Columbia County national appeal growing through outdoor events

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Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- After thirty hours of competition, athletes finished the last day of the 2016 Adventure Racing National Championship. Hundreds of athletes competed for the the top spot all while being introduced to the outdoors scene in Columbia County.

One hundred miles of biking and paddling ends at the Savannah Rapids Pavillion in Evans. The goal is no small task - find 30 checkpoints scattered across the county in 30 hours overnight.

Kerry Gross traveled two days from Indiana to compete in this year's Adventure Race National Championships. She competed in her first race last year and says the challenge is bigger than anything she's ever faced.

"I used to be a triathlete and I got super bored of the straight course, who can grind it out fastest and I like to use my brain," Gross says. "Adventure racing is pretty much a triathlon meets a scavenger hunt"

It brings 59 teams, more than 150 people, from across the country to Columbia County. Gross and the other racers trek through some of the best trails the area has to offer, starting in Wildwood Park, running through Mistletoe State Park and paddling on the Savannah.

"We biked on some amazing single track," Gross says. "Then we paddled down the Savannah River which was super awesome and then this canal trail was super cool. I thought it was really awesome to ride and see what's here. I've never ridden in Georgia before."

Randy DuTeau with the County's Convention and Visitors Bureau says more athletes are seeing the county for the first time through the great outdoors. He says the annual Wildwood Games, National Cycling Championships and even a future BMX Championship have expanded the county's brand and appeal to athletes over the years.

He says it means more tourism revenue makes its way to the county and more people coming back every year.

"It plants a seed in their minds," DuTeau says, "that maybe next time when they don't have a number strapped on, maybe they can come out and just take some time, enjoy the trails, come back and visit and that's what we want."

Gross and her team will be back next year to ride the trails and roads leaders have spent years creating. In the meantime, she has some advice for anyone looking to get into the sport.

"I mean, can you do it? Can you find all the points at 30 hours?," gross says. "If you can move for a couple of hours, you can adventure race."

Columbia County has been selected to host the 2017 and 2018 USA Road Cycling National Championships. Leaders say they expect to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county, which will help lead to more trails and tracks.