WILKESBORO — Division Deputy Director Carol Tingley with the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources attended the Wilkes County commissioner meeting Tuesday night along with members of the Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) asking for assistance in extending a portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and preserving Carter Falls near Elkin.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is more than 1,000 miles long. There are around 650 miles of trail finished off-road at the moment. The part of the trail discussed would include a two-mile section going down to Carter Falls.
“Basically, we are asking for Wilkes County to help in extending the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and preserving a beautiful natural wonder in eastern Wilkes County called Carter Falls,” said Bob Hillyer with the EVTA. “We would like to try to do this by bringing together four different groups — the land owner Dan Park, the state of North Carolina, the Elkin Valley Trails Association and Wilkes County.”
Land owner Dan Park has announced he is willing to offer part of his land in the area for the trail containing Carter Falls.
A PowerPoint was presented showing the upper and lower falls and the cultural and environmental significance of the area. Carter Falls is a cascading waterfall located near Traphill and has been a popular destination through the years.
“We have to have a willing land owner. Dan Park has told us many times he’ll do something good for the community in preserving this for our children and grandchildren,” said Hillyer.
Tingley talked about the Connect NC Bond and how money was allocated for the trail and will help cover the costs of the trail’s installation.
“You may remember the Connect NC Bond that was worth $2 billion total,” said Tingley. “$75 million was allocated to the state park system and $4.5 million was allocated to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and other state trails. We are hoping to use this bond money to work with counties and local communities to advance their section of the trail.”
Wilkes County will be in charge of overseeing and administering this section of the trail. The EVTA is willing to construct and maintain the trail through the area. Due to the bonds for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the county would have little to pay for the trail.
The project does not include additional amenities, as that would be up to Wilkes County if its leaders want to establish future facilities besides just the trail in the future. A trail is not the same as a state park such as Stone Mountain,” said Tingley. “A trail is a partnership with communities, towns and people working on individual sections and is connected together all across the state. ”
Smith Raynor, the State Trails planner, explained how state trails are units of the park system and why Carter Falls is a significant attraction for the trail as well as the process of finding and purchasing land for the trail. Raynor would be in charge of working with individual communities to help them progress projects and properly use money in the bond.
“We need to purchase land to be used for the trail corridor. We work with local partners to identify pieces of land with willing land owners and sellers. The state will appraise and purchase the land and lease it back to the section manager to manage,” said Raynor. “We facilitate this using memorandum of understanding between states and sponsors. We come in and work with you on the type of trail we both want to have. Through the overall state trail planning, sections of the trail are managed by individuals, groups and organizations. We provide guidance and coordination. We assist with land acquisition and technical assistance.”
Each section of the trail has a sponsor and that local sponsor and community helps determine what kind of trail they are looking for and determine its personality.
“We look for places that are naturally beautiful or have historical and cultural significance,” said Raynor. “When the full Mountains-to-Sea trail is complete, it will be a unique way to experience the state of North Carolina from Clingman’s Dome in the west to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the east.”
Properties and communities near trails have been known to have increased economic profitability and economic development.
“Trails can encourage economic development, promote healthy living, protect water quality, provide recreational opportunities, corridors for wildlife, can contribute to the communities, and provide alternative transportation opportunities,” said Raynor. “I can’t think of a negative thing about a regional trail. Properties and homes within half a mile of a regional trail are increased by $5,000 more than trails away from a trail. The town of Clayton in Johnston County finished a trail connected to Raleigh and the folks there thought this would be great for riding bikes up to Raleigh. What they discovered is that they have more folks riding from Raleigh to Clayton. Clayton now has a brewery, bike shop, outfitter and a sandwich shop. That’s four businesses opened because of that new connection and Clayton’s not a huge community.”
The Elkin Valley Trails Association has a trail maintenance program with a group of trail maintainers that will take care of the trail.
“We spoke with people to do the construction on the trail with heavier equipment,” said Bill Blackley of EVTA. “It brings money and it promotes the local economy. Our primary mission is to boost the local economy and improve quality of care and life in our community. We have a 40-people group looking at what would bring businesses to the communities and outdoor activities and trails are two big influencers. Many businesses, including Pittsburgh Glass Works, moved to Elkin. Trails bring businesses to communities. I think this will be great for Traphill.”
One concern that was addressed was that of hunters in the area and possible conflicts with hikes.
“In Wilkes County, we hunt a lot of deer,” said Wilkes County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eddie Settle. “These deer hunters are concerned about how this will affect hunting season. The neighbors have been asking a lot of questions about that.”
“It’s something we’re struggling with,” said Hillyer. “With this section, we have talked to many of the land owners and if they want hunting on that land, we’ll put a sign up that says trail closed because of hunting season. We have to work with the hunters. Some trails do close for hunting season, or ask hikers to wear orange.”
“The existing parts of the trail goes for many miles through hunting lands,” said Tingley. “So far we have not had any incidents. It’s important for hunters to know where the trail is and for hikers to know when hunting season is. It’s a communication issue.”
With a willing land owner, the county is looking to move forward on the project.
“We can customize leases to your needs and our needs to see what would work best,” said Tingley.
At the end of the discussion, the commissioners recognized land owner Dan Park, who is willing to use his land for part of the trail area.
“I’m 82 years old and I think this property deserves to be used by other people other than myself and my family,” said Park.
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.