Work has begun by Elkin Valley Trails Association volunteers on the trails around Carter Falls, which will feature a footbridge just below the falls on the local segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Bill Blackley, with the EVTA, reported to the Elkin Board of Commissioners during its March meeting that the trail organization has “an entry permit prior to the lease to go ahead and start building and working, we got state approval.”
The state purchased 43 acres including the falls from local attorney Dan Park, and Park also is donating a 10-acre easement in the same area, Blackley said.
“We’ll be putting about a mile and a half of trail through there,” Blackley said.
While the trail has been roughed in, the new entrance remains closed to the public while work continues, he said.
EVTA has applied for a $200,000 which it will need to match with $50,000, and a second $250,000 Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant for a total of $500,000. That funding will handle the construction and installation of an approximately 240-foot footbridge between the cliffs just below the base of Carter Falls.
“It will be a real attraction,” said Blackley, who added that benches and other features will be installed in the Carter Falls area as well.
The annual Insane Terrain fundraiser hosted by EVTA will expand from its 5K format to add a 25K route taking runners to Carter Falls when it is held in the fall this year.
This week’s Gathering of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will include special guided hikes to Carter Falls for those registered to attend the gathering.
From its initial planning stages, Bob Hillyer, trail development manager for EVTA, had two key spots identified as focal points along the Stone Mountain to Elkin trail — one was Wells Knob, which trail builders have a trail over now, and the other was Carter Falls. “Those were the two points that really need to be on the trail,” Hillyer said.
Dan Park purchased the Carter Falls along with about 150 acres around it from Crescent, the subsidiary of Duke Energy, which owned the property about 30 years ago, he said Monday.
“I had bought some land from the same Duke subsidiary around Pilot Mountain and the Ararat River, and they mentioned since I was a good customer, would I be interested in some land around Elkin,” Park said. “I went to look at this land, and I said, ‘Wow!’
“They had put it low on their list because there were a lot of mobile homes around, and in their minds that dropped the value, or that’s the reason they gave me. I don’t have any issue with mobile homes,” he said.
Park agreed to ask Crescent’s advertised price for the land, without any negotiations. “I said it was beautiful land, I don’t care what’s around. I thought it was a heck of a bargain.”
He noted the interesting history of the natural falls. Unlike some of the other falls along Big Elkin Creek, such as the falls at the shoe factory dam, Carter Falls is not a man-made falls, it is a feat of nature.
“Carter Falls has been a destination spot for picnics and gatherings for over 100 years,” explained Dr. Jason Couch, local historian.
Prior to the power company owning the falls, Couch said Big Elkin Creek was used to by the Carter family to operate a mill providing flour and grain to area residents.
“Barney Carter settled in the Pleasant Ridge community. He owned several thousand acres of land, and he had about 13 children. It was the first mill in the area up there,” Couch said.
A later mill, with remnants still visible on the bank of the creek, was operated by Kenis Carter.
In a 1911 postcard, the 60-foot-high Carter Falls could be seen with people standing along various heights of its rocks. Then around 1914, the property was sold to the town of Elkin and a dam was built at the top. Carter Falls Power Company operated a power plant, leased to the town for 10 years, which featured a wooden pipe flume that followed the fall of the elevation sending water through the flume down to the bottom where a 150-horsepower dynamo created power, which was then sent to Elkin via power lines.
The dam built by the town is no longer above the falls.
“My grandpa Walter Couch remembered his father, George, ran that power generator, and he remembered walking up the flume as kids,” Couch said of the large wooden pipe held together by metal bracing, which he has a postcard image of in his collection.
In 1924, the company that became Duke Power acquired the falls and the property around it. The company held the property until it was sold to Park 30 years ago.
“Duke Power bought it, and it became too small for them to fool with, so they put it up for sale and that’s when I bought it,” said Park.
“I went up there and looked at it. I would just go sit and look at it, it was so pretty,” Park said of his love for Carter Falls. “I tromped around it. I didn’t want to do anything with it.”
At one point, Park had considered building a house on land adjacent to the falls. He even went so far as to have an architect draw up plans, “but I just never got around to it.”
“It’s not really a get-away place if it’s just five minutes from where you live. I was just busy, but I wasn’t too busy to go up there once or twice a week and just hang out,” said Park.
From the moment he purchased the property, Park said he’d been approached by developers wanting to buy the land and the falls. And when the EVTA approached him about the possibility of purchasing the falls, he said he didn’t want to sell it.
But over time, he decided, “I would really love to see it being looked after … for years. If it’s gotta go, this is the perfect way in my mind for it to go, for the people working the trail to make it available on a regulated basis.”
Park said the idea is to preserve it and share it with others. “It was just a beautiful piece of land, and it still is, and I think the trail people will preserve it.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.