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MPO rolls out plan for 150-mile Hellbender Trail

Orange line shows the Oklawaha Trail from BRCC to Westfeldt Park. Yellow line shows the Ecusta Trail. Blue line shows a Westfeldt Park-to-Rosman segment. Orange line shows the Oklawaha Trail from BRCC to Westfeldt Park. Yellow line shows the Ecusta Trail. Blue line shows a Westfeldt Park-to-Rosman segment.

A 150-mile network of trails across five counties would include the proposed Ecusta Trail, the Oklawaha Trail from Blue Ridge Community College to Westfeldt Park and a link from Westfeldt Park to Brevard, the Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee learned last week.


The plan is unfunded and a long way from becoming a reality. Of the 150 miles, just 12 miles exist now, including the 3½-mile Oklawaha Trail from Jackson Park to Berkeley Park. The bike-ped paths would run through Henderson, Transylvania, Haywood, Madison and Buncombe counties.
“Based on current funding policies, this is a 50-year vision optimistically,” Tristan Winkler, executive director of the French Broad MPO, told the Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday. “This is a long-term vision for the region. We had a call today, ‘Is this something that’s going to be done in the next five years?’ I can say definitely not.”
Hellbender TrailThe Hellbender is “the second largest salamander in the world and it calls Western North Carolina home,” Winkler said. “We felt that this brand of Hellbender could help bring this trail network forward while also reflecting our region in a positive way.” Local trails that could be incorporated, including the Oklawaha Trail and proposed Ecusta Trail, would retain their identities. The regional name “supplements local branding and wayfinding but does not usurp it,” Winkler said.

Although federal grants can support greenway construction — the MPO is expected to approve the distribution of $27 million for trails this week — no state transportation money is available to HellbenderStatusOnly 12 miles of the 150-mile Hellbender Trail network exist now.build or maintain bike-ped paths.
“In North Carolina, bike paths, trails and greenways are largely up to local government to build and maintain,” Winkler said.
Although the draft map shows a Westfeldt Park to Brevard leg, the Mills River Town Council has already voted against a greenway along that state road from N.C. 191 south to the county line. The town has authorized a study of a greenway from Town Hall to N.C. 280 then north to the French Broad River.
The Westfeldt Park to Brevard link could run “along a possible French Broad River greenway,”
Winkler said.