Trailblazers inspect E & A Rail Trail

Anthony Gonzalez Staff Reporter

August 26, 2013

Clear the way and they will come, say Elkin’s mayor and advocates of the Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA).

Organizers are working on a multi-use trail system that connects downtown Elkin through Wilkes County to Stone Mountain State Park.

Elkin’s Board of Commissioners have unanimously thrown support behind EVTA efforts and are overseeing a vital construction project that will eventually erect an 80-foot pedestrian footbridge in Elkin for the Elkin and Allegheny trail.

Mayor Lestine Hutchens and its parks and recreation director, Adam McComb, joined EVTA officials Thursday for a progress update and walk-along on the trail leading to where the pedestrian footbridge will emerge.

“The first segment of the trail runs adjacent to the old railroad bed of the decommissioned Elkin & Alleghany railroad and will be called the E & A Rail Trail,” said Dr. William Blackley, who is the chair of the EVTA board.

“The trail was once narrow, just three feet wide. Over 2.5 miles of the trail will now allow for a handicap-access road stretching from Crater Park to the footbridge,” said Blackley.

The cost of the Elkin pedestrian bridge is $45,861.47, a sum paid by EVTA. The bridge will be located approximately 200-feet above the Shoe Factory Dam.

However, the work is just beginning for trail development on both sides of the bridge, EVTA members say.

“That requires fundraising efforts,” said Blackley. “We have the Trail Boogie on August 29 at The Liberty. We need support. Any donation would be greatly appreciated.”

For the EVTA, it’s not just about clearing land. Connecting future generations to Elkin’s past is just as important as the land it sits on. “We also have amazing original photos that will be in a book we are releasing of the railroad. We have interviews with about 35 people who are over 85-years-old who originally rode the train right here on the land we’re standing on,” added Blackley.

Books will be sold at the the Trail Boogie. Last year, EVTA raised $8,500 at its Trail Boogie. Festivities start at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Music is provided by Jeweltones.

“I’ll be there,” said Mayor Hutchens.

As far as trail development, Hutchens said the plan is bold and trail development is the right direction for Elkin.

“The trails and footbridge will allow for pedestrians, hikers, cyclists, among others to take advantage of the landscape and visually link two distinct areas into one,” said Hutchens. “I am thrilled on the progress made so far.

“Elkin will be known as a trail town,” continued Mayor Hutchens. “With a downtown that’s revitalizing, vineyards in our neck of the woods, kayakers and canoers seeing the beauty of our waterways, it only makes sense to provide complete access to our residents and tourists who’ll want to select Elkin as a trail destination too.”

“This is a fantastic step for Elkin and recreation access,” said McComb. “I expect many people to take advantage of the great things this trail will provide.”

According to McColb, Big R Bridge of Virginia will soon construct the footbridge.

EVTA officials stated that design of footbridges normally follows the same principles as for other bridges. However, because they are normally significantly lighter than vehicular bridges, they are more vulnerable to vibration and therefore dynamic effects are often given more attention in design.

The footbridge project should be completed by late 2013.

Blackley said future plans call for the trail to connect to local wineries and vineyards. A mountain-bike loop in Elkin is being planned, in addition to a marker unveiling in downtown Elkin.

According to the EVTA members, additional phases of the new trail would be in Wilkes County.

Northwest of Elkin, the trail is expected to become named the Stone Mountain Trail and will eventually open up to hikers and cyclists traveling through Wilkes County to the state park.

Paving the way, the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners in June unanimously approved a resolution endorsing efforts of the EVTA to establish a section of the Mountains to the Sea Trail from Elkin to Stone Mountain State Park.

Keith Elmore, chairman of the Wilkes County Commission, said he was aware that a lot of people are interested in the new trail, especially people who ride horses. A section from Carter Mill Falls on Big Elkin Creek to Stone Mountain State Park would be for hikers and horseback riders, as well.

Blackley said the overwhelming majority of more than 50 landowners responded favorably when contacted about donating easements for the trail across their property.

“This would not be possible without their support. This is what happens when the community comes together,” said Blackley.

He said Friends of the Mountains to the Sea Trail (MST) endorsed using the proposed route from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin instead of the initial plan of going from Stone Mountain to Ronda.

“The entire trail will be about 26 miles long,” said Bob Hillyer with EVTA, “give or take a mile here and there.”

“Markers are placed along the trail,” said Joe Hicks with EVTA. “We want to keep things as natural as possible.”

Prior to leaving the tour, Mayor Hutchens and Blackley paused to thank Will Gwyn of Greenhill Environmental, LLC for performing the work behind constructing the trail access road.

“Will is also a volunteer on our board,” said Blackley. “Greenhill Environmental is doing a tremendous job, as you can see by how much work has been done already.”

Formed two years ago, the EVTA is an organization promoting economic development and quality of life through recreation and creation of a trail system in Wilkes and Surry counties.

Trail use in the United States has become very popular for a wide variety of users. Some trails are designated as educational trails which are specially laid-out paths that offer information on specific natural, technological or cultural themes at various stations en route, usually by means of information boards and/or exhibits. Many trails are designated day trails, meaning that they are generally used by people out for a short hike, less than a day. Some trails are designated backpacking trails, or long-distance trails, and are used by both day hikers and by backpackers. Many runners also favor running on trails rather than pavement, as giving a more vigorous work-out and better developing agility skills, as well as providing a more pleasant exercise environment.

Organizers say Elkin is the perfect trail town, a community through which the town supports hikers with services, and promotes the trail to its citizens and embraces the trail as a resource to be protected and celebrated.

Trail towns are mostly designed to improve access and information to get members of the community active in the outdoors and boost the economic benefits by providing recognition to local businesses who help offset costs associated with the trail construction and its maintenance.

Elkin Valley Trails Association is a non-profit affiliate of NC Rail Trails, Inc. Donations are tax-exempt.

Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or email at agonzalez@civitasmedia.com.