Green in brief: Nonprofits plan conversion of Saluda Grade into trail

Saluda Grade line in Saluda
HOT ON THE TRAIL: Three area nonprofits hope to convert the inactive Saluda Grade rail line, seen here running through downtown Saluda, into a 31-mile mixed-use trail. Photo by Jim Kelly, courtesy of Conserving Carolina

A 31-mile stretch of inactive railway could become Western North Carolina’s next outdoor showpiece, if a plan by three area nonprofits comes to fruition. Hendersonville-based Conserving Carolina; Greenville, S.C.-based Upstate Forever; and Spartanburg, S.C.-based PAL hope to purchase the Saluda Grade corridor and convert it into a mixed-use trail.

The path would stretch northwest from Inman, S.C., through Tryon and Saluda before terminating in Zirconia, about 7 miles southeast of Hendersonville. In an email announcing the project, Conserving Carolina spokesperson Rose Jenkins Lane said her group eventually aims to connect it with the 19-mile Ecusta Trail planned between Hendersonville and Brevard.

Overall costs for the Saluda Trail project are estimated at $60 million, with half going toward purchase of the land and half toward construction of the trail itself. The state of South Carolina appropriated $5 million in support in its most recent budget; a Conserving Carolina FAQ says that most funding would be sought from state and federal sources, with local matching funds raised as needed.

“As we’ve seen with the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville County, trails like this are transformational economic engines,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever, in a press release. “They bring money and jobs to the local economy, boost quality of life for residents, and offer a safe and accessible way to spend time outdoors. The Saluda Grade Rail Trail will yield a return far beyond any initial investment.”

More information and a sign-up form for updates on the project are available at

MADE X MTNS launches outdoor economic development program

Building Outdoor Communities, an outdoor-driven economic development initiative, is accepting applications for its new program through Friday, Aug. 26. BOC’s goal is to help Western North Carolina’s community leaders grow their outdoor infrastructure.

The project will be administered by the WNC: MADE X MTNS Partnership —  a collaborative effort that includes the Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC and Mountain BizWorks — and funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Work will primarily engage county-level leaders who are investing in outdoor projects, such as trails, bicycle facilities and river access points, and encouraging outdoor-focused businesses to locate in the region. Over the next two years, participants will receive personalized development assistance, opportunities for matching funds and an “outdoor economic impact toolkit” with data to inform future work.

“Overwhelmingly, rural community leaders see the value and importance of leveraging and caring for their outdoor assets. This program will provide them with targeted assistance to assess, analyze and prioritize outdoor infrastructure investments, grow their outdoor economies and truly take WNC to the next level as the outdoor industry hub of the east,” said Noah Wilson, Mountain BizWorks’ director of sector development, in a press release announcing the initiative.

Applications for the program are available at Events will kick off with a workshop in Boone Monday-Tuesday, Sept. 19-20.

Raise your voice

  • Buncombe County Solid Waste is conducting a survey of residents who use the county’s landfill or transfer station to dispose of trash and recyclables. The results may inform the placement of additional disposal sites and other services. The survey is available at
  • The N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency invites public feedback on an action plan for spending nearly $7.98 million in federal funds for Tropical Storm Fred recovery. A public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, at the Haywood County Historic Courthouse, 215 N. Main St., Waynesville; written comments can also be emailed to by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30. A draft version of the plan is available at
  • Hendersonville seeks input on potential updates to the city’s pedestrian plan through an online survey available until the end of August. The new plan will inform both city and N.C. Department of Transportation projects to make Hendersonville walkable. More information and the survey are available at
  • The Asheville-based Organic Growers School is looking for recommendations about speakers and topics to include in its 2023 spring conference. Community members are encouraged to nominate themselves if they’d like to share knowledge on food, farming and sustainability. The recommendation form is available at

Solar successes

  • Haynes Wire, a Henderson County manufacturer, recently installed a 1-megawatt solar array outside its Mountain Home factory. The $2 million project is expected to cover over half of the facility’s energy needs and is part of broader plans to reduce its carbon footprint.
  • Maple Crest solar panels
    TAPPING THE SUN: Maple Crest at Lee Walker Heights, a housing project managed by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville, recently installed 144 kilowatts of solar power. Photo courtesy of HACA

    Mountain Housing Opportunities and the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville partnered to install 144 kilowatts of solar power atop the Maple Crest at Lee Walker Heights housing development. The project marks the housing authority’s first major solar installation and is expected to offset over 172 tons of carbon emissions annually.

  • UNC Asheville installed a roughly 27-kilowatt solar array on top of the Reuter Center. The 64 panels, installed by Charlotte-based Renu Energy Solutions, will double UNCA’s solar production and reduce the campus’s carbon emissions by about 30 tons per year.

Community kudos

  • Several WNC individuals and organizations were recognized by the N.C. Wildlife Federation’s annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards. Jeff Hunter of Burnsville, senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, was named Wildlife Conservationist of the Year; Eric Hiegel of Boone, director of land protection and stewardship for the Blue Ridge Conservancy, earned Land Conservationist of the Year; and the Mainspring Conservation Trust in Franklin was designated the NCWF Affiliate of the Year.
  • Trekroll, an Asherville-based outdoor gear company founded by Sanford Snyderman, has launched its first product. The business, a graduate of Mountain BizWorks’ Waypoint Accelerator program, will display its bedroll-style sleeping bag at Prestige Subaru and offer online sales at
  • Nastassja Noell, a lichenologist and registration coordinator for the Asheville-based Firefly Gathering, had an essay published by the global Dark Mountain Project. “Spaces Between Branches,” available for free at, reflects on the importance of partner relationships in both the natural world and human culture.

Save the date

  • The WNC Climate Action Coalition hosts a free educational program and car show of electric vehicles Saturday, Aug. 13, at the First United Methodist Church, 566 S. Haywood St., Waynesville. Local electric vehicle expert and owner William Hite will present 10-11:30 a.m., while members of the Blue Ridge Electric Vehicle Club will answer questions about their cars 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. More information is available at
  • Conserving Carolina holds its 22nd annual Conservation Celebration fundraiser Saturday, Aug. 27, at Falling Creek Camp in Tuxedo. The event features live music by Zoe and Cloyd with Bennett Sullivan, and special announcements by Kieran Roe, the nonprofit’s executive director. More information and tickets are available at
  • Every Friday at 7 p.m. through Sept. 30, rangers with the Blue Ridge Parkway hold a free 30-minute outdoor talk on hiking and nature topics at the Folk Art Center, milepost 382. Upcoming offerings include Tips for a Successful Hike Aug. 12, The Legacy of Segregation on Public Lands Aug. 19, and Parkway vs. Park? What’s in a Name? Aug. 25. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own seating and refreshments.
  • Barnardsville-based permaculture school Wild Abundance has opened registration for a free online class, Living in a Tiny House, through Thursday, Sept. 1. The course will include in-depth tours of several tiny homes and a live panel discussion with their residents. More information and registration are available at
  • The West Asheville Garden Stroll features 14 gardens throughout the Burton Street and Brucemont-Dorchester neighborhoods Saturday, Sept. 10. The free event kicks off at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 587 Haywood Road, at 10:30 a.m., with the gardens remaining open for tours through 4 p.m. More information is available at
  • Hendersonville’s Bullington Gardens hosts its annual fall plant sale Friday-Saturday, Sept. 16-17, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The event features dahlias grown at the horticultural education center, along with many other perennials, shrubs, trees and native plants. More information is available at
  • The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s annual Farm Tour returns Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 17-18, at 19 locations throughout WNC. Ten are new to the tour this year, including Davis Ranch and Good Wheel Farm in Leicester. More information and tickets are available at

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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