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Lightning Top Ten: Happy Trails, Bricks & Mortar, Apple Applause

Elected leaders, BRCC officials and the business community celebrated the opening of the new Patton Building in July. Elected leaders, BRCC officials and the business community celebrated the opening of the new Patton Building in July.

5. Happy Trails

Greenway news was mostly good news throughout the year as Blue Ridge Southern Railroad removed the train tracks and engineers began design work on the Ecusta Trail, the 19-mile bicycle-pedestrian-rollerblading-jogging path from Hendersonville to Brevard. Henderson County landed a $10.5 million grant to fund construction of the trail from Horse Shoe to the county line — the second leg. State Sen. Chuck Edwards was successful in getting a $7.5 million trail construction grant through the General Assembly, no match required. On the negative ledger, the city of Brevard failed to win a $21.1 million federal RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grant that would have covered most of the trail construction cost in Transylvania County. Trail enthusiasts got better news in July when a coalition of economic development agencies and land conservancies in North Carolina and South Carolina announced plans to purchase the inactive railroad Southern Railway corridor for a new rail trail from Inman, South Carolina, to Zirconia. The conservancies and other trail supporters need to raise roughly $60 million — half that to buy the rail corridor, the other half to build the greenway. And trail supporters in Henderson Country are already thinking about a solution for one big problem — bridging the gap from Zirconia to the Ecusta trailhead in downtown Hendersonville.


4. Bricks and mortar for Bearcats, BRCC, judges and jailbirds

“Is this not beautiful? Is this not great?” Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Lapsley gushed when city, county and school system leaders gathered in August for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the new Hendersonville High School. No one mentioned that the board Lapsley led had voted on July 18, 2018, to drop the construction project and sell the Boyd property — land that was needed to expand the 96-year-old school. Political leaders eventually patched things up — in January 2019 commissioners approved the renovation-new construction option that saved the Stillwell core of the historic structure — and three weeks before this school year opened, the past was put behind. The new campus includes 82,000 square feet of renovated space plus a new gym and the 115,000-square-foot Campbell Boyd Building, new track and artificial turf football field and safety and security improvements. Three weeks earlier, many of the same elected leaders plus the business community congregated in front of another big construction-renovation project — the Patton Building at Blue Ridge Community College — and extolled its high-tech amenities and flexibility. Finally, in their last meeting of the year, commissioners ordered architectural plans for the courthouse piece of a capital project that will dwarf the education, health science, emergency services and human services buildings that have come before it. In voting 3-2 in favor of a five-story courthouse addition, commissioners signaled that they will likely proceed with an overall construction project expected to cost at least $150 million. Both the courthouse and the jail will grow by about 94,000 square feet each. The cost has already gone up, by the way, from $127 million to $150 million.

3. Apple crop ‘an answer to prayers’

Apple1In 2021, Henderson County apple growers endured one of the most disastrous years in recent memory when spring freezes wiped out 80-85 percent of the crop. In the spring of this year, farmers got some relief, in the form of $14 million in disaster checks. But the new crop itself was the bigger payoff. This year the orchards produced one of the best yields in years, helping to ease the pain of the 2021 wipeout. “This is probably the best crop we’ve ever had,” declared Jerred Nix, a fourth-generation farmer who operates Flavor Full Farms in Edneyville with his father, Jeff. Don Justus, a larger retail grower in Fruitland, said the usual threats that damage a crop never materialized in 2022. “This year, no frost, no freeze, no hail and ample rainfall,” Justus said of conditions at his orchard. “An answer to prayers.”