VALDESE – It’s an exciting time to be a hiker in Burke County, especially if you’re in the Valdese area.
Friends of Valdese Rec will celebrate the completion of a new bridge connecting Valdese Lakeside Park to McGalliard Falls at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, President and Founder Beth Heile said.
She said attendees should meet in the McGalliard Falls parking lot at 9:30 a.m. It is a 800m walk from McGalliard Falls to the bridge, but 2.1km to the bridge from Valdese Lakeside Park.
“Even though we’ve been through the first phase of construction at Valdese Lakeside Park and we’ve had this ribbon cutting and everything is going well, it’s really the key moment, like the keystone, if you will, in an arch to have these two connected and have people able to walk 2 miles between the parks,” Heile said. “It’s really exciting.”
The bridge, a catenary design that allows for some movement, connected the McGalliard Falls side of the trail to the Valdese Lakeside Park portion, Heile said.
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But the newly completed bridge opens the door to more than connecting the two local parks.
“It’s a connection for the Wilderness Gateway State Trail,” Heile said. “It stretches from Baker’s Mountain to South Mountains State Park to Chimney Rock State Park east to west with this loop arriving at Valdese Lakeside Park.”
Heile said it will also help bridge the gap, literally, between the two parks and the Burke River Trail that will connect Morganton’s Catawba River Greenway to Hickory’s trail systems.
“It was a long process,” Heile said. “It’s been seven years since I started Friends of the Valdese Rec with the idea of getting these 300 acres for the park (Valdese Lakeside), and from that start, the kick-off meetings, we were going connecting us to McGalliard Falls Park. That was the point. You just can’t have one park sitting there disconnected from the other park.
Volunteers spent Friday morning painting large concrete sewer pipes a green hue to help ensure the pipes blend into the landscape.
She said she hopes families will visit Valdese Lakeside Park, at least to see the lookout which is about two-tenths of a mile down the trail.
“We call it Meditation Point,” Heile said. “This has a deck that you walk on and you can see Table Rock and Hawksbill and long views of the lake. There are some pretty birds to watch there. We have educational signs on the gazebo there about heron and bald eagle.
She also hoped people would come and check out the bridge and all the other features the park has to offer so far, like a dog park for four-legged friends.
“Looking at the lookout and the bridge and just, oh my God, being on that greenway,” Heile said. “It still amazes me today that we have such a beautiful wooded property right there within the city limits. It’s amazing.”
This is far from the end of park developments, Heile said.
“Valdese Lakeside Park isn’t finished,” Heile said. “There is more to do with real mountain bike trails. We currently have about 11 miles of trails that you can hike and bike, but that’s not what serious mountain bikers want with the berms and rollers.
This is what the organization hopes to see happen next to the park, with a picnic pavilion.
“There’s still a lot to do to get people back into nature and we’re going to step up McGalliard Falls at the same time,” Heile said. “People always say, ‘we’re not friends of Valdese Lakeside Park, we still have a lot to do.'”
She said the group had focused on the Valdese Children’s Park earlier in the year with an interactive mural, and later in the year they planned to work on the steps of the flour mill in McGalliard Falls to the bottom of the falls.
“There are many, many things to do in Valdese,” Heile said.