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County to start scouting for Ecusta Trail parking

With the Ecusta Trail expected to break ground this summer, one Henderson County commissioner is warning of a parking shortage when hundreds of users flock to the new greenway.

“I think the plans are good — the engineer and all of the consultants involved I think have done a good job — but I would like to go on record as stating the plans do not include any provision for parking for people to access the trail,” Bill Lapsley said. “I’m concerned about that. I really think we’re asking for a lot of negative feedback if we build this trail and we don’t include significant parking access at various points along the trail so the public can get to it.”

Lapsley made the comments after County Engineer Marcus Jones updated the board on the trail’s status last week during a regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

“The momentum behind the project is extraordinary,” Jones said. “We’re still on track for an end-of-this-calendar-year completion of that (Hendersonville-to-Horse Shoe) section of the trail. It’s aggressive, but it’s possible certainly.”

A civil engineer who makes it a habit to thoroughly review engineering plans and construction documents, Lapsley said he worried that the good will the trail has generated could be undermined by a parking shortage.

“I anticipate there’s going to be extensive use of the trail, and I can envision people wanting to go to the trail ending up parking on the side of the trail or the side of local roads or on private property and we’re going to hear about it,” he said.

Lapsley recommended that engineers and the county’s Rails to Trails Advisory Committee identify parking areas and include them in the initial construction plan.

“I really hate to see us build this beautiful trail and open it up and then have huge number of complaints from people that can’t get to the trail,” Lapsley said.

Jones said engineers and RTAC have taken parking into account.

“It hasn’t been neglected,” he said, “and we certainly could be wrong in our approach but we are modeling our parking efforts after the Swamp Rabbit,” the popular greenway from Travelers Rest to Greenville. “What they did was they built a trail, they let private businesses open up opportunities for parking, and then, after a certain amount of time, went back and evaluated where the deficits were in parking, and that’s where they focused their efforts. So it’s not that the intent is not to have public parking, but it’s to pinpoint the locations based on the need and give the opportunity to the businesses beforehand.”

A similar voluntary offer of free parking is expected to happen here.

“In fact, I’ve heard from a number of businesses that they intend to do that,” County Manager John Mitchell said. He added that commissioners will get an opportunity to see the completed design and engineering plans before the county lets a contract.

“The board is going to want to see a presentation and have an opportunity to chew on that,” he said. “It is a concern.”

Christopher Todd, who runs the point on the Ecusta Trail as the county’s business and community development director, said county staffers will soon be scouting for possible parking areas within the rail corridor and seeking partnerships with businesses that are willing to set aside parking for trail users.

“We have to operate within the scope of the trail corridor. That's the land that we have access to,” he said. “Right now we're going through that process and identifying those areas” that could be used for parking.

County staffers are also identifying private lots and are “about to do some outreach to the local business community and hopefully work with them, going down the road of actually partnering for community parking and for access. We've had conversations with the Friends of the Ecusta Trail, who we’re hoping will also be a partner in those conversations.”

While breweries, coffee shops, restaurants and tourist attractions all hope to attract customers via the trail, they’ll continue to need parking for non-trail users, too.

“We also want to be cautious because we don't want to tie up people's businesses with full parking lots,” Todd said. “Our goal is to be inclusive of all of the businesses near the trail and let them make that decision.”

On another Ecusta Trail question, Commission Chair Rebecca McCall said she had heard concerns about “how they’re going to get across U.S. 64” at Horse Shoe. The 5.6-mile Hendersonville-to-Horse Shoe segment will cross the busy highway before it ends, Jones said.

“It’ll have a signalized crossing,” he said. “It’ll incorporate Battle Creek Road in the signal process so it will all become a signalized intersection between Battle Creek, 64 and the trail.”