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The River Trail - A History Hike

Map showing the location of the historical features.
Map showing the location of the historical features.
Dan Goodwin

The River Trail is part of the 90-acre Cedar Falls Regional Park, which sits alongside the Reedy River just downstream from the community of Fork Shoals. Its main feature is Cedar Falls, the only waterfall on the Reedy outside of Falls Park in Greenville. While the park is technically a recreational facility that continues to be developed, the history of the area is just as important.

The area around the falls was once used by the Cherokee as a camp and ford. In the 1800s, Hudson Berry built a small dam between the bank and an island to provide water to power his grist mill, textile mill, saw mill, and cotton gin. There was even a general store at this location, which served as a hub for the local community. Berry even built at curb across the river to divert its full flow to his dam.

In 1904, a stone and concrete dam was built across the river to provide electricity for the Fork Shoals Mill. A 72 inch penstock pipe carried water more than 500 feet from the dam to the power plant. To keep it safe from potential flood waters, the generator itself sat atop a 19 foot pier.

Now, The River Trail starts at the parking lot at the falls. While this trail continues along the entire river frontage of the park, the first 100 yards or so are paved and provide access to the historically significant structures.

From the intersection of McKelvey Road and Cedar Falls Road in Fork Shoals, take Cedar Falls Road for 0.5 miles. At that point, you will see the main entrance to the park along with the major recreation and picnic facilities. Continue past this entrance down to the bottom of the hill where you will find another parking area on your left, right at the falls.

The paved trail starts at the back of the parking lot and runs up past the dam, past The Forest Trail, and down to a viewing point for the water impounded behind the dam. From there, the trail continues upriver, albeit unpaved.

At the start of the trail, you will find some very helpful information boards about the park, the Cherokees, the Fork Shoals community, and the falls.

Next to the parking lot, you will see the pier which once held the 1900s generator. Leading up to it are 26 concrete and rock carriers, which supported the penstock pipe. Next to these, you will see foundations which are the remains of the various 1800s buildings.

Standing at the information boards at the start of the trail, you can see, to your left, the 1800s dam sitting between the near shore and the island. Just a short distance up the trail, you can get good views of the dam and the circular hole that housed the penstock pipe.

All this history shouldn’t cause you to lose sight of the beauty of Cedar Falls. The river widens out to 200 feet at this point with numerous tiers and drops. Combine these water sounds with that of the water coming over the dam, it is a noisy place. A large pool is found at the base of the falls. Bream, catfish, bass, and crappie can be found there.

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