EDITOR’S NOTE: Sixth in a series of articles on the trails of northwestern North Carolina.
In just a decade, the Elkin-based Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) has completed nearly 18 miles of trail within a 26-mile-long Mountains to the Sea Trail (MST) corridor between Elkin and Stone Mountain State Park.
In the process, the EVTA has become a catalyst for economic development, recreational opportunities, conservation and other quality of life benefits associated with establishment of trails. The organization officially observed its 10-year anniversary last month.
The EVTA is task force leader for Segment 6 of the MST, which extends from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes and Alleghany counties to Pilot Mountain State Park in Surry and Yadkin counties.
For now, the EVTA’s primary focus is working with landowners to secure easements and build trails and bridges to connect sections already completed between Elkin and Stone Mountain State Park.
Most of this 26-mile-long trail corridor is in northeastern Wilkes.
Starting from the south, the first completed section of trail is a two-mile easy walk along the Yadkin River eastward to the mouth of Big Elkin Creek, up the west side and then east side of Big Elkin Creek and ending at the northern end of Elkin Municipal Park.
The existing trail continues north up Big Elkin Creek, passes under the N.C. 268 Bypass and then turns east just north of Elkin’s water supply reservoir and goes to a current ending point at Collins Road. This is two-mile E&A Rail Trail, mostly following the route of the Elkin & Alleghany Railroad so it has an easy grade and a granite dust surface. There is an additional loop walk, about two-tenths of a mile long, near north of the reservoir.
Construction began on the Elkin & Alleghany Railroad in 1911, starting in Elkin and going northward. The plan was to pass through the resort community of Roaring Gap, Sparta and reach the existing Norfolk & Western Railway line at West Jefferson.
The train tracks reached the base of the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment in 1917, prompting the brief existence of the hamlet of Doughton where U.S. 21 now starts climbing the mountain. Construction of U.S. 21 between Elkin and Sparta rendered the E&A obsolete and it was abandoned in the early 1930s.
About five miles of mountain bike trails intersect with the E&A Rail Trail, including the 1.8-mile Elkin Creek, 1.6-mile Possum Shot and 1.4-mile Iron Falls mountain bike trails. The Wildflower Meadow Trail, about four-tenths of a mile long also intersects.
Continuing northward, the next section of completed trail is at Carter Falls on Big Elkin Creek, a centerpiece of the 26-mile-long trail corridor. The state purchased 43 acres that includes 60-foot Carter Falls in 2017. The Wilkes County commissioners agreed to lease it for $1 per year for 30 years for use as a park in April 2019.
The EVTA manages the park under an agreement between the EVTA and the county. A parking lot for it was built along the west side of Pleasant Ridge Road, with labor and materials provided by the county and Lowe’s Companies Inc.
The EVTA opened the “Powerhouse Trail” at Carter Falls in late 2019. This half-mile-long trail through a hardwood forest starts at the parking lot on Pleasant Ridge Road and goes to the foundation of an old powerhouse and the lower section of Carter Falls. The powerhouse supplied electricity to Elkin in the early 1900s.
The Powerhouse Trail passes by the stone foundation of the powerhouse, old iron gears, concrete flume cradles and steel bands that held a wooden flume together before it collapsed more than 60 years ago. The flume fed water to the powerhouse.
From the powerhouse site and lower section of Carter Falls, the Powerhouse Trail goes upstream along the east side of Big Elkin Creek to reach the half-mile-long Carter Falls Trail at upper Carter Falls. The Carter Falls Trail takes people back to the parking lot on Pleasant Ridge Road, providing a one-mile loop hike.
The EVTA is still raising money to construct a suspension bridge across Big Elkin Creek near Carter Falls. The bridge will provide hikers an unobstructed view of the waterfall. The EVTA has already completed about 25 pedestrian bridges ranging from six feet to 190 feet long.
Soon after the trail leaves the west side of Big Elkin Creek, the MST will pass through the Brandon and Julie O’Steen family’s Harris Field Vineyard. The O’Steens plan to have a wedding venue just above the waterfall.
A short side trail will take visitors to the grave of Revolutionary War veteran William Harris on the O’Steen property. Harris joined the Virginia militia in 1777 and was part of a group of soldiers that guarded Gen. George Washington and his belongings.
O’Steen removed brush from the overgrown cemetery and repaired Harris’ military gravestone and one of the two other gravestones he found there. Julie O’Steen supervised Girl Scouts as they refurbished the cemetery.
Back on the east side of Big Elkin Creek, a completed 2.6-mile section of the MST begins along the east side of Pleasant Ridge Road and opposite the Carter Falls Park parking lot. It heads east, passes by Byrd’s Branch Campground on Martin Byrd Road, reaches Brookfall Dairy Road, makes a U-turn to go back west toward Big Elkin Creek and ends at a parking lot on Carter Mill Road.
Spur trails off this 2.6-mile section of the MST include the half-mile-long Grassy Creek Vineyard Trail, two-tenths-of-a-mile-long Chappell Trail, four-tenths-of-a-mile-long Skull Camp Trail and half-mile-long Forest Bathing Trail. “Forest Bathing” or shinrin-yoku, is based on the Japanese emphasis on the health benefits of simply walking in a forest.
Still continuing toward Stone Mountain State Park, the next completed section is a three-mile stretch through forestland with steep climbs over Wells Knob. This is from from Mining Ridge Church Road to Roaring Gap Road.
Next is the two-mile Sawyers Trail, from Traphill Ridge Road (off Traphill Road) to the John P. Frank Parkway. There is a spur trail, two tenths of a mile long, to Stone Mountain Country Store along the John P. Frank Parkway. Parking is available there.
The trail enters Stone Mountain State Park as the MST from the south along the John P. Frank Parkway, near the Mosswood Road intersection. It follows all or parts of the Bridal, Loop and Wolf Rock trails before reaching the main road through the park.
From the main park road, it’s a 5.5-mile hike up the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment, partly along Widow’s Creek, to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Devil’s Garden Overlook.
About 15 miles of trail from Carter Falls Park to Stone Mountain State Park will be for hiking and horseback riding, while the section from Carter Falls Park to Elkin will be for hiking and mountain biking.
EVTA leaders say Carter Falls Park is an example of what has become possible as a result of the EVTA, state and local government, businesses and private landowners working together. They say such partnerships are essential to the success of EVTA trail efforts.
To reach Carter Falls Park and the trailhead and parking lot from the four-way intersection in West End Elkin, go north on Austin-Traphill Road from N.C. 268 for about two miles and turn right on C.B. Eller School Road. Go a little over a half mile on C.B. Eller School Road and turn left on Carter Mill Road. After nearly a mile on Carter Mill Road, turn left on Pleasant Ridge Road and the trailhead and parking lot will be on the left after nearly a mile.
There are over 20 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. There also are several vineyards and wineries in or within the trail corridor. About five river outfitters are available to assist those wanting to float the Yadkin and Roaring rivers and other larger streams in the area.
The EVTA website notes that Elkin is the only place in North Carolina where three sanctioned trails converge: the MST, Yadkin River “blue water trail” and federally-sanctioned Overmountain
Eastward from Elkin, the MST eventually will continue roughly parallel to the Yadkin River and connect with Pilot Mountain State Park in Surry and Yadkin counties.
The EVTA is also engaged in efforts to establish the Overmountain Victory Trail as a pedestrian route on the north side of the Yadkin River within an identified corridor between Elkin and North Wilkesboro.
The EVTA has maps of the different sections mentioned in this article posted at https://elkinvalley
trails.org/2020/01/28/printable-trail-maps/. The EVTA website, with information about how to get involved as a volunteer and much more, is at www.elkin