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Jackson County commissioners butted heads with local activists at a meeting this week, refusing to lend their philosophical support to a movement over whether corporate power should be reined in.

A local offshoot of the Occupy movement called on commissioners to pass a resolution of support for their cause — namely to reduce corporate influence and power and instead make government beholden to the common man. But, commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines not to sign on.

The group has been taking their message on the road, visiting town and county boards, as part of the nationwide Move to Amend movement. Their goal, along with other chapters across the nation, is to spark a groundswell of support that could ultimately prompt Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, prompting fear that politicians will become even more indebted to corporate money.

Locally, town boards in Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City approved Move to Amend’s resolution. The group has asked to come before the boards in Dillsboro, Sylva and in Macon and Swain counties and hopes to do so soon.

While Move to Amend has seen unanimous support from leaders of other boards they appeared before, they weren’t so lucky in Jackson County this week, the home county for many of the activists.

Commissioner Joe Cowan made a motion that Jackson County approve the amendment submitted by the group. Rising to his feet, Cowan rendered a somewhat impassioned speech against the original Supreme Court decision.

“It basically said money can have a voice,” Cowan said. “And that corporations are people. And I don’t agree with either of those propositions … somebody is buying influence and we don’t know who that is.”

Cowan, a Democrat, said that he did not believe this was a Democrat versus Republican issue, though that’s exactly how the debate promptly framed itself. The resolution failed by a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Doug Cody said that he wouldn’t vote for a resolution that singled out corporations unless it also included such groups as political action committees, labor unions, lobbyists — and even the Canary Coalition for that matter, the group headed by Avram Friedman, a member of Move to Amend.

“I will not be a party to something or of legislation that calls for the discrimination of any people or group,” Cody said, adding that he found such an idea “despicable.”

“If someone will come back with a resolution that asks for barring all lobbyist and PACs, I’ll sign it,” he said.

Commissioner Charles Elders said that he agreed with Cody. Chairman Jack Debnam simply described himself as “tired of being browbeat” by the Move to Amend folks over the issue. The group has been vocal in their quest to get face time with the commissioners, raising a ruckus when the county initially would not put them on.

Friedman thanked commissioners for placing the issue on the agenda though he described himself as disappointed by the resulting vote.

“This is truly a nonpartisan issue,” Friedman said, adding that the resolution would cover other groups such as the ones described by Cody. Friedman also made the point that as a 501(c)3 nonprofit the Canary Coalition can’t make political donations anyway.

Another Move to Amend group member, Lucy Christopher, also described herself as disappointed and said that she hoped discussion over the issue would continue.

“I hope that we can sit down around a table and talk,” said Christopher, who lives in Jackson County.

That, frankly, seems unlikely to happen, however.

A request by Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe for eight additional deputies now that the sale of alcoholic beverages has been approve countywide isn’t gaining much traction among the men who hold the purse strings.

“I’m going to have to be shown a reason why he needs eight more people,” County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam said. “I don’t understand his reasoning.”

The other four commissioners, while not necessarily flatly disallowing the request, expressed similar sentiments about the proof being in the pudding.

Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages during the May 8 primary. Before, the county was dry, with alcohol sold only in the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro.

In a letter to commissioners, Ashe said that countywide alcohol sales would “greatly increase the numbers of calls that my deputies respond to. With only five deputies per shift now they are already spread thin with the number of calls that we respond to.”

Ashe noted that without additional deputies “it will be extremely difficult to provide the best safety possible to our citizens of Jackson County.”

Eight additional deputies, he said, would allow him to add two deputies per shift. The sheriff said that he could then put two officers rather than only one, as is the case now, in the Cashiers, Glenville and Sapphire area.

“This is a large area for only one deputy to cover,” Ashe said. “If an extreme situation occurs and requires backup, the amount of time for another officer to respond could be detrimental to the safety of the officer as well as others involved.”

Ashe did not return a phone message requesting comment.

Commissioner Mark Jones, who represents the southern portion of Jackson County, agreed with Ashe that there is likely to be more need for deputies over time. Jones said he believes there will be development pressures because of the countywide sale of alcohol in three communities of Jackson County: Cashiers, Cullowhee and the U.S. 441 Gateway area leading to Cherokee.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be an increase of law enforcement,” Jones said.

Commissioner Joe Cowan agreed that the time might come when Ashe needs additional deputies, but he emphasized that he’s reluctant to press forward with staff additions until the need is obvious and apparent.

“We need to find out what kind of impact, if any, it will have on his deputies,” Cowan said. “But I’ll certainly keep an open mind — because if you need ‘em, you need ‘em.”

It’s going to take quite some convincing, however, to get commissioners Doug Cody and Charles Elders to agree to spring for eight additional deputies in these fiscally tough times.

“I think Sheriff Ashe has staked out his position on it, but we haven’t staked out our position yet,” Cody said. “Eight deputies is a little farfetched in my opinion.”

Elders said that he wants to watch and see how the sale of alcoholic beverages plays out, in terms of whether crime actually increases or not and whether the burden on the sheriff’s department also increases accordingly.

“At the present time, the answer is ‘no,’” Elders said about the eight-deputy request by the sheriff. “But if it is really proven, that he needs them as this progresses, then OK.”

Chairman Debnam said he doesn’t believe the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages will change much in Jackson County when it comes to crime and law enforcement.

“I think people drink anyway,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any issues that haven’t already been there. If anything, there will probably be less people actually driving and drinking.”

State law mandates that the commissioners must set aside at least five percent of the gross receipts from the sale of alcohol at an ABC store for law enforcement. It does allow the county the option of contracting with the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency instead of handling those duties locally.

The advent of alcohol in Cullowhee is fueling efforts to implement some kind of land-use plan to guide growth in the community around Western Carolina University.

Some speculate that development could be fast and furious in Cullowhee in the wake of last week’s vote that paved the way for bars and convenience stores to peddle booze in the once dry reaches of Jackson County.

“There’s going to be tremendous growth, and Cullowhee is already the fastest-growing township in Jackson County,” said Vincent Gendusa, a recent graduate of Western Carolina University. “That growth needs to be thought out. But, it’s going to be very hard to keep up.”

Cullowhee grew 47 percent between the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2010 U.S. Census. Those numbers, coupled with the results of the alcohol referendum, led Gendusa and other concerned Cullowhee residents to gather this week to discuss the possibility of community-based planning.

“We must be pragmatic and incremental,” County Planner Gerald Green cautioned the group. “I want our effort to be the right way and the correct way and to have the support of the community.”

Cullowhee is not its own town, and in the absence of a county ordinance regulating commercial development, Cullowhee has no way of ensuring commercial growth is in keeping with its character.

Jackson County has precedent, however, for enacting spot land-use plans for specific areas of the county, namely in Cashiers and the U.S. 441 Gateway area.

Green cited the Cashiers plan, created in 2003, as a possible model for Cullowhee.

Community-based planning was accepted in Cashiers, Green said, because there was a “well-formed commercial area with people who were interested in protecting property values.”

Doing the same in Cullowhee will mean gathering the signatures of one-third of the property owners who would be in the planning district. The designated zoning area would have to be at least 640 acres and be made up of at least 10 separate tracts of land. Most of the meeting held this week centered on deciding in a rough fashion which parts of the Cullowhee community ought to be considered.

Jim Calderbank, a Cullowhee property owner who lives in Waynesville, suggested the group consider for inclusion old Cullowhee, Forest Hills and some residential areas that might want to be included.

The group ultimately agreed that any plan would start with WCU, with its 540-acre land mass.

“Use the university as the core and go out in tentacles,” said Roy Osborn, another Cullowhee resident and member of a homegrown Cullowhee revitalization group.

Ultimately, it was decided that Green, with help from Osborn, would rough out a potential designated area.

After the meeting, farmer and Cullowhee resident Curt Collins said that he believes the sell of alcoholic beverages will mean more good for the community than bad.

“I think that it will increase the economic vitality and increase the need for greater community participation in Cullowhee — and I think those are both good things,” Collins said, adding that it will be hard to stay ahead of the growth now that alcohol has been voted in.

“It is going to be slow,” Collins said of the prospect of instituting community-based zoning. “We may have businesses who take advantage of that and outpace us.”

On one hand, the new ability to sell alcohol could fuel local, independent-type restaurants — on the other, it could bring the proliferation of chain restaurants, said Mary Jean Herzog. The chair of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), a community group dedicated to revitalizing and beautifying Cullowhee, said the potential for businesses to sell. She hopes zoning can be implemented ahead of the curve.

“This could be the most beautiful college town in the country,” Herzog said, citing the great natural beauty of the area.

 

Taking the political pulse

Jack Debnam, chairman of the county commissioners and a Cullowhee resident, doesn’t believe growth in Cullowhee will explode as a result of the referendum vote, at least not immediately.

“I think we’ll have some places selling beer,” he said in an interview. “But as far as bars, there’s no one there — who would support them in the off-season? I don’t see a big spurt happening.”

That said, Debnam also believes that the county and community does need to get a handle on growth in Cullowhee in the form of community-based planning or something similar.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to look at, whether it’s a business district or if Cullowhee decides to incorporate,” Debnam said.

Vicki Greene, an incoming county commissioner, said she believes this is a critical time for the Cullowhee community. While she believes there may be “a short timeframe for folks to get ready,” movement on the issue is promising.

“The community is taking the lead,” she said. “And in the long term, that is the most effective way of instituting planning efforts.”

Greene, who attended last week’s meeting, won the Democratic primary for commissioner and given the lack of opposition for the seat in the general November election is poised to become a commissioner in December. None of the current commissioners attended the meeting.

But, it appears county commissioners would be willing to consider a land-use plan for Cullowhee if that’s what people there want.

Commissioner Doug Cody said he think there will be “a natural evolution of this thing as it goes on.”

Cody said the important thing is that the Cullowhee community is in the driver’s seat during the process.

“At some point and time, people will want planning. And we’re all for letting people decide — we’re not for ramming anything down anyone’s throat,” Cody said.

The sale of alcoholic beverages, he said, “will help the Cullowhee revitalization effort. I think five years down the road we’ll look back and see this as a very good thing for the county.”

For his part, Commissioner Charles Elders said that he hasn’t yet given thought to whether some form of growth controls are needed in Cullowhee, though he does believe it will become a topic of discussion for commissioners.

Joe Cowan, who did not run for re-election, said that the zoning plan for Cashiers has worked well, and that it is possible something similar could be done for Cullowhee.

Commissioner Mark Jones did not return phone messages requesting comment.

 

Cashiers: a precedent for community land-use planning

A spot land-use plan was passed in 2003 to govern commercial development in Cashiers, making Jackson one of the first, and still to this day one of the only, counties in WNC to have land-use planning outside town limits.

Cashiers has two districts: a “village central” and a general commercial zone. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners created the five-member Cashiers Area Community Planning Council, which is tasked with reviewing and overseeing development guidelines in concert with the county planning board. The council also votes on requests for conditional uses and variances in Cashiers.

The plan set growth regulations, such as building set backs, lighting and sign standards. The only type of development that was banned outright was cell phone towers in the Village Center district.

The idea of a restaurant and a commons area where students could meet and eat sounds like a good one to Angie Stanley, a student in Southwestern Community College’s medical respiratory program.

“That really would be nice,” the Sylva resident said. “A lot of people have to leave campus to eat lunch.”

When Stanley packs her lunch, which she often does when there won’t be time to leave campus between classes, she’s forced to eat in a classroom somewhere. That’s because there’s few gathering places for students to congregate.

SCC leaders want to change that by building a central quad, typical of most university campuses, but less so for community colleges. A quad is in the works as part of the new $8 million Burrell Building under construction. It will house a new bookstore plus additional academic and administrative space. It is scheduled to open in August.

But to fully flush out the concept of the quad, SCC hopes to add a commons area to the plan that could serve as a gathering point.

Campus leaders have asked Jackson County commissioners for $580,000 to build a commons area, along with an on-campus restaurant, said SCC President Donald Tomas.

“This would be an extension of the Burrell building, right in the center of campus,” Tomas said.

That sounded good to electrical engineering major Kenny Pleskach.

“I bring my own lunch probably 95 percent of the time, but yeah it would be a cool thing to have a place to eat your lunch,” Pleskatch said, adding that he currently hangs out in one of several gazebos sprinkled about campus.

Money for a quad, but not a commons area and restaurant, is included in the $8 million cost of the Burrell building.

Janet Burnette, a vice president at the college, said the college would lease out the restaurant space to a restaurant entity such as Subway or something similar.

Student questionnaires and surveys have consistently shown food service — or lack thereof — is their top concern on campus, said Delos Monteith, SCC’s institutional research and planning officer.

“We did 10 focus groups and asked students if they could change one thing about SCC what would that be. Overwhelmingly they said food service,” Monteith said.

A commons area combined with the quad would also give the university a central gathering space it currently lacks, Tomas said.

Burnette said if the school does not get the money requested from commissioners it would do “a very scaled back version” of the plan. Drawings and schematics for a full version are being compiled now.

The $580,000 from commissioners would be paired with $580,000 from the state to build the enclosed commons area and restaurant, as well as a few other building items around campus, Tomas said.

County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said that he wished commissioners had known about the capital building needs a bit earlier in the county budget process.

Tomas said that hadn’t occurred because the school had not known until recently that it would have access to state dollars for such a project.

“This spring the state gave us some flexibility on this one-time deal,” Tomas said. “The timing seems right if the monies are there — this project would enhance the campus tremendously.”

The total $1.16 million project would include other construction items as well.

• Renovate another building located in the quad area, the Founders Building, which is the oldest building on campus.

• Add 10 hair stations to the cosmetology department located in the Founders Building.

“It needs some upgrading,” Tomas said of the early 1960s-era building.

SCC received $304,500 in capital funds this year from Jackson County and is asking for a total of $677,000 for the next fiscal year — with the $580,000 earmarked for the special projects.

Jackson voters approved alcohol sales in Tuesday’s election by a comfortable margin, making it only the third county in Western North Carolina to permit the sale of booze county wide. Most counties are dry, with alcohol sales only allowed inside town limits.

Voter turnout was higher in Jackson than many surrounding counties — likely inspired by the issue of alcohol being on the ballot.

There were four separate questions on the ballot: the sale of beer, wine and liquor drinks, plus whether to open an ABC store somewhere in the county.

Cullowhee has perhaps the biggest vested interest in alcohol sales. It is home to Western Carolina University, but since it is not technically a town, you can’t buy a case of beer at the gas station nor pony up to the bar. The stark lack of nightlife, bars and restaurants typically associated with the college scene have potentially hampered its ability to recruit students.

“This is potentially good for the university,” said Mary Jean Herzog, a WCU professor who is also involved with efforts to revitalize Cullowhee. “Having nice places to go could help in attracting students.”

Herzog worries that the lack of planning in Cullowhee could lead to not-so-attractive establishments opening. She hopes the vote to approve alcohol can jumpstart efforts to get community-based planning going in Cullowhee that would be similar to what is in place in Cashiers.

“It could be very good for the economy, and I hope that is what happens,” said Herzog.

In Cashiers, alcohol sales are also a welcome addition, saving a long and twisty drive down the mountain into Sylva to get a simple bottle of wine. Cashiers will be the likely location for a county-run ABC store, hurting the bottom line of Sylva’s ABC store, which previously had a corner on the market. It will also open the door for restaurants to sell alcohol, enabling them to compete on more of a level playing field with establishments in nearby Highlands, which has alcohol.

And on the opposite end of the county in the Whittier area, the election results will likely touch off a growth boom of convenience stores and restaurants selling alcohol on the doorstep of Cherokee. The reservation is dry — an alcohol vote there was soundly defeated last month.

Now that it has passed in Jackson County, businesses can park themselves just beyond the reservation’s boundary to capture the business of both Cherokee residents and the robust tourist trade there.

Many voters interviewed at the polls today said they believe alcohol will help Jackson’s economy and attract restaurants that would otherwise shy away from the mostly dry county.

“I want more restaurants and better things in the area,” Kathy Didonato, 45, said on her way out of the polls Tuesday. “It is going to make Jackson County grow.”

Since there is already alcohol sold in Sylva and Dillsboro, some residents did not see why it would be a problem to expand that to the remainder of the county.

“I personally don’t see what the big issue is,” said Christopher Rosbor, 20.

Taylor Bennett, a resident of Cullowhee, said that people have to balance the good and the bad side of having alcohol.

“You want the convenience of alcohol sales in your local store, but at the same time, you don’t want a raging local bar,” he said.

For Bennett, the good outweighed bad. Countywide alcohol would allow Cullowhee to capitalize on money that would otherwise go to Sylva.

Buncombe and Clay counties are the other two in WNC that allow countywide alcohol sales. Voters in Henderson County also had a ballot measure on countywide alcohol sales Tuesday. It passed there as well.

Historically, alcohol has been a point of contention whenever it has appeared on the ballot, with pro and con forces battling it out publicly via billboards, church pulpits and through newspaper and radio advertising.

There was a marked lack of opposition to countywide alcohol sales in Jackson County, however, with the exception of a public stance taken by the Tuckaseigee Baptist Association.

A poll conducted two years ago by Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute in cooperation with The Smoky Mountain News was a harbinger of public sentiment: it predicted that 56 percent of registered voters would support countywide alcohol sales compared to 39 percent who would be opposed. The poll surveyed nearly 600 registered Jackson County voters.

Jackson County has a new county commissioner.

Vicki Greene, a longtime community planner and retired assistant director of the Southwestern Development Commission, clinched the Democratic nomination, which makes her a shoe-in for the Board of Commissioners as there is no Republican opposition running for the seat in November’s general election.

Greene will take the seat on the board currently held by Commissioner Joe Cowan, who decided not to seek re-election.

Stacy Buchanan, a former Jackson County commissioner, ran against Greene in the primary, but Greene walked away from the race with 60 percent of the vote.

“I look forward to working with all the folks of Jackson County to make this the best possible Jackson,” Greene said.

For three decades, Greene has worked as a resource for local governments and community leaders in the seven western counties. She is skilled in the art of consensus building and translating brainstorming sessions into tangible results

“Good communication is more about listening than talking,” Greene said. “For somebody to win, somebody else doesn’t have to lose.”

Another “Greene-ism” she tries to live by — “Do I want to be right or do I want to do right?” — is one she didn’t learn until she was about 50.

Greene’s top priority as a commissioner and biggest challenge facing the county is economic development. To say that Jackson County has not been proactive on the economic development stage is an understatement.

“When the unemployment rate was only 4 or 5 percent seven years ago, it was not as obvious that Jackson County needed a strong economic development strategy,” Greene said.

But, unemployment is now at 11 percent.

Greene said she wants to ensure that Jackson County continues progressive approach to managing growth and development, which includes strong subdivision and steep slope ordinances to protect the quality of life in Jackson County. She does not believe development regulations hamper growth and development.

“It is about seeking balance between the two,” Greene said.

There is a chance an unaffiliated candidate will try to get on the ballot for the November election, but to do so, a candidate would have to gather approximately 1,400 signatures.

Sylva has a new town manager. Paige Roberson, 25, was promoted last week by the town board to the top leadership position.

Roberson has clearly impressed the town after stepping in to a part-time job as the director of the Downtown Sylva Association last summer.

Mayor Maurice Moody said that he believes Roberson will do an outstanding job for the town.

“I think she’s very well qualified — she’s a smart young lady,” Moody said. “The entire board is satisfied with this selection.”

Roberson, who last year graduated from Western Carolina University’s master in public affairs program, grew up in Sylva. Her mother was a long-time elementary teacher at Cullowhee Valley. Her father inherited the family’s hardware store, Roberson’s Supply, which was started by her grandfather. The family closed the store upon learning Lowe’s was coming to town. It had already been struggling since Walmart had opened, and the family decided surviving in Lowe’s shadow would be near impossible.

Roberson has a fierce appreciation for small businesses. Helping the business community of Sylva is going to be one of her passions.

Roberson hopes to bring a long-range approach to all of the town’s affairs. Lately, the town has been managed from year to year, without enough attention to where it is headed.

“We need to take a long-term approach to everything — projects, budgeting, ordinances,” Roberson said, identifying that as the town’s biggest challenge. “You have to plan with foresight. I think part of that comes from living here as long as I have. I think I am able to see the long term. ”

Moody said Roberson’s ties to Sylva “give her a leg up.” That, however, was not the deciding factor in her selection, he said.

“She does have a relationship with the community, but I think qualifications are more important than being local, though being a local individual does help.”

For her part, Roberson described herself as excited to be serving her hometown, although she admits she never thought when pursuing a career in public policy she would find herself at the head of her own hometown.

“I’m eager to do it,” she said, adding that she doesn’t feel apprehension about her lack of experience because the town has other veteran department heads.

The former town manager, Adrienne Isenhower, was forced to resign in September of last year after just a couple of years on the job. The town had brought in an interim town manager, Mike Morgan, who had recently retired from a long tenure as the town manager of Weaverville. Morgan was able to step in quickly to the role, but was commuting from Weaverville and was not interested in the job on a permanent basis.

Roberson will attend county and city manager training for eight months through the N.C. School of Government, one week a month, starting in September. During that time Morgan will continue as a consultant to the town to help bridge the gap.

Before taking a fulltime position with Sylva, Roberson worked in the Jackson County Planning Department.

Roberson went to undergraduate school at N.C. State, where she majored in economics. She planned to go to law school, with the intention of going into public policy. But during college, she interned three summers for N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, in the General Assembly in Raleigh, and decided not to go to law school but instead get her masters in public affairs. She went through the two-year masters program in public policy and public affairs at WCU.

Her final semester, she was involved in the Cashiers comprehensive community planning project as an intern for the Jackson County planning department. In a case of opportune timing, she graduated just as the town was looking for a part-time director for the Downtown Sylva Association. The DSA had just been brought under the auspices of the town, and she was given a part-time job with the county planning department and worked for both the town and county.

In short order, however, the town promoted her to the role of assistant to the town manager and made her fulltime, before eventually selecting her as its new manager.

Roberson, in addition to her town manager’s duties, will continue in dual roles as Main Street director and head of economic development for the town.

“As a manager I hope to be proactive, fair, and consistent,” Roberson said. “By doing this and keeping the future in mind I will be able to serve Sylva effectively. I’m honored to be hired for this position. I love this community. I feel that my community knowledge and experiences being raised here will give me a good starting point.”

In the two years since the Dillsboro Dam was torn down, the Tuckasegee River has become home to a growing number of aquatic species, from mussels to insects to fish, as natural river habitat has been restored.

“We’re certainly glad that it’s gone,” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Mark Cantrell said last week. “The response was immediate.”

Duke Energy demolished the 12-foot high, 310-foot long dam in February 2010 as environmental mitigation for several other larger dams it operates in the region. Jackson County battled for seven years to keep the dam. It wanted to make the dam a centerpiece of a new public park and promenade, complete with walking paths, benches, fishing areas and river access. Plus, the county argued the dam was historically important to the community.

Duke, however, succeeded in removing the small and ancient dam as compensation for using the Tuck in its lucrative hydropower operations, which net the utility millions annually.

Duke’s contention that the river would be better off environmentally without the Dillsboro dam does seem to have come true, according to Cantrell.

“What we’re seeing now is the rebirth of that section of river and a confirmation of the decision to remove it. There’s no question about it — if you are an angler, boater, fish or bug, the Tuckasegee River is better with the Dillsboro Dam removed,” he said.

Jackson County trout fisherman Craig Green said that he supported the removal of the dam and has been happy to see the river return to its natural free-flowing state.

“Recovery is a strange word — it wasn’t that things were bad, but clearly the dam removal has enhanced the flow for the fish to move back and forth,” said Green, who is a past president of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River.


A tourist attraction

Cantrell described the physical shape of the former river as coming back in “a really impressive” manner.

The dam had turned a nearly mile-long stretch of the river behind it into a slow-moving backwater. The backwater was 310 feet wide — the same width as the dam — but the natural river bed is just 50 or so feet wide.

To Mark Singleton, a paddler in Sylva, the removal of the dam “was like unwrapping a big old Christmas present.” He couldn’t wait to see what the river’s natural contour would be like once it returned to its true form.

With the dam gone, boaters discovered a natural rock ledge below the surface where the dam used to be. The ledge doesn’t deter experienced kayakers, he said, but it is a bit too challenging for beginning boaters to use, so most bypass that section.

“It doesn’t get paddled a lot,” said Singleton, the director of American Whitewater, a national paddling and river advocacy group based in Sylva.

As part of the mitigation, Duke Energy was required to build a public river access just upstream from the former dam site. On one side of the river, there is a parking area, restrooms and a boat put-in. On the other side is a more primitive parking lot used mainly by fishermen.

James Jackson, owner of Tuckasegee Outfitters, said the removal of the dam and the subsequent growth in visitors coming to raft has been measureable. He estimated yearly business growth of 10 to 15 percent in terms of visitation.

“I think it is one of the larger tourist attractions in Jackson County,” Jackson said of rafting on the Tuckasegee.


The recovery to date

By removing Dillsboro Dam, river species that had vacated the mile-long backwater behind the dam have now returned.

“One of a dam’s great impacts on a river is changing the area behind it from a free-flowing river to a reservoir, typically unsuitable habitat for most native stream species,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said the dam acted as a barrier for a number of fish species, some that needed to go upriver to spawn. The sluggish water previously held behind the dam also acted as a barrier to certain fish, he said.

Twice a year in 2008, 2010 and 2011, biologists such as Cantrell monitored fish and other aquatic life, providing a before-and-after picture of how dam removal affected the river, especially at the site of the former backwater.

A species considered foremost during dam removal discussions was the Appalachian elktoe, a federally endangered mussel found only in Western North Carolina and a sliver of East Tennessee. The elktoe did not exist in the pooled-up backwater behind the dam, but monitoring has now found more than 140 elktoe mussels in the stretch, a sign the previously bisected population will reconnect, strengthening its long-term viability.

Before removal, the reservoir area was home to a diminished variety of macroinvertebrates. These insects, crayfish, and other animals without backbones form much of the life in a stream ecosystem. Just more than a year after the removal, macroinvertebrate diversity had increased, on par with sites upstream and downstream of the reservoir site. Among macroinvertebrates, biologists often pay special attention to mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, which tend to be sensitive to water quality and are indicators of stream health.

Following removal, the diversity of these three insect groups increased dramatically in the former reservoir area — from a monitoring low of only two types in October 2008 to a high of 40 in May 2011. Using macroinvertebrate numbers and diversity as a measure of stream health, their return lifted this stretch of river from a “poor” quality rating in 2008 to a “good” ranking in May 2011.

“It all seems to be right on track,” Cantrell said.

As expected, fish diversity has responded somewhat more slowly to the dam removal, though biologists have noted the fish community is shifting to one typical of a Western North Carolina river, and the number of fish species dependent on flowing water is increasing. Additionally, in May 2011, biologists found an olive darter, a species of conservation concern for state and federal biologists, upstream of the dam site for the first time. The discovery could mean the fish took advantage of the dam’s removal to expand its range into upstream habitat.

Biologists also made an encouraging discovery downstream of the dam site. For several days in 2008 and 2009, biologists scoured the river downstream of the dam searching for mussels. They uncovered 1,137 Appalachian elktoes, which were all systematically tagged and moved upstream, away from potential harm from the demolition.

“Regarding the health and well-being of the Tuckasegee River, removing Dillsboro Dam has been a success,” said Hugh Barwick, Duke Energy biologist who managed the dam removal and biological monitoring. “The removal was a positive step in improving aquatic life in the Tuckasegee River in the vicinity of the former dam and reservoir.”

Tee Coker and his company recently learned firsthand something they probably already suspected about creating brands and taglines for towns. Forget about pleasing everyone: it can be an insurmountable challenge to please anyone at all when it comes to developing exactly the right slogan for a community.

“It turned out a tagline wasn’t something Highlands either wanted or needed,” Coker said, perhaps reminded about Coca-Cola and its legendary public-relations disaster with “new Coke.”

Coker and his marketing consultant company, Arnette, Muldrow & Associates, were trying to convince Highlands’ leaders that the town had an upgraded image and needed a new slogan to match. Coker’s masterpiece — “Simply Stunning” — was destined for the same dustbin of history as new Coke, however.

Coker didn’t take the rejection personally, it should be noted. That’s just part of the job when your profession is developing taglines or slogans.

“It’s fun to do this for the most part,” Coker said. “But, it’s certainly challenging.”

Coker said that each community the company works with has its own personalities involved and various motivations at play for developing taglines. That can make reaching consensus difficult.

In Western North Carolina, quite a few communities have adopted a brand and slogan. Maggie Valley is “Can you come out and play?” Franklin is “Discover us.” Macon County is “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life.”

The challenge is coming up with a slogan or motto that highlights a community’s assets and creates an identity to distinguish it from other places. That can be difficult because everyone here, more or less, plays off our mountain locale.

In Haywood County, the tourism agency uses “See yourself in the Smokies.” Neighboring Cherokee is “Meet me in the Smokies.”

In local communities, the task of picking taglines has been taken up by marketing professionals, town officials, residents and wide assortments of tourism-oriented committees.

 

Community pride

In Western North Carolina, logos and slogans reflect the heritage, history and image of the region’s towns.

Big cities use big dollars to brand and create taglines. New York is “The city that never sleeps.” Chicago is the “Windy City.” Virginia is for lovers. Las Vegas is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Austin is “Keep Austin weird.”

But, branding and taglines are not just for the big cities of the world. When any city, county or state adopts a tagline, slogan or motto, it’s pitching that destination as a place to visit, live or work.

“We wanted something understated and unique to Highlands,” said Ron Shaffner, design committee chairman for the Highlands Small Town Main Street Program. “‘Simply Stunning’ sounded like something that relates to weddings or diamonds — and that’s not Highlands. We felt ‘Simply Stunning’ might become ‘Simply Cliché’ after 10 years or so.”

Arnette, Muldrow & Associates led a series of roundtables in Highlands during two days in February. While the “Simply Stunning” slogan is a no-go, the design committee has pretty much settled on a suitably understated logo: an image of a tree simply baring the town’s name, “Highlands, North Carolina.”

“It turns out Highlands doesn’t really have to market itself aggressively so it isn’t that shocking that they don’t want a tagline. Highlands is a special case in many ways — there’s not really any other analogous communities in the Southeast,” Coker said.

The logo is simple and small enough to fit on a lapel pin or to go on letterheads or even on the sides of town vehicles.

The town might use its elevation — 4,118 feet — in branding efforts too, he said. The Highlands Chamber of Commerce already capitalizes on that claim to fame as the basis for its distinguishing slogan “Above it all.”

 

A changing community

“The tough thing about it is trying to make a tagline that is all things to all people,” said Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.

Cherokee, as much as any community in WNC, is in transition. For decades the Cherokee Indian Reservation marketed itself as a family destination for cultural events. That’s still true, but now you also have Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and such specialty niches as trout fishing on the Oconaluftee River.

Pegg said a good slogan must reflect the myriad nature of the offerings in a community such as Cherokee but not be so generic as to be useless.

“And there’s probably not another place you can go from the National Park to all the glitz and glamour of what will be at Harrah’s,” Pegg said, referring to the casino expansion and the new casino entrance under construction. Known as the rotunda, the new entrance that will feature shining five-story trees made of colored glass, with a 75-foot waterfall cascading down the middle and a 140-foot screen wrapping around the walls where choreographed light and surround-sound shows will be projected.

Pegg said committees and marketing professionals helped develop Cherokee’s taglines, including the currently in use “Meet me in the Smokies.”

“If it’s something we can do we try to do it internally, but we’ll certainly bring in groups to help, too,” Pegg said.

 

Heeding demographics

Until recently, neighboring Swain County like Cherokee played off of its position next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For several years, Bryson City used “base camp for adventure.” After reviewing visitor demographics, the town opted to change course, however.

Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, said that it turned out the most important decision maker when it comes to trips to Swain County is actually 40-year-old women. The “base camp for adventure” was deemed too extreme to attract a wide cross section of visitors, particularly that imaginary 40-year-old woman.

“We do get a lot of younger folks, but we didn’t want to scare off that other demographic by saying we’re too extreme,” Wilmot said, saying she didn’t think most 40-year-old women were looking for freestyle kayaking events or to mountain bike at Tsali Recreation Area, two well known Swain County-based sports possibilities.

“We wanted to think about that armchair adventurer, too,” Wilmot said, saying the tourism agency wanted to include gentler outdoor adventuring such as walking up Deep Creek to see the waterfalls.

In the end, the tagline chosen was open ended: “My Bryson City is …. (you fill in the blank).” The message, and the photo accompanying it, changes according to the publication viewers being targeted — “My Bryson City is dazzling” might accompany an advertisement highlighting autumn color. “My Bryson City is the Dragon” could accompany a photo of a motorcyclist targeting a riding audience.

“It is an easily manipulated yet consistent message,” Wilmot said, adding that an advertising firm helped develop Bryson City’s changing tagline.

“We were all sort of thinking the same things, and we knocked ideas around in a creative meeting then took a couple ideas to the board,” she said.

Bryson City is also an example of how difficult it can be to rid yourself of an old tagline you might have outgrown. For years the town went by “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon,” and in fact, there’s still a sign on old U.S. 19 coming into town boasting this fact. Brad Walker, a former town mayor who’s long been involved in the hotel business in WNC, said that particular tagline of “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” was developed by the tourism agency in Swain County some 10 or 15 years ago.

“We were trying to figure out what the town is. And we decided the biggest thing we are is that we are in the Smokies, and we are the opposite of Gatlinburg,” Walker said.

So “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” really meant not Gatlinburg, Walker said.

Asheville, formerly “Altitude affects attitude,” has also undergone a change that reflects the city’s transition and newest image as a center of all-things-hip. Asheville is now “Any way you like it.”

Taglines and identities can be funny things. Some communities — in this case, Bryson City once again — can be downright protective of them. Bryson City recently took issue to the wording on a public art piece being installed on Main Street in Waynesville.

Donations are helping erect a replica of a historic arch that once spanned Waynesville’s main street, proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

That wording was too long for the artistic replica, however, so instead it will bear the words “Gateway to the Smokies.”

Not long after news stories ran about the arch, Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway received a phone call from Bryson City Town Manager Lee Callicutt regarding the wording on the arch. It was a slogan that Bryson City has used on its seal and police department badges for decades.

Callicutt had been directed to pass the concern of the Town of Bryson City onto Waynesville. The concern was duly noted but nothing came out of it.

 

Deciding around the table

Advertising agencies and companies can spend a fortune writing the right tagline. Small towns don’t have that kind of money. So sometimes they simply borrow.

Macon County’s current tagline, “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life” is a tweaked version of one a small business there was using, said Linda Harbuck, longtime executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Committees are used in Macon County to decide on taglines, saving on dollars and tapping local talent when it comes to defining the exact image to project. Harbuck said that community has had a number of different taglines during the years. The longest running one was “gem capitol of the world,” a play off of the large number of gem mining operations in Macon County. Macon County also has used “Mountain treasures, simple pleasures.”

“We don’t have any scientific ways of coming up with them,” Harbuck said. “A lot of things have just come from us sitting around the table talking.”

That’s been true in Maggie Valley, too, said Teresa Smith, executive director of the chamber of commerce there.

“We’ve used several recently,” she said. “We are trying to play off the park and being in the great outdoors.”

Maggie Valley uses a marketing committee to come up with choices. During the past several years, the town has used “Maggie’s calling.” Last year, they used “Far enough away yet close enough to play.” This year, it was tweaked to “Can you come out and play?”

Smith said it is indeed difficult to come up with taglines that make all those involved happy. Maggie Valley tourism leaders hold several meetings a year to do just that, usually working around a theme to help define the image Maggie Valley wants to project.

Jackson County recently has scaled down its slogan to focus on a single image it wants to project: mountains. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce recently has been just using “N.C. Mountains.” It has also used “Mountain lovers love Jackson County” during the past few years, and previously used “A change of altitude,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the chamber of commerce.

 

Brand vs. tagline

Betty Huskins, a longtime marketing expert with Ridgetop Associates, makes a clear distinction between brands and taglines. A brand, Huskins said, “is who you are in other people’s minds. A lot of people feel they’ve developed a brand when they’ve gotten a slogan or tagline, but you can’t just choose that.”

You can’t, in other words, choose the perception people have of you simply by picking a catchy slogan.

Huskins said ideally in marketing “you have to see who you are and build what you want to be.”

Huskins said the best taglines, as she was taught and still believes, should be no more than three words (think Highlands’ “Above it all.”)

A tagline, she said, should ultimately define “who you are and what you do.”

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, said a tagline has to generate an emotional response.

“You may think it is wonderful, but if people don’t respond to it, it doesn’t do much good,” she said. “If you have a really good slogan they know where you are talking about. It needs to appeal to people on an emotional level.”

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is currently using “See yourself in the Smokies.” The previously used tagline, “where the sun rises on the Smokies,” is still used too on logos, Collins said.

A few years ago, Haywood County made the tagline switch to “See yourself in the Smokies” on advertising to try to get prospective visitors to picture themselves doing such activities as skiing or hiking.

“We did it to get people to put themselves in that photo and imagine doing those activities,” Collins said. “It’s just another format of using the Smokies and to evoke that emotional response.”

Like Huskins, Collins makes a distinction between branding and taglines. Haywood County’s brand, she said, “is our natural scenic beauty.” The slogan is to try to get people to come and participate in that great scenic beauty in Haywood County.

 

Current slogans:

Bryson City: My Bryson City is ___

Canton: Where the mountains kiss the sky

Cashiers: Nature’s design for enjoyment

Cherokee: Meet me in the Smokies

Franklin: Discover us

Haywood County: See yourself in the Smokies

Highlands: Above it all

Maggie Valley: Can you come out and play?

Macon County: Enjoy the beauty, discover the life

 

Facebook-submitted slogans, courtesy of our readers

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Most things in life start out small — acorns grow into oak trees, babies are reared into adulthood, small patches of green spread until they eventually cover the mountains each spring.

The latter is the focus of Jackson County’s annual festival Greening Up the Mountains, an event that has seen a lot of growth itself.

What started as a small Earth Day event has now grown to the largest festival in Jackson County. Attendance at the former mostly locals event has swelled to 10,000 to 12,000 each year during its 15-year existence.

“It’s kind of neat that it started as a little Earth Day parade in downtown Sylva,” said Emily Elders, an event coordinator. “It’s grown exponentially every year.”

The Greening Up the Mountains festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 28 on Main and Mill Streets in historic downtown Sylva. The Downtown Sylva Association organizes the event, which celebrates the local economy, sustainability and traditional heritage crafts.

More than 200 vendors from all over the county — nonprofits, for-profits and others groups — will set up along the two streets, handing out pamphlets of information and peddling their handmade wares.  

“It’s a really good time to shop for incredible unique Mother’s Day or Fathers Day (gifts),” Elders said.

Even though the festival only lasts one day, the event offers for businesses and groups in Jackson County chance for greater exposure that last for years.

As a business owner, Matthew Turlington said the festival is a chance to broaden his customer base.

“You hope that it brings your standard customers and new customers,” said Turlington, owner of Penumbra Gallery and Studio.

The event draws new potential clients and more emails for their list-serves. This year, the downtown association will survey vendors and local businesses to get a concrete idea of how the local economy benefits from the festival.

“For me, that is the best part. The impact lasts,” Elders said. “It’s really been a lot of economic benefit, not just for the downtown.”

It’s also an opportunity for visitors to experience the best things about Jackson County all at once. As a Jackson County resident, Turlington said his favorite aspect of the festival is its incorporation of Appalachian history, from clogging to singing, and the young performance groups.

“I have always enjoyed the local young talent,” Turlington said.

Two music stages will feature Jackson County bands and heritage dancers. Between bands, multicultural dancers, such as Mexican Folkloric Dancers, Cherokee traditional dancers, the Liberty Baptist Men’s Choir and the Eternity Dance troupe, will perform.

“(The bands are) a pretty good mix this year too,” Elders said.

The traditional bluegrass and Americana bands will be on hand as well as folk and jam bands.

A third stage will be set up specifically for children’s enjoyment, along with the annual Youth Talent Show. Children’s activities include storytelling, face painting, an inflatable slide, the recycled materials Superhero Costume Contest and volunteer projects. This year’s event will also include a 5K run.

 

Schedule of events

Greening Up the Mountains starts at 10 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. on April 28 on Main and Mill Streets in historic downtown Sylva. www.downtownsylva.org.


The Smoky Mountain Stage in the Suntrust Parking Lot

• 10-11 a.m.: Tennessee Jed An Asheville-based bluegrass band with a bit of a rock feel.

• 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Marshall Ballew A Sylva native and folk/Americana musician.

• 12:30-1:30 p.m.: Sugar Barnes & Dave Magill A duo with an old-fashioned blues sound.

• 1:45-2:45 p.m.: Moolah Temple Men’s Auxiliary A mix of electronic, lo-fi and choral music.

• 3-4 p.m.: Dan River Drifters A fast-paced bluegrass band based in Sylva.


Tuckaseigee Stage at Bridge Park Pavilion

• 10-10:45 a.m.: The Suite C:  An acoustic folk/indie band from Alabama.

• 11-11:45 a.m.: John-Luke Carter A singer-songwriter from Sylva.

• Noon-12:45 p.m.: PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) A Cullowhee-based reggae/jam band.

• 1-1:45 p.m.: Total War A Sylva-based indie/rock group.

• 2-2:45 p.m.: The Freight Hoppers A popular Bryson City-based old-time string band.

• 3-4 p.m.: Noonday Sun.


Triple Threat Kids’ Stage in Poteet Park

• 10-11:30 a.m.: Mountain Youth Talent Show

• 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Triple Threat Performing Arts

• 12:45-1:15 p.m.: Junior Appalachian Musicians

• 1:30-2 p.m.: Sylva Children’s Theater

• 2:15-2:45 p.m.: Lions Gate Kung Fu Academy

• 3-3:30 p.m.: Burning Ones (The Father’s House of Prayer)

• 3:30-4 p.m.: White Dragon Martial Arts

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