By Gina Malone
With the purchase of the 19.4-mile rail line between Hendersonville and Brevard complete, Friends of the Ecusta Trail and Conserving Carolina have begun raising funds for construction of the long awaited trail that will connect the two towns and rural communities in between, offering walking, wheelchair access, hiking and biking opportunities. The Making the Dream Real Campaign seeks contributions and pledges over a three- to five-year period, but organizers of the campaign express hope that gifts and pledges will be made within the next year so that construction can begin. “There is some urgency to the need for donations and commitments to make gifts in the future,” says Lynn Killian, development director for Conserving Carolina. “We must have proof of people’s intent to support this project, even if a gift is not expected until the next year or two or three. The sooner we raise the money, the sooner it gets built.”
The majority of needed construction funds for Henderson County are being sought from Federal DOT grants. The project total for trail completion in both counties is estimated at $31 million, and matching funds of $6.5 million will need to be raised in order for those grants to be awarded. That total cost estimate includes amenities the trail may need, including bridges, shelters, benches and trail markers.
“Completion of the Ecusta Trail will be an economic game changer for Hendersonville and Brevard as well as the communities that it will pass through,” says past Conserving Carolina board member Mark Tooley of Transylvania County. He notes that the trail also figures into a long-range, regional plan called The Hellbender Trail that will connect greenways in a five-county area.
Once the Ecusta Trail is complete, county governments will assume responsibility for maintaining the trail. “However, a fund will be established and is already envisioned for future beautification and amenity maintenance,” says Killian. “This will most likely be transferred to Friends of the Ecusta Trail once the Campaign is over.”
Those who have worked tirelessly on making the dream of the trail a reality envision it as a green destination that will bring economic vitality to communities much as the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest VA and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in upstate SC have done. “The Ecusta Trail will be a new ‘cultural main street’ connecting communities, promoting health and enriching the quality of life and the economy for everyone,” says Ken Shelton, of Hendersonville, whose involvement with the project has included serving on the Ecusta Trail Board and Conserving Carolina’s board of directors. “From an abandoned rail line, the Ecusta Trail can be our generational legacy, one that is loved and cherished by all.”
To learn more about the project, visit EcustaTrail.org or ConservingCarolina.org/ecusta. Donations may be made online through Conserving Carolina’s website; by phone at 828.697.5777, ext. 200; or by mail. Checks should be made out to Conserving Carolina (with Ecusta Trail on the memo line) and mailed to Conserving Carolina, 847 Case Street, Hendersonville, NC 28792. Pledge forms for gifts spread over three to five years are also available.