It happened, I believe, the second time that Dad walked me down from the house here in the hometown to the Big Elkin Creek gorge and to Carter Falls, the Elkin area’s greatest natural treasure.
At the falls, Dad pointed out a long, flat rock on the west side. When he was a kid, Dad said, he and his buddies would bring buckets, wet down the rock and slide into the rushing creek water.
First of all I struggled to imagine Dad, nearing 50 at the time, as a kid. Second, that he had little buddies. And third, that he and his friends would do such a thing. Of course, I wanted to try it.
I never did, though, never could think ahead of time to bring a pail along with me. However, beside the sliding rock at Carter Falls is a channel.
And one time many years later on a blistering-hot summer day I stared at that channel funneling roiling, cool water that looked so inviting. In my mind I measured and realized that I just might be able to fit my grown self into a cleft in the granite.
And thus I enjoyed what I believe was the first use of the Carter Falls Jacuzzi. It felt gooood.
For generations, neighborhood kids and adults have claimed the 60-foot falls with the climbable slopes as the local swimming hole and natural playground. Power companies that ran a small hydroelectric operation at the falls over the decades were kind and didn’t try to stop us from frolicking.
The Carter Falls dam and power plant — Elkin’s first public power plant, built in 1914 — are long gone now, and the old Duke Power Co. sold off its land around the falls some decades ago. Sorry I wasn’t offered a chance to throw in a bid at the time — I had a couple of thou I could’ve laid down.
My ancestors lived around Carter Falls and my extended family’s old Fields home place adjoins the falls today. A fledgling vineyard holds promise of opening up the old farm to the public someday.
But meanwhile I’ve worried about those beautiful falls, which fell into private hands after Duke sold out. What could become of them? Would somebody develop the place? Would somebody ruin the falls?
Carter Falls is too wonderful not to protect and allow everyone to see and enjoy. I’ve fantasized about a park there for a long time.
So I welcome the news that Wilkes County, the state and the Elkin Valley Trails Association are working on plans for a 40-acre park at the falls just four miles north of Elkin.
I can think of no better place around here for it. I love Carter Falls. I’m sure you will, too.
The chairman of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners, Elkin businessman Eddie Settle, lives just a mile downstream from the falls. Now, you tell me if they’ll make a park.
What? You’ve never heard of Carter Falls? You’ve never seen it? Well, it has been out of view for a while and forgotten by many since Duke pulled out.
We’ll have to change that.
Carter Falls is so gorgeous, it’ll make folks forget about the Widow’s Creek Falls swimming hole at Stone Mountain State Park.
Sure, I’ve heard some rumblings in the neighborhood against the idea. Some here in the borderlands think Wilkesboro, the far-away county seat, ignores us and like it that way.
I heard the same rumblings 20 years ago when the county wanted to build a trash-collection station at the foot of Wells Knob near Austin.
Too much trash, the naysayers said. Too much traffic, they said. Wilkes County will not keep the place up, they said.
But now after two decades the county has continued to keep up the collection center excellently and has kept its promise to make the center a fine asset for the community. They’ll do the same at Carter Falls.
I know it’s early, and excuse me for being presumptuous, but I’m already laying out my plans for the park.
There’s a little pond at the foot of the falls that makes for a nice swimming hole. But the water’s only waist-high. A little dredging could make a nice pool about half the size of the Elkin Park pool. And with no chlorine.
Carter Falls is no Niagara Falls, but there’s an awesome bridge across the Niagara gorge up on the Canadian border. In a similar vein, a foot bridge over Carter Falls would be fantastic.
The trails association has put up two bridges downstream already, but would it be too much to ask for a third one, Niagara-style, over Carter Falls? Boy, would that be a heart-thriller.
A sandbar on the west bank of the swimming hole has been a popular place to camp, build campfires, play in the sand and lounge. Kids would run, not walk, to the sandbar. A picnic shelter on higher ground as close to the sandbar as feasible would be wonderful.
And don’t forget the Jacuzzi. I’ll be glad to point it out.
There’s also a stone ledge at the foot of the falls that’s perfect to sit on. I’ve spent hours there just letting the water wash over me. It’s wonderful.
And by the way, how about a sister park at Tharpe’s Mill on Big Bugaboo Creek to the west, another gorgeous spot?
Wilkes County, you’re welcome to my ideas.
And in appreciation if you want to name the falls the Harris-Fields Park, I’m sure the Carter clan wouldn’t mind. (Well, yes, actually they would.)
Go for it, Elkin.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
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