A caravan of flatbed tractor-trailers and a crane drove into Elkin first thing Friday morning, and by the afternoon, work crews were setting the first two-thirds of a 178-foot footbridge on the E&A Rail Trail.
The bridge work isn’t complete, and the new section of trail will remain closed until town and trail officials announce the next stretch of trail finished, which Elkin Recreation and Park Director Adam McComb believes may be a couple of weeks away still.
Smith-Rowe Construction out of Mount Airy is lead on the bridge construction, with Greenhill Environmental, owned by Will Gwyn, as grading contractor and Blue Ridge Environmental of Wilkesboro as design contractor, McComb said.
Smith-Rowe’s crane was not large enough to lift the two conjoined sections of the bridge to put them in place, so a second, larger crane was brought in from where it is stationed in Aurora, on the coast, to aid in the bridge placement. The second crane featured a telescoping boom and was weighted down with 220,000 pounds of counterweights to help handle the weight of the bridge.
It took nearly all day to set up the large crane and then take it down, but it took only 17 minutes for the two cranes to work in tandem to lift and place the section of bridge in place.
This first two-thirds of the bridge spans Big Elkin Creek, with a third section to be brought in and placed this week to span the bank of the creek up to where the roadbed used for hauling in equipment will be transformed into the trailway.
The new section of the trail will add about an extra half-mile next to the town’s reservoir used to filter and pipe drinking water to the water treatment plant to the already constructed portion of the trail that heads north out of Elkin Municipal Park. The trail also is part of the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which members of the Elkin Valley Trails Association hopes will eventually be completely off-road on the E&A Rail Trail from Elkin to Stone Mountain State Park.
As walkers, runners, bikers and hikers begin using this new stretch of trail, McComb said, they will find it will come across Big Elkin Creek on the new bridge, then run just west of the original railway, which now serves as the dam for the town reservoir, before meeting back up with the railway path just past the reservoir. Through the woods just a little ways the trail will end for now as another creek bed will have to be traversed by either a footbridge or culvert, for which McComb said funds will have to be raised.
But for those seeking a little more adventure and a closer look at Big Elkin Creek, a single track, primitive trail was cut through the woods at the end of the trail, which will form a loop back around toward the new footbridge. The single-track trail comes out at an old logging road, which can be followed west to get to an open area for enjoying the view of the creek, or east to go back to the main trail just above the new footbridge being installed.
McComb said the trail will be clearly marked for those wishing to go exploring off the gravel dust trail.
Until the new section of trail is complete, officials are asking the public to avoid the construction area.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.