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Lapsley challenges Ecusta Trail managers to identify parking for greenway access

With the Ecusta Trail expected to break ground this summer, one Henderson County commissioner is warning that he sees a parking problem 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 Wednesday during a regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

“The momentum behind the project is extraordinary,” Jones said.

With the completion of the so-called 90 percent plans — the engineering environmental studies and design are nearly done, in other words — the county is moving to permitting and construction bids before an expected groundbreaking this summer.

 “We’re still on track for an end-of-this-calendar-year completion of that section of the trail,” Jones said. “It’s aggressive, but it’s possible certainly.”

A civil engineer who makes it a habit to thoroughly review engineers’ reports and construction documents, Lapsley said he worried that the good will the trail has generated could be tainted by a trail 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, on private property, and we’re going to hear about it,” he said.

He 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, who leads trail management along with Business and Community Development Director Christopher Todd, said engineers and RTAC have taken parking needs 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 are in parking, and that’s where they focused their efforts on public parking. 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.”

A consensus emerged that county personnel and RTAC would identify private parking lots that trailside pubs, restaurants, coffee shops and other retailers plan to make available for trail users, as well as public lots such as the French Broad River boat landing in Horse Shoe.

Michael Edney asked Jones, “Are you suggesting maybe staff or volunteers talk to the businesses, see what their plans are, see if we can incorporate some sort of planning so everybody knows what everybody’s doing?”

Jones confirmed that that’s the plan.

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 first 5.6-mile Hendersonville-to-Horse Shoe segment crosses 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.”