Could Elkin be an MST Trail Town?

Elkin - Joe on bridge

Elkin has about 4,000 people and until I visited, I only thought of the town as an exit off I-77 on the way to Stone Mountain State Park. I came to see if Elkin could be a Mountains-to-Sea Trail town.

I met Joe Hicks and Denise Lyon from the Elkin Valley Trails Association at Speedy Chef, a breakfast joint. They were so enthusiastic about Elkin town and the MST going through their town. Both are native of the area, though Denise left for quite a few years and then came back.

Denise likes to compare Elkin to Damascus on the A.T. But unlike the A.T., long distance hikers walk the MST throughout the year, so they won’t be bunching up in Elkin for just a week in the spring. OK, maybe not in the winter, because Clingmans Dome Road is closed from December 1 to April 1.

The EVTA group got together in 2010 to fight a common enemy, a company that was going to put a chicken waste incinerator just outside the town.

“We fought it and defeated it by citizen sentiments. Then we turned this negative energy into something positive,” Denise said. And boy, is there action.

It’s about 17 miles from Stone Mountain to Elkin, in round numbers. Bob Hillyer, an EVTA member, is working on getting easements from local landowners to build the MST from Stone Mountain to Wells Knob and to the Elkin city limits.

They’re building a trail on the Old Elkin and Alleghany railroad for a portion of the trail from downtown Elkin (going MST west) and have made an alliance with horse riders for the remainder to Stone Mountain.

According to Joe, the riders said “We’ll help you get the trail in.”

The trails group has thought ahead. Camping will be allowed on the trail. They’re even talking about putting wooden benches. Now you don’t want to spoil hikers too much, do you?

The town has embraced the idea of a greenway which will follow Elkin Creek, a tributary of the Yadkin River. Surry County is backing all these projects. They also pointed out that vineyard tours are very big.

Denise has lived in Damascus, Asheville, Boone, and even in Colorado, but always in trail towns. “We’re creating a citizen army to build the trail,” she says.

Elkin - east start of OVVI


Elkin is also the eastern start of the Overmountain Victory Trail (OVVI). Abingdon is the western end. The OVVI follows the patriot route of the 1780 campaign to defeat the loyalists at Kings Mountain.

Now if you’ve read this blog for a while, you may have picked up that I’m a National Park Service groupie and I’ve visited many Revolutionary War sites around the South.

Joe explains that “my great grandfather (5 times over) was with Major Joseph Winston when they marched toward Kings Mountain.” Great grandfather 5 times over?? What a genealogical feat to have worked this out?

Joe took me on a walk to show me where the MST was going to go. We walked on a path in an Elkin City park, with its jogging trails, playground, garden, restrooms, and the mustering grounds for OVVI. I was standing on the official eastern start of the OVVI.

Then we reached Elkin Creek. A nature trail now follows the water. The trail looked excellent to me but Joe pointed out tree roots on the trail. Each group has its own trail standards, I guess. The trails group wants to move the trail a little further up on the railroad right-of-way to make it more stroller friendly without the roots.

Elkin creekThe Elkin & Alleghany Railroad had its first run on July 4, 1911. It was supposed to go 60 miles to Jefferson but only 18 miles of track were ever laid – some sources say 10 miles. When US 21 was built from Elkin to Sparta, the line became obsolete and finally abandoned in 1931. Dams were put in the late 1880s to generate power.  Elkin Creek had the traditional grist mill and cotton mill. Later the Elkin Shoe Factory moved in.

Joe and I walked to an old shed and right now that’s the end point until the group puts in a bridge. They’re planning on two suspension bridges. On top of the shed was a long black snake which they’ve named Sheddy.

On the way back, we discussed what a town needs to be a successful trail town. In reality, most hikers are not going to do the MST straight through. But the MST will follow Main Street and this is what they’ll find.

The number one thing to me is friendly people – friendly to visitors as well as to locals. Elkin folks are very warm. Now I realize that I was with Joe and he knows everyone but you couldn’t walk two steps without someone saying “hi”. I got the same friendly treatment when I walked around by myself.

Just off the main street is Harry’s Place on Front St. They serve great lunches with corn bread with real cornmeal. That’s the place for lunch.

Joe pointed out Royall’s Soda Shoppe and the Elk Pharmacy for necessities. Diana’s Books owned by Cicely McCulloch is my necessity. She carries the latest books including my hiking books and serves coffee and goodies. A friendly place to have a cuppa and use their wi-fi.

Toward the end of Main Street, hikers will find Yadkin Valley General Store where they can get trail mix and cold drinks. But for more choices, you can’t beat Combs Butcher with lots of fresh produce.

Joe also showed me Smith-Phillips Lumber, an abandoned building now owned by the city. The hope is to have shops and an office for the Overmountain Victory Trail Association, the friends group for the OVVI. Maybe they’ll put in a hostel like their namesake in West Virginia.

The trail then leaves town on NC 268.

Joe even found a laundromat, actually two in Elkin – Town and Country Coin Laundry, 701 NC Hwy 268 and at corner of Powers lane. Ray’s Cleaners 1558 North Bridge Street in Elkin Village Shopping Center.

Laugh if you must, but inexpensive restaurants, resupply of food and band-aids and a laundromat is what long-distance hikers look for.

I can’t wait to go back and see how the trail is progressing.

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