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Top 10: 2, 1

A sign on the tracks between Church Street and Kanuga Road indicates where tracks are idle. A sign on the tracks between Church Street and Kanuga Road indicates where tracks are idle.

By any measure, 2020 goes into the history books as one of the most extraordinary years in our history.

A divided nation made its choices in the elections. A long-running zoning dispute over housing on the Tap Root Dairy property finally came to an end while the land-use fight over an asphalt plant in East Flat Rock fizzled to an uncertain resolution. Downtown could be transformed by hotel and parking deck plans that neared the dirt-turning stage as the year drew to a close. Cloaked over every hour of every day from March 3 on was the coronavirus and its wide-ranging impacts. Covid-19 cases devastated long-term care facilities as the virus swept in. The pandemic claimed the Flat Rock Playhouse and Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra seasons, the North Carolina Apple Festival, prep football and more. Here are stories No. 2 and No. 1 from an unforgettable year.

No. 2:Trailhead


In what the Friends of the Ecusta Trail praised as “a gargantuan step forward,” Conserving Carolina announced on Nov. 18 that it had reached an agreement to buy the 19-mile rail line from Hendersonville to Brevard to create the greenway, the same day the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted to make a $7 million “bridge loan” to complete the sale. The news capped a winning streak for the project. In August 2019, the state Board of Transportation awarded a $6.4 million grant for the purchase of the rail corridor and in August of this year, the French Broad MPO awarded $5 million for construction of the first 6 miles, from Hendersonville to Horse Shoe. That would become the longest continuous greenway in Western North Carolina. “The culmination of this contract,” Friends of Ecusta Trail president Hunter Marks said, “represents over a decade of work and thousands of hours spent researching, educating, and advocating for the benefits that the Ecusta Trail will bring to our region.” The city of Hendersonville also made bike-ped news, winning $2.7 million in grants from the French Broad MPO and the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to fund construction of the Clear Creek Greenway.

No. 1: ‘It’s been a bad year for everybody’

On March 5, the county’s Epidemiology Team met to prepare the public health response to the coronavirus, a new infectious disease threat that was beginning to spread in the state and nation. As the meeting drew to a close, County Manager Steve Wyatt praised the show of teamwork among public health leaders, emergency services leaders, the sheriff’s office, county hospitals and others. “Another thing I know about Henderson County is we are at our best when things are worst,” he added. “I’ve got one message for you and that is, take care of yourself, because there may be a time when you need to be at 100 percent or 110 percent or 120 percent. Take care of yourself and this too shall pass.” Few predicted then that the pandemic would be as deadly as it became, nor that it would take so long to pass.  Covid-19 cases devastated long-term care facilities in the spring as the virus swept in, resulting in one of the highest mortality rates in the state. As a result, the county formed “strike teams” — coordinated quick response squads made up of public health nurses, emergency services personnel, the county’s volunteer rescue squad and doctors. Covid-19 also wrecked the county’s tourism business, claiming the Flat Rock Playhouse and Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra seasons, the North Carolina Apple Festival and dozens of other festivals, parades, celebrations and events. Three weeks after Thanksgiving, Henderson County experienced a big surge in Covid-19 infections. First Baptist Church made statewide news when its decision to hold three live performances of its annual Christmas pageants spread the virus among nearly 100 congregants. But as 2020 came to an end, Hendersonville enjoyed bathing in a spotlight of hope. Pardee Hospital joined a handful of medical facilities in the state to administer the Covid-19 vaccination. “It’s been a bad year for everybody,” Dr. David Ellis, Pardee’s chief medical officer, told the media Tuesday morning just before the vaccinations began. Minutes before primary care physician Chona Reguyal became the first person to get the shot, Ellis exulted. “This is truly the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, “and we’re very very excited and very very proud” to be the first medical facility in the region to administer the shots.