March 2024

 

Ecusta Trail Stories

Stops Along the Way

 

By Cindy Ruzak

 

 

One of the businesses that is looking forward to the opening of the Ecusta Trail multi-use path is Elijah Mountain Gem Mine. This local treasure, offering a way for people of all ages to find their own jeweled treasure, hopes that trail riders will take the short diversion to its location on Brevard road to take a biking break to enjoy Elijah’s wide range of amenities. These include picnic tables, goat petting, and peacocks in the “Jurassic Pond” open space, and a brew pub in addition to the gem mining and retail store.

 

At Elijah’s, potential prospectors can choose from a number of different sized buckets of premium “dirt” shipped in from all over the world, including Madagascar, Bolivia, Brazil, and the USA containing a variety of unfinished gemstones. Jack-of-all-trades defacto manager Joe Strassel and the rest of the staff pride themselves on a high level of customer satisfaction by giving personalized service so that every visit is like the first. To assure happy customers, the quantity of gems found each time is always high by intention.

 

 

Elijah also offers polishing of rocks found, as well as selling finished gems, specimens and fossils, and a new jewelry section is in development. Gold panning is another activity, which includes a lesson on sifting since the process is a bit more involved than the sluice gem mining. Other educational opportunities abound, as I learned a new term of “en cabochon” for a non-faceted polished gem, and how crystals form different shapes. Fun fact - the structure of a crystal is governed by atomic forces, with every mineral containing an inner order arrangement of ions and atoms that then connect in set patterns.

 

Whenever Elijah’s is open, so is the Base Camp Brewery, an outpost of local Guidon Brewery. On weekends during the peak summer months they will often have a food truck available, and in the past have done fish frys on Fridays, and periodic live music. Currently on their Facebook page they offer a live podcast every Thursday evening at 6pm about what is new at the store and other gems.

 

Henderson County Rail-Trail

Advisory Committee

 

By Cindy Ruzak

 

February 14, 2024 Meeting: Vice President Chris Burns welcomed all, which included a full complement of committee members with three attending by Zoom (as was Brevard’s Mayor, Maureen Copelof, and their Planning Commission). One correction to the previous meeting’s minutes was suggested by Ken Shelton to list the name of the sculpture donation idea group as Advocates for the Arts.

 

Chris Todd, Business and Community Development Director stated that the Henderson County Board of Commissioners had approved the appointment of Chris Burns to the title of RTAC President. Chris Burns moved on to ask for nominations to fill the now vacant VP position. Committee member David Adams suggested member-at-large Selena Einwechter, who was unanimously approved.

Ken Shelton reminded that this leaves a vacancy on the committee for an at-large member of the community, which would need to be approved by the Board of Commissioners. Some discussion of possibilities ensued, including approaching members of the business community, perhaps one of those involved in the developing Trail Partners program; with the final result that anyone with a prospective member should contact Chris Burns with their name.

 

Conserving Carolina’s Trails and Greenways Coordinator, Kristin Cozza, mentioned the organization is continuing to work with the county on property line issues, but had nothing substantial to report. She recommended that the organization be taken off the agenda standing list of reports, preferring instead to present when something needs to be reported, although the organization will continue to be at the RTAC meetings.

 

 

Mark Tooley reported that Friends of the Ecusta Trail held an operational meeting to define the organization’s role in future trail management. They are also following up on proceeding with an economic impact study, using some existing funds for the project; and waiting for specifics on federal highway funding for trail amenities.

 

In response to two recent articles about the trail (see links below, and *note), Chris Todd summarized the county’s efforts to be responsive to property owners’ issues by acknowledging their hardships while reiterating vegetation removals have all been within the trail right of way. He emphasized that trees have only been removed for three primary reasons – the need for drainage, for line of sight at car/pedestrian intersection points for safety, and for construction where a re-alignment of the trail is necessary.

 

During additional discussion of support, Ken mentioned that tree control on Swamp Rabbit Trail is important because roots can disturb trail surfaces, and Chris Burns felt all involved have done well by being responsive to concerns. Marcus Jones, Henderson County Engineer, along with others reminded everyone that the number of homeowners with remaining issues is very small given the hundreds of homes along the first section of the trail. Marcus also mentioned that he met in person with the Goodwins, who were mentioned in recent newspaper articles, in May of 2023 to discuss tree removal.  Also expressed at various points in the discussion was that while all has been handled well, there is always room for improvement, so even more communication up front will be done in the future.

 

 

Henderson County Planner III, Lee Stevens, gave an update on the Trail Partners Program. The first group meeting this past October drew 35 people from invitations to businesses directly adjacent to the trail, and current plans are to expand the outreach up to ½ mile from the trail with the goal toward reaching more than 250 people for the next meeting of this group. At a planned March 11th gathering, a guest panel from the Travelers Rest business group will speak about their experience with the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It is hoped that people from these business group meetings will produce participants in the Trail Partners Program. The main goal of the group is to give the business community along the trail a forum to collaborate on shared issues, generate partnerships, and streamline communication with the county and FOET.

 

Lee reviewed the variety of ways that individual businesses can become involved in trail support. Structurally, “Trail Partners” are those businesses with direct access to the trail who volunteer amenities such as parking, free water, bathrooms, in exchange for free marketing. Available to anyone is “Trail Sponsor” for entities not adjacent to the trail who may wish to pay for an amenity, or sponsor a business that is adjacent in order to provide an amenity. “Trail Supporters” are those non-adjacents who want to volunteer time or resources to support the trail. And “Trail Lease Program” for those adjacent entities that might want to lease an amenity entirely to the county to manage for trail users.

 

Chris Todd added that all businesses are being invited, whether or not they want to support the trail, so that they can make sure the committee is hearing all points of view and issues. Mark Tooley supported that FOET can certainly help with a trail map showing the businesses.

 

 

Marcus Jones provided trail construction updates. At the end of three months, clearing has been finished, and he again reiterated that the only vegetation removed was where it was necessary for construction, and where traffic safety demanded. Erosion control measures are installed, and now contractors are replacing, and upgrading to current standards, all cross drainage pipes (about 25% completed) as well as removing trestles. In response to Ken Shelton’s question about an area where pictures taken after last month’s record rain showed a washed out culvert, Marcus said it had been addressed and reminded that many of the elements of the previous drainage structure were more than 100 years old, so their redesign for the trail will result in even better performance to designed storm event guidelines. Up next will be reviewing the design from JMT for the third segment of the trail.

 

*Note – In an after meeting question and comment session with Chris Todd, he mentioned that the title of the Times News article “Trail of Destruction” in the printed edition, was not the same as the one in the original e-version of the article (link below)

 

Recent article links:

 

Ecusta Trail property owners demand payment in federal lawsuits, help from Henderson County

 

Henderson County News: Homeowner mourns loss of buffer for trail - Hendersonville Lightning

 

For more information on the Trail Partner program, including a link to a video presentation, click here.

Brevard Ecusta Trail

Advisory Board

 

By Matt Revis

 

February 28, 2024 Meeting: Mayor Copelof began the meeting welcoming guests including Billy Parrish from Heart of Brevard, who will regularly attend in the future.

 

Paul Ray (Brevard Planning) noted positive initial feedback on requests to the two federal grants about covering the cost of trail amenities. Lonnie Watkins (NC DOT representative) added that this is “an unofficial communication,” but he expects official approval to arrive soon. The RAISE grant funds are flexible and able to pay for mile markers, signage, emergency call boxes, trail lighting, trailhead sites and bathrooms adjacent to the Ecusta Trail (ET) right of way. Committee members expressed relief that grant funds will pay for basic trail necessities, allowing locally raised money to purchase extra conveniences.

 

Ray added that the Brevard Planning department will present at the next Brevard City Council meeting scheduled for March 18. The focus will be on ET updates, especially the status of the Pisgah Health Foundation donation of property and funding for a trailhead and accessible park on land along Lamb’s Creek near Transylvania Hospital. Copelof and Ray will attend a meeting with Pisgah Health Foundation Board members prior to the next City Council meeting. This 11-acre parcel and park represents a significant enhancement to the Ecusta Trail experience.

 

Larry Chapman (Transylvania County) has received several emails regarding articles on trail construction in Henderson County. After Chapman noted one article entitled “Trail of Destruction,” Copelof emphasized the need to communicate frequently and transparently regarding each phase of trail building in Transylvania. With that, the Committee received a draft of the next Ecusta Trail Newsletter prepared for property owners along the ET. The committee reviewed the text and approved distribution. Each newsletter is sent by mail directly to adjacent property owners and posted to the City website each quarter.

 

Clark Lovelace, Tourism Development Authority (TDA), reviewed the status of the $1M TDA grant for construction of the ET. The TDA Board previously determined that the current agreement between TDA and the City of Brevard needed revision. Lovelace presented the TDA’s recently approved version of the grant agreement, which the Committee immediately approved. Lovelace finished by stating that an official communication will be sent very soon to the City of Brevard for appropriate approval and signatures.

 

Mark Tooley, Friends of Ecusta Trail (FOET), updated the status of a partnership growing between FOET, Henderson County, and businesses located near the ET.  The purpose of these meetings is to engage communication between these parties with varying visions and needs related to the trail. This group is currently defining what the “partnership” means and how to create benefits for local businesses and ET users. Lovelace noted that the TDA prefers that the trail partnership “should have a direct impact on [trail] user experience.”

 

In other news, Brenda Harrington (Blue Ridge Bicycle Club) and Billy Parrish reminded the Committee that $10K grants are available from earlier commitments made by BRBC and Blue Zones. Aaron Blake (Brevard City Council) handed out a sketch of new road construction at Oskar Blues that has already started. When finished, the road accessing Oskar Blues will extend farther west creating a cul-de-sac closer to the Estatoe Trail and near the Cherry St. cul-de-sac.

 

Next meeting of the Committee is scheduled for March 27, 2024, at 3:30 PM.

March ET Events

 

Henderson County R-TAC Meeting

March 13, 2024 @ 10:00am – 12:00pm

 

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

____________________________

 

Brevard Ecusta Trail Advisory Board Meeting
March 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.

 

FOR TRAIL CONSTRUCTION QUESTIONS CONTACT:

Marcus Jones, P.E. Henderson County
Director of Engineering
(828) 694-6526