Economic development and tourism leaders in Swain County are treating the Freestyle Kayaking World Cup two weeks away as a dry run for the far more highly anticipated World Freestyle Kayaking Championship coming in 2013.
“This will start the ball rolling with the exposure,” said Ken Mills, the economic development director for Swain County. “For us, this is kind of a dress rehearsal.”
The former Bryson City fire chief Joey Hughes is facing criminal charges following a months-long investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation into missing funds from fire department coffers.
His wife, Cylena Hughes, has also been charged in connection with missing funds from the fire department. She was a signatory of two fund-raising arms of the fire department — the Friends of the Firemen and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Donations from the community to the fire department were funneled through these accounts, which were solely controlled by the Hughes.
By Peggy Manning • Correspondent
Tim Hall relishes in the history and folklore of the mountains but also knows when a little embellishing is in order — especially when it comes to ghost stories.
Gianna Carson stood behind the bakery register helping two young women decide which of her treats they wanted to taste. On the wall overhead hang black and white photos of her children, niece and nephew posing with one of her cupcakes.
The tiny town of Fontana Dam is getting to keep its post office, but what’s not clear yet is whether the post office will be manned or not.
Fontana Dam was included 10 months ago in a list of 3,700 money-losing post offices slated for closure. The U.S. Postal Service is headed for $14 billion in losses this year. The agency recently opted not to close the post offices amid public outcry. Instead, the postal service is cutting hours and some services.
Swain County is permanently etching its history in stone.
In the next couple of months, the first of about 60 black marble panels will be installed along the wall outside the county government building and courthouse in downtown Bryson City. The panels will detail important points in Swain County’s history and also list the names of its veterans from various wars and conflicts.
Swain County’s uphill battle to get the federal government to make good on its promise of a $52 million cash settlement may have just gotten tougher.
The federal government is supposed to pay Swain County $4 million a year over the next decade — a deal intended to finally compensate the county for a road that was flooded when Fontana Lake was built in the 1940s. But after an initial down payment of $12.8 million in 2010, Swain hasn’t seen a penny since.
And now, with the federal budget process barely out of the starting gate for 2013, Swain is already starting from behind. Its promised $4 million was left out of President Obama’s budget for next year.
Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, said he is baffled at how or why the $4 million cash settlement appropriation was left of out of the Presidential budget, pledging to press the White House until resolved.
“White House officials acknowledge that the omission of North Shore Road funding in the 2013 budget is problematic and have pledged to work with us to deliver the funding as promised,” Shuler said in a statement.
Shuler has twice gotten the annual $4 million payment appropriated for Swain County as part of the National Park Service budget — but both times it failed to actually reach Swain County. In 2011, the payment was rescinded after being caught up in an across-the-board clamp down on earmarks. So far in 2012, the National Park Service is refusing to release it, citing bureaucratic procedures that it wants followed.
For 2013, the payment could still make it in Congress’ budget even though it didn’t show up in the president’s. The president’s office has signed on in theory to support the funding even though it was somehow left out of its own budget document.
“I have been working closely with the administration to resolve this issue swiftly as well as release the $4 million in already-appropriated fiscal year 2012 funding currently sitting in the National Park Service’s account,” Shuler said.
But, Shuler is a lame duck now, having announced his retirement at the end of this year.
Shuler was perhaps one of the best advocates for the cash settlement Swain could hope for — at least in his willingness to expend political capital trying to land the appropriations each year. Growing up in Swain County, Shuler was unavoidably immersed in the raging battle over the road that hung over the county like a black cloud for so many decades.
Now, it will be up to his predecessor to carry the torch for Swain or not.
The Democrat running for Shuler’s seat, Hayden Rogers, said he supports the cash settlement and would fight for the annual appropriations as Shuler has.
“If elected, I will work to ensure that the remaining funding owed to Swain County is delivered as promised,” Rogers said in a written statement.
Rogers, who grew up in neighboring Graham County, served for six years as Shuler’s chief of staff, and is likely well versed in the political maneuvering behind the cash settlement appropriations.
The leading Republican candidate for Shuler’s seat, Mark Meadows, said it is a sad state of affairs indeed.
“We have an obligation we agreed to many, many, many years ago that wasn’t fulfilled and so we did another agreement and now we are not fulfilling that. At some point, we have to be good to our word,” Meadows said.
But, Meadows questioned how genuine it was for Shuler to lead Swain County to believe that he could land these appropriations each year in the first place.
“A current Congress can’t really obligate a future Congress to appropriations and therein lies the problem with the agreement,” Meadows said.
Meadows said it is unfortunate the cash settlement has fallen victim to the earmark ban, even though in principle the ban on earmarks was necessary to rein in federal spending and pork. But, it begs the question how Rogers plans to carry the torch.
“For Hayden (Rogers) to say he is going to continue to fight for that when we have an earmark ban, that is problematic,” Meadows said. “It is like saying ‘I’ll do my very best.’”
Meadows said Rogers, as Shuler’s right hand man, had his chance and didn’t perform. At this point, a strategy of meting out annual line item appropriations will continue to be difficult. A better strategy may be to get a larger, one-time budget allocation.
Meadows still faces a special primary election run-off July 17 against fellow Republican Vance Patterson to decide who will ultimately advance to face Rogers in November.
Shuler and Swain County leaders hold out hope they can convince the National Park Service to release the $4 million that was appropriated in 2012 budget. Specifically, it was included in the National Park Service’s construction budget, a total of some $159 million.
But, the park service claims it needs specific authorization — special language spelling out that $4 million should be handed over to Swain County.
When it comes to the rest of the $154 million construction budget, the passage of the appropriations bill itself counts as authorization, according to Jeffrey Olson, a spokesperson for the park service in D.C.
But as for the $4 million cash settlement contained in that same construction budget, simply passing the appropriations bill doesn’t cut it, Olson said. For that one particular line item out of everything else in the $159 million construction budget, the park service wants special language passed by Congress saying they really meant for the money to be spent that way.
“As I see it this as a problem with Washington, D.C.,” Meadows said. “You have money both people acknowledge was probably put in there for Swain County, and now we can’t release it because it doesn’t have the proper authorization.”
The fate of the $4 million at this point isn’t clear. The park service can’t spend it on anything else. If the money isn’t turned over to Swain County, the park service would give it back unspent to the federal government’s treasury.
Meanwhile, those who never stopped fighting for the road — and were opposed to the idea of a cash settlement in lieu of building it — have been quick to chime in with an “I told you so.”
“I never thought we would get the money to start with,” said David Monteith, a Swain County commissioner who was for the road and against the cash settlement.
Monteith believes the cash settlement was a sell out. He wanted to keep fighting for the road, hoping that eventually one day it would get built. By signing the cash settlement, the county gave up its claim to the road in exchange for cash — but it is contingent on the federal budget process and comes with no guarantee.
“It’s ‘if and when’ they want to release the money. That’s pure stupid,” Monteith said.
Of course, there was a similar caveat in the original agreement by the federal government promising to rebuild the road it had flooded. The government promised to rebuild the road “if and when” Congress appropriated the money to do so. The nation was in the throes of WWII, so it seemed reasonable to give a war-embroiled nation a little wiggle room on building back a flooded road in remote Appalachia. Seventy years was obviously more wiggle room than the people of Swain County expected, however.
The latest double-cross by the National Park Service is par for the course, according to Mike Clampitt, a Swain County resident who also sided with the “build the road” camp.
“Again we have an empty broken promise to the people of Swain County by the federal government,” Clampitt said. “I am not surprised that there are these complications getting the money to the people of Swain County because of quote ‘red tape.’ It is insult to injury.”
Swain County leaders have been hoping Shuler could fix the hang up with the National Park Service. So far, they’ve not waded into the bureaucratic quagmire to demand that NPS release the money and instead let Shuler do the heavy lifting. Clampitt said they should be more proactive at this point.
Swain County’s Department of Social Services has started cracking down on welfare fraud after seeing a rise in violations.
“We have found that welfare fraud is on the rise,” reported Melissa Adams, a fraud caseworker, who spoke to the Swain County Board of Commissioners last week.
Since March 2011, Swain County DSS has helped prosecute eight cases of welfare fraud, each ranging from $4,500 to more than $24,000 in claims. It is currently conducting 238 investigations into alleged fraud. It is unknown how much money that translates to.
“Our agency has been working diligently in prosecuting welfare fraud,” Adams said.
Most investigations begin with a phone call from a concerned citizen or another agency. Since Jan. 1, the county has received 54 calls about possible fraud and initiated 15 investigations on its own after red flags were raised during the application process.
“We rely heavily on the reports we receive,” said Janet Jones, the chief fraud investigator with Swain County DSS.
Social service agents cited the economy as a likely reason for increase in fraud.
“Truthfully, it is probably the economy. People are struggling and looking for a way to survive,” Jones said. Jones has also started working on fraud cases full-time, allowing her to investigate a claim further to determine if it was a case of intentional fraud.
Sharon Blazer, Haywood County social services’ chief fraud investigator, agreed.
“I think, with the economy and everything, it is on the rise,” Blazer said. “I don’t think it ever stops; I think it just gets worse.”
The number of calls that Haywood County receives regarding welfare fraud varies from month to month. Some of the complaints can be difficult to verify.
Prosecuting welfare fraud can be difficult if the county cannot prove that someone intentionally deceived the system. Either they claim that they don’t have a job or are double dipping into the federal welfare coffers. Some things, like the number of people who live in the home, are hard to substantiate.
“There is not a way for use to actually verify that,” Blazer said.
However, if a discrepancy is found no matter whether it’s intentional, inadvertent or an error made by the department of social services, the person receiving benefits is required to repay the money that they were not supposed to get.
The state of North Carolina has seen an increase in fraud overall as well. As of April 2012, the departments of social services were investigating almost 780,000 active cases.
From October 2011 to March 2012, departments in North Carolina have received more than 11,000 referrals about possible fraud. The claims are equal to about $7.1 million — a more than $1 million increase compared to the same time last year.
Although welfare fraud has been around for as long as welfare programs have existed, people are taking it to a different level to get by, according to DSS investigators.
“Now, it is going a little further,” said Pam Hooper, an investigator with Jackson County’s DSS. “It’s got everything to do with the economy, I’m sure.”
Jackson County saw its highest number of cases, investigating nearly 350, during fiscal year 2010. That number declined to 116 cases the next year, but Hooper said it is a result of policy changes. Welfare programs no longer take into account facts like how much money a person has tucked away in savings or whether they just bought a new car.
“Change in policy has made a big difference,” Hooper said.
In Swain County, Jones said, a new car purchase still sets off red flags and prompts DSS officials to look into that person.
Unlike its neighboring county, the number of cases investigated in Macon has stayed about the same, according to its DSS.
The county is currently investigating 68 cases, equal to more than $45,000 in claims.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” quipped the legendary Yogi Berra after watching Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back homers so often it became almost commonplace.
That’s the sentiment many in Swain County are feeling after the most recent twist in the long and tortuous North Shore Road battle. Another broken promise, like déjà vu all over again. But for those who have been involved in this fight, there is nothing funny about the federal government holding up payments it promised to residents in lieu of rebuilding the road. In fact, it’s imperative that this current impasse get settled, and quickly.
The North Shore Road saga is littered with bruised feelings and broken agreements. The $52 million cash settlement was agreed to in a 2010 memorandum of understanding that was signed at Swain County High School in a ceremony attended by 200 people. The payments were intended to resolve the decades-old dispute between Swain County and the federal government over a road flooded during the construction of Fontana Lake back in the 1940s. The government at that time promised to rebuild the road but never did.
But it wasn’t just the broken promise to build the road that has contributed to the emotional turmoil suffered by many in Swain County. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, senators and congressmen from North Carolina lined up on different sides of the issues, cajoling presidents and cabinet secretaries to either build the road or compensate Swain citizens for their loss. Many visited the area, promising to do what they could in Washington. It has been a decades-long seesaw, with momentum swinging wildly with the political winds.
Through all of this, it has been Swain County residents who suffered. Families have been divided and friendships strained. That’s why the 2010 memorandum of understanding was so important, because no matter what side of the issue one believed in — build the road or provide just compensation — there was finally an end in sight.
Now federal bureaucrats, hopefully just temporarily, are foiling that agreement. The short description of the current imbroglio goes something like this: an initial $12. 8 million payment was made in 2010. The 2011 payment of $4 million was lost to budget cutting. This year’s $4 million was included in the Park Service’s budget, but because there was not line-item description in the budget directing NPS bureaucrats to send the money to Swain, it can’t be released, they say.
We’ll call bull on that. The agreement has been signed, and Park Service bureaucrats should not be able to hold up payment on what is owed to Swain County. If Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville — who happens to be a Swain County native — can’t get this fixed pretty quick, then we’ll have to agree with those who have long insisted the feds had no intention of holding up their end of this deal. We hope the naysayers are mistaken.
Recordings made some seven decades ago of nearly 60 men and women who lived in what became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon will be made publicly available online.
In 1939, a young graduate student by the name of Joseph Sargent Hall traveled through the region’s coves and hollows with an audio recorder powered off his pick-up truck battery, capturing tales of bear hunts, lessons on herbal remedies and authentic mountain tunes. He spent eight months recording the experiences of older residents and the music of young aspiring musicians. Of the 60 interviews, 17 were from Swain County and 16 were from Haywood County.
One of the mountaineers recorded by Hall was the famous Steve Woody of Cataloochee Valley, who was 86 at the time.
“That’s not me; that’s my grandfather,” Steve Woody the younger said with a laugh. “I can remember him.”
Woody owns a tape rendition of the 1939 recording Hall made of his grandfather. It is a story about a bear hunt, Woody said, and there’s also a photograph in the family album of the actual interview taking place, too.
Woody thinks it’s terrific that the old recordings soon will be made easily available.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I think people need to know the history of these mountains.”
When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created, hundreds of people living in remote Appalachian settlements were forced to move. Hall’s recordings were made just as this was happening, capturing a moment in time and way of life that was coming to an end. Woody’s grandfather was the last person to move out of Cataloochee Valley after the park was created.
The City University of New York will host the non-commercial website where the recordings will be made publicly accessible. A release date hasn’t been set — the project’s members are trying to ensure that living descendants of those recorded are given notice first that the recordings are being made public.
Michael Montgomery, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of South Carolina and a member of the project team, said that the digitized recordings are being made from tape recordings that were, in turn, made in the 1980s from the original recordings.
“They are actually quite clear for recordings made more than 70 years ago,” Montgomery said, adding that the original discs are held in safekeeping in the Library of Congress.
Copies of the recordings are currently available for people to listen to if, that is, they are willing to drive several hours into Tennessee to the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.
Using Civilian Conservation Corps camps for home base, Hall ventured throughout the area to record. For this work, Hall used two recorders, one that produced aluminum discs and was operated by cables hooked to a pick-up truck battery and another that made acetate discs and ran on a portable battery pack.
Montgomery said that Hall became close friends with many of the men working in the CCC camps and returned to visit them for many years after the first recordings were made. Hall died in 1992.
Luke Hyde of Bryson City, who had family members who once lived where the park was subsequently created, said he believes it will be helpful to families such as his and for park history buffs in general to have the recordings easily available via a website. In addition to the recordings, searchable texts also will be online.
“I like the general concept,” Hyde said, adding that he is well familiar with the important work done by Hall to record the people of the Smokies.
“He was fascinated by a lot of things, and he listened to people,” Hyde said. “He was one of the chroniclers of the mountain people.”
Montgomery said Hall’s interest in making this set of recordings was to record dialect. That meant he didn’t care so much what people said as long as they said something — so what’s on the recordings are such things as “women talking about herbal remedies and fellows talking about bear hunting,” Montgomery said.
Hall himself wrote about his work that, “the topics of the recordings were anything the informant wished to talk about. Men talked about their farm, their crops, their cattle, and hunting. Women liked to tell recipes or talk about their interest in weaving and quilting and the like.”
Hall also recorded the music of the day. Young musicians played country and swing and other tunes they were hearing on the radio.
“Joseph Hall recorded anything people wanted to play,” Montgomery said.
In 2010, the Great Smoky Mountains Association released “Old Time Smoky Mountain Music,” a CD with 34 of the musical selections recorded by Hall.
Montgomery said that one of Hall’s most admirable traits was his determination to stay in the background and not overshadow the men and women that he was recording.
“He thought that was the best way to counter stereotypes. He wanted mountain people to use their own voices,” Montgomery said. “His approach really was to avoid general statements and to let mountain people speak for themselves.”
Not everyone is certain the release of the recordings is a good idea.
Harley Caldwell, 75, was the last person born in Cataloochee Valley before the park was formed. He’s concerned about the privacy rights of the people who were recorded, about whether they realized that one day their stories and tales would be released publicly.
Caldwell, in fact, is involved in a similar project to Montgomery’s. The Cataloochee Oral History Project teamed with Western Carolina University to record and videotape 33 living descendents from Cataloochee. A DVD is set for release in early 2013.
“It’s a bigger project than I wanted to tackle, but I tackled it anyway,” Caldwell said.
WCU provided the equipment and is editing the interviews and preparing the DVD. Caldwell facilitated the project by rounding up the Cataloochee descendents. Caldwell said, perhaps echoing what Hall also found, that he was most surprised by “the willingness of people to talk about their past.”
One of those men interviewed was age 99, Caldwell said, adding that the man remembered historic events as if they’d occurred yesterday.
“It was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve done a lot of exciting things,” Caldwell said of the oral history project.
One thing Caldwell and his team were careful to do was obtain signed releases from those interviewed — and he worries that, in contrast, Hall’s subjects were never cautioned that one day their voices would be heard again.
• Mack Caldwell, 53, Mount Sterling.
• Mack Hannah, 81, Little Cataloochee.
• Mrs. Mack (Fannie) Hannah, 73, Little Cataloochee.
• Millard Hill, 27, Saunook.
• Mark Mehaffey, Maggie.
• Bill Moore, 21, Saunook.
• Howard Moore, Saunook.
• Manuel Moore, Saunook.
• Mrs. George Palmer, 65, Cataloochee.
• Will Palmer, Cataloochee.
• Mrs. Will Palmer, 69, Cataloochee.
• Herbert Stephenson, 25, Saunook.
• Eugene Sutton, 43, Cataloochee Creek.
• Jake Sutton, 63, Cataloochee.
• Jim Sutton, 70, Cataloochee.
• Steve Woody, 86, Cataloochee.
• Mrs. Bill Brown, Towstring Creek.
• Dan Cable, 73, Cable Branch, Proctor.
• Aden Carver, 91, Bradley Fork, Smokemont.
• Mark Cathey, 54, Deep Creek.
• D. F. Conner, 84, Oconaluftee.
• Bert Crisp, 47, Towstring Creek.
• Zeb Crisp, 64, Hazel Creek.
• Grover Gilley, Bryson City.
• Gladys Hoyle.
• Frank Lambert, 40, Towstring Creek, Smokemont.
• Grady Mathis, 50, Smokemont.
• Al Morris, 67, Kirklands Creek.
• Rebecca Queen, 70, Cherokee.
• Docia Styles, 66, Indian Creek.
• Zilphie Sutton, 70, Chestnut Branch.
• Jake Welch, 79, Ryan Branch, Hazel Creek.
• Fate Wiggins, 79, Deep Creek.
• Mary Wiggins, Deep Creek.
A series of oral interviews with the people of Western North Carolina are now available online through Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.
“Stories of Mountain Folk” is the first all-sound collection released by Hunter Library. The collection’s interviews cover traditions, events and life stories of regional individuals including gardeners, herbalists, farmers, musicians, artists and writers. The archive is searchable by name, place and topic.
The interviews were produced by Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by the sisters Amy Ammons Garza, an Appalachian storyteller, and Doreyl Ammons Cain, a visual artist, with the mission of preserving local memory. In September 2008, Catch the Spirit of Appalachia began “Stories of Mountain Folk” as a half-hour radio show.
Catch the Spirit of Appalachia teamed up with Hunter Library to preserve the recorded material. The online archive holds approximately half of the roughly 200 existing radio programs, with Hunter Library staff continuing to upload the backlog.
“The university has provided expertise to preserve the content, which is very different from academic creation of new intellectual content. This content was created in the community, and the library is providing a service in preserving the material,” said Anna Fariello, an associate professor in Hunter Library’s Digital Programs.
For her part, Garza is thrilled with the arrangement.
“I cannot tell you how my heart leapt when this agreement was signed,” she said. “Saving the voices of the mountain folk has been a longtime goal of Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, for listening to the mountain folk as they tell their own personal stories evokes evidence of an unmistakable wisdom and sense of place.”
The collection can be found at www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcollections/storiesofmountainfolk.