The OIA Roadshow: Asheville Edition

This is the first installment in a series of roadshow updates from our community and social media coordinator, Katie Boué, as she travels around the country visiting OIA members and exploring the outdoor industry communities around the USA.

By Katie Boué February 22, 2016

If you’ve ever been to Asheville, North Carolina, you’re already in on the not-so-subtle secret that it’s one of the greatest outdoor destinations in America–but for those of you who haven’t received the memo: This Southeastern city was voted one of the country’s best outdoor towns by Outside magazine in 2006, and made it to the voter’s choice list in 2014, too. It’s a recreation mecca in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. You can hike, bike, paddle, climb–and sometimes even ski–all within a short drive of the downtown area.

Asheville intersects with both the Appalachian and Mountains-to-Sea trails, features class V whitewater runs, is home to three climbing gyms—and boasts more après adventure brewery options than I could manage to conquer during my three-week visit. The city even has its own robust sustainability plan, and a commitment to reducing its overall carbon footprint.

Did you know: North Carolina’s outdoor industry generates $19.2 billion in consumer spending and 191,500 direct jobs? Get the full report here.

With 20 days to immerse myself in the culture of Asheville, I dove straight into the mountain scene and outdoor economy. I hiked misty waterfall trails in DuPont State Forest, bouldered at Rumbling Bald, survived a freak snowstorm and visited some of western North Carolina’s best outdoor brands—many of which were in walking distance of my AirBnB:

Eagle’s Nest Outfitters: I met with Lane Nakaji and Amy Allison to get a peek into the world of ENO. It’s a maze of workspaces, warehouse rows, and hammocks hanging in every corner. The facility features a research and development room, but the secrets remain behind closed doors—leaving visitors, like myself, itching with curiosity. They also actively support local organizations that work to protect the places they play, like Wild South and American Whitewater.

Bonus: ENO has the most gorgeous conference room table this side of the Mississippi. It’s a behemoth of wooden glory, handmade by an employee without a single nail or screw. 

Darby Communications: If you like coffee, gear, and exposed brick walls, you’ll love the Darby office in the historic Montfort neighborhood. Their client list reaches from coast to coast, but it’s clear that their hearts are in Asheville–the team knows everyone who’s anyone in the outdoor scene around these parts. These ladies don’t just talk the outdoor talk, they walk it too—their HQ is just steps away from the Reed Creek Greenway.

Astral: With tricycles in the hallways and a crew that clearly loves what it does, Astral is the kind of place you want to hang out all day. When I stopped by the HQ to interview Bryan Owen and Yonton Mehler, the facility was knee-deep in major renovations that reflected the growing success of the whitewater accessories brand. We conducted our interviews in a pop-up showroom staged inside a full-sized yurt erected indoors: With a setup like that, there’s no disputing Astral as one of Asheville’s coolest outdoor companies.

Farm To Feet: Admittedly, the Farm To Feet HQ isn’t exactly within Asheville city limits. It’s about a two-hour drive to get to this sock brand’s home base in Mt. Airy, but the leisurely drive is worth the experience of witnessing this impressive factory. Touring the rows of machinery that carefully knit American-made socks with Dave Petri is like watching a gardener tend to his prized tomato plants. His passion for his product and transparent supply chain is palpable.

Bonus: If you ever visit Dave, be sure to leave time for lunch and a tour of Mt. Airy. The old-school Main Street is a treat, especially for fans of The Andy Griffith Show.

Rightline Gear: Tucked away in a small warehouse park, Rightline Gear is a manufacturer specializing in car-topper accessories like Jeep tents and waterproof cargo carriers. Owner Loran Evans regaled me with the tale of taking the decked-out Rightline Jeep on a joy ride from North Carolina to Las Vegas while we played with a pile of products in the back warehouse. With her company’s headquarters located just up the road from the French Broad River and minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Loran could hardly choose an answer when I asked “so, where should I go to explore the outdoors after this meeting?” The options seemed endless.

Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine: I’m a firm believer that the best meetings are the kind that involve getting a little dirty, so I was all in when digital publisher Dusty Allison suggested that we take our meet-up to the mountains. As we trudged up the icy trail towards the summit of Lookout Mountain, Dusty’s stories about strong community values and bountiful outdoor recreation solidified my growing suspicions about Asheville: This place is an outdoorist’s paradise. If you need further evidence, just dive into the latest issue of this regional publication.