In the quagmire that is politics in Maggie Valley, the most recent appointee to the town’s board of aldermen says it’s her lack of agenda that makes her the ideal candidate — and possibly a rarity in a town defined by allegiances.
Danya Vanhook, a local lawyer who just finished a stint as district court judge, was chosen by a three-to-one vote to fill the vacant seat on the town’s board until elections are held in November.
“The reason I applied to fill this position is that I have no agendas,” Vanhook told the crowd assembled at the March 22 meeting of the town board. Vanhook was chosen after interviews with several candidates who threw their names into the ring to fill the seat vacated in January by former Alderman Colin Edwards.
Vanhook told citizens that she sought the position because she believes in public service and was looking for a place to get involved. She lost re-election as district court judge in November after just two years on the bench.
“I am doing this because it is a way for me as a private business owner and a private practitioner of law to serve my community,” said Vanhook.
The lone vote against Vanhook was cast by Phil Aldridge, who has recently disagreed with the other board members at nearly every turn.
Aldridge said his vote wasn’t an indictment of Vanhook or her qualifications, but a salvo to his recent campaign to allow the next-highest vote-getter from the last election to take the seat. Since Edwards abdicated, Aldridge has maintained that it would be the most democratic way to replace him, railing against hand-picking by the board.
“I have to oppose simply because I support Phil Wight,” said Aldridge. “He was the citizens choice. I think we did have wonderful candidates but the people have spoken.”
The seat on Maggie Valley’s board was left empty after a rift over ABC operations, with Aldridge and Edwards on one side and fellow members Saralyn Price, Scott Pauley and Mayor Roger McElroy on the other. Edwards said the argument made it impossible for him to continue working with other board members, so he left.
In the wake of his departure, more conflict arose over precisely how his replacement would be chosen. After setting a deadline for applications, Town Manager Tim Barth extended the deadline at the last minute, which he said was to allow a wider field the chance to participate.
This rankled Aldridge, who saw it as a ploy by other board members to wait for hand-chosen applicants to express interest.
In this respect, thought, Vanhook is somewhat of a surprise appointment. While she has a history of public service, especially in the legal arena, her involvement in Maggie Valley politics has been negligible.
Despite that, Vanhook said she is eager to learn and sees local government as important decision-makers for residents and business owners.
“I think the most important thing is to serve our local town. The most important decisions happen right here in this room,” said Vanhook.
Maggie Valley’s town board has historically dominated by tourism-oriented business people. But as the town has annexed more subdivisions into the town limits over the past decade, the board has seen more representation from residents like Vanhook without commercial interests.
She will be sworn in at the town’s next monthly meeting and will serve for seven months before the seat is up for re-election.
In Maggie Valley’s Town Hall, the cooperative spirit has been in short supply of late, with disputes flaring at nearly every turn.
A chill fell over the Board of Aldermen when former member Colin Edwards took his leave last month, creating a vacancy on the board and a chasm between its remaining members.
Things got significantly less friendly at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting, where disagreements and outright arguments among board members erupted over several touchy issues.
Edwards departure – and the choice about how and when to replace him – was a cause of some indignation, with Alderman Phil Aldridge criticizing the other members over the extending the deadline for people to apply for the vacant seat.
Other aldermen said they were in favor of giving residents an extra month to put their names in the hat, but Aldridge said he was vexed by the extension when the town had five applications in hand already.
“We had more people to come forward that applied for this vacant position we have on the board here than we’ve ever had,” said Aldridge. “We’ve never had this many people.”
Aldridge questioned whether other town board members simply didn’t like those who have applied so far and were hoping to hand pick someone of their own choosing. Aldridge has lobbied for selecting the runner-up from the last town election, calling it the most “democratic” thing to do.
Whoever the appointee eventually is, they’ll only be sitting in the position for six months before the November election, where Alridge’s seat will also be up for grabs.
Though the decision to extend was made in consultation with the town board, Aldridge laid the blame for the extension squarely at the feet of Town Manager Tim Barth, even going so far as to call for Barth’s resignation.
“I guess I’m holding him accountable for this,” said Aldridge. “I think we need to look at Tim’s severance pay and his contract and go forward possibly looking for another town manager.”
The ire didn’t stop there, however, with perhaps the most heated exchanges coming over issues related to the town’s ABC board. Maggie Valley’s two liquor stores lost money in 2010 for the second year in a row, and blame was placed on a bad economy and overhead related to opening a second store. While revenue increased with the second store, overhead increased by even more, according to ABC Board Chairman Ralph Wallace.
But Aldridge, and Edwards prior to his resignation, suggested the stores have been poorly run, even mismanaged, and need more oversight. Both wanted to see the ABC board increased from three to five members.
However, Aldridge failed to garner support for the idea, as the board ultimately voted 3-to-1 not to increase the ABC board membership, at which point the meeting devolved briefly into a mire of bickering. Board members vacillated between hurling insults and accusations at one another, and taking it in turns to directly address the nearly full audience.
Aldridge logged the lone vote in favor of increasing the board, although Alderman Scott Pauley and fellow member Saralyn Price said they’d be for the measure at some point, but not right now.
Despite implications to the contrary, Price countered that she had faith in the scruples of the alcohol board’s members.
“The ABC board assures us everything is on the up and up,” Price said. Otherwise, Price said, town leaders would not “stand for somebody taking something and not doing things about it.”
After a shout from the crowd that cast derision on that claim, Price shot back, “then don’t vote for me ever again and maybe some other people should start running for these offices.”
Pauley made his appeal to the crowd, after proposing a policy to prevent members from circumventing Barth and going straight to town employees with their requests.
“We have a terrible communication problem,” said Pauley. “I’m not trying to mask it, I’m trying to fix it.”
Even in the public comment segment, citizens who showed up vented their spleen about nearly everything on the agenda, including the fact that public comment continued to languish at the end of every meeting. That means citizens have no venue for pitching their thoughts before votes are taken.
Several residents made the point that a poorly worded resolution that was passed before public comment could have been amended before it was voted on, had the board recognized audience members with raised hands looking to illuminate the mistake.
The resolution will now have to wait until next month’s meeting to be rectified.
In the end, Mayor Roger McElroy closed the tense session with a half-hearted adjournment, telling the few audience members who remained, “we appreciate your comments and will take them under consideration. Or at least I will.”
Maggie Valley has extended its deadline for alderman applications by a month, despite already having five applications in hand.
The town set an application deadline of Feb. 9 after Alderman Colin Edwards tendered his resignation last month. Edwards told The Smoky Mountain News that he stepped down from the board because of irreconcilable differences with the other board members. His resignation was accepted after a 3-1 vote, over the protestations of Alderman Phil Aldridge.
The town staff and remaining alderman decided to take applications for the position, hoping to name a new member at their Feb. 15 meeting. But late last week, town officials announced a deadline extension to March 9, which Town Manager Tim Barth said was to allow more residents the opportunity to apply.
“When we were finally able to get the ad in both newspapers, it ended up giving people very little time to get their applications or resumes in,” said Barth. “The board didn’t want to limit the number of people who were interested because they want to get the best candidate available, so they decided to extend it and not try and force it.”
However, Aldridge said he is concerned that the extension wasn’t to get the best candidate, but instead to find a hand-picked candidate.
The town currently has five applications, two from former alderman hopefuls from the last election, which Aldridge believes is more than enough, and indeed a far better response than he expected.
“I thought they were all good,” said Aldridge of the applicants, “and one of them was the highest vote-getter [in the last election aside from those who were elected], which would have been the most admirable way and the most democratic way to go about this.”
Aldridge clashed with the other three aldermen at a special-called meeting earlier this month over accepting Edwards’ resignation, as well as the operation of the town’s ABC board. That issue — and specifically Chairman Ralph Wallace’s decision to remain the chair — was what other aldermen said was the only reason given to them for Edwards’ abrupt resignation in January.
Edwards himself was appointed to the board before he won his seat in the last election.
Barth said the decision was about timing rather than choices, and said a March deadline would allow a broader range of citizens to apply. Alderman will interview selected candidates before voting on a choice at their March 15 meeting.
The appointee will sit in the position until November, when an election will be held to determine the seat.
Maggie Valley’s liquor stores lost money in 2010 for the second year in a row, prompting some aldermen to question whether the ABC stores are being properly managed.
The two stores are opening for fewer hours. Three part-time employees have been laid off in hopes of turning the corner, according to Ralph Wallace, chairman of the Maggie Valley ABC board.
“It is paying off,” Wallace said. “I think we are going to be all right.”
But Alderman Phil Aldridge doesn’t understand how Maggie’s two ABC stores ended up in the red for a second year in a row.
“There has to be money in this. I know there is,” Aldridge said.
Towns with ABC stores get to keep a cut of the profits. That once amounted to about $40,000 a year, but instead the Maggie stores lost $70,000 over the past two years.
“I am a steward of the taxpayers money. Because of mismanagement, the ABC funds are not coming back to the taxpayers like they should,” Aldridge said. “This is an issue that needs to be brought to the public’s attention.”
Wallace blames the losses on the bad economy and additional overhead of opening a second ABC store in 2009.
In a tactical move to grow revenues, Maggie Valley opened a second store aimed at capturing business from Waynesville. Maggie strategically annexed a satellite tract into its town limits to put the new store half way between Maggie and Waynesville on U.S. 19 in Dellwood.
Financial reports out of Waynesville show a corresponding drop in revenues since Maggie opened the second store.
Liquor sales in Maggie grew by $300,000 the first full year the store was open, with $1.59 million in sales in 2010 compared to $1.235 million in 2008, according to annual revenue reports filed with the state.
But the increase in revenues wasn’t enough to offset the expense of the second store, Wallace said.
Operating costs went from around $225,000 a year to $430,000 a year, according to revenue reports.
The new store not only meant more employees and additional overhead for phones, computers and utilities, but also paying off the debt from building the store and buying the land for it.
On the surface, the growth in liquor sales seems like enough to cover the extra overhead, however, and that’s what puzzles Aldridge.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing the financial records for the past five years,” Aldridge said.
The Smoky Mountain News has requested more detailed financial records from the ABC board, but Wallace is out of town and was unable to provide them as of press time.
Town leaders were not aware of just how poorly the stores were doing until recently. The town does not get regular financial reports from the ABC board, something town leaders want to change. Until now, all they got was a copy of the annual audit.
“We need to determine how they can report to us on an ongoing basis — what can they give us that will show how they are progressing over the course of the year so that we don’t just get a once-a-year snapshot,” said Town Manager Tim Barth. “Obviously it is something that concerns us.”
The town does not have a direct hand in operating the liquor stores. That’s up to a three-member ABC board. The town’s only role is appointing those three members.
“Other than that our hands are tied,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge wants to expand the ABC board from three to five members. So did former Alderman Colin Edwards.
Edwards had been leading the charge to expand the ABC board to five members. Like Aldridge, he had raised concerns about mismanagement and questioned the financial losses.
Edwards resigned as an alderman last week, however, citing irreconcilable differences with the rest of the town board.
SEE ALSO: Maggie alderman Colin Edwards resigns
Aldridge said Maggie’s ABC board could use new faces.
“The more people the more accountability there is,” Aldridge said. Besides, it seems they could use the help.
“Five heads is better than three,” Aldridge said.
Town leaders at the time hoped the second store would pay off in the long run, but it now doesn’t seem that way. Aldridge half-heartedly suggested closing the second store if it costs more to run it than it is making, but that would leave the town holding the bag on the remaining 13 years of loan payments on the building.
Barth said it wasn’t a total surprise that the stores were in the red. The issue came to a head, however, when a few aldermen noticed shelves at the second ABC store seemed empty.
“There was some concern among the aldermen about whether the stores were being stocked as they needed to be stocked,” Barth said.
The town board called a special meeting with the ABC board in early January to ask questions.
A poorly stocked store is a bad sign, and would only make financial problems worse, Aldridge said.
“You can’t sell it if you don’t have it,” Aldridge said.
It ran counter to the whole idea of capturing sales.
“We lost that edge when we let the stock run down,” Aldridge said.
Cash flow problems are likely why the store wasn’t keeping as much inventory, Barth said.
Wallace brought the attorney for the ABC board along to the meeting with the town board, as well as their accountant. Barth and Aldridge said they did not know why Wallace brought the attorney.
“It was supposed to be a casual meeting,” Aldridge said. “What was going through my mind was how can we help the ABC store.”
But the meeting allegedly got heated at times. There is no written or audio record of the meeting. The town clerk was out sick that day, and Town Manager Tim Barth said he didn’t take minutes.
This violates the NC Open Meetings Law.
Wallace said the recession came at the worst possible time.
“When they opened the new store the economy took a downturn all of a sudden,” Wallace said. “We are not the only ABC store in the country that isn’t doing good.”
Wallace said another factor that hurt the bottom line was the closing of Thunder Ridge, a large nightclub and dancehall.
“That was a big account of ours and that has hurt business some,” Wallace said.
However, Thunder Ridge has been closed since 2004, long before the ABC board made forays into a second store.
“You can blame it on a lot of things,” Wallace said.
Indeed, in an interview in December 2009, then-chairman of the ABC board Austin Pendley cited several factors. Pendley primarily blamed the recession for a slump in tourism, further exacerbated by the closure of Interstate 40 because of a rock slide.
Meanwhile, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino began serving alcohol. Before, people gambling at Harrah’s would drive over to Maggie Valley to stock up on booze. The Maggie liquor store did a bang up business in pocket-sized airline bottles: the perfect size for smuggling into the casino.
Nonetheless, Maggie’s ABC stores posted gains in liquor sales to the public despite the recession, according to revenue reports. Restaurants and bars, on the other hand, stopped buying as much. Liquor purchased by restaurants and bars once accounted for one-third of the business done by Maggie’s ABC store.
But sales to restaurants and bars went from $300,000 a year before the recession to less than $200,000 in 2010, according to revenue reports. The recession meant fewer people were eating out, and those who did ordered fewer drinks.
Pendley passed away last year, as did fellow ABC board member Sam McCrary
Wallace said he isn’t as knowledgeable about ABC operations as they were.
“We lost both of those guys, and it has really been a struggle,” Wallace said.
For example, when questioned about overhead for the second store, Wallace couldn’t say how many new employees were added. He also said he didn’t know off the top of his head how much the annual debt on the land and building is.
Maggie Valley Alderman Colin Edwards resigned last week, prompting a special called meeting where barely-concealed animosity among the remaining board members threatened to bubble up into outright conflict.
Alderman Phil Aldridge voted against accepting Edwards’ resignation — the only member to do so — and also voted against the appointment of Alderman Scott Pauley as new mayor pro-tem.
“I’m voting against it, I’m not in favor of it,” said Aldridge. “We have a very dysfunctional board, I’m sorry to say.”
Edwards himself was not present at the meeting. The only reason he offered for his departure was his displeasure at serving with other aldermen, though over what issue the rift opened, Edwards didn’t specify.
“I had a difference of opinion with other board members on the Maggie Valley board of aldermen,” said Edwards. “I felt like I could not sit in that position no longer, so I tendered my resignation.”
Alderwoman Saralyn Price and Mayor Roger McElroy said after the meeting the only reasoning Edwards gave them was he wanted ABC Board Chairman Ralph Wallace to step down from his position.
Aldridge said he thinks the board should pick the next most-voted-for candidate from the last election, which in this case would be Phillip Wight. Aldridge said going with the next highest vote getter from the last election is the Democratic thing to do.
That’s not the method the rest of the town board has chosen, however.
“Rather than going back to the results of the election, they felt it would be better to see who was interested and to interview those candidates,” said Town Manager Tim Barth.
Barth said the board plans to appoint a new member at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting.
Maggie Valley is in the midst of a makeover. The town is taking steps to spruce itself up, modernize and, just maybe, attract a few new visitors and investors.
Last month, the town’s aldermen voted unanimously to accept a set of aesthetic standards that proponents hope will change the face of the town, giving it a look dubbed ‘mountain vernacular’ that will nestle a little more naturally into its mountain home.
The standards will go into effect Jan. 16 for new buildings and property renovations. The changes have been over two years in the making.
Maggie Valley Planning Director Nathan Clark said the reaction in the community has been mostly positive. They were already moving towards the look the town finally decided on, anyway.
“A lot of the vision for this type of mountain vernacular style of design is kind of present all throughout the valley already,” Clark said. “A lot of people already have it in some way.”
While the town created committees to define what, exactly, entails “mountain vernacular,” it’s hard to craft a quick description that captures the look. It’s part rustic, part bungalow-esque, part down-home polish, and even the town’s own literature on the matter classes it as beyond definition.
“Mountain vernacular is not a style of architecture,” Clark told aldermen in a presentation at the meeting. “It cannot be defined in simple terms or achieved by following a certain set of strict design requirements. Mountain vernacular is as much of a process as it is an end product.”
He gave the Maggie Valley Police Department as a prime example of the style.
Clark maintains, though, that not having a set list of criteria to go by is actually a better way to approach design standards because it allows for consideration of every case on its own merits. He told the board that the idea was “ballparks, not bull’s-eyes.” They’ve got a design primer that will answer basic questions, but the larger questions will be settled by a review with the town’s planning department, a session with the newly-created appearance commission and a final look from the board of aldermen.
Overall, response to the new standards was positive. There was some vocal objection to such an intrusion by government into private-sector affairs, but Mayor Roger McElroy defended the measures as necessary for a town that desperately wants to see growth and renewal.
“If we’re going to have people come in here and spend substantial money building a place when they know that someone can come in and build something very inappropriate right next door, they’re not going to do it,” said McElroy.
And that’s what Maggie Valley has been searching for in earnest in its post-Ghost Town era: a way to get people interested and keep them that way.
The new aesthetic standards are only one front in Maggie’s battle against its own decay. Earlier this fall, the town and local business owners dropped thousands of daffodil and tulip bulbs into the frozen ground, hoping that when they spring up next spring, the waves of color undulating down Soco Road will entrance the droves of tourists that haven’t yet been snared by the town’s other charms.
Clayton Davis, long-time horticulture agent for Haywood County and 50-year valley resident, pitched the idea of year-round color to the aldermen a few months ago.
Here’s the idea: plant a variety of foolproof flowers that blossom in separate seasons throughout the town, the result being that, with a little money and a little effort, you get a town full of color all year long. And a built-in tourist attraction.
“The idea is to start in the spring with the daffodils blooming and the tulips to have a constant flow of color of either flowers or foliage,” explained Davis, who got the idea from a visit to Summerville, S.C., decades ago.
“Everybody planted azaleas, and in the month of April it was just gorgeous,” Davis said. “And i thought we could do something like that with color.”
The three- to five-year plan involves knockout roses, which bloom from early summer to the first frost, followed by nandina and holly to brighten up the winter months.
Davis said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the keen interest from business owners who are happy to bury anything in their yards that will bring flocks of tourists their way.
Davis said he went for plants that are more or less one-time care species, sort-of a plant-and-forget campaign.
“We want plants that are what we call bulletproof,” Davis said, explaining that daffodils and tulips are some of the best species for the job.
“They grow wild in Europe,” David said, “ and I’ve seen them back at my old home place in Swain County where I lived as a boy where they were planted over 70 years ago. And even though the houses are gone and the trees are overgrown, they’re still growing there.
“Annuals have a definite place in the landscaping, but you have to plant them every year. But perennials, both bulbs and shrubs, if you plant them now, they’ll come back.”
And that’s the goal with both the plants and the planning standards: make Maggie Valley a place people want to visit and return to.
Planning Director Clark concedes that these tactics are quite the departure from the traditional way of doing things in the valley, but he believes it’s worth it to revitalize the flagging town.
“This is a very drastic change in the way things have been done in Maggie valley throughout history,” Clark said. “It’s time to re-assert ourselves and our place as a destination regionally.”
The Maggie Valley Moonlight Race will return in 2011, once again enticing runners from near and far to lace up their sneakers in the dark.
“After a two-year absence, Glory Hound Events is proud to bring back this fixture of the Western North Carolina running scene,” said Greg Duff, race organizer. “Runners should be pleased to know that we are planning to restore some of the traditions of the past, as well as incorporate some modern aspects for the 30th running.”
Hosted by the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Moonlight Race will be held Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. Those participating in the 8K race will gather at the Maggie Valley Fairgrounds for the race start and run the same course as was used in 2008, Duff said. The course takes runners 1.2 miles up the valley to Ghost Town, then 2.4 miles in the opposite direction, before returning them 1.2 miles to the finish line back at the fairgrounds.
“The Maggie Valley Area Chamber and Visitors Bureau is extremely pleased to bring back the Moonlight Race in August 2011 for its 30th year,” said Teresa Smith, Chamber president. “Runners from all over the world have flocked to the valley throughout the years to participate in the Moonlight Race, and the businesses are happy to have the boost to the local economy that participants provide.”
The first Maggie Valley Moonlight Race was held on Aug. 4, 1979, with more than 830 participants. From its start the nighttime race was popular with elite and amateur runners alike, some of whom traveled great distances and from other continents to participate. In its early years, the Moonlight Race’s sizable winner’s purse attracted internationally-recognized runners from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Kenya. While prize money is no longer available, Moonlight runners continue to be challenged by the difficulty of this course, Duff said.
“The valley appears to offer a relatively flat course, but the climb toward the Ghost Town parking lot is a tough one,” said Duff.
“The town of Maggie Valley is excited to be working with Greg Duff of Glory Hound Events to promote the 30th running of the Moonlight Race,” said Audrey Hager, Maggie Valley’s director of special events and festivals.
Just as was the case in 1979, town officials hope the return of the Moonlight Race will bring visitors in close contact with Maggie Valley’s many businesses and hotels rooms. “We believe this important event will bring economic stimulus to the businesses and put Maggie Valley back on the map,” said Hager.
“We are grateful to the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce and the town of Maggie Valley for their complete support of this endeavor,” said Duff. “We look forward to once again seeing hundreds of people running in the valley this August.”
Major sponsors for the returning Moonlight Race to date include Mission Health Systems and The Smoky Mountain News. Registration for the event will open on Feb. 1, 2011. All event information, including a link to online registration, is being updated as it becomes available at www.maggievalleymoonlightrun.com.
The Cataloochee Ski Patrol began in 1961 as a group of friends who enjoyed skiing at the new Cataloochee Ski Hill, the first ski area to open south of Pennsylvania. As Cataloochee Ski Area grew and became more popular, it’s Ski Patrol grew and became more professional.
Today’s Cataloochee Ski Patrol is still a group of friends who love skiing on the local mountain, but their numbers have grown to more than 100 counting paid staffers and volunteers. And they are all highly trained professionals with a minimum of 80 hours of Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) training.
According to Wayne Morgan, director of Cataloochee’s Ski Patrol for the past seven years, OEC is a worldwide standard established and regulated by the National Ski Patrol. The National Ski Patrol system is composed of more than 625 patrols with more than 26,000 members across the U.S., Asia and Europe.
“That standard is the same across the board,” Morgan said.
Dan Greene, the representative for Cataloochee Ski Patrol volunteers, said the OEC program is designed “to prepare individuals from all walks of life and all backgrounds from the high school graduate to the PhD to work side by side providing the same level of care.”
“The focus of Ski Patrol is safety on the slope,” Morgan said. And that begins with the slope itself.
“We survey the slope for any kind of hazards that might be a danger to skiers,” he said. That could be anything from holes to ridges that develop that could bump skiers into a different flow of traffic to snowmaking equipment.
“North Carolina law mandates that all snowmaking equipment be marked, so we flag all the equipment plus any other hazards we see,” Morgan said.
“We are most visible in that we provide rescue and first aid,” said Greene. “That’s what Ski Patrol is known for. But the overarching principle is safety on the course, whether it’s the slope itself or skiers on the slope.”
“We don’t like being policemen, but it’s part of the job,” Morgan said. “We try to be proactive, rather than reactive,” he said, but still it’s a tough job.
“Face it,” Greene said, “we’re dealing with a public that doesn’t necessarily show a lot of common sense all the time.”
Morgan said that how Ski Patrol is perceived on the slope usually has to do with the attitude of the skier. “If we see people doing unsafe things and have to intervene, they may not be happy to see us.
“I’ve been on the slope slowing people down, and I’ll have some people cussing me and some will stop and pat me on the back and say thanks — good job — we’re glad you’re out here,” Morgan said.
The basic training to become a patroller begins with OEC training.
“That course is usually between 80 and 110 hours and begins in the summer,” Morgan said. “OEC test are given the first or second week in November.”
Morgan said that one of obstacles the National Ski Patrol’s Southern Division has is finding competent skiers. The Southern Division runs from West Virginia to Alabama and includes Cataloochee, Beech Mountain, Ober Gatlinburg, Wolf Ridge, Wintergreen, Massanutten, Appalachian, Sugar Mountain and other southern ski areas.
“Here in the Southern Division we have smaller mountains and we don’t have that real skier mentality. Great skiers don’t flock here, like they do at Vail or Whistler to join the Ski Patrol. So we’ve created a ski school in our division and each slope has at least one PSIA [Professional Ski Instructors of America] certified instructor. We’re really fortunate here at Cataloochee. Our guys are really enthused and we have about 10 PSIA instructors on our patrol.”
After a Ski Patrol candidate has successfully completed OEC training, they must pass a basic ski and toboggan course (S&T) to become a basic patroller.
“The toboggan is basically a stretcher or litter on a sled, designed to transport an injured person off the hill,” said Greene. “There are very specific skills required to handle them.”
Morgan said Cataloochee has about a dozen toboggans that ski patrol stashes at strategic points along the slopes so that they will be accessible in an emergency.
“To become a basic patroller, a candidate must pass an S&T test on the hardest slope at his area,” said Morgan. “To progress to a senior patroller, the basic patroller must pass an S&T test on the toughest slope in their region. Our senior patrollers have to pass their test on Mogul Ridge at Ober Gatlinburg.”
And the rigors only get tougher to become certified in S&T. According to Morgan, of the more than 26,000 members of the National Ski Patrol there are only about 7,000 who are certified in S&T.
But that doesn’t mean your care is compromised. The ski patrol candidate has the same OEC skills as the certified patroller.
“As your level increases from candidate, to basic, to senior patroller you acquire more and better management skills regarding multiple traumas and managing an accident scene but OEC is OEC,” Morgan said.
“We’re somewhere between a wilderness responder and a paramedic. We have victims in a hostile environment and we have to stabilize them and get them out of that environment, then assess the injury and decide the proper course of action.”
And every patroller is trained to do that whether he is a candidate or certified said Morgan.
All National Ski Patrol members have to renew their certification every three years. Their continuing education is done once a year and the course topics and structure is mandated by the National Ski Patrol so that any patroller could walk into a course anywhere and get the credit needed for that year.
Morgan said that during the week he generally had five or six patrollers on the slope. On the weekends ski patrol duties generally fall to Greene’s volunteers and because of the extended hours they run two shifts and generally have between eight and 10 patrollers on the slope.
This is Dan Greene’s first year as patrol representative, but he has more than 20 years experience as a patroller. Volunteers have to pass the same tests and meet the same requirements as paid patrollers, they are just rewarded in a different way — free skiing. According to Greene all volunteers have a set rotation that they are required to fill, but other than that they ski at any time.
“They can also patrol at any time and there are added benefits to putting in more hours. The management here is very generous and we get rewarded with complimentary tickets,” Greene said.
For Greene, who lives in Atlanta, it’s the love of the sport.
“I do a lot of volunteering in other areas as well, but I love to ski. I love the sport. It’s something my family and I have enjoyed for years, and I see this as a way of giving back to the sport. And, selfishly, it gives me a reason to come up here and play in the snow.”
Morgan notes that there are other benefits to becoming OEC certified.
“I was able to use my OEC certification to work the Olympics in Atlanta,” he said. He also noted that many rafting companies were adopting OEC as their standard of care and venues like Asheville’s mountain sports festival and area mountain bike races welcomed volunteers with OEC certification.
The latest filing in a lawsuit over the massive landslide in Maggie Valley last winter claims the collapse of the mountainside was triggered by a broken waterline at Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park. Until now, accusations centered on a failed retaining wall intended to shore up the slipping mountainside.
A few steps past the door at Maggie Valley’s Wheels Through Time museum, and the characteristic, unmistakable scent of a mechanic’s workshop wafts out – a heady mix of grease, motor oil, gasoline and rubber worn down by open roads.
With the vast and impressive array of motorcycles and memorabilia on display in the museum — both ancient and modern, rusted and restored — it would be easy to think that it is the perfume of these dormant machines’ pasts, reminders of their greatness in battle, their glory on the track.
But meeting Dale Walksler, the museum’s proprietor, curator and greatest fan, will prove otherwise. To him, this is a living museum. It is hard to walk more than a few yards with him before he stops to crank up one bike or another and tell its story, and he knows them all. To Walksler, the stories seem to be almost as valuable as the motorcycles themselves.
“It’s all about the story and the history,” he says. “I don’t go out and chase any old motorcycle. It has to have a story.”
And all of them do. Walking through the museum, which stretches over two floors and features special exhibits, vintage racers, military motorcycles, stunt bikes, a plethora of other machines and the accessories and memorabilia that accompany them, Walksler points out one of his newest acquisitions: a strange, 1916 Harley Davidson contraption that is driven from the sidecar.
“I’ve found nothing about it,” he says enthusiastically, but he’s already got a trip planned to the Harley archives in Milwaukee to see what he can dig up. That, he says, is one of the key features of what he does.
“Research, lots of research,” is how he says he’s gotten to know the life stories of the bikes that call the museum home, and some are the most storied motorcycles this country has produced. The knowledge that is the prize for all that research, Walksler shares freely with anyone who happens to be around. A museum patron passes, asking about a particular bike in the back corner of the museum, and Walksler’s face is alight.
“That particular motorcycle was ridden by the Jack Pine champion,” he begins, before regaling the man and his wife with the story of the bike’s win and its rider’s own history, before quickly rattling off the answers to a few more obscure questions about the history of Harley Davidson shifting.
Walksler is a compact man, his tawny hair and goatee shot through with grey, who walks with purpose and talks with animation, especially when the subject is motorcycles. His knowledge is encyclopedic, though not dry, and he has the delivery of a practiced showman — a mix of enthusiasm and bravado, information and entertainment.
Passing by another couple in motorcycle gear, he stops mid-sentence to thank them for stopping by. They’re from New Hampshire, and they’re riding their way back home.
“Would you like to see the rarest motorcycle in the world?” he asks slyly, and the New Hampshirans, of course, oblige. Leading the way, he begins telling the story of the Traub, a mysterious, one-of-a-kind motorcycle about which very little is known, apart from the fact that it was found in a brick wall by a Chicago fireman in 1967.
Walksler stops next to an old, reddish-orange bike with ‘Traub’ emblazoned on the side in stylized script and entertains his audience with the tale of how he acquired the bike from fellow collector Richard Morris. Before that, he says, it passed through the hands of both Steve McQueen and his stuntman, Bud Ekins, also an aficionado.
“Would you like to see it run?” he asks, almost rhetorically, and as he cranks the ancient machine, even more visitors materialize, drawn by the shuddering, spitting, deep-bass call of the Traub that bounces and echoes, ear-splittingly amplified, off the high warehouse ceilings. The audience is growing.
The Traub is clearly one of the crown jewels in Walksler’s collection. Some people, he says proudly, come just to see it. And whether or not this is true, his excitement makes it believable, and even a cursory inquiry will reveal that it is, in fact, a remarkably rare piece of antiquity.
But as he leads the impromptu tour group around the floor, his manner is surprisingly low on favoritism. The consummate collector, he is enamored of his entire compendium equally, and he’s been adding to it for most of his life.
“The first bike I ever owned was a 1957 Harley,” he says. “It was $25.” When he bought a bike off another high schooler for roughly the same price, and promptly sold one of its parts for $125, he was sold.
A shop followed in 1970, and a Harley dealership in southern Illinois sprung up a few years later. Along the way, Walksler was meticulously building his collection, anticipating the day he would share it with the public at large.
“Being selective is really important,” he says. He judges his acquisitions by three criteria: its rareness and desirability, make — he collects only American machines – and the story behind the piece.
“And then I’ve still got to make it run,” he says, grinning as he perches reading glasses atop his head and sets down a stack of photos sent to him by one of many hopeful sellers. And indeed, most of the museum’s specimens do at least crank, even the most geriatric and unlikely candidates.
In fact, he just completed the inaugural Motorcycle Cannonball — a jaunt across the nation raced exclusively on bikes that are more than 95 years old — on a 1915 Harley Davidson from the collection.
Wheels Through Time, in its first incarnation, began in 1993 in Mount Vernon, Illinois, where it enjoyed a 13-year run before Walksler packed it in and shipped off to Maggie Valley, where he set up shop because, as he points out, it’s where the motorcyclists already come.
“It’s a known dot on the map,” he says, launching into an anecdote to illustrate the point.
“My brother was in a meeting, and he says, ‘my little brother is moving to Maggie Valley,’ and three people — this is in Chicago — said, ‘Hey, I know where that is!’”
Since his arrival in 2006, Walksler hasn’t exactly enjoyed an untarnished relationship with the community. Frustration with what Walksler perceives as a lack of reverence for his museum by locals even prompted him to consider another move last year.
But back on the floor, he has only words and eyes for the collection that has sent him into relative prominence in the motorcycle community.
A member of the little group — an elderly man in a denim shirt, jeans held up with black suspenders, worn riding boots an a red cap that identifies him as the St. Louis Bevo Beer Packaging Supervisor — pipes up to ask if there are any flat-track bikes. His name is Ed Gahn, and he is a 71-year-old flat-track racing veteran himself.
“I got to see hospitals all over the Midwest,” he quips, laughing as he folds his arms across his chest.
Of course, replies Walksler. He quickly drums up three or four names that Gahn recognizes, and when a particularly legendary and difficult bike — Leaping Lena — is mentioned, Walksler bids the group to follow him, for that same bike, he says, is in the back corner, and both men have ridden it.
And so went the morning — a spontaneous show featuring his most treasured highlights and history of American motorcycle culture, with Walksler acting as emcee, ringmaster and professor. He summons a battery of dates and figures, names and stories, developments and disasters with keen alacrity, in his element among his beloved machines, exuding charisma as he coaxes half a dozen motorcycles to life for the benefit of his elated spectators.
But not everyone is as pleased with Walksler, or his efforts locally. The enmity between him and some in the local community is no secret, and he isn’t timid about sharing his disdain for what he perceives as a less-than-welcoming reception he and his museum have garnered from some tourism and business leaders.
“I’m not the kind of person who’s going to change my focus and life for the people who don’t get it,” he says, adding that he feels no support from the local tourism entities or local government. “I honestly think a lot of them think ‘I guess we already get enough of them [motorcyclists] through here, so that’ll do.’”
When asked why he chose to keep the museum in Maggie Valley despite conflicts within the community, he answered that “the real reason is that I’ve made as many adjustments as I’m willing to make.”
As far as an end to the hostility is concerned, Walksler says he is open to better relationships locally, but seems less inclined to proactive cultivation.
“My door is open all the time,” he says.
But despite his personal quarrels on the local scene, his offerings to those inside and out of the motorcycle community are a unique, well-curated collection that reflects the passion and eagerness of its owner.
“This isn’t a motorcycle museum,” he says, “it’s a museum of American history and culture.”