Bring on the Games
The Alabama Mountain Games come to Blount County.
March 04, 2010
Should you find yourself experiencing a Winter Olympics hangover and yearning for more sports action, direct your attention to the upcoming Alabama Mountain Games, scheduled for March 18–21.
Begun in 2005 as the North Alabama Whitewater Festival (NAWFest), the Alabama Mountain Games will debut this year as an outdoor sports event that combines the original kayaking competitions with canoeing, wakeboarding, mountain biking, and rock climbing. As in previous years, some of the nation's premier professional athletes will be in attendance, and most of the events are designed to offer amateur enthusiasts a chance to tests their skills against their peers. The games and associated outdoor festival will be headquartered on 275 acres of lush rolling land at a site known as Boogie Bottoms (30 miles north of Birmingham; www.boogiebottoms.com), adjacent to the Locust Fork River, that can accommodate the large crowds expected for the four days of sports competition, music, food, camping, and children's activities.
In 2005, Gavin Rains went to friends David Livingston, Mark Travis, Keith Yell, and Jeremy Adkins with a dream to host a weekend of competitive kayak events on the Locust Fork River at a spot called King's Bend. Adkins had already achieved the status of world-class kayaker with professional sponsorships under his wing, and he wanted to create a major local event featuring some of the best talent in the sport. Ten weeks later, a group of 200 met for a long weekend of competition, adventure, and fun. The very first NAWFest was born.
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Tony Diliberto, one of the original participants and an avid weekend water warrior, remembers the first gathering. "We met in the woods on the bank of the river, invented a series of competitions that ranged from familiar kayaking contests such as rodeos and waterfall drops, to unrelated bizarre activities such as pugiling battles [which involved beating an opponent with padded sticks à la "American Gladiator"] and land kayak races [kayaking on dry land using hands instead of paddles]. It wasn't very structured but it was a lot of fun," he said. "When we weren't in the water we were playing music and camping. Word soon got out that this was a very cool event."
The following year, 700 people showed up. In 2007, organizers were swamped by more than 2,000 attendees, including a growing list of professionally sponsored athletes who brought the event newfound credibility. Eric Jackson, perhaps one of the premier kayakers in the country, arrived in his mobile home along with an entourage known as the Jackson Kayak Team. Future events were filled with a growing list of bands and an expanding configuration of extreme events, including Mount Khaos, a 50-foot tower built from scaffolding that allowed kayakers to shoot down a long ramp into the water.
After the 2009 event, it was apparent that NAWFest had outgrown itself. Adkins, who lives in Blount County near the Locust Fork River, began scouting the area for a new site. His blueprint was the annual Teva Mountain Games in Colorado, the largest event of its kind, which draws crowds of 50,000. It wasn't long before he stumbled across a sign directing him to an odd-sounding place called Boogie Bottoms. He soon found himself in a massive pasture adjacent to the Locust Fork River, a site that featured a large barn, cabins, campsites, concessions, and restrooms.
|The idea is to bring the most energetic and talented event and festival organizers together, to host a variety of interesting sports events, and to raise money and awareness for conservation efforts focused on the Alabama outdoors.|
Only months earlier, owner Marty Boatright had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop his land so it could host music festivals, special events, entertainment, and outdoor sports. He painted one side of the barn white and began showing movies on weekend evenings for a drive-in audience. During October, he converted the barn into a haunted house attraction. He also built a permanent stage for music festivals. The pasture reminded Adkins of the site used by the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. It hadn't taken him very long to find the perfect new home for the Alabama Mountain Games, and best of all, it was only five miles from the original site at King's Bend.
Rains and Adkins quickly teamed with his NAWFest organizers to plan the 2010 Alabama Mountain Games. "This is a breathtaking site and there are going to be many people that won't believe something like this exists so close to Birmingham," said Rains. "The idea is to bring the most energetic and talented event and festival organizers together, to host a variety of interesting sports events, and to raise money and awareness for conservation efforts focused on the Alabama outdoors. The new site will allow us to grow almost endlessly in size and attendance."
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Pieces quickly fell into place. The Alabama Cup canoe and kayak racing series, which features three events during February and March, moved their third event, the Locust Fork Whitewater Classic, to coincide with the Alabama Mountain Games. Organizers of Bouldergrass, a bouldering and homegrown music festival previously held at Horse Pens 40, have developed a climbing competition for the weekend. Local cycling enthusiasts were given permission to carve out seven miles of biking trails through the site; a series of mountain biking competitions are planned. A group known as the Upstream Wakeboard Team will host a series of competitions that use wires and winches positioned over the river to pull competitors upstream in a contest that looks similar to snowboarding. Canoeing will round out the main events for 2010. A few competitions, including kayak slalom racing, will remain at the King's Bend site, and the Boogie Bottoms location will be the official headquarters for all other events, a four-day music festival, and camping.
"Up to now we haven't made more than a few thousand dollars per year at best, most of which we have donated back to green charities," continued Rains. We want to grow the event so that we can support, in a substantial way, a wide variety of local organizations who contribute to the quality of outdoor life in our area. We also want to showcase Alabama as a destination for outdoor sports and put it on the map across the nation. Horse Pens 40 is already nationally recognized for bouldering and climbing. There are many other places near the Boogie Bottoms site that would make for fine sporting destinations, just as the Olympics spreads their sports across nearby locations." he said. "This could grow to be a very large event, ideal for tourism, much as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has made Alabama the talk of the golf community."
With 275 acres and a half-mile of frontage on the Locust Fork River, the Boogie Bottoms site will easily accommodate the Alabama Mountain Games and its ambitious weekend agenda. RV spaces and camp sites are available for overnight guests, as well as concessions and firewood. There will also be segregated quiet areas for families during the late-night hours.
Passes for the four-day event are $25. Daily passes are $15. Directions: From downtown Birmingham, travel 24 miles on I-65 north to the Hayden/Corner exit, number 284. Turn right on Alabama 160 and continue 12 miles. Turn right on County Road 13 (Locust Ford Road) and travel one mile. Turn left on Sherbert Road to find Boogie Bottoms.
For more information on the Alabama Mountain Games, visit www.alabamamountaingames.com. &
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"Like a Redneck YMCA"
Boogie Bottoms may be the best-kept secret in Alabama. The Boatright family would like to change that.
Located in what Marty Boatright describes as "the middle of nowhere in Blount County," Boogie Bottoms is an unusual entertainment facility located on 275 acres of scenic Alabama countryside adjacent to a large bend in the Locust Fork River.
"My father liked bluegrass music, so the original idea was to stage festivals here," says Boatright, one of the many family members of the clan that manages the site, which opened in May of 2009. A large, 40 x 30 foot covered stage, a permanent concession stand, and public restrooms represented hopes that large crowds would appear. That didn't happen.
One day Boatright ran across some movie projection equipment. That purchase dovetailed with another idea after the family built a three-story, 12,000 square-foot barn this past September and converted it into a haunted house called Barns of Horror. They painted the side of the barn white to create a 80 x 100 foot movie screen and began promoting drive-in movies.
"During October, you could take in the haunted house, then stretch out on the grass and watch horror movies," continues Boatright. The drive-in movie concept has been so successful that the family now shows first-run theatrical releases every Friday and Saturday night (as well as Sundays during the summer). The deal is quite a bargain. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children age 2–12. "People show up and fish for a while, then get a hamburger, then stretch out on a blanket in the grass. Kids can play in a big sand box, we have lots of tot toys, there are basketball goals and horseshoes. Some people pull up in their pick-up truck, back in, and sit in the back in La-Z-Boy recliner and couches. Our river frontage is the deepest part of the river, and it used to be the local swimming hole years ago. All in all, it's like a redneck YMCA," he adds.
The family is busy planning a variety of future events, including crawfish boils, motorcycle rallies, and a Native American heritage festival. The haunted house will be open during the Alabama Mountain Games, and the family is busy exploring new ideas and partnerships to stage as many events as possible in the months to come.
The Alabama Mountain Games will be the first high-profile event to showcase the property to an audience beyond Blount County, and the Boatrights hope their investment pays off. "This upcoming event may put us on the map. We hope people will come enjoy the weekend up here and see it for themselves."
275 Sherbert Road
Locust Fork, Alabama