Vision for Appalachian Women’s Museum stalled
A long-range plan to create a museum highlighting the role and contribution of Appalachian women might be in limbo.
The Dillsboro town board last month informed representatives of the Appalachian Women’s Museum — which wants to renovate and turn the historic Monteith farmstead into the museum — that they were tabling, for six months, a request to sell or lease part of the property.
“That leaves us up in the air as far as securing funding for the project,” said Emma Wertenberger, president of the museum board. “We are considering options. We would like the partnership, but if it doesn’t work out, there will still be an Appalachian Women’s Museum somewhere.”
Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald said he knows the museum group is disappointed by the town board’s decision, but that it might well resurface before the six-month stipulation has passed.
“They are looking at it still,” Fitzgerald said of his board. “They just don’t want it to keep coming up every meeting and taking up time.”
Additionally, the town board’s members are simply acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars by carefully reviewing any possible legal ramifications of such a deal, he said. The group is eying 1.4 acres that comprise the core farmstead out of a total 16-acre tract.
The delay, in the short term at least, will hinder attempts to secure certain grants, Wertenberger said. The group says gaining title to the property is critical to secure funding to restore the historic farmhouse, which would house the museum.
The town of Dillsboro bought the Monteith farmstead in 2003. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places five years later.
Greenhouses warmed by “green” heat up for rent
Growers looking for greenhouse space may find what they need at the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Dillsboro, where large greenhouses are heated using energy from methane given off by decomposing trash.
There is more than 4,000 square feet of greenhouse space available for rent, either by one grower or an organization. One-year lease begins in January and is renewable for up to a total of three years.
Biodiesel serves as a backup fuel source. Tenants share other utility costs and the cost of a rainwater collection system that provides most the water needs.
It’s past time to fill extension director’s post in Jackson-Swain
I admit to being slightly irked when I initially thought about writing this column. It has been about a year since Jeff Seiler retired as the director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service for Swain and Jackson counties, and more than three months since a panel interviewed applicants to replace him.
I know this because the extension service was unwise enough to let me serve on that panel.
Lest anyone think less of these state employees for including a news reporter in such an important decision (or on any decision, for that matter), let me offer in their defense the following explanation. This all took place while I was earning my keep as a full-time farmer’s market gardener, not as a newspaperwoman. Thus, in the eyes of the state’s finest, my disreputable and seedy journalistic self was cloaked in robes of agrarian trustworthiness and dirt-under-the-fingernails wisdom.
Whatever. Three months is too long a stretch between candidate interviews and the state actually selecting a director.
The situation is unfair to the extension staff in Swain and Jackson. It is unfair to the farmers and hobbyist gardeners who rely on their expertise. It is probably most unfair, however, to Heather Gordon, the 4-H agent who has so ably served as interim director.
Not that I asked Gordon what she thought, because she is not, in my experience, given to unseemly and employment-endangering bursts of opinion. I knew she would simply give me a smile and proffer a publicly acceptable response, something along the lines of “I’m happy to serve in any capacity.” For all I know, Gordon actually might enjoy bossing around people she’ll have to work alongside again soon, simply as a colleague.
Sure doesn’t sound like much fun to me.
Even given my rightful impatience with the delay, however, I’m forced to acknowledge that filling this particular job poses unusual difficulties. In this case, the extension service’s pick must serve a multitude of masters. The director will work with two county managers and two sets of county commissioners. Additionally, they will oversee a staff stretched thin by service to residents living in two counties. Ever driven from Little Canada to Needmore in a day? How about from Balsam to Big Cove? Swain and Jackson combined represent a huge chunk of land.
Dan Smith, director of the extension service’s West District — that’s the state’s 17 westernmost counties and the Cherokee Indian Reservation — told me state budget woes for a time delayed almost all extension hiring. That’s not the case now. In Macon County, longtime horticulturist Alan Durden was recently tapped to fill that county’s top extension position. Durden, however, was a non-controversial hire, one virtually guaranteed to please Macon farmers and politicians alike.
Smith would only say when lightly pressed (this isn’t exactly Watergate I’m investigating, after all, and Smith seems a nice-enough guy) that he believes the state will fill the position soon, he knows the hire is a priority and everyone involved is eager to see things resolved.
It’s probably important to note why this issue merits attention.
There aren’t many farmers left in Swain and Jackson counties, and not much farmland, either. All the groceries we can consume are available at supermarkets. The state and the nation have huge economic problems, and one could argue the extension service simply isn’t a priority.
I think that’s shortsighted. For one thing, a nation’s ability to produce food is vital to national security. Michael Pollan, writing in The New York Times Magazine, made the case succinctly: “When a nation loses the ability to substantially feed itself, it is not only at the mercy of global commodity markets but of other governments as well.”
The extension service was formed, and continues to serve, as a vital link between farmers and research. Without extension agents, what happens in the laboratory probably wouldn’t trickle down to those really needing the information — the farmers growing our food. Additionally, the best agents help set local food agendas in the communities they serve.
A few years ago, two agents — Sarah McClellan-Welch, who is on the reservation, and Christine Bredenkamp, the horticulturist for Swain and Jackson counties — formed a bee club in response to the honeybee decline and people’s interest in their plight. These same agents were instrumental in starting farmers markets in Cherokee, Sylva and Bryson City. Renee Cassidy, another extension employee who has since left the agency, helped set up a food-voucher program at the Swain County Farmers Market.
These folks deserve our backing and support. The agents in Swain and Jackson counties also deserve a leader who will help them help us — and the sooner that happens, the better.
Contractor heads to court over unpaid grading work
A Jackson County grading company was left holding the bag on more than $200,000 in site work after the developer who hired it went bankrupt.
The grading company has filed a lawsuit targeting the current property owner in hopes of collecting. But the current property owner says he has no obligation to make good on work performed under a past owner. The case is slated for a trial in September unless a settlement is arrived at in the meantime.
Buchanan and Sons was hired in 2007 by a Georgia developer to grade a 20-acre mountainside tract across the road from Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.
But he “never paid a nickel,” said Mark Kurdys, an attorney for Buchanan and Sons. He also never made a single payment toward the purchase of the property.
The Georgia developer bought the property from James Vanderwoude, a developer and businessman based in Franklin.
After not getting paid, Buchanan and Sons quit the job and filed a lien against the property when Vanderwoude appealed to them to stay on board. Vanderwoude promised that they would be paid down the road, according to Chris Buchanan, vice president of the family grading company.
Specifically, Vanderwoude asked Buchanan and Sons to keep up with necessary erosion maintenance.
“Vanderwoude said ‘You have to maintain this property. You can’t just walk away from it. Otherwise it is just going to wash down the road,’” Kurdys recounted during a court hearing earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Vanderwoude foreclosed against the Georgia developer. Vanderwoude regained title to the property less than a year after selling it.
“In that intervening year, $214,000 worth of improvements had been made to the property,” Kurdys said.
Prior to the foreclosure, Buchanan and Sons had filed a lien against the property. The company also planned to bid on the property at foreclosure.
“I couldn’t afford to let $214,00 just go away,” said Buchanan. The company was out the cost of the labor and equipment to do the job and was never reimbursed for it.
If Buchanan and Sons got the property, the company would flip it to a new buyer and hope to recoup its costs on the selling price.
If someone outbid the company at foreclosure, it would at least drive up the price of the property. Whatever was left over after paying off Vanderwoude’s loan would have gone to satisfy Buchanan and Sons’ lien for the grading work.
“We would have been second in line and gotten our money,” said Buchanan.
Verbal promise means little
But before that could happen, Vanderwoude came to Buchanan and instead suggested the idea of a joint venture to develop the property together, Buchanan claims.
“He enticed my client into believing there would be a way for everyone to be made whole,” Kurdys said. “He convinced my client to forgo opportunities to protect himself.”
Once Vanderwoude foreclosed and got the property back, he backed away from the idea of a joint venture. He also hired another grading company to take over the work at the site.
Vanderwoude’s attorney disputed the notion that his client had an obligation to Buchanan and Sons. He said talk of a joint venture was just that — talk.
“There is nothing in writing where my client agreed to pay that debt,” attorney Bill Coward said in a court hearing earlier this year. “Those are just proposals.”
Vanderwoude did write Buchanan and Sons a letter confirming that verbal discussions for a joint venture had taken place. The letter talks about various options for joint ownership and shares under a newly formed LLC. But it falls far short of a legally binding contract.
Coward argued in court filings that Buchanan and Sons was owed money by the Georgia developer, not Vanderwoude, and that Vanderwoude has no contractual obligation to pay Buchanan and Sons anything. Coward further suggests Buchanan and Sons “overbilled” for the grading work they performed.
Kurdys argued that even after selling the property to the Georgia developer, Vanderwoude remained involved in the property’s development.
Vanderwoude advised the Georgia developer on how to develop and market the property, called Villages of Sylva. They were “agents of and for each other,” Kurdys claims.
“The value of that property has been increased by virtue of my clients’ labor and material, and there is evidence that all along [Vanderwoude] had an interest in the property,” Kurdys said.
However, Vanderwoude asserts that is not at all the case.
“There is no evidence of that at all,” Coward said. “There was absolutely no connection between Mr. Vanderwoude and the former propery owner.”
So far, the only thing built on the 20-acre site is a Nick and Nate’s restaurant. At one time, Nantahala Bank had expressed interested in building a branch on the site. Both had contracts to purchase lots in the commercial development for $350,000.
Buchanan said he should have been more savvy and less trusting when performing the original work. Buchanan said contractors and graders have to be far more careful today than they did a few years ago when hired by developers given the economy.
“People are coming up with any reason they can not to pay you,” Buchanan said.
Jackson businesses checked for taxable equipment
Jackson County launched a comprehensive audit two years ago to make sure businesses are paying enough taxes on all their equipment and machinery.
So far, more than 300 have been audited, reaping an additional $90,000 in annual tax revenue.
Just what counts as taxable equipment? For a law office, that might mean desks, telephones and computers, while for restaurants, it means their ovens, dishwasher and knife sets. For factories with lots of big machinery, or for a contractor with a fleet of high-dollar bulldozers, the equipment tax surpasses their regular property tax bill.
All together, businesses in Jackson County listed nearly $130 million in equipment in 2009, reaping $361,000 in taxes.
Jackson County hadn’t done an audit in about 10 years. Tax Assessor Bobby McMahan said it was time for another one.
Jackson Paper pays more in equipment tax than any other business in the county. As a result, it was among the first targeted by auditors. In fact, all businesses in the top 50 for their equipment holdings were put at the top of the list.
“That’s no secret — of course they are going to pull them,” McMahan said of the big guys. But eventually, most of the businesses will be audited.
“Our intention is to have everyone audited. We are not picking and choosing,” McMahan said.
But McMahan concedes there are some small businesses, like a single accountant working out of his home with little more than a desk, chair, phone and laptop who will escape the audit.
McMahan said the goal is to make sure everyone is paying their fair share.
“It is not an ambush at all. It is not an ‘Ah-hah! Gotcha!’ thing. It is just an equalization process,” McMahan said.
McMahan estimated 75 to 80 percent of businesses don’t see their equipment taxes change as a result of the audit.
Equipment audits of businesses are becoming increasingly common.
Counties are also looking for extra revenue wherever they can find it, now more than ever. The audits are also simpler than ever. Firms that specialize in business equipment audits actively solicit counties with a no-lose pitch. The county pays nothing up-front. The firm works solely on commission.
The firm hired by Jackson County, Tax Management Associates out of Charlotte, gets a commission of 35 percent. Since it began the audits in late 2008, the firm has uncovered nearly $90,000 in underreported equipment and got to keep $30,000 of that as payment. It only gets commission the first year, while the county continues to collect taxes annually on what was uncovered.
So far, the firm hasn’t gotten any commission on its audit of Jackson Paper since a portion of that bill is still being contested. (see related article)
Businesses are supposed to send in a list of their equipment and its value to the county tax office each year. Jackson County has three employees in the tax office that oversee more than 1,050 accounts for business equipment. But the county has no real way of knowing whether a business has listed everything it should, or whether it is accurately describing it, without doing an audit.
McMahan said counties rely on the firms for their expertise. Knowing what a piece of equipment is, let alone what it’s worth, can be tricky in specialized fields. McMahan joked he wouldn’t know a vacuum cleaner from an MRI. The same goes for factory machinery.
“They are familiar with all kinds of industrial equipment,” McMahan said of the auditing firm.
Another challenge is making sure there aren’t businesses operating under the radar.
“We use the newspapers, we use the Internet, we use the phone book. We have staff members that physically get out on the street and ride around,” McMahan said.
They keep a running tally of new businesses that open over the course of a year, and come tax time, they check to see that the business files.
Who’s paying the most?
In 2009, these were the top six businesses in Jackson County for the dollar value of their equipment and machinery.
• Jackson Paper
• APAC Atlantic (operates Dillsboro rock quarry)
• Daimler Trucks of North America
• Alliance Medical
• GTP Acquisition Partners (cell tower company)
• Luker Brothers Construction Company
“Box of Souls” winner of sculpture contest
The winner of the Jackson County Green Energy Park 2010 Sculpture Competition is Box of Souls, a contemporary sculpture by artist Bob Doster of Lancaster, S.C.
Selected by an independent jury panel, Doster’s piece is a constructed stainless steel box, cut away to reveal empty space in the shape of numerous geometric and representational figures including the sun and stars, humans and animals.
A winner of the 2007 Southern Arts Federation Award, Doster has had his sculptures displayed throughout the Southeastern United States and around the world. He is an internationally acclaimed sculptor whose unique style of metal art ranges from accent pieces with a whimsical feel to large-scale installed sculptures.
Doster’s commitment to engaging and educating youth was formally recognized in 2006, when he received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner award for outstanding achievement and contributions to the arts. This award is the highest honor South Carolina bestows on artists.
Box of Souls will be on display at the Green Energy Park through July 2011. Visitors may view the piece year-round during regular park hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. www.jcgep.org.
Jackson Green Energy Park gets its day in the sun
The Jackson County Green Energy Park took center stage last week as Governor Bev Perdue and the Appalachian Regional Commission dropped in for a tour, touting the initiative as a model of the new green economy.
Perdue spent about an hour watching artisan demonstrations, and visiting with state and local leaders at the park, which uses landfill methane gas to power a blacksmith’s shop and a glass-blowing studio. She even left with an armful of Christmas presents, having purchased hand-blown vases and cheese spreaders forged in the blacksmith’s shop.
For the park’s director Timm Muth, the tour was an opportunity to emphasize the human side of green science.
“What I wanted them to take away even more than just the fact that we use landfill gas is that the park is an example of people thinking outside the box to meet the energy needs and the economic needs of our local community,” Muth said.
The Jackson County Green Energy Park has received $100,000 in grants from the ARC since 2007, and it’s rapidly becoming a showcase as a creative use for small-scale methane gas, a byproduct of decomposing trash.
In the past year, Muth has hosted visitors from Ukraine, Mexico, India and China who have come to see how the landfill methane can drive the furnaces that power the park’s glass blowing and blacksmith shops.
“It helps provide a buzz so people can get interested in green energy,” Muth said. “When they’re standing 10 feet from one of these glory holes and they feel the heat or see a blacksmith melting steel, they see how it works.”
Local blacksmith John Burtner has rented shop space at the park for the past two years. Burtner uses a modified methane furnace to heat his metal at temperatures higher than 2,000 degrees. He says his energy source is part of the marketing appeal of his final product.
“As far as I know, I’m the only blacksmith that uses landfill gas to forge,” Burtner said. “I make sure when I show in a gallery to let people know it’s a green energy product, and it’s a huge selling point.”
The green energy park is also an example of how county government can attract state money by taking a risk. Methane levels in the county’s landfill were dangerously high. It would cost $400,000 to simply remediate the problem. Instead the county put that money toward a more ambitious project.
“We were going to have to spend money one way or another, and I’d been studying methane uses for some time,” said County Manager Ken Westmoreland. “The technology had changed to open up the possibility for small landfills.”
Jackson County followed in the footsteps of a similar project at a landfill near Burnsville, another small mountain town.
Since its opening, the park has landed more than $600,000 in state and federal grants, including $140,000 from the State Energy Office and $120,000 from the N.C. Rural Center.
When the park first began tapping its methane reservoirs, Muth estimated there was a 25-year supply of gas. Westmoreland said last week there’s enough methane now to tap 10 more wells. The county is currently in the process of adding a pottery studio at the complex that will require more energy to heat the kilns.
N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, said the park showed how the region is working to implement Perdue’s push towards a renewable energy economy using local, state and federal dollars.
“In effect, we’re recycling,” Haire said. “You couldn’t do anything with methane for years, and we started this project five years ago and now it’s creating jobs. It’s the first step towards a renewable economy.”
For County Chairman Brian McMahan, the tour was a gratifying chance to see the reward for making an environmentally sound decision.
“We had a vision when we were told by the state that we had methane levels we needed to deal with,” McMahan said. “We could have flared it off and put it into the environment, but we put our heads together and this is what we came up with.”
Living tradition: Contra dance a staple in Sylva
Temperatures boiled above 90 degrees as the dancers grabbed their partners and lined up on the floor. The caller patiently explained the moves for the first contra dance of the afternoon as members of a volunteer pickup band plucked notes on dulcimers, fiddles and guitars.
Music filled the pavilion. Skirt hems whirled around dancers’ ankles. And shoes clapped against the wooden dance floor as the dancers dosey-doed and swung their partners.
“Thank your partner, get a drink and get back out there on the floor,” the caller said through the microphone as the music ended.
Such contra dances are a regular occurrence in downtown Sylva on the second Sunday of every month. Ron Arps typically organizes each dance and calls the steps. On the day of the August dance, he turned 65.
Arps began contra dancing in the late ‘70s when his wife was invited to play her fiddle at the Odd Ball — a contra dance that used to be held in Jackson County on the odd Friday every month.
Arps said he loved it right away, but that it took him about two years before he finally got the hang of it.
“I’m one of those people with two left feet,” Arps said. “In contra dancing, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s just dancing.”
The dance now hosted at the concert pavilion is a continuation of the Odd Ball held years ago. Though the contra dance has been held at different venues and hosted by different folks throughout the decades, someone has always had the passion to keep it going.
About a year ago, Arps began hosting the dances on the second Sunday of every month at the pavilion or an indoor location when the weather is too cold. The dances are free, but Arps asks for donations to help cover the $50 cost of renting the space.
When the pavilion was still in the planning stages, Arps instructed its architect to make the floor at least 28 by 36 feet so it would be big enough for dances.
The only problem is that the floor is concrete, which is hard on the dancers’ knees and shins. Arps’ solution was to make a portable wooden floor.
The floor cost $1,000 to build, and Arps raised the money within a few weeks from customers at his farmers market booth and area dancers.
“Some didn’t know what contra dancing was [at the farmers market], but they were giving so I could build a dance floor anyway,” Arps said.
The floor has 64 panels and weighs 2,400 pounds.
The wooden floor reduces friction, allowing dancers to slide. It also creates more noise as all the shoes hit it in unison — a sound that energizes the band, caller and dancers.
Andrea Woodall from Florida called the August contra dance so Arps could dance on his birthday. It was her first time calling, both in North Carolina and at an outdoor venue.
“I love inviting people in and helping them enjoy what I love so much,” she said.
Woodall has a box filled with more than 150 note cards, containing dances she’s participated in throughout the years. She said 150 is a small number compared to most callers.
She chooses dances based on the variety of moves, the group’s experience and how smoothly different parts of the dance flow into each other.
“I figure if the dancers don’t know what’s going on, it’s my responsibility,” she said.
At contra dances, beginners are warmly welcomed. Often times, experienced dancers will pick them as partners and show them the ropes.
“Of course you’ve heard of no child left behind,” Kim Lippy said. “They’re like that with their dancers. They take them all with them.”
Lippy has been contra dancing for more than 10 years. Her favorite part of the dance is its flirtatious nature. The dance strongly emphasizes eye contact and breaks down personal space bubbles that are apart of today’s culture, she said.
“You have to look your partner in the eye or else you get dizzy,” Marsha Crites said.
Crites has been contra dancing for more than 30 years, but during that time she had a stroke that she said could have killed her.
“I wanted to run really bad when I was disabled,” Crites said. “Dancing wasn’t a goal until later.”
It took Crites three years to rebuild her muscle coordination to the point she could dance again. During her recovery, she remembers a time when she fell during a dance, bringing a few others to the floor with her.
She said that the experience wasn’t embarrassing, but it was instead a good laugh for everyone in the room. All the dancers were supportive as she tried to get her footing back.
Crites is still dyslexic as a result of the stroke, but it doesn’t slow her step.
“Pretty much all you’ve got to know is to know your right from your left,” she said.
The next contra dance will be 3:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, at the outdoor Bridge Park Pavilion in downtown Sylva with a potluck dinner to follow.
WNC schools hooked up with fiber
Thanks to a collaborative project called WNC EdNet, high-speed Internet will become a reality for all public and charter school classrooms in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties, along with the Qualla Boundary.
WNC EdNet recently got the go-ahead to connect The Highlands School — the last remaining school to join the regional network.
As late as 2000, schools in Western North Carolina could only transmit 1.5 megabyte per second. Now, schools with fiber can enjoy 100 megabyte per second connections.
Once these high-speed connections are in place, star pupils from far-flung schools can join together in a virtual classroom to take advanced courses that aren’t normally offered at their own schools. Live video will allow for face-to-face interaction between students and teachers.
“It’s not like an online class,” said David Hubbs, CEO of BalsamWest FiberNET, which implemented the WNC EdNet project. “You’re speaking to or interacting with a teacher in real time.”
Linking up to the state network creates access to The North Carolina Virtual Public High School, which already offers 72 courses including Advanced Placement and world language classes.
The widespread reach of fiber across North Carolina to even the most rural schools holds the promise of creating a level playing field for students, according to Bob Byrd WNC EdNet project manager.
“That’s our big push now, to narrow that digital divide,” said Byrd.
Moreover, fiberoptic technology makes professional training more readily available for teachers. Once colleges are hooked up to the statewide K-12 network, student-teachers at Western Carolina University or other colleges may observe teachers in actual classrooms without interrupting lessons.
Being on the same fiber network also decreases overhead for school systems, which only have to pay one Internet bill for all their schools, Hubbs said.
The WNC EdNet project has traveled down a long road to get to where it is now.
Nearly 60 schools have been hooked up to their central office in the county via a fiberoptic line, which makes broadband Internet possible and also provides an important backbone for communication between the school district office and individual schools.
A separate project by a nonprofit called MCNC is in turn connecting these school district offices to a statewide fiber network, the North Carolina Research and Education Network. Now, MCNC is also working on linking colleges up to the state network.
WNCEdNet piggybacked onto the larger BalsamWest project, which has installed hundreds of miles of fiber underground to promote economic development in the Western North Carolina.
The mountainous terrain was a major obstacle BalsamWest had to overcome while installing equipment underground.
“The very things that we love about our rural area create challenges for technology,” said Hubbs.
Constructing in the remote area between Cashiers and Highlands was another challenge. BalsamWest had to speak individually to every property owner to get permission to build.
“We had more private easements between Cashiers and Highlands than we did everything else put together, over 300 miles,” said Hubbs. About 15 grant applications had to be submitted to lock down funding for the $6.1 million WNC EdNet project. The project was partly funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation, which chipped in $2.2 million, and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, which contributed $1.7 million.
Even with 12 different partners — including Southwestern NC Planning & Economic Development Commission, the Western Region Education Service Alliance, seven school districts and three colleges — WNC EdNet was smoothly coordinated.
A similar project in eastern North Carolina had failed due to infighting, according to Leonard Winchester, chairman of the WNC EdNet technology committee.
WNC EdNet coordinators were asked to come to Raleigh and explain how their particular project ended in success. Winchester said cooperation was key.
“We had a group of people that trusted each other,” said Winchester. “That trust, you can’t give to somebody else.”
Parents urge commissioners to build skateboard park in Jackson
Patterson is a skateboarder, and for the past year he’s spent nearly every afternoon at the Disciples Youth Center skate park on U.S. 441 in Jackson County.
Now the center’s creator, Jeff Kelly, said he’s been forced to close its doors because he can’t continue to pay the rent out of pocket.
Kelly started the center as a non-denominational youth ministry to offer an alternative environment for kids who didn’t participate in team sports.
“We knew how much time we had,” Kelly said. “We did it because we saw the need was there, and in the bigger picture, maybe the county would see it was a good thing for the community.”
Kelly, Ronnie’s father Jack and Doug Nickel attended a Jackson County board meeting this week to urge the commissioners to appropriate funds for a county skate park.
Nickel, who spent 20 years in law enforcement, currently runs a skate ministry in Franklin called The Walk. He told the commissioners how the image of skateboarders as law-breakers and punks is a stigma that adults need to leave behind.
“A lot of these kids have completely turned their lives around,” Nickel said. “I am not a bleeding heart, but I am a reformed skater hater.”
Kelly hopes the county will act on his suggestion quickly. He has offered to donate the ramps from his skate center and organize the volunteer effort to staff the park, as long as the county can provide a space and the necessary insurance.
“We’re willing to do whatever it takes so it doesn’t really cost the county anything,” Kelly said. “We’d love to do something quick, because we’ve got the ramps.”
Kelly said he had spoken to county parks and recreation staff about the possibility of building a skate park at Mark Watson Park immediately while plans for a larger park with a permanent home are in the works.
County Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan responded positively to the group’s pleas, recounting a story of visiting an impressive municipal skate park in Syracuse, N.Y.
“I think it’s a great idea, and I look forward to working with our recreation department to get this on the county’s master plan,” McMahan said.
The positive reaction was music to Ronnie Patterson’s ears. The Scott’s Creek Elementary School student summoned his courage to address the county commissioners on his own terms, telling them a story about losing a friendship before the skate park helped him find his way to positivity.
“This park has been a good community for everyone that’s gone to it, and everyone there would hate to see it go away,” Ronnie said.
His father, who has six other children, seconded the emotion.
“Having a place for these kids to go in Jackson County would be a big benefit for a lot of young people,” Jack said.
The Town of Waynesville has been working toward an outdoor skate park for more than a decade. The skate park is currently in the design stage, but the road to get there has been long and costly.
So far, the town has spent $28,500 simply to create a plan. The cost of building the park on land the town already owns will fall between $275,000 and $325,000.
Meanwhile the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has plans to replace its existing skate park in Yellowhill with a state-of-the-art facility on a 3.5-acre tract just up the road.
Tribal Council approved up to $600,000 in funding for the project, which is now in the design phase and could be completed by early next year.