The N.C. Council of State on Tuesday approved the state’s purchase of the Carter Falls property near Elkin with intentions of leasing it to Wilkes County government as a county park and feature of the Mountains to Sea Trail.
Dr. Bill Blackley, chairman of the Elkin Valley Trails Association Inc. (EVTA), said State Treasurer Dale Folwell told him that it would take about a month for the state to complete the purchase. Folwell is a council of state member.
The council approved buying the 43.3 acres for $350,000, using Connect NC bond funds. The 43.3 acres are on the eastern side of Big Elkin Creek, which flows through the property and includes 60-foot-tall Carter Falls. It’s near Pleasant Ridge and Carter Mill roads and belongs to Daniel J. Park, an attorney in Elkin.
The council also agreed to accept Park’s gift of a conservation and trail easement on 11 additional acres to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The easement protects the 11 acres from development but allows construction of the Mountains to Sea Trail. This land is on the western side of Big Elkin Creek, opposite the 43.3 acres.
Blackley praised Park for his public-spiritedness with the property and said he could have sold it for more money but didn’t want to see it developed.
He said EVTA Board member Bob Hillyer is working with County Attorney Tony Triplett and County Manager John Yates on details of a memorandum of agreement calling for county government to lease the 41 acres from the state for 40 years and for the EVTA to maintain it as a public park at no charge to the county. Earlier discussions called for the county to lease it for $1 a year.
EVTA volunteers have been building portions of a proposed 25-mile section of the Mountains to the Sea Trail between Elkin and Stone Mountain State Park since 2013, mostly on donated easements on private property. Much of the route is along Big Elkin Creek.
Blackley said the EVTA plans to build two parallel sections of trail on either side of Big Elkin Creek through the Carter Falls property, with one section for mountain biking and the other for horseback riding. He said hikers will be allowed on both. Some other parts of the 25-mile route are similarly designated.
He said a bridge across Big Elkin Creek between the lower and upper sections of Carter Falls and a small parking lot are planned on the 43.3 acres. The EVTA would be responsible for locking and unlocking a gate on an access road off Pleasant Ridge Road.
Blackley emphasized the work of EVTA partners such as the Yadkin Valley Horse Club, whose members already built two bridges for the trail. “We’re looking for a place where we would be able to park horse trailers” for horseback riding on the trail, he said, adding that a landowner also interested in having an equestrian campground would be ideal.
He said many landowners have already shown their support by donating easements for the trail, with some helping with trail construction.
Jerry and Sarah Byrd recently established Byrd’s Branch Campground & Country Store along the trail about a half mile from Carter Falls. The campground has RV hookups and is off Martin Byrd Road, which is between Brookfall Dairy and Pleasant Ridge roads.
Other features near the trail include Grassy Creek Vineyard and Winery, Elkin Creek Vineyard and Winery and Frog Holler Cabins & Wine Tours.
Over 12 miles of the 25-mile route have been completed, including a 2.65-mile mountain bike trail with a loop around the Elkin Reservoir, other sections in and near Elkin, a three-mile section along Grassy Creek, a three-mile section on Wells Knob and more elsewhere. Numerous bridges have been completed and more are planned.
The EVTA is also building the Mountains to the Sea Trail eastward from Elkin to Pilot Mountain, with about a mile of trail completed and about 4½ additional miles of trail being surveyed.
Blackley noted interest in establishing a trail in the Yadkin River corridor from Elkin to North Wilkesboro and said the EVTA is working with the Overmountain Victory Trail Association and the Yadkin River Greenway Council.
EVTA members also met with volunteers with the Alleghany-Sparta Trail Association who are interested in building a trail from Sparta southward, including on the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment below Roaring Gap.
For more information about the EVTA, including opportunities to volunteer, go to elkinvalleytrails.org or visit Elkin Valley Trails on Facebook.