WNC welcomes Easter traditions

When the sun crests the mountains’ edge Easter morning, it will creep down through the hills and fall on Lake Junaluska, where more than 300 worshippers will sit awaiting it at the foot of the massive wooden cross that graces the lake’s edge.

It’s the culmination of a weekend full of Easter celebrations and the continuation of a tradition that has stood at the Methodist retreat for years.

Though the Easter sunrise service might be the spiritual climax of the holiday at the Lake, it will be the end to a weekend packed full of events that will draw Lake Junaluska Assembly’s second-largest crowd of the whole year.

The services themselves — and there are several, all commemorating a different piece of Christ’s biblical journey to the cross — have been going on for years, but the other festivities just got their start five years ago, says Ken Howle, director of communications for Lake Junaluska Assembly.

“We did this as a mechanism for reaching out to the local community, to build stronger relationships and to make people feel welcome at Lake Junaluska,” says Howle. And if attendance is the measure of success, the effort is working.

The retreat center will host a massive egg hunt in conjunction with Waynesville’s recreation department, one of the area’s most popular, where 10,000 plastic eggs filled with tiny treats will be hidden for children to find. The hunt, says Howle, drew about 300 kids the first year and has been steadily growing since. They expect 1,000 hunters this year.

Staff and volunteers at the Assembly have been readying the eggs, many of which are recycled from years past, for nearly a month now.

The 5k and 10k Bunny Run last year attracted runners from 10 states, and 300 to 400 participants are expected to run this year.

An egg decorating contest will also be on offer, with prizes donated by Mast General Store.

“There is really something for everybody this weekend at Lake Junaluska,” says Howle. “It’s a big process, but for us this is one of the funnest events that we do each year because it’s a way that we can really give back to the local community.”

As for the services themselves, there will be four, each with a different focus and atmosphere to reflect the differences in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The spiritual aspects of the celebration will start on Friday night, with a somber service, followed by a massive Easter vigil on Saturday evening and culminating in Sunday’s sunrise service.

The Easter vigil is one of the oldest services in the Christian tradition and will include five different churches from four denominations around the region.


A hat parade

Lake Junaluska’s events aren’t the only ones ringing in the budding spring this weekend, though. Just a few miles west in Dillsboro, locals and tourists alike are dusting off their bonnets for another round of the town’s famed Easter Hat Parade.

Now in its 23rd year, the parade invites guests of all ages — and species — to don their best Easter headwear and join the march through Dillsboro on the Saturday before Easter.

Vintage cars will join the procession and judges will pick the best hats from 20 different categories, from biggest and smallest to ‘poofiest’ and most spring-like.

Here, too, kids can spend the afternoon searching out Easter eggs before taking in and English tea at the Jarrett House Inn.

And for those who are, as yet, hatless, never fear; the Dillsboro Crafters will be on hand for a hat-making workshop ahead of the parade.

So whether it’s taking in the sunrise at the water’s edge or donning a festive chapeau for an afternoon stroll with a few hundred friends, there’s something for everyone this Easter weekend as we celebrate the fading of winter and the budding green of welcome spring.


Easter events

April 16 — A visit from the Easter Bunny, arts and crafts, egg hunts, Easter bonnet contest, duck races and other activities at Stecoah. Activities start at 11 a.m. 828.479.3364 • stecoahvalleycenter.com

April 23 — Run the 5k or 10k Bunny Race, followed by egg hunts and decorating contests at Lake Junaluska. Run begins at 8:30 with Easter services throughout the weekend. 828.452.2881 • lakejunaluska.com

April 22 - 23 — Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City for an egg hunt, bunnies and photos with Snoopy. 800.872.4681 • gsmr.com

April 23 — Don your best bonnet for the Dillsboro Easter Hat Parade. Judging in 20 different categories as well as a hat-making workshop, egg hunt and English tea. Festivities start at 10:30 a.m. with parade at 2 p.m. 800.962.1911 • visitdillsboro.org

April 23 — See the Easter bunny and join in two separate egg hunts: one for infants through age four, and one for ages five to 10 at Bryson City Horse Arena Grounds. Egg drop contest and other events will be available. Activities begin at 1 p.m. 800.867.9246.

April 23 — Community pancake breakfast and egg hunt at Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Tree Farm and Elf Village. Breakfast begins at 8 a.m. with egg hunt to follow at 10 a.m. 828.743.5456

April 23 — Easter egg coloring party for children ages four to 16 at The Waynesville Inn, plus a story reading, pizza dinner and ice cream. Activities begin at 6:30 p.m.

April 24 — Egg hunt led by the Easter bunny outside the Cork and Cleaver restaurant at The Waynesville Inn. Hunt starts at 1:30 p.m. following a brunch. 828.456.5988

Hemp house going up at Lake Junaluska

If someone said the word “hemp,” the first thing to spring to mind probably wouldn’t be home construction. But if you’re looking for a strong, green, energy-efficient building material that’s resistant to pretty much everything, hemp might be your best choice.

This is the concept being pitched by Greg Flavall and David Madera, owners of an Asheville-based business called Hemp Technologies. They’re some of the first to build with the material in the United States, where industrial hemp hasn’t seen the rise in popularity it enjoys in other countries, thanks to a federal ban on U.S. production.

Its recognition is slowly ramping up, though, due in part to its benefits over standard concrete. The third house in the country to be built with the technology is going up now, in the mountains above Lake Junaluska.

Roger Teuscher, the homeowner, said he was turned on to the idea by his first architect, who suggested the plant as a cleaner, greener alternative to standard homebuilding supplies. Tuescher, who lives most of the year in Florida, said he was drawn not only to the cost savings gained by increased insulation, but by the product’s recyclability.

“The whole house can be recycled,” said Teuscher. “The house itself you can take down, grind it up and put it back into another house.”

And that’s a far cry from standard concrete homes. But Flavall, whose company is providing the hemp for Teuscher’s home, said that with hemp-built homes, it’s unlikely that he’d ever need to do that. While standard American homes have a shelf life of about 80 years, hemp-made homes will last much longer. The oldest known hemp structure, said Flavall, is a Japanese building that’s been standing for just more than three centuries.

For most customers, though, the real selling points are the product’s environmental friendliness and energy efficiency.

Because the hemp is mixed with lime to create the hempcrete that makes up walls, floors and ceilings, it is actually carbon negative – meaning it takes carbon from the air and locks it up into the fabric of the building. In the simplest terms, lime needs carbon to continue existing and hemp is a breathable substance, so hemp buildings will suck significant amounts of carbon from the air during the building process and will continue to breathe for the life of the structure.

Flavall said that this, combined with high levels of resistance to things like fire, mold, termites and other insects and the plant’s extreme capacity for insulation, make it the ideal building material.

Flavall, a Canadian-educated New Zealand native, said he and partner Maderan stumbled across the glories of industrial hemp four years ago, while on a quest for sustainable materials. Now, he’s practically an evangelist for the plant and its benefits.

“It’s a miracle plant,” said Flavall. “In Canada they grow it as a break crop [to relieve the soil between crops] and they are getting a 27 percent increased yield after the hemp crop, because industrial hemp puts nitrogen back into the soil.”

And it’s true that industrial hemp has a variety of uses, both in and out of the ground for things beyond just building.

But industrial hemp in the U.S. isn’t all sweetness and light. It is around 10 to 15 percent more expensive to build a house out of hemp than via traditional methods. The price hike is thanks to all that pesky importing; although 16 states have granted permission for the growth of industrial hemp, the federal government still has a ban on bringing in the seeds to get the crop going.

For the sake of clarity, it begs explaining that industrial hemp isn’t the same as that other, more mind-bending variety of hemp that has garnered a bad reputation and a Schedule I Controlled Substance label from the Drug Enforcement Agency. It’s a biological cousin of that plant, but is missing the key ingredient — THC — which is the chemical that causes a high.

Flavall said that it was really lobbying in the early 20th century that kept industrial hemp out of American farms, and he is now doing his own lobbying to get those federal laws changed. He sees hemp as a potential boon to the nation’s economy, especially in areas such as Western North Carolina, where the money once raked in by tobacco has long since begun to dry up.

“It’s easier to get a license to grow medical marijuana than it is to grow industrial hemp,” said Flavall. “But there’s enough pressure now with thousands of people around the nation advocating for famers to be able to grow. America imported $350 million of industrial hemp product (last year).”

Another downside to the product is time; the process is more time-consuming, takes longer to mix and longer to apply, said Vinny Cioffi, the Waynesville contractor in charge of building Teuscher’s new home.

“It was a little more labor intensive and it’s a little more expensive,” said Cioffi. “But I hope it catches on because it’s more energy efficient and because of all the other benefits of it.”

And Flavall thinks it’s really only a matter of time before that happens. The technology has been widely used across Asia and Europe for several decades to fairly wide approval, thanks to the cost-savings it’s introduced. In the United Kingdom, the Adnams Brewery was able to build a large distribution center without an air conditioning system because the hempcrete was insulation enough to cool the stored beer, and it saved the company £400,000, just more than $640,000.

Meanwhile, Flavall and his company will stick to importing, trusting that the benefits to the environment and the wallet will continue to bring them clients eager to claim those benefits for themselves.

A changing of the guard at Lake Junaluska: Methodist center with deep Haywood roots works to re-invent itself

Almost a century after its inception, Lake Junaluska Assembly is still a pillar of Haywood County’s heritage, an organic, integral part of its landscape. During those years, the conference center has grown and changed with the region and the times.

But as it enters its 98th year, a new leader will take the driver’s seat, opening a new chapter in the storied retreat’s long history.

After 11 years on the job, Lake Junaluska Executive Director Jimmy Carr is passing the torch to Dr. Jack Ewing, who currently heads the Foundation for Evangelism.

Carr, a Mississippi native, took the job in 2000 after a long career of ministry in the Methodist church. He’s stepping down now, he jokes, “Because I’m old enough to retire.” But really, he set out to stay 10 years and now, after his 11th year of service, said he’s ready to turn over the reins.

Carr’s tenure at Lake Junaluska has been defined by change, both at the conference center and in the wider world. He led a series of successful capital campaigns that helped give the center’s aging buildings a few much-needed facelifts as well as adding a new face to the landscape with the Bethea Welcome Center.

He has also navigated the Lake through some tough economic waters over the last few years. After shelling out money to shore up a leaky dam, the news came several years ago that funding from the United Methodist Church, which owns Lake Junaluska, was changing. The annual stipend that the center relied on would still come, but couldn’t be used for programs anymore. Beginning in 2010, it had to go straight to capital improvements or debt service, of which the Lake now had a considerable amount. The church also charged the center to be self-sufficient by 2013. Coming during a tough economic era, it made for challenging times at Lake Junaluska.

But Carr said that, as the face of the Lake and its focus was changing to meet the ever-changing needs of the church, he just kept returning to the building blocks of his ethos for the center.

“I knew that we needed to put emphasis on two or three things — strengthening the ministry area, leading Lake Junaluska in being a place of hospitality for all people, being more diverse and inclusive in our staff as well as our programming, and taking care of the resources that the church had here,” said Carr.


Reaching out

In the past, Lake Junaluska has catered chiefly to the United Methodist population, bringing in conferences, retreats and meetings as the largest retreat center the church has in its collection. But as the Methodist money began drying up, Carr knew he must change course to keep the Lake alive and thriving.

So he and his staff began courting outside visitors and worked to spruce up and modernize facilities that hadn’t been touched up in years. Of the nearly 200,000 visitors that Lake Junaluska hosts annually, a good number of those are now non-Methodists, whether they’re locals using the walking paths or attending events like the Independence Day and Easter celebrations, or outside church groups coming to use the facilities for retreats and conferences.

And Carr, a soft-spoken Mississippi native, said that changing to suit the needs of a changing church and a changing economy were vital. The new marketing emphasis is not only good for Lake Junaluska but also for Haywood County, who has long reaped the benefits of the conference center.

Carr said that throughout his tenure — but especially in this changing economic climate — the partnerships built outside the center’s walls are increasingly vital.

“The leadership in the county understands the significance of Lake Junaluska, and what we’ve tried to do is make Lake Junaluska even more available to the people of Haywood County,” said Carr. “We’re not a competition to anybody here. Lake Junaluska is a destination. People come here because they’re coming here for some reason. When they get here, they spread out into the broader business community.”

And the more people Lake Junaluska can bring in and spread out, the more the county benefits.

While the economic impact of the retreat center is hard to gauge, Mark Clasby, executive director of Haywood County’s Economic Development Commission and a board member at Lake Junaluska, said that the lake is an asset that has grown in value to the county under Carr’s leadership.

“Lake Junaluska is a real asset,” said Clasby. “They are extremely important to the economy here. With all the programs they bring in a number of people, and as an employer they’re one of the largest employers in the county. They’re an important part of the county, and Jimmy has certainly continued that relationship.”

Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president of the Lake’s board and resident bishop of the church’s Western North Carolina conference, also listed Carr’s skills in the community and willingness to change with the times as qualities to recommend him.

“This has not been a 10 years without challenges,” said Goodpaster. “All of the facilities like Lake Junaluska that depend so much on people coming here have just had to make changes in how we do things. He [Carr] has really done a great job recognizing the need to connect with everyone here in Haywood County.”


Change is challenging

But for all the good that Carr has done, even he realizes that they are not out of the woods yet and there is much work still to be done if the century-old staple of the Methodist and Haywood County landscapes is to continue to grow without the church subsidy it long relied on.

“We can see the difference without the funding,” said Carr. “But it’s allowed us the opportunity to identify better ways of doing things, different ways of doing things, different ways of organizing. I think it’s too early to know the end of that, but I sense a strong commitment on the part of our board to find ways to continue the ministry.’”

But Carr said that his greatest asset in the job and what he will miss on his departure is the staff and board he works with. And to his successor, he wishes nothing more than such great colleagues as the conference center continues to navigate challenging financial waters.

“I think the thing I’ll miss the most is the staff,” said Carr. “I could never have done my job without them. I would wish for Dr. Ewing a continued strong board working with him and staff working with him to make Lake Junaluska stronger.”


A New Era

When Jack Ewing first set foot on Lake Junaluska’s shore, it was love at first sight. It was 1973, and then-newlywed Ewing came to the conference center to keep his wife company on a retreat. They were enamored, falling for the beauty and tranquility of the place, and haven’t missed a yearly visit since.

Thirty-three years later, he was tapped to become the Methodist center’s newest executive director, and the now-Dr. Ewing said he couldn’t be happier to be taking the helm of his beloved home.

“I was thrilled because we love Lake Junaluska,” said Ewing. “It has been the stable force in our life.”

While his predecessor Jimmy Carr came to the position from a life and career in ministry with the United Methodist Church, Ewing comes to the job after spending much of his professional life in Methodist education, serving as the president of two Methodist colleges in the last 16 years. That tenure included serving as president of Dakota Weslyan in South Dakota from 1994-2000 and Mount Union in Ohio from 2000-2005. Ewing came to Lake Junaluska to work for the Foundation for Evangelism in 2005.

Ewing comes from a family chock full of Methodism — the tally of close family members who are Methodist ministers is exhaustively long — and he has long idolized the jewel facility in the Methodist crown. But he’s coming in with no illusions about what this job will entail. He knows about the tough economy and knows that Lake Junaluska has to continue its evolution if it’s going to stay relevant.  

“The reality is that we are in a world which is changing,” said Ewing. “What people want is changing and what people are willing to pay for is changing, and that includes the United Methodist Church.”

Although, like Carr, Ewing doesn’t come from a background in hospitality or business, he’s confident that his skills will lend themselves to crafting Lake Junaluska into a vibrant, self-sustaining ministry center. In fact, he said, since taking the job, the more he’s considered it, the more his skills seem to suit the Lake’s needs. Because, after all, a college is not so different from a retreat center.

“Rather than students who come for a semester at a time, you have students who come for a weekend or a week at a time,” said Ewing. And, as a former college president, he’s no stranger to courting funds and honing business plans, either.

“We’re going to have to raise a lot of money to improve facilities and fund programming at Lake Junaluska,” said Ewing. “I think that my experience in higher education will serve me well in that capacity.”

He won’t officially take the leading role until Jan. 1, but Ewing listed a look at the financial model as one of the first bullets on his to-do list. He’s a firm believer in reinvestment, and wisely spending money to make it will be top of his agenda, too.

“Successful organizations adapt and change,” said Ewing. “I’m a person who is a strong believer in investing those things that will make an organization, a location attractive. There are investments that we’re going to make to make it attractive, which I believe will make it so that more people will want to come and experience Lake Junaluska.”

Goodpaster said he and his board are excited about where Ewing is taking them.

“We were very impressed with his background as a college president and all that means with fundraising and recognizing the complexities of balancing a budget,” said Goodpaster. “And then, I think, his passion and desire to see Lake Junaluska really expand where we’ve been and take us to another level.”

Goodpaster recognizes the hard road ahead, but the promise of good leadership from Ewing makes him hopeful that Lake Junaluska’s long history of success in Haywood County will continue.

“It’s a challenging time but we’re very hopeful,” said Goodpaster. “We’ve had a great 100 years and we’re looking forward to the next 100. I really think that the best days are still out there.”

The Naturalist's Corner: Goose dilemma

A spin around Lake Junaluska the other day (12/2) turned up another unusual winter visitor plus highlighted the foibles and frustrations sometimes associated with birding.

I had finished a quick check of the new wetlands and was headed back to my truck when I noticed a stranger among the resident gaggle of domestic greylag geese. The stranger was white with black wingtips, so snow goose immediately came to mind. The size difference between the visitor and greylags was pronounced — making me think this visitor was a very small goose — therefore a Ross’s.

The Ross’s, Chen rossii, is a small (23 inches) goose that looks for the most part like a miniature version of the snow goose. It comes in two color phases, like the snow goose — one, white with black wingtips and the other, a dark or “blue” phase. The main difference between the two species other than size is head and bill shape and/or features.

The Ross’s has a rounded head and short bill. The base of the bill — where it meets the bird’s face — is straight. And the Ross’s has little or no “grin patch.” The grin patch is the black serrated edge of the bill, prominent in snow geese that make the bird look like it’s grinning. This grin patch or serrated edge is highly developed in snow geese and enables them to saw off tough marsh grasses and sedges.

The snow goose (both subspecies lesser, Anser caerulescens caerulescens and greater, Anser caerulescens atlantica), besides having a prominent grin patch, has a longer bill with a more wedge-shaped head. And the area where the beak meets the face is curved outward, away from the eye. It’s not a straight edge like in the Ross’s.


Birding foibles 101

I looked no further than the obvious white-morph snow goose form and size discrepancy between the visitor and its greylag hosts. Not wanting to spook the bird, I returned to my truck and called a friend to say I had just found a Ross’s goose at the lake. My friend was running errands and we made a date to meet back at the lake.

When I got to the lake, my friend was there with his scope watching the goose and concurred that it was a Ross’s. The gaggle had taken to the water and once again it was easy to see the major size discrepancy. We chatted about what else was around the lake and watched as the birds swam a little closer. When I looked through my binoculars at the little fella, I noticed a grin patch. I mentioned it, but didn’t think much about it and I hit the road.

But that grin patch kept bugging me. I came home, looked online at some photos and looked on page 79 of my copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds, where he illustrates the head pattern of a Ross’s, a Ross’s X lesser snow, a lesser snow and a greater snow. I realized I had shot from the hip and needed to get a better look at that bird.

Friday morning I headed for the lake. I called my friend to say I had questions. Turned out, I wasn’t the only one.

A couple of other experienced birders had a similar experience; one, immediately identifying the visitor as a Ross’s because of the comparative size difference; then, with longer looks, especially focusing on the head, questioning that ID.

So Friday morning, the four of us with binoculars a field guide and photos were standing there within 100 feet of the bird. The one consensus was that the head was definitely snow goose. I and one other birder (I think) are mostly convinced that the bird is a lesser snow. One, I believe, was as of Friday, leaning towards greater snow and the other was still having trouble committing.

What threw us all initially was the size discrepancy. But what we failed to take into account is the fact that greylags are giants of the goose world and those domestics are probably large greylags.

As large as greylags are, I don’t think they would dwarf a greater snow goose (listed at 31 inches in my Sibley guide) the way they dwarf this bird. But I would think a Ross’s X lesser snow’s head would have intermediate characteristics like Sibley depicts — this goose’s head looked all snow to me — so I’m left with a small (probably female) lesser snow goose.

Now birders of varying skill levels can get a seconds-long glimpse of a black and white bird in a swamp and never see it again and be 100 percent sure they’ve seen an ivory-billed woodpecker. While four “fairly” experienced birders with a cooperative subject and time to study are still left with “in my opinion.”

Ain’t birding a hoot?

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Plans moving forward for Caring for Creation conference

Early registration is currently under way for the 2011 Caring for Creation experience at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center on March 31-April 3, 2011.

Caring for Creation is a loosely organized movement of faith communities that believe there is Biblical and theological support for developing opportunities to be caretakers of the Earth.

The Rev. Sally Bingham, a priest in the Diocese of California who serves as the Environmental Minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, will be a guest speaker at the 2011 Caring for Creation. She is a founder of the Regeneration Project, a non-profit ministry focusing on the response to global climate change, whose initiative is the Episcopal Power and Light.

The model has developed into an interfaith initiative in several states and in Canada, and its mission is to mobilize the community of faith to lead by example in reducing green house gas emissions.

“The Rev. Bingham is giving a plenary, ‘A Religious Response to the Climate Crisis,’ and her workshop will focus on the work of Interfaith Power and Light,” said Loy Lilley, event coordinator for Caring for Creation. “We are excited about this ever growing opportunity to learn diverse ways to preserve and care for our Earth, and we hope that persons from all walks of life and of all ages will come.”

More than 38 guest speakers, including John Hill, Director of Economic and Environmental Justice from the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, will appear at the Caring for Creation conference. Other guest speakers include Derek Arndt of the National Climate Data Center; Dr. Brian Helmuth, professor of Biological Science at USC in Columbia, S.C.; and Dr. Jim McKenna, interim department head and professor of crop and soil environment sciences at VPI in Blacksburg, Va.

New workshops will be available this year, including “How Harming Earth Harms Heart, Mind, and Soul” by Andy Bell. Other workshops include “Biblical/Theological Foundations of Creation and Wesley” by Rev. Jeanne Finley;“Involving Young People in God’s Call to Hope and Action” by Mr. John Hodges-Batzka; and “How to advocate for Environmental Sustainability” by Mr. John Hill.

The first 50 persons to register will receive a free copy of Jonathan Merritt’s book, Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. Merritt is also a speaker and workshop leader. Special early registration will be available for persons registering before Jan. 1. Ethnic scholarships will be available online soon. For registration, workshops, and more information visit www.lakejunaluska.com/caring-for-creation or call 828.454.6656.

Junaluska Assembly selects new director

John “Jack” L. Ewing, Jr. has been named the new executive director of Lake Junaluska Assembly. He will begin his new duties on Jan. 1, 2011, and fills a position that is being vacated by the retirement of Rev. Jimmy L. Carr.  

Ewing currently serves as the executive director of the Foundation for Evangelism, which is also based at Lake Junaluska.  

“I am excited about the opportunity to build on the good work of those that have gone before me. This is a special place and together we will make it an even more special place for many more people,” said Ewing during a presentation to the Lake Junaluska Board of Directors.

Dr. Ewing has degrees from Asbury College (1974), the University of Kentucky (1975), and the University of Minnesota (1982). He has served on the faculty of his alma mater and South Dakota State University, and as president of two United Methodist institutions of higher education: Dakota Wesleyan University (1994- 2000) and Mount Union College (2000-2005).

In 2010, Lake Junaluska will host 150,000 people from all 50 states and over 40 countries. Lake Junaluska is owned by The United Methodist Church and is open to all for vacations, banquets, reunions, weddings, spiritual enrichment retreats, conferences and recreational activities.

Digging out Lake Junaluska … again

In the ongoing battle to keep Lake Junaluska from filling with silt, the lake will once again be partially lowered this winter so accumulated sediment can be dug out.

Scooping sediment out of the lake is a costly proposition. There have been four digs over the past decade, costing $1.7 million. Of that, $1.2 million came from state and federal grants, and Lake Junaluska Assembly contributed $500,000.

When the first “big dig” was undertaken at the beginning of the decade, so much sediment had accumulated it was a mere four to eight inches from the lake’s surface around the mouth of Richland Creek.

“At that point we were in danger of losing that whole west end of the lake,” said Jimmy Carr, executive director of Lake Junaluska.

Carr and his team first had to play catch-up before putting in place a plan to keep sediment at bay with smaller digs every other year.

“The problem will never be solved. What we are trying to do is get it so it is manageable,” said Buddy Young, director of residential services with Lake Junaluska Assembly.

To set the stage for periodic clean-outs, the lake bottom was reshaped near the mouth of Richland Creek to confine sediment being dumped into the lake into one area, making it easier for the bulldozer operators to get at.

This next round of sediment dredging will cost $300,000 — with half coming from the state and half from Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Lake Junaluska requested $350,000 for the dredging back in 2009, but it didn’t come through that year. Carr said the assembly is thankful Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, continued to fight for the appropriation.

“He really stayed with it in a very difficult budgeting time,” Carr said.

The economic impact of Lake Junaluska Assembly on the entire region helped win the funding.

“Lake Junaluska is a valuable asset to the Haywood Community and the entire region,” said Queen.

Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center attracts 100,000 people each year for dozens of conventions held on its grounds, with an annual economic impact in the millions plus intangible benefit of outside exposure.

The sediment piling up in Lake Junaluska is a countywide problem. One only has to look at the color of Richland Creek during a heavy rain to see the mud and erosion making its way into the water.

“When it hits the lake it slows and the silt settles out,” Carr said.

The lake can be unsightly while work is being done. Lower water levels expose a ring of mud around the shore in the main part of the lake, and a mudflat in shallower areas. The work usually raises eyebrows.

“I think a lot of the locals understand this is a regular thing, but for visitors to the area it is the No. 1 question we get during the draw down: is there something wrong with the lake and why are you doing this?” said Ken Howle, marketing director for Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Though there has been some discussion of sacrificing the lake at the mouth of Richland Creek and allowing it to become a wetland, Young said it would not be a good route to take.

“It is not like it would build up a good quality wetland. It would be a shifting sand bar,” Young said.

A couple of wetlands have been created in the shallow part of the lake, however, benefiting wildlife.

40th Smoky Mountain Folk Festival showcases authentic mountain music and dancing

Mountain music, dancing and tradition will be on display on the shores of beautiful Lake Junaluska as the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, now in its 40th year, celebrates the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina.

As in years past, spectators will be treated to performances by more than 200 mountain dancers and musicians at the 2,000-seat historic Stuart Auditorium on the grounds of Lake Junaluska. Each night will feature open tent shows on the lawn beginning at 5 p.m. with main stage performances at 6:30 p.m. The entertainment will continue well into the night with the last performances ending some time after 11 p.m.

The festival is one of the longest running and most authentic folk festivals in the South, and offers spectators the chance to experience a wide variety of the region’s best traditional performers. Scores of the region’s finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, buck dancers and square dancers will be in attendance. Visitors will also be treated to the unique regional sounds of the dulcimer, harmonica, Native American flute, bagpipes and spoons, even a bowed carpenter’s saw.

While the festival is sure to entertain the thousands of people who attend, it also serves as a venue to preserve the mountains’ legacy of traditional music and inspire a new generation of artists as they swap tunes and licks, song and stories, under the open tents on the lakeshore.

“Our Appalachian identity with its music, stories, song and dance is something we can be proud of and must share with others to keep it alive. It is an identity that enriches all who experience it,” said festival director Joe Sam Queen.

The Smoky Mountain Folk Festival had its beginnings as a collaboration between Queen and a master fiddler named Earnest Hodges. Queen’s grandfather had passed away shortly before and Queen and his family sought to celebrate the music and dancing his grandfather had loved so much.

“My grandfather Sam Queen made mountain music and dancing such a big part of this community’s life, we wanted to carry on this family tradition and share it with the community just as he had done,” said Queen.

Queen and Hodges put together those early festivals in the high school gymnasium of what is now Waynesville Middle School. They worked together to contact and lineup an extensive collection of mountain artists to perform. The festival was a success for the community, attracting hundreds of visitors and locals each night.

Now a tradition with decades of history, the festival has established itself as a family and community gathering with many performers returning each year to see old friends and make new ones. Families return each year with new generations to enjoy what is one of the richest cultural events of the year.

Main show tickets are $12 at the door, $10 in advance, with children under 12 admitted free. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Haywood County Arts Council at 86 North Main Street in Waynesville or at the Administration Building at Lake Junaluska.

And of course, in keeping with tradition, there is always a complimentary slice of cool watermelon available to all who attend.

Children and youth provide leadership at Peace Celebration

Lake Junaluska Assembly invites youth and children to become peacemakers at the 2010 Lake Junaluska Peace Celebration: Mosaic of Hope, Sept. 18 through 19. The unique two-day event features leadership from children’s activist Jeni Stepanek, as well as youth and children facilitators.

Stepanek is a noted advocate for children’s and families’ needs in health and education, and a well-respected motivational speaker.

Youth Celebration participants will engage in hands-on learning experiences with various organizations, including Paper Clips: The Holocaust Project, Invisible Children and Creative Expressions for Peace. Younger children will participate in artistic responses and learn techniques to verbalize their feelings instead of acting on them, especially with regard to coping with stress, anger, and bullying.

Adults, youth and children are also encouraged to participate in the Peace Walk and Festival of Peace, which bridges the Peace Celebration with the annual Lake Junaluska Peace Conference that runs Sept. 19 through 21.

www.lakejunaluska.com/peace-celebration or call 828.454.6656.

Atmosphere wins over delegates to Lake J’s Methodist conference

Lake Junaluska, a century-old retreat for Methodist clergy and their families, will remain the favored venue for a major annual conference of the United Methodist Church.

The Western North Carolina Conference — a formal gathering of Methodist churches from the western half of the state — brings thousands of people to Lake Junaluska and Haywood County for an extended weekend every June. But space limitations had prompted the conference to consider a change in location to a Sheraton Hotel conference center in Greensboro.

Losing the conference would be a major economic blow not only to the Lake but to hotels and restaurants throughout Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Between half and two-thirds of conference attendees who stay overnight find lodging off Lake grounds.

Whether to change venues was put to a vote during the annual conference this past weekend. Lake Junaluska won out overwhelming with 1,007 votes, compared to 526 for moving it.

“Logistically, it would be better for us to have a bigger building, but as a far as the overall atmosphere of the conference, they prefer here,” said Roy Miller, a delegate from Mount Airy, N.C., and pastor of Mt. Moriah Methodist Church.

Jimmy Carr, executive director of Lake Junaluska Assembly, had no idea what to expect before the vote.

“The margin was so high. That was really affirming to us,” Carr said.

The conference was attended by 2,660 delegates representing Methodist churches across half the state — a territory reaching as far as Greensboro and Charlotte — to discuss church policies and finances and ordain clergy. Delegates often have their families and church lay people in tow, with the total number of people in town for the conference pegged at about 7,000.

Debbi Snipes has accompanied her husband, a minister from Charlotte, to the annual conference at the Lake for 17 years, along with her two daughters. It would be a “big mistake” to move the venue, she said.

“This is a family friendly place. This is a special place, and you can’t get that just anywhere,” said Snipes, who enjoys seeing the same families year after year. If the conference was moved to a Sheraton Hotel in Greensboro, “we wouldn’t go,” Snipes said.

The annual conference is only one small slice of the Lake’s conference business, which plays host to 100,000 people each year for dozens of conventions of both a spiritual and secular nature.

But this conference is by far its largest. The potential loss lit a fire under those in the tourism industry. Some nearby restaurants changed the lettering on their signboards to boast messages of support for keeping the conference at the Lake.

The annual conference brings in $200,000 of direct revenue to the Lake Junaluska Assembly and another $300,000 for local motels, restaurants and the like. The multiplier effect across WNC communities could be up to $1 million, Carr estimated.

The conference venue was the most hotly discussed topic of the weekend, said Miller.

“They mention waking up in the morning and seeing the cross, the mountains and the lake,” Miller said.

The majority felt the impersonal setting of a Sheraton Hotel would not nurture the fellowship found at the Lake, he said. Small prayer groups and impromptu religious discussions come naturally in intimate and inspirational settings found on Junaluska’s grounds, from the numerous gardens to lakeside benches. It would not be easy to duplicate that atmosphere in a hotel lobby.

“It is hard to imagine leaving the Lake because of the setting and significance of this place,” said Eddie Ingram, pastor at First Methodist Church in Charlotte.

Carr said the discussion leading up to the vote was heartfelt and emotional. One woman spoke about the personal transformation she feels when attending the conference at the Lake.

“They realized the specialness of Lake Junaulska,” Carr said. “They realized they are about doing church work and what better place to do it than Lake Junaluska, which has a common mission.”

The Lake made a couple of promises to keep the conference. A logistical challenge is posed by Stuart Auditorium, which seats 2,000 people and can’t accommodate all the delegates who attend. Other meeting halls and auditoriums on the Lake’s grounds will be rigged with live video streaming to allow people who can’t fit inside Stuart Auditorium to still participate in the proceedings.

The other promise is to work with the local tourism community to roll out the red carpet for conference attendees.

Of the 2,600 delegates who attended, only 800 rented hotel rooms or homes at the Lake itself, leaving a huge number to find lodging elsewhere. The conference wants the Lake to compile lodging information and negotiate discounts with local hotels during the conference weekend. In addition, the conference wants assurance that the local hotels and restaurants off the Lake grounds are prepped and ready to step up their hospitality the weekend of the conference.

“It is truly going to take the entire county working together to keep this event here in the long term. Lake Junaluska will need a strong partnership with the local community to accomplish that,” said Ken Howle, Lake Junaluska marketing director.

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