The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) Tuesday approved a tax appropriation to help fund construction of the proposed Ecusta Trail.
Board member Selena Einwechter, owner of the Bed and Breakfast on Tiffany Hill, made the motion to appropriate one quarter of every 1 percent of the county’s occupancy tax to be used for construction of a 12-mile stretch along the railway line in Henderson County. Eight miles of the proposed trail would be in Transylvania County.
That fund will be in the hands of the Henderson County TDA as a “board restricted fund” and will be worth roughly $70,000 a year. It can only be used to fund construction of the trail.
“Our charge from a legislative perspective is to promote product development for tourism,” said Einwechter. ‘The trail is the biggest thing we could do for the county, so from that perspective I applaud the Henderson TDA to put that money aside for the bricks and mortar of the trail. Effective July 1, we will start putting money aside for it.
“I’m really excited about this. I don’t think there has ever been a tourism board that has ever set aside funds for a trail that hasn’t even been approved.”
An occupancy tax is all taxes placed on hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts.
The proposed 18-mile trail would link Hendersonville and Brevard. Trail constructions costs could be between $10 million and $13 million. Project funding would come from a number of public and private sources, supporters say.
The effort has received backing from elected officials in Henderson County. In Transylvania, Brevard City Council recently passed a resolution in support. Transylvania County commissioners have not come out as a board and supported it, citing hope for the rail line to be used in the future for a business or industry and concerns about property rights.
Chris Burns, treasurer for the Friends of the Ecusta Trail group, however, is pleased by the Henderson County TDA’s action.
“The Friends of the Ecusta Trail applaud the foresight the TDA has made in recognizing that it’s only a matter of time before the line is railbanked, and investing to ensure that funds are available to build the trail,” he said.
“Railbanking” is a term used to describe the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails in the interim.
Burns pointed out that the Friend’s group has all along said that his group does not expect taxpayers to bare the cost for the Ecusta Trail and that there are numerous funding sources available.
Burns also said that a study conducted in 2012 about the Virginia Creeper trail in Roanoke, Va ., showed it generated at least 56,000 room-nights a year just as a result of the trail. Similarly, said Burns, a study about the Swamp Rabbit Trail showed that 125,000 visited it from outside the area.
“Durham just released a Department of Transportation study on the American Tobacco Trail,” he said. “Their 2014 study showed that 125,000 people came from outside the area as well.”
Watco Companies, a freight line operator based in Kansas, owns the railway line in Henderson and Transylvania. It has not indicated any plans, so far, to abandon the line.