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2014: Newsworthy award winners

cover2014 is all but in the rearview mirror now, and all the stories reported over the last 12 months are headed for the history books or perhaps a less-lofty final resting place. But lest we forget just what made 2014 such a great year for news, here’s our annual tongue-in-cheek awards, a tribute to those people and events that held our interest for at least a few moments during the past year.

Can You Hear Me Now? Award

Lawrence Martin’s anger got the best of him when he shot up the store front of Verizon Wireless in Waynesville in the middle of the night this year. The shooting spree (no one was hurt, thankfully) followed a countywide outage of cell phone service in May.

Thousands of people in Haywood County were without cell phone, TV and Internet for several hours due to some sort of line mishap affecting Verizon and Charter. To show his frustration, Martin, 65, shot 15 rounds from a high-powered rifle into the Waynesville Verizon Wireless store windows at about 4 a.m. Martin then led officers on a high-speed chase through downtown Waynesville before crashing his vehicle into a tree in front of the Haywood County Justice Center. 

Martin’s son and roommate had called law enforcement to warn them of Martin’s deranged state and plans to shoot up the Verizon store, as well as threats to target the Waynesville Police Department.

He believed the outage was an orchestrated plan carried out by corporations and the government to control society. Police said Martin had been drinking heavily that night and also had fired off rounds in his own home in Balsam before the Verizon drive-by. Because of the early hour, no one was injured during the shooting and car chase.

 

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Boogey Man award

“The boogey man is not coming to get you.”

This memorable line came from Haywood County Commissioner Mike Sorrells, trying to assuage fears that the county would raid the food and ammunition stockpiles of private citizens in the event of societal collapse.

The county’s emergency management ordinance gives the county’s top leaders authority to take draconian measures in the case of natural disasters such as floods or landslides, including the right to go on private property without permission and assume control of the supply chain for the distribution of vital resources.

Obviously, the law was written with the intent to protect and provide emergency services should some disaster occur.

Even those with bunkers — known as “preppers” due to the food stores and survival gear they amass in the event of mass calamity — felt the emergency management ordinance could be wielded to seize their property should society disintegrate into every man for himself.

 

The Homewrecker award

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gets this one for its intervention at Osborne Farms, a small dairy farm near Clyde. After an employee of the dairy sent off photos showing cows wading through knee-deep feces, sporting sores and lameness from prolonged exposure to the waste, PETA sent in a staffer to take some video. The organization posted the video online and shipped it out to multiple state and county regulatory agencies. 

Inspectors flocked to the farm but noted no evidence of animal cruelty on their reports. In addition, some cast doubt on the veracity of the PETA video. However, PETA stood by its video and the whistleblower, Gna Wyatt, told The Smoky Mountain News emphatically that “it was really like that.” 

All that publicity appears to have broken up the farm. Just one month after the video’s release, Osborne Farms sold off its cattle, likely either to a slaughterhouse or to another dairy farm. 

 

The Bear Grylls award

The three South Carolina men who get this award could have used some of Grylls’ survival know-how when they set out to do a 10-day backpacking trip through Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the middle of the winter. 

Jonathan Dobbins, 21, Steven White, 28, and Shawn Hood, 32, all of Gaffney, South Carolina, didn’t even make it through the first night. Temperatures plummeted into the teens the night of Jan. 2 and the afternoon rain turned to blowing snow. The men’s cotton clothing and summer sleeping bags didn’t do much against the elements, and once they were able to make a call for help, a rescue mission launched that would eventually involve roughly 30 people.  

A group of rangers hiked through the night to find them and keep them warm till morning, and by noon a helicopter had arrived to take the men to safety. None of the men suffered any lasting injury, but hopefully they’ll actually do some planning before once again traipsing off into the largest wilderness area in the East during winter.

 

The John Hancock award

Kim Bishop, erstwhile director of the Macon County Board of Elections, allegedly had plenty of chances to develop a signature on par with that of the founding father as she wrote — and pocketed — money from 37 checks totaling $50,000.

The funds were supposedly needed to pay outside contractors for their work with the election board, but that $50,000 figure is far higher than the typical sum required during a slow election year. Not to mention that the women named in the checks never received the funds or submitted a W9 form, or that the election board members whose names appeared on the check request forms said they’d never actually signed them. 

Bishop resigned her post in May, but a State Bureau of Investigation probe is ongoing. No charges have yet been filed.

 

Business of the Year award

Clyde is typically a quiet town that rarely makes the news, but this year was an exception when the Clyde Police Department busted up a prostitution ring that was disguised as a pet shop on Carolina Boulevard. 

The pet shop, Wild Things Plantation, utilized social media to attract customers in other states. While prostitution was allegedly happening behind the scenes, the storefront sold ducks, chickens and goats.

 

WTF! Award

That is what many people said or thought when they saw that Mike Matthews was elected as Haywood County’s new tax collector. Matthews didn’t spend money on a big campaign and he wasn’t seen at any public functions where other candidates were schmoozing with hopeful constituents. With his filing fee paid for, Matthews agreed to run against tax collector incumbent David Francis, but the effort to win was minimal. Matthews would be the first to tell you that he didn’t think he had a shot at winning. He was equally as shocked when the election results rolled in on Nov. 4 — Matthews beat Francis by 230 votes. County commissioners decided on a $410,000 liability bond for Matthews but he wasn’t sworn in as scheduled at the beginning of December because he had yet to get bonded. However, he beat the odds again — got the bond and was sworn in on Dec. 8 at the courthouse. Before running for tax collector, Matthews served on the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen for two years. He was filling a vacant seat and then ran to keep the seat in 2013 but lost. 

Matthews also has a history of not paying his taxes and has even had his wages garnished twice by the county to collect on taxes he owed. 

 

Roman Empire Award

All roads once led to Ghost Town in the Sky, the kingpin of tourism not only in Maggie Valley but throughout the region. Tens of thousands flocked to the amusement park for a chance to ride the chairlift all the way to the top of Buck Mountain and experience the old West with gunfights, saloon girls and rides. The local economy depended on Ghost Town to rake in the tourists to fill up the motel beds and restaurant chairs, which it did handedly for three decades.

But Ghost Town’s supreme reign began to crumble in the late 1980s. Its long-time owner didn’t invest in the park’s maintenance or modernization. Visitation declined as the park not only deteriorated but also failed to keep pace with modern amusement park expectations. It eventually closed in the 2000s, was bought and sold a couple of times, and was even in and out of bankruptcy. 

Alaska Presley bought the park in 2012 out of foreclosure with the hope of restoring it to its original glory, but it has been an uphill battle as she has dealt with expensive upgrades, failed inspections, environmental impact fees and bad reviews from returning visitors who expect Ghost Town to be what it was 30 years ago.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it surely can’t be rebuilt in a couple of years. Presley is still determined to rebuild the mountain in her vision.

 

Better Homes and Garden Award

After being chastised by the public last year for cutting down all the trees on the Haywood County Courthouse lawn, the county commissioners approved spending $28,000 for an underground, automated irrigation system to keep the grass green. 

The expense was approved 4-to-1 with Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick opposed. Chairman Mark Swanger thought the irrigation system was worth the price because the courthouse lawn is the “face” of the county, a public commons so to speak. However, Kirkpatrick said it shouldn’t be a priority considering all the other county expenses.

And besides, Western North Carolina is not suffering from a drought and doesn’t experience scorching hot summers to dry out the grass.

 

The Open [Check] Book award

Cherokee Tribal Council meetings got explosive this fall after word got out that members had voted themselves a $10,000 pay raise — as well as backpay checks for as much as $22,000 for the years when the raise supposedly should have already been in effect. 

Principal Chief Michell Hicks claimed that the raises were “adjustments” to bring salaries into compliance with a 2004 ordinance, a view accepted by the majority of the council. But many tribal members decried them as illegal, saying they violated a section of the tribe’s Charter and Governing Document that stipulates that any raises council receives can take effect only after the next elected council is seated. 

As pushback swelled, councilmembers started qualifying their support of the salary increases during council discussions. At the same time, tribal government became sensitive to media coverage of the issue. In its December meeting, tribal council asked police to escort a Smoky Mountain News reporter from the councilhouse in addition to denying members of other media outlets admission to the council chamber. 

 

Dead in the Water award

Lake Junaluska began the year with a fresh pitch and renewed case to merge with Waynesville. But state legislators once again sank the effort.

Lake Junaluska property owners overwhelmingly expressed support to join the town of Waynesville but were denied state approval for the second year running, due in large part to opposition from N.C. Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville.

With Presnell once again headed to Raleigh after winning the fall election, it’s unclear whether lake residents will bother to mount a third attempt.

 

Arab Spring award

A citizen uprising in Jackson County fought and won a battle for the mountainsides, a rare instance when public outcry actually carried the day.

The revolt didn’t target a nasty, oppressive dictator. There were no fist-pumping chants from throngs of unruly mobs burning things in the street.

This revolt was a little more low key, led by professorial types wielding Power Points as weapons. The extent of their activism was submitting written comments or showing up to a public hearing, politely taking turns at the mic and dutifully obeying the three-minute time limit.

The most radical display was by an Appalachian songwriter who penned an original ballad and sang it a cappella style decrying the denigration of the mountains in the name of the almighty dollar.

Nonetheless, the crowd that appeared at the public hearing was big enough and the written comment voluminous enough the planned rewrite of the county’s steep slope rules were tabled.

At stake: whether to water down the county’s steep slope development rules, considered overly arduous and restrictive by some while others thought the protections were much-needed. 

Jackson County commissioners could have barreled ahead with the changes despite the public outcry. But it was a willingness to let the democratic process play out and actually take public input into account that prompted leaders to change course.

 

Double-Agent award

Smoky Mountain News reporter Becky Johnson stops at nothing to get a story. This year, she even went undercover — sort of. Johnson was hoping to get in to a Haywood County GOP meeting to witness an attempted coup of the local party leadership by a radical faction.

She was told earlier that day by the coup leaders that only Republicans would be allowed in to the meeting that night. So Johnson promptly marched down to the county election office and changed her voter registration to Republican. 

At the start of the GOP meeting, she was outed as not being a Republican. Despite presenting paperwork to prove her new Republican status — “seven hours and counting” — she was voted out of the meeting anyway.

For the record, she changed her voter registration back to unaffiliated a few days later. 

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place award

When a film crew came knocking for permission to shoot a documentary on Judacalla Rock, Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten was, as he put it, “in a bind.” 

America Unearthed, a History Channel show billed as unlocking the secrets of America’s past by riddling out archaeological mysteries, hoped to feature Judacalla Rock in an episode. The ancient petroglyph carved into a giant soapstone slab near Cullowhee has been a mystery since its discovery.

Wooten had the power to green light or deny the filming because it was on county land. He initially said OK but was soon besieged with pleas to stop the filming. 

Critics feared the sensational host, who fancies himself a modern-day Indiana Jones, would make a mockery of the prehistoric rock art. A gander at the show lineup is rife with pseudo-science — including episodes on underwater Aztec pyramids in Wisconsin, Mayan settlements in Georgia and Biblical artifacts in the Grand Canyon.

With the film crew already in motion, however, Wooten let them come on.

The Judacalla episode, titled “The Appalachian Giant,” aired in November. We regretfully missed it. If you caught it, or better yet recorded it, let us know.

 

Guinness Book of World Records award

This one goes to all the Elvis fans in the house, or at least the 895 diehards who turned out at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino for a bold attempt to break the world record for the most Elvis impersonators ever gathered under one roof.

The Elvis impersonators came from all walks of life — including quite a few grannies in wheelchairs who nonetheless managed to suit up in the free Elvis costume, wig included, that was handed out at the door.

The catch to a new world record: all must be in costume and sing an Elvis song in its entirety. Despite a headcount reduction for those whose wigs came off during the song, victory was sealed with 200 more than the previous record holder, held by a casino in Vegas, by the way.

 

Wrench in the Works award

Mike Clarke tried his best to derail land-use planning efforts in Cullowhee over the past year. After landing a seat on the Cullowhee planning task force, he got right to work trying to unravel it. He wrote a letter to the editor publicly condemning the mission of the committee when it was barely out of the gate — using adjectives like “lame,” “overbearing” and “outrage” to describe his views toward land-use planning — and continually spoke out against the effort at every meeting and forum that came along, issuing a rallying cry to turn out other opponents.

But the committee stuck to its charge: to study the conundrum of unbridled growth in Cullowhee and develop solutions to guide future development patterns.

Clark finally resigned from the Cullowhee planning committee last month. In his parting words, he said the planning effort had been “hijacked by a group of government thugs.”

 

Fuel to the Fire Award

Haywood Regional Medical Center was just about to sign on the dotted line, cementing a sale of the cash-strapped hospital to Duke LifePoint following months of negotiations, when a small electrical fire forced the hospital to close for several weeks.

Even though the generator kicked in when the power went out, the air conditioning didn’t come on — something that is essential during the sweltering summer months. The hospital could only accept emergency patients through a mobile unit set up in the parking lot. The hospital was fully recovered and re-opened after about three weeks once repairs were made and the hospital given the go-ahead from N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation.

 

Still Brewing award

Nearly two years after wrapping up an undercover sting targeting alleged bear poachers in the mountains, Operation Something Bruin is still boiling over.

Around 50 hunters from Rutherfordton to Robbinsville were charged for a litany of hunting violations, including hunting bears out of season, spotlighting, leading guided trips without permits and not properly registering bear tags.

But the cases quickly unraveled. In many instances, the undercover officers committed the hunting crimes themselves, be it shooting underage bears, transporting bear parts or baiting bears, and then charged those who were present for being accomplices. In other cases, the charges appeared to be fishing expeditions, lacking solid evidence but hoping to root out informants.

After striking out in state court and seeing nearly all the charges dismissed, the cases were then refiled by investigators in federal court, but they’ve garnered mixed results and a spotty conviction rate.

State legislators have opened an investigation into whether wildlife officers engaged in entrapment. At a recent hearing before the state panel, the phrase “clustermess” was coined by speakers to describe the train wreck they claim unfairly targeted innocent hunters.

 

Grassroots award

When the call went out to old-timers to part with precious family heirlooms and artifacts that tell the story of Swain County’s history, the response was overwhelming. For two years, volunteers collected, amassed and sorted the outpouring of donations, from old church pulpits to farm implements to photographs.

The project came to fruition this year with the opening of the Swain County Heritage Museum, housed in the historic courthouse. 

The evolution of the museum mirrors the story of Swain County itself — one of resolve, spirit and small-town pride. The Swain Heritage Museum was an all-local, all-volunteer affair to create a museum from whole cloth. Supporters consciously chose not to hire an outside museum consultant or curator specialist to do it for them, but instead tapped local expertise and talents to tell the county’s unique story.

 

Teflon award

Despite a small band of Tea Party-esque critics who dish out frequent verbal lashings and email assaults against the five Haywood County commissioners, the local government gurus have an uncanny ability to deflect the onslaught.

The constant needling — including an online newsletter and YouTube videos dedicated to commissioner meetings — hasn’t budged them from their seats. The current board has enjoyed more stability and less turnover than any set of county commissioners in history. The five have a combined tenure of 44 years, with three of them just sealing four more years in this year’s election. 

When one of the leading activists accosted County Manager Ira Dove at a swearing-in reception for local officials this month and asked Dove why he hadn’t replied to the latest bout of attack emails, Dove, who was manning the tea pitchers at the refreshment table, simply replied “Sweet or unsweet?”

 

Musical Chairs award

There were so many lawyers representing so many parties in a lawsuit stemming from a 2010 landslide in Maggie Valley, there weren’t enough chairs for them.

On the opening day of the trial this summer, three of the lawyers took off down the hallway and returned a moment later, each wheeling an extra chair. Once they were settled, a row of seven lawyers snaked around the defendants’ table and along the wall, hemmed in by mounds of boxes filled with case files and exhibits brought it on hand trucks.

A couple whose home was in the path of the landslide sued a bevy of parties they claim were responsible: five different engineers and builders who had a hand in the faulty retaining wall blamed as the culprit in the slide, plus the former manager of Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park, where the retaining wall was located. Such a deep bench of people being sued meant a lot of lawyers. 

The lawyers oscillated in their legal tactics. On one hand, they deployed a circle-the-wagons strategy — joining forces to mount a shared defense that the landslide was no one’s fault but merely an act of God. But they also resorted to a finger-pointing defense,  entailing a series of cross-claims, third-party suits and counter claims to the cross-claims that blamed the other engineers and builders for any fault, if fault was to be had.

In the end, the case was settled out of court hours before a jury trial was slated to commence.

 

Trailblazer award

Ben Bushyhead’s campaign for change in the Swain County commissioner election was a notable one.

The most obvious: Bushyhead is the first enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to get elected as a Swain commissioner. But that wasn’t the backbone of his campaign, nor his impetus for running.

Bushyhead’s platform advocated for reform of the business-as-usual approach of county government, insistent that Swain County commissioners should be more responsive and inclusive of the public, be more proactive in advancing the county’s economic status and be more deliberate in the decision-making process.

Most challengers are lucky just to pick off the lowest incumbent on the totem pole. But Bushyhead sailed from underdog status in the starting lineup to become top vote-getter in both the primary and general elections.

The refrain of change resonated with Swain voters. Challenger Danny Burns ran on a similar platform, sharing similar views on the need for a new direction, and was the second highest vote-getter. Two incumbents were ousted to make way for the two newcomers on the board.

 

Ketchikan award

Jackson County can claim its very own version of the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, a costly but questionable project that became a synonym for wasteful federal spending.

Jackson County earmarked $1 million for a foot bridge over the Tuckaseigee River this year to provide a second jumping-on point for a short greenway in Cullowhee.

Technically, the 1.2-mile greenway could function without the bridge. But you could only get on at one end. The other would deadend at the river.

The foot bridge means you can get on at one end and off at the other, without backtracking the 1.2 miles to the starting point.

But the vast majority drive to the greenway and have to backtrack anyway to get back to their car, bridge or no bridge.

The $1 million bridge cost three times more than the greenway itself, which was just $325,000. 

The bridge was originally supposed to be $600,000 but came in $400,000 more than budgeted. 

Preliminay design estimates failed to account for soil type, which was on the soft side and needed extra shoring up around the bridge footers. The preliminary design also failed to account for a sewer main that runs along the river and had to be worked around.

When presented with the cost overrun, commissioners had the chance to pull out, but instead bit the bullet and ponied up the extra dough.

A state grant covered $450,000 of the greenway project in all, and the remaining $1 million came out of earmarked county recreation funds.

 

Macon out Like a Bandit award

Though Macon County’s going for a “revenue-neutral” budget when its new property values kick in for the 2015 tax year, most people are going to see a change in their taxes due.

People with modest homes whose values haven’t changed much since the real estate bust will find themselves with a more expensive bill, and those with more expensive homes, well — they’ll receive this award. Their tax bills are likely to take a dip. 

Though maybe that’s fair, seeing as Macon County homeowners have all been paying taxes based on their pre-recession home values of 2007. High-end homes have come down the most in value, so their owners will now be paying based on what they’re actually worth now. Maybe the savings will be enough for a second in-ground pool. 

 

The Sherlock Award

The Huffington Post earned this one when it threw up an article, which quickly went viral, showcasing images from videographer Jordan Liles’ trip to the Smokies. While there, he stumbled upon the long-lost town of Elkmont in the middle of the forest. 

Or so the post read. The only problem was that Elkmont isn’t exactly lost. It’s right off the road near a popular campsite and frequented by park visitors, a fact that Liles, who never claimed to have discovered the town, knew full well. 

A quick call either to Liles or Great Smoky Mountains National Park would have cleared everything up, but Huff Post is apparently a solo sleuth. Hats off. 

 

The Good Boy award

This one goes to Beck, the K9 drug dog who stuck to his training and failed to alert to the presence of the drugs he was trained to recognize — marijuana, cocaine and heroin — during a traffic stop initiated by Cherokee police.  

The police, however, did not mind their own training so closely. Beck’s handler, Graham County Deputy Matthew Cox, told officers that the dog had alerted, resulting in the arrest of a pair of Florida women who, though traveling without the three drugs Beck knew, were later found to have thousands of prescription pills in their Cherokee apartment. The incident was one of multiple questionable decisions in the handling of the case, which was eventually thrown out of federal court this year. 

“Such an ends-justifying-the-means approach does not manifest good faith adherence to constitutional principles,” U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger’s opinion said of the officers’ conduct. 

 

The Band of Brothers award

The teachers of Western North Carolina get this one for their collective stand against a directive from the Legislature that school districts select exactly one-fourth of their teachers to receive a small raise. 

Teachers and administrators decried the raises as unfairly pitting educators against each other in competition for a small increase while requiring those who accepted the raises to sign away their tenure, a benefit the legislature had decided to phase out by 2018. 

Demonstrations were staged and teachers swore to reject the raise even if offered it. Jackson and Macon counties even signed on with a list of other school districts from across North Carolina to bring a lawsuit against the state, an effort joined by the N.C. School Boards Association and the N.C. Association of Educators. 

North Carolina educators gave a collective cheer in May when Wake County Superior Court ruled the 25 percent raises — and the termination of tenure for those who already had it — unconstitutional. 

But the fight wasn’t over for North Carolina teachers. Their plight — salaries had been frozen since 2007-08 while funding for teaching assistants and materials was slashed — was the target of much political maneuvering during the 2014 election season. Education-themed political bumper stickers dominated the highways, and teacher pay dominated the headlines. 

When the Legislature passed its budget in August, it included a raise for teachers trumpeted by Republican leaders as the largest in the state’s history that didn’t come with a tax hike. However, skeptics called the raise “phony,” pointing out that veteran teachers didn’t really benefit at all from the sliding scale raises and that for many teachers, salaries were still lower than they would have been if the state had followed the salary schedule all along rather than freezing wages when the recession hit. 

No word on whether this particular war will make it to the big screen.  

 

The Homebody award

Nikwasi Mound gets this one for its remarkable ability to remain stationary amidst a tug-of-war for ownership between the Town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

The tribe and town have been quarreling over the mound since 2012, when an ill-fated landscaping decision caused all the grass on the historic mound to die, raising the ire of the Cherokee. This year, the two governments passed dueling resolutions, with the Cherokee Tribal Council decreeing that ownership of the mound should pass to the tribe while the Franklin Board of Aldermen affirmed the town’s right to continued ownership, though allowing that Cherokee could take over maintenance if it so desired. 

But through it all, the mound has stayed put, patiently awaiting an end to the dispute over who, exactly, should own it. 

 

The Field of Dreams Award

“Build it and they will come” was the idea behind the $3.8 million baseball and softball tournament complex Macon County Commissioners approved in February. The hope is that it will soon pay for itself, bringing in teams from across the region to play tournaments on the fields, stay at local hotels and spend money on food and shopping in Franklin. The county estimates the economic impact at $8 million. 

Right now, the only tournament-level baseball field west of Asheville is the Crow Complex in Cherokee, though a group in Enka is now raising money to build a facility there.

By the time summer rolls around, the 48-acre Parker Meadows property is expected to be fully online, sporting eight baseball and softball fields, courts for tennis and pickleball, a soccer field, picnic facilities and a nine-hole disc golf course. 

 

The Wizard of Oz award

Just like Dorothy, Ron Haven had to go through some turmoil this spring in order to return in peace to the place he calls home. 

A challenge to Haven’s re-election campaign for Macon County Commissioner had pointed out that while Haven’s listed address — an apartment at a motel he owns — does fall within the district for the Franklin commissioner seat he held, his wife and children live in a house at Mill Creek Country Club. The challenge, largely written by then-chair of the Macon County Democratic Party Corey Duvall, had questioned whether Haven in fact spent more than half of his nights at the Budget Inn, as required to run in the district. 

The board ultimately sided with Haven, voting unanimously to dismiss the challenge, but Haven wound up losing his bid for re-election. The two Franklin seats went to sitting commissioner Ronnie Beale and to challenger Gary Shields. Shields had also had a residency challenge filed against him, but it was withdrawn following Haven’s hearing. 

 

The Big Catch Award 

Cherokee — and the anglers who love to fish its waters — expects to reel in a big one with the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. The museum, which will memorialize fly fishing stories, techniques and equipment from West Virginia down to Georgia, has quickly gathered support among the fly fishing community, the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It will be located in downtown Cherokee in a building shared with the Chamber on a rent-free lease from the tribe. Right now, the museum is gathering exhibits and working toward a May 1 opening date. 

 

The Sticking to their Guns award

This one goes to the Macon County Commissioners for standing by their unanimous July decision to pass a resolution opposing additional wilderness recommendations in the new forest management plan for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. 

Commissioners found themselves partial to the Ruffed Grouse Society’s view, presented by member Jim Gray at the July meeting, that designating any additional wilderness would be harmful for wildlife and for recreational use of the forest. Their position came under fire from wilderness supporters and those who simply felt commissioners had not gathered enough information from multiple sides of the issue before arriving at a conclusion. 

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott felt strongly enough about it to write a letter urging commissioners to rescind their resolution. That letter precipitated another round of discussion on the topic at the commissioners’ December meeting, with arguments presented from The Wilderness Society and the Franklin Appalachian Trail Community Committee as well as The Ruffed Grouse Society. 

In the end, though, commissioners stuck with their initial philosophy and maintained that, ultimately, wilderness designation is not their decision anyway.

“That’s made by Congress,” Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin said. “I’m really a little taken aback by the questioning of our opinion.”

 

The Lead Foot award

This one goes to Southwestern Community College for their realization that, while discussing how best to mine 60 tons of accumulated lead bullets from their shooting range berm, it might be a good idea to find out whether any of that lead had leached into the surrounding soil or

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