Ready to hit the rivers, lakes and trails? Summer is here and it is the perfect time to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Outdoor enthusiasts looking for new places to explore as well as beginners wanting to get started can find all the resources needed at Smith River Fest on August 8. This annual festival is held the second Saturday of August each year at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton, Virginia from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both admission and parking are free at the event.
Smith River Fest began in 2008 as a celebration of the Smith River and the many recreational opportunities that it and surrounding public lands offer. The 45 mile long lower Smith River begins at the base of Philpott Dam and flows to its confluence with the Dan River in Eden, NC. Along the path are many opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, biking and nature observation that can be enjoyed year-round.
More than one hundred vendors and numerous events at the festival showcase those opportunities as well as offering the flavor of Southern Virginia through food, arts and crafts, music and family fun.
Highlighted events to participate in include the Smith River Race and the Helgramite Hustle Mud Run. The Smith River Raceoffers paddlers on kayak, canoe and stand up paddle board (SUP), the opportunity to challenge themselves in a timed race along a 4.8 mile course. Free river shuttles are offered from the festival grounds upstream to the South Martinsville River Access where this race begins. The finish line and take out are both at the festival so spectators can cheer on the boats.
Runners can challenge themselves mentally and physically along the 5K mud run course of the Helgramite Hustle. This event is named for the aquatic larvae of the dobsonfly that is native to the Smith River. The large aquatic larvae, called Helgramites are frequently used by fishermen as bait. They feed on aquatic insects for three years and then emerge to pupate on land. Once fully grown, the nocturnal flying insect can be as long as 5 inches and the male has sharp mandibles half as long as his body. Sound fierce enough? Make it to the end of the hustle’s 10 mud pits, slides, jumps and other obstacles and you too, might earn your jaws!
Registration for both races is available online at SmithRiverFest.com or racers can register on-site the day of the event. A rinse-off station and changing areas will be offered for the racers to clean up following their romp in the mud.
Guests to the festival wanting to learn more about outdoor recreation can experience a variety of hands-on activities. At the Kids Cycle Station, youth of all ages can borrow a bike and try their skills at a kid-friendly bicycle obstacle course. Teens and adults can also borrow bikes onsite from the YMCA’s Mobile Bike Barn and those wanting to take their skills to the next level can learn tips from members of the Henry County Bike Club.
The Smith River FestCasting Pool is another popular activity area. In this man-made 20’ x 50’ pool there are no fish but you’ll find lots of targets to aim at and challenge your casting skills. Members of Smith River Trout Unlimited will be on hand to teach fly rod casting and fishermen from the Patrick County High School Bass Fishing Team will teach bait casting techniques. While in that area browse boats available for sale and for rent from various boat stores, outfitters and guides. At the Smith River Trout Unlimited Booth, participants can also watch the artistry involved in transforming feathers, beads, thread, felt and other materials into beautiful, yet functional works of art. The hand-tied flies are what fly fishermen use to catch Rainbow and Brown trout on the Smith River.
Participants wanting to learn more about paddling can test out Liquid Logic kayaks and stand up paddleboards (SUP) during a free demo that morning offered by Smith River Outfitters. Martinsville Parks and Recreation will offer free canoe rides in the afternoon during the Smith River Experience and several regional outfitters and clubs will also lead guided trips. Free shuttles are offered throughout the day for paddlers that want to explore the river both upstream and downstream of the festival grounds on their own.
Guests to the festival looking for family fun can enjoy the Blue Ridge Duck Racewhere more than 8,000 yellow rubber ducks will be released into the river. Participants can adopt individual ducks or an entire flock and the duck that crosses the finish line first will win it’s adopted family $2,500! Proceeds from this event benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Blue Ridge.
Other family fun activities include bounce houses, inflatable slides and climbing walls. A petting zoo and pony rides will be offered, as well as a scavenger hunt and corn hole. Best of all, all these activities are free of charge! In the Nature Exploration Zone, children’s author Mary Clark Dalton will be on hand to share her books about butterflies and other exhibitors will offer a variety of nature-themed activities.
For those wanting to relax, enjoy time in the Hammock Village or browse the booths of local and regional artisans and businesses. A variety of Virginia craft brews and locally produced wines will also be for sale at the festival.
Throughout the day live entertainment will be offered at the Smith River Fest Victory Lane Stage, presented by Martinsville Speedway. At 9:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the staff of Woodchuck Woodcarvings will be giving demonstrations of chainsaw carving and creating unique works of art resembling native Virginia wildlife. At 1:00 p.m. the Southern Shine Band will take the stage to provide a variety of modern and classic country mixed with a little rock and a little blues music. In between performances, race fans are welcome to take photos in front of the iconic stage where NASCAR racing giants like Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon have stood to accept the famous Martinsville Speedway Grandfather Clock.
Whether you are interested in hiking, biking, running, paddling, cycling or fishing, there is truly something for every outdoor enthusiast at Smith River Fest. Come join the fun and discover your next new outdoor hobby!
Schedule of Events
ALL DAY - 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Vendor Booths Open
- Fly Casting Lessons
- Bait Casting Lessons
- Fly Tying Demos
- Mobile Bike Barn
- Kids Cycle Station
- Rock Climbing Wall
- Bounce House & Inflatable Slide
- Hammock Village
- Petting Zoo & Pony Rides
- Scavenger Hunt
9:00 - 11:00 a.m. B99 Super Country Live Remote
9:00 - 10:00 a.m. Liquid Logic Kayak and SUP Demos
9:45 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Chainsaw Carving Demo
10:00 a.m. Smith River Race
11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Beer Garden Open
1:00 p.m Blue Ridge Duck Race
1:00 p.m. Southern Shine Band
2:00 p.m. Helgramite Hustle 5K Mud Run
2:00 - 5:00 p.m. The Smith River Experience - Canoe Demos