Ecusta Trail Receives Cash Pledge from Tourism, Rare Political Support From Commission
Transylvania County Tourism approved $1 million for the project last week; on Monday, the County Commission voted to back the city of Brevard's request for federal trail-construction funding.
BREVARD — After receiving big cash boosts the last two weeks — most recently a commitment of $1 million from Transylvania County Tourism — the Ecusta Trail got a historic shot of moral support on Monday.
For the first time in the memory of trail backers, the Transylvania County Commission voted in favor of a trail-related initiative — sending a letter supporting the city of Brevard’s application for $15.5 million in federal funds to pay for trail construction in Transylvania.
“Obviously, I’m extremely pleased,” Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof said after the vote, “and I’m very pleased that the city and county are working together on this, as (Commission) Chairman (Jason) Chappell mentioned. It’s so important on a project like this.”
Signs of community backing such as Tourism’s allocation and the letter are key to receiving funding from the grant program, city officials have said in the past.
The city unsuccessfully sought money from the same program last year, when the commission declined to back its application. The pledge of support passed Monday, with Commissioner Teresa McCall casting the only “no” vote, requires no financial commitment from the county.
Two weeks ago, shortly after making her initial request for the letter — and after hearing the trail had received $7.5 million of reallocated funds in the state budget — Copelof listed several reasons the city has a better chance to receive funding this year.
There is more money available in the grant program — Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equality (RAISE) — thanks to the passage of a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure act last year, she said.
The city has secured the service of grant writers paid for by Dogwood Health Trust. And unlike last year, when the city sought money for several transportation improvements, this year’s request will focus strictly on the Ecusta.
The deadline for the grant application is April 14 and the city, which agreed to be the lead governmental agency for the trail project last year, will learn the results of its request before August 12.
Plans call for the trail to be built on an abandoned rail bed, now owned by a subsidiary of Conserving Carolina, that runs 19 miles between Hendersonville and Brevard.
The total cost of designing and building the 8.4 miles of trail in Transylvania will be $19.9 million, according to documents provided to commissioners before the meeting. The city hopes to raise the remaining costs as a match for the grant, Copelof said after the meeting. Some money from the recent state allocation may be available for that purpose, Chris Burns, a founding board member of Friends of the Ecusta Trail said Tuesday.
The $1 million approved by the Tourism board on Thursday is also intended to be a source of matching funds, Copelof said.
“The (allocation) would be pulled from (Tourism’s) fund balance, which has slowly built up for years, with significant growth the last two,” Executive Director Clark Lovelace wrote in an email on Friday, referring to recent increases in revenue generated by the county’s occupancy tax.
That money will be spent only if the city secures the grant, and all allocations greater than $50,000 must be reviewed by the County Commission, Lovelace wrote.
Commissioner Larry Chapman, the county’s representative on the Tourism board, wrote an email last week to his colleagues that he had voted against the allocation:
“Personally my position was that we do not have any firm cost estimate for the construction or operation of the trail and until more of these details are known, I would not support committing more money to it.”
Copelof said after Monday’s vote that she remains confident the money will be available.
“We are proceeding with the expectation that $1 million will be coming towards the trail,” she said.
Brevard City Council member Aaron Baker, who also serves on the Tourism board, said last week that he definitely did support the allocation.
“There is no other project that is more worthy (of Tourism dollars) in terms of attracting new visitors and at the same time being an amazing amenity for the people who live here,” he said, and then referred to a phrase Transylvania uses to tout its appeal to cyclists.
Building the trail “would certainly go a long way toward walking the walk in terms of being the cycling capital of the South,” he said.