The Yadkin River Greenway was touted Tuesday as a tool for recreation and economic development, as well as for recognition of local history, during a ceremony celebrating a new 1.2-mile section of the linear park.
About 150 people gathered at Smoot Park as the new section was officially certified as the newest link in Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which recognizes the route of Patriot militia to the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain in the fall of 1780.
“We are standing on historic ground…. This area has witnessed great paths. Today it is peaceful, at one time it was a warpath,” said Paul Carson, a National Park Service employee and superintendent of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.
In September 1780, several hundred backwoodsmen from Wilkes and Surry counties passed through what now is North Wilkesboro’s Smoot Park while going upstream along the Yadkin River to unite with other Patriot militia to fight Loyalists under Col. Patrick Ferguson.
Cleveland and his men passed by the same way again just a few days later, this time with hundreds of prisoners of war, after soundly defeating Ferguson’s force at the Battle of Kings Mountain on Oct. 7, 1780. Records show they camped at the mouth of Moravian Creek before moving downstream and on to the Moravian settlement in what is now Winston-Salem.
“It was likely just a farm path along the river then,” said Carson.
Although a lot has changed, he said, “the land remain as a silent witness to those men” who passed by in 1780 before and after they fought in a battle that has been recognized for shifting the tide of the American Revolution in favor of the Patriot cause and thereby changing the course of world history.
The new section of the greenway goes from Smoot Park to Memorial Park. Other parts of the greenway are also certified sections of the Overmountain Victory Trail.
Carson said 82 miles in western North Carolina, southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee have been certified as portions of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, but much of it is only identified as a corridor. He said 18 of the 35 miles of the certified trail in Wilkes are identified and can be walked.
Carson recognized R.G. Absher, current executive director of the Yadkin River Greenway Council, for his role in efforts for the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Absher is a former chairman of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association.
Carson also recognized former U.S. Rep. James T. Broyhill of Lenoir for leading the effort in Congress that resulted in routes to the Battle of Kings Mountain being designated the nation’s sixth national historic trail in 1980.
Broyhill summarized those efforts when he spoke Tuesday, saying it was childhood friend Harry Joe Smith who suggested establishment of some way to recognize and preserve historic trails like the route to the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Broyhill, in Congress at the time, said the National Scenic Trails Act had recently been passed. He led the effort for establishment of the National Historic Trails Act. The first designees were the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail in the western United States and Iditarod Trail in Alaska.
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx congratulated the Yadkin River Greenway Council establishing the Yadkin River Greenway, which so far stretches through the Wilkesboros and near W. Kerr Scott Dam.
Mrs. Foxx emphasized the importance of the Battle of Kings Mountain and of maintaining awareness of what it accomplished. “We need to be good stewards of all that they did,” she said, referring to sacrifices of Patriots in the American Revolution. “We are trustees of the heritage of freedom.”
Helen Ruth Almond, project manager of the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor, talked about the multi-county initiative and said the Yadkin River Greenway was an important part of the effort. She recognized people in Wilkes who played a key role in establishing the corridor effort.
She said a recent federal grant funded kiosks and other signage with information about historical, recreational and other attractions in Wilkes, Surry, Caldwell and Yadkin counties.
Marc Bowen president of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association, also spoke.