One of the longest greenway projects planned for Western North Carolina has now acquired all of the land along its 19-mile route. On Aug. 12, a subsidiary of nonprofit Conserving Carolina completed the $7.8 million purchase of the currently unused Ecusta rail line between Hendersonville and Brevard from the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.
The nonprofit Friends of the Ecusta Trail had pushed for the greenway since 2009, but efforts intensified in 2019 after the N.C. Department of Transportation awarded a $6.4 million grant to the project. The remainder of the purchase funding came from the tourism development authorities of Henderson and Transylvania counties, as well as the Community Foundation of WNC.
“Trails and greenways are no longer viewed as just community amenities; they are essential infrastructure for quality of life, for economic development in our community and for creating a tourism destination,” said Bill Lapsley, chair of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, in a press release announcing the purchase. Local governments and nonprofits believe the greenway will serve as a regional draw for outdoor recreation similar to the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwestern Virginia and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C.
Construction on the trail, anticipated to cost $31.1 million, has yet to begin. Conserving Carolina estimates that, while much of the cost will be covered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately $6.5 million in local matching funds must be raised to access federal resources. More information about the project and an option to donate to the effort are available at ConservingCarolina.org/Ecusta.
- The Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest is closed to the public, with all classes suspended until further notice. The facility suffered extensive water damage due to flooding from Tropical Storm Fred on Aug. 17; the neighboring Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery, also operated by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, lost hundreds of thousands of trout and remains closed to the public as well.
- The Community Foundation of WNC distributed $107,500 in grants for emergency flood relief, with awards including $75,000 to The Community Kitchen in Canton, $10,000 to the 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Alliance and $10,000 to the American Red Cross. Donations to the nonprofit’s Emergency and Disaster Response Fund may be made at avl.mx/add; organizations may apply for grants on a rolling basis at avl.mx/ade.
- The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is offering free crop testing to farmers whose fields were contaminated by flooding during Tropical Storm Fred. The federal Food and Drug Administration prohibits such crops from being sold for human food, and testing is required before they can be used as animal feed. More information is available through each county’s cooperative extension agents, listed at ces.ncsu.edu.
- Buncombe County has established a dedicated phone line for residents to report flood damage and be connected with resources and information. The emergency call center is available at 828-844-5455 Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., with an after-hours voicemail option.
- The city of Asheville’s North Fork Dam improvement project, completed in November, earned the Rehabilitation Project of the Year Award from the national Association of State Dam Safety Officials. The work, which included raising the dam 4 feet and constructing a new, auxiliary spillway, helped prepare the structure to handle big rain events that the N.C. Climate Science Report notes are becoming increasingly common due to climate change. Leslie Carreiro, the city’s water quality division manager, confirmed that the dam “operated as designed” during Tropical Storm Fred and did not release water from its auxiliary spillway.
The N.C. Arboretum announced the winners of the juried awards for its Wild Art outdoor sculpture show, on display through Sunday, Sept. 26. Annie Mariano earned first place for “Stillness Meets Trajectory,” a welded metal rendering of a great blue heron, while Eli Blasko, David Boyajian and Roger Martin took second, third and honorable mention prizes, respectively.
- On Aug. 26, Asheville Catholic School opened a $3.9 million expansion that will accommodate over 200 rooftop solar panels, providing renewable energy for the entire campus. Patricia Guilfoyle, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Charlotte, notes that the diocese continues to adopt environmentally friendly building practices in response to “Laudato si’,” Pope Francis’ 2015 call to care for the Earth and mitigate climate change.
- The Community Foundation of WNC awarded a grant of nearly $50,000 to Local Cloth, an Asheville-based nonprofit working to grow the regional fiber economy. The money will help link farmers, processors, dyers and weavers to develop a locally sourced blanket, sales of which will be reinvested in the project.
- To celebrate the 44th birthday of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is sponsoring a 44 Mile Challenge. Anyone who walks or hikes at least 44 miles on the trail during September will be eligible to win a prize pack from outdoor retailer REI. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/adg.
- The West Asheville Garden Stroll returns Saturday, Sept. 11, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Residents of the Vermont Avenue neighborhood will show off their yards, including permaculture designs, pollinator gardens and certified wildlife habitats. More information is available at WestAshevilleGardens.com or by texting Chas Jansen at 828-768-1449.
- Conserving Carolina opens its fall hiking series on Friday, Sept. 24, with a 6-mile loop hike near Lake Powhatan in Bent Creek. Four other hikes are scheduled throughout WNC on Fridays through Nov. 19. More information and registration are available at ConservingCarolina.org/Calendar or by emailing Pam Torlina at Pam@ConservingCarolina.org.
Save the date
The Creation Care Alliance, the faith-based arm of local environmental nonprofit MountainTrue, offers a weekly Eco-Grief Circle via Zoom each Wednesday at noon from Sept. 22 to Nov. 3. Led by counselors, pastors and environmental advocates, the group aims to explore “grief and sorrow, anxiety and fear, guilt and shame, anger and despair” around the current ecological moment. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/adb.
- The Rooted in the Mountains Symposium returns to Western Carolina University Thursday-Friday, Sept. 23-24. The theme of this year’s event is “Seeding Sovereignty: Sustainable Agriculture, Sustaining Culture and Health”; the keynote speaker will be Clint Carroll, a member of the Cherokee Nation and professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/adc.
- The Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness in Flat Rock hosts a Blessing of the Animals at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3. The event is tied to the annual feast day of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and ecology, on Oct. 4.