The Elkin Municipal Park serves as more than a place to get some exercise or for relaxing, it is a gathering spot for the community, bringing friends and family together for fellowship, celebration and fun throughout the year.
Originally built in the 1970s as the community’s answer to losing its YMCA, the municipal park serves as more than just home to a recreational center with a gym and workout facilities.
A fund drive in the community began in 1975 with a goal of raising enough money, which would be matched by Chatham Manufacturing, to purchase about 23 acres of what was known then as “Neaves bottom,” land along Big Elkin Creek which had originally been purchased by a developer who was interested in building a shopping center. The land ended up back in the hands of the Neaves heirs, who offered substantial donations toward the $100,000 fund drive, which was headed up by local attorney Dan Park.
The fund drive, according to an article in the Oct. 1, 1976 Tribune, raised nearly $150,000 in pledges and would see a match from Chatham of $112,000.
Construction of the park, overseen by then-recreation commissioner Tom Gwyn, took place in two phases, with additional financial aid coming from grants. The first phase was the creation of an outdoor swimming pool, which opened in the summer of 1979. The second phase added a picnic shelter, lighted tennis courts, ball fields, a playground, concession stand and a gravel-dust trail for walking and running.
The $566,000 park was built using no tax revenue, and turned land in a flood-plain into a place to benefit the community.
The indoor recreation center, which could not be built using outdoor recreational grants, would come later.
Gwyn recalled recently one of the town’s focal points was its YMCA, which housed recreational opportunities as well as the library and a bowling alley. “It was a regional facility,” he said.
The Neaves bottom and land nearby where the park is now was where corn was grown, cattle grazed and the town water supply derived. The old town reservoir was filled in and now the recreation center sits on that site, said Gwyn.
“With the Y closing, we felt there should be a recreation facility somewhere,” he said of the community’s desire.
Adam McComb, recreation and parks director for Elkin, explained that the funds were raised through individuals, groups and businesses, and then they were matched by Chatham, and then that total amount was matched by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“The public had a lot of input on what would be put here,” Gwyn said, noting the biggest want from the community was a pool.
He said if the YMCA hadn’t originally been in Elkin, he wasn’t sure the town residents would have responded to the fund drive with as much support, because they wouldn’t have known what they were missing.
What they were used to was incentive to get back what they had,” agreed McComb.
The rec center was added to the property around 1988 or ‘89, he said. Gwyn noted that the original gym floor was the same floor designed for the William Neal Reynolds gym at N.C. State University.
The park also now includes a bandshell, new playground equipment and designation as one of two muster sites for the Overmountain Victory Trail, now part of the National Park Service, of which McComb said park officials didn’t even realize the land was part of until about 10 years ago. It also serves as a starting point for the E&A Rail Trail, which heads north toward Stone Mountain State Park and is part of the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
“Even way back then this land was a place of gathering,” McComb said.
“There was a lot of activity up and down this creek,” Gwyn said of Big Elkin Creek and its importance in the region’s history. “With the plaques along the trail, you can see how much it was used.”
McComb said the park “is loved to death,” with warmer seasons being heavy special events time. Everything from the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival, to Relay for Life and benefit concerts, 5Ks and other activities are held at the park. The picnic shelters get used by companies, churches, families and others for picnics, reunions, parties and cookouts.
“The day you come down here and don’t see anyone is rare,” said McComb. “It is just a great place for people in Elkin and the surrounding communities to come and enjoy nature and each other.”
“When I was doing real estate, this was a stop on my tour,” said Gwyn of the places he used to market Elkin to those potentially moving to the area. “This park really says who we are and who we’ve been.”
To visit Elkin Municipal Park, travel N.C. 268 Business west of downtown Elkin.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.