So I headed off to Carter Falls for one last tubing fling before Labor Day and the end of summer’s delights. I breezed right past the new warning sign in the new gravel parking lot.
“Warning,” the bright red sign says. “Rocks, steep slopes and cliffs. Injury or death possible.”
Down at the falls I was a bit surprised with a new, odd little island of brush floating in the pool at the foot of the falls. The brush evidently was hung on something underneath.
Since Carter Falls became a park last year and opened to the public in April, I thought trash in the pool unseemly. I approached the collection of limbs with the idea of clean-up but then thought better of messing with it.
Good for me. At the end of my afternoon spent on the Carter Falls beach, as I crossed the pool to leave, I spotted a two-foot water snake swimming for the brush that probably had become its new home for a while.
I’ve been tickled with all of the folks I’ve seen this past summer at Carter Falls on Big Elkin Creek north of Elkin and the cars I’ve seen in the parking lot along Pleasant Ridge Road. For generations the falls has been the neighborhood’s fine little secret, the community’s unofficial swimming hole and wooded getaway.
Now that the 60-foot falls has been opened up and presented as a present gift-wrapped for everybody, the question now is: just how safe is Carter Falls?
The falls is a touch wild, lying at the bottom of a wooded gorge that requires some caution by folks who must climb down a steep creek bank to get to the water. While the upper falls at the end of a newly cleared trail look tranquil enough, the falls’ lower, steeper section has a wall of granite where someone can slip and get hurt.
The danger of waterfalls is a topic that crops up in the news every once in a while. Every year there is word of someone somewhere falling at a waterfall. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service reports 12 deaths at its North Carolina waterfalls in the last three years.
I’ve traipsed around Carter Falls since I was young with no ill effect. I’ve climbed barefoot up and down the falls, and have waded and swam in the pool at its base. I’ve relaxed in the channel at the sliding rock midway up the falls that I use as a cold-water hot tub. While sitting at the foot of the falls, I’ve enjoyed the full force of the creek channel massaging my back.
I’ve never heard of anybody getting hurt at Carter Falls, and I’ve never felt endangered there, not even when I saw that snake swimming 10 feet away. (A state park ranger told me one time that breed of snake is harmless.)
But crowds can find odd, new ways to get in trouble, and kids burst with undeserved confidence when let loose in such a playground of nature. How long will it be till we hear a tale of woe coming from Elkin’s greatest natural jewel?
“It hides the danger,” Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye told the local newspaper after a drowning this past summer at that county’s Elk River Falls, which I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting. But I hear that falls has a plunge pool of 70 feet that invites diving and danger.
Not so at Carter Falls. The pool is much smaller and shallow; I’ve never known the water to reach higher than my waist. There’s no good place to dive.
Here’s my advice for trekking to Carter Falls: take your time hiking the path down to the water, and do wear shoes because the rocks on the trail will hurt your feet. (It did mine.) Climb only where the granite is dry and be on the lookout for brush and other trash, as there may be snakes and/or other critters who are visiting along with you.
I’ve found the pool fine for wading and swimming. But there are some larger rocks hidden in the pool on which a kid might slip and skin a knee.
I’ve never dared wading into the water after a hard rain and when the creek’s up. The muddy water after a hard rain is unappealing anyway.
There’s still trash, unfortunately, in Big Elkin Creek, and trash tends to collect around the falls. Broken glass and the sharp edges of cans and other trash can lurk on the shoreline or in the pool. Watch for it. There’s been no effort yet to clean up around the falls.
Do not let kids unfamiliar with Carter Falls race ahead of you on the trail, nor let young kids and their little friends go down there alone.
Let’s not allow some foolishness bring us bad news some day and tarnish our jewel.
Sunny Italy: In January I told you about the planned return of the iconic Sunny Italy restaurant in Wilkes County. John Roselli, a son of the Sunny Italy founders, now says he will open Rosellis To Go take-out restaurant next month in the Cricket community north of the hospital in North Wilkesboro. He’s promising some tastes of Sunny Italy, starting with its famed side salads.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.