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.