

The weekend festivities begin this evening with a jam session at Gun Lock Park, behind Lowe’s, with mountain bikers hitting the pump track and beginner trails before heading to the Marietta Brewing Company for a kick-off party and The Adelphia for live music.

Then the rest of the weekend hits full swing with yoga, hikes, group rides and paddles beginning Friday morning.

“I hope folks of all ages, all fitness levels feel comfortable coming and enjoying these free events,” said festival director Eric Dowler. “We have beginner rides, introductions to trail running as well as more experienced and longer runs and rides. There’s really something for everyone–that includes families too. I have a 2-year-old daughter and we’ve partnered Just-A-Jar with Peddler of Dreams downtown to provide kids events, it’s family first and kid safe.”

New to the eventful weekend are attractions like Paddle with a Doc and a handcycling demonstration.

“Though really our biggest change is this year we have moved our headquarters from the Armory lawn to East Muskingum Park,” Dowler explained. “That’s due to the demand for more and bigger events like doubling our yoga offerings and expanding the obstacles for children’s events. Also, we’re having the outdoor beer fest this year.”

The beer fest, he explained, will feature 13 regional breweries setting up shop for tastings in the park on Saturday accompanied by four food trucks, games and live music.

“This is a nine-month project with partnerships with restaurants, the city, corporate sponsors and more than 100 volunteers and really the key is to showcase what’s available here all year long,” said Dowler. “We are a snapshot of what someone can venture out and go do on any given day. Just being outside and enjoying people, it makes you feel like a kid again.”

One of the favorite family-friendly activities that’s making a comeback this year is the Gnome Hike, which will now be held twice, both Friday and Sunday.

“The kids love that you can run around the Kroger Wetlands in search of gnomes to take selfies with,” added Dowler. “And there will also be coloring books and other games to be found in there too.”