Several years ago, Dayton's park system launched an adventure initiative in hopes that the city would become known for something other than being the former home of the two dudes who invented airplanes.

Several years ago, Dayton's park system launched an adventure initiative in hopes that the city would become known for something other than being the former home of the two dudes who invented airplanes.

So far, the people behind Five Rivers Outdoors have succeeded. The Gem City is now on its way to becoming a true Midwest adventure destination.

Twenty-two-mile backpacking loop? Check. New mountain-biking trail system? Check. Downtown bike hub? Check. A few sweet annual festivals? Hell yes.

GearFest, the biggest and baddest of the bunch, has exploded into a multiday experience with product demos, competitions, guest speakers and a small village of exhibitors. This year, the event runs Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1-2, at Eastwood MetroPark, a few miles northeast of Dayton.

"The park gives us so much flexibility," said Tom Helbig, special events and development coordinator for Five Rivers. "Visitors can try, watch or compete in so many fashions throughout the weekend."

Guests will be able to climb trees, join a mass bike ride through downtown and grab swag from more than 50 retailers hailing from Ohio and beyond. They can trade used gear, learn to kayak and study developments in slacklining. (Google it. It's awesome.)

Essentially, if you can imagine a unique way to move around outside, GearFest will tell you more about how to do it.

"The energy around the event continues to grow," Helbig said. "We're growing a regional and national reputation for the event."

About 8,000 people stopped by last year, up from 1,000 during the inaugural event. Even more are expected this year.

New audiences are turning their heads for good reason. In addition to adventure features in the city's MetroParks, Dayton is home to three newly designated Ohio Water Trails and was recognized this year by the League of American Bicyclists as a bike-friendly city.

"I think generally the outdoor community is blossoming," Helbig said. "All of the community organizations, local retailers and clubs - the effort and the promotion of what's available here in Dayton - have contributed."

GearFest, he said, remains a really great way to celebrate.

For more about the state's wilder side, click to the trip guides, trail reviews and slideshows at the Ohio Adventure Map, available at columbusalive.com/venture.