In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 19, there will be an variety of events around Western North Carolina.
Established as an annual day of remembrance that was passed by both houses of Congress, MLK Day was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in November 1983, with its first celebration occurring in 1986. Since then, U.S. citizens volunteer their service on MLK Day, the third Monday in January.
Each year an economic report card issued by the North Carolina Department of Commerce determines which counties will be given first dibs on state grant money — and each year no one seems satisfied with their grades.
Haywood’s status improved, for instance, but Economic Development Director Mark Clasby wasn’t rejoicing.
When Jim Brendle put together the first Smoky Mountain Relay in 2009, it was a pretty small affair. With only 48 runners representing six teams, the 200-plus-mile foot race didn’t draw a lot of attention. A lot has changed since then.
“It’s grown to where this year if we don’t have 50 teams, I’m going to be really upset,” Brendle said.
Another one is in the books.
With each passing year, I find myself digging ever deeper into what it truly means to reside and thrive in Western North Carolina. Week in and week out, I cross paths with innumerable people, places and things that capture my attention and mesmerize my imagination.
2014 is all but in the rearview mirror now, and all the stories reported over the last 12 months are headed for the history books or perhaps a less-lofty final resting place. But lest we forget just what made 2014 such a great year for news, here’s our annual tongue-in-cheek awards, a tribute to those people and events that held our interest for at least a few moments during the past year.
A flaw in the economic model that calculates tourism impact in the mountains has been uncovered, resulting in a major adjustment to tourism spending in Jackson and Swain counties.
Every year, the N.C. Department of Commerce releases the economic impact of tourism by county. For years, Swain was heads and shoulders above Jackson. But not anymore.
There’s nothing Adam Bigelow likes better than a full tank of gas in the summertime with an open road ahead. After all, the drive from Sylva to Cashiers, where he works three days a week, is a beautiful, twisting mountain route that’s great for someone who wants to put their steering skills to the test.
But Bigelow’s feel-good mood comes more from the contents of his tank than the places it’s getting him. He’s been driving a car powered by veggie oil for years, and he’s got nothing but good things to say about it.
Word on the river is that more and more people are getting into fly fishing, spurring a push for fly-focused tourism and marketing – and the opening of a pair of new fly shops.
“‘A River Runs Through It’ with Brad Pitt brought a lot of attention to the sport,” said Bob Bennett, who co-owns Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in Bryson City with Dale Collins. “Just in the recent five years or so, things have just really taken off, and I think part of it is bringing awareness to access. This is not a sport that you have to go to Montana for, or Alaska. You can bring it right here in Western North Carolina in the thousands of miles of stream we have.”
The key to economic and community development in Western North Carolina is for leaders of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to reach beyond town limits and county lines to embrace a more regional approach, steeped in a spirit of cooperation and partnership.
That was the message heard again and again Wednesday, Nov. 12, from speakers and participants at LEAD:WNC, a one-day summit convened by WCU to discuss solutions leading to sustainable economic and community development.
For the past few years, the Blue Ridge Breakaway has lured cyclists to Haywood for a ride through the mountains. The big attraction is the sweeping views to be had along the route.
“They’re wanting to get up on the Parkway,” explained Melissa Tinsley, who coordinates events for the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and is charged with the logistics of the annual Breakaway.
There’s also another pretty big attraction. “Tater-mater” sandwiches.