Where else would a water-skiing squirrel be considered a celebrity, complete with his own heated pool and tour bus?
“Twiggy,” the water-skiing squirrel, is back for the Foothills Fall Festival and setting up his “entourage” in Adventure Land. Also returning are laser tag, Euro bungee and the mechanical bull. Adventure Land will be the place to be for all ages this weekend at the Foothills Fall Festival.
And, like ArtWay, it’s free -- no tickets needed.
While the Theater in the Bicentennial Greenbelt Park headlines musical performances and Broadway Avenue in Downtown boasts ArtWay, Adventure Land caters to the kid in everyone.
Patti Clevenger, recently named dean of students at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, leads the 90-plus contingent of volunteers who make Adventure Land happen each year. She has led the efforts for nine years, which is seven years longer than she originally agreed to when then city manager Gary Hensley pitched the idea to her.
Clevenger and the other volunteers put in long hours leading up to the noon-opening celebration that opens at the Pistol Creek Station entrance to Adventure Land.
“This is my ninth festival,” Clevenger said. “I only signed on for two years. This sounds so corny, but I’m being very sincere and truthful. When we open on Friday, and I see those kids running around, laughing, and it is worth everything. That is what brings tears to my eyes. It does it every morning every year when we open.”
Clevenger said while seeing the children play is fun, what is also gratifying is the effort that the adults make to ensure the area is safe and fun for children of all ages.
“There are 63 volunteer slots available to work Adventure Land over three days, and that doesn’t include the additional 30 Action Team members who do specialized tasks such as training volunteers. The Action Team is another 30 people for a total of about 90 volunteers and we have 10 shifts. Right now, our shifts look good.
“The other thing that gets me to do it again… and I know it sounds corny again … are all the people in the community who volunteer to make this happen. There is no way we would ever do what we do if we didn’t have those people willing to give of their time to make it work,” she said. “It is really the truth.”
For the uninitiated, Adventure Land is four areas: Extreme Adventure, Showtime, Tiny Tot and Discovery.
“Extreme is from the back of Los Amigos to the Alcoa City line. Extreme always has the mechanical bull, outdoor laser tag, Euro bungee and the obstacle course. It attracts the older kids -- middle schoolers to teens,” Clevenger said.
There is also a new show in the Extreme area -- “The Wallen Wild West Show.” The star, Daniel Wallen, is from Kentucky and has a heritage connected to horses. His mother Donna Marie Wallen was involved with the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and his father, Darrel E. Wallen, was a known horse roping. “He has a family history, and he’s going to do some roping, gun-slinging and a comedy act with his mule ‘Bart.’ This is the first year he has been a part of Adventure Land,” Clevenger said.
Showtime is the area from the pedestrian bridge going to the Blount County Public Library, down to the small pedestrian bridge that leads to Extreme. Within Showtime is Tiny Tot Land, which -- looking up from the Health Department at McGhee and McCammon -- is to the left before going into Extreme.
“Showtime historically has been where the big shows were. Now we have shows in every area. ‘Twiggy,’ the water skiing squirrel, is Showtime. A lot of our sponsors’ tents are there in Showtime,” she said.
Blount Memorial Hospital is doing a banner for servicemen. Clayton Homes employees are doing face-painting and giving away their always popular sponge pumpkin heads and Greenbank, who is a primary sponsor, will have booths as well, she said.
The National Guard climbing wall also is in Showtime.
“A lot of where we put different events has to do with lay of land,” Clevenger said.
Discovery is from bridge to behind the Ruby Tuesday/Regents Bank building. “It is where we try to bring new things in. The Pirate play ship was supposed to be there last year, but with the rain, we couldn’t do it. Good news is that he is coming back, and the weather looks good. The U.S. Army brings their climbing wall, and they will have a Humvee with video games in it,” she said.
This is also where the community stage is located, near the Pistol Creek Station. Dance teams, choral groups, bands and orchestras perform here.
Clevenger said the Adventure Land opens at noon on Friday, 10 a.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday and it closes at 7 p.m. each night.
So when is the best time to visit Adventure Land? Clevenger suggested visitors go to the Extreme section first and try out the Euro Bungee and/or Monkee Motion first. “I would do that when I first get there if it’s on your list to do, because it does have a line and is very popular,” said Clevenger. “Then I would go get in line for the mechanical bull. The line moves fast, but only one person can ride it at a time. Then go to laser tag,” she said. “You move quickly through laser tag. You go to those first and then spread out from there.”
All that playing can work up a hunger, and Clevenger said there are three food courts within Adventure Land to fill up hungry guests.
One is by the pedestrian bridge leading to the library. “It is smaller because there is less flat land. Probably our biggest food court is by McGhee and McCammon avenues. I’m excited about this, it is actually in an “L” shape and we have a lot of variety there,” she said. “The other is near the Alcoa line in ‘Extreme.’”
The only thing that costs the visitor money in Adventure Land is food. Nothing else is sold there, and that is by design.
“By the third festival, the committee decided nothing would be sold in the children’s play areas, not even Fall Festival items. We don’t want parents inundated with, ‘Can I have a dollar for this or that,’ from their children,” she said. “Parents have thanked us.”
Clevenger said organizers want visitors to have fun, regardless of the weather. “I enjoy it so much. I just want everyone to have fun. Last year the factor was the weather. It was rainy and cold, but we proved we could do this in the rain,” she said. “By Sunday, we were pretty full and the lines were long.”
Another amenity parents and visitors like is there are plenty of places for people to sit a few minutes in the shade. There are 32 tables and 96 chairs under 20-foot by 20-foot tents in Adventure Land. “People can even bring picnics in. We’ve even had some birthday parties,” Clevenger said.