By Bill Moss, Published: January 18, 2022, Hendersonville Lightning

Volunteers who came out Saturday for the first-ever Ecusta Trail work day expressed a common refrain when they described what inspired them to give their time. Whatever they can do to speed up the trail’s opening, they said, they will.

Patty O’Brien, who was tossing debris onto a pile and picking up scrap metal and railroad tie pieces, came out with her husband “because I can’t wait to use it," she said. "We’ve been waiting for seven years since we moved here for this to get started.” A bicyclist who is also “trying to be a runner,” O’Brien said she’s “thrilled to the core” that the trail is en route to reality.

The O’Briens were among 50 volunteers who raised their hands to join the work day, which cleaned up the first two miles of the trail, from Kanuga Road at Busy Bend to Daniel Drive in Laurel Park. So many people volunteered, in fact, that organizers ended up with a waiting list of 20 people who were not needed this time. Other organizations have contacted Henderson County, Conserving Carolina or the Friends of Ecusta Trail to inquire about doing a work day, including the Henderson County Board of Realtors, Vision Henderson County, civic clubs and others.

Pediatrician James Horwitz and his wife, Deanna, were among the husband-and-wife teams who joined a crew on a cool overcast Saturday afternoon one day before the big snow storm covered the ground.
Deanna, who was pushing a wheelbarrow of debris across a small trestle, was eager to come out “because I want to see this get going,” she said. “I want it to happen now. It can’t happen fast enough.”

Dr. Horwitz described the work as “making the dream.”

“I run and my wife likes to ride her e-bike,” he said. “We’re real excited about riding back and forth to Brevard. We’ve waited 20 years for this.”

“I’m super excited,” said John Wilkerson, who retired from the military and more recently as the ranger at the Park at Flat Rock. “I really want to try to do some of the rail trails all over the country. I rode in my 20s and I just bought a mountain bike.” Because he doesn’t ride on the road, he looks forward to the rail-trail here. “I’m thinking about buying a gravel bike for something in-between.”

Paul Benson agreed to lead the work crew that covered the cleanup from Third to Fifth avenues. He looks forward to adding the Ecusta Trail to his log of rail-to-trails he’s ridden.

“I’ve been really interested in this project ever since I first started hearing about it 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting. This is the first day where work is being done by volunteers. I bike. I like rail-trails. I like the Swamp Rabbit, Isothermal and the Creeper. I look forward to when this is open.”

Ecusta rail line. Photo by Real Digital Productions

Campaign Launched to Fund Trail Construction 

The Ecusta rail line connecting Hendersonville and Brevard is officially on its way to becoming a rail trail! On August 12, a subsidiary of Conserving Carolina completed the purchase of the 19-mile unused rail line to create the long-envisioned Ecusta Trail. With the purchase of the land complete, Friends of the Ecusta Trail and Conserving Carolina are now focused on the next big step—raising funds for construction. 

Hunter Marks, president of the Friends of the Ecusta Trail, says, “Our board, and many other community members, have invested countless hours over the last 10+ years to explore and encourage the idea of the Ecusta Trail.  We’re excited to see it become a reality.  We believe it will become a signature feature for our area, and be an economic catalyst for our communities.” 

Chris Burns, current board member and one of the founding members of Friends of the Ecusta Trail, was recently interviewed on the Hendersonville NC Tourism Speaks podcast. Chris spoke about the plans for the construction of the rail-trail and gave a great history on the progress Friends of the Ecusta Trail has made over the past thirteen years to reach this point.

Click on this link to listen! Hendersonville NC Tourism Speaks with Chris Burns

Many adjacent landowners along the rail corridor have notified us that the law firm of Lewis Rice has sent them a package offering to represent them in an Adverse Conversion law suit.  Both the letter in the package and the firm's website state that this law suit will only be brought against the Federal Government to reimburse landowners whose land has been granted as right-of-way to the railroad.  They state that it is not their intention to stop the rail banking process nor to keep a rail-trail from being developed along the corridor.  They also state that they will not bring other entities as parties to the law suit.

This link to the FAQ's on their website gives more information about their intentions.

The Henderson County Partnership For Economic Development recently worked with Creative Economic Development Consulting to update their Industrial recruitment strategy.  As a part of the process, the  SWOT analysis ranked the Ecusta Trail highly as an opportunity for economic development.