DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- Years of debate and planning are finally paying off for the Wil-Cox Bridge Steering Committee.
On Monday morning, the public joined county officials and the committee to break ground on a five- to six-month project that will turn the nearly 100-year-old bridge into a tourist destination. Dr. Max Walser is the committee chairman. He describes why he is backing the plan.
"It can attract people to stay in motels and eat in our restaurants," Walser said. "It can put us on the map and will put us on the map."
Tourism is big business in Davidson County. In 2016, visitors spent nearly $160 million. An improved Wil-Cox Bridge could bring more money to the county. Within days, construction teams will begin building shelters along the bridge and a brick patio at the end of the bridge. From the patio, stairs will take visitors to an improved boat launch area.
"Kayaking, all of that, it's really important for Davidson County," Walser said. "It's a quality of life issue."
Keith Thomas grew up in the area and now lives near the Wil-Cox Bridge. He remembers the fun times he spent along the bridge and the Yadkin River.
"I remember as a teenager, we would come down here and hang out and climb the mountain behind me and watch the sunset over the Yadkin River," Thomas said.
The additional trails will open the Wil-Cox Bridge area to more boaters, fisherman and hikers. And Thomas is OK with that.
"We already have bikers coming down my road," Thomas said. "We welcome them and everyone to this area, it's all about a good time."
It's also about gaining a better understanding of the area's rich history. Signs will be placed along the trails explaining how Native Americans crossed the Yadkin some 12,000 years ago. The region also has lots of Revolutionary War and Civil War history. In fact, a future path will take you to Fort York. The Confederate fort sits high above the Yadkin River and provides an impressive view of the river and the historic Wil-Cox Bridge.
Grants and state funding are covering the $800,000 project.
Folks on the other side of the Yadkin River are also excited about the improvements coming to the Wil-Cox Bridge. Rowan County is planning to build a greenway from the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer to the Rowan County side of the Wil-Cox Bridge.