DAMASCUS, Va. (WJHL) – The 36th annual Appalachian Trail Days festival kicked off in Damascus, Virginia with thousands of people expected to attend.

The festival is a celebration of hiking for past and present hikers who have traversed the Appalachian Trail.

“We are known as the friendliest town on the trail,” said Damascus Mayor Katie Lamb. “There are nine trails that converge here, all different kinds of trails. We’re called ‘Trail Town USA.'”

Trail Days attracts travelers from across the United States. Tom Richardson, who first hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1975, is from Bradenton, Florida. He says most people know him by his trail name, “Giddy Up.” He’s been attending Trail Days for several years now.

Tom Richardson, known by his trail name “Giddy Up”

“The first time I did it, the whole thing thru-hike, it was 1975 in between undergraduate and graduate school,” said Richardson. “And then I did it a year and half of it in 1978, the bottom half and took students from the university, then completed it again last year and now I’m doing my third hike of the whole thing.”

Lamb says that Trail Days is like a reunion for hikers. The Saturday Hiker Parade will have hikers carrying banners from the year that they first hiked the Appalachian Trail.

“They do come down by year through the town during the parade,” said Lamb. “And a lot of folks come back here after they’ve hiked the trail to reunite with the people that they hiked the trail with.”

Richardson will be carrying the banner for the Class of 1975 hikers.

“We have been starting the parade, because the earliest class of hikers leads the parade.,” said Richardson. “And since we’re from 1975, I carry the banner, but I’ve had trouble finding anybody else from Class of ’75 to carry the other side. But now I have somebody who I hadn’t seen in 48 years who is coming and meeting tomorrow to carry that banner. His name’s Tim from Michigan. Haven’t seen him in 48 years. So, I’m looking forward to catching up with him.”

Backpacker Radio, a podcast about thru-hiking and long distance backpacking, interviews a Trail Days Hiker

Richardson encourages others to take on the journey of the Appalachian Trail.

“Just get out here and do it,” said Richardson. “You’re going to suffer for a while, not like it, your feet are going to hurt. You’re not going to like the food, this and that. But you’ll get used to it and just keep going. You’ll love it.”

Lamb says she expects 25,000 to 30,000 people to attend Trail Days this year.

“This is the biggest turnout that we’ve had and we sold out of the parking for the tent city situation yesterday at six and that has never happened before,” said Lamb. “So, I think this is going to be the biggest Trail Days we’ve ever had and we’re very excited about it.”

The Appalachian Trail Days are May 19th – May 21st in Damascus Town Park. Click here to see a schedule of events.