Where is the proposed Ecusta Trail?

The 19-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 along the route such as the Brevard Bike Path, Estatoe Trail and Oklawaha Trail, as well as proposed trails in Fletcher and Mills River.

Why is it called the Ecusta Trail?

The name was chosen to reflect our regional heritage. According to common legend, "ecusta" is derived from the Cherokee word for “rippling waters.” The proposed Ecusta Trail crosses the Davidson River and follows portions of the French Broad River. ‘Ecusta’ was also used by the Ecusta Paper Corporation that started operation in Pisgah Forest in 1939 and once employed nearly 3,500 workers.

What is a rail-trail?

Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors.  Following a gentle grade, they traverse urban, suburban and rural America and are ideal for biking, walking and other uses. Unlike the more rugged trails on our public lands, rail trails offer an opportunity for people of all abilities to enjoy them.  They are extremely popular as recreation and transportation corridors. They are essentially 'linear parks', similar to a sidewalk or a road passing private property. 

They often stimulate local economies by increasing tourism and promoting local business along or in close proximity to the trail.

How long is the proposed Ecusta Trail?

The trail would extend roughly 19 miles between South Main Street in Hendersonville to the Jennings Industrial Park in Brevard. Approximately 8 miles of the trail would lie in Transylvania County and 11 miles in Henderson County with seamless connections to other existing and future greenways.

Why did the railroad stop using the line?

Throughout its history, the rail line served one major customer, the Ecusta Paper Corporation. The paper mill, which manufactured cigarette paper, closed in 2002.

In 2007, the 525-acre site was sold to Renova, a national company that specializes in remediating "brownfield" sites. Subsequently, the property was cleared of industrial buildings. The initial plan was to build a mixed-use development similar to Biltmore Park called “Davidson River Village”. Renova has since decided to sell the property and it is currently on the market. 

What was the purpose of conducting the Planning and Economic Impact study?

To determine if the proposed 19 mile rail-trail project from Hendersonville to Brevard was feasible; to estimate the overall economic benefit to the community; to evaluate the existing rail corridor; to identify partnerships needed to facilitate corridor conversion; and to establish next steps to convert the corridor into a shared-use trail.

What is Railbanking?

Railbanking, as defined by the National Trails System Act, 16 USC 1247 (d), 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 click on https://www.railstotrails.org/build-trails/trail-building-toolbox/acquisition/railbanking/



Are there organizations in place that can assist with Railbanking, when needed?

Although Friends of the Ecusta Trail has been planning and promoting the project for over a decade, it has limited resources and no staff, so we have partnered with Conserving Carolina to move the project forward.

Likewise, Henderson County, City of Hendersonville, Town of Laurel Park, City of Brevard, Henderson County Travel Development Authority, Transylvania Travel Development Authority and Henderson County Chamber of Commerce have been active in supporting the trail and planning efforts.

Another organization, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has served as the national voice for the rail-trail movement since 1986 (www.railstotrails.org). The RTC has railbanked over 6,200 miles of rail corridors in forty states.

What protection does the new trail owner have against legal challenges?
Once a rail trail is created and the land is federally rail-banked, are there any instances where the trails have been converted back for train operation?

Yes, there have been nine such “reactivations” since the mid 1980's.  Lines were either reactivated to rail use only or converted to rail use plus an adjacent multi-use trail, referred to as “rail with trail”.https://www.railstotrails.org/build-trails/trail-building-toolbox/basics/rail-with-trail/

If a railroad wants to reactivate the line, do they have to pay for it?

Yes. Under federal law this can be done but they must negotiate and pay a fair market value price to the rail-trail operators for their improvements.

Are there good examples of successful efforts…

Nationally more than 23,000 miles of rail-trails have been built. Nearby, the Swamp Rabbit in Travelers Rest, SC, the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA, and the American Tobacco Trail in the Raleigh-Durham area are good examples.   (Successful Trails page)

What is the cost to build the trail?

Beyond the cost to acquire the rail corridor, construction costs depend on the width of the pathway and amenities. The 2012 Ecusta Trail Study suggested a 10-foot pathway with two-foot shoulders. The trail project would include bridge and culvert improvements for users' safety. 

Eight “trailheads” were proposed in the study. Signage, screening, parking and restrooms could also be included. Current design and construction estimates range from $18 million to $25 million depending upon the condition of the many trestles along the rail line.

What are the likely funding sources for trail construction?

Funding for trail construction will likely come from a multitude of public and private funds. 

As examples of public funding, since 2015, the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has earmarked 1/4 of 1% of the hotel occupancy tax for trail construction in Henderson County.  Similarly, Transylvania County’s TDA donated $100,000 toward corridor acquisition. 

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.

Who would operate and provide security for the trail?

There are several possible management options including regional management, a local trails consortium, a trail authority, or jurisdictions of local governments such as cities and counties.

For instance, the Swamp Rabbit model has Greenville Parks and Recreation Department to be in charge of operating the trail and the municipalities contract with the Greenville Sheriff’s Department to provide security.

What is the economic benefit of the Ecusta Trail?

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.

Where would the Ecusta Trail begin and end?

If the Ecusta Trail follows the existing rail corridor, one terminus would be near the Oskar Blues plant, in Brevard, where the trail would connect with the Brevard Bike Path. The Henderson County terminus is currently projected to be on South Main Street in Downtown Hendersonville.

As both terminus are in such close proximity to other existing greenways, (Brevard Bike path, Estatoe Trail, Ochlawaha Greenway) the rail-trail would extend well beyond the 19-mile railroad corridor.

Do rail trails attract crime and vandalism?

Studies show that trail development may actually decrease the risk of crime in comparison to an abandoned and undeveloped rail corridor. Typically, lawful trail users serve as "eyes and ears" for the community, discouraging unlawful activity. Deputies assigned to the Greenville County SC Sheriff's Department that patrol the Swamp Rabbit Trail report that 99% of crimes associated with the trail result from folks leaving valuables in their cars.

There is no evidence that developed rail-trails cause an increase in crime. In fact, studies show that the exact opposite is the case. Trail development may actually decrease the risk of crime in comparison to an abandoned and undeveloped rail corridor. Several studies show that most people prefer living along a rail trail rather than an abandoned corridor. Typically, lawful trail users serve as "eyes and ears" for the community, discouraging unlawful activity.

Brevard and Hendersonville have successful greenways with a distinct absence of crime.

Who supports the Ecusta Trail?

Municipalities, Henderson County, businesses, non-profit organizations and more than 2,000 citizens in WNC have given formal statements of support. Click here to see a list of some of the groups or to add your support.  Click here to complete a statement of support for you or your business.

Will my taxes go up if I live along the trail?

The tax rates for properties located along the trail will not change as a result of a rail-trail being built. The Planning Study does estimate that property values for land within 1/4 mile of the proposed trail will increase as there will be demand for people to live in close proximity to the trail. However, since assessed value and market value are two different numbers, the only way that assessed property values will go up is if nearby properties start selling for higher amounts, thereby indicating an increase in market value.  

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