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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Friday the 13th was our lucky day

If Friday the 13th connotes bad luck, no one told hundreds of Ecusta Trail supporters. They celebrating that day on Monday as the most important milestone to date in the evolution of the trail.

For more than 13 years — there’s that number again — the Friends of Ecusta Trail has organized, advocated and cajoled as it cheer-led the effort to transform the 127-year-old Hendersonville-to-Brevard freight line into a 19.4-mile paved greenway for walkers, runners, skaters and bicyclists.
With Conserving Carolina’s purchase of the rail corridor on Friday for $7.8 million, the original Ecusta Trail visionaries breathed a sigh of relief, paused to celebrate, then went right back to work on the next phase — raising money for construction.
Kieran Roe, executive director of Conserving Carolina, described the rollercoaster ride that led to the closing on Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday. In the spring of 2019, the ride began a more positive glide.
“For years we had been talking about, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great idea,’ but until that conversation occurred — that the railroad was willing to sell —we couldn’t do anything,” he said. “From that point forward a whole lot has happened.”
Roe admitted to some frustration with the complexities of dealing with a rail company, federal regulations and a legal thicket. “Buying property from a railroad is not an easy thing to do,” he said, “especially a railroad whose deeds date back to the 1890s.”
But Roe was right to point out that Watco, which operates Western North Carolina freight lines as Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, deserves credit for coming to the table. The railroad wished everyone well.
“On behalf of everyone here at the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad and Watco, we think this is such a great outcome for this unused asset,” said Laura McNichol, Watco’s senior vice president. “We know and understand how important and beneficial these trails can be to communities with the added benefit of preserving the corridor for future rail use should that ever be needed.”
The effort has gotten a nice head start in the past two years. Conserving Carolina landed a $6.4 million NCDOT grant to support the rail corridor purchase and Henderson County received a $5.1 million award to help pay for the first six miles of the greenway — from downtown Hendersonville to Horse Shoe. Next up is a broad campaign to attract private donors and corporate sponsors and pull in other grants.
The Ecusta Trail celebration on Monday was the newest chapter in an old story that bears a big bravo. One need only to look at the picture on Page 1 to appreciate the spirit of cooperation that brought us to this moment. Cheering the ribbon snip, with broad smiles and laughter, are all five county commissioners, elected leaders from Hendersonville and Laurel Park, Conserving Carolina’s skilled director, Kieran Roe, former state Rep. Chuck McGrady, an early and consistent supporter of the trail, and others.
This time, the picture doesn’t need to paint a thousand words. Just this many: It’s amazing what we can achieve when we work together.