January 2024


2023 Was A Very Good Year


By John Lanier



For advocates of the Ecusta Trail, 2023 will be remembered as a milestone. It was the year in which nearly $46 million in federal funds were designated for the trail and construction began on the first six miles of the trail from downtown Hendersonville to Horse Shoe.

In January of 2023, the Henderson County RTAC approved the engineering and design of those first six miles, which opened the door for permitting of that section to begin. Advocates hoped construction work would begin in July with the first section to be completed by year’s end.

The following month, the train trestle over Davidson River was removed and an aerial survey of the trail corridor in Transylvania County was planned. And with 90 percent of the engineering design completed for Henderson County, the design plan was ready to be brought before the Henderson County county commissioners.



With the arrival of spring, FOET (Friends of Ecusta Trail) announced there were plans to conduct feasibility studies to connect the Ecusta Trail with the Oklawaha and Saluda Grade trails. That concept received a financial boost when the Hendersonville Engineering Department was awarded a grant to study two possible plans that would connect the Ecusta Trail to the Oklawaha Greenway.

A Business Community Outreach Plan also was introduced in Henderson County in hopes of identifying property and business owners along the trail who might be interested in partnering with the county to develop parking, restrooms, and other amenities along the trail.

In a related move, representatives from Henderson County and its municipalities, the city of Brevard, FOET and Conserving Carolina began meeting to discuss coordinating signage, logos, parking, bathrooms and other amenities along the trail. 


As spring drew to a close, MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) that would define the relationships and responsibilities among the governmental entities and the volunteer organizations began to move forward. And to recognize the many people who contributed to FOET’s efforts, the organization held a volunteer appreciation event attended by more than 50 volunteers.

In July, advocates for the trail rejoiced in the news that the city of Brevard had received both the RAISE and NSFLTP grants. The two grants total approximately $46 million. At that point, more than six grants totaling more than $64 million had been designated for the Ecusta Trail, which should be more than enough to cover construction expenses for the entire 19-mile trail. As a result, it was suggested to shift area fundraising efforts toward raising money for amenities.

More good financial news came when the Blue Ridge Bike Club, through its annual fundraiser, the Tour de Transylvania, raised more than $100,000 for the Ecusta Trail. The club had set an initial goal of $50,000.



Meanwhile, the state of South Carolina allocated $15 million to the Saluda Grade Trail, which very well could connect to the Ecusta Trail, thus providing a potential bike route from Brevard to Upstate South Carolina.


If July was full of good news, August brought messages of delays. Henderson County received only two bids for construction of the first six miles. Since the state requires a minimum of three bids, the county modified the construction timeline and rebid the project. Five companies then placed bids, all of which were under the engineering estimates for per mile cost.

The other potential delay was the announcement that delivery of the bridges, which will be constructed entirely off-site before being transported and installed locally, could be delayed by 250 days. It appears, at present, that the delay, however, may not be that long.

Good news rebounded in September when the Henderson County Commissioners voted to award a $10 million contract to NHM Constructors, Inc. in Asheville to build the first six miles of the trail. The county also awarded the engineering firm Traffic Planning and Design (TPD) to design the remaining section of trail to the Transylvania County line.

In Transylvania County, the Pisgah Health Foundation proposed donating 11 acres next to Ecusta Trail to the city of Brevard. The property could be a potential trailhead.

On the financial front, Sierra Nevada made a $250,000 gift and AdventHealth made a $100,000 contribution to the trail. Chuck McGrady, a tireless advocate for the trail, also noted the state budget included $100,000 for the Ecusta Trail.



On Saturday, October 28, more than 400 people attended the long-awaited groundbreaking for the Ecusta Trail at the Veterans Healing Farm. The six-mile stretch, known as Ecusta Trail East, is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.


In an effort to benefit both future trail users and business/property owners along the trail, Henderson County planning staff continued to meet with business/property owners to discuss a Trail Partners and Supporters program. The program would not go into effect until the first section of the trail is completed.

By year’s end, NHM Constructors had placed markers and temporary fences along Ecusta Trail East and had begun removing trees and debris from the trail right-of-way. The first tangible signs of the reality of the Ecusta Trail were visible.



In the nearly 15 years since FOET was formed, there has never been a year so productive and rewarding as 2023. For the Ecusta Trail, 2023 was a very good year.

Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board

(November Meeting Summary)


By John Lanier


Mark Tooley, president of FOET (Friends of Ecusta Trail) noted that Conserving Carolina had closed on a property on Everett Road that could be a potential parking area along the trail.


Tooley said there was another opportunity for a connection to the trail in Penrose.


Lonnie Watkins of the NCDOT said work on the first six miles of the trail would begin in  December and that the heavier construction work would probably begin in the spring once the weather gets warmer.


Watkins said the bridges and floodplains on the Brevard end of the trail will be analyzed within the coming months.


Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof said the city had received an email from the Pisgah Health Foundation regarding a long-term lease on 11 acres near the trail.


“It looks like it’s really going to be a good partnership,” said Copelof.


Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper said there may be some complications in using the Pisgah Health property because “it is technically not of the footprint of the Trail.”


He said the property is an “ideal” location for a trailhead, but the property was not within the land submitted for the two federal grants. He said the city will see if it can use the grant money for the property.


Hooper also said the city would begin sending out quarterly newsletters to property owners along the Ecusta Trail to apprise them of activities along the trail, such as the presence of surveyors.


The city will begin advertising for a new citizen representative on the ETAB board since the current citizen representative, Lauren Wise, was elected to the Brevard City Council in November.


Former state legislator Chuck McGrady said he was resigning from both the Henderson County and Brevard Ecusta Trail boards, but that he would remain on the NCDOT Board. Copelof praised McGrady’s efforts in moving the trail forward.


McGrady said it has taken a while for the Ecusta Trail project to progress, but the speed in which the project has moved forward recently has “been the envy” of other counties and municipalities in the state.


The meeting scheduled for December 27 was canceled. The next meeting of the Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board will be January 31.


Giving Tuesday Results


A big thank you to everyone who helped us make Giving Tuesday 2023 a success! We had 55 donors give a total of $7,539.65.


Congratulations to Evelyn Cauley for winning our Giving Tuesday bicycle raffle!



January ET Events


Henderson County R-TAC Meeting

January 10, 2024 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm





Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
January 31, 2023 @ 3:30pm – 5:30pm


Open to the public. Meeting at City Council Chambers. 


FOET NEWSLETTER CONTRIBUTORS: Bernard Grauer, Lynn Huffman, John Lanier, RJ Miner, Matt Revis and Cindy Ruzak.


November/December 2023


Groundbreaking Held for Ecusta Trail


Story by John Lanier

Photos by Jeff Shields and RJ Miner


A crowd of approximately 400 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the first six-mile stretch of the Ecusta Trail on Saturday, October 28, at the Veterans Healing Farm in Hendersonville. “The dream has become a reality,” said Henderson County Board Chairman Rebecca McCall.  “To be able to move dirt and start construction on the first phase of the trail is the culmination of many years of hard work by so many people.”


McCall praised many of the organizations that have helped make the Ecusta Trail a reality, including Conserving Carolina and the Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET), which put a plan together and delivered it to the Henderson County Board, which unanimously supported it.


“This group is an amazing group of people,” said McCall of FOET.

FOET, a grassroots volunteer group, has championed the vision of the Ecusta Trail since 2009. In 2021, a subsidiary of Conserving Carolina purchased the rail corridor and then worked with FOET to raise funds for construction. Local businesses and individuals gave millions of dollars, making it possible to match major grants, including two large federal grants awarded in the summer of 2023.


“Today’s groundbreaking for the first section of the Ecusta Trail is the culmination of nearly 15 years of advocacy by the Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET),” said Mark Tooley, FOET President.  “What started as a dream and a vision for repurposing the unused rail corridor as a community asset has now come to fruition.  I want to especially thank past and present FOET board members for their unwavering determination to get us to this historic event today and to all the volunteers and donors that have provided support and encouragement along the way.  In the end, the partnership of federal, state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofits, all striving for the same goal, was the secret sauce that made all of this possible."



Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof lauded all of the partners involved with the Ecusta Trail and said the city of Brevard was “proud to be part of the team.”


“Three years ago the city of Brevard stepped up and agreed to take on the leadership and responsibility for the Transylvania portion of the trail because we realized just how important and transformational this project will be,” said Copelof. “I look forward to the day that is coming soon when Brevard, Etowah, Horse Shoe, Laurel Park and Hendersonville are all linked together by the Ecusta Trail. The city of Brevard rejoices with our Henderson County brothers and sisters on what is truly a regional project.”


In the last year, the city of Brevard has received $45 million in grants to be used for the trail. Copelof has stated several times previously that the city received those grants because it collaborated with other governmental entities, including Henderson County.


Kieran Roe, executive director of Conserving Carolina, said he was impressed by the cooperation between Henderson County, the city of Brevard and other organizations.


"It has been a team effort for sure,” said Roe. “We are so excited to be making this dream real. A project of this scale takes a huge amount of effort and investment and could easily seem beyond reach. But our community made it happen—from the grassroots advocates to the dedicated volunteers to the many generous donors. As we celebrate this milestone for the trail, we are celebrating the vision and generosity of this community."  


The final phase in fundraising for the trail is to raise money for amenities so the public can access and enjoy the trail. This includes things like trailheads, restrooms, benches, and signage. This fundraising effort is being led by FOET.   


The Ecusta Trail, when fully completed, will be a 19-mile multi-use greenway that connects the communities of Henderson County to the city of Brevard.  The first six-mile stretch of the trail will start in downtown Hendersonville, go through the town of Laurel Park and will end at Battle Creek off US 64 in Horse Shoe.


Major funding came from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the State of North Carolina, Henderson County Tourism and Development Authority, Transylvania County Tourism and Development Authority, and private donors. Major donors are recognized on the Conserving Carolina website here.


Construction of the first six-mile stretch is expected to be completed in one year. Completion of the entire trail is expected to take 3-5 years.



Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board

(September Meeting Summary)


By Matt Revis


Brevard City Planner Paul Ray stated he will attend the first gathering of the Hellbender Trail forum, a group comprised of parties interested in connecting the growing number of greenways/trails in WNC. Ray and Aaron Bland will present Ecusta Trail (ET) information to this group. Vicki Eastland mentioned the increase in trail planning and construction in the area. City Councilman Mac Morrow also suggested that connections between all the proposed WNC trails would create a unique system in the country.


Ray continued to share that requests for trail encroachment agreements are receiving attention from the Planning Department, including the fence along Pisgah Labs property. Chuck McGrady suggested delaying final decisions until the exact trail location is determined by engineers.


In grand news, Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof announced a proposal from the Pisgah Health Foundation to donate 11 acres of land next to the Estatoe Trail to the city of Brevard. This generous proposition might also furnish a nice trailhead close to the the Estatoe Trail. Ideas discussed included construction of a park accessible for persons with disabilities at this site.  The parcel is located behind Oskar Blues Brewery and next to the Transylvania Regional Hospital.


Larry Chapman related complaints he has heard from Transylvania residents reacting to letters received concerning DOT surveying of trail location. Lonnie Watkins (NC DOT) described these letters as generic announcements of ground surveys during which DOT personnel may walk across private property. On this subject, Chapman and Mayor Copelof mentioned the need for another “town hall” meeting for owners of property adjacent to the trail. Further discussion emphasized the importance of personal contact with owners. Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper noted that Brevard staff is working on the first edition of the ET Newsletter for release later in November. Designed specifically to address the concerns of property owners, this quarterly letter will be mailed to all landowners (near the trail) and posted to the city website.


McGrady announced that the Henderson County Commissioners accepted a bid to construct Phase I of the Ecusta Trail in Henderson County. NHM Constructors will begin construction soon on the trail section from downtown Hendersonville to Battle Creek Road in Horse Shoe.  McGrady said he hopes that some paving will be completed before it’s too cold. A groundbreaking event was set for October 28. In addition, the same engineering firm, Traffic Planning & Design (TPD), that worked on Phase I has been awarded the project to complete engineering design for Phase II of the Ecusta Trail from Horse Shoe to the Transylvania County line. McGrady finished by adding that a current version of the state budget includes $100,000 to assist in Ecust Trail construction.


Watkins noted that work continues to develop a list of trail amenities that the federal grants might pay for. Official approval from federal officials to pay for such accommodations as bathrooms, lights, bike maintenance stations, and benches will benefit trail users and save local funds for other enhancements.




Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board

(October Meeting Summary)


By Matt Revis


Kristin Cozza of Conserving Carolina began this meeting with the announcement that a groundbreaking event would occur October 28 beginning at 10 a.m.  Hosted by the Veterans’ Healing Farm (38 Yale Road), parking will be available, and she suggested that those wanting seats should bring folding chairs.  Chuck McGrady noted that the groundbreaking is open to the public. Kristin also noted that Conserving Carolina and Traffic Planning & Design sponsored a group to begin planning for a potential connection between the Ecusta Trail and the Saluda Grade Rail Trail.


Paul Ray (Brevard Planning) shared that a list of trail amenities has been developed by Henderson County and Brevard City staff, and with assistance from Lonnie Watkins (NC DOT), is being forwarded to US DOT grant personnel for review and written approval. This huge step will ensure grant dollars for Ecusta Trail accommodations in both counties.  The list includes restrooms, parking lots, signage, information stands, emergency call boxes, safety lights, and mileage signs among other items. Watkins will coordinate communication with US DOT on this subject.


McGrady, referring to imminent construction of Ecusta Trail Phase I, emphasized the importance of completing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) related to trail maintenance and security. The MOU describes the responsibilities that Henderson County, Brevard, Conserving Carolina, and Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET) will have in ongoing trail maintenance and promotion. A final draft is pending approval.


Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof shared that she continues waiting for an official letter from the Pisgah Foundation regarding the land donation to the Ecusta Trail.  Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper added that city staff are working on the first ET newsletter, slated for delivery the third week of November. The letter is mailed directly to property owners adjacent to the ET and will be posted to the City website. Hooper mentioned the need for an ongoing reserve to cover extra costs related to trail maintenance. He will continue to keep this subject up front.


John Ditillo (Friends of Ecusta Trail) and Mac Morrow discussed the notion of “trail partners” – businesses that sponsor sections of the ET and in return receive promotional benefits. Ditillo shared that the FOET recently convened a group of over 30 businesses interested in this idea. In other FOET news, Mark Tooley, president of FOET, shared that a team from NC State University is interested in research on the impact of the Ecusta Trail on local economies, land values, employment, and other factors. The entire committee received this as outstanding news and expressed support for this to begin as soon as possible.


The next meeting of this committee is November 29, 2023.



Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee

(October Meeting Summary)


By Lynn Huffman


Kristin Cozza, Trails and Greenways Coordinator for Conserving Carolina (CC), reported on CC’s preparations and publicity for the October Ecusta Trail (ET) groundbreaking ceremony. She also reported that CC hosted a kickoff meeting with the Saluda Grade Stakeholders on the feasibility study being done. 


Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET) President Mark Tooley reported that FOET has been working with a group of individuals that include Henderson County and the City of Brevard on updating the branding of the trail. He showed a draft of images to the group and requested feedback from the RTAC. FOET is also working with Henderson County in planning the October groundbreaking.


Ken Shelton thanked Henderson County for the proclamation for North Carolina’s Year of the Trail that the Board of Commissioners approved. 


Henderson County Business and Community Development Director Chris Todd reported that the groundbreaking event for the Ecusta Trail was scheduled for a Saturday in October at the Veterans Healing Farm. The event will begin around 10:00 and will include a 30–40 minute program with various speakers, including the actual groundbreaking of the trail. 


Marcus Jones, Henderson County engineer, reported that the county is working closely with NCDOT with record speed on proceeding with the construction of Ecusta Trail East, the 5.7 miles from Hendersonville to Horse Shoe. He reminded the RTAC that the county received 5 bids on the trail construction and 2 of those were not completed and were rejected. The award will go to NHM Constructors, and the bid was within $100,000 of the engineers’ estimate. Ecusta Trail East is expected to be completed by the end of calendar year 2024. He also stated that the Board authorized the county engineer to select JMT for the engineering of Ecusta Trail West, pending all needed documents with NCDOT. 


Chris Todd reported that the county is still working with the jurisdictions and organizations on the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the level of service, ongoing maintenance and event management of the trail. Staff has received comments from Conserving Carolina and FOET and is incorporating all of those requested changes. The goal is to have the MOU finalized by the end of the year. 

Henderson County Senior Planner Janna Bianculli reported that planning staff, with assistance from Joe Sanders of FOET, hosted two public meetings for business owners adjacent to the trail to primarily discuss the Trail Partners & Supporters Program. She explained the purpose of the program to the RTAC and explained that the program is not in effect until the first phase of the trail is completed. She also asked the RTAC for their input and feedback on program operations as well as how to connect with the business community. A recorded presentation from the public meeting can be seen on the Planning Department’s website here.




Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee

(November Meeting Summary)


By Matt Revis


Chuck McGrady (Chair) began this meeting by noting the great work of Hendersonville and Henderson County staff in the planning and execution of the Ecusta Trail (ET) groundbreaking event held late October at the Veterans Healing Farm, captured in this video. A large crowd of trail supporters and stakeholders influential in the long effort to bring the ET to the edge of construction watched the ritual of shoveled dirt signifying the start of construction. All Henderson County Commissioners attended along with Mayor Copelof and city staff from Brevard.


Of special note, Henderson Commissioners approved the contract for construction of the trail. Awarded to NHM Constructors at a cost of $10,629,359.  Marcus Jones (Henderson County Engineer) commented that staff from NHM have been cooperative during the complex bureaucratic machinations related to the various funding sources, each source with its own rules and expectations. These funds should be approved at the next NC Board of Transportation meeting on November 15.  With funds released, NHM will begin installation of drainage control and track clearing necessary to prep the trail for paving. Initial paving may begin Spring of 2024 and Mr. Jones anticipated a finish date for this first section of the ET (termed Ecusta East) by the end of 2024.


In addition, progress moves rapidly toward construction of the next 5 miles of trail, now called Ecusta West, as shared by Jones and Autumn Radcliff (Henderson Planning). The Henderson Board of Commissioners (BOC) has approved the selection of Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, Inc. (JMT) to perform preliminary engineering of this section. The BOC also approved an agreement with the NC Department of Transportation (NC DOT) to allow Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) money for this purpose, and it is expected the Board of Transportation will pass a final approval in December 2023. If so, JMT will begin Preliminary Engineering (PE) in January 2024. The expected completion time of PE for Ecusta West is approximately 18 months, after which bidding will begin for construction of this final Henderson section. Potentially building of the Ecusta West section will coincide with the start of ET construction in Transylvania County.


The NC DOT has forwarded a list of trail amenities to the Federal Highways Administration requesting approval for grant funds to pay for trailside convenience such as trash bins, parking, restrooms, bike racks, water fountains, benches and trail signage. Stakeholders and grant requestors did not anticipate that grant funds would pay for such items.


Next meeting of this group is to be determined later, possibly skipping the regular December meeting (12/13) and re-convening January 10, 2024. 




November Fundraising

The Dream is Becoming a Reality!

Now that the excitement of the grant money and the Ecusta Trail groundbreaking is in the rear view, the Ecusta Trail continues to be in need of additional funding. We hope that you will consider this year’s Giving Tuesday (November 28) as your opportunity to continue to support the Ecusta Trail.



November/December ET Events


Henderson County R-TAC Meeting

Our next meeting may be 12/13/23 or 1/10/24. Please check our website for the latest details.





Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
November 29, 2023 @ 3:30pm – 5:30pm

No meeting in December. See you next year!


Open to the public. Meeting at City Council Chambers. 

FOET NEWSLETTER CONTRIBUTORS: Bernard Grauer, Lynn Huffman, John Lanier, RJ Miner, Matt Revis and Cindy Ruzak.


October 2023


County Awards Construction Contract


By Lynn Huffman


Wednesday, September 20, was a big day for the Ecusta Trail. The Henderson County Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a $10 million contract to construct the first six miles of the Ecusta Trail. The approved contractor is Asheville-based NHM Constructors, Inc. Incidentally, this section from Hendersonville to Horse Shoe is being called Ecusta Trail East by the planning department, and the remaining five miles to the Transylvania County line is being called Ecusta Trail West.


                                             Photo by Real Digital Productions


In the same meeting, the commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the contract for the design and engineering of Ecusta Trail West. The approved engineering firm is the same one used for Ecusta Trail East, Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Inc. (JMT).

Sierra Nevada Makes Major Gift to Ecusta Trail


By Rose Jenkins Lane


Mills River-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has made a major gift of $250,000 toward the completion of the Ecusta Trail, Conserving Carolina announced in a press release Tuesday, September 19. 

The gift will help release major federal grants by counting toward the local match for trail construction. Any remaining funds may be used to provide vital amenities so the public can access and enjoy the trail. These may include trailheads, parking areas, restrooms, kiosks, shelters and benches.  

“The establishment of the new Ecusta Trail in Henderson County, just down the road from our brewery, will provide alternative transportation and recreation benefits to the region—connecting communities and promoting health and wellness," said Sierra Grossman, the brewing company's vice president of Community & Corporate Philanthropy. "Supporting this project feels like a natural fit, and we’re proud to have contributed to it.”

Kieran Roe, executive director of Conserving Carolina, said, “We are thrilled and grateful to announce this leadership gift from Sierra Nevada in support of the Ecusta Trail. We anticipate that the Ecusta Trail will be a huge boost to our local economy as a popular local greenway and a destination rail trail. When people have more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, that means more customers for businesses like breweries, restaurants, shops, outfitters and lodging. This exceptionally generous gift from Sierra Nevada will benefit our whole community by supporting local businesses, creating jobs and raising quality of life.”

Mark Tooley, president of Friends of Ecusta Trail, said, “We are so grateful to Sierra Nevada for their support of the Ecusta Trail. We thank them for this generous gift and their continued support of initiatives like this and to their contributions to the economy and well-being of WNC. Monetary pledges such as this one have been responsible for leveraging many millions of dollars in grants that will be used to construct the Ecusta Trail and create a generational asset for the people of the region.”

Sierra Nevada is one of many local businesses and individuals that have given generously to make the dream of the Ecusta Trail real. In all, the local community gave millions of dollars toward the trail. These donations are making it possible to unlock major state and federal grants, including the more than $45 million in federal grants announced this summer. Over 90 major donors who gave $5,000 or more are recognized at conservingcarolina.org/ecusta-trail-donors.

A subsidiary of Conserving Carolina purchased the 19-mile trail corridor in 2021. Since then, Conserving Carolina and Friends of Ecusta Trail have been working together on a successful campaign to raise the matching funds needed for construction. A groundbreaking on the first section of the Ecusta Trail—a 5.6-mile stretch between Hendersonville and Horse Shoe—is expected this fall. Ultimately, the trail will extend from Hendersonville to Brevard.

(Rose Jenkins Lane is the Communications and Marketing Director for Conserving Carolina. This article originally appeared in the Lightning on Tuesday, September 19, 2023.)

Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee


A Henderson County RTAC meeting was not held in September.

Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board


The Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board October article will be published in our November newsletter.

Trail Groups Speak To Brevard City Council


By John Lanier


Representatives of several organizations involved in building the Ecusta Trail made presentations to the Brevard City Council on Monday, September 18.

Mark Tooley, president of the Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET), provided a quick history of efforts to convert the old Ecusta rail line to a hiking/biking path. FOET was incorporated in 2010. In 2014, Norfolk Southern sold the rail line to Watco/Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, which indicated in 2019 that it was willing to sell the line. Ecusta Rails2Trail LLC purchased the rail line in 2021. This year the federal government has awarded nearly $46 million for the Ecusta Trail.

The western terminus of the trail will connect to Brevard’s Estatoe Trail. Thus, once the Ecusta Trail is completed, the trails will connect “Main Street to Main Street,” he said.

He said the trail would serve as an economic engine for the region, revitalize the communities through which it passes, and provide a transportation alternative. FOET is in the process of designing signage, rebranding of the trail, designing and placing trail amenities, and fundraising while continuing close cooperation with the City of Brevard and Henderson County.

Vicki Eastland of the Land of Sky Rural Planning Organization (LOSPRO) said the LOSPRO staff initiated the application process for the $1 million FLAP grant to be used for designing and engineering of the trail. It was the first FLAP grant in the state. She also said the RPO staff is a liaison for the City of Brevard with the North Caroling Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and will work closely with the city to develop and deliver the trail it envisions.

Wesley Jamison of NCDOT said the NCDOT is working with the federal government to finalize agreements on the RAISE and NSFLTP grants, and once those agreements are signed, the funds will become eligible for use.

The RAISE grant will require monthly and quarterly reporting on both the financial status and progress while the NSFLTP grant will require bi-annual reporting on the financial status and progress, as well as an annual budget review. 

Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper clarified that when the City of Brevard received the RAISE grant, it transferred it to the NCDOT so that NCDOT could work with the federal government on both grants. NCDOT also will be responsible for reporting to the federal government.

Autumn Radcliff of Henderson County said that the county worked with NCDOT, Conserving Carolina (CC) and FOET to acquire right-of-way for the trail. She added that Henderson County was awarded $7.8 million in STBG-DA funds to design and construct the first 6 miles of the trail and another $10.5 million for construction of the last 5 miles in Henderson County. The Henderson County Board of Commissioners also leased the rail property from CC and approved the creation of the Rail Trail Advisory Committee (RTAC).

She said Henderson County created an encroachment policy to address utility, road, and driveway encroachments and trail connections. The county also will be kicking off its Ecusta Trail Partners program in October.

Chris Todd of Henderson County relayed some of the messages they have learned since Henderson County is further along in the designing and construction process than Brevard.

Todd said they had to decide on whether bridges should be renovated or replaced. He said they decided to replace the bridges because the cost differential was nominal, the environmental impact would be positive and it would require less maintenance.

He said it is important to design and build the trail “right the first time” because funding is much more difficult to procure for future repairs and improvements. As a result, the trail will be constructed to a high standard and, since safety is a top priority, bridges will be able to accommodate the weight of ambulances.

He told city council members to expect the unknown, particularly regarding drainage. He said some of the railway was not well maintained and parts are in low-lying areas and wetlands.

He said no local taxpayer money is being used in the design or the construction of the trail, but that local funds may have to be used for future maintenance. New construction, however, should keep future maintenance costs low.

Todd said they talked at length with those overseeing the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C. The trail in South Carolina is only 8-10 feet wide and sometimes gets congested. As a result, they decided to make the Ecusta Trail 14-feet wide in urban areas and 12-feet wide in rural areas.

Lonnie Watkins, the NCDOT’s project manager for the Ecusta Trail, said his duties include budget/funding, schedule, ensuring quality, and coordination and communication with the various entities. He will be the project manager from the beginning to the end of the project.

Watkins said the project is complicated because of the various funding sources and the restrictions as to how some of those sources can be used. The FLAP grant, for example, can be used only for engineering and design. 

He hopes bids on the Brevard end of the trail, which stretches from the Henderson County line to the area near Oskar Blues, could be let in 2025 with construction possibly completed in 2026. 

Christy Staudt, a design engineer for TPD (Traffic Planning and Design, Inc.) who is working on the Ecusta Trail, said people ask “What is there to design?” since the rail bed is already in place. She said even on the flat portions, they have to study proximity to roads, water runoff from impermeable surfaces, property impact, utilities, etc. In some areas the rail bed has to be raised out of the floodway.

She said they also have to design bridges and “Each bridge is different.”

Roadway crossings, some of which “are really tough,” also have to be designed to protect those using the trail while not impeding vehicular traffic.

Staudt also said that federal funding means meeting federal requirements, which range from transportation needs and social impacts to ecological and economic impacts.

She concluded that there would be a chance in the future for public input.

When Yeast Hits the Honey


By Bernard Grauer


Oh, the splendid sweet and nutty flavors of sourwood honey. Drops of golden nectar go into each bottle of beer to add a complex and flavorful taste. When Sideways Brewing states, “beer grown here,” they mean it. Five fully flourishing bee hives skirt the wildflower garden to produce some of the tasteful sourwood notes with the small batch varieties of beer. 


The bees are not the only ones buzzing with business. The collaborative work between Jon, Lou, and their families is hustling to make deadlines as familiar faces are expected back to the relaunch of Sideways. Sideways Brewery is nestled along the Ecusta Trail in Etowah, NC. Patrons can expect weekend hours of 4-8 PM on Fridays, 12-8 PM on Saturdays, and 12-6 PM on Sundays.



It was 1985 when Lou Schafer brewed his first small batch of beer. Friends, family, and admirers came again and again to indulge in Lou’s homebrew crafts in Austin, Texas. Lou and his wife Julie (current owners of Sideways) fell in love with Jon Schneider’s (founder of Sideways) Belgum-style brewing process. The couple was impressed with the careful attention to the soils, locally grown ingredients, and beautiful brightwork and recently purchased Sideways from Schneider. A lot of work has gone into the relaunch of the beautiful 7-acre farm.

The Sideways Farm and Brewery reopened on October 6th with renewed fanfare of seasonal favorites such as Double Goat IPA, Sideways White, jars of their local honey, and many more. Come sample the smooth flavors of Jon and Lou’s work this season before it’s gone. For more information about Sideways Brewing, check out their website here.




All new Ecusta Trail Swag and Merch is coming soon so all of our current shirt inventory have been reduced to $10!  Items are selling fast so get yours today!


October ET Events


Henderson County R-TAC Meeting

October 11, 2023 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm





Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
October 25, 2023 @ 3:30pm – 5:30pm


Open to the public. Meeting at City Council Chambers. 

FOET NEWSLETTER CONTRIBUTORS: Bernard Grauer, Lynn Huffman, John Lanier, RJ Miner, Matt Revis and Cindy Ruzak.



September 2023

Board Member Summarizes

Ecusta Trail

By John Lanier


On Sunday, July 23, an interview with Friends of Ecusta Trail board member Ken Shelton aired on the Mix 96.5 Morning Show. The following is a summary of Shelton’s comments:

  • The Ecusta Trail is a planned 19-mile linear park that will run from downtown Hendersonville to the outskirts of Brevard near the old Ecusta paper mill, which employed 3,500 people at its peak. The paved trail will be 14 feet wide in urban areas and 12 feet wide in rural areas. The trail will cater to all ages and will be ADA-compliant.
  • “Railbanking” allows for unused rail lines to have an “interim” use in order to keep the rail corridor intact in case there is a need for a return of rail service. Within this concept, the Ecusta Trail is being developed. There are currently 34 rail-trails in North Carolina covering 128 miles.

  • The Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET) is a group of cycling and walking advocates who began meeting in 2008. In 2010 the group attained nonprofit status and board members have been meeting monthly since then.

  • In addition to FOET, there are numerous other supporters of the Ecusta Trail. Conserving Carolina and FOET have signed agreements to cover the “local match” required to obtain grants to be used for construction of the trail. Conserving Carolina, FOET, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization, the U.S. Forest Service, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Henderson County, the city of Brevard and other entities have collaborated in obtaining grants for the trail. Elected officials in Henderson County and the city of Brevard, as well as U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards and former N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady, have been instrumental in moving the trail forward.

  • Jurisdictional agreements are being negotiated between governmental and municipal partners, such as Laurel Park, Hendersonville, Henderson County, etc. in regards to maintenance, emergency response and policing. Public input is welcomed and encouraged at the monthly meetings of Henderson County’s RTAC and the city of Brevard’s ETAB.

  • Regarding construction, the best case scenario is for work on the first six miles from Hendersonville to Horse Show to begin in October of this year with completion in the late summer of 2024. The city of Brevard is currently in negotiations with an engineering firm, and the goal is to begin construction on the next phases of the trail in the spring of 2024.

  • The first six miles of the trail from Hendersonville to Horse Show have been put out for bid, which were to be opened at the end of August.
  • Plans call for the Ecusta Trail to connect to the Estatoe Trail into Brevard and Pisgah National Forest, the Oklawaha Greenway in Hendersonville, the Hellbender in Buncombe County and the Saluda Grade Trail, which will link North and South Carolina. This comprehensive trail network will provide connections to health care facilities, schools, nature and communities.
  • While grants may well cover the cost of constructing the trail, there is still a need to raise money for amenities – bathrooms, benches, etc. – to enhance the trail experience, which, in turn, should enhance regional health and the local economy.
  • FOET is still seeking volunteers for maintenance, trail ambassadors, website development, publicity, grant writing and critically important fundraising for amenities.

Listen to Ken’s entire interview.


Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee

By Matt Revis


After Chuck McGrady called the meeting to order on August 9, Marcus Jones shared information about the bidding process. Unfortunately, only two bids were received, which was one bid short of the legal requirement. Calls made to companies who did not offer bids has helped redesign the bidding process, resulting in some changes to the timelines. Jones stated that the two bids received were from strong companies but were returned unopened as is necessary to maintain integrity of the process.


Jones also shared that bridge delivery will be delayed by at least 250 days from initial estimates. Bridges are constructed whole off site and installed locally. This delay will not have an impact on preparation of the rest of the trail. Ken Shelton (member-at-large) asked for a timeline of construction. Jones said that start of construction is still expected this fall though paving may not occur until warmer spring weather.


Development of the Memorandum of Understanding covering security and maintenance of the ET continues. A final draft of this document is possible within the next 30-60 days, said Chris Todd, Henderson County Business and Community Development Director. Annual maintenance cost per mile is estimated at $5 – $10K annually.  Lower per mile costs are possible as the project adds miles. McGrady acknowledged that “Brevard and Henderson staff are fully engaged in this project,” saying that the two governments intend to share maintenance costs with one contractor, maximizing the option to scale costs across the entire ET.


Mark Tooley (Friends of Ecusta Trail – FOET) stated that branding and signage work continues. He stated examples of branding will be ready by the next Advisory meeting. FOET is expected to be the “voice of the community” and may offer volunteers to monitor the trail for needed maintenance and general observation of trail use. Selena Einwechter (member-at-large) suggested that research regarding the actual rules and laws governing public trail use is needed to ensure rule enforcement is backed by official documents. Doug Moon interjected that incident response must be clearly delineated in the MOU.


Though the path is clear for the Ecusta Trail, the timeline remains a bit hazy. The next meeting of this group is set for October 11 at 10:00 A.M.


Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board

By Matt Revis


Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper informed the group that all players involved in the funding process for the Transylvania side of the Ecusta Trail (ET) met face-to-face August 16 to begin the complex administration of grant funds for trail construction. Stating that the meeting was “positive and encouraging,” Hooper noted that this included the official transfer of RAISE grant administration to the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The city of Brevard will retain administration of the NSFLTP grant and have substantial influence over RAISE grant utilization. Details remain unknown regarding what grant funds may be spent on. These details will be determined by NCDOT in cooperation with USDOT and the city of Brevard.


Brevard Planner Paul Ray added that this information will be included in a presentation of ET progress at the next Brevard City Council meeting on September 18. In addition, Ray will share ET news at the next planning meeting of the Hellbender Regional Trail. This group of local governments and interested constituents, supported by the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, is coordinating communication and planning for trails and greenways throughout the French Broad basin. As one meeting participant stated, the Hellbender network could include a bike ride connecting Brevard to Greenville, S.C. To access the full plan for The Hellbender Trail, try this link: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/2516fc1870db47cb8e3c7aa36dbed751


Since the two federal grants fund primarily, if not only, trail construction, discussion continued regarding funding for access and amenities necessary to make the ET usable.  Lonnie Watkins said this remains an open question, and costs are most likely covered by other sources. Clark Lovelace noted that the Tourism Development Authority would participate in the Hellbender Regional Greenway Forum on August 31. The forum discussed the effects of regional greenways on the environment and community, and over 125 people registered to attend.


Chuck McGrady brought news from Henderson County that the bidding process was reopened after only two bids were received initially. McGrady reported that five bids were received on the second try, and that the commissioners might award the contract as soon as the end of September. Lonnie Watkins noted that all five bids were under the engineering estimate for per mile trail costs.

Closing the meeting, Mayor Copelof noted that “We’re just moving forward everywhere.”


The next meeting of this group occurs September 27, 2023.


FOET at the Rhythm and Brews

Concert Series - Last Show



Where did the summer go? This is the last Rhythm & Brews Concert Series show of the summer, presented by Horizon Heating & Air. These shows have brought together live music, local craft beverages, and the community! These FREE shows take place on the third Thursday of every month from May-September, closing part of South Main Street to make room for all the fun. Local food trucks will line the street cooking delicious eats from kettle corn to pizza to barbecue. Each show begins with an opener at 5:30 p.m. followed by the headlining performance from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Doors open at 5:15 p.m.


Adults can sip Henderson County beverages from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Bold Rock Hard Cider, Guidon Brewing Co., Oklawaha Brewing Co., Dry Falls Brewery, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, and Flat Rock Cider Company. 

All net proceeds from adult beverage sales will benefit the Friends of Downtown Hendersonville 501c3 nonprofit serving the Downtown Program, whose mission is to identify, preserve and enhance the key factors that contribute to the authentic small town urban character of historic downtown Hendersonville.


Spetember's band playing on September 21 will be Melissa Carper (Americana/Western Swing) with Angela Easterling & The Beguilers (Singer/Songwriter)


September ET Events


Henderson County R-TAC Meeting - CANCELLED!

September 13, 2023 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm





Rhythm & Brews Concert Series
September 21, 2023 @ 5:30pm – 9:30pm


Melissa Carper (Americana/Western Swing) with Angela Easterling & The Beguilers (Singer/Songwriter)



Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
September 27, 2023 @ 3:30pm – 5:30pm


Open to the public. Meeting at City Council Chambers. 

FOET NEWSLETTER CONTRIBUTORS: Bernard Grauer, Lynn Huffman, John Lanier, RJ Miner, Matt Revis and Cindy Ruzak.




August 2023



Hank Birdsong

Tour de Transylvania


By Bernard Grauer


Bright yellow and blue jerseys speckled the group as Hank Birdsong briefed members from the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club on their morning ride. Birdsong has sculpted many creative rides around Western North Carolina that have transformed the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and its mission. While the club’s mission is “to promote healthy and fun lifestyles through cycling in Western North Carolina,” the organization has continued to give to other charitable organizations. This year, club riders have noticed progressive activities with the Ecusta Trail and have donated (on average) $2,000 per participant during the Tour de Transylvania.



Yes, Tour de Transylvania. Most readers will know about the Tour de France with its sweeping stage rides through the picturesque French countryside. Now picture a beautiful and forgiving multi-stage bike tour through Western North Carolina.


In the summer of 2020, many bike riders became isolated, so Birdsong began to plot safer rides for club members to ride on their own. He mimicked the 21-stage Tour de France course with 1/3 of the mileage so club riders could enjoy rides day after day. If international riders had a flat easy ride on a particular day, Blue Ridge bike riders had an easy ride that same day. When the Tour attacked the French Alps, local club riders challenged themselves to the 14% grades of Western North Carolina roads. Club riders with various pace groups could participate in any number of rides during the three weeks.



Birdsong did not realize the growth the Tour de Tranylvania would generate for the club and its outreach. In 2021 only a few participants trekked the rides through the mountains. By 2023 there were three different pace groups with multiple time divisions to separate groups for safety. Pace groups vary from fast to casual (around 14-16 miles an hour). Birdsong organizes the pace groups and their leaders with multi-colored spreadsheets, and his system works. Multiple club members share responsibilities of guiding the differing pace groups throughout Transylvania County. One casual pace group offers a no-drop option where riders will stop at key turns to ensure everyone follows the course and makes it back safely.     


Members mention that they like the variety of the rides.


“Hank does all the work, and we just have to show up,” one rider laughed.


Indeed, Birdsong has created a real gem with the Tour de Transylvania, which allows riders to show up and enjoy the scenery of less traveled roads and share their stories afterward.



2023 Tour de Transylvania Stats:


More than $105,000 raised for the Ecusta Trail from 96 donors.

An average of more than 60 riders per day.

80 rides total with at least 3 rides each day and 6 rides on some days.

Largest number of riders on one day - 137.

Longest ride - 69 miles (Stage 15)

Shortest ride - 17 miles (Stage 13)

Total membership of the BRBC - more than 1,000

Winner of the E-Bike Raffle

to Benefit the Ecusta Trail!


We Have a Winner!


We are happy to announce that Richard Durose is the winner of our E-Bike raffle that ended at 5 p.m. on July 30!


Thank you to everyone who purchased raffle tickets and to Sycamore Cycles and Motion Makers for donating the Specialized Turbo Como SL 4.0 E-Bike and helmet! You helped raise $4,020 for the Ecusta Trail!


Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee


By Matt Revis


The happy chatter at the start of the meeting forecast the first announcement from Chair Chuck McGrady. McGrady shared astounding news: the Ecusta Trail (ET) received two large federal grants for construction. “Unprecedented” was his next word, a word that would be repeated many times before adjournment. To date a total of six grants have been awarded to the Trail, amounting to over $64.5 million for construction and planning.


The grants, a RAISE grant for $24.5 million and the NFSLTP grant for $21.4 million, will be administered by the US and North Carolina Departments of Transportation (DOT). Administration of the two grants for use simultaneously by the same project presents “unprecedented” complications. In fact, it appears that the federal agencies awarding the grants were not aware of that fact.  The City of Brevard is the official recipient of the RAISE grant, while the NCDOT received the NFSLTP.  Both grants were written by Brevard Planning, but NCDOT will administer both.


Discussions between NCDOT and USDOT scheduled to occur over the next few weeks will develop written agreements to specify the manner of fund distribution to NCDOT, and how the funds must be spent.  Coordinating correct use of the two grants is challenging, said Chris Burns (Vice Chair), considering how many committees, local governments entities and multiple state and federal agencies are involved. He added assurance that through planning and communication, no federal dollars will be lost due to the complexity.



Henderson County will proceed with trail construction soon with funds already received, primarily from Surface Transportation Block Grants (STBG). On July 7, the County posted the bid request. Interested parties must be NCDOT qualified and attend a pre-bid meeting on July 20 (late note, 25 companies attended). August 7 is the date for bid opening. Within a few weeks of receipt of bids, the NCDOT and Henderson Board of Commissioners will review and select the contractor.


With trail construction in Henderson County imminent, McGrady opened discussion about the importance of the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Drafted by the County Attorney, this agreement will coordinate surface maintenance, security, and access along the ET.  Chris Todd reviewed maintenance details and proposed to use a contractor for most tasks and to identify a few duties for Friends of the Ecusta Trail (FOET).  Ken Shelton (FOET) mentioned that FOET responsibilities should be clearly defined.



In other business, Kristin Cozza (Conserving Carolina) shared that the Saluda Grade to Ecusta Trail feasibility study will start this summer. Chuck McGrady noted that South Carolina has already committed $15 million for this trail project.


Next meeting for this committee is set for August 9 at 10:00 AM.

Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board


By Matt Revis


Mac Morrow (Brevard City Council) chaired this meeting in the absence of Mayor Copelof. Mentioning the word “unprecedented,” Morrow expressed amazement that two large federal grants of more than $20 million were approved recently for trail construction. This unprecedented occurrence creates complications with distribution of the grants. Some expectations of the two grants conflict and determining when and how the dollars are released will take some time.


Aaron Bland (Brevard Planning) agreed that release of the grant dollars may take a year. Bland stated that written grant agreements determine how the money is administered through USDOT and NCDOT. He attended a required webinar for RAISE grant recipients and a second meeting will occur soon to continue planning for the RAISE grant agreement and to introduce the US Department of Transportation person responsible for grant management.


Clark Lovelace explained that the TDA Board needs to reconsider the award of $1 million to the Ecusta Trail (ET). Originally, the contribution was defined as a match for construction funding attached to another construction grant exceeding $10 million. Now, considering that the two federal grants are for construction of the trail, but not for amenities (parking, bathrooms, maintenance), the TDA money may better be spent on such items. Lovelace added that the TDA Board meets July 27 to discuss the issue. Hooper Wilson (Brevard City Manager) expressed hope that the TDA funds could be used for engineering/planning costs. Lovelace reminded the committee that grant distribution occurs over four (4) years at $250,000 each year.


Chuck McGrady (Henderson Rail Trail Advisory Committee) announced the release of construction bids for the first six miles of the trail in Henderson County. A recent pre-bid meeting drew twenty-five interested companies. Bid responses are due prior to the second meeting in August of the County Commissioners. McGrady stated that construction should start in the fall of 2023, but that paving is a warm weather task. Six miles (or more) of paved trail by May 2024 is possible, he said. Committee discussion emphasized these six miles are complicated by numerous road crossings, bridges, and drainage issues.


Wilson Hooper (Brevard City Manager) asked that Conserving Carolina and Friends of Ecusta Trail consider using raised funds for trail amenities. By cooperating with Henderson County, he also expressed hope for a per mile maintenance contract that could extend to cover new miles of trails built into Transylvania. He added that the September meeting of the Brevard City Council will include a comprehensive review covering the status of trail grants and construction.


In another unprecedented announcement, John Ditillo shared that the recent Tour de Transylvania had raised over $100,000 in donations to the ET. Hank Birdsong and other members of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club managed 21 stages of the race over 3 weeks, doubling the initial goal of $50,000. Members expressed surprise and gratitude at this announcement. Morrow ended the meeting by describing that recent trail progress has produced “lots of heroes and lots of zeroes” – that’s zeroes on those dollar amounts, my ET friends.


Next meeting of this group is scheduled for August 30, 2023, 3:30 PM.


FOET at the Rhythm and Brews

Concert Series


Presented by Horizon Heating & Air, Rhythm & Brews Concert Series brings together live music, local craft beverages, and the community! These FREE shows take place on the third Thursday of every month from May-September, closing part of South Main Street to make room for all the fun. Local food trucks will line the street cooking delicious eats from kettle corn to pizza to barbecue. Each show begins with an opener at 5:30 p.m. followed by the headlining performance from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Doors open at 5:15 p.m.


Adults can sip Henderson County beverages from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Bold Rock Hard Cider, Guidon Brewing Co., Oklawaha Brewing Co., Dry Falls Brewery, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, and Flat Rock Cider Company. 

All net proceeds from adult beverage sales will benefit the Friends of Downtown Hendersonville 501c3 nonprofit serving the Downtown Program, whose mission is to identify, preserve and enhance the key factors that contribute to the authentic small town urban character of historic downtown Hendersonville.


August's band playing on August 17 will be Fireside Collective (Progressive Bluegrass) with The Roving (Americana/Indie/Rock). Check out the full line up and learn more, here.


August ET Events


Henderson County R-TAC Meeting

August 9, 2023 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm





Rhythm & Brews Concert Series
August 17, 2023 @ 5:30pm – 9:30pm


Fireside Collective (Progressive Bluegrass) with The Roving (Americana/Indie/Rock)



Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
August 30, 2023 @ 3:30pm – 5:30pm


Open to the public. Meeting at City Council Chambers. 

FOET NEWSLETTER CONTRIBUTORS: Bernard Grauer, Lynn Huffman, John Lanier, RJ Miner, Matt Revis, Cindy Ruzak and Dana Vance.