Conserving Carolina Receives $6.4 Million for Proposed Ecusta Trail

People walking on the Ecusta Trail.
Friends of The Ecusta Trail

Conserving Carolina was recently awarded a $6.4 million grant for the rail corridor known as the TR Line or Proposed Ecusta Trail.

“This is a very big next step for the Ecusta Trail”, said North Carolina House Rep. Chuck McGrady. “There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of processes to work through that will take time, but this is a large step forward.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) approved a $6.4 million grant to Conserving Carolina toward the potential purchase of the corridor. Conserving Carolina, Friends of the Ecusta Trail, and other partners will need to raise at least $1.6 million to match the grant funding.

Said Ecusta Board Member Chris Burns, “We have been working on this project for over 10 years. In that time we have never seen a grant or funding that could be used for the acquisition of the corridor. When Chuck McGrady called several weeks ago and informed us of this potential funding source, we just had to jump on it and do all we could to make it happen.”

Representatives of Friends of the Ecusta Trail asked Conserving Carolina to take the lead in grant application process. Conserving Carolina submitted the grant application to NCDOT in July. The grant was approved this week. Conserving Carolina has retained appraisal and surveying contractors, and both processes are well underway along the corridor.

The proposed greenway will run from Kanuga Road in Hendersonville to the old Ecusta Plant property in Brevard, between Ecusta Road and Old Hendersonville Highway. This rail line has been inactive since the Ecusta cigarette paper plant closed its doors in 2002.

The greenway would not include one mile of the rail line from its connection near the Hendersonville City Operations Center to Kanuga Road in Hendersonville. Earlier this year, Blue Ridge Southern Railroad successfully applied to have this section of the line reactivated for service. The company intends to use this section to “switch” rail cars that are stored along their rail line that runs along Spartanburg Highway through East Flat Rock.

Railbanking, as defined by the National Trails System Act, 16 USC 1247 (d), is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. Because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned, it can be sold, leased or donated to a trail manager. The railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act as adopted by Congress in 1983 have preserved more than 4,400 miles of rail corridors in 33 states that would otherwise have been abandoned and likely, lost forever as a means of future rail service and economic development.

Friends of The Ecusta Trail was founded in 2009 as a volunteer organization to study, educate and advocate for the acquisition and development of the proposed Ecusta Trail. Their efforts over the past nine years have included garnering endorsements for the trail by the Cities of Brevard and Hendersonville, the Town of Laurel Park and the Henderson County Commissioners in addition to nearly 50 other non-profits and organizations throughout western North Carolina.

Conserving Carolina is a local land trust dedicated to protecting land and water, promoting good stewardship, and creating opportunities for people to enjoy nature. The organization has a 30-year history of protecting land and water resources in Henderson, Transylvania, Polk and neighboring counties. They have helped to protect over 45,000 acres and have played a key role in creating public lands such as Chimney Rock State Park, DuPont State Recreational Forest, and Headwaters State Forest, as well as numerous parks, trails and greenways.