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With wineries and waterfalls, Elkin aims for Trail Town status
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With wineries and waterfalls, Elkin aims for Trail Town status

Vineyard Trail Carter Falls

Water cascades over the Upper Falls at Carter Falls in Elkin. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs next to the falls and local leaders hope to build a suspension bridge across Elkin Creek in the area. 

An Elkin-based group is working to define the town as a North Carolina Trail Town.

The Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) was born from a community challenge called Vibrant Elkin about 10 years ago, said retired physician Bill Blackley. The effort identified three goals for the town - recruit business, improve the look of downtown and develop a greenway trail system.

EVTA members brag that Elkin is the only town in North Carolina where three sanctioned trails converge. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) runs about 1,200 miles across North Carolina from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail commemorates the route taken by patriot militia from Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina to fight the British at Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. And the Yadkin River State Trail is a 130-mile blueway or paddling trail from Wilkes to Montgomery County.

Since its founding, the group has built everything from urban-style greenways with a granite-dust base to more rustic trails through the woods, said Bob Hillyer, an association member and one of the principal trail builders. Many of the trails incorporate the history of the community or highlight native trees and wildflowers. The group has built seven miles of mountain biking trails near Elkin Municipal Park and the ETVA spearheads trail building of the MST between Stone Mountain and Pilot Mountain State parks. All told, the group has built 26 bridges and about 25 miles of trail.

One of the most recent set of trails highlights the 60-foot cascade of Carter Falls, which until recently, was unknown to many people in the area because it was on private land.

The Carter Falls Trail starts at the northwest corner of the parking area on Pleasant Ridge Road. The trail is flat and wide as it takes you through a young hardwood forest to an opening at the top of the falls.

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A 10-foot high dam, built in 1915 to harness Elkin Creek to generate electricity, once stood upstream from here. Water was carried by pipeline to the base where a powerhouse produced electricity for the town.

The trail then runs parallel to the creek. Visitors have cut a steep trail directly to the base of the Upper Falls where the fall’s plunge pool makes a good spot for wading. A sediment beach shaded by hardwood trees runs along the west side of the creek.

The Carter Falls Trail then merges into the Powerhouse Trail. EVTA built a staircase and landing to detour hikers around a giant washout created by a flume break in the 1960s. The trail then descends to the Lower Falls where a stone foundation is all that is left of the powerhouse.

Together, the Carter Falls Trail and the Powerhouse Trail make an easy 1.0-mile loop through the park’s 43 acres.

The association is currently raising money to build a 150-foot suspension bridge below the Lower Falls that will reroute the existing route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail off the road to the Carter Falls Trail, up the west side of the falls and on toward Stone Mountain.

With only about 15 spaces, the parking lot at Carter Falls can fill quickly on weekends. Parking is also available nearby at Byrd’s Branch Campground, (0.2 miles down Martin Byrd Road) where you can pick up ice cream and other treats at the campground store or park at Grassy Creek Vineyard for a four-mile round trip hike. The Grassy Creek Vineyard Trail winds through a beautiful stretch of woods before meeting up with the MST. Wrap up your hike with a flight or bottle of wine and assorted North Carolina-produced cheeses, sausage and crackers in the vineyard tasting room.

EVTA holds workdays to build and maintain trails on the first Thursday and the third Saturday of each month. Last year about 600 volunteers contributed 5570 hours, Blackley said

Printable, full-color maps of all area trails are on the association’s website.

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