Food shortages persist in the land of plenty

Counties in Western North Carolina have seen dramatic increases in the number of people who need food assistance — either from the government in the form of welfare or from local food pantries.

The number of people on food stamps in Haywood, Macon and Swain counties has increased by more than 40 percent over the past four years.

Foods stamps only go so far, however, so churches, charities and community groups have stepped up to the plate to help feed the hungry.

MANNA food bank serves as the region’s major clearinghouse for food for more than 250 food pantries across Western North Carolina. MANNA collects food and money and distributes it among its member pantries, and as a collective, the pantries have an easier time obtaining government funding.

“It’s a great program,” said Alice Fisher, a board member of another food pantry, The Community Kitchen in Canton. “We couldn’t continue if we didn’t have that support from MANNA.”

The Community Kitchen started in the mid-2000s, and leaders decided to serve dinner since the Open Door Soup Kitchen in Waynesville already offered breakfast and lunch. The pantry also hoped to fill a niche in Canton since Waynesville can be a far daily trek for people without a car or even those on a tight budget, said Beverly Brock, director of The Community Kitchen.

“Waynesville has a soup kitchen, and it’s a good one, but it’s quite a bit of gas to get a meal,” Brock said.

The Community Kitchen sees pretty much every demographic flow in and out of its home on Pisgah Drive.

“It’s the whole gamut — we’ve got elderly, we’ve got disabled, we’ve got multiple generations in one household,” Brock said, adding that they also see grandparents trying to raise their grandchildren on fixed incomes.

And, the number of people they see each week depends on what is happening in an individual’s life.

“It flows with how their bills go this week. Every hiccup can make a big impact,” Brock said. “What we do is just help sustain them.”

The pantry typically goes through 5,000 pounds of food each month, which is about one-third more business than The Community Kitchen did in year’s past.

MANNA as a whole distributed almost 10 million pounds of food last year and still does not meet demand, said Alissa Hixson, a spokeswoman for MANNA food bank.

“As soon as the economy went under, everything changed,” said Amy Grimes, director of the Community Table in Sylva.

The Community Table, which typically made 25 to 40 meals each weekday, now makes 80 to 100. The pantry is closed Saturday and Sundays.

“The need is going up like crazy,” Grimes said. “We are seeing new people every week.”

Pantries are seeing more families come for food, though some college-educated individuals are also visiting the food pantries.

 

Feeding children

At least 30 percent of the children in Western North Carolina don’t have adequate access to food, according to MANNA food bank. The MANNA backpack program helps to ease that burden by delivering 5-pound bags of food to schools on Fridays and sending them home with children in needy families.

“Those families are struggling over the weekend because the kids do not have a free meal at school,” said Emily Paris, program services coordinator at MANNA.

It serves 3,800 children a week during the school year. But, it’s not nearly enough to meet the needs of all the hungry kids.

Although MANNA does its own fundraising for the program, the Waynesville Rotary Club has decided to make the backpack program its pet project year-round, collecting donations that will go to children in Haywood County in hopes of expanding the program. The Rotary club is accepting checks, but people can also donate by tacking a nominal amount onto their bill when eating at Waynesville restaurants.

As of last week, the club had raised more than $20,000 — all of which will stay in Haywood County, emphasized Brandon Anderson, president of the Waynesville Rotary Club.

“We are excited,” Anderson said. “I am pretty confident that it is going to explode from there.”

 

Food insecurity rates

Haywood: 16 percent

Macon: 16.9 percent

Jackson: 17.7 percent

Swain: 19.9 percent

Data for 2011, provided by MANNA foodbank

 

How to help

Giving to MANNA food bank or an individual pantry is simple. Call or stop-by or simply mail in a check or ask to volunteer. Check out www.mannafoodbank.org for specific information about food pantries and soup kitchens in your area.

Other ways to give include:

• The Community Kitchen in Canton is hosting a golf fund-raiser at Lake Junaluska at noon on June 1. Teams are four-person, captain’s choice. Entry fees are $50 per person. 828.593.9319.

• The Open Door Ministries is hosting a Bike Run will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 9. The fund-raiser, hosted by The Carolina Faith Riders, will raise awareness and money for the soup kitchen and thrift store in Waynesville. Registration is from 9-10:45 a.m. There is a $15 per bike entry fee. The route will be from The Open Door, through downtown Waynesville to N.C. 276, across the Blue Ridge Parkway, down Soco, through Maggie. The Bike Run will conclude at Dellwood Baptist Church at 12:30 p.m. with music on the lawn and a lunch. 828.926.3846.

• The last Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Community Table hosts a blue plate special fund-raiser. A local restaurant donates lunch, which the pantry offers for a minimum $5 donation. Call ahead for a takeout order, or eat at the pantry. 828.586.6782.

• From June 15-July 15, businesses and organizations in Haywood County will be accepting food that will then be directly distributed to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the county. The goal is to collect 50,000 pounds of food. Look for red donation barrels outside businesses or call the Chamber of Commerce for a list of locations. Those wishing to make a monetary donation should stop by any Haywood County BB&T. 828.456.3021.

•  The Dillsboro River Company will offer free rafts for unguided trips down the Tuckasegee River from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 3 in exchange for10 cans of food per person that will be donated to United Christian Ministries of Jackson County.  866.586.3797.

•  Duckett’s Produce in Maggie Valley is collecting food donations. The donations are then taken to the Maggie Valley Methodist Church where those in need are free to pick up food.

GroWNC inspires neighboring counties to think like a region

Haywood is banding together with Transylvania, Buncombe, Henderson and Madison counties under a project titled GroWNC, designed to get the region thinking collectively about ways to develop the economy with a focus on sustainability.

GroWNC is currently holding meetings in all five counties to gain feedback on the goals and gather information about their residents, including one planned in Haywood County this week. Participants are being asked everything from what people love most about Western North Carolina to individual demographics to opinions about the program.

“It is trying to take a long-term vision of the area and see what our common issues are,” said Waynesville’s Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova. “It’s basically everything people like about Western North Carolina and preserving it.”

The group will focus on seven core areas: jobs and economic development; housing; natural resources; cultural resources; energy; land use; transportation; and health and wellness.

The consortium is led by an 18-member committee, which is responsible for prioritizing work activities, participating in the selection of consultants and making recommendations to guide the project. Sub-committees have been formed to address the seven specific areas.

Each of the committees has drafted a list of goals that it hopes to work toward that will promote growth and more inter-connectivity between the counties, rather than each county taking its own path.

“GroWNC better conveys our goal of growing together as a region,” said Carrie Runser-Turner, senior planner with Land-of-Sky Regional Council, a multi-county local government planning and development organization. “Really what we are trying to do is look at the choices we make in these areas (and) how they are inter-related.”

Among the goals are creating effective job training programs; exploring alternative energy options; increasing transportation choices; promoting community health resources such as gym class in schools and physical activity programs; building mixed use neighborhoods with a “sense of place;” and encouraging the development of affordable housing, among others.

The meetings being held throughout the project region are informal, allowing people to move from table to table as they wish and skip over areas that they don’t have an particular interest in. Door prizes will also be given away at the meetings.

“The participants get to shape their experience with this meeting,” Melnikova said.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant was awarded to the counties for the project through the Land-of-Sky.

 

Want to participate?

Haywood Community College will host an informational and feedback meeting from 4-7 p.m. on May 16 in the Charles Beall Auditorium. If you cannot attend the meeting at HCC, check out www.gro-wnc.org for other upcoming meetings and more information about GroWNC.

Voices of the Smokies to go live in oral project

Recordings made some seven decades ago of nearly 60 men and women who lived in what became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon will be made publicly available online.

In 1939, a young graduate student by the name of Joseph Sargent Hall traveled through the region’s coves and hollows with an audio recorder powered off his pick-up truck battery, capturing tales of bear hunts, lessons on herbal remedies and authentic mountain tunes. He spent eight months recording the experiences of older residents and the music of young aspiring musicians. Of the 60 interviews, 17 were from Swain County and 16 were from Haywood County.

One of the mountaineers recorded by Hall was the famous Steve Woody of Cataloochee Valley, who was 86 at the time.

“That’s not me; that’s my grandfather,” Steve Woody the younger said with a laugh. “I can remember him.”

Woody owns a tape rendition of the 1939 recording Hall made of his grandfather. It is a story about a bear hunt, Woody said, and there’s also a photograph in the family album of the actual interview taking place, too.

Woody thinks it’s terrific that the old recordings soon will be made easily available.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I think people need to know the history of these mountains.”

When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created, hundreds of people living in remote Appalachian settlements were forced to move. Hall’s recordings were made just as this was happening, capturing a moment in time and way of life that was coming to an end. Woody’s grandfather was the last person to move out of Cataloochee Valley after the park was created.

The City University of New York will host the non-commercial website where the recordings will be made publicly accessible. A release date hasn’t been set — the project’s members are trying to ensure that living descendants of those recorded are given notice first that the recordings are being made public.

Michael Montgomery, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of South Carolina and a member of the project team, said that the digitized recordings are being made from tape recordings that were, in turn, made in the 1980s from the original recordings.

“They are actually quite clear for recordings made more than 70 years ago,” Montgomery said, adding that the original discs are held in safekeeping in the Library of Congress.

Copies of the recordings are currently available for people to listen to if, that is, they are willing to drive several hours into Tennessee to the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.

 

A chronicler of the people

Using Civilian Conservation Corps camps for home base, Hall ventured throughout the area to record. For this work, Hall used two recorders, one that produced aluminum discs and was operated by cables hooked to a pick-up truck battery and another that made acetate discs and ran on a portable battery pack.

Montgomery said that Hall became close friends with many of the men working in the CCC camps and returned to visit them for many years after the first recordings were made. Hall died in 1992.

Luke Hyde of Bryson City, who had family members who once lived where the park was subsequently created, said he believes it will be helpful to families such as his and for park history buffs in general to have the recordings easily available via a website. In addition to the recordings, searchable texts also will be online.

“I like the general concept,” Hyde said, adding that he is well familiar with the important work done by Hall to record the people of the Smokies.

“He was fascinated by a lot of things, and he listened to people,” Hyde said. “He was one of the chroniclers of the mountain people.”

Montgomery said Hall’s interest in making this set of recordings was to record dialect. That meant he didn’t care so much what people said as long as they said something — so what’s on the recordings are such things as “women talking about herbal remedies and fellows talking about bear hunting,” Montgomery said.

Hall himself wrote about his work that, “the topics of the recordings were anything the informant wished to talk about. Men talked about their farm, their crops, their cattle, and hunting. Women liked to tell recipes or talk about their interest in weaving and quilting and the like.”

Hall also recorded the music of the day. Young musicians played country and swing and other tunes they were hearing on the radio.

“Joseph Hall recorded anything people wanted to play,” Montgomery said.

In 2010, the Great Smoky Mountains Association released “Old Time Smoky Mountain Music,” a CD with 34 of the musical selections recorded by Hall.

Montgomery said that one of Hall’s most admirable traits was his determination to stay in the background and not overshadow the men and women that he was recording.

“He thought that was the best way to counter stereotypes. He wanted mountain people to use their own voices,” Montgomery said. “His approach really was to avoid general statements and to let mountain people speak for themselves.”

Not everyone is certain the release of the recordings is a good idea.

Harley Caldwell, 75, was the last person born in Cataloochee Valley before the park was formed. He’s concerned about the privacy rights of the people who were recorded, about whether they realized that one day their stories and tales would be released publicly.

Caldwell, in fact, is involved in a similar project to Montgomery’s. The Cataloochee Oral History Project teamed with Western Carolina University to record and videotape 33 living descendents from Cataloochee. A DVD is set for release in early 2013.

“It’s a bigger project than I wanted to tackle, but I tackled it anyway,” Caldwell said.

WCU provided the equipment and is editing the interviews and preparing the DVD. Caldwell facilitated the project by rounding up the Cataloochee descendents. Caldwell said, perhaps echoing what Hall also found, that he was most surprised by “the willingness of people to talk about their past.”

One of those men interviewed was age 99, Caldwell said, adding that the man remembered historic events as if they’d occurred yesterday.

“It was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve done a lot of exciting things,” Caldwell said of the oral history project.

One thing Caldwell and his team were careful to do was obtain signed releases from those interviewed — and he worries that, in contrast, Hall’s subjects were never cautioned that one day their voices would be heard again.

 

Speakers recorded by Joseph S. Hall in 1939:

Haywood County:

• Mack Caldwell, 53, Mount Sterling.

• Mack Hannah, 81, Little Cataloochee.

• Mrs. Mack (Fannie) Hannah, 73, Little Cataloochee.

• Millard Hill, 27, Saunook.

• Mark Mehaffey, Maggie.

• Bill Moore, 21, Saunook.

• Howard Moore, Saunook.

• Manuel Moore, Saunook.

• Mrs. George Palmer, 65, Cataloochee.

• Will Palmer, Cataloochee.

• Mrs. Will Palmer, 69, Cataloochee.

• Herbert Stephenson, 25, Saunook.

• Eugene Sutton, 43, Cataloochee Creek.

• Jake Sutton, 63, Cataloochee.

• Jim Sutton, 70, Cataloochee.

• Steve Woody, 86, Cataloochee.

Swain County:

• Mrs. Bill Brown, Towstring Creek.

• Dan Cable, 73, Cable Branch, Proctor.  

• Aden Carver, 91, Bradley Fork, Smokemont.

• Mark Cathey, 54, Deep Creek.

• D. F. Conner, 84, Oconaluftee.

• Bert Crisp, 47, Towstring Creek.

• Zeb Crisp, 64, Hazel Creek.

• Grover Gilley, Bryson City.

• Gladys Hoyle.

• Frank Lambert, 40, Towstring Creek,  Smokemont.

• Grady Mathis, 50, Smokemont.

• Al Morris, 67, Kirklands Creek.

• Rebecca Queen, 70, Cherokee.

• Docia Styles, 66, Indian Creek.

• Zilphie Sutton, 70, Chestnut Branch.

• Jake Welch, 79, Ryan Branch, Hazel Creek.

• Fate Wiggins, 79, Deep Creek.

• Mary Wiggins, Deep Creek.

 

WCU’s Hunter Library releases online oral history collection

A series of oral interviews with the people of Western North Carolina are now available online through Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.

“Stories of Mountain Folk” is the first all-sound collection released by Hunter Library. The collection’s interviews cover traditions, events and life stories of regional individuals including gardeners, herbalists, farmers, musicians, artists and writers. The archive is searchable by name, place and topic.

The interviews were produced by Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by the sisters Amy Ammons Garza, an Appalachian storyteller, and Doreyl Ammons Cain, a visual artist, with the mission of preserving local memory. In September 2008, Catch the Spirit of Appalachia began “Stories of Mountain Folk” as a half-hour radio show.

Catch the Spirit of Appalachia teamed up with Hunter Library to preserve the recorded material. The online archive holds approximately half of the roughly 200 existing radio programs, with Hunter Library staff continuing to upload the backlog.

“The university has provided expertise to preserve the content, which is very different from academic creation of new intellectual content. This content was created in the community, and the library is providing a service in preserving the material,” said Anna Fariello, an associate professor in Hunter Library’s Digital Programs.

For her part, Garza is thrilled with the arrangement.

“I cannot tell you how my heart leapt when this agreement was signed,” she said. “Saving the voices of the mountain folk has been a longtime goal of Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, for listening to the mountain folk as they tell their own personal stories evokes evidence of an unmistakable wisdom and sense of place.”

The collection can be found at www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcollections/storiesofmountainfolk.

Meadows and Rogers emerge from crowded field of Washington hopefuls

Mark Meadows and Hayden Rogers came out on top last night in a Congressional election that at the beginning of the day boasted a full slate of 11 candidates.

The field of eight Republicans and three Democrats vying to represent the mountains in the halls of Washington was narrowed down. Rogers won 56 percent of the Democratic vote. Although Meadows emerged as the top vote getter on the Republican ticket, he received less than 40 percent of the votes — the minimum percentage required to officially win a race. Now, a special election must be held between Meadows and the second-highest vote getter on the Republican ticket, Vance Patterson, on June 26.

The Congressional race became a wide open contest after Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, announced he would not seek re-election after six years in office. Shuler was a conservative Democrat and had the ability to cater to both side of the political spectrum among mountain voters.

A wide field of Republicans were already lining up to take on Shuler, but after Shuler announced his retirement, the floodgates opened even wider for anyone with the dream of holding a congressional seat.

Republican voters particularly had a difficult time with a daunting eight candidates to choose from. The choice will be considerably easier when two distinct candidates emerge for the November election.

On the Democratic side, Shuler’s own chief of staff Hayden Rogers put his hat in the ring after Shuler’s retirement and has emerged as the victor in the Democratic primary.

Rogers said he is thrilled that he has moved one step closer to the possibility of representing the community that he grew up in.

“I’m really excited,” Rogers said. “We were sort of last to the dance, but we worked really, really hard to put a structure in place and get our message out.”

Rogers, 41, grew up in Robbinsville where he played high school football, majored in political science at Princeton University and now lives near Murphy.

Now that the race has narrowed, Rogers said he will continue to push his message of working together to move the nation forward rather than to the left or right.

“Whether it’s Mr. Meadows or any of the other Republican candidates for the most part, they are pushing a sort of fringe ideology,” Rogers said. “I really believe voters are looking for true leadership and open mindedness.”

Lauren Bishop, a Waynesville resident, said she was personally was sad to see Shuler step down and has now thrown her support behind Rogers who she believes can pick up where Shuler left off.

Many voters leaving the polls could not recall which congressional candidate they supported — or did not vote in the race at all, indicating that that particular primary race was not what necessarily drove people to the polls yesterday.

On the Republican ticket, Meadows, a 52-year-old Christian businessman from Cashiers, has advanced to the front of the Republican pack.

At about 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Meadows was optimistic but did not want to comment on the race at that time.

“We are excited about our vote totals at this point,” Meadows said at that time. Meadows did not return later calls for comment.

He is currently a real estate developer in Jackson County. Meadows has no previous experience in a political office.

His opponent, Vance Patterson, is a 61-year-old resident of Morganton. Patterson has 37 years of business leadership experience and started 16 companies. The TEA party candidate ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in North Carolina’s 10th District in 2010.

Fundraising unveiled in down-to-the-wire Congressional race

The litany of Republicans from Western North Carolina running for Congress haven’t taken any cues from their counterparts on the presidential stage, where the once robust field of candidates has slowly been picked off until there was just one man left standing.

Although all eight Republican contenders for the 11th District seat have hung on to the bitter end, a few have clearly emerged as front-runners as the primary draws to a close.

Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows and Ethan Wingfield have emerged as the Republican front-runners in the race.

“They are raising the most money. They seem to be putting together the most endorsements,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

In a recent poll of self-described Republican voters, Meadows, Wingfield and Hunt ranked top three, respectively. More than 40 percent of those surveyed were still undecided however, according to the independent poll by the Atlanta-based Rosetta Stone Communications.

It’s going to be “a tight race,” Cooper said. “It’s going to start coming down to things like name recognition.”

• Hunt is a 61-year-old Brevard resident who has served as district attorney of Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties since 1994.

• Meadows is a 52-year-old Cashiers resident, former restaurant owner and real estate developer.

• Wingfield is a 26-year-old native of Weaverville, who started his only technology firm in 2003. He was recently a senior strategy consultant for Capital One.

Prior to the poll, Hunt and Meadows had already classified themselves as front-runners. Meadows said he feels good about his place in the race, while Hunt describes himself as the only candidate with a consistently conservative record. Hunt is the only candidate of the three who has held a political office.

Wingfield sprang onto the political scene late last year with an announcement that he had raised about $201,000 in 10 days — of that $125,000 was money he loaned himself, however, not individual contributions. Wingfield is pleased to be in the top-three field.

“Clearly, our grassroots support is surging, and we have the momentum in this race,” Wingfield said.

Something about what Wingfield is selling is catching on with voters, Cooper said.

“He is young. He is articulate. In some ways, it makes sense,” Cooper said.

On the Democratic side, Hayden Rogers has emerged as the front-runner, particularly in the money race.

 

Campaign fundraising

Meadows has the most money of the candidates. But, much of it has come from his own personal wealth. The conservative Christian advanced his campaign $250,000. He received nearly $122,700 in individual donations. Of that, $9,200 came from political committees.

“Clearly, Meadows had the money from the beginning,” Cooper said.

However, Hunt has shown he has a more diverse base of donors and contributors, raising almost $138,000 for his coffer. Of that, political committees donated $395. He also loaned himself $11,600. As a district attorney, Hunt has run for office before, possibly giving him an established donor network to more easily tap.

So far, Wingfield has raised about $133,300, with $5,000 of that from political committees. Wingfield has loaned himself $200,000.

Both Hunt and Meadows received a large portion of their donations — more than 85 percent — from inside Western North Carolina. For Wingfield, only 12 percent of the individual gifts were from inside WNC.

However, none of the Republican candidates are raising much money this primary season, compared to one of their Democratic counterparts, Hayden Rogers, who rallied a war chest of $300,000 in just three months of fundraising, all of it from donations.

Rogers has emerged as the front-runner of the three Democrats running for the seat.

The broad field has made fundraising harder for Republican candidates. People either are not giving, waiting to see who will win the primary, or have split their contributions among a couple of favorites.

“It’s been split so many ways,” Cooper said. “The really base voters don’t know who they support and don’t know who is likely to win.”

So, to bolster their standing in the lineup, candidates are racking up lists of notables to endorse their individual message.

Just last month, Hunt received the endorsement of 11 fellow district attorneys, Bruce Briggs of Madison, Mayor Jimmy Harris of Brevard and Mayor Steve Little of Marion.

Meadows saw a huge boost in recognition and support with the endorsement by Jeff Miller, a Republican candidate for Congress who went up against Shuler in 2010.

Meadows has compiled an index of at least 34 endorsements, including Sen. Jimmy Jacumin, state Rep. Carolyn Justus, state Rep. Phillip Frye, state Rep. Mitch Gillespie and Sheriff Robert Holland of Macon County.

Wingfield has not announced any endorsements thus far.

However, in the end, who a candidate’s backers, both financially and verbally, are does not automatically translate to a victory.

“Money is important. Endorsements are important,” Cooper said, but ultimately, it is votes that count.

 

Democrat field limited

The Democratic voters have a considerably easier time — with three distinct candidates to choose from. Hayden Rogers is a Blue Dog Democrat from Murphy; and Cecil Bothwell is a liberal Democrat from Asheville; and Tom Hill, a retired scientist, is a comparatively unknown candidate from Zirconia.

Of the trio, the two standouts are Rogers and Bothwell, who both have previous political experience. However, Rogers has a clear upper hand in a conservative-leaning district, where he could draw a potentially broader base of voters come November than Bothwell.

“Bothwell is an ideological brand in some ways,” Cooper said. “He is the kind of person who can get really active support from a small group of people.”

The question is: Can Bothwell get enough 11th District voters to buy into his beliefs and plans?

“He obviously has an uphill battle,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know that that is a brand that will sell well in WNC.”

Rogers was the clear winner as far as fundraising goes this quarter. The former chief of staff to Shuler for six years, he has contacts in Washington and party connections that no doubt benefited his fund raising efforts.

“Rogers has had a real advantage,” Cooper said.

In just three months, Rogers raised about $301,000 — two-thirds of which came from individuals. The remaining came from political committees.

“It’s a sign of the strength of our campaign but also shows how well our message is resonating with voters,” Rogers said in a news release.

His ability to quickly raise funds in a primary and with a relative lack of competition will give Rogers an advantage over the Republican nominee, Cooper said.

“Rogers is going to have such a head start because he is able to focus on the general,” Cooper said.

Meanwhile, Bothwell has raised a total of about $58,000 during a more than six-month period, plus a loan of $4,000. All but $900 of his war chest came from individual contributions — lots and lots of them. Bothwell had many dollar-and-cent amounts compared to Rogers’ $100-plus contributions.

“We’ve attended more than 160 events in the district over the past year,” Bothwell said in a news release. “This contest will be a real test of grassroots organizing versus the big money power brokers in Raleigh and Washington, D.C.”

Less than half of Bothwell’s and Rogers’ contributions came from people in Western North Carolina, a calculation that can be indicative of what type of support candidates are receiving from people who can actually cast a vote for them.

“It is a very important metric,” Cooper said. “It is not what you’d want to see as a candidate.”

Cooper predicted that voter turnout for the primary will be low statewide. Most states only see a 3 or 4 percent voter turnout, Cooper said, and North Carolina will be no different. Those who do vote, he said, will have distinct leans to either the left or right — a fact that could “bode well for Bothwell.”

Rogers is considered a more conservative Democrat.

And although quantity of youth voters was a popular discussion topic in 2008, Cooper said this year would likely see low turnout among the 18- to 29-year-old age bracket as well.

“The youth turnout I do not think is going to be very good,” Cooper said.

 

Meet some of the candidates

Several of the Republican congressional candidates will attend a dinner and meet-and-greet starting at 6 p.m., April 27, at Southwestern Community College’s Swain County campus with an opportunity to meet-and-greet the candidates.

Among the 11th District Congressional Candidates who have confirmed their intent to attend are Spence Campbell, Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows, Vance Patterson and Chris Petrella. Other congressional candidates will have representatives in attendance.

Bring a covered side dish, salad or dessert. The main dish will be provided.

828.488.2842 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

WNC border may have been drawn “under the influence”

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in April 2002.

Have you ever looked at a map of North Carolina and wondered how in the heck the Old North State came to be shaped like that? There’s no way to describe it except maybe as a key slot turned on its side. But that doesn’t do justice to a configuration which is almost as straight as a ruler on its northern boundary while the southern and western boundaries look like the work of a 3-year-old.  

Only half in jest, John P. Arthur in Western North Carolina - A History from 1730-1913 (Asheville, 1914) suggests that the location of still-houses producing moonshine were the primary causes of the seemingly haphazard state lines laid out by the early commissioners and surveyors:      

“It is said that the reason the Ducktown copper mines of Tennessee were lost to North Carolina was due to the fact that the commissioners of North Carolina and Tennessee ran out of spirituous liquors when they reached the high peak just north of the Hiwassee River, and instead of continuing the line in a generally southwestwardly direction, crossing the tops of the Big and Little Frog mountains, they struck due south to the Georgia line and a still-house.”

Well, losing Ducktown was perhaps no great loss. Arthur notes that the “the jagged boundary between North and South Carolina” has also been attributed “to the influence of whiskey.” (Actually this was due mainly to an agreement that the North Carolina line would be drawn north of the Catawba Indian Nation.)

I like the way in which W.L. Saunders, editor of the Colonial Records of North Carolina, phrased the matter (as quoted in Arthur): “... judging from practical results, North Carolina in her boundary surveys, and they have been many, seems to have been unusually fortunate in having men who were either abstemious or very capable in the matter of strong drink; for, so far as now appears, in no instance have we been overreached.”

The line that has always interested me the most is the fairly straight one on the northern boundary. This is because I was born in Danville, Va., just north of where the Dan River crosses the line, while my wife, Elizabeth, was born 34 days later on the other side of the line and the Dan River in Milton, N.C. Despite this proximity, we didn’t, however, meet until we were in our early 20s.  

I recently went back and reread Col. William Byrd’s accounts of how the line between Virginia and North Carolina was surveyed back in 1728. His remarks regarding the slovenliness, laziness, and generally disreputable character and ways of North Carolina is both scandalous and hilarious — and typically Virginian. Being a native Virginian, I can attest without need for rejoinder that they (we) are among the most uppity people in the world — and rightfully so. If you want some good reading, I recommend that you search out a reprint of Byrd’s accounts.  

I have never located a study that names the mountains Byrd describes. The designations suggested herein are based on this writer’s knowledge of the terrain and represent, at best, educated approximations.

Col. Byrd (William Byrd II) was one of the Virginia commissioners. Two manuscript diaries not published until long after his death have subsequently appeared in various ediitons: The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina and The Secret History of the Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. The former suppressed personal details and was no doubt intended for a general audience, while the former was circulated among Byrd’s London friends amid great approval and has won an honored place in the literature of Colonial America.

The boundary line party set out on March 5, 1728, headed slowly westward from “north of Currituck river or inlet.” After six weeks the line had been run for 73 miles. Work was halted until Sept. 20. By Oct. 4 they had reached a point 50 miles west of any colonial settlements. The North Carolinians considered that to be quite far enough and departed, along with one of the Virginia commissioners. Along with the remaining commissioner, the surveyors and workers, Byrd pushed on westward.

On Oct. 10-11, they crossed the Dan River at present Milton, N.C., at a point about a mile north of where my wife was born, and then reached some high ground just southwest of present Danville, Va., about a mile east of where I was born. By this time they were approaching the inner Piedmont where the terrain changes from rolling woodlands to noticeably hilly uplands.

By late October the party had reached Peters Creek in Stokes County, where real mountains could be seen in the distance: “One of the Southern Mountains was so vastly high, it seem’d to hide its head in the Clouds, and the West End of it terminated in a horrible Precipice, that we call’ Despairing Lover’s Leap. The Next to it, towards the East, was lower, where it heav’d itself up in the form of a vast Stack of Cimnys. The Course of the Northern Mountains seem’d to tend West-South-West, and those to the Southward very near West. We cou’d descry other Mountains ahead of us, exactly in the Course of the Line, tho’ at a much greater distance. In this Point of View, the ledges on the right and Left both seem’d to close, and form a Natural Amphi-Theater.”  

The mountains to the north in Virginia were probably the low-lying Carter and Bull ranges backed up by the Pinnacles of the Dan complex on the Blue Ridge plateau. The mountains to the south were probably (east to west) Hanging Rock, Sauratown, and Pilot, which arise abruptly from the Piedmont province of North Carolina. From the hill above Peters Creek on the state line, 30 miles to the west — where the Blue Ridge escarpment is at its steepest in the area of Fisher Peak (3,609 feet elevation) — is precisely where Byrd’s imaginary “Ledges” would have appeared to converge.

Had, however, Byrd and his companions pushed on through the foothills of the Piedmont provinces of Virginia and North Carolina, they would have quickly penetrated the real mountains. In that instance, Byrd’s descriptions would be ranked today as the high-water mark in the literature of the Blue Ridge Province of North Carolina prior to the arrival of William Bartram in 1775.

WNC Alliance: Three decades and still going strong

Just in time for its 30th anniversary, the Western North Carolina Alliance one of the region’s most august environmental organizations is promising to reassert itself as a highly visible and prominent force in communities outside of Asheville.

To help fulfill that promise of renewed commitment the WNC Alliance will re-staff its offices in Franklin and Boone. In recent years the group has relied almost solely on volunteers to serve as its visible presence west and north of its Asheville headquarters. This is not to say WNC Alliance hasn’t been present at all in these communities; just less so than in the group’s glory days in the 1980s and 1990s.

WNC Alliance’s beginnings, in fact, are rooted in Macon County. The environmental group was the brainchild of Esther Cunningham, a Franklin resident who became incensed at the proposition that companies might be allowed to mine the national forests for oil and gas.

“She wrote letters, she organized, she spoke at hearings, she learned Forest Service appeal procedure,” said Bill Crawford of Macon County, who was one of the group’s earliest members.

 

An issue-driven organization

Out of Cunningham’s efforts the WNC Alliance began in 1982. Crawford said the idea of mining the national forests for oil and gas waned after companies realized that even if there were deposits here it would be too expensive and labor intensive to extract them.

“That issue didn’t really last much more than a year or so,” Crawford said.

The group, however, was born from those efforts. WNC Alliance went on from those beginnings to help defeat a proposed nuclear waste site in Buncombe County in 1984.

It then started a campaign to stop clear cutting in the national forests. That issue caught the hearts and imagination of a large segment of people in the mountains and helped raised the profile of the environmental group.

“People were really passionate about the clear cutting,” said longtime member Cynthia Strain of Highlands, who has been involved with WNC Alliance for 25 years.

Strain, who served for five years on the group’s steering committee, remembers standing in front of the Highlands post office asking people to sign petitions against clear cutting.

“People just couldn’t sign fast enough,” she said, remembering the group collected 16,000 signatures or so regionwide. The group assembled the names onto a scroll of sorts, Strain said, and made a big show of unrolling them out for display.

While WNC Alliance has a long-history as a watchdog over the US. Forest Service — from the early days fighting clear cutting and mining to its current role monitoring logging that still goes on, albeit on a more limited scale, to make sure sensitive areas are protected — the U.S. Forest Service described the WNC Alliance as “among the Forest Service’s many valued partners” in Western North Carolina.

“The U.S. Forest Service has worked closely with the organization for many years and appreciates its work,” Forest Service spokesman Stevin Westcott said. “We congratulate the WNC Alliance on their anniversary, and we look forward to many more years of collaboration.”

Strain said the seemingly lowered visibility of WNC Alliance these days is, in large part, because there simply hasn’t been an issue such as clear cutting that has captured the public’s imagination.

Mapping old growth forests, for instance, while important and interesting “is not the kind of thing that galvanizes a region,” Strain said.

The discovery of previously undocumented stands of old growth forest thanks to the mapping project in turn gave environmental groups ammunition to lobby the forest service to make those places off limits to logging — a protection that otherwise would not have been afforded these last stands of old growth simply because they weren’t on the radar.

Along with the lack of a headline-grabbing issue, WNC Alliance seemed to lose prominence at the same time Western North Carolina gave rise to a growing number of environmental groups. While WNC Alliance remains one of the big player, it is not the only player by any means. These days, there are environmental advocacy groups of every flavor — from air quality to water quality to land conservation to forest protection.

Meanwhile, when the group moved its headquarters to Buncombe County, some of its force in the region seemed to dissipate accordingly.

“There’s been a tension between the large urban area and the outlying communities,” Crawford said. He added, however, that he also believes “Asheville has a large group of well-meaning activists who do a lot of good work.”

Crawford said he’s optimistic that much of the organization’s strength will return with the re-staffing of outlying offices.

 

Becoming a force again

That’s what Julie Mayfield, the executive director of WNC Alliance, also believes.

“We have an organization vision for where we want to go,” Mayfield said. “That’s to become a powerful force throughout the region in a way that we are not right now.”

Crawford attributed part of the pullback from the region to economics. And, in fact, when Mayfield took over a few years back the group had only a few months of money left to survive on.

“We went into the year thinking we were not going to make it,” she said.

Under Mayfield and the board’s leadership, however, the group not only survived it thrived: since then, WNC Alliance has doubled to 10 the number of full- and part-time staffers. The group’s operating budget has doubled as well. Mayfield attributed the success to solid planning and to rebuilding credible relationships by “doing what you say you will do.”

The group also has continued its work in the rural areas. WNC Alliance formed chapters in both Haywood and Jackson with the principle missions of encouraging residents pushing for steep slope regulations and development ordinance

Also WNC Alliance still conducts public-land advocacy in the national forests and serve as watchdogs of logging.

Mayfield is a big believer in maintaining a razor-like focus, and WNC Alliance works within three main platforms: forest advocacy, water and land use.

“We got very serious about our objectives,” the lawyer-by-training said.

One point that Mayfield took pains to make: work by the WNC Alliance in the outlying areas has not stopped. It’s just less visible than it once was. The alliance still works with the forest service on timber sales across the region.

“People don’t necessarily see that work,” Mayfield said.

These days, staff members handle most of the timber-sale negotiating and work. And over the years, much of the environmental group’s work has in fact transitioned from volunteers to paid employees.

“We’ve moved from volunteer driven to staff driven,” Mayfield said. “But we do have to have local people on the ground.”

In addition to adding staff to the two field offices, Mayfield said WNC Alliance has added a part-time position in communications and plans to move toward permanent staff for its land-use program.

 

High-water marks

• 1982: Formed to fight companies wanting to drill for oil and gas on national forest service lands.

• 1984: Helped defeat proposed nuclear waste dump in Buncombe County.

• 1984 or so: Launched campaign to stop clear cutting in the national forests.

• 1989: Helped develop successful rural recycling programs in Macon, Madison, Jackson and Yancey counties.

• 1990: Led a four-year campaign to stop the city of Asheville from clear cutting in the Asheville Watershed. The city later placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

• 1990: Fought the construction of Interstate 26 through the mountains and helped to create a new state-wide transportation reform group, the North Carolina Alliance for Transportation Reform, that still exists.

• 1994: Claimed victory in its decade-long campaign to stop clear cutting in the national forests when the forest service eliminated clear cutting as a management tool and reduced overall logging levels.

• 1995: Defeated efforts to prospect for copper in the national forests.

• 1996: Worked to expose the devastating impacts of chip mills on forests, leading North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt to initiate a three-year study of the issue.

• 1997: Helped defeat a U.S. Forest Service proposal to build eight miles of roads and sell 480 acres of timber on Bluff Mountain in Madison County.

• 1998: Campaigned to establish the Jocassee Gorges Park in Transylvania County.

• 2001: Launched the first annual Southern Environmental and Energy Expo.

• 2001: Helped form Citizens for the Preservation of Needmore to protect the Needmore Tract in the Little Tennessee River watershed.

• 2001: Organized local citizens to fight construction of the North Shore Road in Swain County into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

• 2002: Led a successful campaign in the North Carolina legislature to pass the Clean Smokestacks Act.

• 2002: Conducted a landmark, systematic survey to discover previously-undocumented old growth on national forest lands to protect the stands from logging.

• 2002: Helped develop Land for Tomorrow, a statewide land conservation funding initiative.

• 2003: Helped establish the Buncombe County land conservation program.

• 2004: Again successfully led citizen opposition to city council’s proposals to log in the Asheville Watershed.

• 2004: Initiated a program to protect native plants from non-native invasive species, with particular attention to the hemlock wooly adelgid.

• 2009: Secured a federal stimulus money contract to put 12 people, including 10 members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to work on a five-year project to control invasive plants along nine miles of the Cheoah River.

• 2009: Launched Blue Ridge Blueprints, a community visioning and land planning program.


‘Renewing Our Roots’ WNC Alliance gathering

The Western North Carolina Alliance will hold a spring gathering April 14 to honor and celebrate the group’s founding in Macon County.

A wildflower hike, birding outing and canoe trip on the Little Tennessee River will be held during the day. A celebration from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. will include a barbecue dinner and live music at the Memorial United Methodist Church where the group’s founder, Esther Cunningham, was a member. There will be a presentation by Mars Hill history professor Kathy Newfont, author of Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina. The book features photos and a few chapters on the alliance’s founding and advocacy in its early days in Macon County.

RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.258.8737.

Did you miss it? Local lost and founds include some odd, poignant items

Courtney Hall pawed through a cardboard box wedged in the corner of the utility closet at Panacea Coffee Shop bearing cut-out letters from a magazine pasted in an artistic rendition of the infamous words: “Lost and Found.” Inside was the usual assortment you might expect: jackets, keys, sunglasses, a kid’s stuffed animal.

“There is always lots of umbrellas, which come in handy to loan customers if they get stuck here in the rain,” said Hall, manager of the Waynesville coffee house and roastery.

One coffee shop in Sylva took the communal lost and found a step further. They displayed their full smorgasbord of lost reading glasses to pinch hit for customers who forgot theirs.

Meanwhile, at the upscale Old Edwards Inn Resort and Spa in Highlands, Julie Sratton scrolled through the pages of a computer database cataloging items left behind by guests.

“From baby blankets to diamond earrings and Rolex watches,” said Stratton, the head of housekeeping.

Stratton keeps the items under lock and key, safeguarding a clearly more luxurious collection — complete with golf shoes and wedding rings — in a dedicated cabinet.

Regardless of the receptacle, lost and founds — millions of them across the country — work to connect people with thousands of their dearly departed items each day.

Humans have been losing stuff as long as they’ve walked the planet. Just ask archaeologists. No sooner had homo sapiens’ precursors begun fashioning tools than they began dropping them about the savannah. The archaeological record is littered with misplaced arrowheads, spear points, bone earrings, and stone pestles long ago separated from their mortar.

“Wherever people are, they can lose stuff,” summed up Florie Takaki, a park ranger at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where several thousand items work their way through the system every year.

The top 10 list of any lost and found tells you a lot about what goes on at the place. Coffee shop? It’s reading glasses. The library? Thumb drives from the computer terminals. An arsenal of lost walking sticks reside in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

At the gym, think water bottles.

“They lose their water bottles 500 times a day,” said Tamara Medford, a receptionist at the Waynesville Recreation Center.

Ingles grocery store racks up a fair number of canes. People loop them over their grocery carts and then drive off without them, said Spencer Richards, co-manager of the Waynesville Ingles.

At Cataloochee Ski Resort, the winner goes to gloves — single gloves, that is.

“I’ve got a slew of single black gloves — not a pair, it’s always one glove,” said Laura Brown, a receptionist at the ski area who’s the keeper of the lost and found. Of course, that’s not all.

“Right now I’ve got one shoe, a couple of jackets, an ungodly amount of keys, goggles, sunglasses. I even have a bullet and flask,” Brown said. “You would be amazed at some of the stuff.”

It’s comforting, if you can get over the innate human tendency to lose things, that society has banded together to reunite people with their copious volumes of lost stuff.

Despite this ingrained societal arrangement to turn in found items to the nearest lost desk near you, some lost-and-found stories are truly exceptional. Take the man who walked into the Waynesville Police Department with a wallet he found on the side of the road. It had $600 in cash, all still there.

“We tried to run after him when we realized it was full of cash so someone could thank him, but he was gone,” Police Chief Bill Hollingsed recalled.

Turns out, the man who lost it set it on the hood of his car in the Walmart parking lot and drove away, the wallet landing a quarter-mile down the road.

Not everything that ends up at the police department has the allure of wads of cash. Try a day planner from six years ago still languishing in the cardboard lost-and-found box kept in a corner of the dispatcher’s office.

“I am sure whoever lost it doesn’t need it now,” said Kristie Holcombe, the records clerk who works the front window of the Waynesville Police Department.

Their top item? Purses — presumably stolen, pilfered through, then ditched out a car window — now missing their wallets and anything of value, save the random collection of chapstick and gum wrappers known to hide in the bottom of women’s purses.

 

Innocence lost

Children excel at losing things. No lost and found is complete without a few toys. Stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, baby teething rings, race cars — and most tragically, at least to the parent trying to put their child to bed the fateful night its absence is discovered — security blankets.

Teens, however, might well lead their younger counterparts. Just ask Laura Brown at Cataloochee Ski Area. The morning after night middle school races, there will undoubtedly be a few left snowboards, a rather large and obvious item that clearly accompanied the teen when arriving at the ski area.

Teens don’t go long without realizing their cell phone is lost, however. Tamara Medford at the Waynesville Recreation Center doesn’t even bother putting them in the lost and found box when they get turned in after a basketball game. She just leaves them laying beside her at the reception desk, knowing a panicked teen cut off from their social sphere will be back within minutes.

Cell phones are a popular item in just about any lost and found.

“I’ve had four people in one day say I’ve lost my iPhone,” said Brown at Cataloochee Ski Area.

The ski patrol is often pressed into service scouring the slopes below the chairlift for dropped cell phones — the result of people texting or taking picture with their phones on the ride up the mountain.

The ski area faces an unusual problem with lost items on the slopes.

“If we are making snow, it gets covered up and gets skied over,” Brown said.

When the mounds of snow melt in the spring, the soggy, bare slopes are strewn with phones, hats, credit cards and keys that escaped from the pockets of skiers’ jackets and bibs.

Of course, the keys do little good at that late date. Someone long since found themselves in a pickle — stranded after a day of skiing with no way to get back home. Family members have to drive in from other states with a spare set, or overnight keys in the mail.

 

Lost in the bureaucratic maze

The nine million visitors who tromp through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park leave so much stuff behind, scattered over the park’s half-million acres, the park has honed an impressive system for matching up lost items to their owner.

If anyone could create a bureaucracy surrounding lost-and-found items, leave it up to the federal government. The park gets several thousand lost or found items in a year, turned in from helter-skelter locations across the park, from backcountry campsites to visitor center bathrooms.

“You can get five or six pairs of reading glasses in an afternoon,” Park Ranger Takaki said.

There are found forms and lost forms that accompany every item, information that gets entered into a database in hopes of matching up the right item with the right owner.

Tourists are often back home before they realize what they left, or at the very least have moved on to the next stop in their vacation before they mount an inquiry to find their lost things. Matching up the correct single earring among dozens that are turned in isn’t always easy when owner can’t come in and offer a visual ID.

Rangers working at various outposts in the park courier lost items back to a warehouse at park headquarters, where they sit waiting to be matched up. Enter more bureaucracy. The rangers shuttling the lost items around the park have to fill out more forms when they take the lost item into their possession and another one when they turn it over to the park’s lost-and-found maestro at the warehouse.

“Chain of command,” Takaki offered.

Some of the things are unique to a national park, left behind by backpackers and brought in days later by other hikers.

“Maps, guide books, pots or pans, things like that you would have in the backcountry,” Takaki said.

But, most of the stuff is just stuff — rings, watches, wallets, cell phones, jackets.

Some items tug on the heartstrings more than others. For Takaki, she still can’t shake a child’s single Oshkosh shoe that turned up one day. It never was claimed.

It’s a reminder that, try as we might, there are millions of once highly-personal things wasting away in boxes and storage lockers in the country’s vast yet imperfect network of lost-and-founds.

And then, there’s those items that just seem to hang on, becoming a fixture of the place where they were left. At Panacea Coffee Shop in Waynesville, a mauve fleece vest had taken up permanent residence behind the coffee counter for weeks before Courtney Hall ferreted out the mysterious loitering jacket.

“We all thought it was each others so we didn’t move it. I kept thinking, ‘Why isn’t Leah taking her fleece home?’” Hall recalled.

One item still hanging on at Panacea is a landscape painting. The local lost-and-found sleuths at the coffee house finally decided it was impulsively purchased at the thrift shop next door and promptly left. It now lives in the attic above the store.

At the Waynesville Recreation Center, the lost and found collects enough gym clothes every few weeks to outfit a whole sports team. They get bagged up and sent to a local charity.

Sweaty gym clothes and wet bathing suits lead to an unfortunate smelly problem. A damp lost and found box would quickly become aromatic, so the staff strung up a makeshift clothesline in the storage closet to hang clothes until they dry out enough to go in the box.

Cataloochee Ski Area has a similar problem. Hats and scarves come in wet from the slopes and start to mildew and stink in short order.

Indeed, lost-and-founds aren’t always glamorous.

At the Waynesville Police Department last week, an officer trying to organize the overflowing lost-and-found box hunted down a pair of plastic gloves before taking on the task.

 

Hidden treasures

There is something satisfying about reuniting people with their precious things. The lost-and-found guru of any establishment, whether it’s the random box behind the counter of a bakery or an inventoried system as comprehensive as the national park’s, has a touching story to share.

Christine Goralczyk was checking in books left in the drop slot at the Waynesville library one day when she discovered a thin silver bookmark left inside a book. It touched her as being important, so she looked up who had the book out and called them.

“She said ‘I am so glad you got that. My mother gave it to me just before she died,’” Goralczyk said.

Residing in the lost-and-found box at the library this week is a leather bookmark so soft and worn that the writing once engraved on it is no longer legible. It’s been there for months, but the librarians can’t bring themselves to discard it.

“You never know what’s important to someone,” Goralczyk said.

There is something uniquely human, part of our shared experience, that makes us willing to lend a helping hand to reunite that lost item to its owner.

Even when it’s a wad of money, $1,000 no less, found on the bathroom floor of Burger King in Waynesville. Police Chief Bill Hollingsed happened to be eating at Burger King in uniform one day when a man walked up to him and handed him the roll of bills.

Hollingsed launched into a little detective work, asking the workers behind the counter if anyone had inquired about losing money. He didn’t say how much, or what denominations, or even where it was found. A man at one of the tables overheard. He reached up and took off his ballcap and realized he’d just lost his emergency money. The man was a tourist and kept the money under the brim of his ballcap when traveling.

Librarians in Waynesville have another feel-good story, that of a lost-and-found middleman. Someone brought in a wad of keys so big it was unclear how anyone could have ever lost them, said Librarian Christine Goralczyk. The keys were found on the courthouse steps, but luckily, the person had their library card on their key ring and the librarians looked the person up.

Tourists and their cameras are constantly parting ways in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“The heartbreaking part of that is it is not the camera but the memory disc inside,” Takaki said. Hundreds of photos spanning the past year of someone’s life may be inside the camera.

Takaki is always hesitant to troll the photos on someone’s camera in hopes of finding identifying information, but on one camera, she found a picture of someone’s airline tickets, apparently a creative effort to document their vacation for a future scrapbook.

Takaki enlarged it to get the names on the tickets, called the airline and was able to contact the family. Turns out, they had taken off on vacation following their kid’s college graduation and were ecstatic to get back the precious graduation pictures.

As the self-described “keeper of the lost and found” at Old Edwards Inn, Stratton has learned one thing well.

“It is not the monetary value of it but the sentimental value,” she said.

Stratton recalled a woman who called devastated over a watch she was certain she’d left behind after a stay.

“She was crying. She had it for 50 years. Her husband gave it to her and she wore it every day,” Stratton said. They tore her room apart and found it under the headboard of the bed. Stratton’s housekeepers now keep flashlights on their room cleaning carts to look under the beds.

One time, a new bride who got married at the inn left her wedding ring in the bottom of a plastic disposable garment bag her wedding dress was carried in.

Stratton logs every item, lost or found, into a searchable database kept on the resort’s server that anyone working the front desk can search.

The likelihood of losing stuff multiples exponentially at hotels. People come with lots of stuff in tow, are packing and unpacking it, and leave a mountain of it in their wake.

“On an average month in the summertime, we can find 200 items,” Stratton said. “A lot of times when people take vacation, I think they leave their brain at home.”

 

Helping families find a link to the past

Stan Smith is an expert at finding lost things — in particular, lost graves.

Smith has inventoried more than 200 cemeteries in Haywood County, some of which are little more than a motley collection of unmarked stones deep in the forest or perched on the hillside above an old farmstead.

His treks have taken him through cow pastures, across hay fields and up steep mountainsides to capture the GPS coordinates of historic family cemeteries before it is too late. In the 1880s, graves were often marked by fieldstones with no engraving to speak of. They have since been knocked over, rolled over, moved around and generally jostled by time.

Smith recalled one family who decided to reset all the fallen stones in their family plot of eight graves.

“If they didn’t get it right it was at least within a few feet,” Smith said. “Another family has taken a different approach. They put a group marker at the entrance to the cemetery site saying who was there. They don’t where the graves are, but they do know they are in this particular area. Also, they just keep them clean.”

Smith specializes in helping people find the old graves of their ancestors. He keeps regular volunteer hours at the genealogy desk of the Waynesville library on Fridays, where his services see an uncanny demand.

Curiosity, plain and simply, is usually the driver.

“They want to know where they are buried to visit the marker and know this is where aunt whatever her name was was buried,” Smith said.

 

Reunion answers questions for mom, daughter

Since she could talk, Whitney Burton knew she was adopted. Her parents were upfront from the beginning, avoiding any kind of earth-shattering revelation down the road that her parents didn’t technically give birth to her.

But she didn’t really realize what that meant until her teen years — that somewhere out there was a biological mother she’d never met.

“When we would go to some really big place like Disney Land or a concert or a baseball game, I remember thinking I wonder if she is here, I wonder what she looks like,” said Burton, 30, who lives in Waynesville.

Still, “it wasn’t really something that played out a whole lot in my day-to-day life,” she said.

Besides, there wasn’t much to do about it. Adoptions in the 1980s were traditionally closed — meaning the parents and birth mother never learn each other’s identity. Even Burton’s original birth certificate had been redacted and replaced with one bearing the names of the parents who adopted her.

“It is a very needle in a haystack situation,” said Burton, an advertising sales representative at The Smoky Mountain News.

But the internet changed that. One night, while cruising the internet her sophomore year in college, she found a web site that keeps a database of biological parents looking for children they had given up for adoption. Armed with only the name of the hospital she was born in and her birth date, Burton gave it a shot and in a heartbeat, there it was. Someone had been looking for a baby girl born that same day in that same hospital.

Her search began as a whim of sorts, but Burton suddenly found herself face to face with the name and address of her birth mother.

“I always thought if I wanted to find her it would take years and a private investigator, not 15 minutes on the internet,” Burton said.

Burton turned to her mother for advice on what to do next.

“She said if you are going to go any further with this, what do you want? What do you want from her?’” Burton recalled her mother asking. “I said I don’t want that feeling of the next time I go somewhere crowded looking around and wondering if she is standing right next to me.”

That, and sheer, inscapable curiosity that is part of the human psyche.

“What does she look like? Is she the same height as me? Do we have the same eyes? I wanted a better picutre of who she was,” Burton said.

Burton mulled it over for several months, and finally decided to write her a letter and included her email address at the bottom. Within days, her biological mother emailed her. They proceeded cautiously, wading into thie uncertain emotional territory in the ultimate lost-and-found quest of a mother who gave her baby girl up for adoption and a curious young woman full of unanswered questions.

If you’re wondering, Burton’s biological mother was young, alone and scared when she got pregnant, and gave Burton up in hopes she’d have a better life.

They spent the next two years occassionally writing and talking on the phone before finally deciding on a face-to-face meeting. Burton boarded a plane to Florida to spend a week with her biological mother, grandparents and a half-sister she’d never met.

These days, Burton gets a birthday card once a year from her biological mother. For now, the two are good with that.

“I think we both got what we needed. She needed to know she didn’t make a mistake, that I had a good life, that I had a good family. I wanted to know a little bit about her so I wasn’t always wondering.”

Crowded field shows no signs of thinning out in GOP race for Congress

Republicans seeking the 11th District congressional seat are trying to find ways before May’s primary to stand out and attract voters amid a crowded field of nine candidates.

Candidates began actively campaign toward the end of last year, traveling from county-to-county speaking and glad-handing.

“I think what you’ve got to do is you got to show up in all 17 counties so much that they don’t know that you aren’t from there,” said conservative candidate Mark Meadows from Cashiers. “You can’t ignore any county.”

Competitors also must line up endorsements from former politicians and notable district residents to distinguish themselves from the main field.

Tea party candidate Dan Eichenbaum has gathered two Tea Party endorsements — one from the Asheville Tea Party Political Action Committee and another from Cherokee County’s Tea Party. Eichenbaum is going into the race with name recognition, after running two years ago and coming in second for the Republican nomination.

However, he hasn’t recieved the support of the Republican Party establishment, at least judging by the three top-picks of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The national party support arm for GOP Congressional candidates has tapped Meadows, Jeff Hunt of Hendersonville and Ethan Wingfield of Asheville as “Young Guns,” marking them as candidates with promise within the party.

Meadows has already received several endorsements — among them perhaps the crowned-jewel endorsement of the race, that of Jeff Miller, last year’s Republican nominee who went up against Shuler and gained wide name recognition. Others include retired state Sen. Jimmy Jacimun and former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin, among others.

While newcomer Ethan Wingfield has not announced any endorsements so far, he has been able to collect an impressive $204,019 from more than 100 contributors despite declaring his candidacy 10 days prior to the deadline for submitting end-of-the-year campaign contribution reports. Wingfield, a young, conservative, Christian businessman and entrepreneur from Buncombe County, could pose a threat, taking precious fundraising dollars away from his competitors.

Meanwhile, candidate Jeff Hunt has argued that he is the “only one who has a record — a consistently conservative record” as a district attorney for 18 years. Similar to Wingfield and Meadows, Hunt has touted himself as the conservative, Christian candidate who will fight for small businesses and cut government regulations that inhibit job growth.

“I think people will need to make a decision on who is the true compassionate conservative candidate,” Meadows said. Meadows is a former restaurant owner in Highlands and is now a real estate developer in Cashiers.

With three likeminded contenders, the primary vote could split two or three ways among mainstream Republicans. That could give Eichenbaum with his Tea Party backers a chance at victory.

During the last primary in 2010, moderate Republican Jeff Miller received 14,059 votes, and Eichenbaum received 11,949 votes — a little more than a 2,000-vote difference. However, Meadows contends that Eichenbaum has lost some of his footing since that race.

“Some of the advantage that Dan Eichenbaum had in the last election he lost because he didn’t support the nominee,” he said.

Meadows said Eichenbaum and Hunt are a concern but that he will campaign to make sure neither receives the majority vote.

“We don’t see Mr. Wingfield as much a competitor as Jeff Hunt or Dr. Dan,” Meadows said. “We have been, and we will continue, to out work them.”

No matter who wins, the Republican Party will need to band together to support and promote their candidate.

The party “will be uniting behind whoever the Republican candidate is after the primary,” said Dave Sawyer, head of the 11th District’s Republican Party, adding that party leaders are already looking toward the fall competition.

“You want to lay as much groundwork as possible,” Sawyer said.

 

Meet the candidates

A Republican congressional candidate forum will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 in Bryson City. The following candidates have committed to coming: Spence Campbell, Dan Eichenbaum, Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows, Vance Patterson and Kenny West.

Prior to the forum, people will have a chance to mingle with the candidates and enjoy refreshments, starting at 6 p.m.

Celebrating our little corner of the world

“[I] discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it ….

— Novelist William Faulkner


What makes a good newspaper? That’s a complicated and subjective question, one that an increasing number of people don’t care much about as they switch to digital sources for their news. But one trait, it seems to me, remains important for news sources no matter whether it’s online or in print: the sense of place.

When you are surrounded by writers, editors, designers and computer geeks — and yes, sales people and administrative types —who like working in a creative and dynamic setting, advice is never in short supply. In an idea business, everyone has plenty to say about what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s good, what’s bad, what needs to happen and how someone else screwed up. The trick is to get good at latching on to those ideas that work and let others fall by the wayside.

My former publisher at The Mountaineer had one of those axioms that I grabbed hold of and still value. He used to tell me that people in this mountain region are fiercely proud of their culture, perhaps more so than in any place he had lived. He said it was the newspaper’s job to reflect and embrace that truth.

I’m paraphrasing, but the challenge went something like this: you should be able to obliterate the name of the paper and the city in which it is published from the masthead, and still know from reading the stories that you are in the Smoky Mountain region. In today’s world, that would also mean you should be able to happen upon our website and have the same thing happen.

That’s more difficult than you might imagine. In covering politics or county board meetings, courts, law enforcement, and education, stories have similar content no matter whether you are in Montana, Maine or Florida. The stories that reflect the history, culture and values of a region are usually more difficult to find and to write. It’s relatively easy to go to a county board meeting and regurgitate what happened, but much more time-consuming and intellectually challenging for reporters to interview a local personality and turn that into a readable story that reflects the sense of place to which I’ve been referring.

It was last week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News that drove this point home. Every now and then you get it right, and even less often do you hit a home run. If there was a press award for capturing a sense of place, last week’s paper would have won first place. Our editors, reporters, designers and everyone else involved in the production of the paper got it right.

Here’s a list of some of the stories that made it into last week’s paper: Caitlin Bowling’s cover story about Bob Plott’s family and the Plott hound breed (the state dog), and the publication of his new book called Colorful Characters of the Smoky Mountains; guest columnist Brent Martin’s opinion piece about bills before Congress that would threaten protection of valuable natural resources; Quintin Ellison’s feature on Anne Lough, a prominent traditional musician who led a shape-note singing program at Lake Junaluska; and another story by Caitlin marking the 10th anniversary of the Balsam Mountain Trust, which puts on educational programs and runs a nature center in the upscale Balsam Mountain Preserve development.

Add to that list of quality stories about the Smoky Mountains the regular, weekly contributions of columnist Quintin Ellison, book reviewer and columnist Gary Carden, naturalist Don Hendershot and Back Then contributor George Ellison.

With the digital age of news upon us, the scope of place that large news outlets cover has never been larger. Newspapers like the N.Y. Times and USA Today, along with national or international websites, are vital to our knowledge and understanding of the world in which we live.

But small, regional outlets like The Smoky Mountain News still take great satisfaction in putting out a product that illuminates that little “postage stamp” that Faulkner so ably describes. And every now and then we do it pretty damn well.

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

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