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..)

Marking his plot in life: Author shares his love of local lore and mountain heritage

For most boys, Superman and Batman were their heroes; for Bob Plott, his ancestors were super men.

As he grew up in Haywood County, Plott would spend hours listening to his elders tell stories about the old-timers and life in Western North Carolina.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was always interested in history,” Plott said. “These guys were looked upon as celebrities almost.”

His ancestors regaled Plott with tales starring the Plott hound, a hunting dog named after his family, and the lives of frontiersmen who were the first non-natives to inhabit the area. It was the eventful lives of the frontiersmen — his ancestors among them — who traversed unknown lands and created a life in mountains that most intrigued Plott.

His favorite shows were about cowboys and Indians or frontiersmen like Daniel Boone.

“I really wanted to emulate (them),” Plott said.

Plott drew upon his fascination with his heritage and the remarkable adventures of early mountain men and preserved those tales in writing, including in his fourth book Colorful Characters of the Smoky Mountains.

His lifelong interest in history and a push from author George Ellison were the impetus for his foray into writing about five years ago. Ellison is a scholar of Southern Appalachian folklore and natural historian who lives in Bryson City. He is also a columnist for The Smoky Mountain News.

A shared interest in Appalachian folkways had brought Ellison and Plott together, and the friends regularly corresponded through email and went hiking together. During a hike one day, Ellison told Plott that he should write a book.

“George is like a mentor slash father figure to me,” Plott said.

At the time, however, he considered the idea a joke and shot back that he would only do it if Ellison found him a publisher.

Plott didn’t want to self-publish a book. It is “a point of pride” to have a novel printed by a publishing company, he said.

Not too longer after their hiking excursion, Ellison called Plott to say he had located a publisher willing to read Plott’s book proposal. Shocked and having no idea what to write, Plott took Ellison’s advice and wrote about what he knew — the history of the Plott hound. The hound is a particular breed of dog that specializes in bear hunting. North Carolina honored the Plott hound by naming it the official state dog.

Not a month later, Plott had a book contract with History Press in South Carolina.

It took six to eight months to research information for that first book, he said.

“I think research is the most fun,” Plott said.

Luckily, he had a wealth of information at his disposal.

“My family was like pack rats; they didn’t throw anything away,” Plott said.

His extend family had mixed reviews about the novel idea but later hopped on board.

“The Plott family — at first, it was about a 50-50 split. (Then) I think maybe they saw how sincere I was,” Plott said.

Once he finished writing, Plott once again asked for Ellison’s aid. This time, he needed another set of eyes critiquing his work.

Plott arrived for an editing session with Ellison at 8 a.m. one morning, thinking they would finish by noon and would have time to get lunch or hike together. But, with the exception of a few short breaks, Plott and Ellison reviewed every inch of the manuscript until they finished at 9 p.m. that night.

“I’ve never taken that sort of beating in my life,” said Plott, who was a professional boxer.

The resulting book, Strike & Stay: The Story of the Plott Hound, chronicles the migration of the Plott family and their dogs from Germany to the U.S. and their life in Western North Carolina. Although a main theme of the book and his two subsequent books is hunting, people should not be discouraged from reading them, he said.

People get too caught up in the fact that the book is about hunting, Plott said, but it also focuses on the lives of the people and the troubles they faced while breeding the Plott hound.

Ever since 1750, when his great-great-great-grandfather Johannes Plott migrated to the U.S. from Germany with five of his hunting hounds, Johannes’ descendents have cared for his hounds’ offspring — a torch Bob Plott now carries on himself.

“I’ve been around the dogs and hunted with the dogs,” he said.

Although Plott hounds surrounded him as a child, Plott did not start breeding the namesake dog until after he got married. Previously another family had kept the tradition alive, so Plott did not feel obligated to raise his own pack.

“It’s important, but somebody else is doing it,” Plott said of his mindset at the time.

Plott currently has seven hounds and will keep no more than eight at a time. Anymore than that, the hounds become harder to properly train.

Similar to himself, Plott’s son Jacob has grown up with the hounds.

“He doesn’t care anything about hunting (but) he loves the dogs,” Plott said.


Inspirational mountain men

Plott has now completed four books. His previous books were focused mostly on hunting, but his new book expands more on the lives of Western North Carolina’s most colorful residents, most of whom are dead and whose stories need to be preserved.

“All these stories … I intended to be freestanding,” Plott said. “(But) if you read it from start to finish, there is a progression.”

A big change from his prior books is that Colorful Characters includes two living Haywood County residents — Charles Miller and Earl Lanning. Both men did what they wanted with their lives, Plott said.

For example, when Lanning was 14, he decided he wanted to be a cowboy and hitchhiked to Wyoming. After waiting out a harsh winter in Wyoming and working for a time as a cowboy, Lanning returned to WNC looking for another opportunity.

“These people are so inspirational to me,” Plott said. “They have this passion for life.”

Today, people tell themselves or listen to others tell them that something is impossible.

“If it came in their mind, then they could do it,” he said. “I think that is something we lose sight of sometimes.”

Plott himself is an example of “you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Because of his success as a writer, people often bring him local artifacts or stories, stoking ideas for his future work.

People “come out of the woodwork,” Plott said.

The books and his connection to the Plott hound have also allowed him to branch out into education. Plott brings his hounds into schools as part of a local history lesson and talks about their past and the “the ecological importance of hunting as well as the cultural importance.”

Although he offers programs for all ages, Plott has found schoolchildren to be some of the most entertaining audience members.

“They ask you the greatest questions in the world,” he said.

One girl asked him how puppies are made and another boy continually pitted two dog breeds against each other, asking Plott which he thought would win in a fight.

“The kid goes through 15 different dog breeds,” Plott said in a laughing manner.


Man of many trades

In addition to writing, Plott works in Morrisville, training NASCAR pit crews. Throughout his life he has held a variety of jobs, including running a martial arts school and serving as vice president of several textile companies. He continues to expand his repertoire, adding woodcarver and sketch artist.

“Drawing’s been a God-given talent,” Plott said. “I came from a generation where there was not a lot of value in that.”

The emphasis was more on attending college, getting a degree and earning money to support your family, he said.

“The stuff now is pretty decent,” said Plott of his art, mostly renditions of bears, dogs and people.

Plott currently lives near Hickory but hopes to move back to Haywood County at some point, possibly after his son graduates high school.

Stuck in a rut: Too few jobs coming on line

Similar to other parts of the U.S., counties in Western North Carolina have been plagued with high unemployment rates and little job growth.

“We have a lot still unemployed,” said Vicki Gribble, head of Haywood County’s Employment Security Commission.

There are about 600 people still receiving unemployment checks in Haywood County, and only 29 jobs listed for the county on the state Employment Security Commission’s website. The clearinghouse of jobs is by no means all-inclusive: employers choose whether to post their openings with the agency. But it is a relevant indicator of the sparse job market.

And, the number of people getting unemployment checks does not even factor in the amount of jobless individuals who have maxed out their unemployment benefits.

As of late last week, Macon, Jackson and Swain counties showed similar signs of slow growth. The counties had 26, 29 and 10 full-time job openings listed, respectively.

“This is about average,” said Dale West, manager of the Employment Security Commission in those three counties. Some additional temporary and seasonal positions are advertised in summer and spring though, she said.

The majority open at the moment are for registered nurses, social workers and school jobs.

When people get laid off, West encourages them to be re-trained to do something else.

“Some of their jobs might not come back as they were,” West said.


Employment resources

Each county in North Carolina has an Employment Security Commission, which lists open positions in the county as well as providing employment services. Most of the positions require some specialized training and are in the manufacturing or medical fields. Visit www.ncesc.com, and click on the Individual Services tab to search for jobs in your area or profession.

Desperate for work, WNC residents flock to regional jobs fair

People once again lined up at the Biltmore Square Mall in Asheville last week, but this time they weren't waiting for hours to see Santa Claus. Instead, they were looking for a belated Christmas gift — a job.

The mall was the site of the largest job fair in the mountains, boasting more than 1,200 open positions. About 2,000 people showed up for the event, most of them members of the 10 percent of unemployed residents of North Carolina.

An older gentleman in a grey three-piece suit looked overwhelmed as he surveyed the seemingly never-ending rows of employers and possible employees that filled a vast majority of the mall.

Barbara Darby, who helped run the event put on by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Coalition, said she was not surprised by the turnout.

SEE ALSO: Stuck in a rut: Too few jobs coming on line 

"We are well aware of the large numbers looking for work," said Darby, a member of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.

People traveled from all around Western North Carolina — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Yancey, Madison, Polk — in search of a job or a better opportunity.

"There are really no county lines when it comes to finding jobs," said Mark Clasby, executive director of Haywood County's Economic Development Commission. "People will really commute where the jobs are."

About 15 percent of Haywood County residents travel outside the county to work, Clasby said, and at least 3,000 people commute into Haywood County for work.

The dismal job market has forced some unemployed individuals to move.

During the past year, Tonya Turner, 40, packed up her belongings and moved from Haywood County to a place in Mars Hill with her son. She is looking for "a new start," she said.

Turner has been jobless for a year and has applied for more than 20 jobs during that time. She is looking for a position as a receptionist or in medical billing and has experience as an administrative employee.

The Potential Hires

While many participants put a face and a name on WNC's more than 8 percent unemployment rate, a number of people with current jobs attended the fair looking for better benefits or for a second or third job to help pay their bills. Some proactively applied for positions, knowing they might soon receive a pink slip.

"It's time to find me something better," said Josh Grooms, a 23-year-old Canton resident.

Grooms works for a roofing company in Fletcher, near Asheville, but the benefits do not include health insurance — a costly bill to foot on one's own.

He was hopeful, however, that he would find a new job at the fair.

"They have plenty of decent jobs out here," Grooms said.

There was no age, social class or race that predominated the fair. Quickly glancing around, anyone could spot a teenager or young 20-something as well as people well into their 50s and 60s. The dress code ranged from jeans, T-shirts and boots to suits and ties.

Terry Gant — one of the baseball hat, T-shirt and jeans people — said he was looking for "anything."

The Haywood County resident is a former employee of Volvo Construction Equipment.

The Volvo plant in Asheville closed in March 2010 and shifted its operations to some of the company's other manufacturing facilities around the world.

The move left Gant and 227 other people without jobs. Gant, 46, said he hasn't worked since.

"I am just ready to get back to work," he said.

Gant has not been sitting on the sidelines waiting, however. He went back to community college and will soon have his associate's degree in industrial systems technology. The degree, plus his welding and electrical experience, will make Gant much more marketable and increase his chances of getting a job.

Like Gant, Darren and Melinda Sims, also causalities of the Volvo plant closure, decided to return to school. The out-of-work couple from Fairview won't graduate until next year but knowing the trouble they will likely face, wanted to get a head start on the job search. Darren, 41, wants to finds a job in industrial systems, and Melinda, 40, is looking for an administrative position.

A noble effort

On the outskirts of the melee at the mall were applicants such as Ken Childers from the Whittier area in Jackson County, who was filling out packets and reading information collected along the employment trail.

Childers worked at a steel mill for 27 years before starting his own trucking company in 2005 — just two years before the recession began. He was not able to sustain his business as diesel prices skyrocketed up to $4.75 a gallon in 2007.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit research group, marked the start of the recession as December 2007. And although the group declared the downturn over as of June 2009, the U.S. is still beset with high unemployment rates and fears of a double-dip recession.

"It's tough out there," said Childers, 55. "You almost have to have two jobs today."

Similar to many fair attendees, Childers is looking for anything he can get. He is even willing to move from his family's 100-year-old farm for a job.

Childers was somewhat pessimistic about the prospect of finding something at the fair, saying there's a "lot of people for them to choose from."

The Employers

Many area businesses are wary of the economy and are only adding one or two jobs at a time.

"I think businesses are very cautious," Clasby said. But, "The economy is slowly improving overall."

With such slow growth, the addition of 35 jobs at Sonoco Plastics in Waynesville is considered a boom. In the past, that number would have been considered low.

"That is kind of a big number all of the sudden," Clasby said. "That's not the norm unfortunately."

Sonoco, which makes plastic trays for frozen food dinners, was among the more than 80 employers at the job fair.

"We are excited to be growing," said Vanessa Crouch, human resources manager at the Waynesville plant. "It's an employer's market right now."

Because the country is still experiencing high rates of unemployment and few companies hiring, employers can be more selective with whom they hire.

Sonoco received 175 applications for seven recently filled positions, Crouch said. The company is hiring only a handful of new employees at a time so as not overload itself with trainees, she said.

Among the open positions are supervisory staff, quality technicians, maintenance personnel and packers.

Amidst the many Asheville area employees at the jobs fair was Mission Health, a healthcare provider with centers throughout WNC, including Angel Medical Center in Franklin.

As of the early afternoon, Gloria Perry, a hiring specialist with Mission Health, said "easily 300" people has already visited their table.

"It breaks your heart sometimes," said Perry, whose husband is actually unemployed. "Everybody's so desperate."

As of Monday, the Mission Hospital website listed 197 available full-time and part-time positions at its various facilities in Western North Carolina — a testament to the health care field as one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the economy. The medical group's biggest need is certified nursing assistants, Perry said, later adding that she had met many displaced or soon-to-be-certified nursing assistants at the fair.

October 2011 unemployment rates

Haywood County 8.6 percent

Jackson County 8 percent

Macon County 9.6 percent

Swain County 12 percent

Source: N.C. Employment Security Commission. October is the most recent month for which data is available.

Tom Sawyer’s Tree Farm: A slice of Christmas with your choose-and-cut experience

Christmas tree farming is nothing new in Western North Carolina thanks to the perfect climate, perfect soil and preponderance of mountainsides — terrain that leaves farmers with few options for cultivating crops suited to slopes. Tree farms run the gamut, from a dirt farmer plunking down a half-acre of trees on the hill behind his house to massive wholesale tree dealers with thousands of acres in production.

Tom and Myra Sawyer of the Glenville community in southern Jackson County, however, have taken the traditional WNC Christmas tree farm and turned that concept on its ear. The Sawyers transformed their chose-and-cut tree farm into a little slice of the North Pole, complete with a visiting Santa and a cadre of elves.

In doing so, the couple has tapped into the growing agri-tourism niche. Plus they’ve provided scores of their Glenville and Cashiers neighbors with sorely needed seasonal employment. Up to 50 people work on the farm this time of year — not counting those employed through their wreath-making shop, year-round tree farm operation and the four retail Christmas tree lots they operate in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. It also doesn’t take into account the large number of family members Tom and Myra Sawyer also provide jobs for. Or the burgeoning wedding-destination sideline they’ve recently started.

Tom Sawyer, in a quiet way in a remote section of the region, is putting a whole lot of folks to work.


Elves abound in Glenville

Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Tree Farm & Elf Village is simply not like anything else you find in the region. There are Christmas trees for the choosing, a Christmas-themed shop, rides on horse-drawn wagons, an elf village and a whole lot of “elves.” Thousands of people make the curvy, challenging drive here each season, Sawyer said, from as far away as Atlanta and Upstate South Carolina.

The story, as Tom Sawyer relates it, is that Santa Claus sometime in the 1940s crashed his sleigh in Glenville. The elves opted to stay in this location, hence the elf village that resulted. (It wasn’t clear how this many elves — scores of them, in fact — could have squeezed onto that small sleigh with Santa, but facts shouldn’t stand in the way of a good story.)

There is a small elf chapel, an elf outhouse, an elf naughty-time out-hut and much, much more. Once Sawyer, a former certified public accountant from Florida who started growing trees here in 1982, gets an idea you’d better watch out. Because what he conceptualizes he makes happen.

The youngest child of older parents, Sawyer said that in many ways he grew up more as a little adult than an actual kid.

“I guess I’m now reliving my childhood somehow that I never had,” Sawyer said, gesturing toward the elf village.

From the looks of it, the entire community is doing the same. Take Debra Adams, dressed in her elf costume greeting people as they arrive at the farm. Adams’ two nieces also work at Sawyer’s Christmas extravaganza, one doing face painting, the other storytelling.

Adams is a professional photographer who made the move here from Mississippi to be with her sister and nieces.

“I came up, and decided to move the business here,” Adams said. “In the meantime, this is really helping pay for Christmas. (The Sawyers) have really helped with jobs in this area during these slow periods.”

That makes Sawyer very happy.

“We’ve been able to put a lot of people to work,” Sawyer said. “It’s pretty amazing. Especially in this recession, it brings tears to your eyes the people who call and need jobs  — there’s just no economy here this time of year.”

Until recently, Sawyer kept a herd of reindeer on the farm. For a variety of natural reasons, he said, the herd dwindled out. Sawyer wants to restart the reindeer portion of his business, but a state quarantine on importing the animal has prevented that from happening to date.

Reindeer didn’t just attract additional visitors. A few years ago, Sawyer took a cell call from his daughter, who reported a really huge animal was hanging out on the 80-acre farm. It turned out that one of the reintroduced elk from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had made its way from Cataloochee Valley in Haywood County all the way to Glenville. Apparently missing the camaraderie of fellow hoofed beasts during its wanderings, it took up residence with Sawyer’s reindeer.

Rangers came, and with some difficulty, captured the elk and took it back home.

Visitors, particularly the youngest ones but adults, too, seem to enjoy this not-like-any-other Christmas tree farm.

“It’s very nice,” said Michael Atkins, who was at the Sawyers’ farm on Saturday picking out a Christmas tree with his wife, Suitlana. The couple live on Big Ridge in Glenville for eight months of the year, and the rest of the time they stay in sunny Florida.


Getting there

Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Tree Farm and & Elf Village is open through Dec. 24, and is located at 240 Chimney Pond Road in Glenville, off N.C. 107 on the way to Cashiers from Sylva. There are ample signs in the community to help you locate the farm once you get to the area, or call 828.743.5456 or 800.662.7008.

Forum encourages Smokies tourism players to band together for the greater good

Niche marketing and regional cooperation were the reoccurring topics of this year’s Smoky Mountain Host meeting held in Cherokee last week, an annual forum that brings together the major tourism players of the Smoky Mountain region.

“Our greatest customers are our neighbors,” said Mary Jaegar-Gale, general manager of Chimney Rock State Park, during a panel discussion at the stakeholder’s meeting.

Matthew Pegg, head of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, agreed that Western North Carolina businesses should work together to attract people who live in the region to be tourists in their own backyards.

“There are a lot of people here who don’t know what we have,” Pegg said.

Throughout the meeting, David Huskins, the head of Smoky Mountain Host, encouraged those in the room to stop competing against each other for tourists and instead band together to help brand the Smokies region as a destination, in turn benefiting all the tourism in the region. By pooling their money for advertising, tourism attractions can get more bang for their buck, Huskins said.

Several panel participants discussed creating a map of activities or an a-la-carte itinerary that helps visitors pick and choose what they want to see and do.

“It is very important to get information into their hands before they plan their trip,” said Ed Phillips, executive director of the Burke County Tourism Development Authority.

An itinerary or regional events are a couple of ways in which businesses, towns and tourism authorities could work together to appeal to niche markets, including fishing and motorcycling.

Cherokee alone hosts six fishing tournaments. But, a regional fishing tour could keep visitors in the area, spending money at local businesses, for three or four days, Pegg said.

Speaker Berkley Young, a tourism marketing specialist, emphasized that towns should focus on their niche experiences to draw in tourists rather than trying to offer something for everyone.

People need to ditch their “build it and they will come” mentality and focus on unique experiences, said Young, president of Young Strategies, a tourism research and strategic planning firm based in Charlotte.

While “uncertain” has been the buzzword used to describe travel and the economy during the past few years, businesses are expected to see moderate, 1 to 3 percent, growth in 2012, Young said, and people have not stopped traveling or spending.

The need to get away will always trump other considerations, such as the price of gas, he said. People are taking shorter trips, closer to home and are participating in fewer but more engaging activities.

By promoting unique opportunities, regions are more likely to draw in those vacationers.

Businesses must also get back to the basics of hospitality.

The first words out of a hotel employee’s mouth should not be ‘Do you have a reservation,” Young said. A simple ‘Welcome! We’re glad you are here’ can improve the experience of a visitor, who is likely tired and annoyed from traveling, and increase the chance that they will return, he said.

Close encounters of the bear kind

The battle has been an epic one, but Wolfgang Restaurant in Highlands might have finally gotten the best of a bear addicted to a nightly feast of its trash.

The bear had gotten into the unfortunate habit of visiting the restaurant’s trashcans, which were kept in an alley out back, in the wee hours of the morning.

“They would drag the garbage bag across Village Square and there would be piles of garbage and bear poop everywhere,” said Cynthia Strain.

Strain, an expert and leader of a bear education group, suggested ammonia.

“The nights they sprayed their garbage cans and bags with ammonia, they wouldn’t get into it. But the nights they forgot, the bears would get all over it,” Strain said.

That worked for a while, but the bears hankering for trash eventually got he better of them. They overcame their distaste for ammonia and began their nightly trash forays once more.

“They finally worked out a deal where Wolfgang gave the back door key for the town garbage men and would leave the garbage inside the backdoor,” Strain said. The deal was forged just last week, in a win-win deal for everyone, except perhaps the bears.

“The garbage men were happy to do it, because they wound up spending a great deal of time cleaning up the garbage from the street,” Strain said.

While getting into trash is one of the top bear problems faced by mountaintop islands of Highlands and Cashiers, bears have started to find their way into people’s homes.

“If they smell food they will come right in the screen door of the house,” Strain said.

“One fellow had a bear rip his screen door off three times trying to get to the bird seed on his porch,” Strain said.

Strain realized that conflicts between bears and people, particularly in the Highlands and Cashiers area, would only continue to rise — as bears became bolder and people more plentiful.

“Over the years we started hearing more and more and more problems with bears. People just didn’t know what to do. We thought someone needed to step in and educate the public,” Strain said. “There wasn’t anyone in a position to help these people with information and guidance”

So Strain helped start a nonprofit called B.E.A.R., which operates under the WNC Alliance, a regional environmental group and stands for Bear Education and Resources.

“They call and say they are having a lot of problems with bears in their community and want someone to come talk to them and tell them what to do and what not to do,” Strain said. “When bears do things like come in to your house and up on your deck, they are losing their natural fear of people. It is a lot easier to prevent problems than solve problems.”

Inadvertent carelessness, such as leaving out birdseed and dog food, is the biggest challenge Strain is trying to combat. But sadly, she has heard stories of people making and feeding the bears peanut butter sandwiches and coaxing them into yards.

Two groups in the Highlands-Cashiers area are working to teach residents there — and across WNC — how to better co-exist with black bears. Bear encounters are particularly frequent on the plateau area of southern Jackson and southeastern Macon counties where the two communities are situated.

Feeding bears is the biggest mistake a person can make, said Strain. Bears that lose their fear of humans to the point of showing aggression often get put down.

“It’s a bad year for bears, but that doesn’t mean you should feed them,” she said. “Because then you create serious problems that could end up causing the death of the bear. Once bears become accustomed to food, they associate humans with food — and lose their fear. And the more conditioned they get, the more aggressive they become.”

John Edwards, the founder of Mountain Wildlife Days and who lives in Sapphire Valley Resort, helps represent the interests of black bear enthusiasts. This is done with the help of the Bear Smart Initiative sponsored by the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance, Wild South and other experts.

“There is pretty much a constant bear issue here,” Edwards said of Sapphire and that community. Like Strain, Edwards warned against feeding bears.

“That can create a problem in a hurry,” Edwards said. “If one person throws food off a deck to a wild animal, they come back.”

Strain has heard a few stories of people being swatted by bears.

A man in Highlands walked out of his house at night and nearly stumbled into a bear.

“He turned and ran, and it triggered an instinct in the bear to chase him. He was running up the stairs of his house and the bear swatted at his leg and scratched his leg before he got inside, so those things will happen,” Strain said.

In a similar story, a lady flipped on her outside lights to see why her dog was barking. She saw a bear cub in her yard and stepped outside for a closer look.

“What she didn’t realize is she just stepped out in between the cub and its mother. That’s something you never want to do,” Strain said. “The mother swatted at the woman and scratched her.”

Stories such as these have led to a fear by some to go out in their yard at night.

“I would not be afraid, but I know how to read a bear’s behavior. The only time to be afraid is if you startle a bear — if they don’t hear, smell or see you coming,” Strain said.

How to act during a bear encounter is another of the bear topics Strain and her group cover during their talks and programs. Chiefly, speak to the bear gently, don’t make eye contact and back away slowly. Don’t, under any circumstances, run.

“If they do charge you, it is a bluff charge,” Strain said.


A mother bear’s finely honed biological clock

Bears have to pack on serious pounds in the fall — three to four pounds a day, or about 25,000 calories — in order to make it through hibernation.

It’s especially critical for the females. They give birth while hibernating and sustain their cubs in their den until spring arrives.

Baby cubs are born in January weighing less than a pound. Essentially born premature, the cubs latch on to their mothers and nurse around the clock for the rest of winter. The mother converts her vast fat stores to milk, producing up to 50 pounds of milk despite taking in no food or calories herself. Cubs weigh eight pounds by the time they emerge from the den in April.

A mother bear calibrates the number of cubs she has based on how well she can nourish them. While bears mate in June, development of the embryo is delayed until fall. A bundle of fertilized eggs simply sits in the mother’s uterus, waiting to see how much weight she’ll gain during the pre-hibernation feeding frenzy. When — and if — she hits the target weight gain, the bundle of eggs pops open and implants in the uterus.

Last year was a great year for acorns, bear’s chief food source, resulting in more cubs than normal. The large number of cubs born in spring has made matters even worse during the acorn and food shortage this fall.

Forget the birdfeeders and dog bowls, this bear went straight for the kitchen cupboard

Steve Hewitt of the Villages of Plott Creek in Haywood County already has a pretty good idea about the concept of live and let live when it comes to bears.

There have been a number of bear sightings in his community, and one very close sighting indeed for he and his wife. About two weeks ago, at about 4 or 5 p.m., his wife thought she saw the couple’s black dog walking around outside the house.

It wasn’t — it was a bear and her cubs, “and they weren’t concerned” at all about human interest in their movements, Hewitt said.

The couple doesn’t keep bird feeders in the yard, though a neighbor had bird feeders torn down by bears. Hewitt also isn’t terribly worried about his dog tangling with a bear.

“He’s not a real courageous dog,” he explained. Hewitt believes people just need to live with the reality of bears, and leave them alone to go about their bear business.

Along with many other subdivisions and residential areas in Western North Carolina, the Villages of Plott Creek has sent out warnings to residents about the increase in bear activity.

Last week, in a newsletter, it was noted: “There have been several black bear sightings within and around the Villages of Plott Creek in the past four months. We are sending this notice to inform all residents to use caution with your children, pets, bird feeders and other food items in yards, walking and driving in the Villages. To date, none of the sightings have shown aggression other than damaging bird feeders and searching for natural food in yards.”

Bear sightings and bear visits are also taking place, of course, in other communities. Ray Daniel, who lives in the Cashiers community on Breedlove Road with his wife, Janet, has replaced three window screens torn out by bears.

The bears have actually made their way into the couple’s house on at least two occasions. Three or four weeks ago, the Daniels awoke to discover a bear had ripped through a screen and gotten in the kitchen — forensic proof, in the form of a perfect imprint of a bear paw, was discovered on a stainless-steel kitchen appliance.

The bear apparently ate chocolate chips, crackers and cookies, plus peaches and bananas.

“It didn’t like the oatmeal — the bear left that,” Daniel said, adding that peach pits and banana peels were left on the porch. Not long after that particular break-in, a bear got into the couple’s basement where trashcans were stored. Trash was strewn over the yard.

A helpful friend told the couple that they understood bears dislike the smell of Clorox. And, in fact, after Daniel scrubbed out the trashcans with the cleaner, the bears haven’t been back. But they’ve been seen around the community by neighbors, leaving the Daniels to keep a wary eye out for their unwelcome breakfast guests.

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