Where is the proposed Ecusta Trail?

The proposed Ecusta Trail will utilize the rail corridor that connects Hendersonville and Brevard and passes through Laurel Park, Etowah, Horseshoe, and Pisgah Forest. The proposed 19 mile Ecusta Trail will connect existing trails in Hendersonville, Brevard and Pisgah Forest, as well as proposed trails in Flat Rock, Fletcher, Mills River.

Why is it called the Ecusta Trail?

The name Ecusta Trail recognizes the importance of the Ecusta Corporation, which started operation in 1939 and employed nearly 3,500 workers during its prime years of operation. The name Ecusta is reported to be the Cherokee word for “rippling waters” from old maps of the region.

Will the March 10, 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision have an impact on the Ecusta Trail?

On March 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme court handed down a decision in a case involving a rail corridor in Wyoming formerly on federal land that is now privately owned. The ruling affects a specific type of rail corridor that does not meet the criteria of the Norfolk Southern line now commonly referred to as the Ecusta Trail. Here are some specific reasons why (if the Ecusta Trail met just one of the following criteria it would be exempt from this ruling):
The Ecusta Trail is proposed as a rail-banked line. This ruling does not impact Federal Rail Banking.

Corridors owned in full title (fee simple) are exempt from this ruling.

Rail Road corridors originally acquired froma private landowner(s) are exempt.
The Ecusta Trail falls within a state that was originally one of the original 13 colonies. Believe it or not, this exempts the Ecusta Trail here.

For more information about this ruling, please click here.

What is a rail-trail?

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.

Why is the length of the trail sometimes referred to as 18 miles and sometimes 20 miles?

They actual length of the rail line from Williams Street in Hendersonville to the old Ecusta Mill site, is just over 19 miles. However, some folks refer to the line as beginnning in downtown Hendersonville and some folks include part of the Brevard Bike Path in the calculation of distance.

Why not use the rails for train service?

The rail line has not been utilized for rail traffic since the Ecusta plant closed in 2002. When Renova purchased the old Ecusta Plant property and developed plans for Davidson River Village as a residential and commercial center similar to Biltmore Park, it became highly unlikely that an industrial prospect would move to the property and need rail service. Renova has since decided to sell the property and it is currently listed for approximately $15Million.  As several industrial recruiting professionals have commented, there is no practical liklihood that an industry will have interest in the Ecusta property and want to reopen the line for freight traffic.  However, as there is may be a future need for rail service, “railbanking” offers a perfect solution to preserve the existing corridor.

What was the purpose of conducting the Planning and Economic Impact study?

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.

Who owns the land where the trail would be built?

Currently Watco Transportation Services (Blue Ridge Southern Railroad) owns and maintains the rail line that once served the Ecusta paper mill in Brevard, NC, but no trains have used the line since the mill closed in 2002. The Railroad has not decided to sell or abandon the 19-mile line at this time; however, the study indicated that it is important to have an organization in place so that if and when that decision is made, a seamless transition to a rail-trail can occur.

Is there an organization in place that can assist with Rail-banking, when needed?

Yes, the Friends of the Ecusta Trail, a non-profit group representing both Henderson and Transylvania Counties, has been actively involved in the planning for this project since 2009.

Are there good examples of successful efforts…

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)

If the railroad decides to rail bank the line, must they be paid?

Not necessarily.  Across the nation, the purchase of rail-banked lines has taken many forms.  Sometimes the railroad has negotiated a payment for the corridor and sometimes it has been gifted. 

What is the cost to build the rail trail?

The cost depends on the terrain, width of the trail and amenities. For instance, the 2012 study for the Ecusta Trail included a design that would include a 10-foot asphalt pathway with two-foot shoulders suitable for bicycle and pedestrian use. Eight "trailheads" are proposed along the route that would include parking and restrooms. Train bridges and culverts would be improved for users' safety. Trail construction would be done in phases with the total construction cost for the project ranging from $10 to $13 million.

Who would pay for it?

Funding would likely come from a multitude of private and public funds. Just as various organizations, individuals, trusts, grants and state and local governments shared funding for these studies, these would also be likely sources for funding construction of the trail. 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 will accumulate between $70,000 and $90,000 annually. Friends of the Ecusta Trail has set up a fund with the Community Foundation of Henderson County in order to hold restricted funds for the purpose of purchasing the corridor or building the trail in Henderson and Transylvania Counties.

Where would the first phase begin?

The study recommended a total of ten phases, six in Henderson County and four in Transylvania County. Two phases would begin simultaneously, one in Brevard and the other in Hendersonville. Subsequent phases would leapfrog along the corridor, saving the most costly phases for last.   While this is useful for planning purposes, there are many things that could change how fast the trail is built and which phases are built first.

Who would operate and provide security for the trail?

There are several possible management options including state or regional management, a local trails consortium, or jurisdictions of local government such as a city or county.

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.

What is the economic benefit of the Ecusta Trail?

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.

Where would the Ecusta Trail begin and end?

If the Ecusta Trail follows the existing rail bed, one terminus would be at the site of the old Ecusta Paper Plant between Pisgah Forest and Brevard. The Henderson County terminus would be a few blocks off of Main St. in Hendersonville near Williams Street and 4th Ave.

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.

Do rail trails attract crime and vandalism?

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.

Many folks that have attended seminars presented by Friends of the Ecusta Trail have heard presentations from the Greenville County SC Sheriff's Department deputies that patrol the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  These deputies will tell you that 99% of crimes assocated with the trail result from folks leaving valuables in plain site within their cars, not crimes along the trail.

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.

Once a rail trail is created and the land is federally rail-banked, are there any instances where the trails have been converted back for train operation?

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.

If a railroad wants to reactivate the line, do they have to pay for it?

Yes.  The laws for railbanking require a railroad to negotiate and pay a fair market value to the holder of the corridor in order to reinstate train use.