For an idea that remains a visionary dream among advocates in Henderson and Transylvania counties, the Ecusta Trail has proven to be a resilient one that keeps gaining support.
On Dec. 9, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club announced that it has reserved $10,000 for the proposed greenway along 19 miles of unused rail line between Brevard and Hendersonville. The club pledged the funds from the Fletcher Flyer, its annual fundraising ride, as well as from donations, member dues and contributions. It plans to hold the money — representing $5,000 each for Henderson and Transylvania County portions of the trail — until planning and construction begins.
“Data shows that most people want to ride a bike, and that they did ride bicycles when they were young,” Club President Joe Sanders said in announcing the funding. “Unfortunately, people do not feel safe biking on the narrow roads in Henderson and Transylvania counties. The Ecusta Trail will offer the perfect opportunity for people to become more active and in a safe environment.”
On Dec. 12, the NC Rail Trails organization endorsed the Ecusta Trail based on its promise for providing alternate transportation, encouraging healthy and active lifestyles, and increasing tourism and economic development.
In doing so, the group joined local organizations that have recently endorsed the path, including the Hendersonville Family YMCA, the League of Women Voters of Henderson County, the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce board of directors, the Transylvania County Travel Development Authority and the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority.
Like the bicycle club, the Henderson County TDA endorsed the trail with dollars, voting in May to set aside a quarter of 1 percent of the 5 percent occupancy tax, estimated to raise about $70,000 per year, for the trail.
Another key piece of support came in September when the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization included Phase 1 of the trail (from Hendersonville to Laurel Park) in its 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan at a funding level of $2,141,000. This makes the trail eligible for grants in addition to DOT funds.
Although local governments including Hendersonville and Brevard have endorsed the trail, the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners continues to withhold support based on the hope that the line may one day be used for rail service. Meanwhile, the rails and crossties continue to rust and decay in the more than 13 years since a train has used them.
We stated in March that trail supporters should have a plan in place to move forward with the path should Watco, the company that owns the line, decide to sell it, abandon it or "rail bank" it for potential future use. Thanks to the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and a wide range of supporters, the pieces continue to come together.