Elkin & Alleghany Rail-Trail

Trail will start in Elkin (Surry County) and extend west into Wilkes County. The Elkin Valley Trail Association has been formed to promote both short-term events and long-term development of a trail on portions of the historical E & A rail corridor. Please check in on the EVTA blog periodically to keep abreast of future activities including workdays on the River trail section within Elkin. See NCRT's Winter 2013 Newsletter for news of their recent progress.  For more immediate updates and to find out how to get involved with the association please contact Bill Blackley.

The small group of hikers paused where the dirt trail ended at a big bend in Elkin Creek. Here, the Elkin & Alleghany (E&A) short line railroad once crossed the curvy creek twice before beginning its slow 15-mile climb to the base of Stone Mountain.

The hikers - members of the Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) - visualized the story they had all heard a hundred times, how the engineer used to stop the train, hop out, and walk across the trestles. Then the fireman would bump the train into gear and jump off while the train crossed the bridges unmanned, rolling to a stop at the base of the hill. The fireman then crossed the trestles on foot. This was a precaution in case the rickety bridges collapsed under the weight of the engine.

As it turned out, the bridges outlived the railroad, which was decommissioned in the early 1930s. But they’re gone now; the ties rotted and washed out after the rails were removed to sell for scrap. Generations of Elkin kids have snuck off to swim in the deep pool formed by the bend, and some claim that during low water you can still see ties stuck in the sandy creek bottom. Now, with NCRT’s help, a group of residents in this Surry County town just south of the Virginia line aims to build back two new bridges for hikers and bikers. These bridges will be crucial links for the E&A Rail-Trail, which will eventually connect the town of Elkin with Stone Mountain State Park. Most of the proposed trail will follow the former right-of-way of the Elkin & Alleghany Railroad. With the Overmountain Victory Trail and the Mountainsto- Sea Trail nearby, Elkin has the potential to become a destination city for trail users, with the E&A Rail-Trail as the city’s crowning jewel.

About a decade ago, a nature science society in Elkin built a little nature trail along a portion of Elkin Creek that had been tangled and inaccessible for decades. Along the way they discovered old railroad ties, evidence of rails, and coal storage bins buried under pine needles. They found stone bridge abutments, small-scale hydro dams and factory ruins, all speaking of a once-thriving commerce along the creek and the short line railroad that followed it up the mountain. A member of that group, Bill Blackley, a (now retired) family practice and urgent care physician, later led a group of Elkin citizens who defeated a proposed poultry manure incinerator in Surry County, on the conviction that it would damage the health and vitality of the town. After the incinerator pulled out, the group decided to stay together and work proactively to enhance the health and vitality of their town. Thus was born the Elkin Valley Trails Association, the lead organization for the rail-trail effort.

While the EVTA had experience working on other trails, they knew that a rail-trail would be a bit more tricky. The group first approached the national group, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, but that organization did not want to take on a project where the rail right-of-way had been abandoned for more than 50 years. Then they heard about NCRT and “we were so excited we could hardly stand it,” says Dr. Blackley.

NCRT is helping in a variety of ways. The EVTA was ready to start fundraising to build bridges, but they did not have non-profit status and could not collect tax deductable donations. NCRT became ETVA’s financial sponsor, allowing ETVA to fundraise under NCRT’s supervision. NCRT is also helping the group find appropriate grant opportunities. In the future, NCRT may use its land-trust function to acquire easements as the trail leaves public land and lengthens toward Stone Mountain State Park. NCRT’s expertise and resources in combination with the hard work and dedication of the local residents will move this project forward.

photos courtesy of Nancy Pierce

Railroad background for Elkin Trail
by Walter R. Turner, Historian, North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation

In 1890, the east-west Northwestern N. C. Railroad was extended from Winston (future Winston-Salem) to Elkin and shortly on to North Wilkesboro. It became part of the Southern Railway when the railroad was organized in 1894. In 1911, Elkin leaders started building the Elkin & Alleghany Railroad from the Southern line to the northwest. The plan was to reach the popular resort, Roaring Gap, and Sparta, the county seat of Alleghany County, a distance of 40 miles. The State of North Carolina furnished working prisoners in exchange for railroad stock. The line served a few small businesses, including logging operations, a tannery, and a shoe factory near a small dam. To meet financial crises, the railroad was reorganized with better funding in 1914 and in 1920. After the line was extended to the village of Doughton by 1917, the entire route was 15 miles in length. In the mid-1920s, however, US Highway 26 opened from Elkin to Roaring Gap and Sparta and by that time, more citizens could afford to buy cars to drive to various locations. These developments led the Elkin & Allegheny Railroad to declare abandonment in 1931. In the meantime, Southern Railway prospered and continued passenger service to Elkin until the mid-1950s. Today, the Elkin & Alleghany Ticket Office has survived and the Elkin Valley Trails Association tells the railroad’s history while turning the rail corridor into an impressive trail.