Horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, birding, wildflowers, paddling, art, trail building, fundraising, dog park, volunteer opportunities, all were covered Thursday night as nearly 100 area residents gathered to learn more about the Elkin Valley Trails Association and its opportunities for participation.
The EVTA community meeting began with an update on the progress the organization has made and the upcoming projects and events, presented by Joe Mickey, EVTA treasurer.
The work of EVTA is diverse in that it involves the E&A Rail Trail, which will go from Elkin Municipal Park to Stone Mountain. This trail also is part of the Mountains to Sea Trail, and it is part of the trailhead of the Overmountain Victory Trail, which leaves the south side of Elkin Municipal Park and follows the Yadkin River west to Kerr Scott Reservoir, and then south to Morganton and Kings Mountain.
In addition to the main trail from Elkin to Stone Mountain, which is still partially on the road as off-road trails are being developed, other ongoing projects include a mountain bike trail; a loop trail between Grassy Creek Vineyard and Byrd’s Branch Campground which also will include Elkin Creek Vineyard in the future; and areas for horse trails to park along the Wells Knob stretch of the trail.
Mickey explained the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) from Clingman’s Dome to Stone Mountain is all on trails, but from Stone Mountain east it is “piece meal” with some on trails and much of it on the roadside. “We are trying to get the hikers off the road,” he said.
While trail developers are working to gain easements and build the trail from Stone Mountain to Elkin, they also want to make the MST a paddling trail from Elkin to Pilot Mountain, where it then heads east into Stokes County.
The trail from Elkin to Carter Falls will be for hikers and mountain bikers, and then from Carter Falls to Stone Mountain will be designated for hikers and equestrians, said Mickey.
Already one 140-foot footbridge has been installed north of N.C. 268 along the trail, and a second one will be installed this spring or summer which will be a 178-foot bridge 50 feet off the water. With $200,000 in grant funding secured for the second bridge, a $50,000 match is required.
The trail up Wells Knob in Wilkes County is a 700-foot climb, designed with seven or eight switchbacks so it is easy enough for the horses to traverse, Mickey said. The Yadkin Valley Trail Riders built two 25-foot bridges over two small creeks along that portion of the trail, and Mickey said they did it in an impressive four hours for each bridge and costing only $400 to $500 each, with everything else for the projects donated.
“Wells Knob is open, and we are getting hikers and horses,” he said, noting he’d seen fresh horse tracks along the trail just since the recent rains.
The EVTA also is working on the Sawyer and Billings property near Stone Mountain, Mickey said.
“The state park’s looking to bring the Mountains to Sea Trail out of the park and come in and tie to our trail,” he said.
Of the 18 to 20 miles to get from Elkin to Stone Mountain, Mickey said almost eight miles are now on completed sections of trail.
As he flipped through his PowerPoint presentation, Mickey mentioned the large number of people who’ve been involved with the trail association’s work through either property donations or easements, hand clearing the trails, Boy Scout projects, school groups volunteering to help with the trail development.
One of the most recent of these partnerships includes an agreement with a landowner to put the trail around Carter Falls, with work beginning on that the day after the meeting. “It’s a brand new trail, so nothing is done. It’s one and a half miles one way,” he said.
Other parts of the trail projects include a .4-mile wildflower meadow above the first bridge and erecting nature and historical markers along the trail.
“We are promoting Elkin as a birding location,” said Mickey, who reported 128 species have been spotted between Crater Park and the first footbridge.
A funding breakdown for the EVTA’s projects showed revenue is 20 percent in grants, 34 percent government assistance, one percent EVTA merchandise like T-shirts, 33 percent individual donations and 12 percent fundraisers. Martha Smith, branch librarian at the Elkin Public Library, has written all of the grants for the EVTA, and Watson Metal has donated and installed a donation box on the trail for those who wish to give while they are enjoying the trail.
Fundraisers include the Trails Boogie, a free concert and silent auction held at The Liberty in downtown Elkin; the Tour de Vino bike ride, featuring loops to area vineyards in options of 25 to 100 mile rides; the annual Duck and Turtle Regatta, with funds split between EVTA and the Yadkin Valley Rotary Club; and the Insane Terrain run, which was actually held on the trail and its surrounding woods this past year.
“During the year, volunteers, you folks are our main reason we got a lot done,” said Mickey. “We have fun, make new friends and get a lot of work done.”
In 2015, 5,300 volunteer hours were logged by EVTA, which is the equivalent of $123,000 in free labor, he said.
“I have 13 pages on an Excel spreadsheet of people who have donated, that’s close to 600 people who have contributed to this project,” said Dr. Bill Blackley of EVTA. “This is truly a grassroots community project.”
Other groups attending the community gathering included the Sparta Trails organization, which recently formed with a goal to have a trail from Sparta to Stone Mountain to meet up with the EVTA’s trail, and leaders from Jonesville, which also has a trail which follows the Yadkin River.
“The Elkin Trails was formed initially to boost the economy,” said Blackley, as he announced the 2017 meeting of the Mountains to Sea Trail association will be held at The Liberty in Elkin, which will bring 300 people to town.
“It is truly amazing to see this level of activity,” said Lou Nachman, who is part of the Sparta Trails group.
“We’re just trying to get the momentum going,” said Sparta Trails coordinator Iboya Pasley, who said she met Blackley at an Elkin music festival and while they were walking the trail he encouraged her to start the group in Sparta. “The Sparta Bypass is going to be continued and there is a nice creek that follows it to the Little River, and then we can make it from there to Stone Mountain.”
She said she’d like to see a trail along the creek by the bypass similar to the E&A Rail Trail along Big Elkin Creek.
“The Mountains to Sea Trail is our first goal, and the second goal is to follow the old railroad bed,” she said. “Everything will start at our veterans park which is new, it just opened last year.
“I really love this,” she said of what Elkin has done, “and I want to do something for our town.”
Following the presentation, community members were able to learn more about specific areas involving the association’s projects and volunteer to help.
Those wanting more information on EVTA or to volunteer, learn about trail workdays or donation opportunities, visit elkinvalleytrails.org.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.