McGalliard Creek Bridge Moving Forward

(l-r) Councilwoman Frances Hildebran, Karen Clark-Caruso, W.T. Sorrell, Pat Zimmerman, Mayor Charlie Watts, Parks and Recreation Director David Andersen, Friends of the Valdese Rec President Beth Heile, Alicia Mears, Councilman Paul Mears, Councilwoman Rexanna Lowman, Councilman Andy Thompson

All obstacles in the path of the McGalliard Creek bridge project have been cleared and construction is the next step. From the 2013 Valdese Parks & Recreation Comprehensive Development Plan, the top recreational item requested by survey respondents and public input meeting attendees was a trail from McGalliard Falls Park to the Valdese Wastewater Treatment Plant. Friends of the Valdese Rec has been raising money for the bridge since early 2019 to create a 2-mile Valdese Greenway from McGalliard Falls Park to Valdese Lakeside Park (which is beside the treatment plant).

Early on, there were two major obstacles that prevented the trail. The Town of Valdese did not own the property on the McGalliard Falls side of McGalliard Creek, nor the property on the Wastewater Treatment Plant side.

Acquiring the land on the east side of the creek was taken care of by Friends of Valdese Rec’s efforts with the Valdese Lakeside Park project. The vision that two town parks, especially two properties under conservation easements, could be connected with a trail was a bonus in acquiring state grants to fund the land purchase. The Town of Valdese took ownership of the 300 acres in January 2018. Since that time, park goers have been walking the 1.4-mile grassy greenway to a spot along McGalliard Creek that includes a sign announcing, “future bridge” and they must turn back.

The land on the west side of the creek was owned by a residential development company. Once Shaw Tate Group saw the plan for the greenway and amenities at Valdese Lakeside Park, they understood it would be a selling point for their home sites if there was access to the greenway and both parks. In October 2020, they donated 20 acres to the Town of Valdese to provide the land needed for the 0.6-mile trail from McGalliard Falls picnic shelter along McGalliard Creek to the future bridge crossing. The route is a sewer easement, so it is currently the same grassy path that had been on the east side before Valdese Lakeside Park phase one construction converted a portion to 10-foot-wide crushed cinder.

With both tracts of land in the town’s possession, it was time to move forward interviewing bridge builders and gathering quotes. Then, another road block came up. According to the State’s flood map, the bridge would fall in the floodway area which does not allow construction. It was determined the mapping of the area was incorrect; however, it was up to the entity wanting to build to pay for process of updating the maps. The studies and filing fees would cost $51,000, an amount that almost stopped the bridge. Not wanting to use donor funds on the technical process to correct maps, FVR President Beth Heile spoke to Representative Hugh Blackwell to see if something could be done at the state level. Having been involved early on with the Valdese Lakeside Park project, Rep Blackwell understood the community’s dedication to the park and the bridge and contacted NC House Speaker Tim Moore for help.

With guidance from McGill Associates, all hurdles regarding the flood maps were cleared in November 2021 allowing a bridge to be constructed over the creek. Still, one more step was needed and that was council’s approval of the bridge contractor.

At Monday’s November 3 Town of Valdese Council meeting, Friends of the Valdese Rec presented a check to the town for $50,000 in donations collected from the community. For the remaining funding needed, Heile announced that $57,500 in a direct appropriation for the bridge would be coming from the State budget and the project had received a $100,000 Recreational Trails Program (RTP) Grant, a program funded by Congress.
Following the check presentation, Valdese Parks and Recreation Director David Andersen provided council the details of the three bridge quotes. Beanstalk Builders out of Morganton was selected to build the 155-foot suspension bridge over McGalliard Creek.

Seeing the big picture, Town Manager Seth Eckard said, “This project is a dream come true for our community. It not only connects two parks, but it makes both parks greater than their individual sum by enabling connectivity and enhanced program opportunities. The bridge connecting Lakeside Park and McGalliard Falls Park is one more example of why folks will choose to live and invest in Valdese.”

Since 2013, this community’s desire for a local trail has turned into much more. The 2-mile Valdese Greenway is also the route of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail that comes from South Mountains State Park and loops through Valdese. In addition, it is part of the Burke River Trail currently planned to run from the end of the Morganton Greenway along the Catawba River to the Hickory Trail system.

Finally, this is just not a tool to cross the creek. It is a suspension bridge with a little bounce. Heile says, “It will not be too scary, but just enough to feel like you are on a real adventure.” The inspiration for a suspension bridge came from Valdese Lakeside Park planner Destination by Design after they were part of the suspension bridge project in Shelby. After one visit that bridge, Heile was sold and knew that was what the Valdese Greenway needed for residents, and as a tourist attraction.

Once the RTP Grant contract is presented to the Town of Valdese in mid-January, ground can be broken as it fits Beanstalk’s schedule. Once started, construction will take about six weeks.

Following the council vote, council member Paul Mears said, “Thank goodness for visionaries in our community. This project has already been a tremendous blessing to our community and will be so for many years to come.”

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