After nearly seven years since the Friends of Ecusta Trail was formed, momentum for the rails-to-trails project continues to grow, but still needs support from county officials.
The Ecusta Trail is the proposed rail-to-trail conversion of the 19-mile stretch of unused rail line from Brevard to Hendersonville. The rail has not been used for freight since the Ecusta paper mill closed in 2002. WATCO, a short-line holding company, purchased the line from Norfolk-Southern Railways in March of 2014. Short-line railroads are defined as local railroads with annual operating revenue of less than $20 million.
This spring, the property where the former Ecusta Plant was located is now officially on the market, listed as “mixed use” for residential, commercial and light industrial for $15 million. The owners of the rail line, Watco, declined to comment on what kinds of companies they have been marketing the rail line to, but they maintain that they are actively seeking someone to invest in the rail line.
Brevard City Council officially backed the Ecusta Trail in 2015; shortly afterwards the Henderson County commissioners also endorsed creation of the trail in a unanimous vote. The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority approved a tax appropriation that same year to help fund the trail in the form of an occupancy tax.
Transylvania County officials have not been as enthusiastic about the project. In 2016, efforts to get language about the proposed Ecusta Trail in the 2025 Comprehensive Plan for the county were rejected. The purpose of that plan is to provide a framework for future county investments.
During the county’s comprehensive planning survey, which only eight percent of the county resident’s responded to, one question asked was, “Thinking about the next 10 years, what would you like to see in the county that is not here now?” The Ecusta Trail was the second highest response after jobs.
The county has maintained that the line is a vital piece of economic infrastructure, and has cited concerns over private property rights and an increase in crime. The Friends of the Ecusta trail remain positive, however, and are actively seeking volunteers to help with their efforts.
“The big thing we’re focusing on is we’re really trying to engage volunteers,” said Chris Burns, volunteer with the organization. “There are a lot of different events that we’re being asked to be present at.”
Burns said the Friends of the Ecusta Trail is currently exploring the potential for a fundraising feasibility study, something on a much larger scale than a Go Fund Me page.
Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about the Ecusta Trail can visit www.ecustatrail.org.