Arts + Entertainment

Constant reshuffling of the organizational structure at Western Carolina University — at least three such applecart upsets in just six years — led to a recent faculty resolution seeking some order to the chaos.

“This … is in response to past practices, or mis-practices, on campus,” said Sean O’Connell, a WCU professor who led a review of how other universities handle similar reorganizations.

WCU’s Faculty Senate passed an official request recently calling on administration to develop guidelines and to follow them when considering organizational changes.

The tone of the meeting — discussion lasted just 20 minutes — was in stark contrast to a two-hour debate that raged among the board’s members on the same topic last April.

That spring meeting came shortly after the College of Education and Allied Profession was shuffled about, however, resulting in the resignation of Professor Jacqueline Jacobs, a tenured faculty member. She resigned to bring attention to her contention that university administration failed to include faculty members in decisions concerning reorganization.

More than six months later, Faculty Senate opted in a 22-2 vote to ask the university’s administration to emphasize “shared governance,” and to “recognize the necessity of faculty knowledge and participation in academic decision making.”

This, according to the resolution, would mean “all reviews and deliberations about reorganization should be conducted in a collegial and constructive way. Any reorganization proposal should seriously consider disciplinary and interdisciplinary relationships and shall also investigate impacts on stakeholders in non-academic units.”

In plain English, the people who work at WCU want to have their views considered when changes are contemplated.

Faculty hope making their desire for inclusion clear in the form of a resolution will avoid what has happened in the past.

“I think it’s clear that if the new reorganization policy recently passed by Faculty Senate had been in effect last year, the reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions, which eliminated two departments and suspended the doctoral program would not have proceeded as it did, without any significant faculty participation,” Professor Mary Jean Herzog said in an email interview.

Herzog works within the College of Education and Allied Professions and was critical of how a re-organization within that college was handled.

“Faculty participation and voice may scare some administrators as well as some faculty, but it has been proven, over and over again, that when decisions are made that involve all the stakeholders, the institution earns dividends in student, staff, and faculty support,” Herzog said in an email.  

Perry Schoon, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions, defended the reorganization, however. A university-level review of decision-making during the reorganization of the College “determined that appropriate processes were followed. … The institution has recognized the likelihood of other units needing to reorganize due to the economy and the lack of any university policy to guide those efforts. The resolution from the senate is the first step from one of the constituencies on campus to begin the development of guidelines.”

There’s no word on when, or if, the university’s top leadership will embrace the resolution as future policy when it comes to reorganization.


Salary scrutiny study

Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher told faculty members late last month that he has authorized a “thorough” salary analysis to review who gets what and why in the form of pay at the university.

“This is to be prepared for that time when we do get money again,” Belcher said. “I’m worried about the salaries.”

Belcher noted a salary study at WCU has not been done in several years. Salary increases also have been nonexistent as North Carolina struggles with the economic downturn.

English Professor Elizabeth Heffelfinger asked if the study would include information previously gathered about possible inequities at WCU in what women and men are paid.

“I want this to be as comprehensive as possible,” Belcher said in an affirmative response. The study would include all faculty, staff, and administrative positions.

Rules in Jackson County controlling how development occurs along the five-mile stretch or so of U.S. 441 that leads into the Cherokee Indian Reservation are undergoing review.

That concerns former Commissioner William Shelton, a resident and farmer who lives and works in that area. Shelton helped pass the regulations after the Whittier community developed a long-range vision and plan for this critical stretch of four-lane highway, known as the Gateway area.

“It is their plan, what they want to happen and to not happen,” Shelton said.

The Whittier land-use plan was a landmark event when passed four years ago. It marked one of the first attempts by any county west of Buncombe to undertake what is essentially spot-zoning. The county planning board now wants to revise the land-use plan.

County Planner Gerald Green, who was hired by the previous Democrat-controlled board just before its members were ousted during the last election, said there’s no desire in play here to strip the regulations of meaning.

Green said that he initiated the review himself. The planner maintained this is a simple attempt “to improve” rules on development in the corridor “and make them work for everyone.”

“The intention was to preserve the scenic rural character of the area. But I’m not sure the ordinance does that,” Green said.



Republican Commissioners Charles Elders and Doug Cody both said this week they support a planning board review of the U.S. 441 ordinance.

Cody described the existing regulations as “anti-development.” Elders, who lives and works in that area and replaced Shelton on the board, said that he’s heard a multitude of complaints in his community about the rules being too restrictive.

The current regulations don’t particularly limit where development can occur along the strip of highway leading to Cherokee. Instead, it lays out aesthetic standards, such as architecture and landscaping, to ensure what development does occur will be attractive. And that’s sort of what’s there now — some older motels, a consignment shop or two, service stations and a few businesses dot the corridor.

Green said he believes stipulating “nodes” of concentrated development might actually work better, such as at the juncture of U.S. 74 and U.S. 441. Concentrated development might be preferable to allowing growth to sprawl along the entire strip, he said, adding this sprawl actually could under-gird, not weaken, another goal of the original plan — traffic management.

Green also wants to take a hard look at rules now in place that dictate any new parking lots go behind buildings, not in front. The ordinance, he said, fulfills “new urbanist philosophies” but doesn’t take into account more practical considerations, such as the “context” of development already in place along U.S. 441.

Additionally, the ordinance fails to stipulate that developers can’t just “flip” their new businesses around. In other words, new development could technically meet the ordinance requirements by “fronting” the highway with the actual back of a new building, he said. Then the parking lot would be “in front” of the building as required — but that would not be what motorists on U.S. 441 were looking at as they travel to and from Cherokee.

The ordinance also fails to meet a more desirable planning goal of being able to get to several shops from a single access road instead of having a long smear of strip development along the entire corridor, Green said. And that discourages pedestrian movement between shops, he added.


Urban fix to rural problem

A Charlotte firm helped develop the ordinance, and the county planner said that big-city approach to controlling development simply doesn’t work well on the ground in rural Western North Carolina.

“I see it as improving these regulations,” Green said of the planning board review. “The more I look at the ordinance the more questions I have about it. The plan (by the community) was very well done. It is the ordinance that is being reviewed.”

A series of community workshops and public meetings was held in Whittier to help develop a vision for the corridor. That vision laid the groundwork for the logistical aspects of the ordinance written by the contracted firm.

Green said he does not believe “that the goal of protecting the corridor and encouraging development is exclusive.”

Next May, Jackson County residents will vote on whether to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages countywide. In April, Cherokee residents will vote on whether to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages reservation-wide. A “yes” by both or either of those communities is likely to trigger some development along U.S. 441, though Green believes it will be fairly slow because of poor economic conditions.

“I do think it will grow, but given the state of the economy, it won’t be fast,” the county planner said.

And, if Jackson residents OK the sale of alcoholic beverages in May, it would take about a year for the actual reality of sales to occur. And that, loosely, is the timeframe Green wants to see the planning board work within, too.

“We want to make sure (Gateway) is both attractive and viable as a transportation corridor,” the planner said.

Cashiers could soon lose autonomy over its tourism marketing efforts if a plan to merge two separate tourism entities in Jackson County goes through.

While Cashiers tourism leaders are fighting to save this independent marketing arm, those in favor of a merger question whether the Cashiers solo approach has hampered overall tourism efforts in the county.

“This is a chance for the county to determine whether it is getting the best return on its investment,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said. “I just don’t believe there is a lot of cross communication going on. They are focusing on their one area of responsibility, and we are missing out on some opportunities.”

Dual tourism entities — namely the Cashiers Travel and Tourism Authorities and the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authorities — are less effective than just one entity would be, according to Wooten.

“It appears to be if we had a single travel authority we would have an opportunity to develop a countywide strategic advertising plan and deploy our resources to focus on the specific areas of the plan,” Wooten said.

Cashiers’ tourism agency has isolated itself from larger tourism efforts in the county. Cashiers does not share its marketing strategy or advertising campaigns with the rest of county, leaving the larger Jackson tourism entity in the dark on how Cashiers spends its allotment of tourism tax dollars.

Although Cashiers representatives sit on the board of the Jackson Travel and Tourism Authority, no one from greater Jackson County sits on the Cashiers board. The result is a one-way street, with Cashiers being privy to the tourism activities carried out by Jackson but not the other way around.

Sue Bumgarner, the director of the Cashiers Travel and Tourism Authority and the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce, was unable to provide basic information about their activities.

• She does not keep an accurate count of visitor center walk-ins.

• She could not provide information about how many web hits or telephone inquires the agency got.

• She said she did not have a list of how the Cashiers tourism authority has spent its advertising budget over the past year.

• Minutes from the quarterly meetings of the Cashiers tourism board were not readily available. They are kept in hardcopy format only in boxes at an off-site storage unit. Minutes have not been provided to the county despite a request to do so.

• A database of prospective visitors who have requested travel literature is not shared with the Jackson tourism agency, despite the Jackson tourism agency sharing all of its leads with Cashiers.

The heart of the issue is how best to spend tourism-tax revenue. A 3 percent tax on overnight lodging in the county raised $440,000 last year. The money is pumped back into tourism marketing and promotions.

Tourism revenue has declined in Jackson County by 12 percent since 2006. Jackson isn’t entirely alone. The recession-driven trend was mirrored across the mountains, although to a lesser extent.

Jackson fared worse than its neighbors, experiencing steeper declines. And while surrounding counties have since rebounded to their pre-recession levels, Jackson is still down.

To improve matters, Jackson leaders plan to double the room tax from 3 percent to 6 percent. The extra revenue will mean more money to spend on marketing Jackson County as a tourism destination and hopefully in turn, increase tourism.

A majority of Jackson County commissioners have voiced support for increasing the room tax, with four of the five in favor of the plan.

The debate has now turned to whether there should be a single tourism authority to steer marketing efforts and provide oversight for how the tourism-tax revenue is spent.

Currently, the room tax is split between the Cashiers tourism agency and the Jackson tourism agency. Cashiers gets 75 percent of the lodging tax generated in the Cashiers area — which amounted to $177,000 last year. The remaining $263,000 went to the Jackson Travel and Tourism Authority.

By joining forces, the two could save on overhead and administration, freeing up more dollars to spend on marketing, Wooten said.

“Sometimes I think we get caught up in the ‘that’s way we have always done it’ mentality and this may restrict our opportunity to grow,” Wooten said.

Bumgarner would not say specifically whether she wants the Cashiers tourism agency to merge with a single countywide one, saying she would have to consult her board before sharing her views publicly.

“I would rather not get into it until we know for sure what is going on,” Bumgarner said.

But, she did say that a Cashiers-focused tourism agency is better positioned to market Cashiers than a countywide organization.

“Just being here and knowing the market and what people are looking for, it is a whole different area. We are looking for people to come up and buy million dollar homes,” Bumgarner said. “We are marketing to a whole different group I guess you would say. I felt in order to do that we needed to be able to place ads in different kind of publications.”


Shotgun advertising

Running advertisements — whether in magazines, billboards, or online — is a key component of tourism marketing.

Bumgarner was unable to provide a list of where she has run ads over the past year. She said she did not keep a list of which magazines she has run ads in or what months they ran. Cashiers spends close to $60,000 a year on advertising.

“I would have to go back and think of which ones I’ve done. I don’t have time to do that. I don’t have time to go back and look at all those ads,” Bumgarner said.

Bumgarner also does not share her advertising schedule with her counterparts at the Jackson tourism entity, despite a standing request by Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. Knowing which magazines, billboards and other advertisements Cashiers has planned would allow the two entities to maximize their marketing dollars.

Initially, Bumgarner was ambiguous when asked whether she shared her advertising schedule with the Jackson tourism arm. She answered that “they have the same ad agency as us.”

When asked again whether she gave Jackson a copy of her advertising schedule, Bumgarner replied: “I am on the travel and tourism board in Jackson County also.”

When asked a third time, she said the two entities sometimes split the cost of ads in magazines. When asked a fourth time whether she shared her ad schedule with Jackson, she said, “They know our ad schedule.” When asked how, she answered, “because I sit on their TTA board.”

Finally, Bumgarner said she did not provide Spiro with Cashiers’ advertising schedule.

“I don’t give out our whole schedule … not unless they ask for it or want to see it,” Bumgarner said, adding, “It is no big secret.”

Spiro said she has asked to see it, but has never gotten one.

The Jackson tourism entity develops a marketing strategy and advertising plan for the year each spring. Bumgarner gets a copy and so does the county.

The need for niche marketing — marketing that caters to Cashiers’ unique tourist demographic — is the chief argument of Cashiers tourism leaders who want to hang on to their own tourism arm. Cashiers knows best how to market and promote Cashiers, they say.

However, Bumgarner could not provide a list of what that advertising is exactly.

About half of Cashiers’ advertising budget is managed by an ad agency. The agency is contracted to design and place ads on Cashiers’ behalf.

For the rest, Bumgarner places the ads herself. She is able to take advantage of last minute discounts on ad space or buy ads to promote special events that come up over the course of the year, she said.

Bumgarner referred questions about those specific ads to the county finance office, however, which pays the bills when invoices for the ads come in.

Most of the invoices, however, don’t include the name of the magazine, nor the month that an ad ran. The invoices are sent by publishing companies that usually have numerous magazines under their umbrella.

A review of advertising invoices from the ad agency for Cashiers show that it places ads in four magazines over the course of the year for Cashiers: AAA Go, AAA Going Places, Blue Ridge Country and Southern Living. The Jackson tourism entity ran ads in those same publications, according to a review of invoices held by the county finance office.


Nuts and bolts

When a prospective tourist requests information about the area, tourist entities mail out a packet of brochures and guides designed to seal the deal on coming to visit.

The Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority shares every inquiry it gets with Sue Bumgarner, the head of the Cashiers tourism arm.

That way, Cashiers can send out its own Cashiers-tailored literature and brochures to prospective tourists, in addition to what’s being sent out on behalf of the whole county, said Spiro. Spiro shares responses that come in from magazine ads, as well as a database of people who have called or emailed to request travel information.

“If I get leads from AAA Go, Blue Ridge Parkway, Southern Living, I just forward those to (Bumgarner) because I don’t know if she has those leads or not, so I just share the leads with her,” Spiro said.

Bumgarner, however, does not share inquiries coming in to the Cashiers office with the Jackson Travel and Tourism Authority. Bumgarner was vague initially when asked whether she shared visitor inquires with Spiro. At first, she said “yes.”

But when asked specifically how she shared the inquiries, Bumgarner said that she actually did not share inquires that came in from magazine ads — she only shares inquires from people who call or email asking for travel information.

“Yes, we share those. We email them back and forth,” Bumgarner said.

However, Spiro said she has not received any leads or visitor inquires from Cashiers barring a few times in early 2010 from one of Bumgarner’s assistants. But that person left, and since then, Spiro has not gotten any inquiries from Cashiers despite asking for them from time to time.

Upon further questioning, Bumgarner said she shared inquires with members of the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce who pay an extra fee for the inquiry list.

“We send it out to our members that pay to get the inquiry list every week,” Bumgarner said.

Inns, cabin rentals, golf courses and the like can use the inquiry list to send out their own brochures, peppering the prospective tourists with a litany of travel literature in hopes of luring them to their particular establishment.

But, the list isn’t available for non-chamber members.

“You can’t have it, not from us,” Bumgarner said.

Other tourism entities that get tax dollars for marketing make the inquiry list available to all accommodations owners, since they all help collect the tax.

“The accommodation owners are provided it free of charge,” Spiro said of the inquiry list produced by the Jackson tourism agency.


Tracking visitor numbers

The Cashiers visitor center does not keep an exact record of how many walk-in visitors come through its doors.

Bumgarner pegged foot traffic at the visitor center as “close to 10,000” so far this year. Most visitor centers, including those in Maggie Valley, Waynesville and Sylva, use a clicker to count walk-in traffic.

Cashiers uses estimates. Bumgarner was initially vague about the methodology for tracking visitors.

“Just by, you know, daily counts,” Bumgarner said.

When asked specifically whether her office used a clicker to count each person, Bumgarner replied, “we just estimate at the end of the day. I just kind of check off at the end of the day how many we had.”

As for telephone calls or web hits?

“Oh Lord, I have no clue on those,” Bumgarner said.

The visitor center run by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce in Sylva keeps an exact count of daily walk-in traffic, telephone calls, email inquiries, web page views and downloads.

“All those mediums are ways we can track how well marketing is and is not working,” Spiro said.

Tracking the number of inquiries and traffic from month to month and year to year also provides a picture over time of whether tourism is trending up or down. Bumgarner did not have tracking data accessible to share, saying that it was not saved on her computer but instead existed only on paper and was located in boxes at an off-site storage unit.


Meeting minutes

Bumgarner also was unable to provide minutes from past tourism board meetings. She said she does not save notes or minutes from the meetings on her computer. Bumgarner said she types up the minutes from hand-written notes, prints them out, then deletes the file, keeping only the hard copy.

Bumgarner did not have copies of back minutes readily available, however. They are kept in boxes at an offsite storage unit and would be difficult to pull out, Bumgarner said. They are all mixed in with boxes of magazines, Bumgarner said.

The minutes are supposed to provide a record of what the Cashiers tourism board discusses at its quarterly meetings.

The board is charged with developing and guiding a tourism marketing strategy — finding the best way to spend the roughly $180,000 a year in tax dollars allocated to promote Cashiers.

As a public entity, the Cashiers tourism board is required by law to keep minutes of its meetings and share them with the public upon request.

County officials asked Bumgarner to start providing minutes from the Cashiers tourism board meeting earlier this year, but still have not received any.

The Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority shares a copy of its meeting minutes with the county.

Doing so keeps the county apprised of the what the Jackson tourism entity is up to — spelling out its marketing strategy, plan and vision and a snapshot of its activities from the month.

Cashiers’ failure to do likewise is in violation of the county’s original legislation that first created the Cashier Travel and Tourism Authority. By law, both Jackson and Cashiers tourism arms are supposed to provide quarterly reports to the county of its activities. This mandate was included in the original legislation creating the two entities in 1987.

Shortly after county commission Chairman Jack Debnam took office in January, he asked both tourism boards to start making the quarterly reports. Spiro, who already provided copies of her board meeting minutes to the county, began producing quarterly activity reports as well.

Bumgarner does neither. County Manager Chuck Wooten believes Cashiers is not satisfying the county requirement for quarterly reports on their activity.

“It seems to be there would be at least some understanding or expectation they would at least update commissioners on what activities they are doing to try to improve and increase travel and tourism in the county,” Wooten said.


Chamber fate

The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the separate Cashiers Chamber of Commerce get a cut of the tourism tax dollars to carry out the job of tourism promotion.

The Cashiers Chamber of Commerce gets $60,000 a year from the Cashiers tourism agency. It accounts for 40 percent of the Cashiers Chambers total budget of $146,000.

Jackson Chamber of Commerce gets $72,000 a year in room tax dollars, plus another $9,000 a year in rent to subsidize the overhead of the visitor center.

If the separate Jackson and Cashiers tourism arms were merged into a single countywide entity, the respective chambers of commerce would most likely continue getting their cut of the room tax money.

“There is no reason to think you wouldn’t continue to utilize the chambers to do those thing you have to do on the ground to distribute the brochures to answer the telephone to run the visitors bureau,” Wooten said. “Someone has to provide the services they currently provide, so my belief is the chambers would continue providing these services and receive support accordingly.”

Wooten said the county would like to see a formal contract outlining the arrangement with the chambers, however.

“There should be some kind of written understanding of what the expectations are in return for the funds provided,” Wooten said.

The Cashiers Travel and Tourism Authority has not voted on a contract with the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce since 1987, Bumgarner said, despite the dollar amount awarded to the Cashiers Chamber increasing over the years.

If the plan goes through, the two tourism entities that oversee tourism tax dollars for their respective regions — the Jackson Travel and Tourism Authority and the Cashiers Travel and Tourism Authority — would be dissolved and a single entity formed in its place.

Wooten has floated the idea of a nine-member countywide tourism board with cross-county representation.

Though perhaps it’s not exactly the moveable feast Ernest Hemingway discovered in the cafés of Paris, the ambiance of The Coffee Shop in Sylva suits local writer Dawn Gilchrist-Young just fine.

It is here, in this 84-year-old, family owned, down-home restaurant strategically positioned near Sylva’s paper plant, Jackson Paper Manufacturing, that the Swain County native writes much of her work. One short story is now garnering national attention. “The Tender Branch” is this year’s winner of the High School Teachers Writing Award from the Norman Mailer Center.

Each morning, for two or so hours, The Coffee Shop customers such as Teresa Coward would notice the slim, studious-looking woman in one of the café’s bright orange-plastic booths, drinking cups of coffee with cream. A cup of coffee costs $1.25 at The Coffee Shop, including a refill; a side of apple, cherry, coconut, lemon or chocolate pie adds $2.50 to the tab.

“It’s home here,” says Coward, nodding in ready understanding as to why a writer would choose The Coffee Shop over some of the town’s more uptown, upscale café options.  

Gilchrist-Young, caffeine satiated, would move on to write until noon at the public library. She didn’t want to command a table in the small café for too much time each day, inconveniencing owner Phyllis Gibson or waitresses such as Chessa Hoyle, livelihood-dependent on collecting the quarter and dollar tips left by appreciative, but working-class, customers.

This café is no stranger to Western North Carolina’s literati, at least the homegrown kind. Hoyle serves Sylva writer Gary Carden everyday. The late John Parris, of the “Roaming the Mountains” Asheville Citizen-Times column fame, was a regular here, too.


The award

These days Gilchrist-Young calls the Village of Forest Hills in Cullowhee home. She lives there with her stonemason husband, Eric. Their daughter, Aaron, is attending Warren Wilson College.

The Norman Mailer award will put this unassuming writer, who has worked as an English teacher at Swain County High School for 14 years, on stage with former President Bill Clinton, Elie Wiesel and Tina Brown, Newsweek’s editor in chief; and conceivably even Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones fame. Like Gilchrist-Young, Richards is a recipient of a Norman Mailer Center award, in his case for his recent book, Life.

Gilchrist-Young and the other Norman Mailer award winners will be at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City on Nov. 8. Additionally, she won $10,000 and a month next summer at the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony in Provincetown, Mass.

Gilchrist-Young is a meticulous craftsperson. Her story was one of but two written a couple summers ago. Each story required two months to complete, the length basically of this schoolteacher’s annual summer break.

“The Tender Branch” delivers on the tenderness promised in the title. But the story is equally rich in the horrors attendant for women immersed in domestic violence. That violence is presented here simply as True Fact: the story seems to say, ‘You see, this is how many women live, but that is not the whole of them.’

Gilchrist-Young’s story is set in Haywood County: Canton, to be exact.

“My grandma was mean, but I’m not mean like her, just vengeful like her, vengeful like a cat you’ve left locked in the house all day and thinking everything is fine until you come home and there’s a pile of shit right on your pillow,” her character says in a moment of raw self description.


Giving back

Gilchrist-Young writes only in the summer. The remainder of her time is spent — and this is not purple prose, not hyperbole, but simple conveyance of more True Fact — giving of her talents and herself to the kids attending Swain County High School. She was once given a year’s sabbatical from Swain to teach at Western Carolina University, a 12-month gift, she says, from then Swain Principal Janet Clapsaddle and the local school board. They wanted this talented woman to find herself, to assess whether she’d be happiest teaching at the university level, or returning once again to Swain’s classrooms.

Gilchrist-Young opted for the latter, deciding that the high school needed her, the college did not; she notes this must mean she needs to be needed.

So Gilchrist-Young, each school day, walks into Swain County High School. And by her simple presence demonstrates that a homebred girl, who would marry at 18 and who was raised in a singlewide trailer in the Euchella community with four brothers and sisters by working-class parents, Wretha and Robert Gilchrist, is at the same time a sophisticated, highly educated woman. Her resume includes Columbia University and an MFA from Warren Wilson. And, of course, and maybe this is the most important True Fact about Gilchrist-Young, is a living, breathing, in-the-flesh writer the kids can talk to each day.

One’s upbringing is a part, not the whole; it is through parts, however, that we create a whole — that is Gilchrist-Young’s message to her students and one seemingly delivered through her writings.

“This is a Southern Appalachian woman,” Gilchrist-Young says of herself, an exclamation point on a conversation that includes discussions about stereotyping of mountain people, the suffocation of being dubbed a “regional” writer, and the equally True Fact that Swain County and other local school systems were (often but not always perhaps for everyone) truly wonderful places for aspiring writers, artists and musicians to find themselves growing up.


A work ethic

Finding the energy to both teach high school English and write is clearly a family hand-me-down, “the Gilchrist work ethic” personified, as husband Eric Young describes it.

Her father, now in his mid-70s, gets up at 4 a.m. and does masonry until his body gives out, sometime in the afternoon or evening.

“If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t feel like he’s living,” Gilchrist-Young says.

Her mother stayed home with the children, three girls and two boys, plus worked some in local factories and in the school’s cafeteria.

When the couple built a room onto their trailer, her father added bookshelves on either side of the fireplace. He and wife Wretha ordered a set of “The World’s 100 Greatest Classics” to fill the shelves. This was, for the most part, a family of readers.

“We were surrounded by these great writers,” Gilchrist-Young says. “Dostoevsky, Austen.”

The young girl would select books based on her attraction to the titles. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” she found offensive; “Sense and Sensibility,” on the other hand, had an attractive alliteration, and she discovered through that simple siren song the world of Jane Austen.

Her father, a Zane Grey zealot, passed his love for Grey’s Westerns and adventure stories on to his daughter, and “Riders of the Purple Sage” would become, as would her mother’s Ellery Queen mysteries, future literary touchstones.   

There were nightly Bible readings. The sonorous prose of the King James version of the Bible became yet another touchstone for Gilchrist-Young. It would influence her writing ear as it has so many others. More deeply imbedded than even her parent’s love for literature — and the Bible, which in that household was not literature but True Fact — was the Gilchrist code, which goes something like this:

“There is an authority that is higher than law, and a goodness that is more important than anything else.”

Jackson County commissioners won’t allow alcohol to be served during private functions at the newly renovated historic courthouse and library.

Library supporters have been marketing the venue as an ideal spot for receptions, weddings and other functions as a way to raise extra money for the library. Not being able to serve alcohol could make the facility less attractive to private groups.

But county commissioners feared a slippery slope.

“If we open the door and allow one particular facility, I believe you’ll get additional requests,” County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners this week.

The county is in the process of crafting a lease for the library building, which is county-owned but run by the Fontana Regional Library system. The alcohol issue had to be settled for the lease to move forward.

In a moment of absolute and somewhat rare unanimity, commissioners voted against allowing alcohol at the library as a county-owned building. Commissioner Mark Jones, who lives in Cashiers, said he’d recently received two requests that alcoholic beverages be allowed at Albert Carlton Library during events there, too — offered as evidence that a flood of requests could follow if the alcoholic-beverage door was cracked open.

County Attorney Jay Coward said the libraries, as well as other entities using county buildings, had long operated under handshake agreements.

“We are trying to formalize these leases … so everybody understands what the ground rules are,” Wooten said.

Chairman Jack Debnam said he objected to allowing alcoholic beverages to be served at the new library for two reasons.

“The library is competing against the private sector if they are leasing the facility and serving alcohol. I don’t think we need to get in that part of it,” he said. “And, second, where do we stop? What if they wanted to serve alcohol at the Golden Age Center? Suppose they want to serve alcohol over here at the baseball fields one day? Where do we stop?”

Commissioner Joe Cowan said that concerned him, too.

“This brings in the whole aspect of public schools,” Cowan said, adding that he also felt uncomfortable about the liability issue.

Jackson County commissioners likely erred two weeks ago when they voted to double the county’s tax on overnight lodging: they failed to hold a public hearing first.

Commissioners were forced to rescind their vote, and will now hold a public hearing Nov. 7.

Commissioners had voted 4-1 to bump the room tax up from 3 to 6 percent, making it one of the highest in the region. The tax on overnight stays brought in $446,000 last year, which is pumped back in to tourism promotion through the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority.

County Attorney Jay Coward had failed to tell commissioners a public hearing was necessary.

Coward, who gets paid $150 an hour for his legal work by the county, explained that he thought Jackson County was exempt under a certain state general statute from the requirement for a hearing.

“Since then, I’ve decided that we probably ought to have that public hearing in case that was a defect in my reasoning,” Coward said.

The hearing is most likely an exercise in formality rather than a genuine intent to hearing public opinion, as a do-over of the vote is planned for the same night.

“After the public hearing we’ll take it up again,” said Commissioner Charles Elders.

Commissioners may get an earful, however.

Henry Hoche of Innisfree Inn By-The-Lake spoke against the doubling of Jackson County’s room tax at the county meeting this week. Taxing visitors might seem more attractive than upping property taxes, Hoche said, “but it is not advantageous” to owners of inns and motels. “It is difficult enough for us in the lodging business today.”

Hoche said a higher room tax would mean visitors stay in the area for shorter amounts of time.

Bob Dews of Laurelwood Mountain Inn in Cashiers also spoke against an increase, saying the economy has knocked down guest numbers, and inn and motel owners don’t need help from the county in knocking rates down even further.

Dews said people would choose to stay elsewhere if the room tax is higher in Jackson than neighboring areas.

Efforts are well under way in both Sylva and Franklin to build dog parks, places where folks’ canine companions can run off-leash in safely fenced, assigned areas.

If the two communities do build dog parks, they’ll be joining their neighbors to the east: the town of Waynesville already has two fenced romping grounds for dogs along Richland Creek Greenway. The town of Highlands in Macon County also has a half-acre dog park, complete with a five-foot-tall fence. Highlands is roughly a 40-minute drive from Franklin, however, putting it out of reach for regular use by Franklin’s dog owners.

Friends of the Greenway in Franklin has been talking about building a dog park for about six months, according to Doris Munday, a member of the nonprofit support arm for the greenway along the Little Tennessee River. Her dog “uses the mountains” as its dog park, Munday said, but that hasn’t blinded her from seeing the needs of others.

Dog owners, if their pooches are leashed and they cleanup waste deposited by their animals, can use the nearly five-mile paved greenway path in Franklin. But the dogs are not allowed off-leash along the popular trail, where upwards of 20,000 people a month can be found during the summer months. Munday said there have been some problems with “neighborhood dogs” trotting about the greenway unleashed and uninvited and apparently illiterate, too; these rowdy dogs are brazen in ignoring rules about leashes and cleanup that are posted along Franklin’s greenway.

Plans this week call for the Friends group to check in with the Macon County Board of Commissioners to make sure the county doesn’t have any objections to a dog park.

In this case, asking permission seemed optimal to begging forgiveness: Munday said no one is exactly sure whether commissioners’ permission is needed for the project to move forward, but that the group decided it seemed proper to find out.

Assuming everyone is OK with the idea, private funds would be solicited to purchase fencing. The hope is to enclose the dog park this winter. Later, if people want to donate more money, the dog park could be enhanced with additional doggie attractions, Munday said.

Some dog parks have separate areas for small and large dogs. Other parks even offer such amenities as dog-agility courses. One standard feature, which would be included if a dog park is built in Franklin, are baggie dispensers so that dog owners can easily cleanup any canine deposits.

Other than the upfront cost of fencing, maintenance on dog parks is relatively minor. In Waynesville, the Haywood Animal Welfare Association buys non-toxic flea control and volunteers regularly sprinkle it on the grass.

In Jackson County, an ad hoc group of dog owners in Sylva requested via a letter sent to the county that they be allowed to use a portion of Mark Watson Park on West Main Street. The Sylva Dog Park Advocates noted in the letter, sent to county officials last month, that it believes a dog park would be “a low cost yet high benefit” addition to Jackson County.

The letter is signed by Stacy Knotts, who serves as a town council member but isn’t acting in that official capacity on this particular project.

She wrote that the group of dog owners believes 10-acre Mark Watson Park, a county-owned facility, would be the best place for a dog park because it is centrally located in Sylva on the county’s (unfinished) greenway; there is open space in the park; there are already pet-owner education classes and the “Bark in the Park” festival taking place in Mark Watson, and such a park would encourage Jackson County’s residents “from letting pets run free on the ball fields, particularly the newly designed fields in the park.”

County Manager Chuck Wooten said the request is being reviewed.

Voices from the American Land — along with local partners Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, the Wilderness Society, Tuckasegee Reader, Western North Carolina Alliance, Wild South, Canary Coalition, Mad Batter Café, Tuckasegee Alliance, New Native Press and City Lights bookstore — presented the Every Breath Sings Mountains event at the Jackson County Public Library on Sept. 23.

The speakers, music and readings drew a packed house to the new library. The entire event was also recorded, and the video is both entertaining and thoughtful.

For those who couldn’t make it, organizers videotaped the entire event. Here are the links, in the proper chronological order.

Part 1: Music by Ian Moore Song and Dance Bluegrass Ensemble, introductions, speaker Matt Tooni
Part 2: Music, speakers George Frizell and William Shelton
Part 3: Thomas Raine Crowe reads from new book; Barbara Duncan speaks and sings; Brent Martin speaks
Part 4: Robert Johnson speaks; Panel Discussion begins with Keith Flynn, George Ellison, John Lane, Wayne Caldwell, Charles Frazier
Part 5: Panel Discussion continues
Part 6: Panel Discussion is completed; Music by Ian Moore & Co.; Credits


Here is some information about some of the writers and community members who took part in and organized the event:

• Thomas Rain Crowe is an award winning author, poet an essayist. His memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods won the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Philip D. Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment for 2006. Crowe’s literary archives have been purchased by the Duke University Special Collections Library. He is a respected, outspoken advocate for the conservation and protection of the Southern Appalachian landscape, her people and her culture. Crowe lives on a small farm along the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.

• Barbara R. Duncan is education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee. Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook, which she co-authored with Brett Riggs, received the Preserve America Presidential Award. Her book Living Stories of the Cherokee received a Thomas Wolfe Literary Award and World Storytelling Award. The singer-songwriter has also written a poetry chapbook, Crossing Cowee Mountain. Duncan lives on a tributary of the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.

• Brent Martin is Southern Appalachian director for The Wilderness Society. Martin is a recipient of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s James S. Dockery Environmental Leadership Award. Martin has published two collections of poetry, Poems from Snow Hill and A Shout in the Woods. Martin’s poems and essays have appeared in Pisgah Review, North Carolina Literary Review, New Southerner, Tar River Poetry and elsewhere. Martin lives in the Cowee community.

Western Carolina University historian George Frizzell, Jackson County farmer and former commissioner William Shelton, and Cherokee elder Jerry Wolfe. There will also be “a conversation with authors” featuring authors Charles Frazier, John Lane, Wayne Caldwell, George Ellison and Keith Flynn. The Ian Moore Song & Dance Bluegrass Ensemble will provide music. There will also be a meet-the-authors book-signing reception catered by the Mad Batter Café. And all audience members will receive a free copy of the chapbook.

Tourists staying in Jackson County will pay more on their hotel bills starting Jan. 1. Commissioners this week hiked the tax from 3 to 6 cents, the highest room tax rate allowed by state law.

“If this money is spent wisely, I think it might be a good thing,” Dillsboro Inn owner T.J. Walker said Tuesday. “I’m not against it — but I’m not aware of it enough to be for it, either.”

Jackson County will have twice the room tax of most Western North Carolina counties, which largely set the rate at 3 percent. Haywood and Buncombe have 4 percent, Henderson has 5 percent. Only the town of Franklin has a room tax of 6 percent, though outside the town limits in the rest of Macon County it is only 3 percent.

Jackson County commissioners approved the room tax hike this week in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Mark Jones of Cashiers casting the lone no vote.

This summer, Jackson County received authorization from the state legislature to increase its room tax up to 6 percent, but had to vote to enact it.

Before voting, county leaders reviewed tourism-related information about neighboring counties. It shows Swain County is leading the pack, with 3,210 tourism-related jobs compared to 560 in Jackson County — a difference likely accounted for by the Nantahala Gorge outdoor scene and Harrah’s Cherokee casino.

Jackson County, like most counties, has seen a decline in room tax collection rates with the recession; starting about four years ago. The past couple of years, room tax collections have been rebounding, but Jackson seems to have faired worse than its neighbors, with bigger drops and a weaker rebound.

“We need to redouble our efforts to attract tourists to Jackson County,” Commissioner Doug Cody said. “Anything we make off tourism helps relieve pressure off of property taxes … these are taxes tourists pay. The citizens of Jackson County will not be burdened with another tax.”

Commissioner Charles Elders described the numbers that show Jackson lagging “troubling.”

Jones, who chairs the Cashiers Area Travel and Tourism, did not specify exactly why he voted against the tax increase. But he did caution his fellow commissioners that “I hope the intent of these monies is to stay within the original intent,” that is, to market and promote tourism.

New state language in the law, Jones said, allows “it to be piggybacked on, it allows for hardscapes — as long as it promotes tourism.” Historically, room tax — under state law — had to be spent on tourism promotion. Now, it can be spent on “tourism-related” developments, which could include sports fields to attract tournaments, greenways or festival venues.

County Manager Chuck Wooten said the original 1987 resolution by Jackson County authorizing a room tax would need modifying before any actions except promotion could take place.

“We don’t have to decide that right now,” Chairman Jack Debnam said.

The formula for distributing the additional room tax is unclear. Currently, 75 percent of room tax collected in Cashiers is used exclusively by Cashiers to promote that area rather than the county as a whole. The rest of the room tax is managed by the countywide Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority, a public body.


Current tax rates

Haywood County    4 percent

Jackson County    3 percent

Macon County    3 percent, plus town of Franklin imposes an additional 3 percent

Swain County    3 percent


Collection rate comparison

Jackson County

• 2006-2007    $506,574.48

• 2007-2008    $506,004.53

• 2008-2009    $429,378.27

• 2009-2010    $413,939.07

• 2010-2011    $446,339.59

Swain County

• 2006-2007    $305,352  

• 2007-2008    $320,820  

• 2008-2009    $309,802  

• 2009-2010    $335,353  

• 2010-2011    $352,437

Haywood County

• 2006-2007    $935,000

• 2007-2008    $1.04 million

• 2008-2009    $954,000

• 2009-2010    $891,000

• 2010-2011    $962,500


Tourism rebound

Tourism spending is on the rise after three years of stagnation and decline. The North Carolina Division of Tourism, Development conducts an economic impact study every year. It uses the industry standard “Travel Economic Impact Model” to measure the impact of travel, a disaggregated model that looks at everything from lodging and food to retail and recreation. Here’s a decade’s worth of those tourism economic impact numbers.


2000    99.9 million

2001    97.7 million

2002    97.8 million

2003    95.9 million

2004    97.69 million

2005    103.4 million

2006    111 million

2007    116.6 million

2008    113.6 million

2009    108.9 million

2010    116.3 million


2000    50.5 million

2001    50.1 million

2002    53.6 million

2003    53.5 million

2004    55.7 million

2005    61.7 million

2006    68.2 million

2007    72.6 million

2008    69 million

2009    60 million

2010    62.5 million


2000    89.7 million

2001    81.1 million

2002    89.8 million

2003    85.9 million

2004    92.2 million

2005    102.5 million

2006    111.1 million

2007    115.4 million

2008    120.5 million

2009    114.5 million

2010    122.1 million

Swain (includes Cherokee)

2000    N/A

2001    199.2 million

2002    214.8 million

2003    216.8 million

2004    213.5 million

2005    222 million

2006    240.8 million

2007    251 million

2008    233.3 million

2009    237.3 million

2010    256.3 million


Jobs directly related to tourism for 2010

Haywood    1,300

Jackson    560

Macon    1,120

Swain (includes Cherokee)    3,210

They are dubbed by some in the community as the Three Amigos: a new chancellor at Western Carolina university, David Belcher; a new president at Southwestern Community College, Donald Tomas; and a new superintendent of schools for Jackson County; Mike Murray.

Each started their respective positions July 1. Each promises new eras of leadership that connects their respective institution’s educational efforts to the overall good of the community. Each seem comfortable in, and energetic about, their roles as institutional and community leaders.

“Openness, honesty and transparency,” Tomas said during his introductory remarks at a community meeting this week. SCC, which serves residents of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties and the Cherokee Indian Reservation, is piggybacking strategic planning efforts on those of neighboring WCU.

Tomas said the Three Amigos have been meeting and discussing educational and community issues.

“This is an extremely exciting and unique opportunity,” he said.

The university, under the baton of Belcher, is holding a series of seven community meetings in the region to hear what residents have to say about the school’s future. About 45 or 50 people, many of them WCU and SCC employees, turned out for the Jackson County hearing, though far fewer than that opted to actually stand up and speak.

Those who did called on WCU and SCC to help bolster a sagging economy, but to do so while protecting the region’s natural resources and great beauty. They discussed a lack of childcare for professionals; and more specific needs, such as a request by Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, for WCU to again produce a regional economic report. Susie Ray, a retired WCU employee, urged the university to tap into the huge retiree population in WNC and corner a niche on “creative retirement.”

There were complaints that WCU wasn’t accessible to the community. The swimming pool, for instance, is closed to the public unless you are a student or WCU employee, forcing those who want to swim for exercise to motor over the Balsams to Waynesville. Continuing education classes are priced out of the reach of anyone except, perhaps, retired employees from WCU.

Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, who retired from the university after 30 years service, told his former colleagues that many in the community simply don’t feel comfortable on campus. They feel uneasy and out of place. And, in turn, many of WCU’s faculty and staff choose to live somewhere other than Jackson County, with their connections to the community limited to commuting back and forth to work.

Vance Davidson, an SCC trustee, spoke similarly of the “silo” mentality that’s afflicted the various Jackson County educational institutions.

“We are a lot better together than we are apart,” Davidson said. “We have not enjoyed the best university, town, community relationships — we need to change that.”

Page 67 of 106

This Must Be the Place

Reading Room

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