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Here's the Ecusta Trail timeline starting in 1894

The Ecusta Trail took a huge leap forward on Wednesday with the announcement that Conserving Carolina had reached an agreement the 20-mile rail line from Hendersonville to Brevard from Blue Ridge Railroad Co., the owner of the idle tracks.

Here is a timeline of the rail corridor and the Ecusta Trail effort.

1894-1899: Brevard Railway, Telegraph and Telephone Company builds line from Hendersonville to Lake Toxaway.

1939: Ecusta Corp. opens paper mill on the rail line at the Davidson River, employing 3,500 people at its peak.

1968: Congress enacts National Trail Systems Act of 1968, which establishes railbanking for recreational use while preserving railroad companies’ right to reopen the line for trains. (Since then, more than 31,000 miles of track have been railbanked for greenways.)

1993: Henderson County comprehensive land-use plan mentions greenways.

1997-99: Henderson County Greenways Steering Committee begins planning bike-ped trails.

1999: Apple Country Greenways Commission formed, with representatives from Henderson County, Hendersonville, Fletcher and Laurel Park.

2002: Ecusta paper mill closes, dropping the last freight user of the rail line.

2004: First leg of Oklawaha Greenway opens, from Jackson Park to Seventh Avenue.

January 2008: Renova Partners LLC buys the 540-acre Ecusta paper mill property and announces plans for a retail-residential-hospitality development.

March 2008: Some 30 rail-to-trail advocates from Henderson and Transylvania counties gather for informal meeting in Etowah and begins to discuss strategies for exploring the possibility of developing a greenway on the rail corridor.

April 2009: More than 1,000 people sign an online petition supporting the idea of building the Ecusta Trail.

2009: Second leg of Oklawaha Greenway opens, from Seventh Avenue to Patton Park.

April 2010: A steering committee working on the rail-trail idea forms Friends of the Ecusta Trail. Over the next nine years, the organization’s achievements included garnering endorsements for the trail by the cities of Brevard and Hendersonville, the Town of Laurel Park and the Henderson County Board of Commissioners in addition to nearly 50 other non-profits and other organizations throughout Western North Carolina.  

2012: The city of Hendersonville commissions a study that finds the Ecusta Trail is feasible and would result in health and recreation benefits. The study projected the cost at $9.9 million to $13.4 million.

2014: Norfolk Southern sells the Hendersonville-Brevard line and other tracks to Watco Companies, a Kansas-based corporation that operates in Western North Carolina as Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.

2014: Henderson County Tourism Development Authority dedicates a quarter-cent of the county’s hotel tax toward the Ecusta Trail.

2016: Third leg of Oklawaha Greenway opens, from Patton Park to Berkeley Park. Total length is 3.75 miles.

March 2017: Board of Commissioners directs the Recreation Advisory Board to develop a greenway master plan.

October 2018: A survey by the Greenway Master Plan Committee showed 93 percent of respondents in favor of bike-ped paths.

April 1, 2019: Henderson County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopts the greenway master plan.

Aug. 8, 2019: N.C. Board of Transportation awards a $6.4 million grant to Conserving Carolina to acquire proposed Ecusta Trail rail corridor. The grant requires a $1.6 million local match.

March 2020: Transylvania County Tourism Board of Directors voted in March to pitch in $100,000 for the project.

August 2020: The French Broad MPO OKs a $5 million construction grant covering the first 5¾ miles of the greenway.

Nov. 18, 2020: Henderson County commissioners authorize a $7 million bridge loan to help Conserving Carolina complete purchase of the tracks.

SOURCES: Henderson County Greenway Master Plan,, Ecusta Trail study (2012), Renova Partners LLC website, Hendersonville Lightning coverage.