The fourth-annual Flip-Flop Festival is coming to Harpers Ferry and Bolivar on April 28-29, and it’s not about summer shoes! It’s a celebration of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the outdoor activities and historic sites the area is known for.
The AT stretches 2,200 miles from Maine to Georgia. Two to three million people use the trail annually, taking day hikes or spending days or weeks backpacking on sections of the trail. Some determined souls attempt to do a through-hike of the entire trail, taking four to six or more months—though only about 25 percent complete it.
In 2017, over 3,000 through-hikers started out from Georgia. Laurie Potteiger, AT Conservancy Information Services Manager at Harpers Ferry, explained that the original purpose of the festival was to promote “flip-flop” through-hiking. People start in the middle of the AT at Harpers Ferry and hike north to Maine or south to Georgia, return to the middle, and go in the other direction.
“The trail is getting too popular,” she said. “We need to spread the hikers out to make it easier on the trail.”
James Smyle, AT Ambassador to Harpers Ferry and Chairman of the Flip-Flop Festival, has done two through-hikes, Georgia to Maine in 1993 and a flip-flop in 2016. He said, “We want to encourage people to start at an alternative location instead of all starting in the three-week window of suitable weather in Georgia, which puts a bubble of people on the trail. The shelters and privies were not built to handle today’s crowds. Hikers starting in the middle will have better weather no matter which way they go and will avoid crowds.”
Alternatively, you can hike Harpers Ferry to Maine, then drive or fly to Georgia and hike up to Harpers Ferry, so that you are always going north. This is called a wraparound.
A Packed Schedule
While the AT is still the focus, the Flip-Flop Festival has grown to promote other outdoor activities, historic tourism, and the shops and galleries of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. The entire community is involved, including Parks & Rec and local merchants. Outdoor retail giant REI is also participating—with programs and educational workshops.
“There are more elements this year,” Potteiger reported. “There’s going to be lots of fun activities, workshops, music, a quest, an African American History Hike. There will be a climbing wall, games for kids, and craft beer and food by Parks and Rec at the Gazebo. We also hope to have a bicycle event.”
“The first festival centered on hiking,” said Smyle, “and it will always be about hiking. But the area is at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, with rafting, kayaking, tubing and fishing. There’s long-distance biking on the C&O Canal, history with Storer College and Harpers Ferry.”
He noted that an emphasis will be on stewardship of the land, enjoying the outdoors with as little impact as possible, and adhering to “leave no trace” principles. With that in mind, hiking workshop topics include hiking for beginners, long-distance hiking, backpacking food, wildlife awareness, gear repair, and health and wellness on the trail. Other workshops will offer birding, bicycling, rock climbing, and area history.