Andrew Kasper

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fr econsurveyAfter several stumbling blocks, disbanded boards and departed directors, proponents of a Jackson County economic development program hope to soon be back on course.

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fr candidatesNearly 200 people came out for a candidate forum in Jackson County Monday (Oct. 15) to listen to a slate of candidates spar over local, state, federal — and sometimes existential — issues facing Western North Carolinians today.

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The trash keeps piling up, and if Macon County doesn’t do something soon, its landfill could be overflowing.

By conservative estimates, the section of the Macon County dump now in use will be full in less than five years. Each day, about 125 tons of trash from county and town residents are brought to the facility.

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coverHis name is James C. Jacobs. His friends call him J.C., “but not like Penney,” he insists. For more than 55 years, Jacobs has owned a department store in downtown Franklin, its racks and shelves lined with standard housewares and wardrobe staples.

But, like so many Main Street stores in small town America, People’s Department Store will soon fold-up shop.

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fr rescueWhen Rob Kelly climbed behind the wheel of a bus two Saturdays ago for a relatively routine assignment shuttling paddlers up and down the Nantahala River, little did he know he would soon be face to face with death and hold a fellow kayaker’s life in his hands.

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fr issuesDemocratic and Republican candidates squaring off in state races this year offer voters a clear choice on a key philosophical issue gripping North Carolina during the past two years: taxes versus budget cuts.

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fr cullowheeThe vision is grand: a snaking, multi-use recreational path along the shores of the Tuckaseegee River — approximately 20 miles stretching from East Laporte to Whittier — lined with trees, dotted with parks, fishing spots, river access, picnic tables and pedestrian bridges.

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coverAs Don Casada veered off-trail and began bushwhacking his way over fallen logs and through overgrown shrubs along the shore of Lake Fontana, he barely glanced at the trusty GPS unit in his hand.

He’d been this way before, many times, and knew just where he was going. Casada finally stopped at a clearing marked by a looming stone chimney, all that is left of a cabin that early Appalachian settlers had once called home.

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out frGorges State Park born just more than 10 years ago is now finally on its way to becoming one of the premiere parks in the North Carolina system.

The most recent addition — a 7,100-square-foot, eco-built visitor center opening this week — stands as a testament to the potential for the only state park west of Asheville.

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During the month of September, Macon County experienced one of its most notable spates of structure fires.

During a three-week period starting Sept. 7, four large structures succumbed to fire in the county — including the house of Franklin Fire Chief Warren Cabe.

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Some small post offices in Western North Carolina may have their hours cut or be shut down as the U.S. Postal Service continues to hunt for ways to solve its ongoing financial deficit.

Last year, a proposal to close hundreds of post offices across the country was met with a backlash, causing that plan to be largely abandoned. 

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fr immigrationAt first glance, this 14-year-old girl with a soft smile and a round face may seem like the all-American kid.

She’s been in Girl Scouts since the first grade. Her dad works in construction. Currently a high school sophomore, she hopes to work in the medical field some day.

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fr machinegunAs Carol Adams approached the table of automatic rifles, she looked giddily around and picked the fully-automatic Swedish K out of the lineup.

“This is my first time ever firing a gun,” she said as she stepped up to the firing range, fired off a few rounds and then switched over to the Heckler and Koch MP5, the same make of gun that killed Osama Bin Laden. She continued firing through the whole magazine.

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out frThey operate in groups, or sometimes alone, packing duffle bags of the illicit product by foot through the Western North Carolina wilderness as they try their best to evade federal agents.

Once out of the woods, they smuggle their contraband in the trunks of cars, traveling back roads as they move the goods from remote drop points to warehouses where it is then sold and shipped domestically and to countries across the globe.

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fr bearzoosFederal inspectors have upped the ante for a controversial bear zoo on the Cherokee Reservation, this time opening an official complaint against the operation that could face large fines or even be shut down.

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A new taxi service will be coming soon to Sylva.

The Sylva town board last week unanimously approved a taxicab business license for Brian Paquin, who plans to launch 24-hour, seven-day per week service under the name Freedom Taxi.

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fr issuesState lawmakers during the past two years have passed several pieces of legislation centered around the abortion issue — including the attempt to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and a new set of protocols, dubbed the Women’s Right to Know Act, that set ground rules for performing abortions.

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out frThe U.S. Forest Service is proposing a controlled burn in Panthertown Valley, a popular recreation area in Jackson County dissected with hiking and biking trails, abundant waterfalls and camping sites.

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Macon County leaders are at odds with the N.C. Department of Transportation over the placement, or lack thereof, of a stoplight at an intersection near Macon Middle School.

For two years, Macon County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been stationed at the intersection of Wells Grove and Clarks Chapel during peak traffic times when school is in session. Sheriff Robbie Holland said two deputies each day direct traffic in the morning as cars pour into and out of the school’s parking lot.

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It’s a long wait for residents of Nantahala in Macon County when they dial the Sheriff’s Office.

Deputy response time to the small community of Nantahala from the sheriff’s office in Franklin can take up to 30 minutes, which is why Sheriff Robbie Holland wants to expand his force and station someone in Nantahala fulltime, but that too has been a long time coming.

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The redrawing of flood maps for North Carolina has made one of Jackson County’s million-dollar properties a tough sell.

The Jackson County Industrial Park, which was formerly the Drexel furniture factory in Whittier, sits along the Tuckasegee River. But starting in 2010, when the new flood maps were drawn largely based on aerial photography, the property was flagged as being in a floodway — the most severe of floodwater classifications.

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Jackson County officials are mulling over several ways to improve compliance with the county’s ordinances, especially those which are enforced by the Planning Department.

County Attorney Jay Coward said currently the county’s legal language is inconsistent in its book of codes as to whether it can use criminal misdemeanors to charge violators.

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If you want to protest, you have to protest by the rules — that’s the message the Jackson County commissioners are poised to send to unruly social dissidents.

For the first time in Jackson County, the commissioners may pass an ordinance limiting the scope of how groups may protest on county property. County officials are using an ordinance from Catawba County for the basis of drafting their own.

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out frWill it be a bomb, an oil shortage, energy grid damage or an electromagnetic pulse that renders America’s modern modes of transportation useless?

Or will it be the collapse of modern society or simply the collapse of your bank account under the pressure of mounting fuel costs that removes the option of driving a car from the transportation equation?

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Jackson County commissioners voted last week to take out a $10 million loan for the construction of a gymnasium and auditorium at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva.

County commissioners’ unanimous support of the project did not come as a surprise. Last year, they authorized $500,000 for design work on the project, which is now complete.

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Housing developer Scott Austin did a little simple math before deciding to pursue an $8 million dollar project to build two four-story apartment complexes in Cullowhee, right on the front doorstep of Western Carolina University.

He looked at the number of dormitory beds provided by the university for student housing — about 4,000. Then he researched the number of available, quality units in the area around the university and came up with another 1,000.

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fr franklinaptsWhat was once a construction scene characterized by luxury, mountainside housing and second-home developments has a newcomer at the table. The latest construction project in Macon County are not mini-mansions in the highlands but a low-income apartment complex in town.

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out frThe fight for survival is nothing new for high-elevation species in Southern Appalachia.

After the glaciers receded at the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago and temperatures warmed, remnants of a cold-weather forest in southern Appalachia were forced high up the mountain slopes. There, they hung on to small, ever-shrinking islands in the upper reaches of the Smoky Mountains — where the coniferous trees on the high peaks more closely resemble southern Canada than North Carolina.

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fr cemeteryThe dead lay in indiscernible rows beneath the earth, their resting places marked by a jumble of faded and often illegible stone markers — the most distinguishable carrying etched dates and names, but the most nondescript void of any writing and covered in a thin layer of moss.

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fr jaxforeclosuresDelinquent property tax payers beware — Jackson County is coming for you.

For more than a year, county tax collectors, with the help of contracted private attorneys, have been aggressively targeting property owners who owe substantial back taxes — and they are wielding foreclosure as a tool to force payment.

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fr wcupoliceYou probably won’t see them on television with the “Bad Boys” theme song playing in the background, jumping chain link fences or tackling shirtless men in motel parking lots — unless they have to. Rather, a lot of what goes into running Western Carolina University’s police force, one of the most complex law enforcement outfits in the region, happens behind the scenes in the planning room.

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coverThe steep-walled gorge of Nantahala River may be one of the best spots to host a world class, extreme kayak competition — at least that’s what the organizers of the upcoming 2012 International Canoe Federation Freestyle World Cup final are hoping.

The competition, slated for Sep. 7-9 in front of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, will feature over more than freestyle kayaking, squirt-boating and canoeing athletes from more than a dozen countries, including Australia, Costa Rica, Slovakia, Japan and Russia. But the secret to making the river a churning pool of boat acrobatics and assorted water moves is hidden beneath the surface.

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Exurbanites are invading Macon County, and the rest of Appalachia for that matter. Don’t be alarmed, they’re generally docile, but the ramifications of their settlement could mark, and to an extent already have marked, a permanent change in the region’s social, natural and ecology landscape.

The exurbanites — a name coined by former Playboy editor A.C. Spectorsky and used as a title for his book — are a group of people who choose not to settle in the city but rather in the country.

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fr jacksonflagWhen it comes to Southerners, there are a few topics that get their blood pressure elevated — and one of those topics is flags.

They represent everything from historical ties, bloodshed, peace, pride and Nascar. They’re flown everywhere from government buildings to front porches to Wal-Mart.

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Frank King is on a mission to find the perfect meat. King, the owner of King Bio Natural Medicine, holistic pharmaceutical company based in Asheville, is testing and researching different types of animals that will prosper in the Western North Carolina climate while at the same time provide nourishing steaks and burgers.

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out frAs the small, all-terrain vehicle drew near, the buffalo snorted and then lowered its massive head. It shuffled its feet, kicking up red dust into the Western North Carolina wind.

“Don’t worry,” said Mike Ellington, manager of a buffalo ranch in Buncombe County and former rodeo clown. “He’s doesn’t want to fight. But he’s getting ready in case we want to.”

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Barbara Hamilton participated in her first Sylva Town Board meeting last week after being newly appointed to fill the vacated seat of Stacy Knotts, who resigned to move with her husband to South Carolina.

Hamilton was one of three candidates who applied for the vacant seat and was unanimously appointed by other town board members earlier this month.

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fr sweepstakesThe mayor of Sylva, Maurice Moody, was first to receive a violation notice for an allegedly illegal sweepstakes establishment in one of his rental properties along U.S. Highway 441. And Jackson County Commission Chairman Jack Debman may be next.

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fr alcoholIt’s been more than three months since voters in Jackson County approved a countywide alcohol initiative. Yet, except for a few telltale signs, a look around Cullowhee on the doorstep of Western Carolina University wouldn’t lead anyone to believe that much has changed at all.

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out frAs the legend goes, Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike the Appalachian Trail from end-to-end in 1948, used leather footwear without socks. He only sprinkled foot powder in his boots each morning — some say he used sand — to keep them dry and prevent blisters.

The first women to solo-hike the trail in 1955, 69-year-old Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, forewent the boots and sand and opted for Keds tennis shoes and a light knapsack.

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fr candidatesVerbal sparring over key campaign issues in this fall’s state senate race was lively and pointed between N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and former Democratic state Sen. John Snow at an Aug. 9 forum the Macon County League of Women Voters hosted in Franklin.

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