USDOT Demonstrates Confidence in the Ecusta Trail, Awards the City of Brevard an Additional $21.4 Million Grant
[BREVARD, N.C., July 6, 2023] – Just two weeks after Senator Thom Tillis identified the City of Brevard as the recipient of a $24.5 million RAISE grant for the Ecusta Trail, the Federal Highway Administration announced today that Brevard has been awarded a $21.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program (NSFLTP). According to NCDOT, the RAISE and NSFLTP grants have been dually awarded, bringing the total award to more than $45 million.
The NSFLTP provides funding for the construction or rehabilitation of nationally significant transportation infrastructure that connects to Federal or tribal lands. While there are some differences between the RAISE and NSFLTP grants in terms of how the funding can be used, they both attest to USDOT’s recognition of the Ecusta Trail as an important investment in safe, reliable transportation infrastructure.
In their letter of support, the U.S. Forest Service described how the Ecusta Trail project “supports the Forest Service goals to contribute to the communities of western North Carolina by increasing access to public lands and creating opportunities for economic development through tourism and sustainable recreation.”
The Ecusta Trail will serve as a multimodal gateway to Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Qualla Boundary, providing an alternative to driving into Pisgah National Forest for those looking to avoid road traffic at and beyond the Forest entrance. Both NCDOT and the USFS have expressed concerns over visitors parking on the roadway shoulder in Pisgah during periods of heavy traffic. As a result, the edges of the roadway often erode into the river, necessitating frequent road patching and creating water quality issues. The Ecusta Trail stands to address these parking, safety, and environmental concerns by providing new options for access to Pisgah and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“This game-changing grant fills a major gap in the funding needed to complete construction of the Ecusta Trail and provides a tremendous boost towards making the dream a reality,” said Kieran Roe, Executive Director of Conserving Carolina. “Conserving Carolina is grateful for the leadership of the City of Brevard in pursuing this opportunity and for the strong partnership of organizations and community leaders that came together to develop this successful grant.”
Congressman Chuck Edwards has also been a strong supporter of the trail’s development. “The Ecusta Trail has been a priority of my community since my time in the North Carolina State Senate,” said Representative Edwards. “Now, as a member of Congress, I’m pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation sees the merit in awarding full funding for the construction of the Ecusta Trail. The long-term benefits will be critical for our economy, and I can’t wait to see the many ways it uplifts Transylvania and Henderson counties.”
The successful grant application was the collective product of multiple regional and federal partners. “This is a great example of what is possible when everyone works together,” said Chuck McGrady, the Chair of Henderson County’s Ecusta Rail Trail Advisory Committee. “Our successes in raising money to buy and construct the Ecusta Trail are a product of collaboration of many partners, including the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the City of Hendersonville, Town of Laurel Park, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Eastern Bank of the Cherokee.”
Mark Tooley, President of Friends of the Ecusta Trail also voiced his excitement and optimism for the trail’s future and expressed his gratitude for the joint efforts of the project’s partners. Friends of the Ecusta Trail. “We are ecstatic about the NSFLTP grant award toward the construction of the Ecusta Trail,” said Tooley. “After 14 years, from trail conception to the start of construction, the Friends of the Ecusta Trail has been unwavering in their advocacy and support for the trail and its undeniable benefits for our region.”
The City of Brevard is the lead organization for the Transylvania County portion of the trail. “We have been pursuing every opportunity for funding,” said Mayor Maureen Copelof. “It is a true testament to the shared vision and commitment of all our partners that we received both grants. I look forward to moving ahead expeditiously to turn what has been the dream of this trail into the reality of a worldclass regional trail system.”
As the administrator of the grant, NCDOT will collaborate with the City and its partners to work through the details of how the funding can be applied to the project’s engineering and construction.