McGalliard Falls 40th Anniversary

(l-r): Ruth Fletcher Gage, Carrie Powell, Ernie Powell, Puse Passmore, Don Brittain, Beth Zimmerman Heile

Reception Held at McGalliard Falls Park on Wednesday, October 5 at 1:15 with cake, punch and great stories to honor those responsible for saving the Falls.

In 1979, after a semester of studying McGalliard Falls, science teacher Don Brittain’s sixth grade class at Valdese Elementary School wrote a letter to the Valdese Town Council. The students asked the town to “save McGalliard Falls and make the area into a park.” At that time, water cascading over the 40-foot-tall and 200-foot-wide rock area contained chemical dye and treated sewage. The exploited land surrounding the falls was a city dump on one side and dug out for fill dirt as needed on the other side.

The class’s findings from geological, environmental and plant studies were presented during a council meeting and their work prompted Valdese Town Manager Richard Whitley to investigate the creation of a park. With his recommendation, the town council led by Mayor C. C. Long voted to spend funds on a master park plan for the property.

From newspaper accounts and community sentiment, it was the next town leader who vigorously drove the park plan to become a reality. Mayor Ray C. Fletcher had a passion for recreation and protecting the environment. So much so, after serving as mayor he went on to serve as an NC State Representative, where he introduced the NC State Parks Act and sponsored legislation creating Lake James State Park.

With Governor Jim Hunt in attendance, the dedication ceremony for McGalliard Falls Park was held on October 5, 1982. The amenities included 2 overlooks, a picnic shelter, 4 tennis courts, 2 softball fields, nature trail, playground and the bridge across the creek.

40 years to the minute after the original park dedication, Friends of the Valdese Rec held a reception at the Falls to honor those responsible for “saving the falls.”

Attendees listened as those involved shared their memories. Aptly, sixth grade teacher Don Brittain spoke first. He told of the excitement students had as they worked on a real project that could impact their town. That they were “learning” scientific methods while discovering bad, though not illegal, practices being used by the town and businesses. And, then the enthusiasm shown as they moved from being scientists to advocates.

Ruth Fletcher Gage, a student in Mr. Brittain’s class and daughter of Mayor Fletcher, had memories from both sides of the story. “My Dad believed that a park was a place that brought people from all walks of life together. He wanted to preserve both the beauty of the falls and the many ways people could enjoy the area for generations to come,” Gage reflected during the reception. As one of the sixth grade students who presented to town council in 1979, Gage recalled, “Our class made a board that included everything we would want in a park, from places to play to clean water full of healthy, happy frogs.”

Tom Powell, the recreation department maintenance supervisor became the park builder. Carrie Powell, his wife told the crowd that people said only one ballfield could be built on the site and Tom said he would show them – and was able to place two fields. She said their family life was consumed with the project and that is all she heard every evening when he got home. Tom’s son Ernie Powell shared, “My father was proud to be selected to build the park and he was a hard worker. He made sure everything was perfect for the town, a town full of proud people.” Ernie Powell wanted to make sure Town Recreation Director Bob Greene was recognized for overseeing the project. He said Greene was obsessed with making sure the water wheel for the grist mill was turning. The wheel still turns today on the first Saturday of the month.

Harold “Puse” Passmore, a Valdese town council member during the park decisions, said he was “proud to serve as a council member during that time and to be a part of saving and enhancing an incredible natural resource. I am delighted to see the draw the amenity still is for Valdese today.”

McGalliard Falls has seen an increase in visitation with the new 160-foot McGalliard Creek Bridge that opened in July. Located a half mile from the park entrance, it allows a connection to Valdese Lakeside Park which completed phase one construction last November. Just as the bridge links an old park with a new one, the reception connected old and new, people and ideas.

Friends of the Valdese Rec, Inc. (FVR) was formed in 2015 to purchase and protect the 300 acres on McGalliard Creek and Lake Rhodhiss for a park. FVR President and Founder, Beth Heile said, “It is only fitting that we recognize those in our community who took a stand for a local park long before FVR did. Without McGalliard Falls Park, Valdese Lakeside Park would have been isolated. Now, thanks to people who cared, we have over 360 acres of combined park land for our residents and visitors to explore.”

Heile continues, “When I started FVR, Don Brittain, who was my sixth-grade teacher in 1980, came to me wanting to be a part of the organization and he has served on the board of directors ever since. I always knew his story needed to be told and am glad the timing worked out for the 40th Anniversary Reception to do just that. Not just to tell the story, but to recognize him and thank him.”


Brittain saved the newspaper clippings about McGalliard Falls becoming a park and the dedication – shown below.

From October 5, 1982 —

Valdese Town Council: Mayor Ray C. Fletcher, Edward Pascal, Richard Byers, Harold Passmore, John Church, Richard Oxentine and Jeffrey Morse, Town Manager

Recreation Commission: Chair Warren Walker, Ben Cozort, Frances Parker, Jim Epley, Chuck Mosley, Rev William Thompson, Richard Oxentine, Bob Greene, Tom Powell – Builder



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