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Next to Hunter Library at Western Carolina University is a Baptist church with a 190-year-old graveyard. George Frizzell, head of the library’s special collections, helped survey that graveyard 17 years ago.

So when Frizzell spotted a postscript to a letter in WCU’s collection of some 200 Civil War letters written by Western North Carolina soldiers and their families, the archivist described feeling an eerie chill. The names seemed familiar.

“We saw the one with the postscripts about the headstones, I thought, ‘could it possibly be?’” he said. “I walked over and found the grave, and next to it was the smaller stone to ‘Little Charley.”

In that Cullowhee Baptist Church graveyard are two Civil War-era tombstones, side by side; a large one for a Dr. Edmonston, the other one for Charley.

The story of the tombstones is told in a letter written by Maggie Edmonston, Dr. Edmonston’s wife and Charley’s mother. And it seems as relevant now, as the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, as when Maggie Edmonston wrote the words “Dear Brothers” in a poignant plea for help to her brothers-in-law. The letter is dated July 14, 1864.

“Will you please go to the marble yard in Petersburg or any yard you may see and select some nice tombstones for Dr. Edmonston’s grave?” Maggie Edmonston wrote from Webster. “Have sent off three times but failed to get any. I know you will take more interest than any buddy else please let me know if you get any so I can send you the inscription if you can get some nice ones let me know I can have them shipped to Walhalla. I want two set one small set for my baby that is all I can do for him and I never will be satisfied until I get that done.”

Dr. Edmonston was a native of Haywood County who is believed to have died here in the mountains from milk sickness after returning, weakened by illness, from the war. He was practicing medicine in Webster when he apparently drank milk poisoned with tremetol, which happens when cows graze on white snakeroot. The reason the couple’s baby died isn’t recorded, though WNC’s old cemeteries provide ample evidence of many babies in the early to mid-19th century also having died from milk sickness.

The 200 or so letters, and WCU hopes to receive even more in the years to come through donations from local families, provide an invaluable look at this region during the mid-19th century. They are being digitized and made available online. The letters demonstrate that though times have changed, human emotions have not. And although most of the Civil War battles were fought on lands far from these mountains, it touched people here as dreadfully as anywhere in the nation. As the war dragged on, it claimed more and more WNC lives, and destroyed more and more WNC families.

George Huntley, a Rutherford County native, wrote his sister Tincy on June 29, 1863, while marching into Pennsylvania as a member of the North Carolina 34th Infantry Regiment: “We are stoped to
day in a Beautiful Oke grove I Cant tell 
whare old Lee Will Carry us tow this is One of the finest Countrys that I Ever

Three days later Huntley, a school teacher before the war, died from a wound received in the Battle of Gettysburg.

It is those types of details that bring the letters to life for Frizzell.

“The letters summon up the emotional experiences, the concerns and the hopes,” he said. “They speak so much to place, and being here.”

There are letters from Frizzell’s ancestor, M.W. Parris, telling his wife which men had been wounded and killed during the North Carolina 25th Infantry Regiment’s latest battle. The toll included a dozen or so men from Jackson County.

“I am sorry to tel that Som of our brave
boys has got kild and Severl wounded in the great
battle at richmond which Commenct last wensday,” Parris wrote on July 3, 1862.

Among them: Capt. Coalman’s head was shot off by a cannonball, John B. Queen fell dead as the fight started, Joseph Moody had his fingers shot off, William Cogdal (Cogdill) was wounded in the neck, Leander Hall in the leg, Harris Hooper was struck through the thigh or leg, Major Frances was badly wounded in the shoulder, W. William Beard badly wounded by a shot through his hips.

Parris adds that he believes they’ve won the battle, but describes the victory as “dearly bought” indeed.

Frizzell said Parris clearly penned the letter about the dead and wounded to the community as much as to his wife, Jane.

“These are folks they knew, and he’s trying to let all the wives know — this is how important information was shared,” Frizzell said.

Village of Forest Hills leaders are saying no thanks to a Charlotte company that wanted to build luxury student apartments on a 19.5-acre tract in the tiny town across the highway from Western Carolina University.

This does not mean that the 200-unit, $25-million development couldn’t be built elsewhere in Jackson County, just not in Forest Hills’ town limits. Planner Gerald Green said the only restrictions on developments of this type are in Cashiers, the county’s four municipalities and the U.S. 441 corridor.

Developer Shannon King told The Smoky Mountain News late last week that if Forest Hills said no, she would look elsewhere in the area for a suitable site. King needed Forest Hills’ to grant an exemption from the community’s zoning laws for the development to move forward there.

Before settling on the Forest Hills site, Monarch Ventures had scouted the vacant hotel — locally dubbed the ‘ghostel’ — on the main commercial drag of N.C. 107 in Sylva. This was intended to be a Clarion Inn, the town’s first name-brand hotel, but the developers ran out of money and abandoned the project, which was foreclosed on by the bank that held the construction loan. Michelle Masta of Skyros Investments is marketing the unfinished hotel shell, and she confirmed Monarch Venture’s prior interest. The hotel is mired in litigation from a contractor who wasn’t paid in full; it can’t be sold until the legal issues are resolved.

Forest Hills council members, meeting Friday in a more than five-hour visioning session, agreed that this type of student development is at odds with their vision of tranquil life in the village.

The community incorporated in 1997 expressly to keep students out. This included zoning out the possibility of large student complexes, and setting restrictions on the number of students living together in a rental house. That stance has clearly softened during the intervening years for this set of council members, at least. They noted that 50 to 75 students currently do live in Forest Hills (many in a motel there) and are part of that community. But a huge development, as proposed by Monarch Ventures, seemed more than Forest Hills leaders were willing to embrace.

“It’s not that we are anti-student because we are against a complex,” Council Member Suzanne Stone said. “Saying ‘no’ to Monarch would not mean saying ‘no’ to WCU.”

A recent survey sent to Forest Hills residents recorded little support for the development. Out of 59 responses, 38 noted they “strongly disagree” with such a development, eight disagreed, six had no opinion, two agreed and five “strongly agree.”


Track record

Additionally, Forest Hills council members cited concerns about the background — or lack of background — of the company involved, Monarch Ventures.

North Carolina incorporation records show that Monarch Ventures came into existence just 13 months ago, in September 2010; and that it has no record as a company building these types of student-based developments. This raised questions about how Monarch Ventures had presented itself to Forest Hills leaders — as a veteran student-housing development company.

The company might be new, but King, the woman who owns and launched Monarch Ventures, in fact does have an extensive, national background of building private student housing. King, until less than a year ago, was executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Campus Crest Communities, a company also based in Charlotte. Campus Crest developed and owns 32 student-housing complexes nationwide.

The company is the subject of myriad complaints regarding its housing. Additionally, a federal lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County by a former employee accused Campus Crest of having a sexually hostile and demeaning work environment.

According to court documents, company officers directed top employees to “hire predominantly young, white women to available positions at the company’s various residential rental properties.”

Council Member Clark Corwin showed fellow board members a copy of a newspaper article that quoted from the lawsuit. King, according to court papers, is alleged to have said: “We have Southern investors; they do not like for us to hire blacks.”

“I can’t imagine that in this day and age,” Mayor Jim Wallace said in response.

“I don’t think they need anymore time at our meetings — we’re done,” Stone said.

After some discussion about how best to pull the plug on King’s development plans for Forest Hills, Council Member Gene Tweedy said: “Just tell her, ‘The community is not interested.’”

Problems with Campus Crest buildings, called “The Grove” at the company’s multitude of student housing complexes across the nation, include reports that students trying to move in were told they couldn’t because the apartments weren’t finished on schedule.

An “anti-Grove” group is active on Facebook, primarily populated by disgruntled student renters.

Asheville has a “The Grove” complex on Bulldog Drive, near UNC-Asheville, owned by Campus Crest.

“Student complaints from these complexes are the same across the country,” wrote Peggy Loonan, who is leading an effort to prevent Campus Crest from building in Fort Collins, Colo., in a Feb. 11 guest article for the Northern Colorado Business Report. “Students, not professional leasing agents, manage onsite leasing offices. Maintenance is slow to respond if at all; appliances don’t work; apartments aren’t cleaned between tenancies and mattresses are soiled. Move-in dates on signed leases are pushed back because construction isn’t complete. Students describe hearing other tenants having sex. Students turn off heat to stay within their allotted utility amount and report being denied copies of utility bills.”

King, contacted late last week, was eager to distance herself from Campus Crest and its work record.

“Quite frankly, that’s why I’m no longer with Campus Crest,” she said.

King said that Monarch Ventures is committed to building near Western Carolina University.

“We absolutely want to be in the Western community,” she said.

The Village of Forest Hills wants to control its future by possibly acquiring a 74-acre, abandoned golf course located within its borders.

If the privately owned property is obtained, the town’s leaders indicated that they might try to offset the purchase cost by developing 25 acres or so into cluster housing for Western Carolina University staff and faculty, or for active senior-aged residents.

The owner, at last check, was asking upwards of $1.3 million for the property, but Forest Hills leaders said perhaps there might be room for negotiation on that amount. Or, certain tax breaks may be available that could help knock it down.

“I’d like to see us pursue this aggressively,” Council Member Suzanne Stone told fellow board members, who gathered Friday for a facilitated strategic-planning session.

Stone echoed board member Clark Corwin in saying that she could envision the property serving Forest Hills as an important community venue. Stone mentioned the possibility of musical events; Corwin said he pictured a small arboretum.

Any residential development on a portion of the defunct golf course would be individual houses, not a large-scale student complex as proposed recently by a campus-housing company (see related article). A community survey polling residents about such developments largely received negative marks.

A residential planned unit development, however, could prove a benefit to the community and an overall land-value enhancer for Forest Hills residents, County Planner Gerald Green said. Cluster housing such as this generally includes green space and a community garden.

But money is a problem for the tiny incorporated entity, which has only a few hundred residents.

“We don’t have funds, and we don’t want higher taxes — we’re stuck,” Mayor Jim Wallace said.

Green said that wasn’t necessarily true.

“The challenge is to create a vision that people will buy into,” the county planner said.

Green suggested Forest Hills combine strategic efforts with WCU, which could advertise as a university with top-notch learning and cultural opportunities for seniors. That population, in turn, could become a source of funding for the cash-strapped institution through class fees or donations through a college-linked retirement community. The university is working on a new strategic plan now. Stone, who sits on a WCU subcommittee working on development issues as part of that plan, said she’d touch on the possibilities with her subcommittee members.


WCU annexation decision delayed indefinitely

Annexing a 35-acre parcel of Western Carolina University is off the table for now, the Village of Forest Hill leaders said Friday during a strategic-planning session.

“That is moot until after WCU’s strategic planning session,” Mayor Jim Wallace said.

Former Chancellor John Bardo last year asked the tiny town, which is across the highway from the university, to annex part of campus to further his dream of a “Town Center” for unincorporated WCU. The idea was to pave the way for legal sales of alcoholic beverages, which currently aren’t allowed outside town limits in Jackson County, in hopes it would entice new restaurants and bars to rectify the lack of nightlife around the university.

Since then, Bardo has retired and a new chancellor, David Belcher, has taken over. Belcher has initiated new strategic planning for the university; the state has slashed WCU’s budget in the name of cost-savings measures; and Jackson County commissioners have said they’ll place a countywide alcohol referendum on the ballot next year, which if it passes, could eliminate any need for annexation since alcohol sales would become legal countywide if approved by voters.

A Charlotte company wants to invest $25 million in a 400-person housing development for Western Carolina University students who are looking for the finer things in life.

Monarch Ventures has asked the Village of Forest Hills, a tiny incorporated community next to WCU, to allow it to use what’s known as the 19.5-acre Valhalla tract. Monarch Ventures wants to buy the tract, located on North Country Club Drive, from owner Catamount Hollow LLC.

Town leaders are expected to discuss the request, and residents’ reactions that were gathered via a community survey, on Friday during a board retreat.

Shannon King of Monarch Ventures said this would be a “premier” student housing complex, offering amenities that aren’t currently available, including a clubhouse, pool, tanning beds, exercise programs and more.

“There’s a need for quality housing at Western Carolina University,” King said. “And this could be a recruitment and retention tool for the university.”

WCU has experienced significant growth in the past decade. Spokesman Bill Studenc said as the university continues growing enrollment — a stated goal of new Chancellor David Belcher, who has noted state funding is tied to those numbers — there is a corresponding need to house those students.

“I know that right now we are at capacity,” Studenc said.

King has assured Village leaders that Monarch Ventures is “sensitive to concerns about noise and traffic,” and would provide “on-site, 24-7 management for safety.” The group also offers programs for students living with the complex. King said rental rates would be comparable to residential dorm rates at WCU.

Monarch Ventures has just broken ground on a similar project at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C.

Kolleen Begley, who lives in Forest Hills and serves as the community’s finance officer, welcomes the prospect of upscale housing in the small residential village.

“Not everyone in the Village thinks students are a nuisance,” Begley said. “The Village is a municipality, not a retirement community. I have more faith in our young adults attending college than what has been depicted at monthly meetings from the only people who have time to attend. I support the university we chose to move across from. WCU is vital to our local economy. So are jobs and tax money.”

Forest Hills incorporated in 1997 for one primary purpose: keeping student housing out. The 350 to 400 people living in the Village of Forest Hills were clear at that time on not wanting students taking over their community.

The newly sworn town board’s first act after the referendum to incorporate passed? Adopting a building moratorium on everything but single-family, site-built, residential houses with at least 2,000 feet of heated space. The board was confident there weren’t many students who could afford that kind of housing.

King said ideally construction would start in November, but that she believes Monarch Ventures — if town leaders give the OK — would start phasing-in the project beginning next year.

Mark Teague, zoning administrator for Forest Hills, said that the development group would need a use permit and perhaps a variance from the town.

“They’ve got their ducks in a row,” he said, “and I think this is the No. 1 spot where they want to do it.”

They are dubbed by some in the community as the Three Amigos: a new chancellor at Western Carolina university, David Belcher; a new president at Southwestern Community College, Donald Tomas; and a new superintendent of schools for Jackson County; Mike Murray.

Each started their respective positions July 1. Each promises new eras of leadership that connects their respective institution’s educational efforts to the overall good of the community. Each seem comfortable in, and energetic about, their roles as institutional and community leaders.

“Openness, honesty and transparency,” Tomas said during his introductory remarks at a community meeting this week. SCC, which serves residents of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties and the Cherokee Indian Reservation, is piggybacking strategic planning efforts on those of neighboring WCU.

Tomas said the Three Amigos have been meeting and discussing educational and community issues.

“This is an extremely exciting and unique opportunity,” he said.

The university, under the baton of Belcher, is holding a series of seven community meetings in the region to hear what residents have to say about the school’s future. About 45 or 50 people, many of them WCU and SCC employees, turned out for the Jackson County hearing, though far fewer than that opted to actually stand up and speak.

Those who did called on WCU and SCC to help bolster a sagging economy, but to do so while protecting the region’s natural resources and great beauty. They discussed a lack of childcare for professionals; and more specific needs, such as a request by Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, for WCU to again produce a regional economic report. Susie Ray, a retired WCU employee, urged the university to tap into the huge retiree population in WNC and corner a niche on “creative retirement.”

There were complaints that WCU wasn’t accessible to the community. The swimming pool, for instance, is closed to the public unless you are a student or WCU employee, forcing those who want to swim for exercise to motor over the Balsams to Waynesville. Continuing education classes are priced out of the reach of anyone except, perhaps, retired employees from WCU.

Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, who retired from the university after 30 years service, told his former colleagues that many in the community simply don’t feel comfortable on campus. They feel uneasy and out of place. And, in turn, many of WCU’s faculty and staff choose to live somewhere other than Jackson County, with their connections to the community limited to commuting back and forth to work.

Vance Davidson, an SCC trustee, spoke similarly of the “silo” mentality that’s afflicted the various Jackson County educational institutions.

“We are a lot better together than we are apart,” Davidson said. “We have not enjoyed the best university, town, community relationships — we need to change that.”

The traditional folk ways of the Southern Appalachian Mountains will take center stage as Western Carolina University presents the 37th annual Mountain Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The fall festival will feature a variety of arts and crafts, music, clogging, folk arts, contests and activities that is hard to find in a one-day event, said festival coordinator Trina Royar of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.

All Mountain Heritage Day activities, including stage performances, will take place between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., except registration for the woodcutting contest, which starts at 9 a.m. This year’s festival will be held on fields behind the Cordelia Camp Building, in parking lots and grassy areas around the building and in the nearby Mountain Heritage Center, which is located on the ground floor of H.F. Robinson Administration Building.

Visitors will find nearly 100 booths of juried arts and crafts. Items for sale will include basketry, ceramics, fiber work, glasswork, jewelry, metalwork, paintings, pottery and woodwork.

About 25 food vendors also are signed up to participate in the festival, offering products ranging from barbecue, hamburgers and chicken-on-a-stick to fried pickles, chocolate-dipped cheesecake and Cherokee frybread.

The traditional Cherokee game of stickball has been a favorite attraction for festival visitors in recent years, and the Snowbird Stickball Team from Graham County will make its second appearance at Mountain Heritage Day to demonstrate that ancient sport at 11 a.m.

Another Native American tradition will be featured at 1 p.m., when team members will join with their female associates in playing the courtship game of “Fish.” The team also will demonstrate the use of Cherokee blowguns at 3 p.m.

Fans of traditional music and clogging should head to the two main stages, which will offer continuous free entertainment from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Balsam and Blue Ridge stages will present many types of traditional music — traditional and contemporary bluegrass to old-time, gospel and folk music.

Clogging fans will want to check out performances by the Blue Ridge Hi-Steppers, Fines Creek Flatfooters and Dixie Darlins, plus this year’s festival will present an audience participation clogging demonstration led by well-known clogging instructor Bill Nichols and his daughter, Simone Nichols Pace, at 2:45 p.m. on the Blue Ridge Stage.

Festival music won’t be limited to the two stages. Visitors will have an opportunity to see some rapid-fire picking up close and personal at the Circle Tent, which will provide a music workshop experience. An 11 a.m. fiddle circle will feature John Duncan and Summer McMahan, and a 1:30 p.m. banjo circle will show off the picking talents of Annie Fain Liden, Steve Sutton and Charles Wood.

Singers from around the region will also gather to demonstrate the sacred mountain tradition of shaped-note singing.

WCU’s museum of Appalachian culture, the Mountain Heritage Center, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the museum also will host a free performance of The Liars Bench, a Southern Appalachian variety show, from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

For younger festival goers, the children’s tent will provide fun and educational sessions all day.

Youngsters can learn to make old-fashioned toys and take part in other heritage activities beginning at 10 a.m.

Folk art demonstrations ranging from Cherokee doll-making to sorghum molasses-making will be showcased throughout the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and area residents who own vintage automobiles will be driving them to Mountain Heritage Day to show them off in the festival auto show.

Admission and parking are free, though pets are not allowed on festival grounds. Shuttles operate throughout the day, with stops at designated locations.

For more information, call 828.227.7129 or visit



9 a.m. – Registration begins for woodcutting contest

10 a.m. – Woodcutting contest begins; festival booths open, offering arts, crafts and food; antique auto show begins; demonstrations of folk arts and skills begin; Mountain Heritage Center opens

10:30 a.m. – Exhibition of black-powder shooting and “Sacred Harp” shaped-note sing begin

11 a.m. – Exhibition of Cherokee stickball begins

11:30 a.m. – Recognition of arts and crafts awards, and food contest winners, at Balsam Stage

12:10 p.m. – Presentation of Mountain Heritage Awards, traditional attire contests for children and adults, and beard and moustache contest, all on Blue Ridge Stage

1 p.m. – Exhibition of Cherokee courtship game “Fish” begins

1:30 p.m. – “Christian Harmony” shaped-note sing begins; presentation of “The Liars Bench” show begins in the Mountain Heritage Center

2:30 p.m. – Exhibition of black-powder shooting

3 p.m. – Exhibition of Cherokee blowguns begins

4 p.m. – Mountain Heritage Center closes

5 p.m. – Festival closes



(Rodney Sutton, master of ceremonies)

10 a.m. – Hawk Tawodi Brown

10:30 a.m. – Cherokee Traditional Dance Group

10:40 a.m. – Hominy Valley Boys

11:10 a.m. – Blue Ridge Hi-Steppers (clogging)

11:30 a.m. – Recognition of arts and crafts awards, and food contest winners

11:40 a.m. – Deitz Family

12:15 p.m. – Jerry and Paul Wilson

12:55 p.m. – Spring Chickens

1:15 p.m. – Fines Creek Flatfooters (clogging)

1:40 p.m. – Queen Family

2:20 p.m. – Woolly Jumpers

3 p.m. – Heritage Alive! Mountain Youth Talent winners

3:45 p.m. – Blue Eyed Girl

4:20 p.m. – Sweet Tater Band



(10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

“Migration of the Scotch-Irish People” – Permanent exhibit focusing on some of the first settlers to the mountains. A new exhibit update explores the tension between religion and lawbreaking as expressed by the temperance movement and moonshining.

“Qualla Arts and Crafts” – Celebrates the 65th anniversary of this craft co-op in Cherokee. This exhibit features the skill and craftsmanship of Cherokee artisans.

“The Carolina Mountains: Photography of Margaret Morley” – Sixty compelling images reveal glimpses of life in western North Carolina in the early 1900s.

“Progress of an Idea” – Permanent exhibit on the development of Western Carolina University, its local origins and evolving mission, with a special focus on music at WCU.

“Jesse Stalcup: Craftsman and Builder” – Exhibit of handcrafted furniture from the early 1900s.



(Bill Nichols, master of ceremonies)

10 a.m. – Mountain Faith

10:30 a.m. – Stoney Creek Boys

10:45 a.m. – Dixie Darlins (clogging)

11 a.m. – Whitewater Bluegrass Co.

11:45 a.m. – Anne Lough

12:10 p.m. - Presentation of Mountain Heritage Awards, traditional attire contests for children and adults, and beard and moustache contest

12:30 p.m. – Phil and Gaye Johnson

1 p.m. – Buncombe Turnpike

1:45 p.m. – Tried Stone Gospel Choir

2:15 p.m. – Stoney Creek Boys

2:30 p.m. – Blue Ridge Hi-Steppers (clogging)

2:45 p.m. – Clogging demonstration with Bill Nichols and Simone Nichols Pace

3 p.m. – Wild Hog Band

3:30 p.m. – Five O’Clock Shadows

4 p.m. – Paul’s Creek



(10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Curtis Allison and Dwayne Franks – horses and mules

Lori and Chuck Anderson – corn shuck crafts and broom-making

Cassie Dickson – spinning and flax culture

Nancy, John Henry and Johnnie Ruth Maney – Cherokee pottery, beadwork and doll-making

William Rogers – blacksmithing

Larry Stout – sorghum molasses-making

R.O. Wilson – logging skills

Max Woody – chair-making



(Phil Jamison, moderator for musical circles)

10 a.m. – Presentation on “Jackson County People and Places” by the Jackson County Historical Society

11 a.m. – Fiddle Circle with John Duncan and Summer McMahan

12:30 p.m. – Poetry Circle with Thomas Rain Crowe, Barbara Duncan and Brent Martin

1:30 p.m. – Banjo Circle with Annie Fain Liden, Steve Sutton and Charles Wood

3 p.m. – Ballad Circle with the Deitz Family, Gaye Johnson and Jeanette Queen Schrock



10 a.m. – Heritage toys and activities

11:40 a.m. – Jean Hayes with an introduction to bagpipes and parade

12:30 p.m. – Whitewater Bluegrass Co. presents play party games

1 p.m. – Deitz Family

1:30 p.m. – Phil and Gaye Johnson

2 p.m. – Ellie Grace

2:30 p.m. – Carol Rifkin

3 p.m. – Heritage toys and activities

Once you hit the Haywood County line after heading west on Interstate 40 out of Asheville, Western Carolina University is the acknowledged cultural focal point for all the remaining seven counties in this southwestern corner of our great state. We expect vision and smarts from university leaders, the professors and the students it graduates. We expect those same leaders to value the culture and history of this region, and to help us preserve, protect and brag about our assets.

That’s why it is refreshing to see new Chancellor David Belcher re-start a strategic planning process that he hopes will help steer the university as it deals with the new realities of state budget cuts and other financial challenges.

Many in this region take for granted the gem that we have in WCU. All it takes, though, is a roll call in our public schools and community colleges, small businesses, financial institutions, arts communities and the local governments to see the impact of this university. Its graduates are our leaders, particularly in the seven western counties. WCU and this region are inseparable.

I think the university recognizes this special relationship, though some of its leaders have placed a higher value on it than others. As long as these ties remain strong and grow even deeper, both the university and the region will be better off.


Town Public Works Director Fred Baker. Town Planner Paul Benson. Planning board member Ron Reid. Concerned citizens like Bicycle Haywood’s Cecil Yount. Realtor Brian Noland.

That’s a short list of those who think the state Department of Transportation’s initial plan for Waynesville’s South Main Street does not fit what Waynesville needs. We offer our wholehearted support to those who want something better than a four-lane road with a raised median.

By the time this edition of The Smoky Mountain News hits the streets, a community brainstorming session to gather ideas for the road will be in the history books (it was held Sept. 20). But that doesn’t mean those who want something better shouldn’t continue to let those in charge know exactly how they feel.

Those who want to maintain the character of Waynesville while still allowing Wal-Marts and Best Buys are asking for a smaller road — three lanes at most — with roundabouts instead of traffic lights, bike lanes, and trees between the road and the sidewalks. This is the vision laid out in the Waynesville’s comprehensive land-use plan, and it’s one I believe a majority of citizens want.

Many of us who argue for smart growth have been in this situation too many times: disagreeing with DOT and seeking a compromise that is about more than just moving cars quickly from one spot to another. In this case Waynesville has had to spend its own money to hire a traffic consultant in hopes it can convince the state bureaucracy that it knows what is best for its own community. It’s frustrating to be in the same position again and again.

But it’s a good fight, one worth all the time and energy we can give it. When roads are done wrong — Russ Avenue in Waynesville, N.C. 107 in Sylva — the problems linger for many, many years. Getting it right on the front end is critical.


Our cover story last week on Macon County’s Phil Drake and his business success (“Seizing Opportunity,” ran at a time when there is great controversy in this country about how best to nurture the economy and shake the lingering recession.

Drake is a local example of someone taking a small family business and growing it exponentially, taking some lumps along with way but finding his way through problems. Just as important as his business success, though, is the commitment to Macon County and Western North Carolina shown by Drake, his family, and his network of businesses.

The global economy has brought riches to many people and lifted many from poverty to the middle class. At the same, however, it has robbed many communities of the ability to control their own destinies. Decisions made in boardrooms thousands of miles away take jobs from thousands, leaving families and communities to pick up the pieces.

The “buy local, shop local, do business locally” concept can only go so far, but we in this region can help lift ourselves up by pushing it to its limits. It’s easy to shop with the big boys and to buy stuff over the internet, but in most cases it doesn’t do as much to help your neighbor.

Phil Drake is proving that doing business locally when possible can lead to great successes. Whether you’re a consumer or a businessperson, there’s never been a more important time to take that lesson to heart.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

A 36-member commission charged with developing a new strategic plan for Western Carolina University is on a tight timeline: Chancellor David Belcher wants the guiding document in the board of trustees’ hands next June.

The commission, a mix of university employees, local business leaders and prominent figures in the community, held its first meeting last week. Belcher described the commission as “a unique gathering of people.” He noted the university’s last strategic plan was implemented in 2008. Belcher urged the group to focus closely on “what we are going to do; what we’re not going to do.”

“This is big picture stuff,” Belcher said. “(The plan) should be ambitious, but achievable.”

Commission member Kenny Messer, a WCU alum who serves as a business manager for Milliken and Company, a South Carolina-based textile and chemical manufacturer, said that in his opinion, financial needs and funding were going to drive the development of a strategic plan for the university.

North Carolina has cut WCU by $30 million in a three-year period. More cuts are expected as the state continues to grapple with a sour economy.

Among the group’s first tasks will be developing a “SWOT,” or a document outlining the university’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The last SWOT was prepared by a university strategic planning group for 2009-2010, and now is somewhat outdated, said Melissa C. Wargo, WCU assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness. Wargo is heading The 2020 Commission for the university.

That SWOT predated heavy state budget cuts, and the arrival of Belcher in July after longtime leader John Bardo retired. It had been stamped “Internal Use Only” and was never shared with the public, but was released to The Smoky Mountains News last week after it was requested. The document included a rather candid assessment of WCU’s weaknesses. Here’s some of the findings in the four SWOT areas.

• Strengths: student access to faculty and undergraduate research opportunities; a growing national and international reputation; a mature and experienced faculty and competitive student costs relative to other University of North Carolina schools.

• Opportunities: an increasing demand for online programs and untapped faculty expertise that could be diverted into public service.

• Threats: continuing state budget cuts loomed big, as did increased competition for students in higher education and marketplace competition for qualified staff. The university also noted accountability in the form of exit exams for students as a threat, geographic location resulting in limited social interaction for students, inadequate infrastructure and more.

• Weaknesses: A lack of administrative transparency topped the list of weaknesses. Others included non-competitive salary and recruitment practices, poor undergraduate retention and graduation rates, ineffective organization communication tools/practices, no institutional plan to address diversity concerns and issues.


Planning assumptions for the WCU strategic plan

• WCU will pursue strategically controlled enrollment growth.

• The quality of the student body will increase.

• The economic instability within the state will continue.

• The university’s role in, and focus on, Western North Carolina will remain strong while its influence grows across the state and region.

• Fundraising and alternative revenue streams will become increasingly more important.

• State funding will be tied to performance.


Community hearings for WCU strategic plan

• Sept. 21: 10:30 a.m. until noon, Macon County Public Library, Franklin.

• Sept. 26: 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., Jackson County Public Library, Sylva.

• Sept. 30: 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m., Waynesville, place to be determined.

• Oct. 20: 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., Cherokee, place to be determined.

Meetings also being held in Asheville, Hendersonville and Murphy.

The second-annual Rooted in the Mountains symposium at Western Carolina University will be held Thursday, Oct. 20, and Friday, Oct. 21, in the Grandroom of the A.K. Hinds University Center.

The Rooted in the Mountains event was created to raise awareness of the intersection of environmental, health and indigenous issues related to mountain destruction. This year’s program includes a 6 p.m. Thursday address by Dennis Martinez, an advocate for an indigenous perspective of ecology, and music beginning at 7:30 p.m. by Sheila Kay Adams, a longtime storyteller and performer of traditional Appalachian ballads.

Cultural historian Jeff Biggers will start Friday’s session with a 9 a.m. keynote address. Biggers, a coal miner’s grandson and outspoken critic of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, is the author of nonfiction works “Reckoning at Eagle Creek,” “The United States of Appalachia” and “In the Sierra Madre.” The symposium also includes a Thursday reception, Friday lunch, academic presentations and a facilitated discussion.

Reduced-rate hotel rooms at the Sylva Inn and the Holiday Inn Express in Dillsboro and an early registration fee of $75 are available through Sunday, Sept. 25. After that, the symposium registration fee rises to $125. The symposium is free to WCU students. The Biggers address, part of WCU’s Art and Cultural Events Series, is free to all.

Lisa Lefler, the event’s organizer, said the Rooted in the Mountains symposium is for individuals interested in Native American studies, health and environmental issues.

“Those who are interested in how the continued destruction of mountain landscapes affect us should attend, as well as those who would like to learn more about the intersection of Native ways of understanding with these issues,” said Lefler, an anthropologist and director of WCU’s Culturally Based Native Health Programs. “This event is for all who are rooted in the mountains and value our common ground.”

Lefler organized the inaugural event in honor of her mother, the late Jean Nations Lefler, and her uncle, the late Dale Nations. The siblings were “saddened in their last years about what they perceived as destruction to the mountains,” Lefler said. Though only a year old, Rooted in the Mountains is quickly evolving, and three other institutions – Berea College, Appalachian State University and Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee – have expressed interest in alternately hosting it.

Lefler also organized an August event on the WCU campus intended to help sharpen the symposium’s focus. A panel of Native elders visited WCU to participate in dialogues on “Native science,” which respects the natural laws of interdependence, or phrased alternatively, a universal law of interconnectedness. Panel members encouraged those in attendance to shed their personal and career identities and their “tacit infrastructures” – beliefs so ingrained we unconsciously base our paradigms on them without questioning why – so they could examine the connection between health and the environment in new ways.

To register for the Rooted in the Mountains symposium, go online to or call 828.227.7397. For additional information about Rooted in the Mountains, contact Lefler at 828.227.2164 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or contact Pamela Duncan in the WCU Department of English at 828.227.3926 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Western Carolina University, eager to broadcast Catamount sports and other school-based programming to a larger audience than it can currently reach, is fighting The Canary Coalition for rights to a new FM radio station.

The station could reach up to three states once on the air, depending on which Jackson County mountaintop the transmitter is located, according to regional radio experts.

WCU’s current radio station, WWCU 90.5 FM, on a good day is heard roughly from Sylva to parts of Buncombe County. The signal is spotty at best, however.

WWCU 90.5 FM currently reaches about 43,627 people. Meanwhile, 73,800 people potentially could hear the new FM radio station, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

Asheville-based public radio station WCQS, the Cherokee Boys & Girls Club and a nonprofit Christian foundation based in Georgia also applied for the new frequency.

While the FCC tentatively awarded air rights for the new full-powered FM radio frequency to The Canary Coalition, a small grassroots environmental organization headquartered in Sylva, WCU is not going down without a fight.

WCU has hired the private Raleigh law firm Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey and Leonard, whose specialties include telecommunications and media law, to persuade the FCC to give it the license instead of The Canary Coalition.

The Canary Coalition has a staff of one, Executive Director Avram Friedman, and is using the legal services of an attorney in California to fend off WCU’s bid for the radio station. The attorney is helping the nonprofit for a reduced rate, Friedman said.

Larry Nestler, chairman of The Canary Coalition’s board, questioned why WCU would choose to pick this fight during such tough budgetary times. The state cut the university’s budget this year by 13.5 percent.

“And here is Western hiring a big-time law firm out of Raleigh using taxpayer money,” Nestler said. “It seems a little much.”

WCU has paid the Raleigh lawyers $21,752.34 so far in legal fees, according to the university.


WCU tightlipped on legal battle

The university issued a terse statement when queried about its bid for the radio station, saying through spokesman Bill Studenc that: “Because the application is still pending with the FCC, the university is unable to comment on the status of the application, or any specifics about the application, until that process has moved forward to completion.”

The Smoky Mountain News then filed several requests for information from WCU under the state’s public records law. WCU complied with most of the requests, but has yet to produce emails, as also requested under the state law, to-and-from various university leaders regarding the radio station.

WCU’s legal battle against The Canary Coalition originated under former Chancellor John Bardo, who retired this summer from the university’s top post. It isn’t clear whether new Chancellor David Belcher will embrace his predecessor’s fight.

Records reveal that WCU is fighting The Canary Coalition on every front that it can, challenging a variety of claims in the environmental group’s FCC application, and even arguing about whether The Canary Coalition is locally based as claimed.

The FCC used a point system to award licenses, with applicants given a set number of points if they met certain criteria. The Canary Coalition received five points (three for being local and two for diversity), WCU just three (localism only).

In its petition to overturn the FCC’s ruling that tentatively favors The Canary Coalition, WCU countered that the nonprofit is not a local entity — rather, that people think of it as an Asheville-based group, though it indeed leases office space in Sylva.

Perhaps most significantly, WCU has called into question the financial solvency of The Canary Coalition. The group, WCU’s high-powered legal team says, doesn’t have the money to back the dream of a radio station with regional reach.

The Canary Coalition indeed might have trouble proving it has the financial ability to get a radio station up and running. Friedman estimates it will cost about $50,000 to get on the air, for equipment, staff and so on. The FCC wants those awarded a frequency to have enough money in the bank to construct and operate a radio station for three months.

In a filing with the FCC, The Canary Coalition pointed to a bank balance on Feb. 5 of $43,945.97 as evidence that it can build and operate a radio station.

That just doesn’t cut it, WCU responded in a follow-up filing. A more complete financial picture of The Canary Coalition, not a one-day snapshot, doesn’t bode well for the group’s ability to pay for a radio station, WCU claimed. The Canary Coalition is attempting “to elevate the significance of that one-day balance determinatively above the significance of three years’ worth of public IRS filings … that show Canary’s downward-trending revenues and dire financial health,” WCU wrote to the FCC.

When Friedman put out a fundraising call to help get the radio station up and running in an email newsletter to Canary Coalition members and supporters last week, WCU jumped on it as more evidence the environmental organization doesn’t have start-up costs required by the FCC. WCU filed a supplemental petition late last week, citing the newsletter, that indicates Friedman is soliciting money now from group members for the project.

“This admission by Canary conclusively demonstrates not only that Canary lacks the funds to construct and operate the proposed station for three months without revenue but also that Canary recognizes that it lacks the funds. This admission is fatal to Canary’s financial certification and qualification,” the university’s lawyers maintained.

WCU’s lawyers also pointed out that The Canary Coalition originally estimated costs for the radio station at just more than $39,000, but now is seeking $50,000. Regardless of which amount is correct, WCU’s Raleigh law firm stated, a radio station “is clearly beyond (The Canary Coalition’s) financial ability to build and operate.”


Why WCU wants it

If WCU is able to overturn The Canary Coalition’s rights to the new FM station, plans call for the university to continue serving the area with its current “unique, locally originated programming,” plus to turn the station into “the flagship station in the WCU Catamount Sports Network, airing live college athletics of substantial importance to the local community.”

“Through the airing of its non-commercial educational program service, (WCU) brings thousands of hours of unique radio broadcast programming — including educational and curriculum-related programming — to its service area every year, and … seeks to further its educational mission by expanding its ability to provide such programming to the residents of Western North Carolina.”


Facts about WCU's current radio station

How old is the radio station at WCU?

In 1948, WCCA 550 AM signed on as a radio station from the lower floor of the Joyner building. In 1949, the call letters were changed to WWOO. In 1972, WWOO changed its call letters to WCAT. In 1977, WCAT 550 AM went off the air and WWCU 90.5 FM went on the air.

What’s the coverage area?

Roughly, from west of Sylva to the west side of Asheville, though the terrain of the mountains makes the coverage sporadic in places. The station transmitter is located on Cutoff Mountain near Balsam Gap.

How is it subsidized, to the tune of what each year?  

The radio station receives two funding allocations each year for operational expenses.  The station receives $15,000 from the provost’s office and $27,500 in education and technology funds.

Does the radio station make any money?

The radio station is licensed as a noncommercial educational station and as such does not sell commercial advertising.

Is it student run?

WWCU operates with a student general manager and student program coordinator under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The student general manager and program coordinator work with a volunteer staff of students, staff, and faculty.

What is the programming?

Classic rock, plus weather, WCU sports programs, and some Native American-geared programming.

Source: WCU

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