Ecusta Trail’s economic impact already underway in Western North Carolina

CHANGES BREWING: Trailside Brewing Co., which opened in Hendersonville’s Lennox Station in May, sits right next to the former rail line that will become the Ecusta Trail. Photo by Callie Horwath

When Steve Line and his wife were looking for a new house in Henderson County a few years ago, one thing was certain: It had to be within walking distance of the future Ecusta Trail, the 19.4-mile greenway that will connect Brevard and Hendersonville via an abandoned rail line.

“It was very important to us, and so we looked for houses for a long time,” says Line, who has seen firsthand the benefits of living near bike trails in Colorado and Tennessee. “We had another house, and that was a great house, but it wasn’t close to the Ecusta Trail. We wanted a safe place for our 5-year-old son to ride his bike.”

The owners of Trailside Brewing Co., Cognative Brew House and other new businesses similarly saw the advantages of being near the Ecusta, which is expected to draw thousands of bicyclists, walkers and runners from Western North Carolina and beyond.

“Starting any kind of business is hard enough, and knowing that this trail was going to be there really was the icing on the cake for us,” says David Schnitzer, general manager and co-owner of Trailside, which opened in May in Hendersonville’s Lennox Station, a development next to the trail.

The first stretch of the Ecusta Trail has yet to be paved, and the project is several years from being complete, but the economic and social benefits of the “linear park” already are evident, advocates say.

“It’s really going to be a game-changer regionally, not just for Brevard or Hendersonville,” says Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof. “I think this whole region is going to realize just how important the trail can be. This really is an economic driver because it connects where people live. It connects businesses, it connects schools, shopping, health care.”

The Ecusta Trail has been planned since 2009 and is now closer to reality than ever. Henderson County officials hope to pave the first 6-mile stretch of the path, which runs from downtown Hendersonville to the Horse Shoe community, by next spring. And the announcement of two recent federal grants totaling about $46 million means design and construction work can get underway on the Transylvania County side.

Work is scheduled to be completed in 2028.

Trail proximity

Lennox Station is in the heart of Hendersonville’s Lennox Park Historic District, an area that includes five buildings that date back a century or more and housed businesses like the Freeze-Bacon Hosiery Mill and the Wing Paper Box Co. The largest building, now home to Trailside Brewing, was the first Lowe’s in Hendersonville and more recently housed Presto Framing Arts.

Trailside Brewing was the first business to open in the newly developed Lennox Station. Lennox Station, which will house other businesses, was founded by three Hendersonville couples in 2022 to be a gathering spot near the beginning of the Ecusta Trail.

Trailside’s Schnitzer and his partners, who also own breweries in Georgia, were inspired to choose a location near the trail after seeing the success of the Swamp Rabbit Trail in nearby Greenville County, S.C., he explains. The Swamp Rabbit, which opened in 2009, is a 22-mile trail along a former rail line that connects Travelers Rest in the northern part of the county with the city of Greenville.

“Nobody ever wanted to visit Travelers Rest,” Schnitzer says. “But you put in the Swamp Rabbit, and they’ve got a great little community down there now. Everybody already wanted to visit Hendersonville, so when you add the trail on top of it, it just felt like it was going to work out. So far, it has, but once this trail hits, I just know our sales will be even higher.”

Schnitzer and his partners  soon will open a business in a second Lennox Station building. It will be a coffee shop in the morning and a bar with a liquor license, music venue and seating area for the brewery in the afternoon and evening. He anticipates the coffee shop opening within a few months, with the bar shortly after that.

Another business, Ecusta Market & Cafe, is scheduled to open in Lennox Station early next year.

HAPPY TRAILS: Cognative Brew House, which opened on U.S. 64 in Henderson County’s Horse Shoe community in June, hopes to benefit from bike and pedestrian traffic coming off the Ecusta Trail. Photo by Justin McGuire

About 6 miles to the northwest, Cognative Brew House opened in June on U.S. 64 in the Henderson County community of Horse Shoe. The Ecusta Trail will run behind Horse Shoe Plaza and other buildings on the other side of the busy highway.

Austin and Andrea Bankert started the coffee shop as an extension of Cognative MTB, an online mountain bike apparel company Austin Bankert founded in 2017. The store, which also sells beer, wine and food, has a retail section featuring some of the company’s products.

“We were very strategic knowing that the Ecusta Trail was going to be coming in,” Andrea Bankert says. “I wouldn’t say that was the defining factor in us choosing this location, but it definitely played a part knowing that it would fit really well with our business model and knowing bikers and outdoor enthusiasts are going to be coming off the trail into this community.”

One concern is how people will safely make their way from the trail to the coffee shop and other businesses on the other side of the highway, given the lack of crosswalks or bike access areas, she says. The Bankerts have met with Henderson County officials to express their concerns. “They want the local business owners to be heard and to work in conjunction with the county as this goes in,” she says. “So I find that really encouraging that there really is a partnership mentality.”

Sleepy no more

Andrea Bankert thinks the trail could transform the Horse Shoe area the way the Swamp Rabbit transformed Travelers Rest. “The whole point of the trail is to connect communities,” she says. “Once people get to the connecting area, they’re going to be frequenting the local businesses. We’re just excited to see new things brought to this area, which has been a little sleepy area of town.”

Mark Tooley, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Ecusta Trail, expects other communities along the trail, including Etowah in Henderson County and Pisgah Forest, Penrose and Blantyre in Transylvania County, to get an economic boost. Campgrounds already are being built in Penrose and Etowah.

“It’ll be exciting to see the amount of private investment that gets made as the trail develops,” he says. “Go take a picture of downtown Pisgah Forest right now, where the post office is, and come back in five years and see what it looks like.”

Brevard Mayor Copelof says existing businesses in her town will benefit from the trail as well, even if they are not located right next to it. “I think it’s really going to bring a lot more visitors to Transylvania County, to the center of Brevard. People will be staying here overnight in our hotels, in our B&Bs.”

The Transylvania County end of the Ecusta will link up with the city of Brevard’s existing Estatoe Trail, which will connect it to Pisgah National Forest. That could further boost tourism in the area, she says, because the forest is much easier to enter by bike than car in the busy summer months.

The trail also could spur residential growth, as evidenced by Ecusta Crossing, a 56-unit housing development approved by the town of Laurel Park in 2022. And people living near the trail will have better commuting options, Copelof says.

“We already have a lot of people that commute from, say, Etowah to Brevard, and a lot of them right now actually ride their bicycles on U.S. 64, which is very, very dangerous,” she explains. “People that live in some of the smaller communities outside of Brevard and Hendersonville will be able to have an ultimate means of transportation to get to work.”

Line and his wife found a house off Turley Fall Road between Laurel Park and Horse Shoe, just a few blocks from the trail.

“It’ll be great if we want to take a walk with our son after dinner,” he says. “I was a pretty serious cyclist, probably for 30 years. I’m starting to slow down, but I would get on the Ecusta, I go 5 miles toward Brevard, then get off on Grove Bridge Road and then go down Pleasant Grove Road or Talley Road. There’s lots of great roads for cycling if I just get a little bit further away from Hendersonville.”

Christopher Todd, Henderson County’s director of business and community development, thinks people like Line and his family will be the biggest beneficiaries of the Ecusta Trail.

“We can talk about business all day long, and business is a big part of why we’re doing this, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “But we’re also doing this for the residents who can use this trail to go out and do things. I just imagine on a fall day there’s going to be a lot of people out there, and it’s going to be a very active hub for the community.”



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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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4 thoughts on “Ecusta Trail’s economic impact already underway in Western North Carolina

  1. jimray

    Interesting. People actually prefer the safety of infrastructure that is walkable and bike friendly, to the point where they will choose housing and where to start their businesses. I wonder if that holds any lessons for how we should manage other parts of our cities. Just imagine if we could make all of our streets safe enough to walk or bike along!

  2. joelharder

    As of August 4, 2023:
    $32,604,508,461,161 (U.S. debt)
    $97,521 federal debt owed by every single person in America
    $4,758 additional state debt owed by every single North Carolinian
    Ecusta Trail: $45,971,513 (federal funds)
    IMHO: This is discretionary debt spending.
    The National Park Service didn’t support federal funds. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s project description: “The construction and completion of the entire Ecusta Rail Trail, an 18.8-mile shared-use path on a railbanked rail line that will connect the county seats of Henderson and Transylvania Counties in Western North Carolina to Pisgah National Forest.” ($21,412,044.00)

    Awarded To: CITY OF BREVARD
    RAISE GRANT FUNDING: $24,559,469
    Project Description: This project will construct approximately 18.9-miles of shared-use path along a rail corridor and include repair or replacement of approximately 11 former railroad trestles for bicycle and pedestrian use.
    Project Benefits: The project is strong in mobility and community connectivity, quality of life, state of good repair, environmental sustainability, and safety. It repurposes an unused railroad bed to provide a safe, environmentally-friendly active transportation option to the region as it transitions to a tourism-based economy. It provides a safer alternative for bicycles and pedestrians sharing narrow winding mountain roads with vehicle traffic, and reduces vehicle dependence.


    Mr. Line comments that “There’s lots of great roads for cycling if I just get a little bit further away from Hendersonville.” However, the ones in particular that he mentioned are NOT safe for cycling, as few roads in the county are. They are curving, two-lane roads, and when cyclist use such roads, they put not only their own lives in danger but also any drivers who must compete with them for the same road. Cyclists should stay on bike paths.

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