The annual Go Outside Festival in Roanoke is moving to a temporary new location this month, even while expecting another record year for attendance.
For its first eight incarnations, GO Fest made the city’s River’s Edge North park on Reserve Avenue its home. But that site is under construction right now as the ball fields are upgraded and lights and improved parking are installed.
So GO Fest, which drew more than 37,000 visitors last year, is set to bivouac on the other side of the Roanoke River, in River’s Edge South, from Oct. 18-20. That means some challenges and some changes.
“One of the hard things for this year is it’ll be the biggest yet, and it’ll be completely new from a logistical standpoint,” said Patrick Boas, who organizes the festival for the city’s parks and recreation department. The festival is a joint effort with the nonprofit Roanoke Outdoors Foundation.
For visitors, who could perhaps total 40,000 or more, the biggest questions are parking and access.
The Carilion Clinic garage off Reserve Avenue, north of the Roanoke River, remains the primary parking area. Visitors will have to walk across the former festival site along a fenced path and cross the river on the footbridge, Boas said.
The site also can be reached from Evans Mill Road via the pedestrian tunnel beneath the railroad tracks on the south side of the park, or via Wiley Drive. Wiley Drive will be closed to through traffic, Boas said.
Boas encouraged attendees to consider getting to GO Fest on foot, by bike, or a ride service to reduce congestion. Getting there in an active way is part of the getting outside experience, he said.
This year’s site, hemmed in by the river and railroad tracks, presents some logistical challenges, Boas said. Getting trucks and equipment into the area for set up is impossible from the end of Wiley Drive that passes under a low train trestle, for example.
And water to fill the various event venues and exhibits must be piped 2,000 feet from a fire hydrant on Franklin Road.
But the site is bigger than the usual venue, Boas said, and it has lighting on site so no lights will have to be brought in and powered by generators.
There’s also some new stuff — first and foremost an “Adventure Gym.”
Boas described it as a version of the obstacle courses on the “American Ninja Warrior” television show.
There’s an oyster roast. Souvenir cups this year will be made by Hydro Flask, a popular brand of hydration equipment.
Hassle-free camping, or “glamping,” packages this year will include a high-end cooler made by OtterBox, the maker of popular mobile phone cases.
Campsites will be available on the baseball/softball fields at the eastern end of the park.
And other favorite attractions and exhibits will be back, including outdoor products and services vendors, live music, food trucks, beer vendors, dog jumping competitions, lumberjack shows, BMX stunt shows, fly-fishing instruction, a demo pool for kayaks and paddleboards and the silent disco, a crowd favorite.
The event remains free, and Boas said the goal is to keep it that way.
Although the city is the main organizer, no taxpayer funds beyond employee wages go into the event, he said. It’s entirely self-funded by sponsorships and fees paid by vendors.
Over its history GO Fest has mostly been a break-even operation with the chief benefit of showcasing the Roanoke Valley as an outdoors destination, but the last two years it has generated revenue above its costs.
Any proceeds are divided into 25 percent shares each for the city parks and rec department, Roanoke Outside, the Blue Ridge Off-Road Cyclists organization (a major supporter of the festival) and the festival itself to help with startup costs for next year’s event.
According to the event website, money raised by GO Fest has been used for kayak launches, trail construction and bathrooms at Carvins Cove, among other things.
Boas, who has been involved with the festival from its inception, is pleased with the growth of GO Fest, but said it’s not just about getting bigger every year.
“We’ve hit our stride,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable with us plateauing now, and I think maintaining the integrity of the festival is key.”