June 2024

 

 

Ecusta Trail Writer's Rides

By Cindy Ruzak

 

Last fall my husband, Jay, and I accomplished a 6,000-mile trek from our summer home aboard our 42’ sailboat in Michigan to the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest, finishing at our winter home in Hendersonville.  Our trip took us through 17 states, with the goal of seeing some of America’s National Parks, and a few places on our bucket list, plus visiting friends. Along the way we witnessed some amazing scenery and realized how many places have bike trails of one sort or the other that offer an even more expansive way to experience an area.

Driving versus flying allows a more in-depth appreciation of the beauty and ecosystem diversity of the North American continent. And biking increases that appreciation of details even more. Our bucket list item of Lake Louise (where I stood at the same place my mother and grandfather posed for a framed photo on August 27, 1940), Canada involved more hiking than biking; however, we did do a short bike on the Banff Legacy Trail as it winds through the very busy tourist area of town. The beauty of the Canadian Rockies is almost overwhelming as each time you turn your head it generates another “Wow, look at that” moment. One of the prettiest spots was Emerald Lake just west of Lake Louise and Banff.

 

 
 
 

 

On the way to Lake Louise we, of course, visited Yellowstone National Park, and Custer State Park. A hike around Devils Tower led us to the nearby town of Deadwood to see the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. There we discovered by chance the Mickelson Trail. The George S. Mickelson Trail traverses over 100 glorious miles of the Black Hills of South Dakota. A former rail line, the trail crosses more than 100 railroad bridges and goes through four tunnels. We have already decided we definitely want to come back to ride more of this one!

 

 

 

Another of the most beautiful areas seen on our travels was Bryce Canyon, Utah. Not only is there a trail within the park, but on the way from Bryce west toward Zion National Park there is a longer paved trail that offers some equally amazing views. The first is a shared use trail and provides the best way to cycle the first 3 miles of the Bryce Canyon scenic drive. It provides 5 vehicle free miles connecting the shuttle station north of the park with the Visitor Center, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Inspiration Point (the first three scenic turnouts). Bicyclists who are more adventurous than I can achieve a longer ride by traveling along the main park road to the southern end of the park.

 

 

But I’d suggest opting for that paved trail along Highway 12, The Red Canyon Trail. It starts, as does the shared use path (and just about everything else in these parts) at the iconic Ruby’s Inn; and offers a 15-mile round trip, fairly level, through red canyons and expansive vistas. For mountain bikes there are lots of other options in the area, for which a link is below.

 

 

One of my favorite rides on the trip was along the Truckee River Trail at Lake Tahoe, and the path up the valley to the lodge at Olympic Valley. It is a trail that I have done often, since I have visited the area frequently due to the fact that my best friend from high school in Hinsdale, Illinois, and matron of honor in my wedding, lives there. Bike trails hold so many memories of beautiful and interesting places, but also memories of a more personal nature. I first rode this trail when my friend’s 2-year-old daughter went with us, and this fall I got to spend time near the trail with that daughter’s own young children.

 

 

After 45 days on the road, it was nice to be back home in North Carolina, and recently take another spring bike ride on the Swamp Rabbit Trail after attending a Garrison Keillor performance at the Peace Center in Greenville. While more urban trails may not have the grand vistas of those out in the rural west, there is much beauty to be found, especially during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

 

 

Having seen so many bike trails in almost every area and the benefit they provide to communities along their path, upon our return it was great to see the progress being made on the Ecusta Trail. I, along with so many others, look forward to its completion of the first 6-mile segment by the end of this year. 

 

Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee 

By Cindy Ruzak

 

Henderson County RTAC meeting May 8, 2024

 

Chair Chris Burns opened the meeting with the traditional solicitation of public comment, to which none was offered.

 

Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET) President Mark Tooley briefly reported that the re-do of the website is moving forward, and that discussions have started between Henderson County, Brevard, and FOET toward creating a MOU (memorandum of understanding) regarding governance of the trail’s operation once it is built.

 

Brevard’s City Councilman Aaron Baker, participating via a Zoom link, reported that they expect the 30% design for the western end of the trail to be completed by June, and that the focus right now is on community outreach, along with the previously mentioned MOU.

 

Chris Todd, Henderson County’s Business and Community Development Director, offered thanks to FOET Board member Lynn Huffman toward structuring the MOU document with consistency, and that a draft for Henderson County’s framework would be done this week. It should then be reviewed by the City of Brevard after it completes its annual budgeting by mid-June.

 

 

Autumn Radcliff, Henderson County Planning Director, and Marcus Jones, Henderson County Engineer, pictorially displayed that a lot has happened on the trail’s construction since the last RTAC meeting. Jones reported that construction of the first six miles is on target for a December finish. He is in the process of receiving the proposal for the east (Hendersonville to Horseshoe) section amenities. The amenities were in the original JMT 30% design, but had to be pulled out due to difficulties in the federal grant process at that point, and thus the need for this separate proposal. Maybe the bid will end up with the same contractor, or a different one, but should go quickly to 60% because part of the work is already done.

 

Marcus praised the work of Brent Detwiler, recent city engineer and for the past year Hendersonville’s Public Service Director, on the design of the downtown bike trail connection. This will require an additional small supplemental contract, likely with JMT, to connect the end of the trail to the one downtown.

 

At this point, Chris Todd mentioned the question he frequently gets from the public is where will the actual trailhead be for the Ecusta Trail. He believes that it will most logically be located at the Visitors Center where parking is readily available nearby; so, this connector is a win for all parties, and works as an economic development tool for downtown.

 

 

The slide presentation presented by Jones and Radcliff supported the statement that “the contractor is on an aggressive schedule” for the first six miles, with NHM personnel doing additional shifts, along with multiple inspectors onsite daily. Several pictures show bridges with new abutments in place waiting for the final pre-assembled top portion, areas  almost ready for paving and grading and drainage being completed.  After the picture taken near Daniel Drive was shown, Burns asked how the Laurel Park roundabouts near there and at White Street would affect the trail traffic pattern at those points. Jones and Todd committed to looking into coordinating those details with DOT by the next meeting, while RTAC Vice-Chair Selena Einwechter verified that these roundabouts cannot be built within the trail right of way.

 

Some pictures showed the care being taken to preserve the character of the surrounding area. For example, on the bridge near Allen Street attempts were made to save the existing railway bridge support wall by putting new abutment a bit further inward, and a fence was left standing within the right of way but is distant enough from the trail to conform to safety standards of construction. In conclusion, Jones exclaimed that “it is really starting to look like a trail.”

 

 

In response to Burns’ query for any additional comments from the public, an audience member questioned whether this board is involved in plans for a Saluda Trail yielded the answer that Conserving Carolina is currently involved in that process. Todd emphasized the importance of collaboration between all of these connecting towns and trails regarding rules and etiquette in order to promote continuity for trail users, and to make sure these are in place before the Ecusta Trail is open.

 

Next meeting is scheduled for June 12, 2024, at 3:30 PM.

 

Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board

By John Lanier

 

Members of the Brevard ETAB (Ecusta Trail Advisory Board) discussed bridges, connecting the Ecusta Trail to the Estatoe Trail, and other issues at their meeting on Wednesday, May 29.

Chris Burns, Henderson County’s representative on the ETAB, reported that all of the pilings for the bridges on the first six miles (Ecusta East) have been driven and four of the six bridge abutments are in place. As a result, the bridges should be installed in August and the first six miles is on schedule to be open in December.

Burns also reported that part of the federal funds can be used for amenities, some of which are now under design, and that design permitting for the next 6 miles in Henderson County (Ecusta West) has begun. That phase will include the bridge over the French Broad River between Horseshoe and Etowah.

“Things are moving very nicely at this point,” said Burns.

Lonnie Watkins of NCDOT reported that three of the bridges along the trail could possibly be modified or repurposed instead of being replaced. The advantages of modifying the three bridges are: the bridge spans would be shorter, older aesthetics would remain, and the cost would be $500,000 less than having new bridges.

“They are in pretty solid condition,” said Watkins of the three bridges.

Paul Ray of the Brevard Planning Department said the city had hoped it could repurpose the current bridge over the Davidson River, but has since learned from engineers that it needs to be replaced.
Ray said bridge engineers informed him that repurposing three of the bridges would save about $1 million.

Ray said other advantages to keeping the older bridges is that they would need to be inspected less, repairs would be less expensive since redundant support structures have been built into the older bridges, and the bridges would be grandfathered in floodplain regulations.

He agreed with Larry Chapman, who represents the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners on the ETAB, that all costs, including amenities, would need to be considered in deciding whether or not to replace or modify the three bridges.

Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof said she would like to see the pros and cons of replacing or repurposing the bridges, as well as the cost differences, presented at the next ETAB meeting.

Watkins also said they have begun making a short list of amenities and where they may potentially be located on the trail.

As she did regarding the bridges, Copelof also requested that NCDOT present the list of amenities included in the trail design, as well as the first 30 percent of the design for the Transylvania County section of the trail, at the next meeting. She added that the city needs the final 30 percent design completed before the city begins its public engagement sessions this summer.

“None of us have seen the design,” said Copelof.

Regarding the western end of the trail, Watkins said there are four possible options for connecting the Ecusta Trail to the existing Estatoe Trail, and the city needs to select an option in the coming week. Two of the options would require the attainment of right-of-way. Watkins said the federal grant money could not be used to acquire right-of-way, but possibly could be used to have the two trails connect.

The proposed Ecusta Trail ends about 400-500 feet from the existing Estatoe Trail.

Aaron Baker, who also sits on the Brevard City Council as well as the ETAB, presented a draft resolution that would have the western terminus of the Ecusta Trail be on Main Street in downtown Brevard. He said the draft is “more of a vision document.”

If the terminus of the trail is on Main Street, the city would have to make some changes to its Estatoe Trail – such as its width – in order to look like the Ecusta Trail.

Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper informed the ETAB that he had met with city staff and a former city manager who serves as a mentor to discuss providing services and governance of the Ecusta Trail. He said the city council and other organizations need to meet and determine who is going to be making future decisions, especially since numerous decisions are “coming down the pike pretty fast.”

Hooper said the city needs to consult with Henderson County regarding the level of services the municipalities will provide regarding the trail, and added that governance of the trail might be different once construction of the trail is completed.

Hooper said they also discussed multi-jurisdictional agreements, including ones that worked and ones that did not. He added that government entities have MOUs with each other but sign contracts with private entities.

As a result of the need for multi-organizational cooperation in regard to governance, it was suggested and agreed upon that the Brevard City Council, ETAB and City of Brevard Parks, Trails and Recreation Committee meet together. A tentative joint meeting of the three groups will be held Wednesday, June 26, at 1:30 p.m. in the Brevard City Council chambers. That meeting will replace the regularly scheduled ETAB meeting.

 

Next meeting is scheduled for June 26, 2024 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm

 

Progress Update

Ecusta Trail East Construction

By Matt Revis

 

After what seemed like a month of rainy days, Henderson County Engineer Marcus Jones shares a positive message for the Ecusta Trail Community. “Wet weather is typical with a grading contract and our contractor, NHM Construction, is handling it appropriately. Construction is on schedule and should be complete by December 2024.” Jones added that the contractor has addressed minor issues with unsuitable soil composition by replacing it with compactable material. These challenges have not delayed progress and Jones said “[We’ve had] no lucky breaks so far but no deal breakers either.” 

 

June ET Events

 

Henderson County R-TAC Meeting

June 12, 2024 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm

 

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

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Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
June 26, 2024 @ 1:30pm – 5:00pm

 

Open to the public. Mary C. Jenkins Community & Cultural Center. Double-check with city for cancellations, or rescheduling.

 

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

 

 

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FOR TRAIL CONSTRUCTION QUESTIONS CONTACT:
Marcus Jones, P.E. Henderson County
Director of Engineering
(828) 694-6526