Hikers and map geeks will revel in poring over a new map of the Bartram Trail being released this week.

The map covers a 75-mile stretch of the Bartram Trail that winds through the Nantahala National Forest of Macon and Swain counties. The map labels campsites and springs for water sources, scenic vistas, prime wildlife viewing areas, picnic areas, canoe access and sundry other points of interest.

“When creating the new map, day hikers, backpackers, exercise runners, nature photographers, wildflower enthusiasts, and area history buffs were all kept in mind,” said Ina Warren, a member of the N.C. Bartram Trail Society.

As a perk, the map has driving directions to many of the trail heads, and phone numbers and locations of forest service ranger stations.

Topo lines are at 50-foot intervals. The map’s scale allows for smaller creeks and finger ridges — ones that usually go unnamed on most maps — to be labeled.

The full-color, two-sided map features heavyweight, glossy paper that will hold up to being hauled in and out of your backpack pocket.

The long-distance trail follows the 1775 route of William Bartram, an early explorer and naturalist, through the region.

Plant collecting in new lands was all the rage during Bartram’s time, often funded by the royal crown back home. Bartram’s journey was popularized at the time in the book Bartram’s Travels. In addition to collecting plant and seed specimens, Bartram described the landscape and the Cherokee Indians with admiration.

In keeping with Bartram’s spirit, the map features native flora and fauna notes from along the trail.

“We hope this attractive, colorful and informative map will excite folks enough to plan a recreation outing or hike in their national forests and gain many years of enjoyment from the map.”

A grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area laid the ground work for the map project and was matched by substantial contributions from the Highlands Biological Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Nantahala Outdoor Center, private donors and members of the Bartram Trail Society.

The Bartram Trail Society has given out over 1,000 free maps to schools, public and college libraries, summer camps, chambers of commerce, visitor centers, nature centers, museums and other groups.

The map goes on sale this week at local outfitters and forest service ranger stations. It may also be ordered online at ncbartramtrail.org or by mailing a check for $12 (which includes postage) to NC Bartram Trail Society, P. O. Box 968, Highlands, NC 28741. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.

Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.

“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, the first Democrat to announce his intentions to run, more than a year before the primary.

Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would be challenging. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.

Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.

“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”

Jenkins, a self-employed logger, locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.

Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May. Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.

About 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, much less than the 28 percent who voted in the primary election in May.

At a special session of the Swain County board last week, Commissioner David Monteith stood up and stunned the crowd with a controversial proposal for spending the North Shore Road cash settlement money.

Monteith called for a one-year suspension of property taxes for Swain County residents and a 3 percent raise for all county employees. Businesses and county commissioners would be exempt from the tax holiday, however.

Monteith estimates his proposal would scoop about $4.5 million out of the $12.8 million the county has gotten so far.

But doing so would dip into the principal of the road settlement money, a step that requires approval by two-thirds of registered voters in Swain County. Without such a referendum, commissioners are only allowed to spend the interest from the settlement, which is held in a special trust fund by the N.C. Treasurer.

Monteith said the tax break would be extremely helpful during these rough economic times.

“I know people are struggling...what better way to give citizens a break,” said Monteith.

It would also guarantee that the cash settlement benefits every taxpayer of Swain County.

Fellow commissioners were left flabbergasted by the proposal, which was brought up during a special meeting on an unrelated topic.

“We wasn’t there to discuss that,” said Commissioner Glenn Jones of the meeting. “Why he brought this up, I have no earthly idea.”

Jones and Commissioner Genevieve Lindsay vehemently opposed Monteith’s pitch, while Commissioner Steve Moon said he would only be in favor of spending the interest money to give county employees a raise.

It’s been more than two years since employees have gotten a raise, and they’ve also had to take furloughs without pay. “For a lot of people, that hurts,” said Moon.

However, giving everyone a holiday from property taxes for an entire year is a different matter.

“I could not agree with that and could not go along with that,” said Moon, adding only drastic circumstances would cause two-thirds of registered voters to support spending the principal. “To me, that would seem to be almost an impossibility.”

With at least three of the five commissioners opposed to it, Monteith’s proposal seems likely to die since the referendum requires approval by the board.

Jones stated outright that he would never support a vote by the people to dip into the principal, though he would like to see a committee of citizens help decide how to spend the interest money.

“If you ever did once get into that principal, then it’s gone,” said Jones. “You can never bring that back.”

Leonard Winchester, chair of the Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County, a group that fought for the cash settlement, says he suspects ulterior motives behind Monteith’s proposition.

“All this is a vote-buying scheme,” said Winchester, citing upcoming elections. “In effect, it says, ‘Vote for me, I’ll give you money.’”

Monteith, who is up for re-election this fall, strongly opposed the cash settlement and was the lone commissioner to vote against it. One of his chief arguments was that commissioners would squander the settlement.

“Now look at who the first commissioner is to make a suggestion that the principal be reached into and passed out,” said Winchester. “It is scary just how far some people will go to try to make the settlement end as a failure.”

Winchester is skeptical that two-thirds of all registered voters will show up to the polls to support Monteith’s idea, and he guesses that Monteith might feel similarly.

“He’s a smart politician,” said Winchester. “He knows this is not going to pass, but he can still get a lot of political mileage.”

Where did the cash settlement come from?

Swain ended a decades-long uphill battle with the federal government this year, and could soon be flush with cash as a result. The federal government flooded a main road through the county for the creation of Lake Fontana in 1943, needed at the time to generate hydropower for the war effort. The federal government promised to rebuild the road, but never did. Instead, it has agreed to compensate Swain County with $52 million through installments in coming years — known as the “cash settlement.”

Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.

Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty and a certified North Carolina law enforcement officer, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.

“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, who plans on taking a vacation in Alaska before getting back into full swing campaigning before the November election.

There were initially eight Democrats on the ticket vying for the chance to challenge Cochran. Of the crowded field, Ensley had been the first to announce his intentions to run, throwing his name in the ring more than a year before the primary.

Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would undoubtedly be a challenge. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.

Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.

“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “...I started my campaign four years ago. The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”

Jenkins, a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, fared better in the runoff than he did in the May primary, when he faced seven other candidates. Jenkins locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.

Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May.

Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.

Jenkins was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday morning.

Voter turnout

Only a dismal 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, compared to the impressive 28 percent who took to the polls during the May primary.

Still, it was far better than the typical voter turn-out witnessed in runoff elections. The local runoff boosted Swain’s voter turnout when compared to the rest of the state and surrounding counties, where the only race on the ballot was a Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Senate.

Only 3 to 4 percent of voters in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties cast their ballots Tuesday, choosing between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham. All four counties went for Marshall, who won the primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote statewide.

Long-awaited relief for Swain County’s dire animal control problem has finally arrived.

For years, residents had no recourse if a vicious dog or colony of stray cats took up residence on their property. Now, county officials hope to hire their first full-time animal control officer some time in the coming fiscal year.

A $7,900 grant from a private national foundation that has insisted on remaining anonymous will cover the cost of equipment, like traps, poles, gloves and chaps.

Meanwhile, state and federal reimbursements, along with a county match, will pay the new deputy’s $27,000 salary.

County leaders are hoping the Town of Bryson City will pitch in by purchasing a truck or SUV for the new animal control officer. County Manager Kevin King estimates the truck or SUV might cost $23,000.

Town aldermen say they are still waiting on an official contract before making a final decision.

King said if the town doesn’t cooperate in purchasing a vehicle, the animal control officer would only work in the county — not within town limits.

However, since town residents also pay county taxes, they are already contributing to the salary of the new animal control officer — just as much as any other resident of the county — yet would be excluded from a service received by the rest of the county.

At one time, the county contracted with a private animal shelter in another county to swing through Swain once a week and haul off strays reported over the course of the week. But the arrangement was discontinued three years ago.

A local shelter run by the nonprofit, no-kill organization P.A.W.S. (Placing Animals Within Society) has struggled to fill the void, but cannot to keep up with the growing number of strays being dropped off at its doors.

For now, vicious animals are reported to the sheriff’s office, then passed on to the county health director Linda White. The only thing White can do is officially declare the animal “potentially dangerous,” making it mandatory to leash and muzzle the animal every time it’s taken outside a fenced-in area. The designation is pointless if the animal is a stray and doesn’t have an owner, however.

Sheriff Curtis Cochran says his office receives about half a dozen complaints about potentially dangerous animals each week.

“We have a lot of animals that are running unattended,” said Cochran.

Even so, Cochran assures residents that the new animal control officer will not be scouring the county, tracking down stray and dangerous animals.

“This is in no way to penalize the owners of the animals,” said Cochran. “We’re not going to go around and try to spot an animal running loose. That’s not what it’s going to be about.”

Since the county lacks a public animal shelter, it’s unclear exactly what the animal control officer will do with strays once they are picked up. County officials are hoping neighboring shelters in Cherokee or Jackson and Macon counties will accept the animals. Swain is still looking at the option of creating an in-house animal shelter.

“We’re entirely in the crawling stages right now,” said Commissioner Glenn Jones. “Then we’ll walk.”

Jones added that a shelter’s location has to be chosen carefully.

“Nobody wants a building put in their back door,” said Jones. “You have to be very selective when you start this process.”

While officials are hoping to move forward as quickly as possible, an animal control officer will probably not be in place by the beginning of the fiscal year.

“It’s not going to happen July 1,” said Cochran.

Bryson City Town Manager Larry Callicut said the county is hoping to have an animal control officer in place by Jan. 1, 2011.

On Tuesday (June 22), Swain County voters will decide which Democrat will face Republican Curtis Cochran in the hotly contested sheriff’s race this fall.

Though candidate John Ensley won the primary with an impressive 28 percent of the vote — despite competing with seven other candidates — it was not the 40 percent he needed to avoid a runoff election

Runner-up Mitchell Jenkins, who won 285 votes compared to Ensley’s 513, called for a second round.

Whoever wins the second primary will face Sheriff Cochran, who has held the seat for four years. In the Republican primary this year, Cochran won in a landslide with 525 votes, compared to his lone competitor Wayne Dover’s 156 votes.

With the sheriff’s race the most heated election in the county, candidates were lining up and campaigning more than a year before the actual primary.

In his campaign, Ensley emphasizes community involvement with the sheriff’s office, more education for officers, outreach programs in the school system and better networking with surrounding counties.

Ensley, 42, is the owner of Yellow Rose Realty but also a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer. He has worked as a jailer in Florida and worked for the Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years.

Jenkins, 52, is a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, including eight years as chief deputy in Swain County and one year in the Bryson City Police Department.

Jenkins is running because he’d like to establish a better working relationship between the sheriff’s office and the public. Jenkins said he’d also respect the confidentiality of those who phone in tips to the sheriff’s office.

Early voting will take place until Saturday, June 19. To find out more, contact the Board of Elections.

While university leaders are nervously hoping state lawmakers will pass a budget that looks something like the Senate version, many K-12 school officials are openly rooting for the House version.

Seeing public schools and colleges compete for the same budget dollars is not unusual, especially during this recession.

John Bardo, chancellor for Western Carolina University, said the budget would ideally not pit educational systems against each other.

“We cannot get good students in our institutions if the K-12 sector or the community colleges aren’t doing their jobs,” said Bardo, adding that lawmakers should consider the various entities as one system that builds competitiveness for North Carolina.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County, added that he understands the dilemma leaders across the board face during this recession.

“We know it’s not the mayor’s fault or the state superintendent’s fault. It’s just the state of the world economy right now,” said Nolte.

According to Nolte, the governor’s budget is the least desirable for K-12 schools. To prepare for the worst, that’s the version Haywood County schools is working with in crafting its budget.

Last year, Haywood County’s school system lost 44.5 positions. This year, Nolte estimates Haywood will lose around a dozen more.

“Out of 1,200 plus, it’s a lot, but it could be a lot worse,” Nolte said, citing the total number of school employees. About 10 of the 12 positions would be absorbed through retirement and resignations, avoiding actual layoffs but impacting staff levels nonetheless.

Other budget cuts will likely limit textbook purchases, replacement of school buses and staff training.

While state lawmakers make mandatory cuts for all public schools, they also require individual school systems to decide where to make additional cuts. Under the governor’s budget, Haywood has to come up with $2.3 million in additional cuts, compared to $1.4 million under the House budget.

Gwen Edwards, finance officer for Jackson County Schools, said the K-12 school system will probably have to make $750,000 of its own discretionary cuts above and beyond what state lawmakers slash.

Federal stimulus money may make up the difference this year, but that money, which has eased the pain of state cuts for two years now, will dry up come the 2011-12 school year.

“We’re anticipating that that’s where a lot of hurting is going to be,” said Edwards.

Jan Letendre, finance officer for Swain County Schools, said many have likened the cutoff in federal stimulus money to a “funding cliff.” What’s also worrying for Letendre, though, are state cuts in funding for custodians, school secretaries and substitute teachers.

Letendre pegs the discretionary cuts for Swain’s school system at about $575,000 this year.

Duke Energy wants an option to buy land at the Swain County Industrial Park with the intention of using it as the alternate site for an electrical substation, which was originally slated for the Ela area.

According to Jason Walls, Duke’s spokesperson, the company has offered to pay the county $15,000 to reserve an option to buy the 13-acre site of the proposed Swain County IT building at a price of $400,000. The option would give Duke six months to consider whether to follow through with the purchase.

In addition to the $400,000 price tag, Duke Energy would give the county $1.1 million in community development grant money to help with the cost of relocating the IT building, which has been in the development stages for nearly a decade.

“It’s part of our commitment to continue to work towards an alternate site,” Walls said. “We haven’t settled on an alternate site, but we continue to examine a few sites very closely.”

Duke has been in negotiations with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Swain County over relocating the substation after both entities voiced their disapproval of the current site.

The substation project is part of a massive upgrade of Duke’s West Mill transmission line, which serves parts of Jackson, Swain and Macon counties. The upgrade entails replacing the existing 66kv line mounted on wooden poles with a 161kv line mounted on 120-foot steel towers and constructing new substation facilities to accommodate the increased amount of power.

Duke began work on a substation on a hill near the Kituwah mound in the picturesque valley of Ela between Cherokee and Bryson City in November 2009, but this March, Swain County imposed a moratorium that halted the project after both the EBCI and a citizens group opposed it. Protests by citizens are also playing out before the state utility commission.

Should Duke follow through with the purchase of the land and the relocation of the substation, it would signal a monumental compromise between the energy company, the tribe and the county over a sensitive cultural preservation issue.

In March Swain County commissioners voted to enact a moratorium that put a halt to Duke Energy’s substation project on a hill overlooking the Cherokee mound site, Kituwah.

The moratorium was passed amidst a heated dialogue between the county, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Duke about the location of the project. It was intended to give the county time to develop an ordinance that would regulate the construction of telecommunications and utilities facilities on county land.

The Swain County commissioners will convene for a public hearing on the draft ordinance at 1:30 p.m. on June 7. County Attorney Kim Lay wrote the draft ordinance, and County Manager Kevin King said it is the first of three ordinances that together will give the county the power to enforce zoning regulations on building projects.

King said the document that will be considered at the June 7 meeting is a “policing ordinance” that gives the county the right to make sure utilities and telecommunications construction projects comply with its land disturbance regulations.

King said the county would work with outside legal counsel to develop two additional ordinances that would impose certain types of zoning regulations on public utility and telecommunications projects.

The major proviso of the first draft ordinance is its requirement that any project that involves the “construction and demolition of certain structures not otherwise subject to the North Carolina building code” and requires a land disturbance permit must wait six months from the date it files its application to begin work.

Homes, because they are subject to the building code, are not affected by the ordinance. But the language does mean that Duke Energy would not be able to resume the work on its substation for six months, should the board adopt the draft ordinance.

Duke has initiated a $79 million upgrade of its West Mill transmission line, which serves parts of Jackson, Swain and Macon counties. The upgrade entails replacing the existing unobtrusive 66kv line mounted on wooden poles with 17.5 miles of 161kv line mounted on 120-foot steel towers. The proposed 300-by-300-foot substation on a hill overlooking Kituwah mound is part of the line upgrade.

Duke has been in discussions with the county and the EBCI and both King and Principal Chief Michell Hicks have expressed their opinion that the dialogue has progressed to the point that they expect the substation to be moved.

“We’re all working toward the end of the substation project being up there,” King said.

The substation would mar the viewshed of the Kituwah site and the picturesque valley that lies between Bryson City and Ela along the Tuckaseegee River. Both the county and the EBCI have offered Duke alternative sites for the substation.

An election watchdog in Swain County is protesting the tallying of early votes before the close of polls on Election Day, claiming it could have given some candidates an unfair advantage if those results be leaked.

The results from early voting are often an indication of who’s winning and losing. In the 2008 general election, some mountain counties saw nearly 50 percent of those who cast ballots do so during the two-week early voting period.

While state law allows election officials to get a jumpstart by tabulating the results from early voting during the afternoon of Election Day, Mike Clampitt of Swain County thinks it leaves too much room for corruption.

The results from early voting can’t be announced until after the polls close. But it is technically OK for those on the board of elections to call a few friends, party officials or even select candidates and share the results that afternoon.

“I would prefer they not talk about it outside the board office, but that is not publicizing or publishing the results,” said Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the N.C. Board of Elections in Raleigh.

Sharing the results indiscriminately with the public, such as releasing them to the media or posting them on the wall in the elections office, would be illegal. But a single phone call to a particular candidate to tell them how they fared is not illegal, McLean said. Besides, McLean doesn’t see what a candidate could do with that knowledge in just a few short hours.

“About the only thing they could do would be contact their supporters and ensure that they have gone to vote,” Mclean said.

Precisely, Clampitt countered.

Clampitt said there are still three to four hours left to drum up voters for your candidate once early votes have been tabulated. In a small county, where elections can easily be decided by less than 100 votes, that knowledge could make a difference.

Clampitt has filed a formal complaint over the tallying of early votes in Swain County, although the process is similar to that used in other counties and conforms with state law.

The counting of ballots, including early voting ballots, is a public process and can’t be done behind closed doors. Per state election law, any member of the public is allowed to witness the process. Technically, those present could overhear election officials talking about the results as they are printed out, or even catch a glimpse.

In Haywood County, Election Director Robert Inman said he would be disappointed if election officials tabulating results shared them outside the office. They don’t give verbal cues that would reveal results to those present as observers. In fact, they make a point of not even studying the tallies as they are printed out, according to Inman.

“We do all we can to not see them,” said Inman. “We do our utmost not to know.”

It is difficult to do, however.

“There is no way you can count without knowing the totals,” said Lisa Lovedahl, director of the Jackson County Board of Elections. “The board members are human.”

The human factor also makes it impossible to guarantee that the results stay within the four walls of the election office.

Clampitt witnessed the counting of early votes in Swain County and says election officials mulled over the results, as would most people in the same position.

“If a person has access to something, don’t you think they are going to do it? That is just human nature,” Clampitt said.

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