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With so many charities working to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many Western North Carolina residents are curious about the best way to help.

As members of Western Carolina University’s bass fishing club team — the Bass Cats — were in route to assist in the Hurricane Harvey devastation along the Gulf Coast, the rain pelted down on the windshield and the radio kept issuing reports of people who needed to be rescued.

Equipped with four pickup trucks and four boats to provide rescue and emergency support, a dozen members of the team left campus the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 29. They arrived in Lake Charles, Louisiana, around 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Aug. 30, unloading medical supplies, canned food and water before leaving for Orange, Texas.

“We’ve already gotten at least 20 folks to safety, probably more,” said Jason Ashe of Sylva, team member and relief effort organizer, in the dawn hours of Thursday, Aug. 31. “You don’t stop to count, you just get it done, then move to the next call.”

The task ahead of the college students was daunting, but they launched their bass boat near Lake Charles, Louisiana, and made their way into the flooded areas to save those who couldn’t save themselves. The Bass Cats described the scene on their Facebook page as more devastating than any news network could ever portray.

Once there, they were met with an immediate demand for services. Jefferson County, Texas, Sheriff Zena Stephens told multiple news outlets that the entire area was in dire need of a large number of water rescues because of massive flooding and limited response resources.

“My very first call was for an evacuation of a 90-year-old woman who was immobile,” said Jacob Boyd of Canton, team president. “Along with Colby Shope (of Canton) and Zach Tallent (of Franklin), we got her out of the flooded house and loaded her, in her wheelchair, then took her to shallower water where her son was waiting with a pickup truck. She said the water just rose overnight. She woke up with water filling the house, leaving her stranded.”

The WCU fishing team, founded in the spring of 2013, competes in a variety of fishing tournaments and series. For the relief efforts, instead of rods, reels and tackle boxes, they left campus with first-aid kits, locally donated bottled water, containers with gasoline, hygiene items, life vests, Bibles and clothes.

The team witnessed the personal toll the storm has taken on residents of the region. “It’s such a sad situation,” Ashe said. “You’re boating down what used to be a street, with cars and homes submerged below you, and you think about the people who have worked hard to build a life and lost everything.”

Working alongside other rescue units such as the volunteer Cajun Navy, local EMS, and sheriff and fire departments, Boyd said he saw another impact of the flood. “This is dangerous work and you see the stress, fatigue and anxiety that comes from that and being overworked. There’s so much tragedy all around. I’m so glad we’ve been able to be a part of rescues and a happier side of things.”

The team was set to return Monday, Sept. 4, but heading home Sept. 1 after local agencies gained control of the situations in that area.

“We are happy to say that we all remained safe, minus some minor bumps, bruises, and exhaustion,” the team reported on Facebook. “This has been one of the most, if not the most humbling experience any of us have ever been a part of. We did not come to Texas seeking publicity, but it has expanded to something beyond what any of us could have imagined. The amount of support we have garnered throughout this journey has been incredible, and we thank you all so much for your thoughts, prayers, and donations.”

Members of the Bass Cats in addition to Ashe, Boyd, Shope and Tallent are Jack Crumpton, Clint Bartlett, Tyler Watts, Will Crumpton, Parker Jessup, Josh Cannon and Austin Garren.

A Go Fund Me page has been created to help defray team expenses and pay for relief supplies. To donate, go to

Austin Bohanan, 18, had been lost in the wilderness for 11 days when he woke up the morning of Aug. 22 to see boats floating on the water below the ridge where he’d slept.

Those boats were his ticket out of the nightmare that began Aug. 11 when he’d gotten separated from his stepfather Hubert Dyer, Jr., during an off-trail excursion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Chilhowee Lake. Bohanan scrambled down to the water, which turned out to be the tail end of Abrams Creek, and waved down one of the boats. The boaters gave him a ride down to Shop Creek, where his family was gathered to support the crews searching for him.

Wresting huge chunks of granite from a hillside is inherently dangerous work, but the safety training provided at one Waynesville quarry has seeped out from behind the stonewalls to benefit area citizens.

The attraction between people and waterfalls is nothing new, with a couple waterfall deaths per year typical between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. 

ALSO: Herculean rescue effort at Yellowstone Falls highlights dangers of waterfall play

The 911 call, coming from a gorge cut high in the Balsam Mountains, was nearly unintelligible. When the connection ended five minutes later, Haywood County Emergency Management was left with two important facts: somebody had fallen from a waterfall, and the caller was saying something that sounded like “Yellowstone.”

SEE ALSO: WNC's deadliest waterfalls

The GPS coordinates showed the call originating in Dark Prong, two drainages over from Yellowstone Falls in the Pisgah National Forest’s Shining Rock Wilderness, but GPS data isn’t always correct in the rugged terrain of Western North Carolina. In the mountains, cell reception is often scant at best — emergency responders had to make a judgment call.

By the dawn’s early light, about 300 members of the North Carolina National Guard along with a host of local law enforcement personnel and first responders gathered at Guion Farm in nearby DuPont State Forest, outside Hendersonville the morning of June 8. 

Two aircrew had ejected from their F-15 just before it augured in to the rocky dirt, sparking a large fire and kicking off a massive search and rescue mission.

It was around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, when the two hikers stepped out of their red Ford Edge and into the parking lot at Big East Fork Trailhead. After the stunning vistas the Blue Ridge Parkway had offered on their drive from Asheville, David Crockett, a 23-year-old UNC Charlotte student, and his friend Sultan Alraddadi wanted to see those mountains up close.

They’d found the hike on AllTrails, an app that outlined an 8.1-mile loop that climbed Chestnut Ridge, continuing west to butt up against the Art Loeb Trail before returning east via the Shining Creek Trail. 

Just north of Cullowhee, at the curvy, gravel terminus of Cane Creek Road, sits the building containing the world’s largest wilderness medicine classroom. 

Landmark Learning, a nationally accredited school offering a variety of courses in wilderness medicine, started using the building in May, though there’s still heavy equipment in view as fine-tuning continues. The 8,000-square-foot building contains a 2,400-square-foot classroom, a commercial kitchen, and a student lounge. Up an even steeper hill than the one that leads to the main building is a pair of dorm-style cabins and a terraced camping area, which together can accommodate 36 people.

For those who love the outdoors, it’s not hard to list the reasons why Western North Carolina is a spectacular place to live, and from that standpoint, the year 2016 certainly didn’t fail to deliver. The curtains are now closing on 2016, but the year will get its proper send-off with this roundup of favorite moments and memorable stories from the past 12 months outdoors.

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