Andrew Kasper

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out frIts bolts are rusting, floor planks are rotting, and its windowpanes shattered. The roof is pocked with holes that let in the rain and snow. Even the some of the guardrails have gone missing from the 60-foot-tall lookout tower — an unnerving thought for any person daring enough to climb it.

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art frHaywood County Rev. Lamont Foster still remembers the day he learned what it meant to be black.

It was the early 1960s; Foster was five years old at the time, living on a military base in North Carolina. His best friend, Timmy, was white.

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out frYou’ve been training for months. You’ve skipped the kids’ piano recitals and parent teacher conferences; you’ve bailed on dinner with the in-laws (several times) and nights out with the friends — all to adhere to your strict training schedule to prepare for the big moment: the big race.

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Swain County’s oversized jail will lose about one-third of its current inmate population and a sizeable revenue stream when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opens a new justice center, complete with its own jail.

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fr margiebradleyMargie Bradley has called a ramshackle shack in the hills of Cullowhee “home” for almost 60 years. The ceilings sag, the floor is made of plywood and the wind enters through the numerous cracks scattered about the windows and walls.

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fr abcwaynesvilleFor liquor stores in Western North Carolina, the combination of Christmas and the New Year makes for the busiest time of the year. But with 1,800 different types of products to choose from — from the old standbys like Jim Beam to the novelty high-end liquors gift wrapped and paired with tumblers — selecting the right booze to stock their limited shelf space can be a science in itself.

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fr silentwalkMost people have heard of a sightseeing tour, perhaps a wine or beer tasting tour, and maybe even the all-encompassing pleasure tour. But Sylva residents got an ear-dose when they followed a musician and sound expert on a not-so-common sound tour around town.

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The economic situation seemed to be looking up in Jackson County: unemployment was on a steady decline; the real estate market was rebounding; and tourists were finding more expendable income to travel.

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fr recyclingSince the town of Sylva’s curbside recycling program was reinstated about five years ago, its participation has stagnated, with the vast majority of residents not partaking.

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Ever wanted a magic button you could press to make the stoplight turn green? Macon County Emergency Medical Services will soon hold that power for one stoplight at an intersection near its ambulance garage in Franklin.

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fr mccoybridgeMacon County residents hoping to save an old metal truss bridge spanning the Little Tennessee River scored a small win, but the victory is bittersweet.

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Sawyer Squeeze Filter — $60

This may be the best, and last water filter, you ever buy. The new filter by Sawyer is guaranteed for up to one million gallons of crystal clear, ready-to-drink H2O. And, there are no obnoxious pump systems, glowing lights or unpleasant tablets characteristic of other purification systems. Just filling up your water bottle, attach the filter, then squeeze — be it directly into your mouth or another container.

The Squeeze also comes with three different sized water pouches that fit on the filter, and you can screw it onto most standard drinking bottles. It’s small, light (about three ounces) and won “Editors Choice” for 2012 Backpacker magazine gear awards.

Opinel Old No. 8 garden knife — $14

It all started in 1890, when 18-year-old Joseph Opinel took the metal scraps from the hatchet factory he worked at in France and crafted them into knives that bore his name. The comfort of the design and beauty of the blade quickly caught on. Today, it’s a household item in France, but it’s also growing in popularity around the world.

Although the manufacturer makes several designs, the classic, wooden-handled garden knife — also good for chopping food and most chores that require a blade — has become a favorite among the employees at Mast. Its highly durable carbon steel blade is easy to sharpen and safely locks either open or closed. It’s perfect for picnicking, camping, gardening or any other activity. If you want the best of both worlds pair it with the Made-In-USA, DMT Mini-Sharp diamond sharpener for $13.

180s ear warmers with headphones — $35

These aren’t your father’s ear muffs. Sleek, low-profile and sporty, the 180s ear warmers — worn behind the head instead of over the top — now come with built in headphones. Whether it’s grandma, who just can’t seem to turn off the Christmas jams, or your teenage son who is looking for a way to tune them out, these ear warmers headphones come in a wide range of colors and styles, such as down or fleece, for men and women. Added perk: they have a microphone for hands-free talking.

Black Diamond Voyager Lantern — $40

This design is so simple; it’s genius. Black Diamond has come out with one the sleekest and most practical flashlight and lantern combinations. If you want a lantern, pull out the clear, telescoping shade to broadly illuminate the cook site or inside of your tent. If you want a flashlight, flip it around and you have a bright beam of light to point at that glowing set of eyes in the woods by your campsite. The flashlight will reach up to 11 feet and burn for 65 hours on its highest setting.

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out frFor outdoors enthusiasts, Christmas brings but fleeting respite from the cold, dark days of winter — with the promise of spring hikes still many months off.

If it’s impossible to bring them to their favorite trailhead or mountain top, the next best thing is to bring the gadgets of the great outdoors to them.

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fr wcuclassesWhile Western Carolina University’s budgets have been shrinking in recent years, its class sizes have been growing.

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fr dentalCiting a statewide shortage of dentists, East Carolina University is opening 10 clinics across North Carolina with the mission of training upper-class dental students as well as providing services to the underserved public.

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out frThe mountains rising above the valleys have long been the main attraction for tourists planning a trip to Western North Carolina, but a regional initiative between local government and private entities is looking to capitalize on the recreational potential riding on the rivers beneath.

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fr nonprofitfundraisingFrom charity golf tournaments to bluegrass concerts to spare change jars, nonprofits lending a helping hand with heating costs for the needy use a variety of means to get people to pitch in for the cause.

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coverIt looked like any wood yard, piles of tree trunks in various stages of processing: long logs still bearing their bark, shorter stacks cut into rounds and neatly split triangles of firewood ready to be shoveled into a piping stove.

But to Richard Reeves, the woodlot at an abandoned factory site in Waynesville, is ground zero in the battle to fight winter’s impending cold.

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out frOutdoors enthusiasts and diehard mountain bikers are waiting in anticipation the winter opening of a seven-mile mountain biking and hiking trail in the Sylva and Cullowhee area.

The trail will be the first of its kind accessible by foot, or bike, from the Western Carolina University campus and is expected to be a vital link in a recreation system that may one day expand to connect county, regional and even state trails.

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Although college for many is an oasis of learning, fun and social interaction, it is also a sprawling crime scene for everything from drug busts to rape. Despite its idyllic mountain setting, Western Carolina University is no exception.

Last month, WCU officials released their annual crime statistics report for 2011. The campus showed noticeable declines compared to 2010 crimes rates, including a drop in the number of reported sex offenses, aggravated assaults and burglaries.

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A group of Western Carolina University students are leading a charge to get N.C. 107 from Cullowhee to Cashiers designated as a scenic byway, but they first must appeal to skeptical county commissioners for their backing.

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Jackson County is crafting a new long-range recreation master plan to set priorities and guide spending for its parks, open spaces and recreation centers during the next five years.

But, the process can be a tug-of-war between residents with varied interests, each advocating for their favorite pastimes — soccer versus softball fields, an indoor swimming pool versus greenways, a skatepark versus tennis courts. It can also be a balancing act for county recreation staff trying to delegate limited resources among competing goals.

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fr blackfridayBefore the gravy had turned cold and the Thanksgiving Day turkey had been packed away in Tupperware, shoppers were already lining up at the Walmart in Waynesville for one of the earliest Black Friday door busters ever — Thursday night.

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“Take me out to the ballgame,” is how the old song goes. But the question for Macon County residents in coming years may be “which one?”, as county commissioners lay plans to purchase an expanse of land that would be big enough for eight new fields fit for America’s favorite pastime.

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The Smoky Mountain Flying Club is trying to get some wind under its wings again with a campaign to attract new members and buy a sporty plane, or two, for its pilots to use collectively.

Instead of the small planes traditionally flown by recreational pilots, the club is moving in the direction of the burgeoning class of light sport aircraft. These lightweight, maneuverable planes require less training and are cheaper to keep up than their larger counterparts.

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fr heartconditionWhen Monica Manrique was four months pregnant with her first child, her feet got so swollen with fluid she took to wearing slippers because her bulging ankles wouldn’t fit into regular shoes.

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out snowblowAs superstorm Sandy hurled itself toward the Northeast, soon to leave a wreckage of flooded streets, sunken boardwalks and dangling electrical lines, the folks at Cataloochee Ski Area were firing up the snow machines — to take advantage of the early, high-elevation flurries brought on by the hurricane.

While most people were still pulling pumpkin seeds out of their jack-o-lanterns on Halloween, Cataloochee Ski Area had already opened, marking one of the earliest opening dates in the hill’s history.

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out frThey stood in a line, trigger fingers poised, eyes fixated on the target.

 It was early morning, and the predawn sun had not yet peaked over the tops of the eastern range. An antlered male elk had his head down, buried in the tall, dew-covered grass, oblivious to the stakeout at the far edge of the meadow.

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In its first year, popular weight-loss competition is bucking the trend of mounting obesity in the United States, especially the South, and giving participants a reason to slim down. But with the holiday gorge-fest on the horizon, participants in the third, and final, weight-loss round of 2012 may have the most difficult row to hoe.

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fr footballAs the Swain County high school football team marches towards another state championship, amid the fanatic cheers of the hometown fans who live to see the hard-hitting Maroon Devil boys take the field, there is another story unfolding.

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fr coweeNow that the children are gone, and art projects sit abandoned next to overturned desks and emptied cupboards, community members have a vision to bring life back into the old Cowee school outside of Franklin. But the community’s path to reclaiming the schoolhouse is facing growing opposition in the Macon County government as to how the initiative should be funded.

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Waynesville Democrat Joe Sam Queen beat out Republican candidate Mike Clampitt by a commanding margin to take an open seat in the N.C. House.

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N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, was defeated after serving a decade in Raleigh.

It was one of the most surprising election results of the night, given Rapp’s popularity, accomplishments and likeability during his long tenure.

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out frIn Cherokee, a dead coyote is worth more than a live one — about $25 more.

In the coming weeks, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department will begin doling out $25 bounties to enrolled tribal members for each coyote they shoot and kill on tribal land. Cherokee hunters can exchange the coyote carcasses for money but get to keep the pelt if they want. The bodies will be incinerated.

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A $12,000 tractor stolen in Macon County and sold as scrap in Georgia for a fraction of the price; rusting automobiles yanked from lawns in the middle of night; copper wiring stripped from construction sites — rising scrap metal prices and subsequent thefts have prompted a new state law to counteract an increasingly attractive black market.

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fr sylvanoiseTwo years ago, Gregg Fuller tried to fill a void in Sylva’s nightlife scene when he opened the No Name Sports Pub, featuring drinks, food and live bands three to four nights a week. But soon, the increasingly boisterous crowds and loud music became a bit too much for the nearby neighbors.

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Despite pleas for leniency, the owner of a Sylva auto dealership faces a $500 fine for failing to build a sidewalk in front of his car lot.

Russ Cagle, owner of Concept Automotive, initially agreed to build the sidewalk last spring but since has attempted to persuade town leaders to allow him to skirt the requirement.

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Plans made in the coming months could set the tone for the following decade or two of construction, renovation and development on Western Carolina University’s campus.

Faculty, staff, administrators and students at the school have been working since September to craft the institution’s next campus master plan — a process that is expected to last about 16 months and create a final product that is a general guideline for all aspects of the university’s infrastructure development.

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out tobaccoThis year, Bill Holbrook will start drawing on the “old man pension” — as this local tobacco farmer likes to refer to Social Security. At 66 years old, Holbrook is one of the older, if not the oldest, tobacco growers left in Haywood County.

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fr lightbulbsA compact fluorescent light bulb uses about 75 percent less energy than the old-fashioned kind and lasts up to 10 times longer. They may cost more upfront, but a net savings of $25 during the life of each bulb has spurred American households to make the switch en masse to the energy-saving bulbs in recent years.

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fr chaskespencerChaske Spencer, more widely known as werewolf Sam Uley from the “Twilight” saga series, drew on his Native American roots during an appearance in Cherokee last week, hoping to transcend his star appeal to bring home a broader message.

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Macon County is poised to begin major renovations to its pool at Veterans Memorial Recreation Park, including extensive upgrades to the locker rooms and the addition of water play features in the kiddy pool.

The $600,000 project will consist of three parts — revamping the pool itself, renovating the pool house and installing a new floor area around the pool.

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The upscale tourism and second-home community of Cashiers hopes to ban sweepstakes parlors, making it one of the first in the region to outright prohibit the pseudo video-gambling businesses that have cropped up in staggering numbers over the past year.

The Cashiers planning council has deemed sweepstakes operations incompatible with the community and have asked Jackson County commissioners to amend Cashiers’ land-use regulations to outlaw sweepstakes. 

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out frA series of close bear encounters in the Pisgah National Forest have prompted a temporary ban on overnight camping in the Shining Rock Wilderness, Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam areas in Haywood County.

The restrictions took effect last Wednesday (Oct. 17), following the most recent, and possibly most frightening, bear encounter two days before when a bear made contact with a tent while campers were inside.

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fr conceptautoA grand goal of bringing sidewalks to the main commercial drag in Sylva has elicited protests from one business owner who claims he’s the victim of costly and unrealistic goals of creating a walkable community along a five-lane highway.

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fr earlyvotingAbsentee voters have been licking their stamps for weeks, and beginning last Thursday, early voters started arriving at polling places across Western North Carolina.

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fr tillisSince the headquarters of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad moved from Dillsboro to Bryson City in 2008, the little picturesque tourist village in Jackson County has been waiting for its gravy train to return.

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fr cullowheeThis November could prove to be the do or die month for the planning effort in Cullowhee when Jackson County commissioners decide whether to give the thumbs up or down on the next pivotal step in Cullowhee’s journey to become an official planning district.

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out frIt was the golden age of camping.

It was absent of Gore-Tex, Smart Wool, Nalgene water bottles or light-weight Titanium cookware. Instead the men and women wore scratchy wool underwear and sharpened their knives around the campfire.

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The ordinance was discussed and drafted; Jackson County’s legal counsel had reviewed it; and it had the stamp of approval from the county manager.

Once it got passed, the county would be able to corral and rein in protestors.

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