Conserving Carolina reaches deal to buy rail line for Ecusta Trail

Hendersonville, NC-based land conservancy Conserving Carolina has reached an agreement to buy the railroad line from Hendersonville to Brevard, marking a major leap forward in plans for the 19-mile Ecusta Trail.

In a move that was crucial, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday authorized a $7 million bridge loan that will make the sale possible. Conserving Carolina had been negotiating the purchase for months with Kansas-based Watco, the railroad owner that operates shortline freight lines in Western North Carolina as Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.

“This project has been a longterm vision of this board for many years,” John Mitchell, the county’s director of business and community development said. About two years ago, the Board of Commissioners authorized a Greenway Master Plan. “This corridor is owned for the most part fee simple,” making it easier to convey. Watco signaled “a couple of years ago,” he said, that it was willing to sell the line. County officials and the Friends of the Ecusta Trail turned to Conserving Carolina as the buyer.

The announcement of the acquisition of the rail line came 15 months after the state Board of Transportation kicked off a string of good news for the Ecusta Trail. In August 2019 the North Carolina Board of Transportation awarded a $6.4 million grant toward the purchase of the rail corridor. In August of this year, the French Broad MPO awarded $5 million to support construction for the first 5¾ miles of the greenway. The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority has earmarked $500,000 from the county lodging tax to support the trail and the Transylvania County Tourism Board of Directors voted in March to set aside $100,000 for the project.

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