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
A Henderson County RTAC meeting was not held in September.
Brevard Ecusta Trail
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.