History of the Elkin Valley Trails Association
The Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) has become a cornerstone organization in the Elkin community. The EVTA brings people together through a common goal of creating and maintaining a higher quality of life while boosting the local economy. The group focuses primarily on building and promoting walking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, paddling, history, birding, and wildflower trails in the greater Elkin Valley area. On any given day, scores of community citizens, visitors (often with pets) can be observed walking, jogging, running, biking or pushing strollers on the trails near Elkin Municipal Park alongside the rippling Elkin Creek. This trail is only a small portion of the regional trail system that the EVTA is diligently building.
EVTA grew out of a group of concerned citizens in the Elkin area who wanted to help local and regional leaders attract businesses that would be interested in our wellness as well as promoting our economy. In the process, an organization called Vibrant Elkin was formed with a goal of promoting and maintaining a livable, vibrant community in the Elkin Valley by creating a network of trails and outdoor activities in partnership with existing parks and recreation facilities.
This Vibrant Elkin group pledged to work hand-in-hand, on the same rung of the ladder, with county and town commissioners and staff, in line with economic and community development goals. EVTA developed complementary goals and connected with a host of individuals, businesses, Surry Health Department, Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital and many citizen’s groups including the Yadkin Valley Rotary Club and Jaycees. Through research EVTA found that many businesses wanted to remain or locate in towns that have good access to outdoor recreation activities. Although Elkin already had amenities such as the Yadkin River and close proximity to Stone Mountain State Park, there were many untapped opportunities for increasing community access to outdoor activities. Members of Vibrant Elkin voted to focus on building and expanding local and regional trails in an organization they created called the Elkin Valley Trails Association.
The EVTA was first established under the NC Rail-Trails Inc. but later formed their own 501 c 3 non-profit organization and they were off to the races. EVTA discovered that the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) had originally been planned to come through Elkin, but because of a lack of trail building activity, the trail had bypassed Elkin, following rural roads to its next destination at Pilot Mountain. In 2013, after the EVTA had begun significant trail construction, the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (FMST) organization agreed to route the trail directly through Elkin, as was originally planned in 1977 when the MST was established.
The EVTA (as the Regional MST Task Force Leader) adopted the portion of the trail that enters Stone Mountain State Park from the Blue Ridge Parkway and courses through Elkin all the way to Pilot Mountain. Most of this trail was on the road initially and EVTA set out to establish an off-road route paralleling the road route. The EVTA started work on about 26 miles of mostly private property connecting Stone Mountain State Park with the town of Elkin. Through diligent work with numerous landowners the new MST trail route from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin and on to Pilot Mountain is coming closer to reality.
The EVTA, an all volunteer group, relies on the support of citizens, businesses and governmental bodies of the three-county community in Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin. Their volunteers come from a host of occupations and bring varied interests and skills as they build trails and add activities. In Elkin, the trail follows the old Elkin and Alleghany Railroad bed alongside the Elkin Creek. The trail generally follows the 1896 and 1906 NC Railroad Charter routes to Stone Mountain and Sparta. In 2012, EVTA published a historical book about the old Elkin and Alleghany Railroad. Many longtime community members were pleased to have the stories of their ancestors memorialized in this book, The E&A Railroad Revisited. The book gave the trail a new purpose and historical meaning. It honored the work of many citizens who toiled to carve out the railroad grade almost a century ago and it brought new life to a rail line that had been untouched for nearly eighty years.
The entire MST is open to hikers. The trail from Stone Mountain State Park to near Byrd’s Branch campground will jointly accommodate horseback riding and hikers while the trail from below Byrd’s Branch to Elkin will accommodate mountain and flex bikers and hikers. The EVTA is also developing about 6.5 miles of mountain biking trails as a spur off the main trail near Elkin. A separate bike/hike trail along the county line between Surry and Wilkes to Stone Mountain is planned. Both bikers and horseback riders have weighed in heavily to help build their respective portions of the trail.
The E & A Rail Trail has become known as a great location for birding and is featured as a North Carolina ebird hotspot. One hundred forty-eight species of birds have been identified along the trail at this writing. The EVTA has worked with the NC Wildlife Resources to establish hatchery-stocked trout fishing in the Elkin Creek. EVTA has worked to establish and maintain native plants along the trail and features a Jandy-Ammons native wildflower meadow and native species walk that includes tree and wildflower identification signs along the trail. In addition, 18 multi-modal QR coded history signs are spotted along the trail with photos of the old factories and facilities that once dotted the Elkin Creek (that for two centuries was officially the Elkin River). Local Project Development Class students studied each site, wrote scripts vetted by a historian and recorded them in the Elkin High School AV studio. Users can access the historical story at each site through a smart phone.
The MST and the E & A Rail Trail, which overlap, are not the only trails in the Elkin area. The Overmountain Victory Trail is a national historic trail that commemorates the 1780 march of patriots and its eastern terminus was in Elkin beside the then Elkin River where Major Joseph Winston mustered Surry County Citizens from an area that included both current Yadkin, Surry and Wilkes counties. The ETVA has worked with the Overmountain Victory Trail Association to assist them in trail marking and other efforts to establish an off road trail to Kings Mountain, NC. EVTA also coordinates with the Yadkin Riverkeeper to promote and support events such as the Tour de Yadkin and the Yadkin River Trail, a “Blue” trail enjoyed by folks on canoes, kayaks or inner tubes.
The EVTA created a number of events to raise money and highlight the trails including the annual Trails Boogie at The Liberty building in Elkin. The Boogie usually features a silent auction, a meal and live music and dancing. EVTA hosts the Insane Terrain 5 and 10k runs in Elkin in October. EVTA members can usually be found at the Surry County Farmers Market in downtown Elkin on Saturday morning selling hats, T-shirts, and allowing folks to adopt a duck or turtle for the Duck and Turtle Regatta, an Elkin Creek race at the end of the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival each September. They also host the Yadkin Valley Tour de Vino road bike ride during Yadkin Valley Wine Festival and 5 K races in conjunction with vineyards at annual Vineyard Stomps.
EVTA volunteers work regularly increasing access to user-friendly trails. The trail boasts seven Eagle Scout projects, including multiple benches, a viewing deck, two rest shelters, a 40-foot bridge and a kayak and canoe rack. School groups, professional organizations (really any volunteers) can help build or maintain trails, install native plants and help with many other tasks through the organization. The best way for new volunteers to find out about opportunities is through the EVTA website and Facebook page.
The accomplishments of the EVTA in just a few years are amazing, having installed many miles of high-quality trails and seven incredible bridges spanning from 18-feet to 140-feet (and very soon, a bridge spanning 178-feet). The group’s efforts seem boundless.
By partnering in a grassroots fashion with businesses, landowners, foundations, leaders, and individuals they jointly give back to communities along the trail. They have enabled diverse individuals to find a niche within the group and exercise creative initiatives and give discretionary efforts to projects. The informal motto of the group, “No obstacles, only opportunities,” describes the spirit of the organization.
EVTA embraces the history of the Elkin Valley and surrounding three counties, while focusing on its mission to enrich the greater community with access to the green spaces and outdoors that make the area unique and beautiful. This group is radically enriching all of our lives in the area. The EVTA is more than trails and bridges. It is an organization with a big heart and a strong will to continue forging a way for this community to both enjoy and enhance its beautiful natural surroundings.
- Dr. William J. Blackely, Mecca Lowe, Marianne Luther, 2016.