Huckleberry Finn briefly escaped civilized life and took in the wide world of the Mississippi River from a square, wooden raft.
This spring, Chattanoogans have a chance to live out the same wild adventure and take in Chattanooga from the water in The Floatila, Chattanooga’s community float down the Tennessee River, on Saturday, May 18.
When: Saturday, May 18, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Rivermont Park to Coolidge Park
How much: $20 per participant for early registration, $30 per participant the day of, $50 to rent a raft
The event, hosted by GreenSpaces and Outdoor Adventure Rafting, is less of a sprint to the finish line and more of a leisurely crawl down the river, less of a contest of athleticism and more of a creative avenue to appreciation of the outdoors.
Teams or individuals will build and launch their own watercrafts and float from Rivermont Park to Ross’s Landing.
“People will be able to see Chattanooga from a completely different perspective,” said Rob Paden, owner of Outdoor Adventure Rafting. “Everyone gets on the Riverfront, but how many people have actually seen Chattanooga from the water? It’s a really beautiful perspective of Chattanooga. The water is a neat place to be, and it’s a unique thing to have in a city like this.”
Chattanooga by water
Paden first dreamed up the friendly float down the Tennessee River during a conversation with The ‘Nooga co-founder Mark Song.
The two originally wanted to launch a more low-key river journey during last year’s RiverRocks to build out the program with an event that wasn’t stacked with athletes drawn to the Scenic City for the competition.
Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out, so Paden and Song went back to the drawing board and came up with the perfect way to kick off the summer.
Paden explained that The Floatila gives everyone the chance to explore a familiar city for a striking view while also meeting other Chattanoogans, connecting to the outdoors in a participatory manner and spending a Saturday supporting a local organization.
This is not the city’s first foray into a float event. Paden discovered in his own pre-Floatila research that Chattanooga was home to a raft race in the mid- to late 1970s that was itself a take off the Ramblin’ Raft Race on the Chattahoochee River. The Atlanta-area race marked Memorial Day annually from 1969 to 1980.
“The race on the Chattahoochee River kept getting bigger and bigger every year,” Paden said. “Apparently, by the last year, there were 300,000 rafters, and you could walk on rafts for almost a mile and never touch the river.”
More than two decades later, Paden, Song and GreenSpaces thought it was time to revive the tradition. Proceeds from the event will go toward the Southside organization. The Floatila is also scheduled to wrap up around the same time as Beer Over Dirt, the Renaissance Park concert to benefit the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy.
“We’re hoping to make this an every-year thing,” said Rosemary Hunerwadel, event and social media coordinator at GreenSpaces.
The nuts and bolts
What counts as a float? Anything and everything.
In the spirit of the event, The Floatila’s website defines an acceptable watercraft as an “inner tube, raft, kayak, make-your-own-vessel” and a canoe.
Floaters can reserve an eight-person raft from Outdoor Adventure Rafting, go the opposite direction and build a raft from repurposed materials or even borrow a boat from a friend.
GreenSpaces plans to host two build days, which are yet to be firmly scheduled. Event partner American Institute of Architects Chattanooga will be on hand to provide expertise in the how-tos of structural stability.
Participants will also get a chance to put the final touches on their floats the day of the race. Boats will put in at Rivermont Park at noon, mosey on down the Tennessee River for three to four hours and come to dock at Coolidge Park.
Each floater must wear a life jacket, and each vessel must have a paddle or a manually powered device, as well as a flag.
Once ashore, participants will gather at Outdoor Chattanooga for Urban Stack food, Big River beer, live music and an awards ceremony.
The categories include best-themed boat, best costume, best flag, best-built boat made from repurposed materials and most challenged boat.
Paden said the cream of the crop will be the best overall boat award, honored with a cream-of-the-crop trophy: a gold-painted flip-flop, in addition to bragging rights for a full year.
“We want to bring people outside so they say, ‘Hey, this is amazing that we have this river,’” Hunerwadel said. “We’re hoping this brings awareness to our mission, that we should be building and living in a way that helps us preserve all of this. It’s also good fun.”
Updated @ 3:15 p.m. on 2/7/13 to update information about prices and times: The race will begin at 11 a.m., not noon, as originally reported, and the cost for registration will be $20 in advance and $30 the day of, not $18 in advance and $25 the day of, as originally reported.