Holly Kays

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fr librarieswFor most people, the word “jail” stirs up mental images of vertical bars and stark concrete walls, not of rows of books or orange-clad inmates studiously reading them. But bars have, for the most part, turned to Plexiglas and metal doors, and thanks to the collaborative research of librarians and criminal justice faculty at Western Carolina University, an initiative to expand book collections in Western North Carolina jails is gathering steam. 

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fr deerFrom clothing to art to clan names, deer are everywhere in Cherokee culture. But for the past couple of centuries, they’ve been virtually absent from Cherokee land — until now. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is in the initial stages of an effort to reintroduce an important environmental and cultural resource to Western North Carolina. 

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In front of a crowded courtroom Tuesday, the Macon County Board of Elections voted unanimously to dismiss a challenge protesting Commissioner Ron Haven’s legitimacy as a candidate.

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With the bottomed-out real estate market still stagnant, some property owners are having trouble seeing the point of paying property taxes.

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A big one got away in Cherokee earlier this year when the case against a drug dealer was thrown out by a federal judge who found Cherokee police officers had lied in a search warrant.

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After a morning of arguments from both sides of the school voucher debate, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ordered the state to refrain from accepting voucher applications, selecting recipients, awarding money or implementing any other part of its program to provide private school scholarships to low-income students until the full case has been heard.

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out frNot just anybody can keep up with Jim Pader. Last year alone, he hiked 534 miles and has logged 738.4 miles in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 2001. Besides that, he works out for at least one hour per day and attends yoga class religiously. And just six months after completing a record-setting hike up Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States, he’s gearing up for a one-day out-and-back to the Grand Canyon. 

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fr foodGreen space and gardens dominate much of the Western North Carolina landscape, but what determines whether people here actually eat the fruits and veggies that abound? That’s what April Tallant, health professor at WCU, hopes to find out as she crunches the numbers from her latest research project. 

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Electric car owners will soon have the option of charging their vehicles in downtown Waynesville.

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fr policecarsEquipment replacement schedules were some of the first line items on the chopping block for local governments when the economy tanked.

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coverMacon County commissioners decided in a split vote this month to spend $3 million building a tournament-scale baseball and softball recreation complex.

“It’s been two years of pretty steady work, but it’s well worth it,” said Seth Adams, Macon County Parks and Recreation director. “I’m tickled to death that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

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coverTake an evening walk through the woods this time of year, and odds are you’ll hear the grumpy quacking of a male wood frog, showing off for the ladies. The sound promises the return of warm days and growing gardens, even as icy temperatures fill the forecast. 

For Jessica Duke, this harbinger of a new season coincides with the end of an old. The Western Carolina University graduate student is wrapping up a year of study on behalf of local amphibian species like the wood frog, and what she’s found offers encouragement for animals that are up against some hard times.  

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As the State Bureau of Investigations continues to probe embezzlement allegations in Macon County, the county is calling in the experts to help it pinpoint any internal policy failures that may have contributed to the alleged seven-month-long, $50,000 fraud at the Board of Elections. County Manager Derek Roland hopes to bring in State Auditor Beth Wood to examine the county’s paperwork and offer any recommendations for policy changes.  

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Just shy of a decade after county offices moved into a brand-spankin’ new Haywood County Justice Center, Jackson County is considering its own courthouse overhaul — and it’s using the Haywood project as a model. Jackson pulled in Heery International, the same company that designed and built the Haywood courthouse, to do a preliminary needs assessment, and now commissioners are waiting on the results to come back before planning the next step. 

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fr foodcoopA group of Jackson County locavores is hoping to bring the Ramp-Berry Community Market Co-op, a store that will sell all things local, to fruition before the year ends. 

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Sheriff Robert Holland is looking to ramp-up his department’s crackdown on drug dealers in Macon County, requesting that the county commissioners multiply his allocation for undercover drug buys from $1,000 to $20,000 in its upcoming budget. 

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With campaign season barely off the ground, the Jackson County sheriff’s race has already drawn a hefty list of candidates — and of issues.

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fr olsonWhen Becky Olson first began making house calls, she was barely old enough to walk. She spent her childhood following behind her physician father’s coattails when he made house calls and shadowing her mother, a nurse, through various clinics and classrooms. She saw, too, the bounty that poured into their home from patients who just couldn’t pay her father for his services — at least in monetary terms. 

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out fr1For every degree of cold or inconvenience, wintry weather adds two of beauty. Members of Waynesville’s Lens Luggers photography club kept their cameras at the ready as below freezing temperatures and above-normal snowfall transformed Western North Carolina into a winter wonderland. We hope you’ll enjoy some of their favorite images and the stories of how they came to be. 

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County leaders in Western North Carolina breathed a collective sigh of relief after the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law Feb. 7. The bill includes a one-year extension of the PILT program, which stands for payment in lieu of taxes.

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A compromise has been reached between Ghost Town in the Sky and state inspectors over a violation and fine stemming from a staged gunfight at the Maggie Valley amusement park.

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Robert Holland has been pushing to place a resource officer in every school for years — long before the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy catapulted cops in schools to the top of county funding debates, and even before assuming the sheriff’s badge in 2002, when he served as a deputy and juvenile detective.

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fr declinetosignUsually, you’d expect a school system to jump at the chance to give its teachers a raise, but superintendents statewide are now rolling up their sleeves for an unpleasant task: figuring out a process to determine the top 25 percent of teachers in their district and offering those people a pay increase. 

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out frThere’s nothing abnormal about the pair of armchairs in Jim and Baraba Mills’ living room, or about the television — the old tube kind — and wooden entertainment center that they face. Typical, too, is the hodgepodge of DVDs and VHS tapes filling the shelves and the pictures of kids and grandkids covering the top. 

But even a cursory glance reveals Jim’s true passion. A trio of mounted trout — one rainbow and two brown — hang on the wall above the TV, and a fly-tying station crammed with every color and weight of thread imaginable stands in front of the ceiling-high shelf filled with old glass medicine bottles from Jim’s days as a pharmacist with the U.S. Public Health Service. Fly rods, either sheathed in protective cardboard tubes or laying out to dry on a jerry-rigged rack of cardboard boxes, fill every corner of the room, and a stool sits in front of the pair of thread spools that Jim is using to create the wrappings on his most recent angling project. It’s more than a living room: it’s a fly rod shop of the most unique variety. 

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A plan to turn the old state prison campus in Hazelwood into an epicenter for changing lives is moving forward fast. 

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fr electionsAfter discovering $50,000 worth of unauthorized checks had disappeared from its budget and placing director Kim Bishop on paid investigatory leave, the Macon County Board of Elections is now trying to regain its footing.

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Three weeks after the State Bureau of Investigation launched a probe into possible embezzlement at the Macon County Board of Elections, county leaders are still sifting through the paperwork to figure out just where it all went wrong.

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fr footballSwain County students may have been cheering when the high school football team’s trip to the state semifinals meant everyone got out early that day, but not all parents felt the same way. Elizabeth Wilmot, a Bryson City resident with two children who attend elementary school, was angry when she received an automated call from the school system on Tuesday, Dec. 3, informing her that school would be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. that Friday, Dec. 6. 

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Waynesville residents will soon be reaping the benefits of an information technology makeover at town hall. While town employees will be happy to see the last of the decades-old computers some of them have been using, residents will notice an increase in the forms, calendars and updates posted on the town’s website. 

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fr greenwayWaynesville will soon have a new section of walking path along Richland Creek and, if all goes as planned, public access to a 15-acre wooded area adjoining the trail. 

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By Holly Kays & Becky Johnson • Staff writers

An embezzlement investigation at the Macon County Board of Elections locked down the office for nearly a week between Jan. 17 and Jan. 23, but business is far from returning to usual. 

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coverIt’s been six months since the N.C. General Assembly passed a budget earmarking $10 million for school vouchers to low-income students, but the issue is just heating up in Western North Carolina. On Jan. 9, Macon County became the first school district in the four-county region to add its name to a lawsuit decrying the program as unconstitutional, but they’re not the only ones talking about it. 

In a unanimous vote at the Jan. 28 school board meeting, Jackson County also added its name to the litigation, and Haywood County discussed the issue at its Jan. 13 meeting when chairman Chuck Francis made an impassioned request that the board vote to join the lawsuit. However, the vote died on the floor without a motion to carry it forward. Swain County’s school board has not discussed the issue, and its next meeting is not until Feb. 10.  

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out frFrom the oil fields of North Dakota to the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, the U.S. oil and gas industry is booming in a way that few would have predicted 20 years ago.

Energy extraction is now possible — and financially viable — in regions it wasn’t before. Energy deposits, primarily of gas, that were once too hard or expensive to tap are being opened up with the combined technology of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, called fracking.

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art frNearly 30 years after Bill Eleazer put the finishing touches on “Chasing Tadpoles,” a multi-piece bronze sculpture of three children playing in a pond, the former Tuscola High School art teacher’s work has come home to Waynesville. The only question is, where in town should it go? 

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fr jaxTDAAfter a split vote that followed nearly an hour of discussion, the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority hired three different marketing companies for a five-month period ending when the new fiscal year begins in June. 

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fr soccerJacob Flannick & Holly Kays • Correspondent/Staff writer

When Scott Cline graduated from Swain High School in the mid-1990s, the community had barely begun talking about forming a school soccer team. And while the sport is gaining popularity in Swain County, football is still the highest platform available to student athletes.

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out frEvergreen Packaging’s Canton paper mill will be writing some big checks over the coming years as it moves to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency rule 10 years in the making.

It’s been more than a decade since the EPA first proposed stricter limits for toxic pollutant emissions from boilers, but once it released the final regulation in December 2012, companies nationwide began gearing up for the expensive upgrades necessary to comply. Evergreen is among them.

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Nearly six months after a staged gunfight left a Ghost Town gunfighter injured, the incident is still not resolved. 

Ghost Town amusement park in Maggie Valley was issued a $2,000 citation last month by the N.C. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division for violations stemming from the injury.

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coverBy 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 2, the sky had long gone dark and rain was turning to snow. It was the perfect night to watch a football game. But Steve Kloster had barely gotten past the kickoff of the Sugar Bowl showdown between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners before a phone call tore him away from cheering for the Southeastern Conference powerhouse. Chief Ranger Clayton Jordan was on the line, calling the Tennessee District Ranger for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into an even higher-stakes contest. 

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Canton residents will have the chance to weigh in on the town board’s yearlong search for a town manager at a public forum scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Colonial Theatre.

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Jackson County’s new volunteer policy, enacted in November, is taking a bite out of the Meals on Wheels volunteer force. 

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fr PILTFrom Clingmans Dome to Juneywank Falls to the winding Blue Ridge Parkway, Swain County is rich in natural beauty. But all that public land can make the budget tight for county government, which depends on property tax for much of its revenue.  

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