The 19.4-mile trail will utilize the rail corridor to connect Hendersonville and Brevard. It will pass through Laurel Park, Etowah, Horseshoe, Penrose and Pisgah Forest. The long range plan is to link to existing trails in Hendersonville, Brevard and Pisgah Forest, as well as proposed trails in Flat Rock, Fletcher, and Mills River. An up-to-date map is here.
The 11.1-mile Henderson County section will likely be broken into five phases. The first three phases totaling 5.8 miles, will be completed from Kanuga Road (“Busy Bend”) to Horseshoe.
The 8.3-mile Transylvania County Section will likely be broken into four phases. It will begin near the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard.
An up-to-date map is here.
Work has already begun on the trail with the removal of steel rails and crossties. For the 11-mile Henderson County section, a design firm, Vaughn & Melton, has been retained to plan the first six miles. After sections are designed and approved, construction bidding may take place. Up-to-date information about the design and construction of the trail in Henderson County is here.
Although it is difficult to predict, construction could begin by late 2022 and the first phase opened a year later and the fifth and final phase opened in 2027. Presently the Transylvania County section has no similar timetable.
"Ecusta" is derived from the Cherokee word for rippling waters which is appropriate because the trail closely follows the French Broad river. The name was also used by the Ecusta paper mill in Pisgah Forest which started operation in 1939 and employed nearly 3,500 workers during its prime.
A 2012 corridor improvement study documented that initial construction would infuse $42 million into the community plus an annual benefit of $9.4 million in tourism revenue, health care cost savings and increased values of property along the trail. For other Economic Benefit information, see the Economic Impact page.
Currently there are three major players who are involved with the Ecusta Trail. The nonprofit environmental organization Conserving Carolina holds legal title to the 19-mile rail corridor and leased the 11-mile Henderson County section to Henderson County (government) who will design, build, and maintain the eastern section. The 8-mile section in Transylvania County presently remains under the purview of Conserving Carolina who is partnering with the City of Brevard to pursue similar design, construction and operational responsibility. The Friends of the Ecusta Trail, also a nonprofit, is a partner group with limited responsibilities. Other governmental players include the City of Hendersonville and the Town of Laurel Park through which the rail corridor passes. The North Carolina Department of Transportation, although not an “active player,” has significant input due to its grant-making involvement.
Railbanking, as defined by the National Trails System Act, is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. Since the Act was adopted by Congress in 1983, it has preserved more than 6,200 miles of rail corridors in 40 states that would otherwise have been abandoned. Because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned, the complete corridor can be sold, leased or donated to a trail manager. For more information on railbanking use the link https://www.railstotrails.org/build-trails/trail-building-toolbox/acquisition/railbanking/
The tax rates for properties located along the trail will not immediately change as a result of a rail trail being built. It is generally accepted that property values for land in close proximity to the trail will increase over time.
There have been less than a dozen such “reactivations” since the mid 1980's. Lines were either reactivated to rail use only or a conversion that allows simultaneous rail use with a physically separated but adjacent trail (i.e. 'rail with trail'). Under federal law, a fair price for the corridor and any improvements must be negotiated before reactivation can occur.
Studies show that rail trail development may actually decrease the risk of crime in comparison to a totally abandoned rail corridor. Typically, trail users serve as the "eyes and ears" for the community. Deputies assigned to the Greenville County, SC Sheriff's Department who patrol the Swamp Rabbit Trail have reported that 99% of crimes associated with the trail involve valuables left in parked cars.
Management options are being studied at this time for the entire rail corridor but will not be implemented until a phase is opened. The Henderson County portion will be considered as a linear park and managed by their Parks and Recreation Department. Security options are currently being studied. In other rail trails, security has been provided by both municipal and County agencies.
Beyond the cost to acquire the rail corridor, construction costs depend on the width of the pathway and amenities. The 2012 Ecusta
The most recent estimate is $31.1 million or about $1.5 million per mile. The Henderson County section is estimated to cost $18.3 million and the Transylvania County portion $12.8 million . A typical rail trail has a 10 - 12 foot pathway with two-foot shoulders. Items that add to the cost include bridges, walls, crossing signage, safety features, and trailhead amenities.
Funding for trail construction will likely come from a multitude of public and private funds.
Funding for trail construction will likely come from a combination of public and private funds. As examples of public funding, in 2015, the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (HCTDA) earmarked 1/4 of 1% of the hotel occupancy tax for trail construction in Henderson County for five years, a commitment it kept until it was fulfilled in 2020. In 2021, HCTDA enacted a resolution of intent to earmark 1% of the hotel occupancy tax for 5 more years for Ecusta. This should bring the trail an estimated $2.5 million in funding.
NCDOT has awarded approximately $7 Million for construction of the first three phases of the Ecusta Trail starting in downtown Hendersonville and going to the French Broad River near Horse Shoe. Federal funds often cover at least 80% of design, engineering and construction costs with the remaining funds coming from other sources such as grants, and contributions from private citizens, foundations and businesses.
Money earmarked by the donor “Henderson County portion” goes into a separate revenue fund to be used in Henderson County. Similarly, those earmarked “Transylvania County” are used for their trail portion. Donations without specific references go to a general fund and may be used for any portion of the trail.
The members of the Henderson County Rail Trail Advisory Committee are as follows: Chuck McGrady, Chairman, Selena Einwechter, David Adams, Doug Moon, Dr. Ken Shelton, Nancy McKinley, Brent Detwiler, Mike Egan, and Chris Burns. Chris Todd, Henderson County Business and Community Development Director, provides staff support for the committee.
The members of the Brevard – Transylvania Ecusta Trail Advisory Board are as follows: Mayor Maureen Copelof, Mac Morrow, Mark Tooley, (TBD) Transylvania County TDA, (TBD) Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, (TBD) Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, (TBD) Conserving Carolina, Chuck McGrady (ex-officio), Henderson County RTAC. Paul Ray, Brevard Planning Director, provides staff for the board.
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