While a park could be an option for the land where Big Elkin Creek flows over Carter Falls, it wouldn’t be one with a state park designation, and the primary purpose of a draft agreement being proposed between the state and Wilkes County leaders focuses on the placement of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.
“The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a unit of the state parks system. It is a state trail, it has the same standing as a state park,” explained Charlie Peek, public information officer for the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
State officials first introduced the idea of building a trail from the mountains to the coast in 1977, Peek explained, but they knew it wouldn’t happen without the help of local government agencies and groups like the local Elkin Valley Trails Association, which is trying to coordinate with landowner Dan Park, Wilkes County and the state to make this proposed agreement possible for Carter Falls.
The 1,150-mile MST trail, of which 400 miles is still along roadways, is slated to run either through the Carter Falls property or near it on its way from Stone Mountain to Elkin, Peek said.
“There’s no way the state parks can buy all the land for this trail,” Peek said. “Some is on state park land already, some is on easements and some may be on leased land.
“The crux of the matter is we’ve got to think creatively about completing it, and one way is we (the state) buy key properties and local governments take over to manage them, and a perk is the local government can have their own trails to branch out or incorporate with their trail system,” Peek explained. “One option is to have a local park on state land.”
He said the local government can in turn contract with a trail group such as EVTA to maintain and develop the property, if that is what they choose.
As of now, a good deal of the MST portion through the mountains is on National Park Service land along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Through Alamance and Guilford counties and the town of Clayton, Peek said the trail was developed in several ways.
“In Clayton, they had trails in place and we purchased key property to link them together and the town of Clayton manages it,” he said. “So there are several different ways this could play out.”
The draft of a memorandum of understanding between Wilkes County and the state for the Carter Falls property was tabled during Tuesday’s Wilkes County commissioners meeting. Commissioner Eddie Settle said he wanted someone available from the state to answer questions before the county considered it.
The draft introduced the idea that the state would purchase the land featuring Carter Falls and then lease it to the county for $1 for 40 years during which the county would maintain the property.
Peek said the state has not spoken to the county about the concept as of yet, but the EVTA leaders are hoping an arrangement can be made. “Certainly in counties not familiar with the concept you have to introduce them to it and explain how it’s working in other places,” he said. “Long before we get to signing any documents we would want our state parks service to explain it in much more detail to Wilkes County commissioners and any other stakeholders in that area.
“They have not formally brought it to us yet, and they probably want their ducks in a row before they come to us. Everybody’s working at it from different angles,” Peek said. “When they’re ready, we’ll certainly make every effort to meet with them.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.