Could there be a Carter Falls State Park in the area’s future?
Area outdoor and nature enthusiasts are hoping that very scenario can occur with a potential agreement between the state and Wilkes County leaders, as well as cooperation with private landowners and trail development leaders.
The Elkin Valley Trails Association, in its efforts to continue developing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail between Stone Mountain State Park and Elkin want to be sure the Carter Falls are preserved in the future and that the trail skirts the 60-foot high natural falls just outside Elkin in Wilkes County.
A draft of a memorandum of understanding initially was on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners, but with no state representative available to attend and make the presentation and answer questions, Commissioner Eddie Settle tabled the presentation of the document for a later time, explained Sarah Call, clerk to the board.
Bob Hillyer, EVTA Trail Development coordinator, explained Thursday that the idea is for the state to purchase the Carter Falls property, which is now privately owned by Dan Park, and then lease it to Wilkes County, which would oversee the development of and operation of the property. In the draft agreement, the lease would be $1 for a 40-year period.
“It would be a state park administered by Wilkes County,” Hillyer said. “The first public step was the presentation to the Wilkes County commissioners, because they would oversee it.”
He said this particular partnership to create a state park has been used in the eastern part of the state, and the memorandum of understanding drafted is based on other similar documents used in those partnerships down east.
As far as funding for the purchase of the land by the state, Hillyer said part of the Connect NC Bond, which was approved by voters earlier this year, is dedicated to projects like the proposed create of the state park at Carter Falls. “That’s one requirement for the bond money, to be used for trails in North Carolina. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail will go by the falls,” he explained.
The draft MOU explains in its first lines that the state “has authorized the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail as a unit of the State Parks System and a component of the State Trails System.” It goes on to define the potential relationship with Wilkes County, in outlining that “Wilkes County has agreed to sponsor a section of the State Trail near Carter Falls along Elkin Creek, and will be responsible for design, construction, maintenance and management of the trail within their Section, including its location, appearance, surface, uses and amenities.”
“The EVTA is certainly willing to help with [the building and developing of the property and trails],” Hillyer explained.
If the memorandum of understanding is approved by the county officials, Hillyer said the next step would be to have appraisals of the land so a purchase price could be determined and negotiated.
“Dan has been very positive about the trails,” said Hillyer. “We’ve presented several options to him, and he’s considering this option.”
He said this move “will be very huge for Elkin as far as tourism.”
In explaining the history of Carter Falls, Hillyer said a small dam was built at the top of the falls in the early 1900s by Duke Power to produce electrical power. Since that time, it’s been owned by private landowners.
“This first step is an effort to bring together landowners, state and local governments as well as private and nonprofit organizations to save and protect this wonderful natural resource we have in our area,” said Hillyer.
The EVTA is continuously seeking volunteers and feedback from the public, with more information and opportunities provided at elkinvalleytrails.org or on the Elkin Valley Trails Facebook page.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.