After years of activists lobbying for approval and funding, community members in Henderson County and surrounding areas will finally travel to the nearly 20-mile stretch of unused railroad to begin. work on the Ecusta trail.
A volunteer clean-up day scheduled for Jan. 15 will bring community members together to polish the first part of the trail in Henderson County.
âFrom a community perspective, it’s huge,â said Chris Burns, Friends of the Ecusta Trail board member. “It’s really starting to bring together all the people who are excited about this.”
Volunteer Day comes after two allocations made in the state budget – a $ 500,000 grant to Friends of the Ecusta Trail for construction costs and $ 100,000 for Ecusta Trail greenway improvements – provided the final funding needed to begin transforming the railway line into a multi-use pedestrian path stretching from downtown Hendersonville to an industrial park housing the Oskar Blues Brewery.
The funding provided one of the last pieces of the Ecusta Trail project puzzle following the final purchase of the land by Ecusta Rails from Trails LLC, part of Conserving Carolina, in August.
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Following state allocations, the Henderson County Council of Commissioners hired an engineering and design company to begin the first construction plans for the first six miles of the Ecusta Trail.
Burns said the day of volunteer work initiated by Henderson County officials and project managers will help significantly improve the trails.
Two groups of volunteers of about 10 people each will work the first few miles of the 19.4 mile trail, which is divided into three sections to make the path more accessible before initial construction begins in early 2023. Volunteers will assist for four hours fed. by the food provided to Chick-fil-A, and finish with an optional gathering at Dry Falls Brewing Company.
The event will be the first of what leaders of the Friends of the Ecusta Trail have hopefully said of many more volunteer days to come.
âThis runway cleanup is our first test case,â said Burns. âWe’ll see what we have left when it’s done, and then start figuring out what that might look like to make it more accessible in the short term. “
Friends of the Ecusta Trail announced the event to its hundreds of email subscribers and generated a great deal of intrigue from community members wanting to get involved in one of the group’s first coordinated volunteer events. Lynn Huffman, volunteer coordinator for Friends of the Ecusta Trail, said the event generated great interest, with spots available for volunteers filling up several days earlier than expected.
âWhen I ask people who want to go out on a day that can be really cold to work outside for four hours, and we have our answers completed within days,â she said. âIt just tells me that there is a lot of energy and help available out there. “
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While the work day allows for some major debris removal and railroad clean-up, there is still work to be done to complete the Ecusta Trail, both physically and financially, Burns said.
Friends of the Ecusta Trail and project organizers are to raise $ 6.5 million – 20% in matching funds of the total project cost – to cover final construction costs. While campaign funds currently represent more than 50% of the money needed through fundraising success, Burns said raising the remaining $ 3 million requires continued support from the community.
Officials estimate a total cost of $ 31 million for the trail, but that depends on the design and finalization of trail features such as surface material, trail dimensions, access points, and newly bridges. built.
While Burns said fundraising remains stable, volunteer cleanup will likely play a crucial role in kicking off the county’s goal of opening portions of the trail to the community before construction. He said project managers will know more in a month or two, when these sections of the Ecusta Trail are open to the public.
When people can get their feet on the ground, even on a small, usable stretch of the trail, Huffman said she anticipates more people will enjoy the outdoor project resulting from years of activism and organization.
âOnce people are allowed to walk certain sections of the trail it will gain more word of mouth and more excitement,â she said.
Now, with allocated public funds, many volunteers and growing support, Burns said he sees a significant increase in enthusiasm for the Ecusta Trail project, and not just from email subscribers.
He said Friends of the Ecusta Trail would provide more volunteer opportunities for interested parties, as local groups such as the Henderson County Board of Realtors and Vision Henderson County approached him to organize their own membership days. of the group.
Such a willingness from local supporters to lend a hand, Burns said, is creating enthusiasm and crucial awareness for the construction of the Ecusta Trail.
âThe excitement is increasing almost exponentially every day,â he said. “It’s just a good way to let people go out and find out (the trail) and get a taste of what it’s going to be.”
Although a fully completed Ecusta Trail remains for months, its community support has taken years. In a statement, Henderson County Business and Community Development Director Christopher Todd said the generosity of local supporters during the Jan. 15 Volunteer Day and other future events will have a positive impact on the community. long awaited Ecusta trail.
âWe are grateful to everyone who is volunteering now and planning to volunteer in the future,â he said. âTheir work is essential in making this trail not only a path, but a community asset. “