Holly Kays

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This spring, the eastern United States will play host to one of nature’s great marvels — periodical cicadas, mysterious insects that live underground either 13 or 17 years before emerging for a few short weeks of furious mating closely followed by mass death. 

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As a respiratory therapist, Bruce Moyle is trained to deliver breathing therapies to people who struggle to draw oxygen. As a respiratory therapy instructor at Southwestern Community College, he’s trained to deliver the next generation of healthcare workers to a region that struggles to hire enough of them. 

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Vaccination numbers have nearly doubled in the four-county area of Haywood, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties over past month and case numbers are way down, but with Easter weekend and spring break trips on the horizon, public health officials are urging the public to continue taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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A pair of public hearings slated for April 1 will determine the fate of two proposed apartment developments in Sylva. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ new sports betting venue is now open following a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Thursday, March 18 — just in time for March Madness. 

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National Park Service officials are seeking help from the public in identifying a suspect believed to be connected to a recent armed robbery on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Anyone 18 or older can now schedule a vaccine appointment with the Jackson County Department of Public Health, regardless of group. The clinic at Western Carolina University will open appointments to all groups starting Thursday, April 1. 

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A Georgia resident suspected of supplying illegal drugs to the local community was arrested last week after a Sylva Police Department officer stopped his vehicle for traffic violations.

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ new sports betting venue is set to open following a ribbon-cutting ceremony tomorrow at 10 a.m., just in time for March Madness.

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When spring sprung in 2020, so did the Coronavirus Pandemic, forcing farmers to make life-altering decisions in the face of an unknown future. A recently published survey  of Southern Appalachian farmers shows that those decisions built a reality that was better than anticipated but still full of challenges. 

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When life as we knew it slammed to a sudden stop in mid-March of 2020, the novel coronavirus from Wuhan hadn’t yet infected a single resident of Western North Carolina, but with the virus continually expanding its territory  since the United States’ first confirmed case on Jan. 21, 2020, it seemed only a matter of time. 

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When meetings moved to Zoom and schools shut down last March, Zach Sorrells kept on reporting to work. As a maintenance worker with the Town of Sylva, he’s responsible for jobs that simply must get done, pandemic or no — like trash collection, for instance.

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For Malcom Skinner, the pandemic was not a pause, but rather a call to action. 

“I’ve been trained up to this moment,” he said. 

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In the pre-pandemic world, life was a constant swirl of activity for Lynn Jones and her husband. 

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Katlin Roberts was making coronavirus contingency plans before most people in the United States had even really heard of COVID-19. By February, she’d grown concerned enough to walk into her principal’s office and ask what would happen if the disease spread to Cherokee. They’d take precautions, she was told, but certainly wouldn’t send students home. 

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Invasive zebra mussels have been found in commercially available aquatic moss balls in North Carolina, and consumers who have purchased any such balls in the past month are urged to properly destroy them and clean their aquariums.

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Western Carolina University is planning for a fall semester that will be “close to normal,” given current COVID-19 trends and projections.

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Growing up in eastern Kentucky, Frances Figart loved any chance to glimpse the diverse wildlife species roaming those Appalachian foothills — except when the sightings occurred after the creatures had become roadkill, something that occurred all too frequently. She felt their deaths keenly. 

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In a normal year, this would be the week that parents hoping to get their kids a coveted place in the enormously popular Base Camp Waynesville Summer Camp series would rush to the Waynesville Recreation Center as registration opened, hoping to snag one of the soon-to-vanish spots. 

For more than a decade, groups serving Jackson County’s homeless population have done so on a shoestring and a thin supply of hotel rooms, but the nonprofit currently providing homeless services says the time has come for a dedicated shelter facility. 

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Macon County became the first county in The Smoky Mountain News’ four-county coverage area to break the 20 percent mark on first doses, with the 7,759 people receiving first doses there as of March 8 equivalent to 21.64 percent of the county’s estimated population. 

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Despite the dire predictions of spring 2020, Jackson County’s budget prognosis for the 2021-2022 fiscal year is looking downright positive, commissioners learned during a Feb. 23 budget retreat. 

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Despite the pandemic — or perhaps because of it — Western North Carolina was home to two of the nation’s three most visited National Park Service units in 2020.

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A group of Western North Carolina mountain biking enthusiasts has unveiled plans to bring the highest-elevation mountain bike trail on the East Coast to Jackson County, and after receiving a thumbs up from leaders in Cherokee and Sylva last month they’ll start seeking grants to make it a reality. 

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Coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations are falling sharply around the region as vaccine coverage improves, providing a longed-for surge of optimism on the way out of a deadly and depressing winter season. 

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A plan that will guide the county’s economic development strategy for the next five years received unanimous support Feb. 16 from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

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A Jackson County man who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $95,000 from an enterprise of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will spend 18 months in prison and pay nearly $200,000 in restitution, according to a sentence U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger handed down Feb. 18. 

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The first trails at Canton’s Chestnut Mountain Park will be ready to ride before the leaves drop this fall thanks to an overwhelmingly successful fundraising effort from Asheville YouTuber Seth Alvo. 

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When it was first scheduled, the Feb. 22 meeting of the Cashiers Area Community Planning Council was expected to be a full day of tedious testimony and detailed cross examination as the body conducted a quasi-judicial hearing to determine the fate of a massive development proposed for Cashiers. 

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Widespread winter storms last week drastically slowed down vaccination efforts in Jackson County, which still has the lowest percentage of its population vaccinated of the four counties in The Smoky Mountain News’ coverage area. 

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The world watched with bated breath Jan. 6 as what is normally a perfunctory proceeding — the Senatorial certification of Electoral College results — turned violent. At the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., then-President Donald Trump was whipping attendees into a frenzy of anger over what he continues to claim was a stolen election, and as he spoke the roiling crowd made its raucous way to the U.S. Capitol a couple miles away.

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Jackson County will close its phone-based vaccine appointment registration system on Friday, Feb. 26, as the county prepares to offer the vaccine to additional groups.

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Western Carolina University is one of four University of North Carolina System campuses that has opened or will soon open a community clinic for COVID-19 vaccines.

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Ron Davis Sr. was just 17 years old when he arrived in the tiny town of Clyde, completely alone. 

It was 1967, and Davis, a Black man from Knoxville, was there to start the new forestry program at Haywood Technical Institute, now known as Haywood Community College. He worked out a boarding agreement with the only Black person who lived within walking distance of the school, then located in the building that today contains Central Haywood High School, and nervously reported for his first day of class. 

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Vaccination coverage is picking up in Western North Carolina, with the percentage of the population receiving at least one dose now in the double digits for every far western county. 

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The Great Backyard Bird Count will return this year, with experienced and novice birders alike encouraged to spend at least 15 minutes birdwatching between Feb. 12 and Feb. 15.

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As a college student in the 1990s, Callie Moore would frequently find herself driving along the Pigeon River on Interstate 40 as she traveled between school in Cullowhee and home in Tennessee. She remembers that dirty water well. 

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On Jan. 20, President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring coronavirus prevention protocols — including mask-wearing — on all federal lands and buildings. Now, management teams at National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service lands are deciding how to implement the new requirement locally. 

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Every year, Sylva’s department heads have a chance to tell town commissioners what they need — and what they want — in the next year’s budget. During a Jan. 28 work session, Police Chief Chris Hatton kept his list short and to the point. 

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Jackson County is still lagging behind surrounding counties when it comes to the percentage of its population that’s received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but it will have the chance to catch up after the health department received an allotment of 1,200 first doses this week — quadruple the number provided last week. 

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Following an 80-minute closed session discussion, Tribal Council voted 9-3 last week to override Principal Chief Richard Sneed’s veto of an ordinance the body passed Jan. 14 changing how contracts for Legislative Branch functions are executed. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is moving toward construction of an indoor baseball and softball facility following a Feb. 4 vote from Tribal Council. 

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Face masks are now required at all National Park Service buildings and facilities as a result of President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing issued Jan. 20.

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The sky shone an unbroken blue and afternoon sunshine cast sparkles on the lazy Pigeon River as a group of volunteers gathered in the mud-caked parking lot of Rivers Edge Park in Clyde Jan. 29. 

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Adam Griffith, director of the Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources Program at the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, holding a piece of dried river cane in his hand. 

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The number of Haywood County residents receiving a first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine jumped by 45 percent between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, but vaccinations increased much more slowly over the same period in other mountain counties. 

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After nearly eight hours of discussion and testimony on Monday, Jan. 25, the first day of the quasi-judicial hearing that will determine the fate of a massive development proposed for Cashiers ended with developer Stephen Macauley asking the Cashiers Area Community Planning Council to make its decision based on an entirely different plan than the one he submitted last fall. 

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Cashiers will get a dog park following the Jackson County Commissioners’ unanimous vote Jan. 26 to approve a contract with Vision Cashiers allowing the park to be built between the two baseball fields on the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department Complex off Frank Allen Road. 

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Greg Shuping was 19 years old when he launched his emergency services career in his native Burke County. The son of a volunteer firefighter, Shuping had spent most of his life hanging around the firehouse, at least when he wasn’t busy exploring nearby Linville Gorge. 

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New mobile freezers capable of capable of safely storing and transporting COVID-19 vaccine vials will soon arrive at all 15 research institutions within the UNC System, including Western Carolina University.

WCU is also one of three UNC institutions — along with N.C. A&T State and UNC Pembroke — that will provide a public clinic for COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Staff at Jackson County Public Schools looking forward to COVID-19 vaccination got a welcome surprise last week when an impromptu clinic on Jan. 22 vaccinated 313 people who work for the school system. 

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