The 19-mile trail will utilize the rail corridor to connect Hendersonville and Brevard. It will pass through Laurel Park, Etowah, Horseshoe, Penrose and Pisgah Forest. The long range plan is to link to existing trails in Hendersonville, Brevard and Pisgah Forest, as well as proposed trails in Flat Rock, Fletcher, Mills River.
The name "Ecusta" is derived from the Cherokee word for rippling waters. Since the proposed trail follows the French Broad river and Davidson River for much of its length, this name reflects both the heritage of our region as well as keeping with one of the experiences of the trail. The name was also used by the Ecusta Corporation, which started operation in 1939 and employed nearly 3,500 workers during its prime.
Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. Following a gentle grade, they traverse urban, suburban and rural America. Ideal for many uses, such as bicycling, walking, inline skating, cross-country skiing, equestrian and wheelchair use, rail-trails are extremely popular as recreation and transportation corridors. They often stimulate local economies by increasing tourism and promoting local business along or in close proximity to the trail.
They actual length of the rail line from Williams Street in Hendersonville to the tracks end behind Oskar Blues Brewery, is approximately 19.7 miles.
The railroad has reactivated the first 0.8 miles of the spur (between Williams St. and Kanuga Rd. in Hendersonville) for the purpose of switching out rail cars. At this time, Hendersonville trail head will likely begin at Kanuga Road and extend 19 miles to just beyond Old Ecusta Road in Pisgah Forest near the Oskar Blues Brewery. About 8 miles lie within Transylvania County and 11 within Henderson County.
The rail line that served one major customer – a paper mill – has been unused or "unactivated" since 2002. In 2007, the site where the paper mill was located was sold to Renova, a national company that specializes in renovating "brownfield" sites. The land was cleared and the property rezoned. The plan was to build a mixed-use development similar to Biltmore Park called Davidson River Village. Renova has since decided to sell the property and it is currently listed for approximately $15 Million.
Although parts of the 525-acre site are now actively marketed as industrial property, outside consultants have deemed it highly unlikely that rail service will be needed. In 2019 the railroad agreed.
Over the years some have envisioned using the rail line for commuter traffic or a sightseeing train. But there are not enough Brevard - Hendersonville commuters to make a shuttle viable.
To determine if the proposed 19 mile rail-trail project from Hendersonville to Brevard was feasible; to estimate the overall economic benefit to the community; to evaluate the existing rail corridor; to identify partnerships needed to facilitate corridor conversion; and to establish next steps to convert the corridor into a shared-use trail.
Railbanking, as defined by the National Trails System Act, 16 USC 1247 (d), is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. Because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned, the complete corridor can be sold, leased or donated to a trail manager.
The trail manager acts as a steward of the corridor until it is reopened for rail service. This means that no parts of the corridor can be sold.
The railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act as adopted by Congress in 1983 have preserved more than 4,400 miles of rail corridors in 33 states that would otherwise have been abandoned.
Although Friends of the Ecusta Trail has been planning and promoting the project for ten years, it has limited resources and no staff, so Conserving Carolina has become a major partner. They have extensive experience in preservation projects.
Likewise, Henderson County, City of Hendersonville, Town of Laurel Park, City of Brevard, Henderson County Travel Developement Authority and Henderson County Chamber of Commerce have been active in supporting the trail and planning efforts.
There are many more unnamed players and stakeholders that will be involved in creating a viable public rail-trail that spans Henderson and Transylvania County.
Yes, opponents of railbanking have unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act. In 1990, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in the case of Preseault v. United States, that preserving a corridor for future rail use through railbanking is a legitimate exercise of governmental power. This decision protects a railroad's legal right to transfer all forms of its ownership, including easements, to a trail group.
Absolutely. A call to the assistant secretary of the federal Surface Transportation Board, Anne K. Quinlan, reported that there have been nine reactivations. In some cases these lines are converted back to rail use only, in other cases lines were reactivated for light rail use coupled with an attractive and safe adjacent multi-use trail.
Yes. Under federal law this can be done but they must negotiate and pay a fair market value price to the rail-trail operators for their improvements. Research shows that this has occurred nine times since the mid 1980's.
Nationally more than 20,000 miles of rail-trails have been built. Nearby, the Swamp Rabbit in Travelers Rest, SC, the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA and the American Tobacco Trail in the Raleigh-Durham area are good examples. In fact, the Brevard Bike Path actually sits on a portion of the old Toxaway Rail Line. (Successful Trails page)
Beyond the cost to the acquire the rail corridor, construction costs depend on the width of the pathway and amenities. The 2012 Ecusta Trail Study suggested a 10-foot asphalt pathway with two-foot shoulders suitable for bicycle and pedestrian use. The trail project would include bridge and culvert improvements for users' safety. Trailheads (8 were proposed in the study), signage, screening, parking and restrooms could also be included in the project. Current construction estimates range from $10 million to $19 million.
Conserving Caroilna was successful in securing a $6.4 Million transportation alternatives grant to assist in purchasing approximately 19-miles of the corridor. Additional funding for purchase and construction will likely come from a multitude of private and public funds. Examples of public funds is the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority's room occupancy tax. In 2015, the Henderson County TDA appropriated 1/4 of 1% of the hotel/motel occupancy tax to be set aside for construction of the trail in Henderson County. This fund has accumulated over $500,000 over the past 4 years. NC DOT has allocated $10 Million for construction in the State Transportation Improvement Plan. Examples of private funds include private foundations as well as donations from businesses and individuals. Both Conserving Carolina and Friends of the Ecusta Trail are registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporations.
There are several possible management options including state or regional management, a local trails consortium, a trail authority, or jurisdictions of local governments such as a cities and counties.
For instance, the Swamp Rabbit model has Greenville Parks and Rec Department to be in charge of operating the trail and the municipalities contract with the Greenville Sheriff’s Department to provide security.
The Greenville Sheriff’s department employs three full-time deputies to patrol the Swamp Rabbit and the other trails and parks within Greenville County.
The study documented that $42 million would be put into the community from the initial construction project. Beyond that, each year the trail would generate another $9.4 million from a number of sources including: tourism revenue (20,000 visitors annually), health care cost savings, and tax revenues based upon increased property values along the trail.
For other Economic Benefit information, see the Economic Impact page.
If the Ecusta Trail follows the existing rail bed, one terminus would be near the Oskar Blues plant, in Brevard, where the trail would connect with the Brevard Bike Path. The Henderson County terminus is currently projected to be at Kanuga Road.
As both terminus are in such close proximity to other existing greenways, (Brevard Bike path, Estatoe Trail, Ochlawaha Greenway) the rail-trail would extend well beyond the 19-mile railroad corridor.
Studies show that trail development may actually decrease the risk of crime in comparison to an abandoned and undeveloped rail corridor. Typically, lawful trail users serve as "eyes and ears" for the community, discouraging unlawful activity. Deputies assigned to the Greenville County SC Sheriff's Department that patrol the Swamp Rabbit Trail report that 99% of crimes associated with the trail result from folks leaving valuables in their cars.
There is no evidence that developed rail-trails cause an increase in crime. In fact, studies show that the exact opposite is the case. Trail development may actually decrease the risk of crime in comparison to an abandoned and undeveloped rail corridor. Several studies show that most people prefer living along a rail trail rather than an abandoned corridor. Typically, lawful trail users serve as "eyes and ears" for the community, discouraging unlawful activity.
In a recent presentation by the Hendersonville Police Chief, he noted that records show only two calls related to "crime" along the Oklawaha Trail...in neither instance was a crime actually committed, only concerned citizens calling to report what they thought may be a violation of trail rules.
Since both Brevard and Hendersonville have successful greenways in the Brevard Bike Path and the Oklawaha Greenway, we already have good sources locally that corroborate no increase in crime along the trails.
The tax rates for properties located along the trail will not change as a result of a rail-trail being built. The Planning Study does estimate that property values for land within 1/4 mile of the proposed trail will increase as there will be demand for people to live in close proximity to the trail. However, since assessed value and market value are two different numbers, the only way that assessed property values will go up is if nearby properties start selling for higher amounts, thereby indicating an increase in market value.