I still remember several years ago, likely when I was a senior in high school, driving through Eaton Rapids with a couple of friends and seeing Main Street lined with Airstream trailers. Mostly to make my friends laugh, I rolled my window down and started shouting our curiosity at pedestrians.
“Hey! What is this event?! Why are these trailers here?!” The lone response from the sidewalk was, “Urban air!” Being from Charlotte and having no idea what that could mean, I went about my business and probably didn’t even drive through Eaton Rapids for another four years.
Now, however, Eaton Rapids Air, formerly known as Urban Air, is a staple event in Eaton Rapids. It’s a weekend that’s grown in size and reputation every year since its beginning, drawing both interested locals and adventurous outsiders. The 2017 Eaton Rapids Air festival begins Thursday, Sept. 14 and ends the morning of Sunday, Sept.16.
“It’s the uniqueness of it,” said Quality and Life Director Troy Stowell. “Even before I started working on Urban Air, if I saw an Airstream trailer I had an image of ‘What kind of person is driving that thing?’ It’s an iconic thing in American history.”
Airstream trailers are cool to look at, but they’re not as interesting as the people who drive them. From city officials, to business owners, and other Eaton Rapids residents, there’s hardly a negative word said about the owners of these curious trailers. They’re notoriously kind people, traveling from place to place because they want to meet the locals and see what different things each town has to offer.
The adventurous mentality of Airstream owners is what is driving (no pun intended) other towns around the country to host Airstream events. According to Stowell, there is a movement to have airstream festivals in all 50 states.
“The whole idea of hosting downtown is twofold. One — getting campers to wake up downtown, and two — it’s a revitalizing effort for downtown.”
The City estimates that revenue in downtown Eaton Rapids from the 2016 Urban Air weekend amounted to $60,000, according to Stowell. This includes everything from food, gas, small business, and more. The Airstream owners don’t just visit to see a town. They come to invest, experience the best, and generate interest in a town.
This year there will be a number of opportunities, options, and activities for the air stream visitors to choose from. There will be a guided kayak tour Friday at 1 p.m., the CASA Superhero 5k Saturday at 9 a.m., guided historic tours through a few of Eaton Rapids’ historic houses, including the Miller Farm house in association with Miller Farm Festival, and a pimp your blimp contest Saturday at noon, which visitors will vote with cans of nonperishable food items for Hearts and Hands Pantry.
Those are just a few of the highlighted events for the weekend. There will be dozens of other activities. Some of these include live music from Capital City Chordsmen, Twilight Memories, Oyers Corner, and the Sea Cruisers, the farmers market on Friday, camp fire and s’mores Thursday-Saturday nights, Mosaic tile painting on Saturday at Your Creative Escape, a mobile escape room, open mic night and other live music at Mark’s Place, and more.
All events are open to the public, and the City will have event booklets available at various downtown businesses. The airstreams will start arriving Thursday morning and early afternoon, and trailer registration is open until 2 p.m. Thursday. The trailers will be confined mostly to Main Street with a few deviations due to space. There are already over 100 airstreams registered, according to Stowell. Shuttle buses will be available to take visitors through the historic tours and other locations and activities during the weekend.
For more information, readers can find the Eaton Rapids Air – Urban Airstream 2017 Facebook event page, or call the City of Eaton Rapids offices, (517) 663-8118. While all events are open to the public, some activities during the weekend will cost money. Visitors are encouraged to come out and invest in the event and the town, and interact with the owners of the airstreams.