MANNA FoodBank to close Franklin distribution center

MANNA FoodBank will close its Franklin distribution center by October, putting three part-time employees out of work as the agency moves to streamline its system and cut overall operating costs.

Cindy Threlkeld, executive director of the Asheville-based nonprofit, blamed rising food and fuel costs and potential threats to federal funds the agency relies on. MANNA’s distribution center in Franklin served as a clearinghouse and pass-through point for food supplies bound for “partnering agencies” in the western counties for 20 years.

Franklin headquarters the only branch office of MANNA, located on Depot Street.

The nonprofit had to make hard decisions about how to maintain the same level of service while cutting costs, Threlkeld said.

“We are fully committed to providing the same level of service, or even more,” she said. Online ordering was already used by most of the 250 agencies that tap MANNA’s food stores across a 16-county service area.

MANNA FoodBank Board Member Amy Grimes, executive director of The Community Table in Sylva, said the online system works well. She said the agencies that haven’t made the transition yet seem to understand the difficulties faced by MANNA, “and people seem OK with it. Everyone is having to make hard choices right now.”

But MANNA will still need a pick-up point, a centralized location somewhere in the western counties where pallets of food can passed off to agencies. Threlkeld is currently hunting for such a site. It will not be a formal distribution center, however, such as the one in Franklin. The phase-out of the Franklin center will start in September, Threlkeld said.

On a more positive note, MANNA’s executive director said a couple in Henderson County has donated the entire production from a 5-acre orchard, contingent on MANNA handling the harvesting. Threlkeld said she foresees the agency ending up with some 150,000 pounds of apples, raising possibilities MANNA could trade apples with another food agency for other supplies.

Franklin features mountain culture July 16

The Franklin Folk Festival will celebrate its 8th year on July 16, continuing the tradition of craft, song, dance and cuisine in the heart of Franklin.

This year’s theme, “Trails, Tales and Settlements” promises more entertaining and educational information than ever about the history of Franklin and surrounding areas. Spotlighted in the tales section will be popular storytellers who will, throughout the day, be telling stories of the mountains that will intrigue both children and adults. On the front porch will be some of the region’s oldest residents sharing stories about their lives growing up here in the mountains.

The Trails Through Time segment will spotlight antiques and many of the items used by early mountain residents at different periods in their lives. Indian Trails and Cherokee Heritage Trails will educate visitors about the Indian names given to various sections of the county. Other trails that will be explored during the festival are Quilt Trails, Hunting Trails, Hiking Trails, Old Railroad Beds, Civil War Trails, Family Genealogy Trails, Logging Trails, Communication Trails and Wagon Trails.

Tied closely to trails is the Settlements portion of the festival, where historians and representatives from various communities will talk about how particular areas got their names, who their early settlers were and how these communities have changed over the years.  Old photographs and displays will help bring these early settlements alive.

Since 2011 begins the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the 25th Infantry Civil War Re-enactors will be on hand to show how this conflict affected the lives of ancestors who lived through it. The re-enactors will be camped throughout the weekend in Frogtown, the site of Franklin’s old drive-in theatre, and camp tours will be offered throughout the day on Saturday. As during past Franklin Folk Festivals, a skirmish which has become known as the Battle of Frogtown — complete with a cannon and other artillery — will take place, and throughout the day, infantry drilling and firing demonstrations will take place.

Elsewhere at the festival will be craftspeople displaying heritage skills, musicians playing and singing mountain songs, square dancers willing to dance for and teach spectators, vendors supplying delicious food and games and contests for all ages.

In addition to exhibits and demonstrations, the festival will host an Antique Car Show, Civil War re-enactments, games and contests for children and adults, and the always popular Heritage Parade.

As in past years, several music venues downtown will feature old time mountain music: Gazebo Main Stage, Church in the Wildwood, featuring gospel music inside First Baptist Church-Chapel, the Jammin’ Tent in front of Town Hall, open to all jamming enthusiasts, as well as other exhibits that include music.

All of this helps the Folk Heritage Association continue to provide living history experiences and to preserve the folk heritage of Macon County for generations to come. Activities and exhibits will be focused in the downtown area in addition to special exhibits at the Community Facilities Building and grounds on US441 south.

For more information call 828.369.7411 or visit

Everyone up for election in Franklin pledges to run again

When Sam Greenwood retired as Macon County’s manager and almost immediately accepted the same position for the town of Franklin in March of 2008, he made sure everyone clearly understood that his time there was limited.

Greenwood wanted to help Franklin make a seamless transition from a mayor-council form of government to a council-manager style. This task now completed, Greenwood is set to retire from public service for a second time.

That means November’s upcoming election in Franklin — where the mayor and four of the six aldermen are up — is particularly critical to the long-term future and wellbeing of the town, the incumbent aldermen and mayor said in a series of interviews last week. To a person, they agreed the key issue for the next board would be finding the right person to replace Greenwood as town manager. Greenwood isn’t the only turn-over the town will see. Terry Bradley, Franklin’s longtime police chief, also is going to retire this year. And several more of the town’s top employees have enough years in that they could opt to leave, too.

“There’s a lot of people who are department heads who are eligible for retirement,” Alderman Bob Scott said.

Mayor Joe Collins, who said he is “strongly considering” running again, has been mayor for four two-year terms, and before that, was an alderman.

Scott said rather than run for another four years, he would instead run for the seat formerly held by Jerry Evans, who passed away this year. Evans’ seat only has two years left on it, rather than a full four-year term.

“Jerry and I were pretty good friends, and I’d like to serve out his remaining time,” Scott said. Scott is finishing out the end of two terms, and he started his tenure of public service as an advocate of term limits — there are some projects Scott said he’d like to see through, however.

Alderman Farrell Jamison, appointed to fill the seat after Evans died in February, said he’d run, too, to keep on serving out Evans’ unexpired term. Jamison wants to focus on economic development issues, bringing more businesses into Franklin, and to help with general revitalization in downtown.

Alderwoman Joyce Handley said she probably plans to run again, although she acknowledged she’s technically supposed to be “sitting on the fence” and weighing that decision because her husband has suggested enough, perhaps, is enough.

Greenwood, Handley said, “has done a marvelous job,” but now a replacement must be found, and it needs to be the right person for the job. She wants to help pick that person.

Alderman Verlin Curtis, who has served two four-year terms, does, too. Curtis said another issue in Franklin is the changes a flood insurance program could bring to some property owners, particularly in the Crawford Branch area. What’s at stake is whether Franklin participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, which could mandate certain property development restrictions in the 100-year floodplain.

First encephalitis case of the season reported in Franklin

Public health officials have reported that a child in Macon County has contracted LaCrosse Viral Encephalitis, a potentially serious illness carried and transmitted by mosquitoes.

While other mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus are found across the state, LaCrosse is largely confined to Western North Carolina. The disease is rarely fatal, but a Transylvania County girl died as a result of infection in 2001. And in 2009, a child in Cherokee died, adding new emphasis to health officials’ efforts to warn people about the potential dangers of LaCrosse.

There were 13 confirmed and potential cases identified in WNC in 2010.

Cherokee, in particular the Big Cove community, and Black Mountain — for unknown reasons — are recognized in the medical community as hotspots for the illness, said Dr. Penny O’Neill, a pediatrician with Sylva Pediatric Associates. But, as the case in Macon County shows, the dangers exist anywhere in the region.

The big month for outbreaks is usually August, but with one in WNC already identified, “we’ll go from now until the first killing frost” with outbreaks of LaCrosse, O’Neill said.

Stan Polanski, physician’s assistant for Macon County Public Health, said the child with LaCrosse is recovering. The last diagnosed case in Macon County was more than five years ago, he said.

Regionally, about 20 cases are reported each year.

“For every case we confirm, there are probably 20 to 50 unrecognized cases,” Polanski said.

In Cherokee, public health officials have crafted a two-part response to the problem.

On one side, they’ve long been educating parents, kids and the community at large on how to prevent mosquito’s and eliminate standing water that serves as breeding grounds.

“We’ve done mitigation in the community with everything from actually going out and doing community assessments to emptying stale water containers,” said Vickie Bradley, deputy health officer for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Last year, the tribe also started a program in concert with Cherokee Indian Hospital to support families that are struggling with the long-road to recovery from an encephalitis infection. Dr. Anna Eastman, a consultant from the United Kingdom where there is an established post-infection support program, has come to Cherokee to train tribal health workers.

The danger posed by encephalitis is greatest for babies, O’Neill said, because they can have potentially devastating neurological issues. The intensity of the illnesses seem to vary from year to year, she said, but emphasized there is one important step people can take: Use DEET.

O’Neill said parents often express concerns about the mosquito repellent, but “the danger from DEET is potential — the danger from encephalitis is real.”

The object, the pediatrician said, is to eliminate mosquito bites, not just reduce the number received.

By Quintin Ellison and Colby Dunn • Staff writers


LaCrosse Viral Encephalitis

Symptoms occur from a few days to a couple of weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. These symptoms include fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. In more severe cases, convulsions, tremors and coma can occur. Children under 16 years of age and the elderly are the most susceptible to the disease.

To reduce mosquito breeding areas:

• Remove any containers that can hold water.

• Keep gutters clean and in good repair.

• Repair leaky outdoor faucets and change the water in birdbaths and pet bowls at least twice a week.

• Use screened windows and doors and make sure screens fit tightly and are not torn.

• Keep tight-fitting screens or lids on rain barrels.

Chinese acrobats leap into Franklin

The Golden Dragon Acrobats will grace the stage of the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 6. Tickets are $15 to $20.

The Golden Dragon Acrobats feature performers who have been trained in acrobatics since early youth and have appeared around the globe in more than 65 countries since inception in 1985. They are the only Chinese acrobatic company touring year-round in the United States

They combine acrobatics, traditional dance, spectacular costumes, ancient and contemporary music and theatrical techniques to present a unique show for all ages.

866.273.4615 or visit

Musical chairs between Franklin, Macon government posts

Mike Decker is retracing the steps he made 11 years ago when he left county government for a job across the street in Franklin’s town hall.

Decker is returning to county government as human resource director and deputy clerk to the Macon County Board of Commissioners — essentially a jack-of-all-trades who keeps county government running as a right-hand man to the county manager. Decker worked as the Macon County planner for seven years, then the Franklin town administrator for 11.

County Manager Jack Horton lauded Decker’s experience and familiarity with county and municipal governments, saying the longtime public servant had exactly the right set of complex skills needed for the dual job.

“We’re very happy to have Mike step in,” Horton said.

Decker follows Wilma Anderson, who retired as HR director and assistant to the county manager last month after 36 years.

As director of human resources, Decker — a newspaper reporter and editor before getting into local government work — will help oversee about 360 fulltime employees. As deputy clerk to the board of commissioners, he is responsible for keeping minutes for the elected board and notifying reporters about times and places for the meetings.

“I’m grateful to be here, and I’m very grateful to have had time to work with Wilma before she left,” Decker said.

This fall, Macon County will have to fill another key government position when longtime Finance Director Evelyn Southard retires.

Decker is not the only one who’s played musical chairs between county and town government. When former County Manager Sam Greenwood retired from that job, he was soon hired by Franklin as the town manager.

Weak zoning laws could pave way for dirt-bike racetrack

The Macon County businessman and farmer who stirred up controversy recently by announcing plans to build a dirt-bike racetrack in a residential community said he’s still deciding whether to move forward with the plan.

More than 100 people turned out for a public meeting last month after Herman “Bud” Talley, owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin and of a 45-acre farm in the Clarks Chapel community, asked the Macon County Board of Adjustment for a variance to the county’s high-impact use law.

A nod of approval would have allowed Talley to build a sanctioned track. He needed a setback exception — reducing a 750-foot buffer zone to about 350 feet — to meet parking and other needs stipulated by the American Motorcyclist Association. Board members appeared poised to reject the request, and Talley backed off in response.

But, as he and his attorney pointed out then, that rejection means he might just move forward with building a legal, but unsanctioned, facility for dirt-bike practice.

The devil is truly in the details on this one. If granted the variance, Talley had promised to build a track that would be used, at most, 16 days a year. Or, he could opt for the smaller practice facility — which would fit within the confines of the setback requirements and therefore doesn’t need a variance — and operate 365 days a year.

Opponents told the Board of Adjustment in December they’d rather gamble on Talley not following through rather than see him open a track under the auspices of county-granted legitimacy.

“I’m in limbo right now,” Talley said this week. “I’m kind of just exploring all my options.”

There’s no particular rush to decide given the harsh winter weather, which has shutdown construction projects across the mountains. Talley has characterized the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack as a last-ditch effort to save his farm.

John Binkley, who lives within earshot of Talley’s property and who has helped organize neighbors to derail the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack, said the loosely affiliated group is monitoring the situation the best they can.

“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said recently. “No machinery has actually appeared and started digging.”

Binkley added he hopes the situation in Clarks Chapel helps other mountain residents understand why land controls are needed.

“When these kind of things happen, hopefully more and more people catch on,” he said.

Opponents have cited land devaluation and loss of peace and quiet as reasons they don’t want Talley to move forward.

Putting on a show: Franklin’s Overlook Theater Company banks on the appeal of timeless stage classics

Everybody loves a classic. At least that’s what the minds behind Franklin’s Overlook Theater Company were banking on when they put together the lineup for their 2011 season.

They’ll be putting on shows that embody every definition of the word classic, from the Broadway staple “Guys n’ Dolls” to adaptations of some of the world’s most beloved children’s books in “Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss” and “Narnia,” a two-act version of the Chronicles of Narnia.

The company will be taking on musical classics as well, opening the season with “Delovely,” a celebration of Cole Porter’s timeless tunes, following the yellow brick road to a production of MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” and listening to the hills come alive with the Julie Andrews hit, “Sound of Music.” They’ll end the season channeling a modern comedy classic with a rendition of Disney’s side-splitting tale of sorcery in the Middle-Eastern sands, “Alladin.”

Creative Director Scotty Corbin said that the troupe arrived at the idea after seeing the stress and worry that the still-slumping economy is bringing into American life. He wants the company’s shows this year to be a haven where people can come enjoy the good, simple fun of a timeless production, a space to step away from the stress of modern life, if only for a few hours.

“Everything has to do with a good, old-fashioned time in the theater,” said Corbin. “We want this year to be able to provide a place where people can laugh and clap and have a good time in the theater.”

And maybe, he said, even be a part of it themselves.

The company was started back in 1996, when Corbin and a few friends decided to stage a show in a barn, to general appreciation from attendees and performers alike. The show grew into a tradition, that grew into a passion, that grew into a company that now has a state-of-the-art venue to call home. They bounced around to different stages around the Macon County area, but with the opening of the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts, they’ve found a permanent nesting place that is ideal for their busy calendar.

Putting on such a full season of ambitious shows takes a veritable army of cast, crew and volunteers that are a mix of amateur, professional and semi-professional thespians. For a full-on Broadway musical like “Guys n’ Dolls,” the company will need up to 80 people to pull off the show every night, and they’re proud to say that they pull participants from all walks of life.

“A lot of these young people who come, they started at a young age and every year we see the improvement that takes place,” said Nikki Corbin, who heads up marketing and publicity for the company. “It’s allowing people the opportunity to be able to perform and to be able to do something that we love to do, to discover the talent within.”

The company, she said, is committed to fostering that artistic discovery and expression within the community, offering a shared experience for the audience, the cast and crew and the local community.

That, said Scotty Corbin, is what drives their desire to keep costs low. The shows they’re gearing towards children and families — “Aladdin” and “Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss,” just to name a couple — are just $10 per adult ticket. For larger, mainstage-style productions like the “Wizard of Oz” and “Guys n’ Dolls,” they’ll top out their ticket prices at $13 in an effort to keep it affordable for anyone who wants to have the magical experience of live theater.

“It’s all about letting the community have a great experience together,” said Scotty Corbin. “We want to make it extremely affordable so as many people as possible can come. You can bring your entire family hopefully for the price of one ticket at a larger venue.”

For every show, they hold open auditions that will be listed in advance online and announced through their e-mail list, and Corbin encourages anyone who is interested to come out and give it a shot.

In addition, they’ve got a local talent show that’s become a staple of their season, and, he said, they’re excited to see the quality performances that locals bring to the table this year.

As they go into the 2011 season, Scotty Corbin is excited about where theater in Western North Carolina is going, and he hopes that this season of classics will help solidify his company as a classic part of the region’s entertainment scene.

“Not only is it an entertainment venue, it’s a place where people can come nurture their talents and grow and learn,” Corbin said. “The sky’s the limit the way we’re looking at it. We just want everything we do to be as top quality as we can possibly be and hopefully each time make it better.”

For more information, visit or call 828.349.5856.


Show schedule:

• “De Lovely,” (a dinner show featuring music of Cole Porter) Feb 3, 4, 5

• “Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss,” March 1 and 3

• “The Sound of Music,” April 14, 15, 16, 17

• “Who’s Got Talent,” a local talent competition, May 31

• “Guys and Dolls,” June 23, 24, 25, 26

• “Narnia” (a two-act play based on the Chronicles of Narnia), Aug. 4, 5, 6, 7

• “Who’s Got Talent,”  Sept. 27

• “The Wizard of Oz,” Nov. 3, 4, 5, 6

• Disney’s “Aladdin,” Dec. 13 and 15

Franklin leaders consider two-way traffic on one-way streets

Transportation experts and town leaders plan to meet this week in Franklin to consider whether it’s feasible to turn one-way Main and Palmer streets into two-way roads.

As in many small mountain towns, visitors to Franklin find themselves motoring around a large roundabout of sorts. That’s a problem in Sylva, too, and for storeowners in these towns who feel they only get one shot at attracting potential new customers.

There is a significant difference, however, about this Macon County town that sets it apart from its neighbors: downtown Franklin saddles a steep hill. Given the limited parking, motorists are sometimes forced to hike a fair distance to their destinations. Only the truly determined are usually willing to hike uphill to get there.

Do something please, but just don’t add parallel parking to the problem, said Ellen Jenkins, the new owner of Primrose Lane, a gift store on Main Street. Jenkins fears parallel parking would reduce the number of already-limited spaces available in front of her store.

“But I would love to see it two way,” the shop owner said.

A fix won’t be easy, Franklin Town Planner Mike Grubberman said last week.

“There’s quite a bit involved,” he said.

Such as feeding the traffic into the main highway corridors of U.S. 441, U.S. 64 and N.C. 28. The Little Tennessee River also bounds the town, limiting how and where traffic could be siphoned in and out of Franklin.

“You can’t just concentrate on Main Street,” Grubberman said.

The town planner also recognizes parallel parking probably isn’t in Franklin’s future, even though it would only reduce the number of spaces available by one, he said.

“But that seems to be a go-to-guns issue,” Grubberman said.

Suzanne Harouff, who has lived in Macon County since the late 1970s and owns Books Unlimited on East Main Street, said the road in front has been one way as long as she can remember.

In Franklin, both Main and Palmer streets are one way but two lanes. Additionally, parking is available on either side of Main Street, though large vehicles actually jut into the road.

Harouff said she would like to see the town explore options. She did express concern about the large hill that marks the climb into downtown. In winter, Harouff said the hill often becomes dangerously slick, a safety problem that could be compounded in bad weather.

Expansion nearly complete at Franklin Health and Fitness

A 4,000-square-foot, $800,000 expansion that includes a major renovation at the Franklin Health and Fitness Center will be finished in about eight weeks.

“We’re wrapping it up,” said Rodney Morris, the facility’s general manager.

Additions include a new aerobics room, a cardio room with updated equipment, a new women’s locker room, a remodeled and expanded men’s locker room, an enhanced spinning room, an expanded KidsZone, a redesigned service desk and a new entrance with handicap access. There will also be new paint and flooring throughout the center.

Franklin Health and Fitness Center opened at its current location on East Main Street in 1988. Rodney’s father, Dr. Ed Morris, was an original founder and is now sole owner of the center. This is the second — and by far the largest — expansion at the facility.


To build or not to build

Morris appeared before Macon County commissioners back in September 2007 at a public hearing on a countywide recreational bond referendum that, if passed, would have built a county recreation center.

Morris told commissioners then that his facility operated on a small profit margin and that any loss of members could result in Franklin Health and Fitness having to close its doors. That bond referendum ultimately failed.

Rodney Morris said that, at this time, he didn’t see a great need for another recreational center in the county and that the majority of voters must have felt the same way.

“If there wasn’t a facility already here, they [commissioners] could have made a better case,” Morris said.


Members first

Sean Callahan, owner of Wind River Construction of Franklin — the company doing the expansion — said he got an unusual request from Morris.

“They asked us to slow down a little,” he said. Callahan said the construction was done in phases to ensure members always had access to the facility.

Rodney Morris said that member access and convenience was paramount during construction. “We’re open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Morris said. “Sean and his crew went above and beyond to help us accommodate our members.”

Callahan said that meant working lots of nights. “All the tile had to be laid at night,” he said. And it meant adding stages to the plan so they could come in after hours when members wouldn’t be there.

Jerry Wright has been a member for the 22 years Franklin Health and Fitness has been in business.

“I helped cut the ribbon,” Wright said.

Wright called the expansion “first class,” and said that members were inconvenienced as little a possible.

“At one time they were thinking they may have to close some to accommodate the construction, but they worked around that. I am very pleased that they didn’t have to shut down,” said Wright.

Wright said he remembers 22 years ago when he heard of plans for a new fitness center in Franklin. “I’m a racquetball player,” Wright said, “and when I heard they were gonna have racquetball courts I went down to sign up. At that time Western Carolina was the closest place to play.”

Wright said he and his family enjoy many of the amenities at Franklin Health and Fitness Center.

“My son takes karate twice a week and the pool is really a fun place for the family,” he said.

Wright said there’s nothing better on a cold winter’s Sunday afternoon than loading the family and heading to the fitness center’s 25-yard heated saltwater pool.


Building plans

Bernlohr Architects of Annapolis, Md., designed the expansion and remodeling.

“We interviewed several architects but when we talked with Jim [Bernlohr], we knew he was the best fit for us,” said Rodney Morris.

The firm had worked on more than 150 fitness centers across the country

Callahan said the plans were straightforward and the design was good.

“The architects have never had to make a site visit, everything has gone according to plan, “ Callahan said.

And those plans include a passive electric-solar design along with a natural gas backup that’s used to heat the pools and showers. The roofing, which uses light colored, reflective shingles, is LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and hot water is provided by energy-star certified tank-less hot water heaters.

Morris said the architect, the builder and the sub-contractors were all knowledgeable and comfortable using the latest technology to help create an environmentally friendly environment. Morris said the green building design not only makes sense from an environmental standpoint but that it is also money-saving in the long run.


Meeting needs

Rodney Morris said the driving force behind the expansion was meeting needs.

“Our membership is growing, the town of Franklin is growing and people are more health-conscious,” he said.

There are approximately 1,800 current members at Franklin Health and Fitness Center. Morris said the facility employs about 50 people, with seven full-time staff members. The expansion will likely create a few more employment opportunities.

Morris said the center is diligent in finding the best possible employees and instructors.

“We always conduct a series of interviews,” he said “and all of our instructors must present a class for co-workers before they work with members.”

“We look for instructors with experience. And many of our instructors have four-year degrees in their fields,” Morris said.

“All of our instructors must either be certified or obtain certification as a requirement for employment,” he added.

Morris said the new additions and enhancements should nearly double membership capacity at the facility. However, he said there is still room for growth.

“We own three-and-a-half acres here,” Morris said “and we are prepared to meet the needs of our members.”

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