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Friends of Ecusta Trail leader shares good news on project progress

Eleven years ago, when the Friends of Ecusta Trail approached the city of Hendersonville to fund a feasibility study for the trail. Mayor Barbara Volk was interested but said the city didn't have the $40,000 needed to pay for a study. Thirteen days later, the Friends had raised the money. A year after that, the completed study found the Ecusta Trail was feasible and would result in health and recreation benefits.

Chris Burns, a founding member of the Friends, told the story Thursday night when he updated the City Council on where the Ecusta Trail stands today. The first six miles — from the Hendersonville trailhead to Horse Shoe — is likely to be under construction in about a year and could be ready to walk, jog, cycle and skate on in late 2024.

"This council was the first public entity to endorse the trail," he said. "Your manager has been my confidant and has pulled me out of the weeds multiple times."

In the past year, Conserving Carolina completed the purchase of 19.5-mile corridor from Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, the land conservancy leased the trail to Henderson County to manage as a long and very narrow park and volunteers gathered for the first official workday to begin cleanup — 300 signed up when 50 were needed.

"If you had told me two years that we’d be this far along I would have told you you were crazy,” Burns said.

A joint fundraising committee made up of Friends of Ecusta Trail and Conserving Carolina members has raised $4 million of the $6 million needed for a 20 percent match for construction cost of $32 million, Burns said. The trail advocates got good news, too, when Blue Ridge Southern Railroad said it wanted to give up the tracks west of King Street, too, because it didn't need tracks there. Burns said that raises a new challenge, however, because the estimated cost of extending the trail east from Busy Bend to King Street is about $1.6 million. Henderson County is exploring grants from the NCDOT and the Friends of Ecusta Trail is hoping to raise money for a 20 percent match.