Holly Kays

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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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The Catawba Nation of South Carolina cleared an important hurdle in its quest to open a casino in Kings Mountain when Gov. Roy Cooper signed off Jan. 22 on a gaming compact that will allow the tribe to offer live table gaming and sports betting on the 16.57-acre property just outside Charlotte. 

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Jackson County Commissioners unanimously passed a policy change last week that makes it clear that sitting commissioners are expected to show up at board meetings. 

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A new vaccine pre-registration process is in effect at the Jackson County Department of Public Health, which is currently vaccinating Group 1 and 2 — healthcare workers and those 65 and older.

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More than three years after the cold February day when 26 FBI agents descended on the Qualla Housing Authority building in Cherokee, the U.S. Department of Justice informed the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that its investigation yielded “no prosecutable cases,” and that the tribe can have the seized files back.

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Jackson County commissioners approved five pieces of legislation during their regular meeting Jan. 19 that will allow work to begin on the indoor pool project voters approved in a Nov. 4 referendum vote. 

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The 3.5-mile hike to the top of Pinnacle Rock is a heart-pumping one, the old logging roads that now serve as hiking trails climbing 2,200 feet before leaving the hiker breathless before a sweeping aerial view of the Town of Sylva, cradled on all sides by forested mountain slopes.

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As the afternoon sun sank in the wintry sky Jan. 15, a line of first responders stretched 50-deep outside the front door of the Cullowhee Recreation Center, each person waiting their turn to participate in the first mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic to take place in Jackson County. 

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A $250 million deal between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Caesars Entertainment will go forward after Tribal Council voted Jan. 14 to deny a protest challenging the deal’s legality. 

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The N.C. Division of Health and Human Services modified its guidelines for vaccine distribution today, and Jackson County has modified its guidelines to match the states.

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A trio of resolutions seeking to put three alcohol-related referendum questions before Cherokee voters this year was withdrawn in Tribal Council Jan. 14 but will likely reappear on the agenda this spring. 

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Jackson County hopes to vaccinate 200 first responders and front-line emergency services staff with the first in a series of two COVID-19 vaccination shots during a clinic slated for 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15, at the Jackson County Recreation Center in Cullowhee.

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Appalachian Trail thru-hiker season was already in full swing when coronavirus fears prompted widespread lockdowns in March, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was swift to react. 

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With the first full semester of pandemic instruction now in the books, preliminary numbers at Western Carolina University show dips in fall-to-spring retention and student grades compared to previous years. 

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With the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ first public discussion about changing the county’s namesake scheduled for Jan. 12, the third of Jackson’s four municipalities has approved a resolution asking commissioners to make the change. 

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Two years after tribal members voted down a similar referendum, the Tribal Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is seeking to place a trio of questions aimed at legalizing off-casino alcohol sales on an upcoming ballot.

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A group of 14 tribal members that includes two sitting Tribal Council members and a former principal chief has entered a resolution aiming to reverse a Dec. 17 vote to purchase the gaming operation at Caesars Southern Indiana Casino for $250 million. 

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The COVID-19 death count in Jackson County nearly doubled over the holiday season, increasing from 10 as of Nov. 25 to 18 as of Jan. 4. One of the lives lost was that of 66-year-old Darrell Woodard, a fixture in the community who led the Savannah Fire Department as chief for 36 years. 

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There’s been a lot of focus lately on all the ways that the last 12 months have been hard and frightening and challenging, but believe it or not, 2020 has had its share of bright spots, too. Here are 10 of the most inspiring, beautiful and joy-filled moments from this year’s outdoors news. 

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Ceasars Entertainment and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians today released a formal announcement regarding the sale of operations at Caesars Southern Indiana in Elizabeth, Indiana.

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Maranda Bradley knows exactly what her 2015 self would say if she knew what the 2020 version was up to now. 

“‘You’re crazy. You’re in a wheelchair. You can’t even hold your bowels.’ That’s what I would say at this point,” said Bradley.

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When the Cherokee Tribal Council waded through its final hours of discussion — and, ultimately, a vote — on the $280 million decision to move forward with the Indiana casino purchase, few tribal members saw them do it. 

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