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

 

https://www.hendersoncountync.gov/bc-rtac

____________________________

 

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.