By Bill Moss, Published: January 18, 2016 Hendersonville Lightning
How do you feel about the Ecusta Trail?
Dennis Justice: I believe we should finally look into legalizing horse racing as one source of revenue for recreational projects like the Ecusta Trail. Gambling is a recreational activity, tax revenues should be for recreation. We’ll never be able to do this with the lottery (although I think lottery monies should be used to increase teacher pay), but if we legalized horse racing, we should designate 90% of revenues to local governments for recreational projects like soccer fields, parks, greenways, community centers, and certainly the Ecusta Trail. Besides, simply legalizing horse racing would create many more jobs than “corporate welfare” will.
Chuck Edwards: The unused line, currently owned by WATCO, is theirs to do with as they wish. Our economic developers would prefer to use it to help build industry, but that has been unsuccessful for 15 years. The corridor is an incredible asset for our region. In lieu of rail service, supporting research and working examples of similar projects prove there are enormous economic benefits as a trail. As federal rail banking would preserve the asset for future potential rail service, we have a win-win and there are many funding sources available other than taxes. Public support is growing. If the leaders within our district build consensus to proceed, I will work with them to accomplish their goals.
Lisa Baldwin: The proposed Ecusta Trail would make use of a former railroad bed; however, the possible $3.7 million price tag just to purchase from Norfolk Southern puts it out of reach. I believe valuable taxpayer dollars should fund core services, not greenways. If the Friends of the Ecusta Trail want to pursue donations and grants, then they should. A volunteer-led effort would be appropriate. My three sons are all Eagle Scouts and have organized multiple volunteer-led efforts that benefit the community. Western North Carolina is blessed with multiple hiking trails; I would question the amount of the ‘economic benefit’ of adding the rail-trail.
You can view the complete article in the Hendersonville Lighting
By Bill Moss, Published in Hendersonville Lightning: January 15, 2016
We’re glad to see that the Ecusta Trail has become an issue that distinguishes candidates in two legislative races in the Henderson County area. It should.
Although we’re a generation past the era when Brevard, Rosman and Cedar Mountain could attract an X-ray-making plant or a paper mill, leaders in Transylvania County insist that they’ve got to keep the Spartanburg-to-Brevard rail line open just in case Big Industry offers to invest several hundred million dollars in a factory that needs rail access.
“Our economic developers would prefer to use it to help build industry, but that has been unsuccessful for 15 years,” notes Chuck Edwards, one of three candidates running for the Republican nomination for the 48th Senate District." (see Page 13).
We’re for economic prosperity, too, which is why we strongly favor the development of the Ecusta Trail.
The Friends of Ecusta Trail touts a study estimating that the 20-mile greenway, at a cost of $13 million, would have a one-time return on investment of $42 million and an annual ROI of $9.4 million in tourism revenue, taxes and health care savings. We agree with skeptics who say such projections can be a shot in the dark. Yet in some ways, tangible and intangible, we think the benefit could be even greater than that. We know that many retirees and young families make the decision to move here based on (almost year-round) recreational attractions. Adding one more prominent asset can only tip the scales.
Coty Ferguson, one of two candidates for the state House seat that Chris Whitmire is vacating, must have spent the Christmas break doing his homework. When we asked him a month ago what he thought of the greenway, he said it’s up to the property owners who live alongside the abandoned tracks. Last week Ferguson submitted a 780-word amendment to that answer that reflected freshly hatched enthusiasm for the idea (you can read his column at Hendersonvillelightning.com).
“What will our economy look like in the future? There is no doubt in my mind that it will include the Ecusta Trail,” he said. “… The Ecusta Trail is not a silver bullet, but it is a tool in the tool box, and in this case, it is the right tool for the job.”
Ferguson’s opinion piece and Edwards’ position both reflect an understanding of how our economy will grow in the next 20 years.
We’ll continue to land the GF Linamar plants and the medical industry suppliers. But we’ll also benefit from a hospitality, tourism and retirement boom driven by craft breweries, creative new restaurants, mountain bike trails and greenways. Those with the 20-20 vision to see that are the leaders we need as we approach 2020. Good-paying factory jobs are a part of that economic structure. So are outdoor recreational features that stimulate growth in the tourism and retirement sectors in what could be our new Roaring Twenties.
Published: Sunday, December 20, 2015 Hendersonville Times News
For an idea that remains a visionary dream among advocates in Henderson and Transylvania counties, the Ecusta Trail has proven to be a resilient one that keeps gaining support.
On Dec. 9, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club announced that it has reserved $10,000 for the proposed greenway along 19 miles of unused rail line between Brevard and Hendersonville. The club pledged the funds from the Fletcher Flyer, its annual fundraising ride, as well as from donations, member dues and contributions. It plans to hold the money — representing $5,000 each for Henderson and Transylvania County portions of the trail — until planning and construction begins.
“Data shows that most people want to ride a bike, and that they did ride bicycles when they were young,” Club President Joe Sanders said in announcing the funding. “Unfortunately, people do not feel safe biking on the narrow roads in Henderson and Transylvania counties. The Ecusta Trail will offer the perfect opportunity for people to become more active and in a safe environment.”
On Dec. 12, the NC Rail Trails organization endorsed the Ecusta Trail based on its promise for providing alternate transportation, encouraging healthy and active lifestyles, and increasing tourism and economic development.
In doing so, the group joined local organizations that have recently endorsed the path, including the Hendersonville Family YMCA, the League of Women Voters of Henderson County, the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce board of directors, the Transylvania County Travel Development Authority and the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority.
Like the bicycle club, the Henderson County TDA endorsed the trail with dollars, voting in May to set aside a quarter of 1 percent of the 5 percent occupancy tax, estimated to raise about $70,000 per year, for the trail.
Another key piece of support came in September when the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization included Phase 1 of the trail (from Hendersonville to Laurel Park) in its 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan at a funding level of $2,141,000. This makes the trail eligible for grants in addition to DOT funds.
Although local governments including Hendersonville and Brevard have endorsed the trail, the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners continues to withhold support based on the hope that the line may one day be used for rail service. Meanwhile, the rails and crossties continue to rust and decay in the more than 13 years since a train has used them.
We stated in March that trail supporters should have a plan in place to move forward with the path should Watco, the company that owns the line, decide to sell it, abandon it or "rail bank" it for potential future use. Thanks to the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and a wide range of supporters, the pieces continue to come together.
By Bill Moss, Published: December 18, 2015 Hendersonville Lightning
The two candidates running for the 113th state House District are both young Republicans who serve in the military and call economic development their highest priority. They even have the same first name, though spelled differently.
The candidates, Cody Henson and Coty Ferguson, both said they saw an opportunity for political service with Rep. Chris Whitmire's unexpected announcement that he would not seek a third term in the House. And neither supports the proposed Ecusta Trail. Advocates in Hendersonville tout the proposed 20-mile greenway that as a recreational and tourism boom while many Transylvania leaders oppose it.
Henson opposes the trail outright — saying the rail line might be needed for industry — and Ferguson said he would favor the trail only if all property owners along the corridor supported it.
Here are the candidates' backgrounds and positions:
Henson, a Rosman native and 23-year-old corporal in the Marine Corps Reserves, says jobs are his highest priority if he were to win a seat in the state House.
"I'm running because as a native of Transylvania County with a family that goes back generations in Transylvania and Henderson counties I want to see this area thrive once again,” he said. “I’ve had family that worked at the Ecusta and DuPont plants for years and I’ve seen the struggle first-hand when those jobs left. As a result of having no jobs here, I have to drive 45 minutes to work.” He commutes to Arden, where he’s a supervisor for a call center.
“Particularly in Transylvania, I think there’s a lot that can be done on the local level in terms of improving and upgrading some of the infrastructure,” he said. “I want to work with local officials and do my part at the state level to get some of these done so the area looks better for potential businesses coming in.” He counts the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, owned by a Kansas-based shortline rail freight company, as an asset to potentially attract industry. For that reason he opposes the Ecusta Trail, a proposed Hendersonville-to-Brevard greenway along the tracks. “I think that we need to leave the rails in place,” he said. “That’s going to be something that business is going to look at. If they have to build a new rail line they’re going to go somewhere that already has one. I don’t think the rail-to-trails is a good idea from a property rights standpoint either. The trail is going to run right through people’s front yards. Because of that I’m opposed to rails-to-trails.”
A 23-year-old graduate of Rosman High School, Henson is married with a 4-month-old.
“I’m a non-career politician and I think that’s exactly what we need in Raleigh at this point,” he said. “I think experience (of career politicians) has moved us in the wrong direction for several years now,” adding he was referring to “people that come in and stay in for 20 or 30 years.”
A graduate of Brevard College in business and wilderness leadership, Ferguson is currently working on a masters degree from the University of Central Florida. A staff sergeant in the Army Reserves, Ferguson returned in September from a deployment guarding the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He is a voter outreach and grassroots coordinator for John Kasich campaign and a Realtor.
“I’ve been politically active for some time now,” he said. “I serve on the city of Brevard Planning Board and I’ve been active with the party. We are seeing statewide that these conservative policies are working but Western North Carolina is missing out on the econonic gains the rest of state is seeing. I’d be a strong advocate to fight on behalf on the district.”
In city government he’s noticed that North Carolina gives too little power to local government. “I was shocked to find out the city did not control tax rates, like the hotel tax,” he said. “The counties have little to no control over incentives for economic development.”
Although, like Henson, he would be serving in his first elective position, Ferguson says his experience on the Brevard Planning Board and on the Kasich campaign has prepared him.
“Going to the Legislature is not going to overwhelm me,” he said. “I’m not in any special club. I don’t have anybody to answer to except the people of the 113th District.”
As for the Ecusta Trail, he would defer to property owners along the rail line.
“The Ecusta Trail is a tricky business,” he said. “We’ve seen that the Swamp Rabbit Trail has really helped the folks down in South Carolina. It has the potential to be an economic boost but you have a large group of landowners that don’t want to give up their property and their rights have to be respected. It’s kind of a moot point because the railroad has not said they’re going to abandon the line.”
Even if Blue Ridge did agreed to railbank the line, Ferguson said he’d resist forcing the trail through property if the owner objected.
“Landowners always come first,” he said. “We have to respect property owners’ rights.”
"When my wife, Sarah, and I decided to make Western North Carolina our home and raise our daughter here we did so because it is one of the rare places where community still exists," he said in a campaign announcement. "People know their neighbors. Our children can still walk unescorted downtown to play at O.P. Taylors. Most of all, the people in this part of the state are doers, who sacrifice for their families and the things they believe in. All of those things have drawn me to the area, and they are the reasons that I am offering myself as a Republican candidate for the 113th House District.
"As a soldier I have served multiple deployments in Iraq, and have had the privilege of advising the U.S. Ambassador, Generals, and Congressmen on combating Islamic terrorism. Through those efforts, and my discussion with Senator Thom Tillis during his visit to Baghdad, I was asked work on (the Kasich) presidential committee. ...
"We have made serious improvements to the state economy, but Western North Carolina has not benefited from many of the gains," he added. "Many of our counties are facing negative population growth, our young talent is leaving, and our workforce is aging. Significant improvements need to be made in the areas of economic and workforce development."
Asheville, N.C. (December 9, 2015) – The Blue Ridge Bicycle Club announced that they have reserved $10,000 for the proposed Ecusta Trail, with $5,000 representing Transylvania County and $5,000 representing Henderson County. “These funds come from a combination of sources; the Fletcher Flyer, our annual fund-raising ride, donations, and member dues and contributions,” explained Joe Sanders, Blue Ridge Bicycle Club President. “Data shows that most people want to ride a bike, and that they did ride bicycles when they were young. Unfortunately, people do not feel safe biking on the narrow roads in Henderson and Transylvania Counties. The Ecusta Trail will offer the perfect opportunity for people to become more active and in a safe environment.”
The Ecusta Trail is the proposed 19-mile rail trail that will connect Hendersonville, Laurel Park, Horse Shoe, Etowah, Pisgah Forest, and Brevard. Representatives of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club will work with the Friends of the Ecusta Trail, whose mission is to promote the Trail and a local network of multi-use trails, to ensure the funds are used appropriately. The funds will remain in the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club treasury until planning and construction on the Ecusta Trail commences.
Additional information about the Ecusta Trail: The trail is called the “Ecusta Trail” in recognition of the importance of the Ecusta Corporation in the history of the region. “Ecusta” is a name that honors the continuity of the impact of the rail line, as well as the many residents of the area whose lives have been tied to the name “Ecusta” for a lifetime. One end of the rail trail is proposed to be within the vicinity of an historic area in Transylvania County – the site of the former Ecusta paper mill. This mill was one of the reasons for the existence of the rail line, and was the primary economic driver of Brevard and surrounding towns during the 20th Century. Ecusta commenced operation in 1939. The Ecusta plant closed in 2002 and the rail line has not been needed for freight service since that closure. After the closure of the mill, Brevard and Transylvania County reinvented itself as a destination for tourism, including for outdoor recreation activities and have recently become known as the “Cycling Capital of the South.“
Further support for the Ecusta Trail has been shown recently when the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan [MTP] during their meeting on September 24, 2015. Listed within the Bicycle & Pedestrian section is Phase I of the Ecusta Trail. Phase I of the Trail will start in Hendersonville and continue to Laurel Park with a NCDOT funding level of $2,141,000. This is a very important step for the Ecusta Trail for a number of reasons; first, as a part of NCDOT's long-range plan it makes the Ecusta Trail open for potential funding grants in addition to DOT funds. Secondly, NCDOT recognizes the Ecusta Trail as a recreational and alternative transportation source for Henderson County.
December 12, 2015
The Ecusta Trail received an endorsement from the NC Rail Trails organization. In their endorsement, the group cited their resaons of support as including: alternate transportation, encouragement of healthy and active lifestyles, as well as increased tourism and economic development.
December 8, 2015
The Ecusta Trail received two more endorsements in December from prominent Henderson County Groups. Early in the month, the Hendersonville Family YMCA issued a letter of endorsement stating, "The proposed Ecusta Trail supports the important community needs of Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility. These are important community needs that help us thrive."
Likewise, on December 8th, the League of Women Voters of Henderson County issued a similar statement of support. Included within their letter of support was the following paragraph:
League members recently visited the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville County, South Carolina, which runs from Travelers Rest through Falls Park in downtown Greenville, to Cleveland Park. We were impressed by the positive effects on the economy, the environment and health which this Trail has provided to their community. The Greenville Health System is a primary sponsor of the Trail. Swamp Rabbit figures show that they had over 500,000 users of the trail last year, with specific tourism revenue of nearly $7M. Travelers Rest, which for many years past was a ghost town of vacant and decaying buildings, is revitalized with restaurants, outfitters, shops, even a brewery. Historic venues are revived. Parks have been built. Music and art events are held along the trail, and both commercial and residential real estate values have increased. Three new hotels are being built in downtown Greenville, partly in response to higher occupancy rates since the trail was completed in 2010. Joyce McCarrell, co-owner of the Café at Williams Hardware in Travelers Rest, commented to us, “When community leaders are looking for industry to knock on the door, they don’t seem to realize that it’s here, industry is knocking. It’s the tourism industry!”
To view these or any of the 15 endorsements received by Friends of the Ecusta Trail, please visit our Resolutions page.
Phase I of the Ecusta Trail on the NCDOT longrange plan
The French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan during their meeting on September 24, 2015. Listed within the Bicycle & Pedestrian section of the 2040 MTP Horizon 2, is Phase I of the Ecusta Trail. Phase I of the trail will start in Hendersonville and continue to Laurel Park with a NCDOT funding level of $2,141,000.
This is a very important step for the Ecusta Trail for a number of reasons; first, as a part of NCDOT's long-range plan it makes the Ecusta Trail open for potential funding grants in addition to DOT funds. Secondly, NCDOT recogniizes the Ecusta Trail as a recreational and alternative transportation source for Henderson County. The complete funding list can be seen here.
Also approved on this plan were:
Extending the Oklawaha Greenway from Jackson Park to the Henderson County campus of Blue Ridge Community College.
Construction of the Meritor Greenway in Fletcher.
By Bill Moss, Hendersonville Lightning Published: September 30, 2015
Residents of Highland Lake Villas last week saw something they had not seen in a long time last week. Trains were running on the railroad tracks past their homes.
People speculated that Blue Ridge Railroad had gotten a new freight customer. One resident heard that the train was serving Green River Quarry. No and no. It's less dramatic than either of those developments.
"I know that caught a lot of people off guard," said Brigid Rich, the Western North Carolina marketing manager of the railroad, a part of the Kansas-based shortline operator Watco Transportation Services. "There are no new active customers" on that part of the line. "We're just storing some rail cars."
For several days last week locomotives pulled covered gondolas to a storage area in the Flat Rock area. Rich said residents won't see the Blue Ridge line operating often.
"Once they get out there they'll be out there for several months," she said.
The active railroad line runs southeast from Hendersonville to Flat Rock and on to Tuxedo and Saluda.
The rail line running southeast across Henderson County, serving Kimberly-Clark Corp. and other businesses, is not the same line as the Hendersonville-to-Brevard line that greenway proponents hope will become the Ecusta Trail. That 20-mile line as not been in service since 2002. Watco would have to agree to railbank and sell the line to the Ecusta Trail group to allow a greenway. Rich said she had no news about that.
August 4, 2015
During the organization's July Board meeting, the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in a nearly unanimous vote agreed to create a letter of support of the concept of the Ecusta Trail. The Board feels that the Ecusta Trail is a positive use of a valuable economic development asset and determined that support of this project is closely aligned with its mission statement and is supported by its by-laws.
A statement will be crafted and approved by the Board of Directors in the near future.
June 17, 2015
The Friends of The Ecusta Trail received a letter of support today announcing the endorsement of the trail by Transylvania County Travel Development Authority. In the letter, board Chairman Randy Burgess stated that the TDA believes the Ecusta Trail would enahnce the visitor experience and be an asset to the marketing and promotional efforts of Tranylvania County. Ecusta Trail board president Hunter Marks said that his board praised the decision. Said Marks, "Transylvania County is so fortunate to have unique outdoor assets like Pisgah Forest, The Cradle of Forestry, Dupont State Forest and Cascade Lake. The Ecusta Trail will be another incredible asset to draw tourists, businesses and industry into the county, all of which will give the TDA the all important result of more lodging stays and more jobs."
Transylvania Times Staff Writer - Park Baker
Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2015
The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) Tuesday approved a tax appropriation to help fund construction of the proposed Ecusta Trail.
Board member Selena Einwechter, owner of the Bed and Breakfast on Tiffany Hill, made the motion to appropriate one quarter of every 1 percent of the county’s occupancy tax to be used for construction of a 12-mile stretch along the railway line in Henderson County.
Eight miles of the proposed trail would be in Transylvania County.
That fund will be in the hands of the Henderson County TDA as a “board restricted fund” and will be worth roughly $70,000 a year.
It can only be used to fund construction of the trail.
“Our charge from a legislative perspective is to promote product development for tourism,” said Einwechter. “The trail is the biggest thing we could do for the county, so from that perspective I applaud the Henderson TDA to put that money aside for the bricks and mortar of the trail. Effective July 1, we will start putting money aside for it.
“I’m really excited about this. I don’t think there has ever been a tourism board that has ever set aside funds for a trail that hasn’t even been approved.”
An occupancy tax is all taxes placed on hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts.
The proposed 18-mile trail would link Hendersonville and Brevard. Trail construction costs could be between $10 million and $13 million.
Project funding would come from a number of public and private sources, supporters say.
The effort has received backing from elected officials in Henderson County.
In Transylvania, Brevard City Council recently passed a resolution in support.
Transylvania County commissioners have not come out as a board and supported it, citing hope for the rail line to be used in the future for a business or industry and concerns about property rights.
Chris Burns, treasurer for the Friends of the Ecusta Trail group, however, is pleased by the Henderson County TDA’s action.
“The Friends of the Ecusta Trail applaud the foresight the TDA has made in recognizing that it’s only a matter of time before the line is railbanked, and investing to ensure that funds are available to build the trail,” he said.
“Railbanking” is a term used to describe the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails in the interim.
Burns pointed out that the Friend’s group has all along said that his group does not expect taxpayers to bare the cost for the Ecusta Trail and that there are numerous funding sources available.
Burns also said that a study conducted in 2012 about the Virginia Creeper trail in Roanoke, Va ., showed it generated at least 56,000 room-nights a year just as a result of the trail.
Similarly, said Burns, a study about the Swamp Rabbit Trail showed that 125,000 visited it from outside the area.
“Durham just released a Department of Transportation study on the American Tobacco Trail,” he said. “Their 2014 study showed that 125,000 people came from outside the area as well.”
Watco Companies, a freight line operator based in Kansas, owns the railway line in Henderson and Transylvania.
It has not indicated any plans, so far, to abandon the line.
Published: Sunday, March 15, 2015
Plans for the Ecusta Trail, a proposed 18.5-mile multiuse path connecting Brevard and Hendersonville, should be in place and ready to move forward if the owner of the rail line decides to sell it, abandon it or "rail bank" it for potential future use.
That means, in the event the line's owner decides to act, the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners should dispense with its long-held position against converting it to an greenway path. And the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, which recently offered support for the trail "in principle," should be ready to join other funding partners in making it a reality.
Brevard City Council recently endorsed the trail, following similar endorsements from leaders in Hendersonville, Flat Rock and Laurel Park. However, this visionary idea still needs unanimous, full support from all local governments and economic development interests. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the trail can become are reality without this.
So far, business leaders are way ahead of county politicians when it comes to seeing trail's potential benefits. The Henderson County Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Development Authority have joined the towns in supporting the trail.
And why wouldn't they? A 2012 planning and economic impact study found the trail would initially generate $42 million during construction in the two counties, followed by an annual impact of $9.4 million in health care savings and tourism-related benefits.
Transylvania County leaders continue to hold out hope that the rail line, which has not seen a train since the last remnant of the Ecusta paper mill closed in 2002, will one day attract another rail-dependent industry. However, experience with other rail-to-trail projects points to immediate benefits that outweigh the remote chance that a heavy industry will choose to locate in Pisgah Forest.
"It's just pretty unlikely that you're going to find a company that is of a quality employer, that is going to invest the money to bring that rail back," said Don Schjeldahl, a 30-year veteran of corporate site selection who led the team that brought Sierra Nevada to Mills River, in a promotional video for the trail.
What draws new industries today is not only access to airports and highways and available land, but our region's high quality of life. That would be enhanced tremendously if locals and visitors could walk, run, push strollers and ride bikes along a scenic linear park between Hendersonville and Brevard.
Last May, Norfolk Southern sold the Hendersonville-to-Brevard spur as part of its WNC assets to the short-line company Watco, which is marketing more than 90 miles of track to potential customers. Company officials said they're evaluating the Ecusta spur's viability, and that will take some time — possibly three to five years, says Henderson County Commissioner Mike Edney, the trail's main proponent on the county board.
The Friends of the Ecusta Trail have been working for years to lay the groundwork for the trail, knowing it would not happen overnight. Still, there are signs a decision could come on the fate of the rail line sooner rather than later.
Transylvania County Manager Jaime Laughter says Watco officials, in a recent meeting with county officials, indicated that "the line is in pretty good shape for running freight."
However, in 2012, costs to refurbish the line for trains were estimated at between $4 million and $7 million, and the line has continued to decay since. What heavy industry is going to want to invest that kind of money when there are other sites that have functional rail lines?
Henderson County Commissioner Grady Hawkins, a leading naysayer for the trail idea, says supporters are pushing a "pig in a poke." He urged them to present a detailed plan of development costs "and give us an opportunity to put it on a ballot for the people to decide how many millions of dollars we're going to spend on the Ecusta Trail."
Supporters should have a plan, although full development costs, along with potential grants and other funding sources, may not be known until the owner puts a price on the line. As for a referendum, we elect leaders to lead — and we hope they will put the best interest of our communities at the forefront.
By Nathaniel Axtell
Times-News Staff Writer
Published: Monday, March 9, 2015
An effort to convert an idled rail line between Hendersonville and Brevard into a multi-use trail gained steam last week when both Brevard City Council and Henderson County commissioners endorsed the concept.Council members unanimously passed a resolution touting the proposed 18.5-mile Ecusta Trail as "an asset to the cultural and economic vitality of our community" in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters that packed its chambers.
The resolution touted a 2012 planning and economic impact study that found the trail would initially generate $42 million during construction in the two counties, followed by an annual impact of $9.4 million in health care savings and tourism-related benefits.
The reaction was more subdued at Henderson County's meeting, where Commissioner Mike Edney's request for an endorsement of the rail-to-trail concept was cautiously approved by board members, with several caveats attached.
Commissioner Grady Hawkins cited increased law enforcement costs and limited off-season usage associated with a similar rails-to-trails project in upstate South Carolina called the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
He urged Ecusta Trail proponents to develop a detailed plan of development costs "and give us an opportunity to put it on a ballot for the people to decide how many millions of dollars we're going to spend on the Ecusta Trail. Because right now, you just — it's an old mountain saying — you're buying a pig in a poke."
Edney argued that while the cost of developing the trail may be millions of dollars, the county would only "be one of 10, 15 players in it." Although he had initially proposed that the county set aside $25,000 a year in capital reserves for the trail, Edney dropped the idea after his colleagues balked.
Chairman Tommy Thompson said he could agree to the concept of a rail-to-trail project, but didn't want to set aside seed money for something that might never take root.
"If it ever becomes a reality, then Henderson County would be asked to step up and at that point in time, whoever is here would make that decision," he said. "I don't think we need to be tying somebody else's hands."
Commissioner Bill Lapsley supported "further investigation" of the Ecusta Trail idea, but assented only with the understanding that the county is not committing any future dollars to the project. Edney said his motion was for county support "in principal" only and it passed 5-0.
Following last week's endorsements, only Transylvania County commissioners remain unconvinced. The nonprofit Friends of Ecusta Trail earlier secured the backing of councils in Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Flat Rock, as well as the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.
Transylvania leaders have opposed uprooting rail ties and track in hopes that a rail-dependent industry might return to the former Ecusta paper mill site served by the 19.8-mile spur. Those tracks have not been used for freight since the mill closed in 2002.
In May of 2014, previous rail owner Norfolk Southern sold its WNC assets to the short-line company Watco, which is marketing more than 90 miles of track under its subsidiary, Blue Ridge Southern Railroad. Company officials said they're evaluating the Ecusta spur's viability, which will take some time. Edney told colleagues he'd heard three to five years.
"We have to do more research on what (customers) may be here, what would come here and how we might be able to fit into that picture," said Marketing Manager Brigid Rich. "Obviously, we would like to see rail traffic come to that area again because we think it's great for economic development. However, projects take time and since we've had this line for seven, eight months now, you can't just make a hasty decision."
Transylvania officials sought a meeting with Watco leaders in late January after Ecusta Trail proponents "indicated that Watco might be interested in rail banking that line in short order," said County Manager Jaime Laughter. "We recognized the line is a privately owned asset and we wanted to hear from the owners."
Under the National Trails System Act adopted by Congress in 1983, railways can "bank" their lines by selling, leasing or donating it to a nonprofit or public agency while retaining the right to re-establish rail service at a later date.
Though no firm commitments were made by Watco, Laughter said, "we were not left with the impression that they're looking at banking it in the near future." She said the company also indicated "the line is in pretty good shape for running freight," and was actively marketing the spur to potential customers.
Laughter added that Rich and a company vice president offered Transylvania leaders an example of another Watco line out West that "sat unused for a number of years." After five years of marketing and waiting, she said, the once-idle line became a successful part of their business.
"They used it as an example that it can take time," Laughter said. "What that helped us see is that they are not in an active mode of trying to unload that asset."
However, Friends of Ecusta Trail members such as Ted Fogel, a retired ad executive and former Chamber of Commerce president from Brevard, believe the Ecusta line — if rail-banked — could generate tax revenues and health benefits for citizens until a rail-dependent industry needs it.
He points to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which a three-year Greenville Health System study found drew more than half a million visitors between July 2012 and June 2013. A quarter of those were tourists, who injected an estimated $6.7 million into the local economy.
"You can't help but notice how the town of Travelers Rest has evolved since the Swamp Rabbit has been there," he said. "There's more shops, more restaurants, and many have chosen to locate adjacent to the trail."
As a former member of Transylvania County's Economic Development Advisory Board, Fogel was initially skeptical about the Ecusta Trail proposal because "I knew how concerned we were about industry and wanted to hold out. Rail banking made me realize it's a win-win. History has shown they can put down track again in some cases."
Davidson River project?
Other trail supporters take the argument one step further, saying the likelihood of a rail-dependent industry locating in Transylvania County is slim. They're backed up by experts such as Don Schjeldahl, a 30-year veteran of corporate site selection who led the team that brought Sierra Nevada to Mills River.
"It's just pretty unlikely that you're going to find a company that is of a quality employer, that is going to invest the money to bring that rail back," Schjeldahl says in a promotional video distributed by Friends of Ecusta Trail. In 2012, the cost of refurbishing the Ecusta line was estimated at between $4 million and $7 million.
In 2007, plans were announced for redevelopment of the 540-acre former Ecusta Mill site for a mixed-use development called Davidson River Village, which wouldn't need rail as conceived. At full build-out, the development is projected to create 2,838 jobs and create an economic impact of $450 million.
The Davidson River Village project got a boost recently when state highway officials, at the urging of N.C. Rep. Chris Whitmire, moved up the priority of a .79-mile, $10.7 million connector road that Whitmire called "a critical catalyst" for the development.
Now work there "may begin as soon as this summer," Whitmire said in a recent newsletter to constituents. "While this is not a guarantee of instant jobs, it is incredible news in that the DRV developer and interested job providers now have a reliable timeline and certainty."
Friends of Ecusta Trail leaders think development of Davidson River Village would end much of the debate about waiting for a rail-dependent industry to return to the former mill property.
"I could not envision any use for rail if Davidson River Village is built out like the plans I've seen represent," said President Hunter Marks, a landscape architect. "Put it this way, would Biltmore Park need rail service? That's sort of what it is. It's a mix of residences, office and commercial. From what I've seen of their plans, a rails-to-trails component would be an asset to the development."
But Laughter cautioned that until the development moves forward, no one knows whether "market forces" could introduce an industrial component that might need rail service.
Transylvania Times March 5, 2015
Brevard City Council Monday formally supported the creation of the proposed Ecusta Trail.
In a resolution, the council noted the area's national reputation among mountain bikers and cyclists and the economic and cultural benefits of such a trail.
The proposed trail would use the rail corridor connecting downtown Brevard and downtown Hendersonville. It would run approximately 18.5 miles and pass through Laurel Park, Etowah, Horseshoe and Pisgah Forest.
As previously reported, according to Alta/Greenways, a national consulting firm that specializes in greenway and trail planning and design, the Ecusta Trail could generate an estimated $42 million one-time economic benefit and would add an additional $9.4 million in annual revenue for the area. Trail constructions costs could be between $10 and $13 million. Project funding would come from a number of public and private sources, supporters say.
Flat Rock, Laurel Park, the city of Hendersonville and the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce have all passed resolutions in support of the trail.
The trail, however, is not universally supported. Several landowners in proximity to the railway line in Transylvania County don't support a trail, with concerns about private property rights being voiced. Transylvania County commissioners have also come out against converting the trail, noting the potential economic benefits of having a railway line and raising property rights concerns.
The line, which has been sitting dormant for the past 12 years, is currently owned by Watco Companies, which would ultimately make the decision on whether to transfer the line's transportation rights.
Council's chamber Monday was full, with the majority of people there to hear the resolution's approval.
Prior to its approval, three people, Nancy DePippo, Marshall Karesh and Gary Lightfoot, spoke in favor of the trail. DePippo said the Friends of Ecusta Trail sees the trail as the "highest and best use of the line," and "dovetails perfectly" with the city's vision.
The resolution's approval was greeted by applause.
By Bill Moss, Published in The Hendersonville Lightning: November 20, 2014
The development of a new boat launch on the French Broad River could be viewed as a boost for recreation. It is that and more.
The gift by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy of 1.7 acres on the French Broad River at the U.S. 64 bridge in Etowah is part of a network of recreation, greenways and blueways that will help drive economic development in Henderson County for the next generation.
The Henderson County Board of Commissioners still doesn't quite grasp it but the rest of the community, including business leaders, is ahead of our elected leaders. The Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the Ecusta Trail from Hendersonville to Brevard. Behind the scenes, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is driving interest in both French Broad River and bike paths as recreation-transportation. That interest rises from the Grossman family's longtime interest in bicycling — Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman ran a bicycle repair shop before he started the craft brewery — its present-day interest in sales. Both the French Broad and a proposed N.C. 280 bikeway lead to the brewery property.
Put-ins at Blantyre and Etowah and a prospective new boat launch on the Mills River at Mills River Town Park a few hundred yards from the French Broad would give boaters more options for kayaking and canoe trips.
In Hendersonville, the City Council cautiously endorsed a grant application for a bike path study for the city and at the same meeting endorsed a $250,000 grant application for Berkeley Park improvements, which includes an Oklawaha Greenway extension.
It does not take a genius cartographer to map out the potential here, by land and by river. The young and fit could bike from Hendersonville or Brevard to Etowah and take a canoe trip to the next put-in. A bike path that links Berkeley Park to Jackson Park to the Ecusta Trail to Brevard to Mills River creates a perimeter that encircles three-quarters of the county — with hundreds of entry and exit points.
The rise of recreation as part of a broad development plan dovetails as well with the trends of health care, which demand greater patient ownership of health, better fitness and better diet. And it makes our area more attractive to the recreation-oriented baby boom retirement wave.
The French Broad boat ramp is just one more signal that Henderson County is poised to make an even bigger splash in recreation, economic growth and quality of life.
Published: Hendersonville Times News Sunday, November 23, 2014
About 1877, Congress approved $25,000 to dredge and blast a channel in the French Broad River between Asheville and Brevard, according to "Along the Banks of the Oklawaha," Vol. 1, by the late Henderson County historian Frank L. FitzSimons. The purpose: to open a channel for what was then billed as the "highest steamboat line in the world" at 2,220 feet above sea level.
Despite blasting of shoals and construction of jetties that doubled the project's cost, the river remained too shallow for a steamboat. The boat, named the Mountain Lilly, made only a few trips before it got stuck in the shallows and was dismantled.
In the century-plus since dreams of river commerce died, the upper French Broad in Henderson County has been a retreat for a few local anglers and boaters willing to struggle with difficult access. The river meanders about 20 miles, mostly through bucolic farmland, with occasional views of distant mountains.
The only developed accessed points are at Blantyre on the Transylvania County line and at Westfeldt Park 18 miles downstream near Fletcher, Mills River and Asheville Airport. There are a few steep, muddy informal spots in between where anglers and paddlers can scramble down to the river.
Both Transylvania and Buncombe counties have numerous river parks and access points. Yet, despite decades of work to clean up and revitalize the French Broad from the heavily polluted dumping ground it was in the early 1970s, the river in Henderson County has been a largely untapped recreational resource — until now.
Since 2012, the Henderson County Parks and Recreation Department, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and private partners have been working to improve access to the river through boat ramps and greenways. The most logical place for a new public access and park would be about halfway between the existing ones, in the river's Horse Shoe bend.
This is also an area permanently protected from development, thanks to the foresight of Super Sod, a Georgia-based turf-growing operation with farms across the Southeast. In 2003, Super Sod placed 343 acres of its Horse Shoe farm under a conservation easement with CMLC, meaning the land will be used for agriculture in perpetuity.
At that time, the partners agreed to leave 1.69 acres out of the easement. CMLC acquired this property, and through careful planning with other partners, came up with a proposal to donate it to Henderson County for a new river park.
On Wednesday, the Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to accept the donation and plans to create the park about halfway between Brevard and Hendersonville. The 1.69 acres is located on U.S. 64 across from Cummings Road midway between Horse Shoe and Etowah. It's near a railroad trestle that could someday become a river crossing for the Ecusta Trail, an 19-mile rails-to-trails project between Hendersonville and Brevard advocated by Henderson County business and recreation leaders.
Located near the point where unused railroad line diverges from the river, the park would allow people to paddle or float down from Pisgah Forest and then bicycle to Laurel Park and Hendersonville or back to Brevard. Along with public campsites being developed along the French Broad Paddle Trail, it will allow boaters to launch at Horse Shoe and paddle or float to Westfeldt Park and, eventually, a river access planned at Mills River Park.
The Friends will hold two public Q&A sessions in October. The first will be on Thursday October 2nd in the Rogow Room of the Transylvania Library from 5pm -7pm. The second will be Tuesday October 7th in the Kaplan Auditorium of the Henderson County Library from 5pm - 7pm. Come out to see the video, get your questions answered, get your concerns heard or voice support for the trail.
Voting in the Hendersonville Lightning Poll concluded with over 94% of respondents voting in favor of the trail! Nearly 1,300 votes were cast. Check out the results below.
By Bill Moss, Published: September 11, 2014, Hendersonville Lightning
Don Schjeldahl has plenty of credibility when it comes to industrial development. A specialist in helping corporations find sites for new plants, Schjeldahl spent 18 months guiding the Sierra Nevada search that ended with our area landing the biggest catch in a generation. People ought to pay attention when Schjeldahl assesses the practicality of reopening the Hendersonville-to-Brevard rail line.
"In terms of trying to bring it back to heavy industrial use, it doesn't really fit very well within my view of the global economy, how North Carolina fits within that economy, the industries and the investments that are taking place," Schjeldahl says. "It's pretty unlikely that you're going to find a company that is of the quality employer, that is going to invest the money to bring that rail back."
On the other hand, Schjeldahl says, "I've also got lots of clients who have a desire to move into a community that is attractive from a quality of life standpoint. And the Ecusta Trail becomes a very important attraction to this region."
Schjeldahl's comments open a new seven-minute video that the Friends of Ecusta Trail commissioned to educate elected officials, landowners and business leaders about the proposed trail.
Chris Burns, the treasurer of the trail-promoting organization, explained that the Friends hope through the film to describe what the trail can be — a boon not only for tourism but for jobs expansion and even industry locations — and also what it is not — a threat to private property rights and a corridor of crime.
At a showing in Brevard, the Friends brought two sheriff's deputies from the Upstate.
"Both of them have patrolled the Swamp Rabbit since its inception," Burns said, "and the reality of crime on that trail is very different from the perception."
Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne McCall admitted to being a skeptic who was quickly won over when a rail-banked line became the Swamp Rabbit Trail in the South Carolina Upstate.
"The economic impact has been nothing short of phenomenal," he said. "Buildings have been renovated. There's been about 40 businesses pop along the 266 corridor, which runs along beside the trail. There's no doubt that the Swamp Rabbit Trail has raised the value of real estate in our area."
The video is must-see TV for skeptics, starting with the institutionally hesitant Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, which stubbornly refuses to see how well the Ecusta Trail plays to that community's assets. Even supporters will benefit from watching the video. It provides reality-based evidence about two greenways that have brought tremendous benefit and pride to small Southern communities like ours. Our hope is that leaders here and in Brevard will take time to watch the video and attend the information meetings the Friends of Ecusta Trail is offering. A open-minded person, it seems to us, would take from the film a sense of optimism that we could have an enormous success here with a rail-trail.
Advocates of the proposed Hendersonville-to-Brevard rail trail have launched a campaign to educate the public about the project, using a new video that highlights the project's economic benefits.
"The purpose of (the video) was to show to folks — primarily civic leaders and community leaders and elected officials in Transylvania and Henderson County who have never had chance to experience the Swamp Rabbit and the Virginia Creeper — a little of the experience," said Chris Burns, treasurer of the Friends of Ecusta Trail.
The organization wanted to address concerns of opponents, including the view that the railroad tracks ought to be preserved for future industrial use and fears that a rail-trail would lead to trespassing and crime.
"We have purported for seven years that it's not just about the physical activity and having a nice place to walk," Burns said. "It's really about economic development, not only for tourism but as an industry attraction."
A 2012 report on the proposed 20-mile greenway estimated the project would cost $20 million and return $9.4 million a year in tax revenue, tourism spending, property value increases and health benefits. Newer estimates put construction costs at $9.4 million to $13.4 million and land acquisition at $3.7 million.
The video, which is posted on YouTube, opens with comments from Don Schjeldahl, who guided the corporate search that resulted in Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s decision to build its East Coast brewery in Mills River.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjyf6SduDbQ
"In terms of trying to bring (the rail line) back to heavy industrial use, it doesn't really fit very well within my view of the global economy, how North Carolina fits within that economy, the industries and the investments that are taking place," Schjeldahl said. "It's pretty unlikely that you're going to find a company that is of the quality employer, that is going to invest the money to bring that rail back. I've also got lots of clients who have a desire to move into a community that is attractive from a quality of life standpoint. And the Ecusta Trail becomes a very important attraction to this region."
The video also features Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne McCall and three people who praise the Virginia Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia.
When the Swamp Rabbit Trail was proposed, McCall was "a little slow to get on board," he says in the video. "But even before the pavement was put down, just as soon as the crossties and the rails had come up, a wonderful thing happened in our community. We saw people out with their children, moms and dads pushing strollers, people stopping and talking to each other. In short, what had happened is our community was transformed almost immediately. People were neighbors again."
"The economic impact has been nothing short of phenomenal," McCall added. "Buildings have been renovated. There's been about 40 businesses pop along the 266 corridor, which runs along beside the trail. There's no doubt that the Swamp Rabbit Trail has raised the value of real estate in our area. As a matter of fact, there's one subdivision that was completely sold out before it was even finished being built. The proximity to the trail was only about a block and a half."
As for trail safety, the video lets Rachel Fowlkes, who owns a farm along the Virginia Creeper, answer the concern.
"I have friends that thought the Virginia Creeper Trail was a terrible idea, the very idea that strangers would be coming through their property at all hours, and on and on and on," she says. "But they are the first ones now to tell you how much they enjoy it. They're the ones that are out here walking their dogs, riding their bicycles, enjoying the trail every day, where people who come for the weekends may only see it two or three times a year. So really the landowners are the ones who have a jewel. We use it all the time."
The new campaign by the Friends of Ecusta Trail comes just a month after a Kansas company bought 92 miles of track in Western North Carolina from Norfolk Southern. The acquisition includes the 20-mile line from Hendersonville to Pisgah Forest, which has been inactive since 2002.
Watco officials are "continuing to have conversations with us," he said. "They been very very open. When we found out that Watco was going to be the purchaser of the Norfolk Southern line, we were excited because Watco has a very good reputation of being a community partner in the communities they serve, and they have a history of railbanking."
He said it appears the company is "putting a lot of energy into the two active lines" it bought in Western North Carolina but not on the Hendersonville-to-Brevard track. "There's nothing that needs freight between Hendersonville and Brevard," Burns said. "Think about how successful Henderson County has been over the last 10 years in terms of industrial and commercial economic development. Now think about how many of those actual prospects are utilizing rail service."
The video is likely to reach hundreds of community leaders, business owner, landowners and elected officials in the two counties. The eighteen board members of the Friends of Ecusta Trail all agreed to invite at least three groups apiece to a showing. Two weeks ago, the organization showed it in Brevard.
"At that one we brought up two deputy sheriff's from the Swamp Rabbit Trail," he said. "Both of them have patrolled the Swamp Rabbit since its inception, and the reality of crime on that trail is very different from the perception."
The Friends has also planned a Chamber of Commerce ride on Sept. 19 on the Swamp Rabbit, where they have arranged to meet local officials and business owners. "Then we'll bring them back here, show them the video and answer questions," he said.
Do the trail advocates think the video and the public education campaign is moving the needle?
"Absolutely," he said, "there's no question. Our website continues to get more traffic this month than it got least month. We are having three to five people a week signing up for our email blasts. We're up to about 1,400 on our list right now, and that's growing, literally it's growing every week."
Published: Hendersonville Times news Sunday, May 25, 2014 at 4:30 a.m.
Times-News correspondent Elizabeth Jennings' article on how the Swamp Rabbit Trail has revitalized Travelers Rest, S.C., prompted interesting reactions from readers who support the Ecusta Trail, a similar rails-to-trails effort proposed in Henderson and Transylvania counties.
"I think the Ecusta Trail will bring exactly this kind of new tourism and business to Henderson and Transylvania counties, and I predict it will be an even bigger success because of the mountain location," said Michael Arrowood.
There was also frustration that Transylvania County leaders continue to balk at the idea, out of hopes the railway between Hendersonville and Brevard may one day be reactivated to serve some future industry.
"This is going to happen either through a change of thinking by the Transylvania County leadership or by change in the leadership itself," said Mitchell Earl. "It really comes down to how many missed years of economic bounty and increased construction costs are the citizens willing to tolerate."
That frustration is understandable when one looks at the tremendous economic and other benefits of converting unused railroad tracks to walking trails as demonstrated on the Swamp Rabbit. The trail has completely transformed the economy of Travelers Rest since it opened just four years ago on 17.5 miles of former railroad between the town and Greenville, S.C.
"We've probably quadrupled our number of downtown businesses," said Dianna Turner, city administrator for Travelers Rest, citing new restaurants, a brewery and other growing or planned projects. "We used to have dozens of empty buildings on Main Street. Now there are only a handful."
Opponents of rails-to-trails projects often cite bogus fears of increased crime or reduced property values when trails are built, but the experience of Travelers Rest shows the opposite. There have been few crimes committed on or near the trail, and property values are soaring. Wayne McCall, the town's mayor, says the value of his house has increased "$40,000 or $50,000" as a result of being a block from the trail.
"I think it was one of the smartest things Greenville County ever did," he said. "They only paid a million bucks (to acquire the right of way) and it has paid for itself a hundred times over by now."
The number of trail visitors grew from 359,314 to 403,323 in the first two years it was open, according to two studies by Furman University. Businesses reported sales increases from 30 to 85 percent the first year and 5 to 100 percent the second year.
As readers such as Arrowood point out, the Ecusta Trail proposed for 18.5 miles of unused railway has the potential to be a bigger attraction than the Swamp Rabbit. A 2012 trail planning study and economic impact analysis estimated the path would generate $20 million and 180 jobs in Henderson and Transylvania counties during construction, a $42 million one-time return plus $9.4 million in annual returns in tax revenues, tourism spending, health care cost savings, property value increases and other direct-use values.
That was based on the trail drawing 20,000 visitors to the area annually and a $2 million annual increase in visitor spending — numbers that are probably far lower than what will actually occur, given what has happened on the Swamp Rabbit.
Now Norfolk Southern is negotiating with Watco Companies LLC, a Kansas-based transportation company that wants to buy or lease the Hendersonville-to-Brevard spur among 98 miles of rail line across Western North Carolina.
Advocates for the Ecusta Trail hope that Watco, after studying the feasibility of these lines, will consider selling or "rail banking" the local line. Rail banking allows for a line to be converted to another use with the stipulation that it could be reactivated for rail should a compelling future need arise.
By Elizabeth Jennings, Times-News correspondent, Published: Sunday, May 18, 2014
Sisters Joyce and Nancy McCarrell grew up riding their bicycles all over the small town of Travelers Rest, S.C., nestled at the bottom of the Blue Ridge escarpment. They went on house calls with their physician father.
Years later, it seemed only natural for them to invest in the town's future.
“We knew the Swamp Rabbit was coming to town,” Joyce said, referring to the 17.5-mile greenway that goes from Travelers Rest to Greenville, S.C. “We drove along Main Street and wondered, 'Where are people going to go to buy a bottle of water?' At the time, there was nothing for them. So that was the genesis of our business — having a place for people to buy a bottle of water when they got off the trail.”
They opened The Café at Williams Hardware in a historic building on Main Street in December of 2008. Despite launching during a recession, the restaurant thrived and is now a busy lunch spot for both locals and the cyclists, walkers and runners who come from the trail.
The café may have been the first Travelers Rest business to open because of the trail, which is officially named the Greenville Health Systems Swamp Rabbit Trail after its biggest sponsor. But it was hardly the last.
“We've probably quadrupled our number of downtown businesses,” said Dianna Turner, city administrator for Travelers Rest. “We used to have dozens of empty buildings on Main Street. Now there are only a handful. Even on U.S. 25, which is our bypass, we've seen considerable growth. I think Travelers Rest has more media exposure and people are more enticed to come here and make an investment because of the trail.”
Advocates of the Ecusta Trail, a proposed 18.5-mile rails-to-trails project between Hendersonville and Pisgah Forest,
often cite the Swamp Rabbit and the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwestern Virginia as examples of how trails can be successful economic development tools.
New enterprises in Travelers Rest include a variety of eateries, as well as Swamp Rabbit Brewery, opened in April by well-known Asheville brewer Ben Pierson. Tandem Creperie and Merrimack Canoe Company are just two of the businesses on the horizon.
In a bit of happy coincidence, one of Travelers Rest's previously existing mainstays was uniquely well suited to be located on the trail. Sunrift Adventures is an outfitter offering outdoor gear including bike rentals and accessories.
“The whole town was built around the building Sunrift occupies now,” explained Matthew Craft, store manager. “It was a general store in the late 1800s... By the 1960s it was a feed-and-seed, and in 1994 it became Sunrift Adventures.”
Craft has worked at the store for 20 years and is enthusiastic in describing the changes the Swamp Rabbit has brought to the community. “It is amazing, immense. The trail has a 100 percent genuine community feeling,” he said. “Our business is booming because of the trail. In addition to daily trail traffic, organized races like the Swamp Rabbit 5K bring in people who would never have come before.
“Before the trail, Sunrift was a destination due to our proximity to the mountains and the lakes, but we were a stepping stone. Now we are the actual destination.”
Sunrift employee Catherine Williams uses the trail for commuting from Greenville.
“It's about 12 miles each way, but it's flat and easy,” she said. She also uses the trail for exercise and play. “I'm out on it with my family about once a week.”
Today the Swamp Rabbit enjoys widespread popularity, but before opening in May of 2010, the trail had to overcome persistent opposition as well as physical and bureaucratic obstacles.
While many people played key roles in turning the old railroad line into a greenway, the one person most often credited with having the original vision is Carlton Owen, former chairman of the board for the land conservation group Upstate Forever.
In 1999, the Greenville County Economic Development Corp. bought the old railroad line, but its future as a trail was uncertain due to opposition to the critical first step of having the line officially declared abandoned by the Surface Transportation Board in Washington.
“I knew the first thing that had to be done was to walk the corridor so people could see the line's potential,” Owen said. “It was unbelievable. It had been abandoned for 20 years and there were trees large enough to be lumber growing in the middle of the track.”
Owen set out on a mission to clear the trees, briars and kudzu from the line.
“On National Trails Day, we had 200 volunteers,” he said. “They got two miles cleared and never came back, so I got a few friends together and a dozen volunteers from the detention center and we spent 13 Saturdays during the hottest summer on record hand-clearing. The trail would not have happened without those prisoners — and it was volunteer work for them; they didn't have to do it.”
After the trail was cleared, Owen asked County Council members to walk the line for themselves and then support the rails-to-trails effort.
“They said they would, but only if the board of the economic commission that owned the railroad backed it unanimously. At the time we had three of five votes. It took several years to end up getting all five votes,” Owen said.
Further obstacles included a private attempt to buy the line for a nominal fee, taking advantage of a law that gives priority to potential railroad operators. Eventually, when a more realistic value was established, the bid was dropped and the line declared abandoned.
In 2007, the Greenville Hospital System contributed $1 million to the effort, and Greenville County hired Ty Houck as director of greenways, a position created primarily to oversee the establishment of the trail as a county park. The city of Greenville strongly supported the endeavor as a complement to its successful downtown revitalization. Furman University, the largest landowner on the trail, became a strong proponent and even opened restroom facilities to trail users.
Despite the momentum, organizers continued to face vocal opposition from people concerned about safety and property values.
“The first trail like this that was ever made had opposition and I believe the last trail like this will have the same opposition when it's made,” said Houck, who worked in South Carolina's state park system for 12 years before taking the helm of the Swamp Rabbit. “For us, what has seemed to work is being purposeful about listening to opponents' perspectives, because they have a true concern.”
Turner has witnessed most people in Travelers Rest become supporters.
“I think there were people who were skeptical, but I don't think you'd find anybody who feels that way today,” she noted. “It's proven to be hugely successful. It's brought new amenities. For example, we put in a connector to an amphitheater and park, which is called Trailblazer Park. We really identify with the trail. It's a lot more than 10 feet of pavement. It's a community.”
Dr. Julian Reed, professor of health sciences at Furman University, has conducted two annual studies of the Swamp Rabbit. As a whole, his research shows widespread popularity among both users and businesses.
“We've had some complaints, but very few compared to the positives,” Reed said.
Based on the studies, the estimated number of users increased from 359,314 in the first year to 403,323 in the second year.
In the first study, surveyed businesses reported sales increases from 30 percent to 85 percent. In year two, this number was 5 percent to 100 percent.
Issues with parking and utility costs from bathroom use were the primary concerns.
While it's too early for much hard data about property values to be available, anecdotal evidence suggests the effects from the trail have been positive. Home sellers advertise as being close to the trail. Last fall, a Greenville builder launched a community of homes called Trailside that will directly connect to the trail.
“I personally know of three people who've bought a house in Travelers Rest because of the trail,” Craft said.
Andy Moates is one of three Greenville County sheriff's deputies who patrol the Swamp Rabbit on motorcycle.
“Overall I believe the safety on the trail is very good,” he said. “That's not just because of us, but also because of people self-policing the trail. In the county portion of the trail — which doesn't include the city of Greenville — we've had no crimes on people, and just a few vehicular burglaries very early on.”
Moates and others involved with the trail said it's been used as a reference point in describing incidents that may not have a connection to the trail other than being within earshot.
“In one case, a shooting was reported on the trail, and it turned out to be someone doing target practice a couple of blocks away,” Moates explained.
And while a few isolated incidents have occurred within Greenville city limits, Houck said it's important to keep perspective.
“There have been four incidents near the trail that used the name as an identifier and the press about those incidents lingers, but you have to step back and consider how many incidents happen in a shopping mall or a residence,” he said.
Houck cites several steps that have been implemented to maintain safety. “We clear brush for visibility. We have markers to make it easy for 911 calls. We have officers on patrol who let people know 'We're here for you.'”
Moates said one of the biggest problems he encounters is traffic safety when bicycles don't observe traffic laws. In fact, improving road crossings is one of the biggest goals on the horizon.
“We're hoping to get some pedestrian bridges in because it is a safety issue,” Houck said.
Other goals include several expansion efforts as other locales seek to connect to the trail.
“Everyone knows the expression 'If you build it, they will come,'” said Reed. “I knew the trail would be really popular, but didn't expect how quickly Travelers Rest would be transformed. I didn't expect the sense of pride people have in it, the sense of ownership.”
Copyright © 2014 BlueRidgeNow.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.
Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Imagine being able to walk, jog or ride a bicycle along a former rail line between Brevard and Hendersonville. With no motorized traffic to worry about, you take your children and grandchildren in strollers or on training wheels. Folks of all ages smile and wave as they enjoy the fresh air and scenic views of the French Broad River Valley framed by the mountains of Pisgah National Forest.
Feeling energetic? Eat breakfast in Brevard and supper in Hendersonville after cycling the entire 18.5-mile trail between the two towns. If you are from out of town, you might stay at a campground or inn that has sprung up since the trail became a major tourism destination. Or maybe you are a local person, just out for a morning jog along a shorter segment near Laurel Park, Etowah, Penrose or Pisgah Forest.
It's been 4½ years since the Times-News first endorsed the idea of the Ecusta Trail with the words above. Back then, in August 2009, we noted that there were plenty of reasons Henderson and Transylvania counties and their towns should support the trail: improved opportunities for exercise and recreation, improved health and quality of life, a convenient walking path for folks of all ages, and economic development and tourism.
A 2012 trail planning study and economic impact analysis estimated the path would generate $20 million and 180 jobs in Henderson and Transylvania counties during construction, a $42 million one-time return plus $9.4 million in annual returns in tax revenues, tourism spending, health care cost savings, property value increases and other direct-use values. That was based on the trail drawing 20,000 visitors to the area annually and a $2 million annual increase in visitor spending, figures considered conservative.
Now the public campaign to create the greenway is picking up steam. The Friends of the Ecusta Trail put up a billboard on U.S. Highway 64 entering Brevard designed to get Transylvania County voters talking about the trail ahead of the Republican primary in May and the November general election that will fill two seats on the county's Board of Commissioners. The billboard — which pictures a backpack-wearing hiker with the slogan "Imagine It" — has quadrupled traffic to the Friends website, www.ecustatrail.org.
The Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, along with the governments of Brevard, Hendersonville and Laurel Park, have endorsed the trail. While some members of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners have voiced support, their counterparts in Transylvania County continue to stall the idea. They believe tearing up the tracks would foreclose opportunities for heavy industrial development around the site of the former Ecusta paper mill in Pisgah Forest.
We've previously outlined several reasons it is unlikely a heavy industry would come in to warrant reactivating the rail line, which hasn't seen a train in going on 12 years. Costs to refurbish the tracks are estimated at $4 million to $7 million. And the types of industries most suited for the area would not require rail service.
Jeannette Goldsmith, author of an economic development study Transylvania County commissioned last year, concludes that "having the rail and having the sites with rail access is not necessarily very relevant to the economic development future in Transylvania County." What's more, a process called "rail-banking" could preserve future rights to repurpose the right of way for rail, should the need arise.
Several GOP candidates for the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners said they support keeping the rail line intact, with varying degrees of openness to the idea of a trail at some future date. The question is, how much longer should we wait for heavy industry when all signs point to smaller businesses and industries as the drivers of our economy? Support from all local governments will be crucial to convince Norfolk Southern Railway, which owns about 85 percent of the right of way, to relinquish the line.
Like the public campaign to save the 2,223-acre "heart" of DuPont State Recreational Forest and its majestic waterfalls from becoming a gated development, the Ecusta Trail is about a vision for the future. It is a vision that would couple our area's enduring assets — scenery, recreation, high quality of life and history — with new opportunities for health, fitness and economic development.
Voters should look at the trail's potential benefits and demand that candidates and leaders either lead, follow or get out of the way.
By John Lanier, Editor, The Transylvania Times, March 13, 2014
Editor’s Note: This is the first of several articles coming from the recent three-day symposium on “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Transylvania County.” This first story is about Ed McMahon, who kicked off the symposium.
Nationally known author, speaker and land use planning expert Ed McMahon told a crowd of more than 200 at the Rogow Room last week that communities that are unique, have a good image and plan for their future have a much brighter future than those communities that don’t.
“The truth is, failing to plan simply means planning to fail,” said McMahon. “It is difficult to name any successful individual, organization, corporation or community that doesn’t plan for the future.”
McMahon, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala. and vacationed as a child in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said his tour of duty in Heidelberg, Germany “completely and totally changed my life.”
After living in Germany, McMahon began to view the American landscape from a different perspective and realized that “You can grow without destroying the things you love.”
He quoted author Bill Bryson, who wrote, “America has never quite grasped that you can live in a place without making it ugly, that beauty does not have to be confined behind fences, as if a national park was a sort of zoo for nature.”
McMahon said people in small towns are resistant to change, but change will come. The difference is that “unplanned” change will destroy those things people love while planned change can preserve what is unique and enduring.
He said “sustainability” is not a “dirty word,” and that “sustainable communities are places of enduring value.”
McMahon said the world and country are changing. He said years ago in Alabama, they thought economic development simply meant widening the highways.
“We thought that was how you did it,” he said.
But today, having a highly trained and skilled workforce is more important than having roads. The large manufacturing plants that required workers to live nearby have given way to high-tech jobs, many of which can be done remotely.
When it comes to recruiting industry, competition is stiff. McMahon said there are approximately 500 plants a year built in the U.S. and there are more than 25,000 towns competing for those industries.
“You’re in competition with all of them,” he said.
He said that in the past community leaders looked for one big asset – a convention center, amusement park, aquarium, etc. – to boost their economy. More often than not, those projects failed.
“Successful cities and towns think small in a big way,” he said, explaining that incremental steps lead to a better and more vibrant community.
McMahon said major changes in demographics are influencing housing. For years most housing consisted of a single-family residence with a lot on which children could play. Now, since 76 percent of American households do not have any school age children, people are more interested in living in more condensed housing with close access to public green spaces.
McMahon said that for centuries the development model in the U.S. was the town. A town would have a definite edge and center, the latter of which contained mixed property uses of residences, businesses, schools, and recreational and social venues. Towns were pedestrian friendly, architecturally coherent and had a strong sense of community and place. After World War II, however, development patterns changed. Sprawl took over with huge housing subdivisions, office parks, big box stores and regional high schools. Town edges and centers became amorphous and indistinct. Uses of property became segregated, which has required residents to drive more often and farther to shop, work, attend school, etc. Architecture became chaotic and often ugly. A sense of place and community has been replaced by a homogeneity referred to as “Anytown, USA,” a place no different than a thousand other places in the country.
The pendulum, however, is beginning to swing back toward the town concept for a variety of reasons.
One reason is that strip development has lost its appeal and has become uneconomical. The strip malls have the highest rate of vacancy in history, partly due to the fact retail space has increased five times greater than retail sales. Another is that e-commerce no longer requires retail spaces with large back rooms to store inventory.
Many shoppers now go to a store to find the item they like and then check the Internet to see where they can get the best price for that item.
Given the new economic dynamics, McMahon said strip malls are “completely unsustainable,” particularly if gas ever reaches $5 a gallon. He said no new malls have been built in the U.S. in the last few years and 10 percent have closed in the last decade. Even Walmart has seen declining sales in 100 of its suburban stores and is beginning to open stores in cities. Tourism is another reason towns and downtowns are experiencing a revival. According to McMahon, tourism is either the second or third largest industry in nearly every state. People travel to places that are unique. When it comes to tourism, “sameness is a minus.”
McMahon said years ago developers and community leaders considered tearing down historical sections of towns. But then people realized not only the historic but economic value of preservation because of tourism. He said tourism is the most important industry in Louisiana and the French Quarter in New Orleans is the driver of that industry.
He said Riverwalk in San Antonio is “the most visited place in all of Texas” and that the new Camden Yards baseball field in Baltimore is popular because it looks like older stadiums. Preserving and restoring historical structures and areas are integral to keeping communities healthy.
McMahon quoted travel guide guru Arthur Frommer, who said, “Among cities and towns with no particular recreational appeal, those that preserve their past continue to enjoy tourism. Those that haven’t receive almost no tourists at all. Tourists simply won’t go to a city or town that has lost its soul.”
He said towns and cities are also growing because young people and entrepreneurs are migrating to them because of the quality of life they offer. With the advent of technology, some people can conduct their professional lives from anywhere, so they live where they want. He gave the example of a hedge fund manager who moved his company to Jackson Hole, Wyo. because he liked to fly fish and that community provided easy access to fly fishing.
McMahon said if audience members remembered one thing from his speech, it’s that “The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic well being.”
In order to project a good image, communities need to decide where development should occur, how it should be arranged and what it should look like.
“Every community needs a long range conservation plan, just like it needs a long range transportation plan,” he said. “Communities that cannot differentiate themselves will have no competitive advantage.”
McMahon said scenic landscapes and green space have a “quantifiable economic value.” The most expensive property in New York is that adjacent to Central Park. Even though the majority of people who live adjacent to golf courses do not golf, they choose to live there because they value the green space behind their homes. Any green space, in fact, enhances the value of adjacent property.
McMahon said that when corporations plan to build in towns, they have three design plans. The first is their prototype. The second is a slightly modified prototype, such as a Pizza Hut with cedar shingles instead of a red roof. The third plan is one that places the business within an already existing structure or new structure that fits in with the historic architecture of the community.
“Stick to your guns and you get plan C,” he said.
McMahon cited the McDonald’s restaurant near the entrance to Biltmore as a Plan C design, one that fits into the architecture of the community. He said businesses open new stores based on research showing that they will be profitable at a certain location and will frequently agree to a community’s design requests.
“You just have to ask them,” he said.
McMahon said “it’s never too late” for a community to regain control of its image. He said buildings deteriorate and are replaced one at a time.
He said successful communities take an inventory of their local and regional assets and then build plans around enhancing those assets. They will use a combination of tools, including education, partnerships, regulations, etc. to develop a unique town that reflects the history and character of the people.
“The proof is everywhere. Communities that set low standards or no standards will compete to the bottom,” he said. “Communities that set high standards will compete to the top.”
McMahon used Chattanooga, Tenn. as a prime example that rejuvenated itself. Decades ago it was considered the most polluted city in the South. Once manufacturing declined, community leaders decided to renovate the area along the Tennessee River, which flows through the city. Chattanooga now has a 13-mile river walk with more than $750 million in development adjacent to the trail. Chattanooga is now considered one of the most desirable cities in the Southeast and country to live.
He said while money is a consideration and companies will not invest in “communities that do not invest in themselves,” doing the right thing is the most important consideration.
“Money will always follow good ideas,” he said.
McMahon said there are always people who oppose planning for change, but if they can be shown how a concept works in another area they are more likely to become converts.
“Nothing breeds success like success,” he said.
He said that over time some opponents become the greatest advocates. For example, he said some retirees in Florida were staunchly opposed to the Pinellas Trail, a 57-mile bike path that would go behind their homes. They had fences put up between their homes and the bike path. A few months after the trail opened, some retirees placed gates in the fences so their grandchildren could ride on the trail. Now all of the fences have been taken down. McMahon said that to create a vision and have it come to fruition takes good leadership.
“Vision counts, but implementation is priceless,” he said.
Henderson County Residents (registered as Republican or Unafilliated) can vote for one in each district. The following responses were made by the candidates at a recent voters forum, as reported in the Hendersonville Lightning. You may notice that several of the candidates’ responses show very little knowledge of the concept of Rail Banking, nor of the Economic Impact, Planning and Cost Study that was completed in 2012. Although Friends of the Ecusta Trail cannot endorse specific candidates, we can take a position on issues such as the proposed Ecusta Trail, and report how the candidates stand on the issue.
Corn: "I would certainly be in favor of it. I think it would be a great venture to get on a bike and ride that path and enjoy the sights and see the neighborhoods that you would run through. That's the kicker — the neighborhoods that you're going to be going through, the backyards, the homes — how are they going to feel about people traveling through, about their safety, their children, their animals, their pets. The list goes on and on. And then you come to, hey, how much is this going to cost to enjoy this. And what would be the impact on the economy. But if it all worked out and everyone who was going to be affected by this was OK, I'm OK. I think it would be great."
Edney: "There's been a study done. The study said the economic impact would be to the benefit of about $10 million a year. So it's actually a good thing for that. As I understand it the railroad actually owns 85 percent of the fee-simple title so it's not just the old easement like they had in Transylvania County. If we can get Transylvania County on board, if they'll give up the concept of having to have that railroad to reenergize their industrial base over there and realize that this is an industry of itself, then we can go as a community to the federal authorities and to the railroad and try to get something working. It'll be a tremendous benefit to the entire region if we can make this thing happen."
Riddle: "I believe that this is a wonderful opportunity. ... How we pay for it is the question. I agree with Larry Young. Put this on a general obligation bond. If folks want to pay a one-time tax in an election, let's put this together. ... If I'm in this office my main focus is debt reduction, not more parks."
Lapsley: "I would say yes but I think one of the key points here is the property owners along the trail. They bought the property with a railroad bordering them. I think if you change the concept we at least owe it to them to get their opinion before we commit to it."
Young: "When this came up four or five years ago I talked to a lawyer (in Brevard). He told me if the railway gives up that right of way ... then that property reverts back to the property owners. You cannot give anybody permission to cross somebody else's property. Now how much is it going to cost to build that rail to trail? Four or five years ago, they suggested about $20 million. It's probably $25 million or more. I would be in favor of a bond issue to let the people vote and see if they want their property taxes raised about 10 cents on the $100" valuation.
Thompson: "I would support it if the railroad was to give it up. If the railway would come through and give it up then I would be supportive of rails to trails."
Griffin: "I actually would like to see a whole comprehensive study on what that whole trail would cost us in maintenance and construction. ... There seems to me to be quite a few questions that we need to have answers on. I just think there's a lot of unknowns. I also think you have to look at not just what's it gonna cost to build, what's it gonna cost to maintain. What's the sheriff going to have to spend on personnel to patrol it and keep it safe."
Get out and vote! Early voting runs from April 24 – May 3. The primary is May 6th.
Do you order online from Amazon?
Did you know that Amazon will automatically donate .5% of most purchases to the Ecusta Trail?
What an easy, pain-free way to support our future rail-trail! It’s a no-brainer.
How does it work? Amazon has created a website called AmazonSmile. From Amazon’s description online:
“AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon that lets customers enjoy the same wide selection of products, low prices, and convenient shopping features as on Amazon.com. The difference is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organizations selected by customers.”
Shop as you usually do. All you have do do is start shopping from smile.amazon.com instead of amazon.com.
Your Amazon account and Amazon Prime membership stay the same. You’ll know that an item you’re purchasing is eligible by the phrase “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on the product page.
This is what you need to do to begin using AmazonSmile:
Because it’s difficult to remember to go to this new website over the old Amazon, there are some settings you should change on your devices:
On your computers, depending on which browser you use, do the following one time:
Unfortunately, there are no extensions for doing this with Safari or Internet Explorer, but if you use bookmarks, go to smile.amazon.com and add it to your bookmarks.
If you shop from your iPhone or iPad, you will need to do the following once on each device:
Remove the old Amazon app from your iPhone and iPad so that you will always shop at Amazon through AmazonSmile:
Take five minutes to tell Amazon that you’d like for them to donate to the Ecusta Trail, set up the automatic links on your devices and spread the word.
To better express what's at stake, the Friends of Ecusta Trail should go ahead and change the name of the proposed greenway to the Jobs Creating Tourism Promoting Economic Development Fueling Exercise Inducing Greenway.Inelegant as it is, the JCTPEDFEIG might make recalcitrant politicians in Transylvania and Henderson counties see the value of the trail.
A 2012 report estimated that the trail would cost $20 million to build and would return $9.4 million a year in tax revenue, tourism spending, property value increases and health benefits. The owner of the tracks, Norfolk Southern, has not used the line since 2002 and despite the hopes of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners there is little chance that a manufacturer will come along and trigger a need for a freight train. The last best hope of that was the failed waste-to-energy plant that promised to invite pungent carloads of garbage to Penrose — a dubious economic development trophy for 20 low-paying jobs.Friends of Ecusta Trail paid for a billboard on U.S. 64 in Brevard.
The Friends of Ecusta Trail, as the Hendersonville Lightning reported on March 12, has intensified its campaign for public awareness about the project ahead of the May 6 primary election, which could swing the balance of power on the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners in favor of the trail and ratify trail support on the Henderson County Board of Commissioners.
The governing bodies of Brevard, Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Flat Rock are already on record in favor of the project.
One point that Ecusta Trail supporters ought to be making to our friends to the west is that the trail, even if it does foreclose on use of the tracks for industrial freight, is the better option for economic development.
Elected leaders too timid to take a stand for the trail are fond of throwing the question back to Norfolk Southern. It's a nonstarter, they say, until Norfolk Southern agrees to railbank the track.
Wrong. It's a starter when local elected leaders agree on the value, link arms, march forward and make the case up and down the line — from the city of Hendersonville to U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows. The big picture in our greenway future links the Ecusta Trail, the Oklawaha Greenway, the Brevard Greenway, Oskar Blues brewery, Pisgah National Forest, a potential N.C. 280 bikeway and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. campus.
Politicians who fail to see that future are destined to be left behind.
Whether this election cycle or the next, we're approaching critical mass on the Ecusta Trail politically, culturally and economically. Those who aspire to lead — in job creation, quality of life, appeal to newcomers and young people and better health — would be wise to get on board now before the train, to coin a phrase, leaves the station.
For more information about this ruling, please click here.
By Bill Moss, Published in Hendersonville Lightning: March 22, 2014
A simple billboard featuring an image, two words and a web address marks a major new push by Ecusta Trail supporters to raise awareness about the greenway and potentially sway voters in a crucial Transylvania County election.
The billboard, which went up last week, says, "Imagine it," and features an image of railroad tracks becoming a trail that disappears over blue mountains. Below the artwork is the website of the Friends of the Ecusta Trail.
"We wanted to put it in front of folks so especially in Transylvania County people could start getting a lot of facts about rail banking and the Ecusta Trail especially before the primary election in May," said Chris Burns, a member of the Ecusta Trail board and marketing company owner in Hendersonville.
Two seats on the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners are up for election, and one is an open seat.
Larry Chapman is running for re-election. Daryle Hogshed, whose term also expires, is not running for re-election. Six Republicans and two Democrats have filed for the two seats, which are all elected at large. The Ecusta Trail organization sees the Republican primary as an opportunity to gain support and potentially flip the Board of Commissioners from opposing to supporting the greenway.
The big sign on U.S. 64 in Brevard has worked so far, Burns said.
"From our website since we put that billboard up, traffic on the Ecusta Trail website has gone up over 400 percent," he said. "Our Facebook traffic has increased and there's been something to the tune of 4,000 reposts" of the billboard photo.
$20 million project
A 2012 report that the Hendersonville City Council commissioned on the proposed 20-mile greenway estimated the project would cost $20 million to build and return $9.4 million a year in tax revenue, tourism spending, property value increases and health benefits. Burns said newer estimates out construction costs between $9.4 million and $13.4 million with land acquisition costing $3.7 million.
Under the National Trail Systems Act enacted by Congress in 1983, railroad companies voluntarily give up unused tracks for use as greenways. Railbanking allows the railroad to reclaim the track bed if it becomes necessary. About 21,000 miles of track across the U.S. have been converted into greenways, including the Swamp Rabbit Trail from Travelers Rest to Greenville and the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, Va., both popular destinations for bicycle riders from this area.
Burns said it's recently come to light that most of the Hendersonville-to-Brevard track is owned by Norfolk Southern, a point that Ecusta Trail advocates count in their favor.
"Norfolk Southern estimates that at least 90 percent is owned fee simple by Norfolk Southern," he said. "Both the consultant and Norfolk Southern have corroborated that number."
The Brevard billboard is just the most visible indication of the trail organization's efforts.
"Especially in Transylvania County the aim is to bring the idea of the trail to the forefront and to understand their elected officials' position on the trail," Burns said. Trail supporters in Transylvania are "having to make the rounds now to find out where (the candidates) stand. We are going to get the Ecusta Trail question out in front of all the County Commission candidates in both Henderson and Transylvania counties, and as soon we get that we'll get that out on our website, Facebook and email blasts."
Greenways in the works
Ken Shelton, a radiologist, told an overflow crowd at a bicycle symposium two weeks ago that bicycling survey categorized him as "exceptional." He commutes to work on his bike.
Obesity, diabetes, a separation from nature and separation from one another in solitary car driving plague modern America, he said.
"As a physician, if there is one prescription I could write that cures these ills, it would read, 'Exercise, Repeat,'" he said.
"It's just something we need in the community for economic growth and we need in the community for health and exercise," he said in an interview Tuesday. "Those are the main reasons. The whole idea is that greenways allow us to connect parks and trails and other amenities that are otherwise unconnected and create infrastructure that allows us to spontaneously and with planning get out and enjoy the outdoors."
Bikeways and greenways are in the works or in the talking stages throughout the county. Hendersonville is extending the Oklawaha Greenway from Jackson Park to Berkeley Park along Mud Creek. In Mills River, a consultant is studying a bikeway along N.C. 280. The Blue Ridge Bicycle Club recently announced that it was moving the start-finish for the Fletcher Flyer 100-miler to Oskar Blues in Brevard. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is owned by a family of bicycle enthusiasts, raising speculation that it might incorporate bikeways in its large brewery campus.
"It's the whole greenway connectivity," Shelton said. "We'll be the arterial line to that with the Ecusta Trail."
Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Flat Rock all have endorsed trail and the organization's leaders think they have support on the Henderson County Board of Commissioners as well as the legislative delegation, with the exception of state Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Brevard.
"I think in Transylvania as well as Henderson County that this election will make a difference," Shelton said. "There's no question Transylvania County is the one that holds the key right now. If they become supportive I think there's a good chance that Norfolk Southern will abandon the line."
Towns support trail
In Henderson County, three commissioners are up for re-election.
Although the Ecusta Trail has not been an issue in recent campaigns, Michael Edney would be glad to make it one.
"I've always been in favor of it and I've supported it as much as I could and I continue to," he said. "For several reasons. It's the right thing to do for economic development, healthwise, the whole nine yards.
"As far as my understanding the railroad owns 80-plus percentage of the tracks so property rights are not as much an issue as I thought," he added. "It's the property rights of the railroad. A lot of folks over the years have said all (Norfolk Southern) had was the right-of-way, they didn't own the land.... You're not tromping on other people's rights."
Transylvania County Commissioner Larry Chapman said the issue is economic development, not recreation-based development. As long as the railroad line creates the potential to attract a new job-creating industrial plant, Chapman is in favor of keeping it.
"Our board has already taken a majority vote in support of keeping that rail line open," he said. "We're in favor of keeping that rail line as long as that property still has the opportunity to be developed. You might want to talk to the railroad. They've not made any indication they're ready to abandon that rail line."
Shelton said there are plenty of good reasons that Norfolk Southern should want to railbank the tracks.
"If everybody is in agreement that industry (using rail) will never return to Transylvania County, there is no need for Norfolk Southern to hold that line," he said. "There's a whole host of reasons the NS should get rid of that line, including the fact that it would take $4 to 7 million to renovate it to get it up to make it serviceable. They're paying for liability insurance; they could get rid of that. It's a huge tax burden to them. It's a dead line going nowhere and here's no industry that will be developed on the far end of it."
The Friends of Ecusta Trail plans to continue its push, on economic development grounds that show benefits in tourism spending, land value appreciation and better health.
"We're continuing to be visible at events," said Friends president Hunter Marks. "We're going to be sponsoring Rhythm & Brews again this year. We're going to be involved in the Tour d'Apple in September and the Fletcher Flyer on June 1. Anywhere we can, we're trying to remain visible."
The city of Hendersonville, which commissioned the trail study in 2012, is supportive.
"Absolutely, strongly in favor," Mayor Pro Tem Ron Stephens said of the council's position. "I would be most surprised if it was not a 5-0 vote on anything positive about that trail. I've been told that it's Transylvania County that's holding it up, aside form railroad. I understand that our county backs it, and the city backs it and Brevard of course backs it. The (Norfolk Southern) railroad has done it (railbanking) in eight or nine places in the country so it's not like they always refuse to do it."
If the Ecusta Trail leaders are counting votes, Stephens said they can safely mark Hendersonville in the yes column.
"Every comment I've ever heard strongly supports it," he said. "I would bet the farm it would be a 5-0 vote."
Although freight trains have not operated along the Norfolk Southern rail line between Hendersonville and Brevard since roughly 2002, the railroad company has not abandoned the line in case another rail-dependent industry relocates along it. But Friends of the Ecusta Trail hope they will eventually abandon the line so bicyclists, runners and other non-motorized users can enjoy it.MIKE DIRKS/TIMES-NEWS
Advocates for the Ecusta Trail, a proposed 18.5-mile rails-to-trails project between Hendersonville and Pisgah Forest, see an opportunity in the Transylvania County commissioner's race to advance their cause.
The nonprofit group Friends of the Ecusta Trail has erected a billboard on U.S. Highway 64 in Brevard to help raise awareness of the trail project among voters in advance of a six-way Republican primary this May.
The billboard — which pictures a backpack-wearing hiker with the slogan “Imagine It,” along with the group's web address — has quadrupled traffic to the Friends website, leaders say. But organizers say its real purpose is as a conversation starter.
“We know elections are coming up and we want to, if possible, meet with the candidates, let them know who we are, let them ask questions and ideally ask them if they'd be in favor of the trail,” said Friends Chairman Hunter Marks.
Marks noted that as a nonprofit, his group is forbidden from supporting or endorsing candidates for office. “But we do want people to vote and to consider issues such as the Ecusta Trail when they vote,” he added.
Transylvania commissioners — and its Economic Development Advisory Board — have consistently opposed uprooting rail ties and track, on the grounds that a rail-dependent industry might choose to locate on the former Ecusta paper mill site served by the 20-mile Norfolk Southern spur.
“Our board voted unanimously to keep the option open for that railroad to be used for future industry,” said Vice Chairman Larry Chapman, the only Republican incumbent running this spring. “My opposition has not changed.”
Governmental support for the Ecusta Trail has been stronger on the Henderson County side, with Laurel Park Town Council, Hendersonville City Council and the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce lining up behind the proposed rails-to-trail project.
A 2012 planning and economic impact study found the trail would generate $42 million during construction in the two counties. Thereafter, the report estimated the trail would produce $9.4 million yearly from increased tax revenues, visitor spending, health care costs savings and direct use.
Arrow in the quiver
Tracks serving the former Ecusta site have not been used for freight since the paper mill closed in 2002. Six years later, plans were announced for redevelopment of the 540-acre site for a mixed-use development called Davidson River Village, which wouldn't need rail as conceived.
Chapman said Friday he doesn't have a problem with pursuing a “rails-to-trails concept” once developers start building houses and retail on the former plant site and industrial use is no longer a possibility there.
“Until then, economic development is dependent on three major things: roads, runways and railroad,” he said. “And we don't have any runways, our roads are limited, so we need to hang on to our rail.”
Others in the six-way GOP primary race echoed that position, with varying degrees of open-mindedness toward the rails-to-trails project.
Scott McCall, a former county Planning Board chairman, said he agrees with Chapman that “we don't want to remove that arrow from our quiver. But if there comes a time when it is no longer needed and there are no property rights issues, I'd be willing to look at it.”
Candidate Art Margraf said he'd love to see a dinner train run back and forth between Brevard and Hendersonville, but he doesn't support converting the rail bed to an asphalt pathway for strollers, runners and bikers.
“If you follow those tracks from here to there, you'll find it goes right in front of peoples' houses,” he said. “Why do I want people running by my house, especially guys without shirts on? Let them throw some sand or stone along the tracks, but I don't think they should tear the tracks up.”
For insurance agent and candidate Chase McKelvey, it comes down to priorities and timing. “If they found an industry that will come in with the rail, I'd rather see that,” he said. “In years to come, if that's not an issue, I don't see it would be a problem to have an Ecusta Trail.”
Mark Tooley, the only GOP candidate to meet with the Friends, said the rail bed between Pisgah Forest and Hendersonville is “an asset that we ought to be using, whether it's a rail or a trail. But we've got to respect the folks who own the land along there.”
Tooley said he's glad to see Friends spark a conversation about the trail “because it takes resources to do it, and where is that priority in the scheme of things? To me, it has to fit into a larger strategic plan. How would it interact with infrastructure, how would it interact with local businesses?”
Former commissioner and primary candidate Kelvin Phillips could not be reached for comment, but has voted in the past for retaining the tracks for potential industry.
Rail to nowhere?
Ecusta Trail supporters say their project could generate $1.2 million in visitation each year without jeopardizing industry through a process called “railbanking.” In 1983, Congress allowed railroads to lease or donate unused rail beds to trail groups for interim use without giving up future rights to repurpose them as rail.
“If a big (rail-dependent) industry came in that was a really viable industry, we wouldn't stand in its way,” said Marks. “But this is a valuable asset that's just been sitting there for a dozen years. How long do you wait when we feel we have an option that could be an economic boon to the area?”
Trail supporters also point to an “economic development readiness assessment” that Transylvania County commissioned in 2013, which downplays the relevance of rail access for industry.
Its author, industry expert Jeannette Goldsmith, believes Transylvania's economic recovery is more dependent on refocusing its marketing and recruitment efforts, building its water and sewer network and developing a “shovel ready,” 50- to 100-acre business park and “virtual spec building” to sell.
“Rail infrastructure is important and valuable; we are not building new rail lines in this country,” Goldsmith said. “Having said that, the target industries that I outline for Transylvania County in large part do not require rail. So having the rail and having the sites with rail access is not necessarily very relevant to the economic development future in Transylvania County.”
In her report, Goldsmith identified her prime target industries as neutraceuticals; outdoor gear manufacturers; food and beverage makers; auto parts companies; tourism; and sports, health and wellness facilities. They don't produce goods or require supplies in volumes suited to rail, she said.
However, Goldsmith said there's “an important third party in this conversation” — Norfolk Southern Railway, which claims fee-simple title to 85 percent to 90 percent of the track between Hendersonville and Pisgah Forest.
Any industry would have to generate enough revenue to make it worthwhile for the railroad to refurbish the line, Goldsmith said, a cost estimated in 2012 at between $4 million and $7 million. “And again, I don't see a project of that size and significance coming to Transylvania County,” she said.
Working on the railroad
Durwood Laughinghouse, resident vice president for Norfolk Southern, said Friday the railroad has no intention of abandoning its idled tracks between Hendersonville and Brevard.
“It's a line that we're keeping open with the possibility of doing industrial development,” he said. “You never know what's going to happen ... Whether we have to repair it or not, we'll make sure it can service any industry that needs it.”
That doesn't discourage Ken Shelton, a Friends board member who said the railroad “always says they're not interested in giving up a right-of-way until the last second, and then they often make what appears to be a spur-of-the-moment decision that has everybody scrambling for the next step. That's just their modus operandi.”
His group is encouraging citizens of both counties to talk about the Ecusta Trail prospects now in preparation for the inevitable day when Norfolk Southern realizes the costs of taxes, liability insurance and maintenance outweigh its returns, Shelton said.
“If a political voice was heard along the full length of the line that they're no longer interested in (rail-dependent) industry, I think Norfolk Southern would consider abandoning that line,” he said.
Recently, a letter was published in the Transylvania Times with the headline “Facts about Rails to Trails”. With respect, I would like to address and clarify a few of these facts as that word seems to indicate that they are well sourced and not simply opinions.
The group, Friends of the Ecusata Trail, a 501c organization was formed over 5 years ago to explore the possibility of converting the 18 miles of un-used rail line into a multiuse recreation trail. Our board is made up with residents from both Transylvania and Henderson Counties. While focusing on a trail, we have always supported the highest and best use of the rail line. As the years slip by, we are more convinced than ever that the best use, the one that would provide the most positive economic impact for our county, would indeed be a trail.
In March 2012, a detailed Economic Impact Analysis was prepared and presented by Alta Greenways, a national trail design firm. This study looked at jobs created, usage and cost for building a trail. The entire study is available at the Transylvania and Henderson county libraries and online at both Hendersonville and Brevard city websites, or at www.ecustatrail.org
I am not sure what sources the letter writer used for his estimates of building costs or annual visitors. The Economic Impact Study does not agree with his stated estimates. In particular, 1600 annual users is more likely to be the number of monthly visitors. While it is true our area doesn’t have the population of Greenville where the Swamp Rabbit Trail is located, we are in fact very similar in size to the towns that built the Virginia Creeper trail; Damascus and Abingdon Virginia. In fact, Washington County (home to both towns), only has a population of 55,000 compared to Henderson and Transylvania Counties combined at 141,000. However, the Creeper Trail reports over 100,000 annual out of town visitors.
A very important but overlooked and/or misunderstood component of this discussion is railbanking. This is the method by which corridors that would otherwise be abandoned can be preserved for future rail use through interim conversion to a trail. Established in 1983 as an amendment to Section 8(d) of the National Trails System Act, the railbanking statute allows a railroad to remove all of its equipment, with the exception of bridges, tunnels and culverts and to turn the corridor over to any qualified private organization or public agency that has agreed to maintain it for future rail use. This property transfer precludes abandonment. Railbanking preserves the railroad's right to transfer all forms of ownership, including easements, to a trail group. (Source: Rails to Trails Conservancy) It also preserves the possibility that rail service could be restored at some time in the future. Simple abandonment without railbanking would almost certainly result in the corridor being split into possibly hundreds of parcels with no hope of being reassembled. Talk about the ultimate in making a decision for the interests of a few.
Recreational trails and greenways are highly sought after amenities by many corporate site selectors; especially the type that would look at Transylvania County for it’s widely recognized quality of life and place. In fact, Asheville recently lost out on being considered for the expansion of Red Hat, a high tech firm from Raleigh because, in their opinion, Asheville lacked quality trails for use by its employees. Jeannette Goldsmith, the consultant hired last year by the County to study our economic development processes, clearly stated in her recent study that she sees none of our target industries ever being large enough to require rail service. This, accepting the reality of our situation in 2014, is perhaps the strongest reason to put this non-performing asset to its best use for all the communities along its 18 miles. Otherwise, how long should we continue to wait for the
re-development of a rail line that is not likely to ever happen?
Our group stands ready to assist this endeavor should we come to an agreement with the counties and Norfolk Southern. In the meantime, we welcome more discussion with all interested parties and would like to invite both county Board of Commissioners, Economic Development personnel and the cities to discuss the issues with us at any time.
Nancy DePippo, Brevard
Secretary, Friends of the Ecusta Trail
During the recent municipal elections in Henderson County, the subject of the proposed Ecusta Trail rails-to-trail came up in several candidate forums. Candidates in Hendersonville and Laurel Park unanimously expressed support for the path, which would connect Hendersonville with Brevard at Pisgah Forest.
At an October candidate forum, Jeff Miller, who won a seat on Hendersonville City Council on Nov. 5, said the trail would be a “great addition to the area.” Miller cautioned that there are “property owners all the way to Brevard that we have to deal with” and unknown costs to be considered.
Councilman Jerry Smith, who was re-elected to his seat, echoed Miller’s concern about costs but said parking and signage for the trail might be paid for through state funding. “There is no opposition to the trail in Hendersonville,” Smith said. “Transylvania County is the holdup.”
The story was much the same at a Laurel Park Town Council candidate forum, where all the candidates supported the trail. The winners in that race, incumbents Paul Hansen and Dona Mennella, noted that Transylvania County officials have withheld their support in hopes that the rail line might one day be reactivated.
Transylvania County leaders don’t currently support the trail because they believe an industrial area in Brevard might have a better chance of being developed in the future if rail service is available. However, the chance the rail line between Hendersonville and Brevard will ever be reactivated grows increasingly slim each year
The 20-mile line has not seen a train in 11 years and is falling into disrepair. New industries that have located in the Pisgah Forest area, such as Oskar Blues Brewery, have no need for a railroad. Job growth in the area is much more likely to come from small and high-tech industries and outdoor recreation and tourism rather than the sort of heavy industry that would need trains.
The only industry we are aware of that expressed interest in using the line was a company that wanted to build a plant to vaporize biomass. That company did not offer any solid plans for using the line, and its proposal was halted after Transylvania County, heeding outcry from residents, placed a one-year moratorium on biomass plants.
Norfolk Southern Railway, which owns the line, is likely to eventually abandon it for a number of reasons. For one, it is a dead-end line, essentially a spur on a spur since rail traffic now stops at the Kimberly-Clark plant in Hendersonville. Estimated costs to refurbish the line run from $4 million to $7 million, according to an economic development study funded by Hendersonville, Henderson County Travel and Tourism and the Friends of the Ecusta Trail advocacy group.
Norfolk Southern has little incentive to reactivate a spur that is falling into disrepair when it would be cheaper and easier to locate new industries that require rail service on operational lines. It is hard to imagine in today’s economy a single industry that could make rail service to Pisgah Forest profitable, especially when potential industrial sites in Brevard have relatively easy access to Interstate 26 via N.C. 280.
On the other hand, the economic benefits of building the Ecusta Trail are clear. The 2012 trail planning study and economic impact analysis estimates the path would generate $20 million and 180 jobs in Henderson and Transylvania counties during construction, a $42 million one-time return plus $9.4 million in annual returns in tax revenues, tourism spending, health care cost savings, property value increases and direct-use values.
That was based on the trail drawing 20,000 visitors to the area annually and a $2 million annual increase in visitor spending, figures that are considered conservative. Costs to build the trail, including design, engineering and construction, have been estimated at between $9.9 million and $13.4 million. Yes, there are lots of questions remaining about funding, but trail advocates believe state and federal grants and private funds would pay much of the cost.
Rather than wait for a heavy industry that may never come, Transylvania County leaders should look at the powerful economic arguments in favor of creating a rails-to-trails path for bicycle and foot recreation. With so many potential benefits for residents and our economy, the Ecusta Trail deserves the full support of all local governments.
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Multiple partners are working together to provide funding to grow the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail, according to Greenville County Recreation District officials.
Plans include building a new section of trail in Slater-Marietta, trail development in Simpsonville and Fountain Inn, and spur trail construction in Berea as well as to Conestee Park. (Editor's note: Video below.)
The projects would grow the 17.5-mile, multi-use trail system by up to 3 1/2 miles, according to Ty Houck, the Rec District's greenways, natural and historic resources director.
Partners, including the Rec District, Naturaland Trust, the Conestee Foundation and the cities of Simpsonville and Fountain Inn, are seeking federal Recreational Trail Program grants to fund the projects, and public comment is encouraged to help with the grant process, Houck said.
Posted: 07/16/2013 4:20 pm EDT
The Huffington Post
NEW YORK -- When Mary Walsh opened Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery in 2011, the business had all the markings of a venture destined to fail. Rather than open up in downtown Greenville, S.C., the SUV-friendly town where Walsh and her business partner, Jacqueline Oliver, live, the duo set up shop in an abandoned storefront more easily accessible via bike trail. In a part of the country better known for pulled pork and fried food, Walsh's store offered organic hummus and kombucha.
But two years after launching, Walsh says sales are going briskly, driven by customers who'd rather take their groceries home in a bike basket than a car trunk. A gym, bike shop and "environmental hair and nail salon" have opened next door, turning a site Walsh says used to be a crackhouse into a bike-focused strip mall.
While some may have called Walsh crazy for choosing to open her store along a cycling path, her success is part of a surge in bike-related business opportunities. With the initial economic hit from the Great Recession in the rearview mirror, both new and existing businesses across the country are tapping into changing attitudes about biking as a way to drive up traffic and put their sales into high gear.
“It’s really low-hanging fruit changes being put in place that make a big impact,” said April Economides, an urban planning consultant who has advised businesses in the city of Long Beach, Calif., on how to make their shopping districts more bike-friendly.
“When you offer things like basic bike repair, events, free bike valet, it puts the idea in people’s mind that ‘Oh, I could bike there’,” Economides said. “That’s good for businesses because cyclists travel at human speed. We notice businesses that we normally wouldn’t notice if we were going in the car. And it’s much easier to stop, park for free and walk right in.”
As a direct result of various efforts to make the city of Long Beach more bike-friendly, Economides said, 25 businesses have opened or expanded there.
Academic studies have backed the idea that promoting cycling can have positive economic effects. Researchers have estimated that all aspects of cycling -- increased sales by bike retailers, out-of-state tourism, a bump in traffic to businesses near bike lanes, gains from positive health effects, and other factors -- contribute $435 million per year to Iowa’s economy. Similar studies have found contributions of //www.tourism.umn.edu/prod/groups/cfans/@pub/@cfans/@tourism/documents/asset/cfans_asset_167538.pdf" target="_hplink">$481 million to Minnesota and $556 to Wisconsin. In Colorado, a famously bike-friendly state, the estimate is $1 billion.
In Memphis, Tenn., the president of a community development nonprofit said that a program by the city government to carve out bike lanes from old trolley tracks and railroad bridges has helped turn a blighted part of central Memphis into a vibrant arts district.
“We have a lot of businesses moving in here because they are seeing the future when the bike connector is in there,” said David Wayne Brown, president of Historic Broad Avenue Arts District. “There’s a lot of expectation and anticipation that this is going to be the central place for people to use as a hub. Maybe stop and get a coffee when they’re on a ride with their friends.”
One of the most exciting projects being undertaken, Brown said, is the rehabilitation of a warehouse that will serve as a community performance space. The center is expected to be an anchor for the business district, with a restaurant on the rooftop -- easily accessible via bike ramp, of course -- as a likely centerpiece.
“We have a lot of plans that are pie-in-the-sky, but also realistically possible in the future,” Brown said. One such plan involves placing shallow pools near the bike lane to serve overheated cyclists.
"It could be a place for people to cool down when it gets really hot in the summer and yell ‘good luck!’ at the other cyclists passing by,” Brown said.
That encouragement from other cyclists -- really, the development of a bike culture in cities and towns -- is just as important for businesses as biking infrastructure like trails and lanes, several entrepreneurs told HuffPost.
In New York City, designer Sarah Canner has developed Vespertine, a line of couture reflective apparel meant to cater to female cyclists who might enjoy biking for short trips, and want to be safe but also fashionable. This type of biker is appearing more often on New York City's streets as cycling becomes more popular and in the wake of the installation of a bike share program in the city, Canner said. In reference to the mayor of New York, who has aggressively pushed the city to build bike infrastructure during his tenure, Canner called this new breed of cyclist "the Bloomberg-model biker"
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Canner said. "There’s been a number of people that have been inspired to figure out new challenges -- and very much on the fashion side."
"Bikes are trendy, and they’ve been so for a couple of years," she said. "It’s been a nice time to be involved with bikes."
Cities hope to partner to create a trail, such as the Swamp Rabbit Trail, linking Easley and Pickens.
By Jason Evans Easley Patch.com
June 11, 2013
Pickens and Easley officials are moving ahead on a project designed to create a trail linking the two cities. Last night, both cities’ councils approved purchasing the former Pickens Railway line in order to create a bicycle and pedestrian trail, much like the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Easley City Administrator Fox Simons said the purchase was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Pickens Mayor David Owens said each city would pay $250,000 of the $500,000 asking price.
The Pickens vote was unanimous, with Councilman Fletcher Perry and Councilwoman Patti Welborn absent. “We’ve been talking about this a good while,” Owens said. “We’ll be equal partners. I’m really excited about it, and I think most everybody in Pickens is excited about it.”
Purchasing the former Pickens rail line property from the Pickens Railway Company will allow for the creation of an 8.5 mile trail linking Pickens and Easley.
Pickens is funding their half of the purchase through hospitality funds.
The city issued a $2 million hospitality bond that is also funding the city’s new amphitheater and work on Town Creek Park and the city’s recreation center.
Ecusta Trail Friends point to upstate trail success
The Friends of the Ecusta Trail hosted local officials at an event on the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Travelers Rest last Saturday. The goal was to encourage officials to experience a converted rail trail, see first hand the impacts the trail has made on the community and envision the potential for the Ecusta Trail, the Ecusta trail organization said in a news release.
Friends of Ecusta, a non-profit organization formed to promote the rail to trail conversion of the inactive Norfolk Southern rail line from Hendersonville to Brevard, put on the event to familiarize Henderson and Transylvania county officials with the Upstate trail and promote a 20-mile trail from Hendersonville to Brevard.
The event was well attended, with representatives from Transylvania and Henderson counties as well as Hendersonville, Laurel Park, and Brevard, the news release said. Attendees heard various viewpoints on the development of the Swamp Rabbit Trail from Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne McCall, Greenville County Greenways Director Ty Houck, and several local business owners.
Mayor McCall stressed the importance of being inclusive, with local governments and businesses finding ways to work together effectively to build and manage the trail. McCall said that 21 new businesses have opened since 2009 when the trail was opened. Houck pointed out that one of the challenges to stretch the budget was met by developing partnerships with local business and other organizations to provide rest stops along the way. The Greenville Hospital System is a major sponsor of the trail and provides annual operating funds to promote the use of the trail.
Nearby business owner Ken Duncan told the group about how the Swamp Rabbit Trail has increased business at his Handees Sports Deli convenience store, which was counter to his expectations before the trail was built. Joyce McCarrel, co-owner of the Williams Hardware Cafe, likened the value of the store's location beside the trail to "ocean front property." Ty Houck reported that a recent study has confirmed that there are 359,000 users of the trail each year.
After an informative question and answer session, attendees moved outside to enjoy the trail. One group took a walk along the trail through Travelers Rest, stopping in at several businesses to hear how the trail had impacted them. A second group rode bicycles; additional supporters of the trail joined in as Houck led the group on the 9.5 mile ride into downtown Greenville, with informative stops at a restored caboose and the Swamp Rabbit Cafe. Greenville County Deputy Mike Jenkins, who patrols the Swamp Rabbit Trail, reported that there have been no crimes on the trail and his job is more about public relations for the Sheriff's Office.
“To us, it was a no-brainer,” Owens said. “That’s what hospitality tax money is for, to draw people in.” Included in the sale is a locomotive engine, two boxcars and a World War II-era kitchen car. Pickens will keep the locomotive and one of the boxcars. Easley will keep a boxcar and the kitchen car.
The former CLCX office on Hampton Avenue is included in the sale. Owens said the office, part of a 1.9 acre-tract, could be used as a trailhead for the path. “Once we purchase it, we’ll get together and decided what to do with it,” he said. The cities are responsible for taking up the crossties, but Pickens Railroad Company is will remove and sell the rails themselves. Having the company remove and sell the rails allowed for the asking price, originally $1 million, to come down, Owens said.
The project will be beneficial to both cities and Pickens County in a number of ways, he aid. Owens said the Swamp Rabbit trail is always busy. “I’ve talked to people in the area, especially in Traveler’s Rest, a town about our size,” Owens said. “The mayor up there, he’ll tell me to bring any naysayers up there and he’ll be happy to buy them lunch at one of the restaurants on the Swamp Rabbit that was empty before the Swamp Rabbit was open.
“I think it’s going to be an asset,” he continued. “It’s going to bring revenue to Pickens, the county, Easley as well. I think it’s a win-win for all of our residents.” Owens said the line’s gentle slope will make it attractive to walkers, runners and bicyclists of all ages. “There’s not a lot of hills,” he said. He said the trail will not only draw new visitors to the area, but will spur the creation of new events. “You can have half-marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks,” Owens said. “It’s going to draw a lot of people to the area. When they come in, they’re going to eat, they’re buy gas. That’s what it’s all about for us, to draw people into town.”
Printed from the Charlotte Observer - www.CharlotteObserver.com
Posted: Tuesday, May. 28, 2013
From Lat W. Purser III, CEO of Lat Purser & Associates, Inc. and a member of the Catawba Lands Conservancy board:
As real estate developers, my colleagues and I dedicate a lot of effort to imagining the kinds of communities in which people want to live, work and play. We analyze data on market prices and absorption. We observe the characteristics of properties that sell quickly. We talk to people about the aspects of communities that they find most attractive.
It is increasingly evident that people are choosing places to live where they can safely walk and bike to school, to work, to restaurants, shopping and parks. Consequently, these types of facilities weigh heavily in the locations chosen for investment by many developers. Proximity to the 17-mile Swamp Rabbit trail was a major consideration in my firm’s recent investment in a 150-unit apartment project in Greenville, S.C., a city that has embraced transportation alternatives.
This week North Carolina and Charlotte elected officials face very important decisions related to making our state and city places where people can walk and bike safely. Charlotte City Council members will decide whether to include the 26-mile cross-county trail in the CIP, and state representatives will decide whether to follow the lead of the N.C. Senate by eliminating state funding for bike/ped projects, a critical source for matching funds to attract federal transportation dollars.
Roads are often thought of as necessities and bike/ped facilities as “nice to haves.” In a competitive world where businesses go where they can attract talented workers, and a mobile work force values quality of life heavily, pedestrian and bicycle options are a critical part of a transportation network. In a recent Furman University study, eight out of nine businesses along the Swamp Rabbit trail reported higher revenues after the trail was opened. Numerous studies confirm that properties in close proximity to trails and greenways command premium values ranging from 4 percent to 20 percent.
In addition to being a smart investment, sidewalks, bike lanes and off-road trails and greenways are critical to the safety of our citizens. As the Observer reported last week, pedestrian fatalities have more than doubled in our city in the last five years. Access to safe walking and biking is not only a draw for the economically privileged. It is vital to those for whom owning and maintaining a car is cost prohibitive.
Interest in being pedestrian and bicycle friendly is not just a big city phenomenon. The breadth of interest across our region is evidenced by the fact that, through a collaborative effort, 76 local governments have adopted master plans for the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15-county initiative to connect our region with a network of walking and biking trails. To realize this vision, it takes investment from all levels of government, as well as from the private sector and philanthropic community. That is happening and momentum is strong, but failure to continue to participate at all levels will jeopardize this opportunity.
Our city and state elected officials face challenging fiscal decisions. From a business person’s perspective, few investments provide the breadth of benefits – economic, health, environmental, and social, and few touch such a cross section of our population. I hope our city and state elected officials will recognize the value of non-vehicular transportation alternatives.
I've been wondering that in recent months as I've covered public hearings and heard presentations about the proposed 18½-mile walking and biking trail from Hendersonville to Brevard.
What better way to find out, I thought, than to walk it. Last weekend my friend John Lampley and I walked from Hendersonville to Horse Shoe, an easy six-mile segment. Over the coming weeks, we'll walk the next two segments until we reach Brevard.
I say the walk was easy, and it really was. It's remarkably flat. John's GPS showed an elevation gain of two feet. Train engineers must have been glad to rest the locomotives after the strenuous pull up the mountain from Tryon to Saluda, famously the steepest standard-gauge mainline railroad grade in the country.
John and I left from the middle of South Main Street just after 8:30 on Saturday morning. It didn't take long to meet the first, and as it turned out only, railroad hobos on the trip. One didn't speak and the other one gave a made-up name and said he'd been living along the tracks and behind the Fresh Market for a number of years. He said he's walked the track all the way to somewhere out west, Murphy maybe it was; I stopped taking notes when he said his name was Neego and his friend's name was Con-O, figuring "con" was the only true part.
That does bring up a perception that the Ecusta Trail would harbor the homeless and other threatening elements. I think development would run off people like "Neego" and "Con-O." They're underground folk. They don't want to fraternize with bicyclists in spandex.
In the far western part of the Hendersonville border, John pointed out the old Richardson's Fuel Supply, which he said was the last place in town to sell coal for heating stoves and which also sold ice. It had one of those loud crushers. People used to go by on Saturday mornings and buy a big load of ice to haul down to the lake for a day of boating.
One thing I'll say about the railroad track is that it's not a trail. That's obvious, I know, but we're reminded every step of the way that we have to hike over chunk gravel and railroad ties instead of a smooth surface that I assume would be either paved or graveled over in a smooth riding and walking surface.
The whole time I'm thinking of this as a bike ride, and what fun bicyclists and roller-bladers could have on the Ecusta Trail. Did I mention that it's flat?
The tracks took us through the "urban" part of the railway, through backyards and behind businesses in Hendersonville and then Laurel Park. You see lots of nice backyard gardens when you're walking behind houses. Dogs enthusiastically announce our presence; all the ones we encountered were fenced. I could not help but think that these fellas were going to get awfully hoarse if there ever is a trail.
At Laurel Park, trail walkers could stop at the Exxon station for a Gatorade or enjoy a breakfast at the Dixie Diner or have lunch at Laurel Park Village, which has three restaurants.
For what it's worth — and economic impact studies to me seem awfully hard to prove either way — rail-trail construction would produce a "$42 million one-time return" from spending on materials and labor. Annually, the trail, according to a consultant's study published in March, would generate $9.4 million in tax revenue from tourism, property value increases and "health care cost savings," and yes, the report actually says that. How's that?
"Studies consistently demonstrate that daily physical activity improves health outcomes and reduces health care costs, increases worker productivity, and reduces chronic illness and short-term health care needs," the report says. And the rail-trail is relevant to this how exactly? "Making exercising options more accessible to a variety of users on the Ecusta Rail Trail will encourage physical activity among some 1,600 users per year and yield an estimated health care cost reduction impact of about $5 million per year."
Hmm. Just having the trail, the forecasters seem to be telling us, will encourage people to exercise who otherwise would not.
As for overall visitation, "conservative estimates" suggest the trail would draw 20,000 visitors annually with a $2 million increase in visitor spending and the creation of 27 jobs.
I should point out that the Ecusta Trail proposal is only that. Advocates face a long tough task convincing Norfolk Southern to abandon the track, even though the railroad company hasn't used it since 2002. Trail folks have heard opposition too from property owners who don't want to give up their privacy for a tourist attraction or local commuting route. The Boards of Commissioners in Henderson and Transylvania counties have not endorsed the proposal.
Ready to serve protein shakes
Our hike took right at three hours, but it was only that long because I kept stopping to make pictures. Otherwise, I think we could have walked it in two hours, and on a bicycle our segment would be an easy 20-minute ride.
At Edmundson Produce in Horse Shoe, Carolyn Edmundson told us that she had just moved to the strip center from across the road.
"I think it would be great," she said of the proposed trail. "Actually we're getting ready to do protein shakes anyway. (There's a fitness center next door.) I think we need something around here people would feel safe walking on."
She liked the idea of a path that would bring visitors from Hendersonville and Brevard and points in between. "We need something more to connect everything," she said. "I think it would help the economy all through Hendersonville."
I put her down as a vote in favor of the rail-trail from a real business owner.
Pushing west toward Pisgah, I look forward to stopping at Blue Ridge Pizza in Etowah and seeing the farmland and mountain views.
The news is full of reports about the resurgence of manufacturing in the United States, and both President Obama and Mitt Romney are talking about the comeback of factories. But the reality is that traditional factory jobs are going the way of agricultural jobs, which have disappeared since the 1800s as farming became mechanized and reshaped by technology.
That was Jon Roberts' message in August to a group of attendees at the annual conference of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Roberts, a principal with the economic-development consulting firm TIP Strategies, is quick to point out that, while the pattern is clear, his assertion is merely an opinion--existing data can't be used to predict future trends. And he acknowledges that in 1880 you couldn't really have foreseen the continuing decline in employment in agriculture that has occurred.
The idea that the decline in manufacturing jobs is analogous to what has happened with agricultural employment was a fresh and powerful insight for me. For several reasons, I'm certain that Roberts is right. First off, he certainly has the credentials: He has a strong and diverse background in economic development, and he started a couple of his own manufacturing companies. He did economic-development planning for two governors, Washington's Booth Gardner and Texas' Ann Richards, and he worked as a consultant on the economic-development strategic plan for Texas when George W. Bush was that state's governor.
Furthermore, his data is compelling. A slide he showed the commissioners tracked the decrease of manufacturing as a percentage of all jobs in North Carolina from 26 percent to 11 percent over the two decades ending in 2011, while national data for 1970 through 2009 show manufacturing jobs declining from 26 percent to 9 percent. In both sets, the trend line is basically straight with no apparent impact from the recent recession: Manufacturing jobs were being lost before the downturn and after.
Finally, Roberts makes a strong case that the reason the jobs are leaving manufacturing is because of the same kind of technology-driven increases in productivity that reshaped agriculture. Today, crops are raised and livestock is produced by a tiny fraction of the workers who were needed a hundred years ago. Technology is producing the same sorts of changes in manufacturing, where the same or greater output is produced by ever-fewer workers.
Roberts says he usually gets pushback from elected officials on his conclusion that they should look beyond traditional manufacturing for job growth, so that's what he expected to hear in the question-and-comment period after his North Carolina presentation. But one of the first to speak was a commissioner from Transylvania County, in the mountains of western North Carolina, who pointed to the line on Roberts' slide that showed leisure and hospitality steadily increasing as a share of total employment.
The commissioner told an interesting story, about a fellow from Colorado who had been coming to Transylvania County for years because he liked to mountain-bike there. It turns out that the mountain-biker runs a very successful craft brewery in Colorado. He had been selling more and more beer east of the Mississippi, so he decided to open a second brewery in Brevard, the county seat of Transylvania County.
When I followed up, I found that the commissioner was talking about Dale Katechis, the founder of Oskar Blues Brewery. Katechis (who also has started his own bicycle company) is forthright that his passion for mountain-biking was the primary consideration for locating his new brewery in Brevard. "It's not really an epicenter of shipping or on a major thoroughfare," he said with a laugh in an interview with CNBC. "It's a place where I have come to retreat, and ... I thought if I'm going to be away from home, maybe I can bring my kids to a place where I can also get some work done and we're able to save on the cost of shipping beer to the East Coast."
Oskar Blues is one of three craft breweries recently locating in western North Carolina. Sounds like the beginning of a cluster. Success of that kind is organic, arising from the unique strengths of a particular place rather than the cookie-cutter approaches that seem to sweep like a virus through the economic-development world, where success has only counted when you did things that allowed elected officials to claim immediate job growth.
The decline of manufacturing has huge implications for economic-development policy built on government tax incentives aimed at stimulating manufacturing and on real-estate development. Public officials will have to fight harder and harder for fewer and fewer jobs. Success of the kind that is beginning to occur in western North Carolina is slow and incremental, but it is real. That commissioner from Transylvania County didn't claim to have brought the brewery to Brevard, but he glowed with pride when he told the story.
Call it pedal power or burgeoning bike tourism, but events like last weekend's Assault on the Carolinas road race are giving the county a welcome economic boost. Officials hope the county's growing reputation as a road- and mountain-biking destination will pay off even more for local businesses.
The 13th annual Assault on the Carolinas — a charitable 40K, 60K and 100K road race sponsored by the Pisgah Forest Rotary Club — brought more than 1,000 cyclists here Saturday to sample one of Transylvania's greatest assets: its curvy, steep mountain roads.
The Hub bike shop in Pisgah Forest set sales records last weekend, said owner Sam Salman, but he added that business had already been strong because of tourists from Canada and the Midwest coming down to ride during the mild winter.
"There's just been an explosion of riders this season," Salman said.
Seventy-five percent of his rental mountain bikes were taken out last weekend, many by road bikers who wanted to try out the county's storied single-track trails after the Assault.
Mountain-bike tourism has kicked into high gear thanks in part to a recent issue of BIKE magazine that lauded Transylvania as "home to some of the best riding in the country." BIKE's editorial team spent two weeks here testing gear for their "Bible of Bike Tests," which featured DuPont State Forest on its cover.
All of the biking buzz has gotten the attention of local government officials, who have committed to working together to forge a new economic development plan for the county.
The county's economic development office has created a webpage touting Transylvania as "the Cycling Capital of the South." It makes the case for bike-related businesses to locate here, listing the county's amenities: 400 miles of single-track trails, 1,000 miles of gravel Forest Service roads and "a wide variety of road cycling options."
"We've just got what is in high demand," Brevard Mayor Jimmy Harris said at Monday's city council meeting, praising the Assault race as the kind of financial infusion the area needs. "I'm just really proud of this weekend. This is exactly what we should be doing."
Councilman Wes Dickson, who owns Sycamore Cycles in Pisgah Forest, said he joined Chris Carmichael for the race's grueling 6-mile climb up Caesar's Head. An Olympic cyclist who once coached Lance Armstrong, Carmichael relocated his cycling and triathlon training business to Brevard based on its great riding terrain and bike-friendly climate.
"When we got back to town, he basically said it took him too long to move to Brevard," Dickson said. "It was really great to hear his praise and how impressed he was with the city."
Outdoor tourism has grown increasingly important to Transylvania, which lost more than 4,000 manufacturing jobs between 1981 and 2004 due to the closing of three major plants. More recently, home construction slowed due to the recession; new home permits dropped from 236 in 2007 to 62 in 2011, county records show.
Travel and tourism, meanwhile, contributed $71.75 million to the local economy in 2010, according to county's latest report. While no figures are available to show the benefits of biking per se, "we know that there is a significant impact to the region and Transylvania County specifically because of mountain biking and road biking," said Mark Burrows, county planning and economic development director.
Last week, county commissioners voted to jump-start a visioning process that seeks to define goals and strategies for local economic growth. The process will solicit input from the Chamber of Commerce, local colleges, the city, the town of Rosman, the school board and the county's Economic Development Advisory Board, among others.
On Monday, City Council announced it will hold its own economic development work session at 5:30 p.m. April 30 to explore how the city best fits into the larger effort to grow existing businesses and attract new ones.
"I'm excited about all the work that's going on in the community," said Councilman Charlie Landreth. "But we need to articulate what our role is, and I don't think we're clear about that yet."
For his part, Mayor Harris took something away from his morning spent at the Assault starting area on Main Street, talking to Lycra-clad racers. He heard several cyclists call the Assault one of the premier cycling events in the country.
"What direction are we going?" Harris asked rhetorically. "I think it's partially already figured out for us. At least that's what these (cyclists) from Charlotte and New Brunswick, Canada, already think."
The city is doing its part to encourage more biking, both for the sake of tourism and to increase recreational opportunities for citizens. On Monday, City Council unanimously approved a budget transfer of $376,901 to fully fund the Bracken Mountain project, a six-mile multi-use trail under construction on 395 acres of city-owned land off Pinnacle Drive. It's slated for completion this summer.
By: League of American Bicyclists news release |WSLS-TV 10
Published: April 18, 2012
ROANOKE, VA --
With Earth Day just around the corner, the League of American Bicyclists has recognized the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Carilion Clinic’s Riverside campus and Norfolk Southern as Bicycle Friendly Businesses in the Roanoke Valley.
They join a visionary group of more than 400 local businesses, government agencies and Fortune 500 companies across the United States, including several already in the region, that are transforming the American workplace.
“Businesses and organizations like the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Carilion Clinic’s Riverside campus and Norfolk Southern are at the forefront of a movement to make American businesses more competitive, sustainable and attractive to the best and brightest employees,” said Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists. “An investment in bicycling enhances employee health, increases sustainability and improves the bottom line.”
Bicycle-friendly businesses improve the workplace and contribute to the community. For example, the Roanoke Regional Partnership, which received a bronze award, helps to attract and retain bicycle-centered businesses while promoting bicycling events and races.
Carilion’s Riverside campus, also a bronze winner, encourages bike commuting by providing convenient bike parking, showers and locker rooms. The campus is located on the Roanoke Valley Greenway, which Carilion supports financially. The healthcare leader also uses bicycles at work, including for emergency medical technicians and security patrols, and supports community cycling events.
Norfolk Southern received an honorable mention.
“A bicycle-friendly community has a positive impact on a region’s economic development, quality of life and health of its citizens,” said Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership. “Being recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Business reinforces the Partnership’s message that this region has a strong outdoor culture.”
"As the region's primary health care provider, Carilion is dedicated to working with our communities to improve the overall health of the people we serve," added Nancy Howell Agee, Carilion Clinic's president and chief executive officer. "Bicycling is one way our employees can improve their own health and be role models for the importance of physical activity in a healthy lifestyle. Besides, we live in such a beautiful place, it's fun to be outside!"
“As a Bicycle Friendly Community, Roanoke is proud to have three businesses that have already received Bicycle Friendly designations,” said Mayor David Bowers. “The addition of designations for Carilion-Riverside, Roanoke Regional Partnership and Norfolk Southern fit right into Roanoke's economic branding and demonstrate our community's desire for a more bicycle-friendly atmosphere for residents, employees, and customers in our city.”
They join the ranks of other Roanoke businesses that have already received the Bicycle Friendly Businesses designation, including East Coasters Bike Shop, Share Bike, and the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission.
As part of the designation, the three organizations will have access to a variety of free tools and technical assistance from the League to become even more bicycle-friendly.
To apply or learn more about the free BFB program, visit the League online at bikeleague.org/businesses
Proposed rail trail could bring millions to area, study says
Construction of a multi-use recreational trail along the inactive Norfolk Southern Ecusta rail line would generate an estimated $42 million one-time return and an additional $9.4 million in annual revenue for the area, a consulting firm said Wednesday. Homeowners, outdoor enthusiasts and numerous local government officials packed the West Henderson High Auditorium for a special-called meeting of the Hendersonville City Council. The crowd heard the results of a nine-month planning study and economic impact analysis conducted by Alta/Greenways, a Triad-area consultant that specializes in greenway and trail planning and design.
The firm’s conclusion was that the 20-mile corridor connecting Hendersonville and Brevard, roughly paralleling U.S. 64, would be ideal for a rail trail and would “transform the community” by sparking economic development and tourism and increasing property values along the trail. It would also improve the health and overall quality of life of the people who live here. (Click for full article )
Nearly all of the Laurel Park residents who answered a survey from the town’s Parks and Greenways Board in April said they would like to see a fund created to enhance and expand parks and greenways. The survey went out to 1,800 of the town’s property owners and 287 responded. A little more than 50 percent of those surveyed were senior citizens, according to the results. A majority of respondents said they have used the town’s walking paths, parks and greenways and would like to see more walking trails rather than sporting facilities and parks. Eighty-eight percent of respondents support the conversion of the Norfolk Southern rail line to a bicycle and walking trail (the Ecusta Trail).
The City of Hendersonville has entered into a contract to conduct a rail to trail planning study of the 18-mile Norfolk Southern Ecusta rail line that travels from Hendersonville to Brevard.
WHAT HAPPENED? Thursday night Hendersonville City Council unamiously approved paying for one-third of an economic impact analysis regarding a possible walking path along an 18-mile stretch of the Norfolk Southern Ecusta rail line between Hendersonville and Brevard.
WHY DO YOU CARE? The proposed multi-purpose trail to serve walkers, runners, bicyclists and equestrians could be a draw for tourists around the region. How big a draw will be projected by this analysis, which city money is only now paying a third of the total cost as two non-profit organizations are footing major portions of the bill.
HOW DID IT GO DOWN? Since Norfolk Southern has not stated that they intend to abandon the line between Hendersonville and Brevard, this planning study will look at what is involved in the possible conversion of this rail line to a multi-purpose trail to serve walkers, runners, bicyclists and equestrians.
Should Norfolk Southern decide to abandon the rail line built in 1894 by the Hendersonville and Brevard Railway, Telegraph and Telephone Company, the city could request the rail right-of-way be preserved through the process of “railbanking" the rail corridor for future train use while allowing an interim use as a trail.
Thursday night Hendersonville Planning Director Sue Anderson acknowledged that Henderson County Travel & Tourism had agreed to donate $10,000 toward the economic impact study and that the non-profit organization Friends of the Ecusta Trail had also donated $13,000.
The town of Laurel Park is paying $1,000 and the city of Hendersonville will responsible for the remaining $9,285 of the $33,285 total.
Now that funding is secured, the Economic Impact Study can evaluate the potential demand and use of the trail and determine the short and long-term economic benefits for Hendersonville and the rest of the region.
WHAT IS NEXT? Stay tuned, the final report is expected to be completed by January 2012.
Company to Study Rail-to-Trail Idea
Published: Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 1:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 1:54 p.m.
The city of Hendersonville has entered into a contract with Alta Greenways to conduct a rail-to-trail planning study of the more than 18-mile Norfolk Southern Ecusta rail line that travels from Hendersonville to Brevard, according to a news release issued today.
This rail line was originally built by the Hendersonville and Brevard Railway, Telegraph and Telephone Company in 1894 and at one time traveled from Hendersonville to Lake Toxaway. The rail line, which is no longer active, last served the Ecusta paper mill in 2002. Portions of the rail line in Brevard have already been converted into a multi-use trail, according to the release.
“Since Norfolk Southern has not stated that they intend to abandon the line between Hendersonville and Brevard, this planning study is part of the preliminary stages of looking at what is involved in the possible conversion of this rail line to a multi-purpose trail that would serve walkers, runners, bicyclists and equestrians,” City Planner Sue Anderson said in the news release.
“Should Norfolk Southern decide to abandon the rail line, the city can request the rail right-of-way be preserved through the process of 'railbanking.' Railbanking preserves the rail corridor for future train use while allowing an interim use as a trail.”
The planning study will evaluate the condition of the existing rail line and the final report will include a conceptual trail design, along with cost estimates for trail building, operation, maintenance and security.
The city has received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to pay for 80 percent of the study, or $52,000. The total cost of the project is $65,000. The final report is expected to be completed by January 2012.
“The city of Hendersonville is also looking at the possibility of funding an economic impact study of this rail to trail project,” Anderson said. “Once funding is secured, the economic impact study is intended to evaluate the potential demand and use of the multi-use trail and determine the short- and long-term economic benefits to both Hendersonville and the region."
For questions about this project, contact Anderson at 828-697-3088.
Board Agrees to Economic Impact Research on Recreational Pathway
Times-News Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 4:30 a.m.
Henderson County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday morning seeking an economic impact study on a proposed rails to trails project in Henderson and Transylvania counties.
The rail line in question runs from downtown Hendersonville to Pisgah Forest. Advocates for the project would like to remove the tracks and convert the line to a trail, which could be used for hikers and bike riders.
During the public comment portion of the commissioners' meeting, several people spoke in favor of the resolution.
The project could be very good for the area, said Henderson County Chamber of Commence President Bob Williford.
Paul Parker told the commissioners that one thing they could consider would be to rail-bank the railway instead of removing the tracks. This would entail building a trail on top of the rails, keeping the line in place in case there is a need in the future for the railway.
“Personally I support this project,” Commissioner Chuck McGrady said. “Especially the idea of rail banking, which would preserve the railway.”
After passing the resolution to study the economic impacts, McGrady said the rail-banking idea should be investigated further.
“I feel the economic impact study is the right way to go,” Commissioner Mark Williams said. “I still have a few questions, like what are the right-of-ways and what would be the liability of the property owners. I think it would be unlikely that once it goes to trails it would go back to rails. There are still a lot of things to be considered.”
Commissioner Larry Young said he thought the study was definitely needed to enlighten the board.
“We just don't have all the information right now,” he said.
“I agree, we should do the study,” Commissioner Charlie Messer said. “The study will be valuable to the people of Henderson County.”
After the commissioners passed the resolution, they said they would like staff to see how the city feels about the issue and come back with an update at another meeting.
Friends of Ecusta Trail Launches Website and Announce Plans for an Economic Study
By Tina Kinsey
Hendersonville and Brevard, NC – The board of directors of the recently formed Friends of Ecusta Trail announced this week that a website has been launched that explains the vision and plan of work to potentially convert the rail line that connects Hendersonville and Brevard to a “rail trail.”
The vision for a rail trail began several years ago, which culminated in a petition that circulated through Henderson and Transylvania Counties. More than 1,000 residents signed the on-line petition supporting the possible conversion of the rail line, several municipalities passed resolutions of support for the project (including the cities of Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Brevard), and most recently, Henderson County Commissioners passed a resolution last week to support continued evaluation of the project .
“Our board has been meeting for more than a year to examine the possibility of converting the rail line to a multi-use public park trail,” said Mike Oliphant, president of the board and Henderson County resident. “What we’ve discovered in our diligent assessment is that the idea is incredibly exciting for our area, and that we need to approach our goals in phases. The first step is to obtain a solid economic feasibility and impact study to more fully understand how a project like this would need to be logistically accomplished, and more importantly, how it would positively impact our local economies.”
Once an economic study is completed, said Oliphant, more comprehensive discussions will take place with those who can help make the Ecusta Trail a reality, such as political leaders, economic development agencies and Norfolk-Southern, the operator of the rail line.
Another important part of “phase one” of the Friends’ work is to reach out to individuals who live or own property along the rail line. “It is very important for us to conduct our work in a transparent manner, which includes dialogue with those who live along the line. We want to express that our intentions are to improve our region, and that case studies show that property owners along a trail like the one we are proposing tend to see property values increase,” said Paul Parker, vice-president of the board and Transylvania County native. “We look forward to an open dialogue with our neighbors along the trail.”
“We believe that the development of a trail like this would be an important investment in the future of our region, and will provide numerous benefits for our residents and visitors,” said Oliphant. “Our group is also focused on other opportunities to connect our communities, and recently participated in a work day to help complete the Estatoe Trail in Pisgah Forest, which connects Brevard’s hike/bike path to the Art Lobe Trail.”
The Friends of Ecusta Trail website is www.ecustatrail.org, which contains more detailed information about the project, as well as information about how community supporters can be more involved.
A brief description of the proposed Ecusta Trail:
The proposed Ecusta Trail will utilize the rail corridor that connects Hendersonville and Brevard and passes through Laurel park, Etowah, Horse Shoe and Pisgah Forest. The proposed 18.5 mile Ecusta Trail would connect existing trails in the City of Hendersonville to existing trails in the City of Brevard. The working name for the trail is The Ecusta Trail in recognition of the importance of the Ecusta Corporation in the history of the region. Ecusta commenced operation in 1939 and was one of the largest paper mills in the Southeast. From old maps of the region, the name Ecusta is also reported to be the Cherokee word for “rippling waters,” also fitting for our area.
July 20, 2010 Newsletter