A campaign to raise funds for building a suspension foot bridge across Big Elkin Creek in Carter Falls Park was announced during the Wilkes County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday night.
Dubbed “Bridge of Dreams,” the Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) will officially launch the fundraising effort in a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Surry Community College’s Elkin Center on North Bridge Street in Elkin.
Bob Hillyer, in charge of trail development for the EVTA, cited a goal of completing the bridge in 2020. He estimated it would cost $300,000 to $350,000, excluding bridge approaches on either side, and said a more exact figure should be known in about a month.
The EVTA recently was approved for and must match a $150,000 N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant for the project. Other funds have been raised. There also are plans to apply for an N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant.
Hillyer said the bridge will be built across Carter Falls, providing dramatic views upstream and downstream. The Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail (MST), which goes from one end of the state to the other, will cross the bridge.
“We pretty much decided the location of the bridge” in a meeting on the site last week, said Hillyer, adding that the latest plans call for a bridge about 240 feet long.
Those present for the meeting included representatives of the EVTA; Asheville-based Alpine Towers, bridge contractor; Elkin-based Greenhill Environmental Inc., grading contractor; and Foothills Forestry, surveyor for the project. Wilkes County Planning Director Eddie Barnes and Derek Goddard of Wilkesboro-based Blue Ridge Engineering also were present.
Hillyer said bridge materials will be trucked to the east side of the bridge site on a natural surface road graded from nearby Pleasant Ridge Road.
The state purchased 43 acres that includes Carter Falls in 2017 and the Wilkes County commissioners agreed to lease it for $1 per year for 30 years for use as a park in April 2019.
The county also cleared land and Lowe’s Companies Inc. and the county provided gravel for a parking lot at the park entrance along Pleasant Ridge Road. Lowe’s provided rails, as well as volunteer labor, for a fence around it.
Under an agreement between the EVTA and the county, the EVTA is managing the park. Hillyer said the park has experienced strong visitation, partly due to its proximity to Stone Mountain State Park. He said Stone Mountain’s visitation increased to about 455,000 in 2018, partly due to a sign for the state park along Interstate 77 that the EVTA helped secure.
The EVTA has completed over 18 miles of trail in the 26-mile MST corridor from Elkin Municipal Park to Stone Mountain State Park, with about 14 more miles of trail completed in the state park. Most of the 26-mile trail corridor is in Wilkes.
About 15 miles of trail from Carter Falls to Stone Mountain State Park will be for hiking and horseback riding, while the section from Carter Falls to Elkin will be for hiking and mountain biking.
The EVTA is the MST Segment 6 task force leader. A completed section leaves the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Devil’s Garden Overlook and descends the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment through Stone Mountain State Park. The corridor continues southward to Elkin Municipal Park, goes through downtown Elkin and continues to Pilot Mountain State Park.
Hillyer said the section from Elkin to Stone Mountain State Park increasingly is becoming an economic driver.
He said there are 22 rental cabins and three campgrounds within or near the trail corridor, up from about five cabins and no campgrounds when the EVTA started building the trail in 2011. He said there was one outfitter on the Yadkin River in the area when EVTA began and now there are seven.
Hillyer added that the EVTA appreciates the support of Wilkes County government.
Appearing before the commissioners with Hillyer were Dr. Bill Blackley, chairman of EVTA board; and board member Joe Mickey. Blackley said thousands of hours of volunteer labor was spent on the trail effort in the last year alone.