Yadkin River Park & The Wil-Cox Bridge

Over a decade ago, the fate of a historic nearly 90-year-old bridge was uncertain.  Since opening in 1924, the Wil-Cox Bridge had carried thousands of cars and trucks over the Yadkin River.  But around 2010, the historic bridge was showing its age.  At the same time, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) was looking to replace a pair of bridges that carried Interstate 85 over the Yadkin just slightly downstream.  

As part of its proposal to build two new four-lane bridges carrying Interstate 85, NCDOT planned to demolish the Wil-Cox Bridge.  The concrete open-spandrel seven-arch bridge was barely passing inspection despite exposed rebar, deteriorating concrete, and several cracks.  An April 2010 inspection would lead to the bridge being closed for vehicle traffic.

The bridge's closure occurred just months after Davidson County voted in favor to take control of the bridge - purchasing the structure from NCDOT for $2.5 million.  Grassroots efforts with the assistance of Davidson County leadership would allow the bridge to be preserved and become the centerpiece of a new Yadkin River Park and part of a proposed regional greenway system.

Yadkin River Park and the Wil-Cox Bridge (right) is a nice little break right off of Interstate 85.

The result of Davidson County's efforts is the new Yadkin River Park.  Officially opened in June 2019, the park not only showcases the Wil-Cox Bridge but celebrates over 12,000 years of history.  Pre-historic Native Americans first settled in the area 12,000 years ago.  The area became known as the 'Trading Ford' due to its strategic crossing for numerous Native American paths.  Spanish explorers visited the area in the 1560s.  With the help of a rising river, Nathaniel Greene evaded Lord Cornwallis here.  Overlooking the river on York Hill was one of the last Confederate victories of the Civil War.

The 1,300-foot long Wil-Cox Bridge is now a two-way multi-purpose trail.  Expansion plans could see the trail continue to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

Yadkin River Park is home to 1.3 miles of hiking trails.  The Wil-Cox Bridge has been converted to a 1,300-foot bike and pedestrian trail.  The park includes a riverwalk that connects the bridge to the York Hill Yadkin River Boat Access.  The boat access site is a landing point for the 22-mile Daniel Boone Heritage Canoe Trail.  There are also picnic facilities, shade structures, and numerous interpretive markers on site.

One of the many interpretive markers explaining the history of the area.

Further development plans include the development of the York Hill/Fort York site.  Davidson County purchased the 13+ acre Fort York site in 2016.  Expansion of the greenway system northwest to Boone Cave Park and southwest into Rowan County to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer are also being considered.  

The twin water towers of the former North Carolina Finishing Company could be a centerpiece of a planned Spencer/Rowan County Park.

The Rowan County side of the bridge has yet to be developed.  For decades, it was the site of the North Carolina Finishing Company.   The Town of Spencer is planning a small park here that would connect to the Wil-Cox Bridge and the Davidson County Park.  The Spencer park would include a pathway connecting to the bridge, parking area, bike racks, and other small park features.  A proposed multi-purpose path connecting to the Transportation Museum would continue from here.

Yadkin River Park and the preservation of the Wil-Cox Bridge are great examples of how old and historic structures can be preserved and repurposed for community enjoyment for generations to come.

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Anonymous said…
I love the park and the bridge. Really needs cameras. Strange people seem to park in the area and make you feel unsafe

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