Colby Dunn

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In the current political debate, the word ‘debt’ has become ubiquitous. Cherokee is no exception, where discussion of the debt of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — and how, precisely, to dispose of it — has dominated the election season since it began this spring.

With one month to go until the election for chief, vice chief and tribal council, voters are standing up at every public forum to ask questions about the debt while candidates are touting their plans to eradicate it.

Meanwhile, the finance department for the tribe has gone on a massive public information campaign: opening a forum on the tribe’s website, starting a hotline where people can e-mail questions and get an answer back from a finance officer and leafleting the reservation with brochures entitled things like “A Closer Look at Tribal Debt.”

One question seems to underlie the whole discussion: how much, exactly, is the debt?

Answers from different sources have been many and varied, and depend very much on where you stand politically. The incumbent chief and vice chief claim the tribe’s debt is manageable. The challengers claim it has ballooned out of control.

It’s often said that numbers don’t lie, and with tribal debt, these are the raw numbers as of June 30, the end of the last fiscal year.

The tribal government has two debts it’s paying off directly: $57.2 million is still owed on the $107 million school complex and $10.8 million is still owed on the Sequoyah National Golf Club.

There’s also an $8.9 million series of loan guarantees that the tribe backs for the Cherokee Historical Association’s line of credit, the Tribal Bingo Enterprise and Balsam West, a broadband enterprise the tribe has a stake in.

If you take the position of the tribe’s finance department and Principal Chief Michell Hicks, that’s all the debt the tribe has — $76.9 million.

But then, of course, there’s the casino debt.

The casino is undergoing a massive expansion project, for which the tribe’s casino enterprise has secured a $650 million line of credit. So far, the enterprise has tapped $494.3 million of it.

Deputy Financial Officer Kim Peone expects that not all of it will be spent when the expansion is complete, and she doesn’t consider that tribal debt at all.

The casino is an entity of the tribe, but is run by a separate group called the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise. The gaming enterprise, not the tribe itself, is responsible for the casino’s half billion in debt.

But here’s where politics comes into play. The current administration running for re-election is adamant that tribal debt shouldn’t include casino loans.

And it’s true that, if the casino defaulted, the bank wouldn’t come looking for the tribal government’s assets.

“We’re not ignoring the impact that a default would have on this tribal government and the services that we provide to this community,” said Peone. “But the casino debt is not guaranteed by the tribe, it’s guaranteed by TCGE.”

From that perspective, there’s $76.9 million in debt. Meanwhile, the tribe’s designated account it makes debt payments from has just over $134 million in it.

Simple math tells you that the tribe could pay the debt off today, but according to Peone, choose not to because that money is earning more interest than the debt is costing.

“Currently, the interest rate on that loan is less than the funds that we’ve invested in,” said Peone. “From year-to-date, that fund has earned 4.5 percent as opposed to 2 percent in a loan.”

On the current schedule, she plans to have both the school and golf course loans paid in full by 2014.


Casino debt part of bigger picture

But opponents say you can’t remove the tribe from the casino; they’re inextricably linked.

For starters, profits from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino accounts for roughly 90 percent of the tribe’s operating budget. If more of those profits were diverted to making debt payments, the tribe’s budget for providing services to enrolled members — such as schools and medical care — would be impacted.  

Patrick Lambert, a challenger for the position of principal chief, said he thinks it’s impossible to separate casino debt from the tribe.

“It’s all tribal debt,” said Lambert, pointing out that the tribe’s operating budget would plummet precipitously were anything to happen to the casino debt.

This is Lambert’s second time going for the chief’s seat, and though he lost by a slim margin in the 2007 election, he defeated Hicks in the July primary. He is a lawyer for the Tribal Gaming Commission.

Lambert said he is concerned, too, about just where the tribe is investing its money to get such good returns, asking if such investments are too risky.

“I think it’s pretty clear on debt. I come from a background of small business, and so I understand about debt and borrowing and those type of issues,” said Lambert. “Debt is a necessity, but it’s also something you can’t let get out of control. We need to control the spending so we can start applying more of the revenues we do have to overall debt.’

Right now, said Peone, the tribe puts 8 percent of every dollar it spends to paying off its non-casino debts.

The casino pays $20 million a year on its debt, plus more on interest.

Both principal chief candidates have promised to pay down the debt if they are elected, though that could be plus or minus a few hundred million depending on what you consider “the debt.”

The current administration is out to prove that the tribe is on sound financial footing, especially compared to other municipal governments.

The opposition is calling for a check on spending and reigning in the debt.

And when voters visit the polls September 1, it may be the best numbers that win.


Counties with jail beds to spare will soon be able to make a little cash housing state prison inmates.

Under a new program introduced by the N.C. General Assembly earlier this year, minor criminals with short sentences won’t be housed in state prisons anymore. The new measure will mean more heads in local jails and, for some counties, a little more money in local funds, too.

Currently, county jails hold inmates charged with a crime and awaiting trial. Once sentenced, they are shipped off to state prison, unless their sentence is less than 90 days, in which case they serve the short time in the jail.

But starting next year, county jails could end up housing inmates with sentences up to 180 days who would have otherwise ended up in the state system. It will only apply to prisoners convicted of misdemeanors; felons will still go into the state system.

Essentially, it’s a logistical move, said Eddie Caldwell, vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association. They’re the group that’s going to manage the project.

“The legislature believes that there is available capacity in the county jails, but we’ve never had a mechanism to match up the heads with the beds that are available,” said Caldwell.

The program is completely voluntary. Local sheriffs don’t have to take on the prisoners if they don’t want to.

But for those who do have extra room, they’ll get paid to house these prisoners that would have otherwise ended up in the state’s prisons. How much counties would get is not yet known, according to Keith Acree, public affairs director for the department of corrections.

“The payment structure has yet to be determined, whether it’s a flat rate or something else,” said Acree. But, he said, what is certain is that on January 1, the department of corrections will get out of the business of housing misdemeanor criminals.

It’s welcome news for some counties that have new or unfilled jails where empty beds are eating up money.

“If you’ve got a county that has beds sitting vacant, there’s a certain amount of cost built into that bed anyway, so the cost putting an inmate in there is incremental,” said Caldwell. “We think that those sheriffs who have vacant beds would be glad.”

Especially if it means they can make a little money to cover their jail overhead.

Originally, state lawmakers wanted to save money by dumping the misdemeanor criminals on counties without compensating them, an idea bandied about for several years, said Caldwell. Several other states already do it.

But clearly the state’s sheriffs didn’t like the idea unless it came with money to cover the inmates room and board.

In the current scenario, the state is still projected to save a bit of money. They’re closing four small, minimum-security prisons, including the Haywood Correctional Facility, which will cut some costs.

And the state will increase court costs starting this month to cover the cost of housing prisoners.

Statewide, the changes should affect between 5,000 and 6,000 inmates, said Caldwell. It’s hard to really pin down an exact annual number of those that could land in county jails — those with sentences between 90 and 180 days with misdemeanor crimes.

On one day in March when he took a tally, there were 1,700 inmates who fit the bill, and he figures that’s about average.

In Haywood County, there were 14 inmates convicted in 2010 who match the criteria. Jackson County had four, Macon County had eight and Swain County only two for that year.

So, on the surface, it doesn’t seem such a big deal for smaller, rural counties.

But in Wake County, the state’s most populous, there were 296 convictions in 2010 that would have to be housed locally somewhere under the new rules. And portioning those out could be a boon to empty jails.

Eventually, Caldwell sees this program giving counties an incentive to build bigger jails than they may need, theoretically paid for by prisoners other places didn’t want.

Currently, the N.C. Sheriff’s Association is figuring out how many beds there are in facilities around the state, then contracts will be signed before the program goes into effect at the beginning of next year.


Western North Carolina is losing one of its strongest municipal work forces. And a quick look at their record of projects shows that, in towns and counties around the region, they will be sorely missed.

But this loss isn’t exactly the result of layoffs or furloughs. It’s what will happen when the Haywood Correctional Center closes at the end of this year, and its 125 inmates — who serve as a nearly free labor force for the region — are shipped off to larger prisons in the state system.

It’s been a good ride while it lasted for communities benefiting from the prison work crews.

They’ve painted public pools in Haywood and Jackson counties, pulled weeds from the dam at the Waynesville watershed, assembled playgrounds, painted schools, done landscaping on municipal buildings, cleaned up the grounds of state parks, assembled school equipment. One crew built an entire boat ramp by hand on Lake Fontana. They shoveled snow from sidewalks in downtown Waynesville one particularly rough winter.

“At one time we had three crews,” said Donnie Watkins, the prison’s superintendent.

SEE ALSO: A new life in the cards for Haywood's prison?

And that’s just in the community work program, which offered up inmates to local governments, schools and the like to add free manpower to a whole range of projects.

Inmates also staff litter pickup crews, and assist the N.C. Department of Transportation with projects on almost a daily basis. This week inmates labored along the roadsides in a Maggie Valley subdivision, repairing old landslide damage.

In the transportation department program alone, inmates logged 122,656 hours between 2006 and the end of July. Worked out to minimum wage, that’s $889,256 of work that’s been almost donated to communities from the state line all the way to Buncombe County. The cost of inmate labor is 70 cents per person each day. It’s a service, said Watkins, that will be noticeable when it’s gone.

The state-run prison is being shuttered, along with three other small-scale minimum security prisons, to save money. It’s cheaper for the state to run fewer big prisons rather than more smaller ones. But the cost to the local community will be immense.

The community work program has been in business for eight-and-a-half years, and tracking the exact projects inmates have helped with over that time is a little difficult. There are so many that to go through the whole record would probably be a box or two of papers to sift through.

But sitting around in the prison’s front office one Thursday afternoon, a gathered group of officers are able to rattle off a laundry list of maintenance and beautification projects, from the offbeat to the mundane.

Haywood Correctional has, until now, supplied more man hours for community projects than any other prison in the region by far. Part of that is because it’s a minimum security place, so by definition, a good deal more of the inmates are eligible to work in the community with less intense supervision.

Plus, say the officers, they’re pretty hard workers. A common problem with the program was recipients of the inmates’ help overestimating how long a project would take. Sometimes, said one officer, you’d take out an eight-man crew and they’d finish the work scheduled for a week in one day.

That kind of efficiency — and the unbeatable price — will be noticeable in its absence in places like Waynesville.

“There’s no question it will definitely leave a dent in the town’s workforce,” said Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway. “We’ve depended on the inmate crews. I‘ve been here 17 years, and we’ve used work crews to do that work continually almost during that time.”

The place where their efforts will be most noticeably missed, said Galloway, is in litter pickup. Crews pick up trash all over the city, and there won’t be anyone left to do it when they’re gone.

“We certainly don’t have the money to hire people,” said Galloway. “We’ve been dropping jobs the last several years, most of which have been in public works, so we don’t have the work force to do that kind of work. Unless it’s volunteers, it’s probably not going to get done unless we put different priorities in our work and not do something else to pick up litter.”

The litter pickup is where prison staff foresee the most impact, too. As one officer noted, the counties will be filthy come January 1. The litter crews pick up trash from Canton to Murphy, and local dumpsters are quite a bit fuller thanks to their efforts.

On one recent trip down the stretch of N.C. 107 that runs in front of Western Carolina University, inmate crews collected 181 bags of trash, and it had only been a few weeks since their last pass over the road.


Loss of jobs

Of course it’s not just local governments that are losing in the prison’s closure. The entire prison workforce — 42 employees — will be out of a job when the place is shut down by the end of the year.

They can apply for other jobs within the N.C. Department of Corrections, but most would have to leave the area if offered a position, and there just aren’t that many jobs to give in the department, said Keith Acree, public affairs director for the department of corrections.

“There is a reduction in force process that we will try to place people in other agencies, but we’re kind of limited in that part of the state,” said Acree.

The inmates themselves will be scattered across the rest of the state’s prisons, housed wherever there’s a bed in the right kind of facility.

That, said Watkins, is likely to put a strain on a lot of the local inmates who have family visitors or are allowed out occasionally on home leave.

SEE ALSO: State prisons, county jails play musical chairs with inmates

“They’ll be housed from Buncombe County, across the state, still in minimum custody,” said Watkins. “They’ll be housed much further east, which will put a burden on family members. You’re going to have a lot of families out here who are not going to be able to see their family members who are incarcerated.”

For the facility itself, its fate still stands undecided.

The state has the option to repurpose it, or it could be declared surplus property and sold or leased to someone else.

That’s an option that Haywood County commissioners are keeping their eye on, considering the possibility of leasing it from the state should the department of corrections offer it up.

If the state decides it doesn’t need the prison, said Acree, priority will be given to anyone who wants to continue using the place for criminal justice purposes.

And until the doors officially close in coming months, inmates will still go out on work detail nearly every day, giving the region a few more months of clean streets before the workforce is gone for good.


When you think chess club, the quintessential picture that comes to mind probably doesn’t include a cowboy or a retired mill worker. The image of high school über-nerds or brilliant eccentrics like Bobby Fisher or Gary Kasparov dominate the vision of chess in popular culture.

But Bruce Goodwin says that’s not the chess he knows, and he should know. He plays twice a week with the Smoky Mountain Chess Club, a group that meets both in Waynesville and Sylva and draws members from as far away as Bryson City.

Goodwin is the group’s leader and today, he’s sitting in front of an oversize wooden chess set in Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, reenacting the moves from a master match played in the ‘30s with fellow member Bob Hollingworth.

Goodwin is the retired mill worker, while Bob is what you might call the cowboy. A ring on every finger, a straw cowboy hat and a T-shirt that reads: “life is like a chess match, many challenges and choices and without a queen the king will likely fail.”

That, says Hollingworth, sipping from a coffee cup emblazoned with “Dixie Chess Confederacy”, is the true genius of chess — it’s universality.

“The beauty of chess is you can be young, you can be old, you can be disabled. It’s something anybody can do, you’re not restricted,” says Hollingworth. “No matter how good or bad you are, there’s always somebody who’s on your level or close to it.”

Their group meets biweekly, on Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. in the Jackson County Senior Center in Sylva.

Because of the meeting times, Goodwin says the group draws mostly retirees, though from many different backgrounds.

But the tournaments are a different story.

The Smoky Mountain Chess Club is what’s called an affiliated club, which means they’re connected to the North Carolina Chess Association and they hold sanctioned, nationally rated tournaments. In the world of competitive chess, players are ranked according to their successes in sanctioned tournaments, and Goodwin’s group is the only one offering them west of Asheville.

They have one scheduled for Saturday, August 13, at the Jackson County Library in Sylva.

The tournaments usually have two components: the free event, where anyone can come and play against others without charge, and the rated tournament, which has a fee but also offers a prize and the chance to enter the chess tournament scene or better your rankings.

At the tournaments, says Goodwin, is where you really see the diversity of chess aficionados.

“We get all ages,” says Goodwin. “We have strangers that we’ve never seen before who show up. We will have kids, and you know, the gamut. I mean, that’s part of the fun of it is who will show up.”

Kids, he says, are actually surprisingly good at tournament chess. Goodwin used to teach a class exclusively for children, and he tells the story of one particularly successful 12-year-old who told him she kept with the game because it was her chance to beat the grownups.

In that sense, too, say Goodwin and Hollingworth, the stereotype that chess is only for geniuses or the sole preserve of highly mathematical minds is also false. Anyone, from kids to retirees, can play and succeed, even without the analytical skills to think 10 moves out.

“That’s a common misconception,” says Goodwin. “People think chess players think way ahead, and the truth is that it’s about three moves maximum, usually just one or two moves ahead. A really strong chess player looks at the position of what’s going on on the battlefield and you just try to improve your position and look for weaknesses in the opponent’s camp.”

The real reward, he says, from novice to grand master, is the constant challenge the game presents.

“Chess is hard work, it is not something for a lazy person. It’s mental work, but it’s hard work and it takes discipline and patience to be a really champion chess player. But if you do that and work harder than your opponent, then you get rewarded,” he says. “You can’t hardly sleep at night you’re so proud of yourself.”

And anyone, he says, is always welcome to visit the club at their weekly locales. They’ll even teach you for free, but they’ll give you fair warning — you might just get hooked.


Open chess tournament

What: A tournament open to anyone who wants to play, followed by a rated event, which will be a warm-up and training for the N.C. Open in Charlotte over Labor Day Weekend.

When: Saturday, August 13

Where: Jackson County Library

How Much: Free

What else: Spectators are welcome. Games begin at 9 a.m. and participants are asked to let the club know in advance if they will be attending. Registration will begin at 8 a.m.

828.648.5739 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Seventy kilos is a lot of weight to hold on your head. It’s about 150 pounds. That’s like carrying a welterweight boxer balanced atop your skull. Or a gargantuan African drum.

It’s no mean feat, but Patrick Muvunyi, Bienvenu Katungeko and their fellow performers have been doing it with smiles on for the last week on stages across Western North Carolina.

They’re from Burundi, a speck of a country in east central Africa, and they’re here for Folkmoot, the international music and dance festival hosted annually in Haywood County.

Muvunyi and Katungeko are dancers and singers, but mainly they’re drummers. They brought with them from Burundi half a dozen massive, handmade drums that vibrate floors and can be heard three blocks away.

With them are 18 other performers — dancers and musicians — and though their performance is an impressive accomplishment, the hoops they jumped through to get here are equally notable.

For the Burundians, the process started more than a year ago, when an invitation from Folkmoot arrived.

They live in the capital city, Bujumbura, of a country of roughly 10 million. There are 60 members in the group, ranging in age from young teenagers into the 30s and beyond.

And when they decided they wanted to take Folkmoot up on its offer, then the long and arduous visa and fundraising process began.

Groups that perform at the festival are given room, board and transportation once they arrive in America. But getting here is entirely up to them. And for many groups, those costs can run into the tens of thousands, according to Folkmoot Executive Director Karen Babcock.

The costs aren’t the only hurdles facing potential performers. They’ve also got to run the visa gauntlet with the Department of Homeland Security. That can take months, and in the end, not every group is allowed to make the trip.

For the Burundians, the tickets were more than $2,000 each. And how did they raise the funds?

“It was very expensive,” said Katungeko. “Every week, we go to play at ceremonies, like weddings and official ceremonies.”

And for each ceremony, each wedding where they heralded the happy couple’s arrival, a fee went into the group’s bank account. And if you play for enough weddings, enough ceremonies, eventually you can pay your way to America.

Of the 60 members of their group, only 20 are represented this year at Folkmoot. They had planned to bring 29, but two couldn’t come because of sickness.

The other seven didn’t make it through the visa process, which, said Muvunyi, took quite a long time indeed, including interviews at the U.S. Embassy and proof that the festival really wanted them to come.

They traveled further than any group to get to Folkmoot this year — more than 7,500 miles — and they are one of the few African groups to make an appearance over the last several years.

Like many who come to the festival, their music and dance are professional quality, but they do it because they love it.

Muvunyi and Katungeko are both university students, studying business management and public health, respectively.

Katungeko started with the group 12 years ago, when he was 16. He was busy with school and soccer, but some friends in his neighborhood were in this traditional drum group, so he thought he’d give it a try.

Twelve years later, he’s still drumming with the troupe.

In addition to the financial burden and long visa process, performing at Folkmoot takes a great deal of time and preparation.

These drummers and dancers practice three times a week to stay on their game, which is a pretty taxing proposition given the extreme strength it takes to play such large drums for 20 and 30 minutes at a stretch.

“We have to eat a lot,” jokes Muvunyi, laying into a late-night meal after a long day of practice and performances.

In Burundi, the drum has a revered place in history and society. And for a country that was tormented by colonization and unrest throughout the 20th century, keeping the drumming tradition alive is an important part of preserving and propagating their ancient culture and heritage.

Though this is their first time in the States, the group has before ventured out to share their unique musical style on other continents.

In 2006, some members went to Canada to perform, and they’ve traveled through Western Europe with drums in tow.

So although getting here isn’t a cheap or simple proposition, Katungeko said they’d happily find a way to return if Folkmoot ever wanted them back.

They love playing, and so far, they said, whatever they paid to play here has been a worthwhile investment they’d happily repeat.


In the tradition of good old American music, it’s not usually women you’ll find manning the drums. Dozens of bands are known for their legendary drummers — The Rolling Stones, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, KISS — and none of them are women.

But in the tradition of ancient Mediterranean music, women dominated the percussive world with the frame drum, a handheld drum that is one of the oldest on earth.

And today, women are taking back the drumsticks, in both antique and modern ways.

Layne Redmond has been bringing a feminine perspective to drumming since the 80s. That’s when she was an artist living in Manhattan and saw the flyer: “Afro-Cuban drum class.”

OK, she thought. I’ll try that.

But really, that’s not the entire story, just the second act. The first started years earlier, with 14-year-old Redmond posted up in front of her TV.

“I saw Karen Carpenter playing the drum set on TV and I was very inspired,” she said. “My mom said ‘Oh, honey, the drums are for boys. Stick with your tap dance lessons.’”

So she did. Which, she concedes, is very good rhythmic training for a future percussionist. But the drumbeat never truly left her mind, and that Manhattan class not only rekindled her love of drumming, it launched her career.

She has since recorded albums, made instructional videos and traveled the world teaching and performing. She will be leading a frame drumming retreat from Aug. 3 to 7 at Lake Junaluska.

She’s also written a book, When The Drummers Were Women, which chronicles the long and storied history of female frame drumming.

“It was 15 years of research,” Redmond said of the book, which she published in the mid-90s. And in the intervening years, the frame drum has seen a renaissance, and so has the tradition of women playing it.

“It’s still harder for women, but yes, it’s really changed,” said Redmond. Part of that, she said, is the willingness of teachers to allow girls a place at the drums, which didn’t often happen in the past.

And now, with the advent of the Internet, anyone can learn the skills it takes to be a drummer, picking up skills and techniques from videos and seminars all over the web and combining them into their own, unique style.

This online cross-pollination has led Redmond into a world of players and percussive styles that, before, just wasn’t possible.

“There’s a sort of huge fusion of techniques going on throughout the Middle East. The last time I was in Egypt, I met a bunch of tambourine players who knew me through the [online instructional] videos,” said Redmond. “We are constantly sharing videos and information about the tradition. I’m so excited about what’s happened to me through Facebook and being able to see them playing in their homes and in their backyards.”

And thanks to online venues such as YouTube, women in countries like Iran, who are not allowed to play in public, can share their skills and live their musical lives in the vibrant online community.

Outside of traditional frame drumming, women are slowly breaking into percussion, as well.

In the rock arena, there’s a magazine that’s devoted solely to female drummers called TomTom.

Orchestral percussion has seen an influx of women as well, who, like Redmond, are now members and presenters at the prestigious Percussive Arts Society.

At her retreats and workshops, Redmond sees men and women from all corners of society, including women into their 80s who weren’t allowed to drum in school but are now committed to the practice.

And she’s as excited about the future of the frame drum as she is about its past. From Moses’ sister Miriam and Egyptian priestesses drumming praise to their goddesses to therapists and mothers and pastors today, the allure of the drum is still very much alive and growing.

At one time, said Redmond, there were five professional frame drummers in the U.S.

“And now there are so many professional frame drummers, I don’t even know them all anymore,” and as long as the music is still alive and evolving, she doesn’t mind that at all.


Frame Drum Intensive Training Retreat

Who: Layne Redmond and Tommy Be

When: Aug. 3-7

Where: Lake Junaluska

How much: $350 (does not include room and board)

More Info: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Maggie Valley took a leap of faith this year with its inaugural Red, White and Boom festival. It was a four-day, July 4th spectacular the town hoped would raise its profile with tourists and tempt locals to venture into Maggie.

Although the take was not quite what was expected and some town reactions are mixed, Festival Director Audrey Hager said she was pleased with the overall outcome of the event.

“In our opinion, it was a big success. We actually were not concerned so much about the money, it was the investment by the town of Maggie Valley in the community,” Hager said of the festival, which featured 14 amusement rides, musical acts and food vendors.

The town spent just over $89,000 and took in about $47,000, leaving town tax payers to subsidize nearly half of the cost. Hager, however, said that the money was a worthwhile investment, bringing people to the town and laying the foundation for making Maggie Valley an annual Independence Day destination.

“With first year events, you build them,” said Hager. “Our whole goal is to build this for the community and make this a signature event so that people think, ‘On Fourth of July, we go to Maggie.’”

Part of the lower revenue, said Hager, was because of a rained-out Monday, and another portion she ascribed to the economy.

“We did not make our projected numbers on the unlimited wrist bands,” she said. The wrist bands gave patrons unlimited access to the fair rides. “With the economy the way it is, this is a really soft market from a pricing standpoint.”

And after losing $13,000 on the Americana Roots and Beer festival earlier this year, Hager decided to adjust the prices for the July event, hoping to entice more families working with limited budgets.

Hager said she’s had some good feedback from the business community, praising the festival for bringing them more tourist business and drawing locals who would have otherwise ventured elsewhere in search of July Fourth festivities.

“Oh, it was fabulous, it was wonderful,” said Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House and long-time fixture in the Maggie Valley business community. “The whole area was filled and my customers were thrilled. I’ve talked to a lot of the local hoteliers and they were packed.”

Not everyone in town, however, was as glowing about the event’s outcome.

“We had a booth down there at the festival and we definitely didn’t do what we thought we would do,” said Erin Mahoney, owner of J. Arthur’s Restaurant on Soco Road in Maggie Valley. “It was a four-day festival and we had a good maybe three hours that we were very busy and the rest of the time it was just dead.”

It was the first time they had fielded a booth at any festival, and Mahoney’s guess is that the event was just too long. There weren’t quite enough people to fill four full days.

Alderman Phil Aldridge, who has been openly skeptical of the money spent on the festivals, is still undecided on his stance on the event’s outcome.

“I’ve still got reservations about it, whether or not it put any heads in beds,” said Aldridge. “Every Fourth of July has always filled this valley up. I don’t think the carnival had anything to do with it.”

Hager said she’s planning a workshop where the community can offer their opinions about the festival — what they liked, what they hated and how to make it better next year.

But, she said, they drew in festival-goers from outer markets such as Atlanta and Columbia, which she sees as an indication that they did something right, even if it cost some taxpayer dollars.

“The money stays here in Maggie Valley, those tax dollars stayed here in Maggie. We never anticipated making money,” said Hager. “Our whole goal is to ultimately break even. It has a big value for the town if we can grow year over year.”

This week, town leaders will hold workshop to consider a request from the organizer of a WWE wrestling event for $15,000 in town and community donations in order to bring a large wrestling event to the festival grounds in September.


Since 1917, the Red Cross has flown its archetypal white flag in Haywood County. In the 94 years that have since passed, the charity’s presence in the county has been steadily dwindling. First, the Waynesville chapter disappeared. Then the Canton chapter fell by the wayside.

The weight fell on what became the Haywood County chapter of the Red Cross, but now that last holdout is looking at closing its doors as well.

“Our chapter has been struggling financially for several years,” said Kim Czaja, the chapter’s financial director, who will be out of a job in September.

They’ve made some pretty hefty strides in the last few years — cutting the yearly debt from $28,000 down to just around $2,000 — but it just wasn’t enough.

Really, though, said Czaja, what’s happening to Haywood is just a snapshot of a very turbulent climate in the Red Cross around the country.

Chapters in Cincinnati are merging to save money, Buffalo is slashing 50 jobs in their blood division and the agency said it’s cutting administrative jobs, consolidating things like payroll and accounting, which are currently done by each chapter.

“There are layoffs going on throughout the Red Cross as a whole,” said Czaja. “It’s just a change right now, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s like any change, it can be painful but it is a very good thing because it’s definitely going to make the Red Cross stronger.”

Some of the services the local chapter offers will also go through an evolution, probably being administered out of the regional office in Asheville.

The western region of the state has seven Red Cross chapters. Haywood County was the only one west of Asheville, and it’s been that way for years, said Czaja.

“We want to continue to be strong in the community, but it is going to be different,” said Czaja.

She estimates that they serve around 7,000 to 8,000 people every year. That includes all the classes — CPR, first aid, swim and lifeguard courses — blood drives, water safety classes in schools, helping businesses craft emergency plans and local versions of the disaster assistance the Red Cross is known for globally.

They also offer financial help to military families and get them in touch with service members overseas when there’s an emergency at home.

The restructuring is a new proposition; Czaja, who is only part-time and the chapter’s only paid employee, just learned of the changes last week. So that means she’s not yet sure how or when the fallout will actually fall.

“There’s a lot of fear because the doors may be closing,” said said. But she’s hopeful that the group’s role in the community won’t diminish and that they can continue serving the county through volunteers. She started as a volunteer herself.

“I understand decisions like this have to be made,” said Czaja. “The most important thing is that the services continue.”


When Mike Schoonover was 10 years old, he had a transformative experience. It wasn’t a religious conversion per se. There was no epiphany-inducing encounter with a sports hero. But there was a cathedral of sky and a 10,000-foot high playing field, and there was born a fledgling devotion to the skies that has lasted five decades.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” says Schoonover, who lives in Waynesville.

He’s sitting in the tiny office of the one-runway Jackson County Airport, an unassuming room with faux-wood paneling and the single air conditioner in the small hangar, whirring against the staunch July heat.

He recounted tagging along in the cockpit during a sales call with a family friend who sold used airplanes.

Now he owns his own airplane, a 2006 Maule M4-180V — a throwback, he says, to the earlier days of small-scale flying, and earlier this month he and his 13-year-old grandson, Sam Bolduc, achieved the complicated feat of touching it down in all 48 contiguous states.

They did it in six days. The plane averages around 110 miles per hour, so even a cursory encounter with a map and a calculator will tell you it means essentially constant flying.

And Schoonover did much more than a cursory encounter.

“It was so over-planned and, you know, I flew this thing on paper over and over, four or five times — what altitudes will I fly at, what headings,” says Schoonover.

He’s a self-described type-A man, the kind of person who finds precision relaxing. When he says the trip was highly planned, his claims are genuine.

He planned the routes, of course, and the particulars of the plane. But he also made survival plans, mapped out locations where the plane was most likely to go down without radio contact and then researched and packed a survival kit for the eventuality.

He worked out which foods they could take in the tiny, two-seater plane. They subsisted mainly on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and bananas. Apparently, they’re lower on the choke-hazard scale. Because, says Schoonover, you can’t just pull over a plane to do the Heimlich maneuver.

But even with the copious preparations, things went far better than even the pilot himself expected. He blocked out 12 to 14 days for the trip, breaking it up into 48 1.5-hour flights. That’s another fun fact gleaned from his background research — it takes about 1.5 hours to fly from one state to another, pretty much regardless of size.

He got the idea in the doldrums of winter, one of those intricate daydreams that carry us through the gray expanse of winter days.

But Schoonover’s fantasy crossed the portal from dream to idea, from idea to reality. He doesn’t think they’ve set any records doing it, but that part is a little murky, because he couldn’t really find any record of someone else actually doing it. He’s pretty sure people must do things like this all the time. But maybe, like him, they didn’t exactly look for any record books to put it in.

Record breaking or simply noteworthy, it was an exhausting and expensive proposition. Schoonover was the plane’s sole pilot for all 5,951 nautical miles of the journey, and he relieved himself of more than $3,000 on fuel alone.

“I knew it was one of those things that was once in a lifetime, but at a certain level is hard to justify,” said Schoonover. Overall, the trip cost around $4,000. “But to say that we’d done something like this and to have the experience and have it documented and share it with people and family and stuff, I could justify it one time.”

Hearing him recount the tale, too, it’s clear that one unexpected benefit was worth four grand.

“My grandson loved it. He got into more than I would expect. He became more than a passenger, he was truly a copilot,” says Schoonover. He has 11 grandkids, but this particular 13-year-old seemed the right age. So when he was planning the trip, he called his daughter in Cary.

Would Sam like to come?


And just like Schoonover’s own inaugural ride into the clouds, he hopes his grandson will remember this voyage as the moment his love of aviation began.

“I know he will because I watched and I saw how he got into it. If you ever have that deal where you can see somebody with a passion, see that passion begin,” says Schoonover, the joy on his face replacing the end of his sentence. That is what he saw kindled in his grandson.

Over the course of the trip, they burned 600 gallons of fuel, flew more than 59 hours and made friends at small airports in every quadrant of the country. They passed over three major disasters and countless acres of untouched natural beauty.

Would he do it again? In a heartbeat, says Schoonover.

“You know, did you ever have a family event, something where you wanted it to be perfect and you hoped it would be perfect, but things aren’t perfect?” he asks, as he pushes the small plane, it’s green stripe gleaming in the sun, out for another jaunt into the crisp summer sky. “Well, this was.”


Swain County should finally have a budget by early August, nearly six weeks after the start of the new fiscal year.

Commissioners passed an interim budget to keep the county running over the summer, one of only two counties in the state that didn’t pass a full budget by the July 1 deadline.

That, said County Manager Kevin King, was because he was waiting on the state to adjust what the county is due under a new formula for Medicaid reimbursement. The formula was tweaked recently, and the state and county had to work through exactly how much Swain should get.

After the adjustments, which should be in by mid-August, King expects the county to get a few hundred thousand extra dollars.

Because the deficit would be too great to make up out of the county’s savings, King said he was forced either to wait and hope for the Medicaid money or propose county layoffs or a tax hike.

He chose to wait.

With the numbers now in, commissioners this week got their first look at the proposed 2011-12 budget, which will take effect in September.  

If commissioners approve the budget on August 8, the county will have $14.9 million to work with, up $2.5 million from last year’s budget.

The increase is going to two building projects on the county’s to-do list this year: new classrooms at West Elementary School and the construction of the Swain County Business Education and Training Center on Buckner Branch.

The property tax rate will stay the same, despite the additional spending. The school project is being paid for out of a capital reserve fund where savings had been set aside for school construction.

The training center, a joint effort by Southwestern Community College, the Fontana Regional Library, Swain County Schools and the county, is being underwritten by a $1.1 million grant from Duke Energy.

The elementary school upgrade is coming from a capital reserve fund set aside for school improvements suggested by a committee last year.

Otherwise, the budget is nearly identical to last year’s numbers, but the county will have to take a $158,000 dip into its fund balance to come out with a balanced budget.

That, said King, is because the county has suddenly lost around $300,000 in revenue it has counted on for years from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

As a government entity, TVA doesn’t pay property taxes, but does make “payments in lieu of taxes” for Fontana Dam and its generators. A new formula for the payments has drastically reduced what Swain historically got and diverted the money to Graham County instead.

That’s affected their fund balance too. The county was chastised in 2009 by the Local Government Commission for letting the fund balance, essentially the county’s savings account, dip too low. State law mandates that the account be at a minimum of 8 percent of the county’s annual budget, equivalent to one month’s expenses.

“Last year it was at about 13 percent,” said King. “But we’ve had decreases in our TVA [revenue], so it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of about 10 percent.”

He said he’s not yet certain of the exact numbers, since he is expecting some payments to the county’s accounts soon that will change the account’s balance.

The bottom line, though, is that revenues are down. And unless expenditures start dropping with them, the county must keep returning to the prospect of raiding its savings.

Currently, Swain is taking Graham County to court over the lost TVA monies. King said they hope to have their money back within a year. But Graham has filed a suit of its own, so the legal entanglements might not be so easy to sort out.

The proposed budget will be available at the Swain County Administration Building until Aug. 8, when commissioners will host a budget hearing and then vote on the document.


Visitors to Bryson City will have a free place to go when nature calls once public restrooms are installed in the historic courthouse.

There are plans for the now-vacant courthouse to one day be home to a visitor’s center manned by the Great Smoky Mountains Association and a museum.

But for now, commissioners want to move forward with installing public bathrooms instead of waiting for the rest of the project to come online.

Putting men’s and women’s facilities into the historic structure will cost around $50,000. The county will pay for it with interest earned off the North Shore Road cash settlement.

This would be only the second project paid for with the long-awaited money, yet commissioners didn’t specifically vote on the measure. It will be embedded as a line item in the county’s budget.

The project idea was discussed in a county budget work session on Monday. The four commissioners at the meeting came to a consensus on the plan, and County Manager Kevin King made an administrative amendment to the proposed budget to include the bathroom costs.

The project will get the go-ahead if the budget is approved as-is at the commissioners’ next meeting on August 8.

Commissioners expressed their support of the idea, which would be the first phase of the old courthouse’s revitalization.

“That’d be the first step,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon. “I think we should.”

The final two portions of the revamp — the museum and visitor’s center, which might also feature a bookstore — must be completed simultaneously, said King.

He hopes they can be finished within the next two years.

What will be done with the remainder of the North Shore interest money this year, another $135,000 or so, remains to be seen.

Earlier in the summer, commissioners were ambivalent when asked about plans for the cash, as there was so little of it built up.

Several were in favor of a committee populated by community members that would vet and recommend projects, but no moves have been made to form such a body.

The first allocation from cash settlement money funded five granite pedestals outside the county’s administration marking major events in Swain’s history. The $20,000 pedestals were partially funded by a $7,500 grant.

The settlement is compensation from the federal government for a road that was flooded by the creation of Fontana Lake during WWII. The county has $12.8 million in the bank and is supposed to eventually receive $52 million.

The money itself will remain untouched, held in trust for the county by the N.C. Treasury Department, but the county gets the yearly interest. The funds made less than 2 percent return this fiscal year which was paid out at the end of June.


In one gallery in Waynesville this month, the nations of the world will gather. While the international dance and song of Folkmoot will take their traditional place in Haywood County’s summer calendar, this year international art will also make an appearance at “The World Around Us,” a show put on by the Haywood Arts Council in Gallery 86 on Main Street in Waynesville.

The show runs through July 30 and features works from seven artists from across Europe and Central America. Their works range in scope, including painters, weavers, photographers and mixed-media artists.


Sylvia Williams

Silvia Williams is a native of Cuba, and the warm Spanish lilt remains in her voice and laugh, though she hasn’t lived there in more than 50 years. Williams spent much of her career as a foreign language teacher, at universities and in public and private schools. But her dream, and now her career, was in abstract art.

“I had a sort-of drawing talent and little by little, I just kept on painting and just recently I feel like I became what I wanted to be and that is an abstract painter,” said Williams. She’s not always been a North Carolinian — she and her husband moved here from Florida around 10 years ago — but the state has been intertwined through her life.

“I feel kind of fated to North Carolina from the beginning,” said Williams. “I came here to school in my early teens and then I married this North Carolinian, I went to the University of North Carolina. North Carolinians, especially westerns, remind me a lot of Cubans.”

Though she said her Cuban heritage doesn’t have a direct effect on the watermedia pieces she produces today, at least one piece of her Caribbean culture still shines through.

“I imagine that the thing that perhaps that could have influenced that is that I love color so much and my painting is a lot about color,” said Williams.

She’s learned her craft over the years through classes, workshops, books and the unrivalled teacher that is hands-on experience.

Today, her process isn’t mapped out in steps, but intuited along the way.

“I never have a definite plan, it just evolves from there,” said Williams. “If I plan something … that’s when it dies.”

Her best pieces, she said, have evolved in that way. And those are the ones she chooses when deciding what to put in shows. If she likes it, it goes.

And for Williams, it’s a good system. The ones she sells are usually the ones she loves.

Williams’ work can be seen at Gallery 86 and also at Gallery 262 in Frog Level.


Yvonne Van der Meer Lappas

Yvonne Van der Meer Lappas has lived an international life. That’s how she describes her journey from Amsterdam to Clyde, with many global stops in between.

Lappas has been an artist her whole life, studying at Paris’ L’Ecole des Beaus Arts at the Sorbonne after finishing school in the Netherlands.

Then, however, she turned her artistry to industry, working in fashion design for 16 years.

Her career took her to all of the usual hot spots for haute couture — New York, Paris, Rome — but didn’t quite fulfill her need for artistic expression.

“That was just making a living and fashion is very demanding,” said Lappas. But she squeezed the painting in at night, taking workshops and classes at the Art Student’s League in New York and studying the techniques of Rudolph Steiner and his watercolor veil paintings.

Then she and her husband moved to Clyde around 20 years ago, and she leapt into not only her own artistry, but the area’s vibrant artistic community.

“It is totally different from New York City, where everything is high dollar and big art shows and big money,” said Lappas, mentioning craft schools like Penland that feature traditional artistry that isn’t often seen in larger urban areas. “It is very charming to see how much interest there is in art here. It really is no wonder that people like to come here.”

When asked what has kept Lappas involved in her own creations and the artistic scene throughout the years, she replies as though that is, of course, a foregone conclusion.

“It’s a lifeline for me, it’s a voice that I have to follow. Any artist could tell you that. It’s a must. You have to get it out of you.”


There are certain things that are nearly exclusive to cafeterias. Mystery meat. Square pizza. Chicken rings, presumably to go on chicken fingers.

Such foods and their compatriots — tater tots, anyone? — have long been the staples of institutional eating in America.

In recent years, there have been movements to bring some healthier, or at least more recognizable, selections onto lunch lines in schools, hospitals and the like. Think Jamie Oliver crusading against chocolate milk in the UK. Or Beyonce doing the dougie in a school cafeteria for Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity.

This year in Haywood County, there’s another cafeteria that’s hoping to take a few giant steps away from those stereotypes, as well.

Folkmoot USA, the international celebration of song and dance, serves 20,000 meals over about a two-week period, catering for dancers, musicians, staff members and volunteers. The devoted catering staff deliver four meals a day — that’s 52 in total if you’re counting — and this year, they’ll be taking their culinary cues from a new playbook.

“The idea is that local chefs come in and they can do something as simple as creating one dish to help train our cafeteria staff how to be flexible and creative and learn to work with what they have in the kitchen,” said Karen Babcock, the festival’s executive director.

The goal, said Babcock, is to make the meals local, nutritious, enticing and possibly even aspiring to gourmet. So, in addition to the kitchen workers, most of whom have experience in food service settings ranging from school cafeterias to more upscale eateries, she’s bringing in a couple of ringers to help them along.

Chris Hall, executive chef for the MedWest health care system, and Josh Monroe, chef and owner of The Chef’s Table in Waynesville, have signed on to assist in the effort.

It’s not that what they’ve been serving in festivals gone by was inedible. On the contrary, Babcock said in years past, Folkmoot’s performers have given the food positive reviews. But good can always be better, and not just in taste but in principle.

In recent years, festival organizers have connected with Buy Haywood, a program that supports local growers and encourages local buying. This year, Babcock estimated that about 50 percent of what is served will be fresh produce, most of it local.

That portion of the initiative started last year, when a salad bar and fresh fruit station made their way into the cafeteria. Now it’s growing to include the main courses, too.

When you’re serving meals on a large scale with little time, however, upping the nutrition and taste factors is a much greater challenge than it is on a restaurant level.

That’s where Chris Hall comes in. His role in the plan is to plan. He’s currently putting together menus that combine low cost, local ingredients, solid nutrition and great taste. It’s a challenging directive, but not a new one for Hall, who has worked at doing the same thing for cuisine that’s gotten a bad rap over the years: hospital food.

“It’s kind-of the last frontier in cooking,” said Hall. “If you can make hospital food taste good, you can make anything taste good.”

And the key isn’t spending more, it’s paying more attention to the process itself. Hall said he focuses on naturally flavorful foods and old-fashioned cooking techniques that create richer flavors with fewer additives.

That’s why Karen Babcock wanted to bring in experts like Hall and Monroe, who could help school her staff in techniques for better cooking.

“The idea sparked in my mind that we need some training, we need some folks that can teach about the science of how to make a good meal,” she said. “I thought, ‘it can’t be that hard to improve what we serve to these performers. They need nutrition, they need carbs, they need quality food to keep their engines running.’”

So while Hall will provide menu direction, Monroe is coming in to give on-the-line input for a few meals during the festival.

“It challenges how the things hold on the line,” said Monroe of the fresh food concept. That very problem is why you’re more likely to see processed food over farm-fresh offerings on buffet lines. Fresh is, by definition, a short-term state of being.

But, said Monroe, challenging is far from unattainable.

“It’s possible, you just have to know what you’re doing,” he said.

His plan is to make some trips to local markets, look at what’s available and devise some creative ways to incorporate that into Folkmoot’s mealtime offerings.

Plus, he’ll have some of his signature fruit carvings out at the fresh fruit station, which he hopes will be both appetizing and aesthetically pleasing. That’s part of the shift, too, towards better eating. As any foodie, or foodie reality show, will tell you, presentation is a key ingredient in a quality dish.

This new approach, said Babcock, isn’t meant to change the world, or the festival, overnight. It’s a staggered process that she hopes will, each year, make Folkmoot’s food better. Right now, she’s still welcoming chefs who would like to try their hand at one or two of this year’s meals.

She’s excited about the changes because they’re not just better for taste buds or waistlines, but they’re healthier for the festival’s books. Babcock said they’re saving a hefty sum by buying local, fresh food. And overall, she said, it’s about being good stewards of Folkmoot’s resources, good partners with their neighbors and good ambassadors to the performers who, for two weeks, call the brick building on Virginia Avenue their home.

“We’re trying to be socially responsible and responsible community members,” she said. “With Folkmoot being such a big consumer, we have a lot of opportunity to make a difference.”


For the last six years, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area has been waiting for signs. Twenty-two signs, to be exact, marking heritage sites in the region deemed of interest to visitors and residents.

The signs were one the original concepts when the heritage area won federal designation in 2003, and a grant to install them has been in hand for six years. But it might be two more before the first goes into the ground.

In the time they’ve been waiting, the Chrysler Building could have been constructed four times. Mars has orbited the sun three times. Twenty-four million babies have been born in the United States.

But the sign project, which is partially funded by a federal transportation enhancement funds and orchestrated by the N.C. Department of Transportation, hasn’t been able to get its feet off the ground.

Now, though, says Angie Chandler, the project is back on track.

Chandler is the executive director of the Blue Ride National Heritage Area, and she’s currently selecting a firm to head up the design and engineering of the signs. Total, the project will put up 80 signs at locations throughout the area. The first 22 are already identified and well into the process. They include places such as the Oconaluftee Indian Village and Unto These Hills, the outdoor drama outlining Cherokee history. Progress has been made, says Chandler, and she hopes to have the them all installed well before her 2013 deadline.

“I hate that the project fell into hard times and that there were some delays, but I can say that for the past 18 months, we have worked through the issues that we felt like were there, communicating with the sites, developing strong, positive communication with the NCDOT to get the project back on track,” says Chandler. “We’ll quickly see this project move into some real action.”

The history of the storied signs is a little difficult to trace, but one thing is clear: they did, indeed, fall on some hard times.

Chandler has only been manning her post for the past 18 months, so she’s not too sure what stalled the project for the four-plus years preceding her tenure.

Consensus is that there were complications and miscommunications with the folks down at the DOT. That might be a nice way of putting it, but again, it’s hard to tell. No one who started with the project is around anymore.

Marta Matthews, the DOT point person for federal transportation enhancement grants, says she’s at least the third person to have the job.

The protracted delay seems to be one part administrative muck up, one part turnover troubles and a smattering of miscellaneous obstacles thrown in.

On the administrative front, there was much confusion about when and how the grant money could be used. The money comes from the same agency that pays for highway work — the Federal Highway Administration — and there are rules that come with it. Namely, that everything must be done at once, not parceled out piecemeal. This makes sense for highways — you plan it, you design it, then you build it. But applying the same rules to informational signs is arguably less logical. All 80 signs have to be planned and designed before any could actually be ordered and put up.

DOT representative No. 1 — or was it No. 2? —  took the position that the those rules wouldn’t apply here. But this is where those turnover problems come into play. That person left, and the confusion deepened when the new representative came in with the exact opposite directive.

Then there were other issues, like securing rights-of-way to put posts in the ground.

While the first 22 have been planned, the rest are still in the early stages, so the 22 that have been in a six-year holding pattern aren’t going to come out of it for another year or two.

To be included in the heritage sign program, each site must put up $1,500 on the front end and another $200 every five years for the privilege of boasting a sign. The federal dollars will serve as matching funds.

As an interim measure, Chandler and her team have put together a brochure leading visitors to the sites of future signs, places like the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Graveyard Fields, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County.

When the heritage area announced the brochure, they said it was a way “to support these early investors in this program.” For those 22 early investors, six years is, after all, longer than one would reasonably expect to wait for a sign that’s been paid for.

But regardless of past hiccups, Matthews and Chandler are both confident that the project is picking up speed like never before.

They are, at least, on the same page, making demonstrable steps towards eventual completion. Since Chandler took the helm, they’ve produced the brochure and put out the call for a project management firm to take over the final stages.

“I think with some of the momentum they have, we’ll get this done pretty quickly,” says Matthews.

By 2013, 80 locations, including key entrances to the area, will have signs that Chandler says will increase tourist traffic and dovetail with marketing efforts to bring these historic sites a higher profile and more visitors.

And it only took nine years.


The specter of a constitution has again risen in Cherokee, making its way to committee for the first time in 15 years.

Tribal council last week voted to create a constitutional task force, the second step in a long process that will require discussions, debates and, should it reach the final finish line, a vote by the entire tribe on a document. If approved by the majority of the people, it would forever change their way of governing.

The idea of crafting a self-governing constitution to replace a state-imposed charter for the tribe has been floated on and off for years, at times more seriously than others. It’s always proved too controversial to succeed.

This particular incarnation of the constitutional effort is being spearheaded by Terri Henry, a council member from Painttown just finishing her first term.

Henry is a lawyer who did undergraduate work in political science and international relations, then went on to spend a good chunk of her career in positions with the federal government. Her background qualified her to take the lead.

Each community club representing the six districts of the reservation will nominate two task force members. They will start drafting a document and, most importantly, says Henry, get input from the tribe’s members.

“When you’re talking about something that is as important as a constitutional document, what is really important is that everybody has the same understanding of what the [constitutional] principles are and what the proposed language is,” says Henry.

In that sense, the history of the constitution among the Eastern Band of Cherokee is a double-edged sword for those trying to craft a new document.

The tribe is currently governed under a charter granted by the state of North Carolina. But that hasn’t always been the case. The trail of charters and constitutions is long and complicated. Over the years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has drifted in and out of the process, there was a constitution, then a charter, then perhaps another charter?

But the original constitution, called the Lloyd Welch Constitution, is the one that is most often cited, the one to which tribal members return when making the case for a constitution. It was created by and named for a man named Lloyd Welch in the late 19th century, shortly after the bulk of the Cherokee were routed from their homelands by the Indian Removal Act.

That document, the only constitution the Eastern Band has known, is really a set of three documents that took two years to complete.

“What we learned is that our people have turned to the Lloyd Welch constitution because that was a constitution ordained by the people. When it moved to a charter from the state of North Carolina, that was lost,” said Sarah Sneed, a lawyer who helped with an initial review, the first step in the constitutional process. “I believe that’s why, over the years, people have clung to the Lloyd Welch documents, because the sovereignty of the people was lost.”

But on the other side, there have been at least six tries to get a new constitution OK’d by the people. Every last one was voted down.

The most recent attempt that made it as far as a referendum was a 1996 version.

A few years later, then-council member PeeWee Crowe tried to resurrect the idea with a council resolution. It was passed, but no action was taken.

This time, it seems, advocates are hoping to overcome obstacles that have hamstrung earlier constitutions through education.

The committee will hold regular meetings, broadcast them on the tribe’s public television station and solicit copious input from all sides.

Specific steps are not yet laid out. With the committee not even formed, it’s a little early to define a set path.

But council members seemed hopeful that this time, the tribe would make it further toward clearer branches of government and true sovereignty, led by the people.

There are 595 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and dozens of them have their own constitutions.

“We have a governing document that’s a charter,” said Henry. “It’s important that we have a constitution. This defines us as a self-governing people.”


The contest to fill Waynesville’s town board has drawn a wide crowd this year, a mixture of incumbents, political newcomers and a couple of election veterans.

Seven candidates will vie for four seats in the November election. The town board hasn’t seen an upset in the last two elections.

Sitting Aldermen Gary Caldwell, J. Wells Greeley and Leroy Roberson are all coming back for another try, and given the track record of incumbents in Waynesville elections, the odds seem in their favor. But at least one seat is wide open, as Alderwoman Libba Feichter is not returning for re-election, likely fueling some of the competition entering the race.

The challengers represent a variety of views, some business owners, some retirees, some public servants, but nearly all named the economy and the replacement of retiring Town Manager Lee Galloway as top priorities in the coming term.

Only one, Sam Edwards, expressed open discontent with the current administration, with the rest either backing the board’s positions or staying mum on the issue.

Among the challengers for town board, none are returning from the 2007 contest, however, Mayor Gavin Brown will face competition from Hugh Phillips, assistant manger of Bi-Lo, who ran unsuccessfully against him four years ago.

The general election will be held on November 8. Voter registration closes on October 14.


Gary Caldwell

Age: 58

Occupation: Production manager at Cornerstone Printing in Waynesville.

Time in Waynesville: Caldwell is a lifelong Waynesville resident.

Political Experience: Currently a sitting board member, Caldwell has served four consecutive terms as a Waynesville alderman.

Why he is running: “I just enjoyed being in city government. I just really love it.”

Biggest challenge in the next term: “My challenge is completing the skate park. I’m halfway there. We’ve raised probably close to $160,000 of the $300,000 that we’re trying to raise to break ground on it, and that’s been my goal probably for the past 10 years. Finally we’ve got it really going on great.”


Sam Edwards

Age: 57

Occupation: Clergyman. Edwards spent two decades with the Episcopal church before becoming vicar at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Waynesville. He is now waiting to be received into the Catholic church.

Time in Waynesville: He lived in Waynesville through high school and returned in 2007.

Political Experience: Edwards unsuccessfully ran as a Republican against N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill.

Why he is running: “I’d been concerned, with a bunch of other citizens, that the current administration in Waynesville is not providing a good climate for small businesses. I thought it was time to give the people a choice.”

What he’d bring to the new board: “Making do with less. We’re going to have to prioritize our budget and wisely spend the public’s money.”


Mary Ann Enloe

Age: 70

Occupation: Retired from Dayco after 37 years, most recently as the senior purchasing agent.

Time in Waynesville: Enloe is a lifelong Waynesville resident.

Political Experience: Enloe was the mayor of Hazelwood, a Haywood County commissioner for two terms and ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic candidate for N.C. House in 2000. She currently serves on the Haywood County Board of Equalization and Review and the Haywood County Fairgrounds Board. She has never run for office in Waynesville.

Why she is running: “It’s my love for this area. I live in the house I grew up in and I just have a real love for the area and a real understanding of how government has to work.”

Biggest challenge facing the new board: “I don’t know that it will be the biggest but it will certainly be at the top, will be hiring the new town manager.”


Julia Boyd Freeman

Age: 44

Occupation: Executive Director of REACH of Haywood County, a non-profit that deals with domestic violence.

Time in Waynesville: She is a lifelong resident.

Political Experience: Freeman has never run for public office, but sits on the Haywood County Department of Social Services Board and the North Carolina Domestic Violence Commission.

Why she is running: “For some time I’ve had an interest in public service and also in serving the community. I’ve got a vested interest in the community from a business standpoint, and there’s going to be a lot of changes in the town coming up in the next couple of years.”

Why she would make a good alderwoman: “I think I bring a youthful perspective, a younger generation connecting with the people. My desire to serve the community and work with diverse populations could make a big difference.”


Wells Greeley

Age: 59

Occupation: Owner of Wells Funeral Home, with locations in Waynesville and Canton.

Time in Waynesville: Greeley is a lifelong Haywood County resident, and has also lived in Canton.

Political Experience: Greeley is currently an alderman. He was appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late Kenneth Moore. He was also an alderman in Canton from 1981 to 1985.

Why he is running: “I did make the commitment when I accepted the appointment to run again, so I’m following through with my word.”

Biggest challenge of his previous term: “I knew it was going to be challenging and I have been pleasantly surprised with how well the town board works together.”


Ron Reid

Age: 55

Occupation: Owner of the Andon Reid Inn, a Waynesville bed-and-breakfast. Reid had a law enforcement career and was a health fitness consultant before becoming an inn-keeper in his retirement.

Time in Waynesville: He and his wife moved to Waynesville from the West Palm Beach, Fl., area in 2006.

Political Experience: This is his first run for public office, but has previously served on the board of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. He is currently on the board of directors at the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.

Why he is running: “I’ve got a vision for the community. I like what the town is doing, I like the direction it’s been going in. I wanted  to be a part of that team.”

His top priorities for the next term: “The main thing is the economics. How are we going to keep the young people here, what’s going to be attractive to new businesses? Along with keeping the mountain Appalachian heritage and history. I would hate to see Waynesville just become anytown USA. People come here for a reason. We have to be progressive, manage smartly, but not forget what made Waynesville what it is.”


Leroy Roberson

Age: 67

Occupation: Optometrist at Haywood Optometric Care in Waynesville.

Time in Waynesville: Roberson is a lifelong resident of Waynesville.

Political Experience: He is completing a four-year term on the board and was elected as an alderman once in the past.

Why he is running: “Basically, I enjoy doing it. I think there’s still some things that need to be done, and maybe touch up on the land development standards.”

Greatest success of the current term: “Considering the financial difficulties that have presented themselves, we’ve been able to maintain the services and the town, I think, is being run quite well.”

Charlie Burgin had registered as a candidate last week, but has since decided not to run.


The race for the title of principal chief has tightened in Cherokee, where Chief Michell Hicks found himself in second place in last week’s primary election.

Challenger Patrick Lambert, who fought Hicks for the seat four years ago, won the primary with just over 46 percent of the vote. Hicks trailed with just over 40 percent of ballots on his side.

The incumbent vice chief, Larry Blythe, also lost to his challenger, reflecting possible dissatisfaction with the current administration.

The results were a coup for Lambert. Though he lost the general election by only 13 votes in 2007, he had not fared particularly well in the primary leading up to the final election that year. He garnered only 24 percent of the vote in the 2007 primary compared to 42 percent for Hicks.

“The large vote count was surprising,” said Lambert. “If you look back at where we’ve come from, I’ve increased my overall vote count from the first primary by almost 250 percent.”

Lambert emerged the victor in four of the six voting precincts, trailing Hicks in Yellowhill and Painttown.

For his part, Hicks said the second-place finish isn’t too distressing, especially given the voter turnout of just more than 50 percent.

“It’s a primary, a lot of people don’t concern themselves with the primary,” said Hicks. “I knew it was going to be close coming in. He’s got his base, and I’ve got mine. Now it’s just going to be a matter of who runs the fastest.”

Though turnout was high for a primary — slightly more than half of the tribe’s 6,704 registered voters — it still leaves more than 3,000 voters who could weigh in on either side.

Hicks, who is going for a third run as chief, doesn’t have the statistics of history on his side, however. If he wins in September, he would be only the second third-term chief.

Then there’s the 446 votes that were split among the three other chief candidates, who are now out of the race.

Which candidate will claim those votes come the general election could be anyone’s guess.

“The thing is with Cherokee elections and Cherokee politics, it’s a very personal campaign style that we have here,” said Lambert, pointing out that many vote because of a personal trust in the candidate, not a distrust of the incumbent.

While both candidates are staying tight-lipped about their courtship of the three former challengers, and their voters, it’s clear that they’re seeking to pull in the support.

Juanita Wilson, the next highest vote-getter, in the days after the primary said that she’d been contacted by both camps, but hadn’t yet decided which side to endorse.

“I have a lot of reflection [to do], because if I could’ve supported either, I wouldn’t have gone through the expense and trouble of putting a campaign together,” said Wilson. She said that, although nothing is final, she may choose to avoid endorsements altogether.

Meanwhile, both remaining contenders said their biggest challenge in the general election would be getting voters to hit the polls. Both are confident in their ability to pull off a win, if members will take the time to cast a ballot on Sept. 1.


Vice chief race equally heated

Jumping down a rung to the race for vice chief, the general election is going to be yet another repeat matchup between sitting vice chief Larry Blythe and challenger Teresa McCoy, currently a tribal council member.

McCoy has made it clear from the outset that she was in it to win against Blythe, and she got her chance, taking first place with about 39 percent of the vote. Incumbent Blythe pulled a close second with just under 36 percent.

McCoy won in four out of six communities, tying Blythe in Painttown and trailing in Snowbird.

But her margins weren’t large enough to call it a runaway — McCoy won by a single vote in one district — and the two vice chief challengers now out of the race showed more sizeable totals than those at the bottom of the ballot in the principal chief race. Blythe and McCoy have more at stake in courting those votes.

Looking toward the next two months of heavy campaigning, both remaining candidates for principal chief listed the tribe’s debt as the major issue that will define the general election.

With a new school complex and $683 million expansion at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the tribe’s central revenue source, they were, at one point, on the hook for close to one billion dollars in debt.

While tribal finance officials say they’ve paid down a significant chunk of those notes, they’re still likely paying on tens of millions, if not more.

In the run-up to the primary, eradicating the debt entirely and diversifying the tribe’s income streams were both hot topics. Each candidate proposed a different strategy for a more varied financial model, but all played to the public sentiment of moving away from a casino-centric mentality.

Throughout the pre-primary season, Hicks said he had a plan to eradicate the debt in the next four years. As a certified public accountant and the man at the helm for nearly a decade, Hicks said he’s the only man who can make that happen.

Lambert, though, now says that he’s got a plan for debt reduction, too. And what people want, he maintains, is a departure from the last eight years.

“I think everyone here is hungry for change,” said Lambert. “As I went out and visited homes and Cherokee families, that’s one of the primary messages I kept hearing.”

Hicks, though, is confident in his fiscal strategies and believes he can move past the change mentality his challenger described.

“I feel good and I’m confident,” said Hicks. “I think it’s more of an education of the people. We’ve definitely done our homework as it relates to the debt and how were managing it. We’re going to work hard and we’re going to be determined.”

The general election will be held on Sept. 1. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will vote in a new principal chief and vice chief, as well as a new 12-member tribal council and school board.


Trevor Hudson has never liked the hymn “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus.”

The world behind me, the cross before me, he says, doesn’t make much sense. Isn’t Christianity about loving the world, not turning your back on them?

Come to mention it, he’s not in love with “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” either. Things of earth shall grow strangely dim? But isn’t Jesus supposed to bring the world and its needs into sharper focus?

“It’s blasphemy,” he says of the historic hymns, in an impassioned South African accent.

He’s saying it from the main stage at Stuart Auditorium perched on the edge of Lake Junaluska. His proclamation echoes off the soaring rafters and curving walls of the century-old auditorium, followed by a powerful silence.

Did he just say he hates “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus?” Pins dropping would resound in the silence, before Hudson continues, beseeching the crowd to listen to the world instead of mentally dimming it.

His message might seem unorthodox, but he is not the first to preach global-mindedness from that pulpit, and Lake Junaluska Assembly’s leadership hopes he won’t be the last.

Hudson came to the assembly’s oldest stage this month as part of the summer worship series. It’s a historic tradition that has long brought storied preachers and evangelists to the renowned Methodist conference center in Haywood County.

Actually, visiting preachers have been a part of the history of the place since its inception.

“Of course if you go back in the history — almost since the very beginning in 1913 — they’ve had different labels for the series and services that they had, but there were various pastors coming in from the get go,” says Bill Lowry, resident historian at Lake Junaluska and author of the book The Antechamber of Heaven, a History of Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Through the decades, the assembly has played host to famous clergymen such as Billy Graham and a slew of well-known British preachers.

From the beginning, the services were always well-attended, especially the summer meetings.

“The opening service, which took place in June of 1913, had approximately 4,000 people show up,” says Lowry, which was, he said, thanks in part to the friendly relationship the conference center shared with the local community.

Churches and businesses would get the news about summer preachers, spreading it along their built-in networks, and people came.

From the outset, says Lowry, the focus was worldwide.

“There was a very strong missionary emphasis on the grounds to begin with,” he says. “The very first event was a missionary conference, there were speakers there from China and other countries.”

That outlook is one of the solid foundations the leaders of today’s Lake Junaluska are hoping to build and grow the worship series on in the future.

Because the church is changing, and to stay alive, the assembly has to follow suit.

“I think our largest challenge is to reach a younger community,” says Roger Dowdy, the ministry director. It’s his job to keep things like the summer worship series relevant, and that’s sometimes a challenge — to serve and please the aging group that has long been the pillar of support and simultaneously attract a younger audience that will keep it alive.

“The relevance is by far the most important thing,” says Dowdy. “Preaching is changing in the church, it has become more free from the pulpit, it has become more narrative, whether it’s the preacher’s story or the church story. People want dynamic preaching.”

That’s a truth that can be seen across denominations in the Protestant church writ large in America, from the rise of the house church to the popularity of celebrity pastors and megachurches that focus and rely on the charisma of their leaders.

“It’s this incredible balance that we have to walk,” says Lake Junaluska Executive Director Jack Ewing. “We absolutely have to find ways to attract younger people so that this can continue going forward into the future.”

Ewing came to this job only a few months ago, with the charge and vision for continuing to usher Lake Junaluska into the modern church era.

With things like the summer worship series, the challenge is staying relevant and also true to the rich history of tradition the practice stands on.

Even before Lake Junaluska Assembly encamped on the lake’s shore almost 100 years ago, the tradition of traveling Methodists was already well established in Haywood County.

There are accounts of Methodist preachers stopping to give sermons here in the early 19th century. Many of their names are scrawled on the walls of the third floor chapel in the historic Shook House in Clyde, where many visiting pastors known as circuit riders made their pulpit pitches.

Fast forward nearly two centuries and the tradition hasn’t dimmed, but the strength of the church in society seems to be fading.

That truth isn’t lost on Ewing, who speaks of lost generations that don’t show up to the summer sermons like they did in decades past.

A 2010 Gallup poll found that 16 percent of Americans claim no specific religious identity. It was next to nothing in 1950. Another found that 70 percent of Americans told pollsters they believe religion is losing influence on American life.

Dowdy and Ewing know this is what they have to contend with.

“We will attempt to straddle this line between our traditional population base at the same time as being relevant to new generations,” said Ewing. “The reality is, what worship will look like in Stuart Auditorium 10 years from now, we don’t really know. But it isn’t about just being faithful to a tradition. We need to be faithful to God, not faithful to our traditions.”


Lake Junaluska Assembly Summer Worship schedule

All services begin at 10:45 a.m. in Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska Assembly, unless otherwise noted.

• Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray - July 17

• Rev. Jeremy Troxler - July 24

• Rev. Mike Slaughter (8:30 a.m.) - July 31

• Rev. Grace Imathiu - July 31

• Rev. Shane Bishop - August 7

• Dr. Leonard Sweet - August 14


In North Carolina, it’s illegal to hit a prison inmate. You can’t hit a child in a day care center. Military officers can’t hit their subordinates. In workplaces, nursing homes, hospitals and elsewhere, hitting is forbidden. It is even illegal to hit an animal.

But in the state’s public schools, there’s no ban on hitting, because North Carolina is one of 19 states that still allows corporal punishment to be used in schools.

The practice, once common, has fallen out of favor, but there are still 38 school districts out of 115 in North Carolina that allow kids to be punished with the paddle.

Only 17 used it last year, and only a handful of times compared to some other states, but the option still exists for teachers and administrators who find it effective. Haywood, Macon and Swain are among those that use it. Jackson and the Eastern Band do not.

Starting this school year, however, the choice falls into the hands of parents, who will be able to opt-out of corporal punishment for their child.

A bill just passed by the N.C. General Assembly requires school districts to get parent permission for corporal punishment at the beginning of the school year, a right already given to parents of students with disabilities last year.

Before, the only parental involvement required was notification. Schools had to let parents know they’d done it, but not necessarily before, and they certainly didn’t have to ask permission.

Allison Best-Teague of Waynesville is one parent who will be taking the state up on that offer.

She doesn’t use that kind of discipline in her own house and is glad she can now have a say in what happens to him at school, too.

“I’m actually against it for the school system overall, so I’m very glad to have the option to opt out for my child,” said Best-Teague. “I really think the bigger problem is that the state is still allowing it.”

Best-Teague now runs Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, but she was once the director of KARE, a Haywood County anti-child abuse organization.

In her role there, she helped parents learn how to deal with disciplining their children. In all the methods she worked with, she never saw corporal punishment listed as an option.

The new state law is a win for groups such as Action For Children, a statewide policy group that advocates for the eradication of corporal punishment in North Carolina schools.

“It has helped that the legislature has voted on this, it has changed policies,” said Tom Vitaglione, a senior fellow with the group. “It means that the school district’s that are still allowing it will have to reassess their position on this.”

And in Haywood County, that’s certainly true. It has been used extremely sparingly in Haywood — only 16 times out of student population of more than 7,000 between 2008 and 2010. This past school year, Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte estimates fewer than 10 instances of paddling in the county’s schools.

“It’s just not used very often and when it is, it’s by parent request,” said Nolte. None of his schools, he said, ever suggest it to parents. But they might comply if a parent asks for it.

Now, however, the new state law might lead Haywood to end corporal punishment all together for fear of sending the wrong message to parents, Nolte said. The school system would have to send permission forms to the parents of all 7,000 students, creating the false public perception that corporal punishment is commonplace, Nolte said.

Nolte said the decision will be up to individual principals. But he doubts many will choose to send that paper home.

“It’s not worth the trouble or the message to have that option available for five students,” he said.

The result will likely be a de facto end to corporal punishment in Haywood.

The issue is expected to be on the agenda at Macon and Swain County school board meetings this month, if not to look at a ban, at least to discuss the new regulations.

To what end?

In Western North Carolina, there are a number of districts that still allow corporal punishment. Haywood, Macon, Swain, Graham and Transylvania counties are still on the list, as are Burke and McDowell. Jackson County banned it in 2001, and Cherokee and Clay counties have stopped over the past three years. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians school system does not use corporal punishment, either.

Even among chronic users, however, the numbers have dropped precipitously in recent years.

Burke County, for example, paddled 325 kids in the 2008-2009 school year. The next year, it was only 93.

Macon County was much the same: 71 in 2008-2009, but just 30 the following year.

School officials and advocates such as Vitaglione chalk this up to increased awareness and changing times.

“I really think it’s probably a form of discipline that has aged out,” said Nolte. “It’s probably timed out in terms of its broad scope effectiveness.”

Dan Brigman, Macon County’s superintendent, concurs.

“Based on historical data, that’s what I’m seeing,” said Brigman. “I think corporal punishment is effective somewhat on a few students, but in most instances it’s a temporary disciplinary measure and if it impacts long term behavior, that’s a question.”

And that view is essentially a watered-down version of what groups such as Action For Children have long been saying.

“Over the last two decades, study after study has come out regarding school discipline, and none have found that corporal punishment is effective, and by that we mean in ongoing student behavior,” said Vitaglione. “Whatever indicator you use, there’s no correlation in using corporal punishment and improving any of those other outcomes that you’d like in schools.”

And the literature seems to back up that outlook.

Studies in places such as Psychological Bulletin and the Journal of School Psychology have noted little if any long-term changes in how students act because of paddling.

The debate over corporal punishment, though, is unlike other contentious issues in one notable way: it’s pretty difficult to find a strong advocate on the other side of the ideological divide.

There are plenty who have taken the findings as ammunition for their vocal campaigns against the practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a position against it. The ACLU and Human Rights Watch teamed up in 2009 on a study and subsequent campaign that decried the use of corporal punishment on students with disabilities. Urban clothing pioneer Marc Ecko has launched a crusade called Unlimited Justice, a play on his Ecko Unlimited label, that seeks to ban physical punishment in all 50 states. There are numerous regional and local groups who have set up opposition.

But on the other side, it seems that there are only a few school administrators who will make a defense for it, and even then it’s half-hearted and with some pretty strong caveats.

“It works on some occasions, on other occasions, that’s not the answer for it,” said Bob Marr, Swain County superintendent.

It could be, as Nolte said, that the practice is just trending out, fading in deference to a more modern perspective.

The touchy legal ramifications probably don’t hurt, though.

While North Carolina hasn’t really faced court challenges over corporal punishment, it is also pretty low in the numbers rankings.

Take Mississippi. In 2009-2010, Action For Children estimates there were 38,000 instances of corporal punishment in that state’s schools. Fellow Southern states Arkansas, Texas and Alabama were similarly inclined, their numbers reaching into the tens of thousands. In comparison, North Carolina’s approximately 700 instances are hardly in the same league.

In Mississippi, however, three suits were brought against school systems for corporal punishment in 2010.

One, a gender discrimination suit brought by a male high schooler, is still working its way through the courts. Two others were money damages suits brought against a single district. The students in those cases were 11 and 6.

In Tennessee, a high school basketball player brought a case against his coaches for what the player said was excessive use of paddling. He lost on appeal, as the court said the action was disciplinary.

That sticking point is one of the key objections of anti-corporal punishment activists.

In North Carolina, teachers and administrators are immune from any prosecution over practicing physical discipline unless the child needs medical attention.

Even then, said Vitaglione, he’s not encountered a parent willing to prosecute.

“There have been a few instances where we’ve heard of a child being injured, but we have not had a family who was willing to participate in filing a suit,” said Vitaglione. “In part they feel intimidated, in part they feel guilty on their own. We, frankly, are loathe to get into that as well. We would prefer that the decision be made in the school board room or in the legislature.”

The legislature, however, is unlikely to enact an outright ban anytime soon. Bills with such proposals were defeated in 2007, 2008 and 2009. This most recent bill leaves the choice in local and parental hands, and both lobbyists and legislators anticipate that it will stay that way.

“Probably not,” was Rep. Ray Rapp’s, D-Mars Hill, answer, when asked if he saw a blanket ban coming anytime soon, although Rapp himself does not support corporal punishment. “I would say that most legislators may have strong feelings one way or the other on it, but they’re content to leave it to local jurisdictions.”

Action For Children says they’ll take what they can get, but statewide elimination is really what they’re pushing for.

One of the main reasons is oversight. There really isn’t any. The state has hitherto not required any reporting of corporal punishment statistics, nor have they handed down any guidelines on how, when or why the discipline can be meted out.

In Haywood County, it’s a principals-only policy. In other school districts, teachers, teacher’s assistants and even substitute teachers are allowed.

Without more careful oversight, say advocacy groups, some sections of the student population may be getting a disproportionate share of the corporal punishment.

Nationally, that ACLU-Human Rights Watch study found this to be the case for students with disabilities. They found those students twice as likely to be hit than the general student body.

Rapp believes that’s partly why it’s on the decline, and why lawmakers were spurred to action on the issue over the last few years.

“Without the strictest supervision and care, you can easily find yourself in court,” said Rapp.

In North Carolina, the districts that allow spanking and paddling are quickly dwindling. Gaston County eliminated it a few months ago. Vitaglione expects Greene County to follow suit at their school board meeting next week. The issue came up at Monday’s Swain County School Board meeting, where the board decided to send the forms to parents this year and revisit the question later.

Macon County’s school board is scheduled to discuss it later this month, if not to consider a ban, at least to look at new regulations.

Nationwide, the trend is also towards extinction for the disciplinary tactic. Most major urban areas have long since outlawed it — New York City schools have had a policy against it since the 19th century.

States that still allow it are mostly in the South, with a few dotted around the rural west.

Internationally, the United States is alone among developed nations in still allowing it in schools. Many developing nations — Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Malawi, Namibia and many others — also forbid it.

Though a nationwide ban seems as unlikely as a state proscription, it’s more plausible that de facto bans will become more widespread, as legislation like North Carolina’s recent bill become more commonplace.

Locally, school administrators say most parents think it has already long been phased out anyway.

“I do think the new law probably makes it impractical to even have as an option,” said Haywood’s Bill Nolte. “Do you want to sent home 7,000 sheets of paper for something you may or may not even do? What’s the practicality in that?”


The field was narrowed from five to two yesterday in the race for principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

When votes were tallied following the July 7 primary election, incumbent Michell Hicks and Patrick Lambert, Hicks’ challenger in the 2007 election, emerged as the top vote-getters. They will now compete for the top seat in September’s general election.

In the race for vice chief, incumbent Larry Blythe and current tribal council member Teresa McCoy will move on to the next round. That matchup is also a repeat of the 2007 race.

In both contests, the incumbent garnered fewer overall votes than the challenger.

Races for the 12 tribal council seats were also trimmed to four candidates. The general election on Sept. 1 will elect a principal chief, vice chief, two tribal council members from each of the six communities, as well as school board members.



Michell Hicks: 313

Patrick Lambert: 418

Juanita Wilson: 64

Gary Ledford: 30

Missy Crowe: 10

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 146

Joey Owle: 58

Larry Blythe: 312

Teresa McCoy: 313



Michell Hicks: 167

Patrick Lambert: 156

Juanita Wilson: 44

Gary Ledford: 13

Missy Crowe: 14

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 75

Joey Owle: 21

Larry Blythe: 128

Teresa McCoy: 172



Michell Hicks: 227

Patrick Lambert: 213

Juanita Wilson: 34

Gary Ledford: 15

Missy Crowe: 7

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 91

Joey Owle: 23

Larry Blythe: 189

Teresa McCoy: 189


Big Y/Wolftown

Michell Hicks: 311

Patrick Lambert: 348

Juanita Wilson: 73

Gary Ledford: 39

Missy Crowe: 12

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 227

Joey Owle: 31

Larry Blythe: 229

Teresa McCoy: 300


Big Cove

Michell Hicks: 119

Patrick Lambert: 194

Juanita Wilson: 26

Gary Ledford: 31

Missy Crowe: 4

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 86

Joey Owle: 24

Larry Blythe: 72

Teresa McCoy: 189


Snowbird/Cherokee County

Michell Hicks: 227

Patrick Lambert: 248

Juanita Wilson: 10

Gary Ledford: 11

Missy Crowe: 3

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 48

Joey Owle: 38

Larry Blythe: 240

Teresa McCoy: 163


Total – Principal Chief

Michell Hicks: 1,378

Patrick Lambert: 1,598

Juanita Wilson: 255

Gary Ledford: 140

Missy Crowe: 51


Total – Vice Chief

Carroll “Peanut” Crowe: 683

Joey Owle: 197

Larry Blythe: 1,188

Teresa McCoy: 1,337


When SmartStart, an early childhood education program, was launched in 1993, it was hailed nationally as a model for reaching children during those critical early development years before kindergarten. This, said educators, was the way to give kids a good foundation for lifelong learning.

The idea was to bring in parents, funnel funds into local programs and foster interagency cooperation to help develop children from birth to kindergarten.

And for 18 years, it’s worked, said Janice Edgerton, executive director of the Region A Partnership for Children, which administers the money for SmartStart in Western North Carolina. The idea has been co-opted by other states; North Carolina, it seemed, had done something right.

“It is so obvious now that these (early) years are so important, and on top of that you can track back the research about the success of programs that have worked with children in the early years. You can look back at North Carolina and see the difference now,” said Edgerton. “It’s crucial, and we have tons of evidence to support it.”

But now, as they’ve done in so many other places, the vagaries of the economy and politics are creeping in on SmartStart.

Starting next year, it will lose at least 20 percent of its funding, and possibly up to a quarter.

In Haywood County, cuts will be felt in a program called Parents As Teachers. It does pretty much what it sounds like — engages parents to take an active role in teaching their own babies, toddlers and preschoolers, teaches them what to look for and how to foster their development in the vital early years.

For Nora Doggett, it’s been an invaluable service.

She and her husband moved here from California last year, and that’s when she became a stay-at-home mom for the first time.

“It was a different experience and I didn’t know how to handle it,” said Doggett. But thanks to the Parents As Teachers workers, she now knows how to shepherd her two sons, ages 1 and 3, through the different developmental stages, and she’s got support the whole way.

“Right now, my son is three, and I know what he’s supposed to be doing, and I know what else to look for in him,” said Doggett. “Because they are with you along the way, they know how your children develop.”

Despite its success, the program is falling prey to the gaping budget hole that’s been looming over every state-funded agency for months now.

In SmartStart’s corner, opposing the cuts, are, of course, education advocates who point to numerous studies that list early-age development as key to success later in life. Joining them are the state’s Democrats, who may be in it for the children, but have also entered the fray to take shots at their counterparts on the other side of the aisle, who they say are killing off vital programs with a slash-and-burn approach to the budget and using services like SmartStart as political weapons.

On the other side of the ring are said Republicans, who counter that they’re not cutting arbitrarily, but necessarily. When there’s a funding hole as big as the state faced, something’s got to go, even if it means good programs are cut.

“There’s not enough waste, fraud and abuse in the government to fix $2 billion worth of deficit,” said Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. “We just can’t continue going to the well and asking people for more money, no matter how good the program is.”

He and fellow Republicans went after SmartStart and its companion childcare program, More At 4, citing service duplication and administratively heavy structures. They cut $1 million from the administrative side, said Davis, but they needed more. They had to slice into programming somewhere. And SmartStart was that place.

Parents as Teachers in Haywood County already has 27 families on a waiting list. With the cuts, one of its three facilitators will be laid off, pushing even more families to the waiting list.

Parents as Teachers facilitators make home visits to evaluate children and show parents how to make learning toys from things they already have, like dry pasta and toilet paper tubes.

They also hold group sessions to connect families to one another and teach parenting skills that prepare babies for kindergarten.

And then there’s the connections to other families, other services in the community, which Parents As Teachers workers say are some of the most helpful things they do, especially in the Hispanic community.

Tania Rossi heads up the Latino Parents As Teachers initiative, and she said that’s been one of her greatest successes, connecting families to one another and encouraging them to get their children into early education.

“After six years in the Latino program, I can see a lot of difference,” said Rossi. “You see the impact with other families.”

Among the kids in her Latino program, the reading rates have shot up over the last six years, due partly to her efforts at educating parents.

SmartStart initiatives, however, include far more than Parents as Teachers.

They subsidize childcare for families in the region who can’t afford it, along with developmental services like reading assistance and speech therapy. SmartStart also works behind the scenes with programs like WAGE$, which offers small bonuses to traditionally low-paid preschool teachers, giving them incentives to stick with it.

Across the state, SmartStart funds dozens of initiatives with local partners to support toddlers and their families. Edgerton said she’s concerned that SmartStart won’t be able to continue offering the quality of services it does now.

“You’ve got to remember that we’ve had drastic budget cuts the last 10 years,” said Edgerton. “I’ve been here for 13 years at the Partnership for Children and we’ve had budget cuts for 10 years. So this is really taking a very lean budget and cutting it to blazes.”

Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, said he understands the direness of the state’s financial situation. And, he said, consolidating everything into a single birth-to-kindergarten model is an admirable pursuit. But deep cuts to the programs themselves, he said, would hurt the state’s children.

“It’s just not necessary,” said Rapp. “But you know, that’s where I think you get people that are in a straightjacket to their own political rhetoric. The bottom line on all of this is that we’ve got children who are at risk that need childcare and preschool education. I just find those kind of cuts unconscionable.”


In Cherokee this week, tribal elections are edging ever closer, with a primary scheduled for Thursday that will whittle the field for principal chief from five to two.

While the holiday weekend was dominated by campfires and fireworks, voters and candidates were gearing up for the political pyrotechnics of last-minute campaigning.

Around the Qualla Boundary, last-minute candidates forums were held to give voters a last chance to hear from those vying for their support.

Among the voters, however, the race doesn’t seem locked up, with many either tight-lipped or undecided on where they’ll throw their support.

Behind the counter at Big Cove Grocery, Cindi Standingdeer is one of them. She voted in the last election and she’s been following this one, intending to vote.

“No, not yet,” said Standingdeer, when asked if she’s picked her candidate. “I’m undecided.”

Back in downtown Cherokee, Esther Roach said the same thing.

She works at the Econolodge but had popped into Food Lion for a quick shopping trip. She missed the last election, but said she’s going to hit the polls this time.

“I’m not quite sure yet who I’ll vote for,” said Roach.

Elsewhere in the aisles, a few locals stocking up for the holiday weekend were oblivious to the upcoming election.

But that’s not for lack of effort on the candidates’ part. At the start of election season this spring, it was only sitting Chief Michell Hicks who was fighting the publicity battle.

In the intervening months, however, other candidates have leapt onto the bandwagon in a big way.

Signs for Patrick Lambert, Hicks’ challenger in the 2007 race, can be seen lining the streets not only in central Cherokee, but the outlying communities, as well. Car magnets in parking lots from Harrah’s to the Holiday Inn implore motorists to vote for Lambert.

Meanwhile, on the road leading to Cindi Standingdeer’s grocery, signs for Teresa McCoy, a candidate for vice chief, adorn telephone poles and lawns alike.

McCoy is a native of Big Cove and currently their sitting council member, but she’s going back for another try at vice chief, a race she lost twice before to incumbent Vice Chief Larry Blythe.

This time, though the field for vice chief is currently four deep — including Carroll “Peanut” Crowe and Jim Owle — McCoy has already laid down the gauntlet, looking for a rematch with Blythe come the final election in September.

Challengers this year point to the smaller checks tribal residents are receiving from casino profits and the tribe’s record debt load due to an aggressive building campaign. Sitting leaders are highlighting the tribe’s progress, improved status in the region and economic advancements.


Hicks goes for a three-peat

Principal Chief Michell Hicks is trying for his third term, and if he’s successful, would only be the second chief in history to serve 12 years.

Hicks will easily make it past this week’s primary, but could face a tough race in the final election to be held on Sept. 1.

Four years ago, Hicks won by only 13 votes against challenger Patrick Lambert, who is running again this time.

Along with Lambert, there are three other candidates on the ballot for chief — Gary Ledford, Juanita Wilson and Missy Crowe — but only one will go on to share the ballot with Hicks in September.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has roughly 14,000 enrolled members, not all of whom live on the Qualla Boundary but are scattered across the country. Only members who come to the polls in person are allowed to vote, except under special circumstances like those in the military or disabled.

A primary will be held for principal chief, vice chief, tribal council and school board.

Polling sites will be open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 7.


Graduation ceremonies are, by their nature, boring. The bookend of an educational phase is supposed to be a solemn occasion, launching you into the world with the gravity of education behind you. That’s how they’re designed.

And, by and large, most graduation speeches are the same. Not dissimilar to Ben Stein’s signature performance in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — toneless uninspired droning — it may actually a decent speech, but its pleasant advice quickly fades into the background. It’s a graduation speech. No one remembers it. That’s how they’re designed. Most of the time.

The Nantahala School’s nine-member graduating class of 2011 probably won’t forget their commencement speaker, though.

The school is small — its senior class not even large enough to populate a soccer team — and tucked into a remote corner of Macon County, perched on a winding road that snakes up the mountainous regions of the Upper Nantahala River.

When asked who they wanted to speak at their graduation, they chose Rev. Daniel “Cowboy” Stewart.

He’s the pastor of a small Baptist church in nearby Robbinsville.

Stewart gave a rousing sermon, in which he brought a volunteer on stage, bound them in numerous ropes until they couldn’t move and then placed a bag over their head. It was an object lesson illustrating the prowess of the devil at prowling like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

“The devil is out to destroy you, to tie you up. These people who took drugs, overdosed and died didn’t mean to. They got tied up,” said Stewart, according to an article in the Andrews Journal.

The roaring lion bit was a reference to the Biblical book of 1 Peter, and Stewart’s companion lesson was, by most definitions, memorable.

But it was also, by the Supreme Court’s definition, illegal.

“The courts have been very clear that public schools are places where events must be neutral towards religion,” said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. “The courts have been stricter in applying the establishment clause of the First Amendment to public schools because this is a captive audience of impressionable children, of young people.”

That would be the clause commonly known as separation of church and state, and the courts have long erred on the side of keeping school-sponsored religious messages out of public schools, said Haynes.

Dan Brigman is the superintendent for the Macon County School District, and as part of his job, goes to all the graduations in the district. He gave out diplomas at Nantahala.

“It wasn’t a revival, but he had some strong encouraging words for the kids to make good decisions,” said Brigman. He conceded that describing the scene might sound strange, but being there, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

As for the First Amendment issue? Brigman doesn’t see one.

“The kids get to choose who the speakers are year by year,” said Brigman, and because Stewart was chosen by the students, he didn’t see a constitutional conflict inherent in the sermon.

And it was a sermon. According to attendees of the ceremony, Stewart himself called his presentation a sermon.

But according to Haynes, students selecting the pastor to pontificate doesn’t absolve the school of constitutional responsibility.

“The end result was the same, that the school was promoting religion, it was unconstitutional. Those kind of attempts to get around the First Amendment don’t work,” said Haynes. “The students can’t vote up or down the First Amendment; it isn’t about how many people are in favor of violating religious freedom.”

He pointed to an illustrious First Amendment opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — “we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.”

Nantahala isn’t the only school that’s had brushes with godly graduation speeches. Over the last few years, valedictorians in Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada and elsewhere have been muzzled or censored for promoting religion in their graduation speeches.

A judge in Connecticut ruled in favor of a school district there that pulled a public school’s graduation ceremony from a church.

The message from the judiciary has been that religion and school-sponsored events don’t mix.

Some, said Henry, say students are legally allowed to speak on religion at graduation in the same way that they can pray in their own classrooms or hold student-led religious events like See You At The Pole.

But outside speakers don’t get that privilege.

Like Brigman, Macon County School Board Chair Thomas Cabe said he wasn’t concerned by the presentation.

“I didn’t really see any problem with it,” said Cabe. “I’m not super religious, but I‘m sure that those people over there wanted it and I‘m sure that if it’d been any religion it would’ve worked.”

Brigman and Cabe didn’t know if the school had a vetting process for the speaker, if anyone had a look at his remarks before he took the stage.

Brigman said he’d never given such a once-over to a speaker in his time as superintendent.

Other schools in the region aren’t running into the same problem, but that’s largely because most don’t have outside speakers to begin with.

Macon County’s other high schools — Highlands High, Franklin High, Macon Early College and Union Academy — all had non-student speakers, but they were benign secular appointments; a retiring educator, a local businessman, a watercolor artist and the superintendent himself.

Haywood and Swain counties both had only student speakers at their high schools, which sidesteps the potential First Amendment land mine.

It’s not like controversial graduation speakers are a new phenomenon, though. Last year, a Philadelphia school tapped Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback recently incarcerated for dog fighting, to grace their ceremony, causing a small contretemps.

But usually such choices are confined to colleges and universities, where the money to afford anyone worthy of controversy is more readily available. And often it’s their presence that causes a stir, not their remarks.

It should be said, too, that Stewart’s remarks, while allegedly at odds with the Constitution, haven’t really caused a stir in Nantahala.

Brigman said his office has fielded no calls on the issue. The nearby Andrews Journal ran a story on the ceremony and an editorial denouncing Stewart’s choice to use it a platform for a sermon, but the responses those garnered in letters to the editor and Facebook comments were mostly in support of Stewart. And mostly from Robbinsville, where Stewart pastors Cedar Cliff Baptist Church.

“Nantahala graduates decided who to speak so allow them their choice without bashing their choice,” said one Graham County commenter, Tracy Shockley.

But on the whole, Nantahalans themselves have been publicly quiet on the brouhaha.

Haynes’ point, however, remains. Constitutionality isn’t up for a vote.

And, he says, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing environment.

“What’s missing from a lot of conversations in school districts is how many ways religion can come into public schools in an appropriate way,” said Haynes. “It isn’t either we keep it all out or we find ways to promote religion. Those two choices are false choices and unconstitutional choices. There is a better way.”

Daniel Stewart could not be reached for comment.


This summer in Waynesville, it’s an unconventional rags-to-riches tale that will light up the Haywood Arts Regional Theater mainstage with song, dance and just a little more — or maybe less.

“Gypsy” is the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, the legendary burlesque dancer who rose to fame on the hopes and schemes of her show-biz mother.

Lee was well known for bringing a special brand of wit and sophistication to the world of high-class strip tease, and the musical adapts her own view of her meteoric rise to stardom.

While the show is a big-time Broadway musical in the tradition of “Hello Dolly,” “Guys and Dolls” and their ilk, Director Steven Lloyd said it eally hinges on its characters rather than its choral numbers.

“It really is about people that you come to care about,” said Lloyd, who is the executive director of HART. “It’s a good actor’s musical.”

But don’t be fooled, it’s also a major undertaking, the largest the theater has ever produced.

With 14 sets, more than 100 costumes and 50 people working in the cast and crew, it’s the largest and most expensive show that’s ever graced the stage at HART.

Lloyd said they chose this year to stage such a performance because he felt that it was about time for the regional amateur theater to get back into the big, Broadway staples, especially since no one in Western North Carolina has brought “Gypsy” to life in years.

“It’s an opportunity to kind-of pull the stops out and do something special,” said Lloyd.

In total, the show will cost around $30,000, more than the theater has shelled out on other productions, but Lloyd said he is confident in the show and in the fan base that has made HART’s summer musicals legendary.

Though the theater stages shows year round, it’s really the annual summer musical that has made HART a regional theater player.

This year, Lloyd expects 4,000 people to attend the musical’s 14-show run, which starts on July 8 and continues through July 24. Half of those, said Lloyd, will be out-of-town visitors, but half will be locals and season ticket holders.

Each summer, the troupe’s musical offering brings in 20 to 25 percent of the theater’s total operating budget, so Lloyd and his cast and crew are counting on Gypsy to draw the same crowds today as she did in her burlesque heyday.

The show is based on the memoirs of Lee, born Rose Louise Lee, which chronicle her life in show business in the 30s and 40s. Lee rose from upstaged older sister on the Vaudville circuit to world-renowned burlesque performer in only a few years, spurred on by her mother, Rose.

Mama, Lloyd points out, is really the heart of the show, at turns encouraging and exasperating, doing whatever it takes to make her baby a star.

“Mama is really the star,” said Lloyd. “It’s really her story.”

Telling that story is a cast of amateur players from around the region, some seasoned performers and some first-time thespians.

The show, said Lloyd, can be a challenge just because of its massive scope. On both the Vaudville and burlesque circuits, the troupe never travels the same place twice, making sets and scenes a production all their own.

But when the curtain finally closes on “Gypsy,” it will leave audiences celebrating the wit, talent and guts of one of the stage’s most celebrated performers.


‘Gypsy’ at HART

WHEN: July 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 29, 30 at 7:30 p.m.; July 10, 17, 24, 31 at 3 p.m.

HOW MUCH: Adults $22, Seniors $20, Students $10

WHAT ELSE: For tickets, call 828.456.6322 visit For information, visit


Tammy Cagle, once the leader of the Swain County Department of Social Services, has been given the ax by the department’s board of directors.

Cagle, however, is fighting the decision. She’s appealed to the board, who handed down the decision in a closed hearing last week.

The five-member board let the former director go for charges of insubordination and conduct unbecoming to a state employee, but no further details were given in the statement released last week.

Swain DSS has been embroiled in controversy since the State Bureau of Investigation raided the agency and seized its computers in February as part of an ongoing probe into an alleged cover-up following the death of a 15-month-old Cherokee baby, Aubrey Littlejohn.

The child’s family members repeatedly warned Swain DSS of abuse and neglect, but social workers failed to remove the baby from its caretaker or adequately investigate the claims. After Aubrey’s death, social worker Craig Smith, falsified records to hide the negligence. Though he claims the cover-up was at the insistence of his superiors, Cagle denied the claim at a DSS board meeting earlier this month.

“Have I led or participated in any cover-up or falsification of records with this agency? No, absolutely not,” Cagle said.

Cagle was suspended with pay after the department launched its own investigation into the incident.

Her dismissal, however, is for reasons unrelated to Aubrey’s death and the furor surrounding the cover-up.

Smith has since resigned.

Board members wouldn’t comment on the decision, but it’s the culmination of a controversy that filled three of the five DSS board seats with new members.

Two-thirds of the former board resigned in protest when county commissioners called publicly for the suspension of Cagle during the probe into Aubrey’s death and the alleged cover-up at the agency.

Commissioners were mostly mum on this latest decision, though.

“It was entirely their [the DSS board’s] decision what happened,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon. “We just wanted an investigation.”

Commissioner Robert White, who also chairs the DSS board, referred questions to the department’s attorney, Justin Greene, and other commissioners didn’t return calls or offered no comment.

Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s aunt, said she and her family were pleased with the decision, but wished Cagle no ill.

“It’s not about the person, it’s about the position. The person in that position has to be in control of the people under them,” said McCoy. “We’re just glad that the board made the decision that they did with the director and hopefully the new director will come in and build good relationships with the tribe and the surrounding communities, so people have faith again in the DSS.”

Cagle has spent the last 13 years of her career with social services in Swain County, the last six as the director.

She started in 1998 as an entry-level social worker, moving up the ranks to supervisor, program director and, in 2005, director.

Since her suspension, the department has brought in Jerry Smith, a social work veteran from Brevard, as an interim director with extensive experience and degrees in the field.

In waiting for the investigation to wrap up, the county has been on the hook for both Cagle’s $66,000 salary and the cost to have Smith temporarily at the wheel.

Now that Cagle has lodged her appeal, the board will schedule another hearing to reexamine the case. Cagle will have another chance to appeal to the N.C. Office of State Personnel if the board upholds their June 21 decision.

In the meantime, the board has said it will keep Smith at the helm of DSS until a permanent replacement can be installed.

Seventy-six years ago, Harry Martin decided he wanted to become a lawyer. He was 15, and knew little to nothing about the law. Or about being a lawyer, for that matter.

If your mental math is swift, you’ll know that Harry Martin is now 91. In his ninth decade, he’s friendly and genteel, not unlike the kindly grandfathers you see in children’s books, and a lawyer now for more than 60 years.

On this particular Wednesday morning, his tweed jacket and red-and-navy striped bowtie enhance that image. He’s sitting in the office of his son, Matthew Martin, now a justice on the Cherokee Tribal Court — which the elder Martin helped found — recounting the story of his long and storied legal life, starting with that fateful adolescent decision.

In studying Harry Martin’s career, there arise a series of meritorious moments that are individually noteworthy in any career, but are pretty remarkable when rolled all into one. The odds on all of these things happening in one life are probably pretty long.

He has been, chronologically, a World War II serviceman, Harvard Law graduate, trial lawyer, superior court judge, state supreme court justice, plain old lawyer again and, finally, the founding supreme court justice of the Tribal Court of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Now he sort-of does freelance justicing for the court, plays bridge on Wednesdays and works out in the morning.

But really, with Martin, it’s the tangential detours that are the most interesting.

“And then I stayed out of school for a year and worked and played in dance bands and so on,” says Martin.

Sorry, what?

The recorder was not rolling, and the reporter was having a drink of water instead of typing.

“Well, I had a scholarship based on my musical ability. I played the baritone horn and the trombone.”

OK. So what next?

Back to college, Chapel Hill this time. Could’ve been Davidson.

How did you choose?

By hitchhiking. Where the road splits — left to Chapel Hill, right to Davidson — a truckload of boys drives by. You going to Chapel Hill, they asked. Sure, why not.

Martin has a mid-tenor voice that carries only a slight Southern lilt, not crisp but deliberate, and his life has been full of these interesting side notes.

He lives now in a low-slung ranch house on the edge of Biltmore Forest, but spends a lot of his time in Cherokee, where he started the Tribal Court system in his 70s after being booted from the state supreme court.

At that level, there’s legislation that caps justices at the age of 72. By the time Martin got there, he would’ve been forced off in the middle of his second term.

He brought an age discrimination suit over it that eventually reached his own Supreme Court bench. He recused himself. And lost.

So he went back to practicing law.

“Of course, I had to leave the court. And as two or three others [justices] got caught up in age, a year-and-a-half, two years later, two or three of them talked to me and said, ‘You know, we were wrong in your case,’” said Martin, a slight, vindicated smile curving up his cheeks, the smirk of a trial lawyer who knew he was right.

But in 1980, soon after his departure from the Supreme Court, Martin got a call from Leon Jones, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Heard you left the court? Interested in another job?

Initially, Martin wasn’t. He had gone into practice with his son, Matthew, in Asheville and had little desire to leave the setup.

But, he said, Jones was persuasive, and with 26 years as a justice — 16 on the superior court and 10 on the state supreme court — who better to put down the fledgling court’s roots in fallow legal ground?

In Cherokee, though the tribe has had a court system since 1820, for decades it was run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was a BIA court, run by BIA staff employed by the federal government and enforcing BIA laws.

When Martin came in, that changed and he cleaned house.

Justices, he said, must have a law degree and pass the bar.  

He lost some justices with that one, he said.

But after a few toddling first steps, the court has flourished and is now in it 21st year, run by the tribe and implementing Cherokee code. Although Martin is not a member of the tribe himself, his groundwork helped the tribe take over its own legal system.

Martin stepped back from the chief justice role after six or seven years and into a role as a regular justice. Now he fills in as a justice whenever he’s needed.

He’s 91, and he’s sharp. He’s quick to pull up specific cases and has that lawyerly trait of loving stories that illustrate points.

To show how he learned to rely on his own work, instead of what other lawyers have done, he tells the tale of poling across the French Broad river with an opposing attorney on a research trip, only to fail to file a motion on his return.

“I’ll bet you that George Ward and I are the only lawyers in Buncombe County that poled across the French Broad river trying to settle a case,” he said. “And I learned a lot from that.”

I have no idea what poling is. It sounds very Huck Finn-esque. But it painted a good picture of the point, and it is easy to see him flourishing in a trial setting.

He is detailed, but not florid; calm cheerfulness crossed with gravitas, but not solemnity.  

He’s still in it decades later, because he is genuinely enamored of the law. On his office desk are bowtie catalogues next to law reviews. He likes to talk about the law, read the law, joke about the law, even.

“People would ask me what it’s like to be on the Supreme Court and I would tell them, ‘Well, you can’t go to the bathroom unless you can get three other votes,’” jokes Martin.

His first month practicing in 1948, he made $15.

And at the end of his career, it’s safe to say he’s made history.


Two years after its last major shakeup, the entire Canton town board is up for election again, though this time, many aldermen are intent on keeping their seats.

In the last election, three new members swept into power from a wide field of 10 candidates, after the previous board — themselves new after replacing a slew of long-time incumbents in 2007 — were ousted.

This time, some current incumbents are pointing at their accomplishments and remaining to-do lists as reasons to stay in office.

Alderman Jimmy Flynn hasn’t yet made up his mind, but said he’s leaning heavily towards filing.

“I told everybody when I ran [in 2009] I had two main goals, one was to get the new sewer line out to Buckeye Cove and we’ve accomplished that,” said Flynn. The other was the purchase of a new fire truck, also ticked off the list. Flynn said he’d like to stay around to see the sewer project through and get to a few other things lingering on the board’s agenda.

Many other members highlight the same two goals as both their success as a board and desire to keep going.

Alderman Ed Underwood is also, as yet, not at 100 percent certainty of running again, but said he’d like to, especially given the successful collaboration of the board.

Alderman Eric Dills is one member who said he’s unlikely to seek another term for non-political reasons, and Kenneth Holland could not be reached for comment.

Some board members may face challenges, though.

Local resident Patrick Willis, who has campaigned for a seat before, said he’s intent on running again this year.

“I think the town board can be much more proactive in a few areas that I think the town can improve on,” said Willis, who is the office manager for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville. “I think Canton has a lot of opportunities, it’s got a lot of advantages. It’s a great place to live.”

Not all those who emerged from the woodworks two years ago will make another go of it this time, however. Gene Monson, part of the groundswell of candidates last time reflecting dissatisfaction over the town’s leadership, said he won’t run again this time.

Meanwhile, Mayor Pat Smathers said he hasn’t given much thought to the idea of returning to the post. He’s not yet ruling it out either, however.

Smathers has held the job since 2000 and ran uncontested in the last election.

He’s been actively seeking a new vision for Canton in that time, though initiatives have stalled under previous boards.

But regardless of whether his name is on this year’s ballot, Smathers said he’s pleased with the progress the town has made this term.

“I think the town is doing, you know, under the circumstances, pretty well,” said Smathers. “I’m pretty optimistic about the future, whether I’m the mayor or not the mayor.”


Rarely is there a lull in political turmoil in Maggie Valley, and this summer is no exception.

With election filing only a few days away, Mayor Roger McElroy’s seat will again be up for grabs, as will the spots of Alderman Phil Aldridge and newly appointed Alderwoman Danya Vanhook.

Vanhook’s seat is a logical starting place in a political discussion of the valley — it’s been the most hotly contested and highly controversial over the last few months.

When Colin Edwards resigned the seat earlier this year over a spat with the town’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission Board, another tussle followed over just how to fill the vacant spot. Some in the valley thought it was only fair to appoint the runner up from the last election, who had at least gained some semblance of backing from voters, which in this case was Philip Wight. But Vanhook, a local lawyer and former district court judge who lost that seat in last November’s election, was appointed instead.

Vanhook said she’s going to throw her hat in the ring for the same reason she applied for the appointment.

“I wanted to serve the town, I wanted to continue to be in public service. It’s a way that I can serve and give back and use my legal skills to bring something to the board,” said Vanhook.

Not easily dissuaded, however, Wight may run again himself.

Meanwhile, Alderman Phil Aldridge said he intends to defend his position.

Aldridge has been embattled with other board members of late, voting against the budget and Vanhook’s appointment and publicly questioning many of the board’s other choices.

“I have a lot of passion for the valley, but what I don’t have that some of them do, I don’t have a personal agenda,” said Aldridge. He plans to try for another term because he said he’s still concerned with the town’s direction.

Last but not least is the mayoral spot, a perch long held by Roger McElroy. McElroy has said that he’ll most likely come back for another round this election year.

But he likely face a challenge from Ron DeSimone, a local contractor, has showed interest in the position.

“There’s a lot of things I see that need to be done in Maggie Valley,” said DeSimone. “Our government in Maggie Valley is growing and so are expenses, and I’m for smaller government and smaller expenses.”

DeSimone has run once before, for alderman, and applied in February for the seat that is now Vanhook’s.


In Waynesville, it’s time again for a town board election, marking the end of four-year terms for both the mayor and all four aldermen.

The election will be particularly critical with the impending retirement of longtime Town Manager Lee Galloway next year. His replacement will be chosen by the town board after the fall election.

The board already had one early shakeup, after the death of Alderman Kenneth Moore in 2009. Wells Greeley, owner of Wells Funeral Home, was tapped to fill the vacant seat and has said that he intends to run for it this year.

“I did make the commitment when I accepted the appointment to run again, so I’m following through with my word,” said Greeley. Though he was appointed to his current seat, this won’t be his first try at a political race.

Greeley ran for and was elected to an alderman post twice in Canton.

Elsewhere on the board, first-term incumbent Dr. Leroy Roberson said that he’s also considering a run for re-election, citing the success of the board in passing the town’s new land-use standards and the ease with which the current board runs.

“Basically, I enjoy doing it,” said Roberson, an optometrist with an office on Main Street. “Considering the financial difficulties that have presented themselves [with the economy], we’ve been able to maintain the services and the town, I think, is being run quite well.”

Alderman Gary Caldwell, who has now seen four terms on the board, will be going back for another shot. If he’s successful, this term would give him two decades on the board.

Not all of the longer-term board members, however, will be back for another round. Libba Feichter, who is closing out her third term on the board, won’t be returning in the fall. Feichter was out of state on family business and could not be reached for comment.

In the mayor’s chair, Mayor Gavin Brown is now wrapping up his first term as mayor, but 12th year on the board.

Brown moved up to the job of mayor in 2007 after ousting long-time incumbent Henry Foy. This year, said Brown, he’s ready to settle in for another four years.

“I don’t personally believe in term limits, I believe in limiting yourself,” said Brown, who added that his expertise and long record of service allows him to bring experience to the equation that others won’t have.

“I’ve been very pleased with the things that have happened here over the last four, eight, 12 years that I’ve been on this board. I think Waynesville is one of the best towns in the state.”

While the names of challengers have been circulating, none would confirm intentions to run yet, but there will be at least one new face on the board this fall when Feichter’s successor is chosen by voters in November.


Maggie Valley gave the thumbs up to a 2011-12 budget, voting 4-1 to approve the spending plan at a town board meeting last week.

The lone dissenter was Alderman Phil Aldridge, who opposed the budget because of its spending.

“I just think there’s been some excessive spending on the town’s level for the last number of years,” said Aldridge. “I know we’ve been in somewhat of a recession for the last three years, and I’ve seen other local municipalities cutting back on their budget and I just haven’t seen Maggie do that.”

This year, however, the town did face dwindling revenue of $135,000  that they had to make up in departmental trimming.

Town Manager Tim Barth said this was made easier since they saw the deficit coming and began planning for it in the spring.

The revenue dip was a two-fold problem, said Barth. One was lower property values following the county property revaluation. As a whole, property values dropped by 5.5 percent in Maggie, which in turn means less property tax.

The other is blamed on the census. Towns get a cut of state sales tax based on their population. The state estimates each town’s population in the intervening decade between counts. When the actual census came out this year, the state realized it was overestimating Maggie Valley’s population and it shouldn’t get as much sales tax.

Barth and his department heads gathered up around $149,000 in reductions they could make, though some of them were spared after talks with the town’s board.

When negotiations had finalized, the approved budget included some extra funds for the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds to subsidize two of its newer festivals, the Americana Roots and Beer Festival and July’s Red, White and Boom celebration, and an additional $9,000 annually to make Festival Grounds Director Audrey Hager a full-time worker.

Hager said she was appreciative of the recognition, but the raise just makes official the work she’s already been doing. Currently, Hager is only paid for 30 hours a week.

“It really just gets me paid for what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working 50, 60 hours a week anyway,” said Hager. “My plan remains the same: to try to sell to promoters the festival grounds of Maggie Valley.”

Barth said it was a measure aldermen thought was important, especially given the dearth of large attractions in the town this tourist season.

“With Ghost Town not being in business right now, they thought it was more important than ever to try to really market the festival ground and get events that will make a significant positive impact on the valley,” said Barth.

Ghost Town, however, has made a contribution to the town’s coffers — BB&T, the bank that now owns the defunct amusement park, shelled out a chunk of the back taxes owed to Maggie Valley.

That’s part of why Barth and some other aldermen are less concerned about the $54,522 that’s coming out of the fund balance to balance the budget.

Some of the town’s spending this year will go to town employees, who will all see a $1,000 raise. Part of that increase, though, will be offset by the $60,000 the town has saved by changing to Blue Cross Blue Shield for employee health insurance.

Alderwoman Danya Vanhook said that, overall, she was proud of the town for coming out with a balanced budget.

“Nobody’s getting fired or laid off and we’re not increasing taxes. It’s a win-win,” Vanhook told audience members at the public budget hearing.

Copies of the budget are available at the Maggie Valley Town Hall.


By most accounts, calling Art Williams a hands-on developer would be a pretty fair description. For decades, Williams was in the business of subdivision building, first in Florida and then in Western North Carolina.

In pretty much everything, his word was the final say. He picked the land to be developed, he divvied up the plots, he instructed engineers and construction crews. He even sold many of the lots himself.

Even as his health failed, said his wife Anne, her husband was routinely on the scene at the developments. His regular contractors said the same. He was there when the pavement was laid on the roads in Alarka Creek Properties, one of the Williams’ first developments in Swain County. And it was he who approved the words “state-approved paved roads” in brochures advertising the developments. He signed off on the erosion and sediment control plans for the 5.5 miles of roads that crisscross the development.

But it was not Williams who footed the bill when some of those roads began to deteriorate and slide from the mountains they were cut steeply into.

Of the homeowners in the subdivision, many bought their properties directly from Williams and believed the state-approved-roads pitch, until they were left with $40,000 worth of repairs and roads that were, in places, perpetually in peril.

This hadn’t been part of the purchase bargain. And in 2008, the costs and safety concerns reached a critical mass. The Alarka Creek Properties Homeowners Association took the late Williams’ Cane Creek Development Corporation to court, charging that he and his team misled them, saddling them with defective and dangerous roads.

Three years later, they won, to the tune of $3 million — the largest judgment court clerks had ever seen in Swain County — and threw into sharp relief the ongoing debate in Western North Carolina over steep-slope development and who is responsible when it falls, literally, to pieces.


What went wrong?

Alarka Creek Properties is a two-pronged development precisely 5 miles from Exit 69, just west of Bryson City. Its twin developments, Timber Creek Estates and Eagles’ Roost, sweep up the faces of neighboring mountainsides, cradling Alarka Creek neatly between them.

They’re not subdivisions in the traditional sense — there’s no pool or clubhouse, and most of the homes aren’t even within shouting distance of one another. They do have gates and a homeowners’ association, but really, the two developments are collections of retirement retreats and second homes, a mixture of already-built houses and empty plots that boast spectacular vistas of the surrounding landscapes.

The roads that lead to and connect them, though, aren’t for the faint of heart or fragile of vehicle. Sitting at the apex of Eagles’ Roost, facing down the mountain isn’t dissimilar to the slow crest of a rollercoaster’s first descent, peering down the long incline. They drop off steeply to one side and hug the sheer mountainside on the other. And though few cars are around to traverse the lanes, meeting one headed in the opposite direction can be a harrowing experience. The views are pastoral — the drive, less so.

The roads are anywhere from seven to 10 feet across. In places, there are signs of distress — fissures and cracking. They’re all passable now, but that hasn’t always been the case.

“We’ve had three multi-thousand dollar slides, we had a road that we had to move 2,000 feet of with blasting,” said John Foster, the homeowners’ association’s one-time president. “Ultimately, the road probably should not have been put in.”

That is, of course, only his opinion.

But, according to a study done by Bunnell-Lammons Engineering, a geotechnical firm out of Asheville, he’s at least partially correct.

There was never a dedicated, detailed road plan drawn up for Alarka Creek’s roads. Swain County doesn’t require one, and unless a developer plans on leaving the road in the state’s care, neither does the state.

There was, however, the required erosion and sediment control plan that detailed how the roads would meet state standards for erosion and run-off on the steep fill slopes — manmade grades with fill dirt pulled from the surrounding mountain.

It’s not a definitive road-building guide, but it spelled out the basic standards for what would be installed at Alarka Creek: road thickness, slope and drainage measures.

And, said the engineering firm, had developers and contractors followed the plans, the roads probably would’ve been fine.

But they didn’t.


Detailing the problems

There are, said the report, four basic reasons for mountain road failure: insufficient pavement thickness, insufficient asphalt compaction, slope instability and bad drainage.

In places, Alarka Creek’s roads showed all four.

Where the plans called for pavement to be two inches thick, in some spots it was only 1.5.  They specified six inches of crushed stone under that pavement. Most roads averaged only 5.4. One had barely more than an inch.

Ninety-five to 96 percent compaction is industry standard for a fill slope — unlike the mountain’s native soil, it hasn’t had thousands of years to build up its structural integrity. The more densely packed, the less likely it’ll move around, cracking and sliding. That’s what the plans called for, too.

Most of the subdivision’s roads averaged between 84 and 89 percent compaction.

And then there’s the slope.

The state recommends a two-to-one, horizontal-to-vertical slope ratio at minimum for a safe road. And again, that’s what appeared on the erosion control plan submitted to the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

But the engineering firm found some of the slopes to be as steep as one-to-one.

“The roadway fill embankments evaluated have a significant potential for instability because the roadway fill embankments are constructed of loose fill that have a steeper slope inclination than fill soil conditions can support,” read the summary report.

In other words, you can’t have loose dirt and a steep road, too, or eventually, you won’t have a road.

“When you have slopes too steep and base and asphalt too thin, the roads are going to fall apart,” said Dan Bryson of Raleigh, the lead attorney on the homeowners’ side. The case, he said, was simple — poorly constructed roads sold through false advertising.

“When they showed homeowners paved road as an inducement to sell, it was a bait and switch,” said Bryson. “There was significant engineers’ testimony that these roads were not built pursuant to local standards. When you build a road, there’s just some basic things you have to do. And it’s going to take a little bit longer, but you just need to do it right.”

Anne Williams, Art Williams’ widow, disagrees with those assertions. As the sole owner of Cane Creek Development, she is the defendant.

Bryson and his legal team pointed to the multiple slides and alligator cracking — patchwork cracks that resemble the crusty reptilian pattern of an alligator’s back — as signs that the roads were faulty from the outset.

“But that’s typical of all roads in [Western] North Carolina, when you pave them,” said Williams. “All the other evidence was that we had done the right thing, we’d done the best roads we could do. State roads slide all the time, and 90 percent of that road is there the same way we built it.”

Could they have gotten a geotechnical engineer, like BLE, to come and test the sites before the road was laid? Sure, said Williams. But no developer does that, she said; it’s too cost prohibitive.

“You‘re selling lots to average people. This is not a country club setting,” said Williams. “We wanted to build in a way that the average person could buy and have a second home, not what we always called the ritzy ditzy.”

Plus, she said, they knew what they were getting.

“They all personally signed [a statement] that they understood that these were private roads and they were inferior to state roads and that the burden of keeping up the roads would be on the homeowners’ association,” said Williams.

And regardless of the roads’ initial construction, that much is true. Which points to a problem facing not just Swain County, but every mountainside subdivision in the region.


Caveat Emptor

Paul Carlson is a man familiar with degraded land. He’s the executive director of the Franklin-based Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, a non-profit group that works in land preservation. He is concerned about the glut of developments in WNC such as Alarka Creek, where steep lots connected by questionable roads have now fallen to owners to maintain. And those owners may not have always done their homework.

“Perhaps they hadn’t done significant due diligence to find out what they’re getting into, and now collectively own a liability,” said Carlson. And what then? “With poorly designed road systems on these properties, every year that passes the liability is increasing. Well, who’s going to be responsible for that stuff?”

That’s a question that legal precedents like the Alarka Creek case are looking to settle, but historically, a lot of homeowners have been left holding the bag on decaying roads they didn’t think they signed up for.

John Foster certainly didn’t. When he bought his plot in Alarka Creek, he didn’t dream Williams would sell him a lot on an unsafe road. But he didn’t look too far into it, either.

“I thought it was steep, but again with the advertisement of state-approved, I thought, ‘OK, if the state of North Carolina is going to approve this, then I’m OK with it,’” said Foster. “We did sign a release, but what we understood was we were going to maintain the roads, but we were going to be given roads that were maintainable.”

But this, of course, is not actually a given.

The truth is that, when it comes to private roads, no one is really checking.

During pre-trial interviews, lawyers asked that very question: is there anyone who makes sure these roads are being constructed properly? A state agency? Local authorities? A retired volunteer? Anyone?

“When you construct a house, you have an inspector come in and say ‘this house is substantially complete and it has been constructed in conformance with the plans and specs submitted on file’… to your knowledge, there is no one who does that for roads or private roads?” Bryson’s fellow attorney Scott Harris asked Victor Lofquist, a civil engineer in Sylva who did the erosion plan for Alarka Creek and most of Williams’ other projects.

“Not that I am aware of anywhere,” replied Lofquist.

Doug Parker, the excavator who helped install the roads, replied similarly.

“To my knowledge, there is no equivalent to that (a building inspector) on a road development project,” said Parker.

And that’s become pretty clear in the years since mountainside developments began to see their vogue.

Roads have been splintering and slipping off the hills in subdivisions around the region, and local officials began to realize that maybe someone should, in fact, be looking.


Road Regulation

Enter subdivision ordinances, those controversial local laws that give officials a little more power over what’s going up in their jurisdiction and how it’s built.

Haywood County has one that limits cut slopes to 1.5 to one, and spells out things that state erosion control standards do not, such as no organic matter in roadbeds; it will decompose and crack holes in the street. And they keep tabs to make sure it’s all being done according to plan.

“What would happen is if somebody built a subdivision road here that was subject to the erosion control law is you would submit your plan to us, we would give you approval, we would inspect it periodically. Then we do perform a final inspection,” said Marc Pruett, erosion control program director in Haywood County.

In Jackson County, a similar ordinance was passed, drawing some ire from developers in a locale heavy laden with second homes peppering the steep mountain faces.

But when it comes to such laws, there is a schism in the church of steep-slope construction.

Parker told attorneys in his deposition that those regulations helped grind his subdivision road-building work to a halt in Jackson County.

“We used to (build roads) a lot until we had a subdivision ordinance in this county and then it came to a stop,” said Parker. “Pretty much everything in this area that stopped developing because there was restraints of subdivision ordinances.”

Swain County has no such regulations. There was some movement on the idea around 2007. A committee was even formed, spurred by the news that emergency vehicles couldn’t traverse some of the county’s dicier residential roads. Recommendations were made, but nothing ever came of them. Swain commissioners apparently lacked the political will, in a county that doesn’t even have a planning board.

In neighboring Macon County, a so-called steep slope ordinance is in talks. Macon is dealing with the aftermath of the Wildflower development, which is the apocryphal, when-roads-attack story that seems to drift into most steep-slope conversations.

Wildflower was a behemoth of a development on the side of Cowee Mountain that broke ground in 2005, at the height of the mountain real estate upswing. At the time, it was controversial, but only because local residents feared such an influx of inhabitants would overstretch their resources.

Four years later, most of its lots were in foreclosure. Then the ground broke on it: One of its key thoroughfares collapsed, a landslide followed and a subsequent geological survey cast serious doubt on the rest of the roads in the place. Downslope residents were warned to brace for debris in case of extreme weather.

The neighborhood’s manager defended the roads, calling the collapse an isolated incident and pointing to the fact that the rest of the roads had erosion control approval.

But so, presumably, did the decimated road.


Finding solutions

Back on Alarka, the victorious homeowners are not yet rejoicing. Anne Williams maintains that she is an 81-year-old widow who had nothing to do with the roads’ construction and has no money to pay $3 million for their repairs. She said her refusal to settle with the homeowners wasn’t stubbornness, but insolvency.

“The fact is we lost on Alarka. We may have put in $3 million, but none of it came out of the profit. We have not had to pay income tax for profit reasons for at least five years, if not longer than that,” said Williams. She said she’s closed Cane Creek Development, laid off the staff and headed back to Florida to live off her Social Security.

Dan Bryson, however, thinks Williams’ cries of poormouth are, at best, disingenuous. He’s starting another proceeding against her that, in legalese, is called ‘piercing the veil.’ Basically, he’s going after all the other corporations she has, trying to draw some of the sizeable settlement from them.

In the rest of the region, though, the problem of unstable roads persists, though subdivision ordinances and the economy are cutting down on the number of new substandard streets going down.

Gordon Small, who works with the Haywood Waterway Association, is working on a project to help new developers find the most suitable road locations in the first place, rewarding them with a certification if they follow expert suggestions.

“The No.1 source of non-point pollution — or mud in the creek  — is roads,” said Small. His group is trying to get county commissioners to get on board with the idea.

“You can’t observe this and not be concerned about that,” he said. “People are beginning to recognize that it’s to their advantage to know what’s going to move and what’s not.”

Carlson, with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, said he’s looking toward an inventory of the region’s perilous roads, so at least they can be monitored for movement.

“Clearly in [the last] decade up until 2008, it was absurd to try to make the argument that the highest and best use of steep-slope land was for forestry, but now it’s kind-of interesting to revisit the question,” said Carlson. “I think a lot of these lands — the most marginal, steep, remote lands where these roads were punched in — it may be that no one wants them.”

And for developers still around, the Swain County jury’s decision is ringing clearly through the mountains.

“I think these jurors are tired of developers who come in, deface the mountains and then put in substandard roads, sell out all the lots and then try to avoid liability,” said Dan Bryson. “I hope that this judgment sends a signal to every developer: if you pave a road on a mountain in Western North Carolina, it needs to be done properly.”


The term HAM radio doesn’t usually conjure visions of a chic hi-tech world, but usually something closer to, as Al Sanders put it, “a bunch of old gray headed guys talking on the radio.”

Sanders heads up a Haywood group of a few dozen hams, as they call themselves, who spend their free time tinkering and talking on amateur radio.

But, Sanders notes, the gray heads aren’t ruling the day in amateur radio anymore. The hobby has, indeed, gone hi-tech.

“If you can get the younger folks engaged, then they really do get turned on by it,” said Sanders. “So many of the HAM radio hobbyists clubs are dying because they don’t get involved with the younger people.”

But these days, there’s plenty to entice a younger, digitally native crowd. Computers, said Sanders, are an integral part of the hobby for some enthusiasts, and there are a multitude of apps for nearly every species of smart phone that will connect you to a HAM frequency.

And that can connect you with people in just about every corner of the world.

Gary Dahlhofer, another member of the Haywood County Amateur Radio Club, just chatted last week with a guy on an island near Portugal, and then with a friend in Florida. Just before that he connected with a user in Switzerland. All without a long-distance charge or dock to his cell minutes.

At its essence, the hams were the first truly global social network, making connections with other radio users across the globe long before the Internet was a common term.

To be a ham, you have to get licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, though that’s not as hard as it once was, said Dahlhofer. There’s no more Morse code to memorize.

Once the test is passed, it gives you access to a range of radio frequencies, which means all you need is a radio and antenna to get started talking to someone across the street or across the world.

For many hams, it’s that social aspect that keeps them enamored of the radios. For others, like Sanders, it’s knowing why and how it all works.

“Most people don’t have a clue what makes a cell phone work and what makes an email work, but with HAM radio, you can get in and understand your equipment,” said Sanders. He was the kind of kid who would rather take apart his toys than play with them, so HAM radio was a natural fit for him.

And that’s another selling point of HAM radio — it’s not reliant on infrastructure like cell phones and emails, which makes it not only an interesting hobby but a potentially life-saving one.

If a massive event, such as a tornado or landslide, knocks out cell towers and traditional radio communications, the hams can be up and running.

“What the hams can do is assist them [emergency personnel] in communication when a major incident happens,” said Dahlhofer, which is why half of their club is certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help out on such occasions.

Right now, the club is trying to take it a step further, raising money to buy handheld GPS units that operate on HAM frequencies (they’re handheld size). In a catastrophe, emergency workers outfitted with them could still be tracked on their rescue or recovery missions, whereas conventional GPS units would be reliant on infrastructure to work.

They could even be used for less calamitous events like the annual Blue Ridge Breakaway, tracking which riders are where.

The Breakaway is a cycling race, now in its second year, held on scenic roads sponsored by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. Since there isn’t cell reception on the whole race route, particularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway portion, hams were integral to keeping the race safe.

Hams rode motorcycles along behind the cyclists, relaying their locations back to central HAM operators. With the new GPS equipment, they could keep track of riders throughout the pack with ease.

The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the race, has already pitched in to help pay for the tools.

They’re trying to come up with $2,000 for the devices, which cost $260 each, and they’re seeking tax-deductible donations from the community to help out.

From simple socializing to community safety, HAM radio has many applications, and you don’t have to be a techie to fall in love with the tech, said Dahlhofer.

“I’m an investment banker with a marketing degree,” he said. “I think my interest in HAM radio at that level was to talk to other people around the world. It’s just fun making contacts with different people.”


Learn more:

What: HAM Radio Field Day
Where: State Employees Credit Union, Clyde
When: 9 a.m. Saturday, June 25 until 3 p.m. Sunday, June 26


This year, the math of moving districts will give virtually every western block a shift.

Sen. Jim Davis’s, R-Franklin, Senate District 50, which now claims seven counties — Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson and Transylvania — plus part of Haywood, lacks around 15,000 patrons to reach the threshold.

“I know my district is going to change,” said Davis. “We’ve got to pick up 15,000 in population, but I don’t know exactly how it’s going to change. I think that I may get more of Haywood County, but I don’t know for sure.”

He could scoop up a greater share of Haywood to bring enough voters into the fold, but all of Haywood would push him over the threshold. Unless, however, Transylvania was given the boot.

Without Transylvania, the seven western counties — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, Graham and Cherokee — perfectly comprise a Senate district. Haywood would not need to be split between two senate districts as it is now.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Haywood County, the horseshoe-shaped ward of Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine, that wraps from Haywood up to Mitchell and back down to McDowell likewise needs to expand its boundaries to bring in enough voters. This is due partly to the across-the-board district broadening the census has imposed on rural areas and exacerbated by possibly losing his existing slice of Haywood. He will likely have to shift northeast to pull in enough people.

Over in the house, Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, knows his district will have some rearranging to do, as well.

“It will have to be divided. There is no way you can do it (otherwise),” Haire said. “There is a certain amount of common sense that goes in to it.”

The way he sees it, the process must start in Cherokee County, at the state’s westernmost corner, picking up the populace in pieces as it moves along.

“You have to have so many people in a district. If one county doesn’t have it you add another county, if that doesn’t do it you add in another,” said Haire.

And if you start in the corner and move steadily eastward, it’s almost certain that his district will, again, split Haywood.

House District 119, Haire’s domain, now takes in Swain, Jackson and parts of Haywood and Macon counties.

But doing east-moving math, Cherokee, Graham, Clay and Macon make a perfect district — just upwards of 80,000 people, falling neatly in the range for a House district without splitting any county. From there, it moves up toward Jackson and Swain, but those two together are 20,000 people shy of a district. So Haire would have to take a 20,000-person bite out of Haywood or Transylvania; one of the two would have to be split.

Slicing Haywood to give to Haire seems the most likely for a couple of reasons, the most practical being geography and likeness — Haywood is far more similar to and easily accessible from Swain and Jackson counties than Transylvania.

But there are, of course, political considerations as well.

Rep. David Guice, R-Brevard, holds all of Transylvania at the moment. And his party holds the power in this year’s redistricting, so it seems unlikely that splitting that historically Republican county away from Guice would be high on any Republican agenda.

Right now, Haire has a pretty small sliver of Haywood County — around 25 percent — but were he to grab from there as many votes as he needed, he’d be claiming almost half of the county.

Which brings the discussion to Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, who now shares the county with Haire. He would lose some of his voters in Haywood to Haire’s district, forcing him to push further north and east in a bid for a full district, claiming the whole of Yancey County into his three-county district.

In legislatures around the nation, it’s that time of decade again — time to break out the old redistricting maps and rehash the legislative lines.

Every 10 years, following the decennial census, lawmakers are constitutionally obliged to rearrange their districts so a roughly equal number of people are in each one, ensuring an representative Democracy of one person, one vote.

In North Carolina, the General Assembly is permanently comprised of 170 members: 50 senators and 120 representatives. Most every district will be finagled at least a little.

The state’s population grew by 18.5 percent, so the number of people in each districts must likewise grow. House districts, then, need 79,462 people. Senators now have to represent 190,710.

Since creating districts with such exact numbers would be hopelessly arduous, the rules allow for 5 percent more or less in every district.

For senators and representatives in the west, this means their districts will likely grow, pushing north and east in the pursuit of enough constituents.

This whole series of scenarios is a picture of the larger, statewide trend: over the last decade, urban areas have blown up. Rural areas, not quite so much, according to the 2010 census.

So legislators in more rural regions on the state’s mountain and coastal bookends are going to see their already-sizable districts balloon in geographic scope, freeing up legislative seats for faster-growing urban areas.

On the whole, two governing principles drive the redistricting process: equal representation among districts and districts where the predominant factor isn’t race.

Beyond that, the state’s constitution asks that counties be kept together, though as Western North Carolina proves, that’s often impracticable.

Then there’s the added political layer, which is what produces gerrymandered districts, those that are outlandishly drawn to cater to one party or politician’s interest.

In the gerrymandering game, North Carolina isn’t quite a gold-medal winner. Maryland has a few districts that resemble nothing so much as a polygraph readout, while Florida boasts a congressional region or two that look like a dot-matrix printer gone awry on a map.

But political considerations have factored into the state’s districts, and they haven’t always taken the constitutional mandates into account, splitting counties either for necessity or political consideration.

One thing nearly everyone agrees on, however, is that the future of redistricting would be a more equitable landscape if politics were taken out of the process altogether.

That’s the intent of House Bill 824, co-sponsored by Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, which passed in the House earlier this month.

It calls for a non-partisan, staff-penned plan that’s based on district compactness, continuity and constitutional mandates. Legislators would then give the map an up-or-down vote.

“I think what’s important is they don’t take into account the current residence of sitting members. So you don’t get into ‘oh, that’s so-and-so’s district, we’ve got to carve that out so he stays or she stays in this district,’” said Rapp.

The plan would kick in with the 2020 census and is based on Iowa’s method, which has been operating there for four decades without a single court challenge. The same cannot be said for North Carolina’s procedures.

“I think what it’ll do is ensure fairness in the process,” said Rapp. “Every decade we’ve had court challenges to the redistricting plan in North Carolina. I think there’s just a time when you say, ‘let’s do it right.’ Just do it straight up, straight forward so it’s fair and let the chips fall where they may.”

Rapp found bi-partisan support for the measure in the House, and he’s hoping for the same in the Senate.

For his part, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said he’s not against the idea.

“Some states do it that way and it seems to work pretty well,” said Davis. “Politicians are going to be really reluctant to give up that authority, but I think that has some merit.”

The legislature doesn’t yet have a final plan for the new districts, but committees have been meeting in both chambers to investigate the task, and the whole assembly is slated to start discussing it in mid-July, with recommendations due by the end of that month.


To split or not to split

Haywood County is a split county in both chambers represented by two different legislators. But now, there’s a move afoot to pull it back into a single district. Anyone putting pencil to paper to do the math, however, has realized it simply might not be possible.

This year, Haywood County’s Republican Party is lobbying for the county to be returned to one district, arguing that two house and two senate districts are confusing to voters and dilute the county’s legislative influence.

“It would be better if we were dealing with one legislator better than two,” said John Meinecke, chair of the Haywood County Republican Party. “The fact that we’ve been separated diminishes our political authority with the people in Raliegh. We’re the largest county west of Asheville, and yet it diminishes our political authority by having it divided the way it was.”

Local Democrats maintain the opposite, saying that four is always better than two, giving the county more clout and voice than surrounding counties.

“We are well-served — or have been in the past — by having four instead of two. We’ve had two senators and two representatives. I guess it just serves our county better,” countered Janie Benson, who heads up the Haywood Democrats.

Though they’d been asked to support a resolution in favor of joining the county, county commissioners declined to take a stance on the issue earlier this month.

It all started with an offer, a bar — or restaurant, depending on who you talk to — and a U-Haul truck.

That’s how the Smoky Mountain Brass Band, one of the region’s first and longest standing community bands, got its genesis. Thirty years later, it’s still going strong.

The offer was from Yamaha, a world leader in musical instruments. They were trying to drum up some interest in brass bands in America, so they offered free leases on instruments for the first year.

So, said Dick Trevarthen, the group’s founding conductor, he and a few others who had gone to Raleigh for an interest meeting, went across the street to the bar/restaurant to discuss the proposition.

The next day, they’d loaded a U-Haul and drove their new instruments back to Waynesville. They had officially started a brass band.

In the intervening three decades, the band has gone through many incarnations — a string of conductors, and a long roster of members. They were once fierce competitors, winning the first North American Brass Band Association championship in 1985. Then they had a smaller performing group called the Smoky 12 who traveled to fairs, festivals and the like most every weekend there for a while.

After a few years, they got out of the competition circuit — too taxing, both physically and financially — but they kept on performing around the region, eventually raising enough money to pay off their instruments about 10 years into it.

Ron Heulster is the only band member who has been with it for all 30 years. He figures he wins the group award for going the longest stint without playing his instrument. Heulster spent 20 years away from the horn, and the instrument he plays today he’d never touched before joining the band.

For Heulster, those years of competition and performance-heavy calendars were probably the most exciting he’s seen with the band. But they were also the hardest.

“I think there was a time I thought, ‘is this what it’s like to be a musician?’” said Huelster, who isn’t a musician by trade. In fact, none of the band members are, or ever have been, really.

There have always been music professionals in the band or leading it — band directors of all stripes, some music professors — but mostly, the group is comprised of people in thoroughly non-musical careers.

“The people come from all over,” said John Entzi, the group’s current director. “We’ve got a math teacher at Asheville High School, a financial planner, a former band director retired from Florida, a middle school teacher, a retired salesman, a former music teacher, a pharmacist at Mission. So you can see the wide angle. We’ve got people in there who are professional quality players and people who play the horn only once a week.”

And that has always been a mission of the band, to be for the community.

“One of the first things our board of directors decided was that anyone who wanted to play who could play halfway decently could play at any age,” said Dick Trevarthen, a founding member of the group and its conductor for 11 years.

Of course there is an audition process, but mostly people come for the love of the music.

Before he founded the brass band, Trevarthen tried to get a concert band going in Waynesville. It was mostly brass players that showed up, though.

“Brass players showed up from all over, and very few woodwind players, and that seems to be characteristic,” said Trevarthen.

Bill Bryant, who conducted the group until 2006, said that’s because, among brass players, there’s a distinct camaraderie.

“Brass players feel a certain kinship,” said Bryant. “With brass band people, it’s a following, so that they have their own festivals and their own competitions and their own literature. It’s its own family, its own fraternity of brass players.”

And that probably has something to do with the history of the brass band itself.

Brass bands in the United States just started springing up over the last three decades, and even now they’re usually only found in larger cities like Raleigh and Atlanta.

But the brass band tradition was birthed over a century ago in Great Britain, where amateur musicianship found a home among the working class. Bands were formed in communities, but most notably around large-scale employers such as mills and mines. Where America had company baseball leagues, the British had company brass bands that would pack theaters to compete against each other for cash prizes.

In the 1890s, there were more than 40,000 amateur bands up and down the country, practicing in lunch breaks and after work.

So the tradition is built around the people and the brotherhood that the band forms.

For most in the Smoky Mountain Brass Band, that’s what keeps it an appealing prospect 30 years in.

“I keep going back to the people. They’re the driving force in that band,” said Entzi.

Trevarthen agrees, and he’s glad that the group’s original focus has remained essentially the same.

“It’s the music itself and the camaraderie. We had great musical moments in concerts and in competitions, but also just a great deal of fun,” said Trevarthen.

Now that they’re heading into their 30th season, they’re still looking to make great music and have a great time doing it.

Heulster said he, like many musicians, just love getting up on the stage and performing with other players.

“I do it for the enjoyment of playing,” said Heulster. “I’m not a crossword puzzle person, I read a lot, but music is a way of keeping active. There’s something exciting about playing in a group of people.” And it’s what, after 30 years, keeps him coming back to practice every Tuesday.


See them in concert

When: 3 p.m., June 19

Where: Waynesville Courthouse Steps

Why: Donations will benefit the Phil Campbell High School Band in Phil Campbell, Ala., which was destroyed by tornadoes in April.


At least we have our jobs.

That seems to be the reaction to cost-cutting measures taken last week by Haywood County Schools in response to up to $4 million in cuts from the federal, state and local funding.

More than 200 Haywood County school employees will see their work year shortened, allowing the school system to avoid outright layoffs.

School officials are cutting 12 days out of teacher assistant contracts, trimming assistant principals from an 11.5-month year to only 11 months and taking two weeks salary from food-service workers. Bus drivers are also losing some compensation, namely the bonus they got for perfect attendance and a good driving record.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte said he knew this was a tough pill to swallow, but the school system was trying to save jobs by spreading the pain a little, and, he said, the employees seemed to understand that.

“You think that when someone gets their time and their pay cut, they would be upset, but I’ve had several calls saying it seems like it would be a difficult thing to do and it seems like the right thing to do to save as many jobs as you can,” said Nolte.

That’s exactly what Sherri Green thinks. Green is a first-grade assistant at Jonathan Valley Elementary in Maggie Valley. She’s been a teacher assistant for 11 years now, and prior to last week, she and her colleagues were concerned that their jobs would be lost along with state funding.

“It’s certainly not an ideal situation, but we are relieved that we got keep our jobs. I understand the state cuts and how that works, but locally we’re really glad, because they’ve had to make some major adjustments,” said Green.

Nolte said that when they broke the news to staff, some were ready to volunteer their time. But, said Nolte, it’s just not allowed.

“It’s illegal,” said Nolte. “You can’t force someone or expect someone to put in hours that you don’t expect to pay them for.”

Green said that, though she and her compatriots are relieved, the cuts are going to force some into a search for a second job, especially if the lost pay checks become status quo.

“You could tell so many of us were relieved. There were a few tears shed,” said Green “But yes, it is going to be hard, 12 days without pay. To us, that’s over $1,000 to most of us, and that’s a lot of money. We’re relieved but we’re still in that position that, yes, some of us might have to take a second job.”

The cut work hours will save the school system roughly $325,000. It’s not quite enough to cover what they’re missing from local funding, the part of the school’s budget that comes from the county commissioners, allocated out of their annual expenditures.

Nolte said that’s part of the problem: they expected cuts from the state level. That whisper has been coming down from the governor’s office since snow was on the ground. But they weren’t quite ready for the 3 percent local cut, which works out to around $430,000, or the federal cuts that they’re going to face, around $100,000.

When commissioners proposed cutting school funding, County Manager Marty Stamey suggested educators dip into their robust reserves to cover the losses. The school system has a sizeable fund balance. But, said Nolte, they were already planning to use that.

“We’ll definitely be using the EduJobs money [federal funds allocated last year] and some of the fund balance,” said Nolte.

But, he said, they’ve only got the fund balance because they’ve been careful with the money they get. In essence, said Nolte, they’ve been carefully squirreling away in the rainy-day fund, but it’s still not enough.

They haven’t touched teacher positions in the work-time reductions because they can’t; that’s negotiated at a state level.

But Nolte said they’re also trying to stay as far away from the classroom as they can for as long as they can.

“Always, we want to, if we can, look at administrative reduction,” said Nolte.

And the school system is going to lose eight non-classroom positions, seven teacher assistants and 10 teachers, though they’re frozen positions that former employees have left, not been laid off from.

And now, as he has been throughout the recent budget debate, Nolte is warning that only so much cutting can be done without damage ensuing.

“At some point in time, cuts of that magnitude begin to affect quality and service,” said Nolte. “At some point in time, if you cut off enough parts, things don’t work as well as they did before.”


When sewage began flooding out of the floor one January Saturday at Waynesville’s Coffee Zone, Coni Bishop knew things were about to get bad.

Bishop was the coffee-and-sandwich shop’s owner. And when she and some staff were working one weekend and started seeing the kitchen’s floor drains bubbling up with befouled water, she figured she would be closed for a little while. What she didn’t expect was five months out of business and a move out of Waynesville.

While the Coffee Zone is no more, Bishop’s business has been reincarnated as the Copper Leaf Café, located at High Country Furniture on the edge of Maggie Valley.

The revived coffee spot opened last Monday, following a long and arduous few months for Bishop and her staff, most of whom she had to let go.

She’s been able to reopen, thanks to an agreement with High Country, which owns the shop and employs Bishop to run it. That, she said, solved her biggest problem in the wake of the sewage backup.

“I was reimbursed for the product I lost — we had to get rid of every single thing that was in the store — and we were also able to recover our equipment that got damaged from the water, but that’s all we ended up with,” said Bishop. “We lost our business investment. There was no way to recoup that.”

So while she wanted to restart the business soon after, without startup capital, it was impossible.

There was always the option of going back into the Coffee Zone building, which sits in the center of a shopping center plaza on Russ Avenue and was once a bank. But even after the professionals came in and scoured everything sanitary, Bishop said she just couldn’t move her shop back in.

For one thing, there was the smell.

“It was just horrible,” said Bishop. That’s partly because the sewage had seeped up through the floor drains and then promptly poured back down onto the building’s ductwork and air conditioning system, which were under the floors. And then it sat for three weeks while the issue of who, exactly, was responsible for sorting out the mess.

Was it the town, which is in charge of sewage systems? The landlord, who is responsible for making sure the building remains in solid, habitable shape?

As it transpires, the answer is option B, the landlord. And, according to Bishop, the property owner hadn’t really kept the building maintained to code.

“One of my frustrations, what was so difficult, is that there‘s no enforcement agency that goes around to property owners and sees if they’re up to code,” said Bishop. “I feel like this could have been prevented, or at least [have been] a lot less invasive to our business.”

And, said Town Manager Lee Galloway, that’s true. But a policing operation like that would be far beyond what the town could reasonably manage.

“They’re supposed to remain up to code, but they don’t have to go back and retrofit their building unless they’re having major work done on their building,” said Galloway. “It would be pretty much impossible for us to have enough inspectors to go out and check that sort of thing.”

And Bishop concedes this point, though it was little consolation when she had standing sewage in her kitchen.

The town couldn’t really do anything because they only own the collection lines at the very edges of the shopping center. The sewer lines are all private and ancient, and apparently most people there are pretty unclear about where they even are or how to shut them off. That was another contributing factor to the woes of Coffee Zone, as it allowed sewage to flow freely until someone could locate the shut-off valve.

These days, said Galloway, most new builds put in sewer lines that they then dedicate to the town, transferring responsibility into municipal hands.

“That’s more common now than it was 40, 50 years ago, and I guess for this very problem, because property changes hands and no one knows where the lines are,” said Galloway.

For Bishop, she’s no longer angry about what happened on Russ Avenue; she’s positive about her new venture and not too concerned about losing the dedicated customer base she’d cultivated at Coffee Zone.

“I think once people find out and they realize it’s not in Maggie Valley, it’s just a little way past Smackers, I think well be OK,” said Bishop. “There’s no drive-through, and that’s a down side, that’s something that we lost. Drive-through really was 40 percent of our business. But so far it’s getting busier each day.”


Swain County commissioners have taken back a request made to the General Assembly in February, in hopes of bolstering their lawsuit against neighboring Graham County over payments on the Fontana Dam.

Both counties get payments from the Tennessee Valley Authority in lieu of property taxes for the bits of the dam and hydropower generators that are in their respective counties. They have been locked in battle recently over how much each is entitled to.

Last fall, the N.C. Department of Revenue said the payments were being calculated wrong, and that Graham was entitled to a larger chunk of the funds. Swain lost more than  $200,000 a year under the new formula for TVA payments.

Graham proceeded to file suit against Swain, looking to recoup 60-plus years in back TVA revenue that was misapplied to Swain under the old formula.

So Swain fired back, filing a countersuit and sending a resolution to Raleigh asking for a change in the way payments are calculated.

The payments were once split equally. The new formula gives a greater share to Graham, since more of the dam and generators lie on Graham’s side of the county line.

Swain proposed yet another new formula based on how much property each county lost when the lake was created in the 1940s.

That would bring a lot more revenue to the Swain side, because, according to County Manager Kevin King, Graham only gave 19,000 acres as opposed Swain’s 55,000 back when the lake and dam were built.

But, said King, the measure never got out of committee in the House of Representatives, stymied at every turn by Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, who represents Graham.

King said the county still stands behind the idea.

“Any time you have a county that’s suffered, that the TVA has taken 55,000 acres away from and the other county only got 19,000 taken, any county would say that’s wrong [to be compensated less],” said King.

But Kim Lay, Swain County’s attorney, apparently told commissioners in a 15-minute closed session to discuss the litigation that rescinding the request for legislation, since it died in committee anyway, would be better for Swain when it comes to the legal suit.

The legal claim is still in the discovery phase, and King said he expects movement on the issue over the next few months.


“A dog is an amazing thing,” says Orval Banks, smiling wryly and adjusting his faded gray ballcap.

He’s explaining the techniques he uses to train dogs, but really, he says, you don’t train a dog. It knows what it’s doing, and you’re just teaching it to communicate with you and teaching yourself to understand its subtle language. Because, you see, a dog is an amazing thing.

Banks runs a company called Southern Pride Search and Rescue Dogs, so he knows something about dogs.

He’s a wizened character, in plaid shirt and jeans, whose name often gets mistaken for Wilbur. He’s not sure why. He’s pretty soft-spoken but knows more than most in his field about what makes a good search dog.

“Train, train, train,” says Banks, chuckling slightly.

And he’s been training dogs now for more than 20 years. His dogs are cross-trained, both in search and rescue and what law enforcement refer to as search and recovery, when they’re looking for remains instead of people.

Rescue, though, says Banks, is his first job.

“I like to get them trained on finding the live people first because that’s a priority. Dead people are not going anywhere,” says Banks.

Still, though, recovery of remains are accounting for more and more of his calls these days, around 50 percent.

Banks isn’t a Haywood County native — he was born in Yancey County and moved around in his younger days — but he’s lived here now for 35 years, and it was 40 years ago that he got into search and rescue, mostly as a volunteer.

A few weeks ago, Banks helped out at a training day for cadaver dogs and their handlers held at Western Carolina University, though he’s loathe to use the word ‘cadaver,’ favoring the less abrasive ‘human remains detection.’

Unlike a lot of that crowd, and the cadaver dog world generally, he’s not from a law enforcement background. He keeps at it four decades later for the love of finding that which was lost.

“If you ever find a little four-year-old kid that’s been out there a couple of days and it’s getting dark, and the temperatures are about freezing, it makes it all worthwhile, you get kind of hooked on it,” says Banks.

And he’s good at it, too, which he puts down to the intensive amount of training that he does with his dog, about twice a week.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t train but once every two or three months and then wonder why they never find anybody,” says Banks. “Every time you go out with your dog, you learn something about your dog.”

The training at WCU was held at the school’s Human Identification Lab.

They used to call it the body farm, but now they stick to FOREST, which stands for Forensic Osteology Research Station. Basically, it’s a place for scientists to study how the human body deteriorates under certain conditions. And it’s only the second of its kind in the country, so when it offers a workshop for cadaver dogs, it’s a pretty popular draw.

They had to turn away 27 handlers who wanted to bring their dogs.

“They get the opportunity that they don’t ever get anywhere else, of letting their dogs see a full cadaver,” says Banks. “It’s good to expose the dog to that, to put everything in perspective to the dog, [to say], ‘OK, this is what you’ve been looking for the whole time.’”

And, says Paul Martin, who helped run the workshop, the scent of real people is different than what you can train on elsewhere.

“You have the ability to work with scents you’d never have the ability to do,” says Martin. He, unlike Banks, comes from a law enforcement background, but agrees with him that much of training is about learning the dog, and letting the dog learn the handler.

“Part of it is identifying the animal behavior patterns,” says Martin.

Banks agrees.

“The biggest problem is that a lot of handlers don’t train enough to be able to read their dogs. You’re teaching a dog and teaching yourself to communicate with each other. The dog knows what he’s doing. A lot of people think they’re teaching a dog to smell something dead,” said Banks, but they’re really learning to notice when the dog does.

According to Martin, things have changed in the field over the last ten years. Human remains detection, or HRD, is becoming more in-demand.

“The specialty has evolved over the last 10 to 15 years,” says Martin. “It’s such a complex field. We’re asked to find the one drop of blood, to find the remains that have been buried for 10 years, to find the remains that have been scavenged.”

And, like Banks said, half his work now is in HRD, because, he says, it’s just a lot harder to get lost these days.

“About 12, 15 years ago, we were at the peak, we were doing about 100 [search and rescue] callouts a year,” says Banks. “But people are starting to get GPS units, cell phones, and there’s getting to be so many people in the woods, you have to work at getting lost anymore.”

There are those now, he says, who are getting in to the field for the wrong reasons — for the prestige, for a certificate that they feel somehow validates their dog for breeding — but many, like himself, are in it to help.

And after 40 years of searching and 20 years with a dog by his side, he doesn’t think that’ll change anytime soon.


If there’s one thing that runs deep in Appalachia, it’s roots. Whether it’s the roots of its ancient pines or the roots of a unique way of life still celebrated here, the Smokies are steeped in heritage.

And now, with a new festival sprouting up this weekend, Waynesville visitors and residents can celebrate the history and legacy of that singular Appalachian liftestyle.

The Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration is a day-long festival dedicated to the traditions that define the region, like bluegrass music, arts and crafts, and practical crafts like blacksmithing, quilting and wood turning.

Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said a spate of interest in the subject helped spark the idea for the festival.

“There’s a lot of interest in heritage, history and culture. People seem to be really drawn to that throughout the Southeast,” said Phillips.

Festival-goers will have the chance to see live demonstrations of traditional Appalachian handicrafts and practices, such as basket making, blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, wood working, wood carving, pottery, painting and soap making.

Folk toys, old tractors and old tools and other elements of old Appalachia will be on display. Meanwhile, artists and craftspeople still keeping those traditions alive will be on hand to sell their creations.

Even the food, said Phillips, is reminiscent of the old mountain South.

“We’ll have cornbread and beans, corn cakes, iced tea and lemonade,” said Phillips, plus a plethora of other foods that find their roots here.

For mountain music aficionados, however, there will be more than a few acts to choose from.

Headlining the event will be folk musician David Holt. Holt has four Grammys under his belt and a musical resume that spans four decades. He’s played with bluegrass legends like Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs and spent much of his early career traveling to minuscule mountain communities, learning the finer points of traditional mountain music.

He’ll bring his old-time banjo skills to the stage, where he’ll perform with young acoustic musician Josh Goforth. Goforth is no novice — he’s already garnered a Grammy nomination — and he’s been playing in the Smokies since his childhood in East Tennessee.

In addition to Holt and Goforth, singer-and-storyteller Michael Reno Harrell will give two performances. The Hominy Valley Boys and The Hill Country Band will provide the lively bluegrass background for three local clogging groups.

For those seeking to get in a few rounds on the dance floor themselves, former North Carolina Senator Joe Sam Queen will call a square dance in the afternoon that is open to all ages.

For readers, there will be local authors, traditional storytellers and readers’ theater spinning tales of Appalachia, old and new.

The celebration, said Phillips, has been long in the making and she’s hopeful it will become a regular feature on Waynesville’s downtown summer calendar.

“We talked about this probably at least three years ago, and this is the first year that we’ve been able to pull it off,” said Phillips. “There’s a lot of history and our culture deserving of our interest in this area.”



Main stage (Miller Street)

• 9:45-10:45 — Hominy Valley Boys

• 11-11:45 — David Holt

• Noon-1:15   Hominy Valley Boys (Southern Appalachian Cloggers at 12:30 p.m.)

• 1:30-2:15 — David Holt

• 2:30-3:40 — Michael Reno Harrell

• 3:45-5 — Hominy Valley Boys (Fines Creek Flatfooters Cloggers at 4 p.m. and Smoky Mountain Stompers Cloggers at 4:30 pm.)

Courthouse stage

• 9:45-10:30 — The Ross Brothers

• 10:30-11:15 — Ginny McAfee

• 11:15-12:30 — Michael Reno Harrell

• 12:30-2:30 — Hill Country Band (Southern Appalachian Cloggers at 1:15 p.m. and Flatfooters Cloggers at 2 p.m.)

• 2:30-3 p.m. — McKenzie Wilson

• 3-4 p.m. — Hill Country Band (Smoky Mountain Stoppers Cloggers at 3:30 pm.)

• 4-5 p.m. — The Ross Brothers

Southend area

• 11:30-12:15 — McKenzie Wilson

• 12:30-12:50 — HART Readers Theater

• 1-2 — Ginny McAfee

• 2:15-2:35 — HART Readers Theater

• 2:45-3:30 — Ann Lough


In Swain County, free condoms aren’t particularly controversial. But the words “free condoms” on a billboard certainly are.

At least that’s the position of Swain County commissioners, who ordered the announcement to be whitewashed last week after apparently fielding calls from concerned constituents.

The billboard on U.S. 19 a few miles from Bryson City that once heralded physical exams, low-or-no-cost family planning and free condoms at the Swain County Health Department now advertises only the first two services and a white rectangle where the contraceptive message once was.

Swain County Manager Kevin King said he took the decision to patch the offending phrase after being approached by several commissioners who wanted the words to come down. He then polled the other commissioners by phone on the issue, and when he got the go-ahead from all five, gave the order to Allison Outdoor that the words “free condoms” had to go.

There was no meeting called, no minutes were held and no vote was had on the issue, but King said the decision was made under the auspices of administrative tasks. There are some tasks, he said, that county staff can do without commissioners’ blessing, or without a formal vote.

“I mean, do they call a special meeting for us to go check the mail or call for an ad?” asked King. “Anything that’s an administrative type of thing, it’s just handled by the staff.”

And billboards, he said, count as administrative.

Frayda Bluestein doesn’t necessarily agree. She’s the associate dean at the University of North Carolina’s School of Government, and local government is her specialty.

“I don’t understand how that’s an administrative decision, frankly,” said Bluestein. “I can see how it would be an administrative decision of the health board.”

The health board, however, wasn’t consulted on the issue.

Health Department Director Linda White said she tried that route. When given the choice to either cover the message or replace it with another, she asked King to write a letter to the health board about the issue.

“I asked them to submit a letter to the board of health, and their concern was it was going to be too long a period of time before the health board was going to meet,” said White. “Because the billboard said ‘Swain County’ on it, they felt that they had the authority to remove it.”

King confirmed this, adding that since the decision was made administratively by White to put the sign up anyway, surely the health board didn’t need to be involved now.

“She said she had full power over the billboard and what went on the billboard, but now when the commissioners do get involved, she’s wanting us to write to the health board,” said King.

When asked why commissioners felt authorized to act on the sign, rather than waiting for the July meeting of the board of health, King said that the health department was a county department just like any other. That means the commissioners are in charge. And anyway, they get the bills and they sign the checks for things like advertising.

Bluestein said that this is a fair point. It’s really purse-string power that the commissioners hold.

“The health board has a lot of direct authority under the statutes, but they rely on the county for funding,” said Bluestein. “But again, if that’s the way they get the authority to intervene in that, it must be done in open meetings.”

In other words, a phone poll doesn’t really cut it.

Commissioner Robert White said he thought the decision should’ve been official, too, though he thinks the entire situation has been blown a bit out of proportion.

“If it wasn’t on the agenda, if it wasn’t in a regular meeting, then essentially it didn’t happen, legally,” said Commissioner White. “I’m opposed to it, but if the commissioners vote for it, then I have to support the commissioners’ position.”

Linda White said she was surprised by the maelstrom of controversy swirling around the sign. The health department has been giving out free condoms and offering low-cost contraception for decades, but never has there been such upheaval about it. On her end, said White, she’s only fielded a few calls about the sign.

“I’ve had two negative comments submitted directly to me by phone and I’ve had five positive phone calls,” she said. “Not too many people have contacted me directly.”

Of the two anti-sign calls, only one opposed the idea on moral grounds. The other was a Henderson County woman complaining that federal funds helped pay for it. If Swain County had a problem with unplanned pregnancies, she said, then Swain County should pay for trying to fix it.

And, according to Linda White, Swain County has a problem with unplanned pregnancies.

“There are a lot of unplanned pregnancies, as well as a lot of sexually transmitted diseases, and I think it’s important to realize that this billboard is in no way directed towards teenagers,” she said.

And that’s an idea that has been at the center of the firestorm: teenagers having sex.

According to a poll done by the health department itself, more than half of students in the county between the ages 15 and 19 have copped to being sexually active in some capacity. And some are concerned that the offer of free condoms would encourage more to jump on the bandwagon.

County Commissioner David Monteith, who led the charge to change the billboard, said he was concerned about the message the sign was sending.

“It’s like Swain County is promoting this [condom use] for anybody and everybody,” said Monteith, who is firmly against premarital sex. “It’s just my opinion that it should not be up there. I think we’re promoting the wrong thing to young kids.”

Linda White, though, remains baffled by any supposed links between offers of free condoms and encouraging premarital sex.

“I have pondered that for many days and cannot connect the wording of the billboard with premarital sex,” she said.

The health department, she said, has a sizeable chunk of people using their family planning services, but not too many of them are teenagers. In fact, the percentage of teens getting in on birth control and other contraceptives is smaller than other age groups.

“We have quite a few individuals and most of them are in their 20s and 30s,” said Linda White.

Commissioner Robert White doesn’t really have a problem with the billboard. He did OK the patch when King asked him, but only because King said that was the wish of the rest of the board.

“I have no problem with it. I can’t speak for the rest of [the commissioners], but there was no vote taken or whatever about that sign, but if there was I’d have voted against it,” said White, especially given that the advertising contract on the sign was only for two months.

Bryson City resident Denise Tyson said she was actually pleased when she saw the sign, taking it as a signal of progressiveness in county leaders.

As the mother of a teenager, she said she’s not worried it’s going to spur him towards sexual activity.

“My 15-year-old son looked at that sign and his perception was there are free condoms available in this community. That doesn’t necessarily give him permission to practice sexual behavior,” said Tyson. “I’m the first to say that practicing abstinence is a very effective practice among teenagers. We promote that in my household, along with an education about what it means to practice safe sex.”

Still, detractors argue, shouldn’t parents have to option to tell their kids — or not tell them — about condoms, rather than be subjected to the words on every drive to town?

After last week, Swain Countians no longer have to worry about it, and the health department will be turning back to the newspaper, health fairs and word of mouth to get the word out about those two pesky words.


For now, Swain County Department of Social Services Director Tammy Cagle still has her job. But that might soon be in question after a decision made by the county’s DSS board Monday night.

Supporters of the suspended Cagle gathered at the board’s meeting, speaking out in her favor before board members entered an hour-long executive session to discuss Cagle’s future with the department.

In the end, the five-member board voted unanimously to call Cagle back to a hearing later this month “to consider dismissal.”

Cagle herself spoke in her own defense prior to the closed session, telling board members that she’d never instigated a cover-up in the department, as has been alleged by former social worker Craig Smith.

Smith, who was placed on leave and has now resigned his post, told investigators that Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones ordered him to falsify reports following the death of Aubrey Littlejohn, a 15-month-old Cherokee baby who died in January despite repeated visits from DSS representatives. Cagle was suspended from her post while an investigation into the baby’s death was undertaken.

“I realize that my silence for so long has been a mistake,” said Cagle, going on to defend her agency and its actions. “Have I made mistakes and am I still learning as a director? Absolutely. Have I led or participated in any cover-up or falsification of records with this agency? No, absolutely not.”

Cagle was joined at the podium by family members and former DSS clients, who praised her merits as a director and a social worker.

Also present, though, were some from Aubrey’s family, asking that her memory not be forgotten and that Cagle be held accountable for how DSS handled the case.

“I’m here because of our child that died, we can’t bring her back. She [Cagle] can go out and get another job, we can’t get our baby back,” said Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s aunt. McCoy said she was disappointed by the board’s inaction on the matter.

“I mean, I thought they were going to take action on this tonight, but it seems like they’re just going to discuss it,” said McCoy. “It seems like the people that came out to support her were more angry about our family and her job than about what happened.”

And some who came to back Cagle did lay the blame for Aubrey’s death on her family, rather than on DSS.

“I can’t blame other people for what happens to my children. They knew how Ladybird [Powell, Aubrey’s caretaker] was all of her life, her entire life, now why didn’t they go get that child when it was first put there in the beginning?” asked Eunice Washington of Aubrey’s family.

While eight people shared their thoughts on Cagle’s fitness to lead the organization, the board itself remained quiet on the issue. They called Cagle in for discussions, but said their only comment would be to schedule a hearing to discuss Cagle’s possible dismissal.

It’s not only been the staff, but the DSS board too has seen upheaval in the aftermath of Aubrey’s death.

After a tense closed session in March, when the board deadlocked on whether to suspend Cagle and Jones, most of the board turned in their resignations under pressure from county commissioners. But they didn’t go down quietly, taking to the podium at a commissioners’ meeting to berate that board for denigrating them publicly.

Currently, three of the five social services board members are just over two months into the job. Frela Beck and Robert White, also a county commissioner, are the only remaining members.

Some asked why Jones, Cagle’s second-in-command, had been allowed to stay on, while the director was put on administrative leave with pay.

Jones and two of the other four employees named in an SBI search warrant issued in an investigation are still on board with the department. They have, however, been asked by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to stay away from the Qualla Boundary, instead sending other social workers to handle cases there.  

The DSS board has called a pre-disciplinary hearing for June 21, where they said they’ll talk to Cagle about her future with the department.


Social worker resigns

Craig Smith, the Swain County social worker named in a recent SBI investigation, has resigned from the Department of Social Services.  

Smith came under scrutiny during a probe by the Swain County Sheriff’s Department and the SBI into the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn. Smith was Aubrey’s caseworker and visited her home several times prior to her January death, though he took no steps to remove her and made no follow-ups.

After her death, Smith falsified records to make it appear that he’d kept up with the child. He told investigators that he did it at the direction of his superiors, including Program Manager T.L. Jones and suspended Director Tammy Cagle.

Investigations by the SBI and an internal social services investigation are still underway.


Haywood County residents told commissioners just what they thought of funding reductions at a hearing last week over the county’s new budget.

Thirty people came to the meeting, where commissioners took comments on the 2011-12 budget, which decreases funding to schools by 3 percent.

Though fewer than a third of the crowd voiced their opinions, many who did either opposed the education slashing or chided the board for its increasing debt load, proposed increase to the tax rate and recent property revaluation.

Some, like Marietta Edwards, questioned where the county’s money was going.

“We need money for the schools. We don’t need fancy buildings, we don’t need these high expenditures,” said Edwards. “We need to be careful how we spend our money.”

Others came to plead only for the reinstatement of school funding, which they said was vital to the county’s educational success.

“We’re doing good things here in Haywood County,” said Tuscola High School Principal Dale McDonald. “But the budget has the possibility of losing some assistant principals. In five years, I will not be a principal at Tuscola High School. I’ll be retired. But you’ve got to have somebody ready to step in and fill those shoes.”

Commissioners noted that they weren’t responsible for line item cuts to school budgets. They just provide the funding figure, not specifics on how that money is used.

But school advocates said that regardless of where the cuts come from, they’d still be detrimental to the effort to school the county’s kids.

Commissioners countered the complaints — they understand, said board members, that cuts are never fun or easy. But when state is slashing around 10 percent, there are few options.

“This board takes handling the county money seriously,” said Commissioner Bill Upton, a former Pisgah High School principal and long-time superintendent for the county’s schools. “When I was in schools, it was how you handled the kids that was the most important, and now as a county commissioner it’s how you handle the billfold that’s the most important.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick assured the assembled crowd that setting a higher tax rate — 54.13 cents as opposed to 51.4 cents last year — wasn’t a flippant decision by the board, but it’s how they’ll stay revenue neutral after a property revaluation as the whole state faces dire economic straits.

“What we have to do is weigh what we think is necessary and needed and try to establish the best budget possible with that. We don’t sit up here and establish a tax rate that we’re not going to pay as well,” said Kirkpatrick.

Though the hearing was a chance for citizens to voice their pleasure or grievance with the proposed budget, it was also a forum for commissioners to defend their decisions and fact check some ill-founded constituent complaints, such as the claim by one man that the county was subsidizing a cowboy church at the fairgrounds.

The proposed budget hasn’t yet been adopted by commissioners, but they’re expected to discuss it at their next meeting on June 20.


A merger is afoot in Canton that will bring together two staples of the town’s downtown scene.

Soon, the Canton Lunch Box, a fixture of the town’s business community, will join forces with the Imperial Hotel, an equally prominent fixture in Canton’s history and heritage, with the opening of the Imperial Grill and Tavern.

The new venue is the brainchild of Mayor Pat Smathers, who owns the historic structure, and Greg Petty, the man behind the Lunch Box. It will bring to downtown Canton something it hasn’t seen since the heyday of the hotel itself, said Petty.

While the Lunch Box, a popular lunch spot for downtown workers and employees of the nearby paper mill, has now officially shut its doors to the public, the place will be reincarnated in July when the Imperial opens for business.

The idea, said Petty, is to offer the town not only a restaurant and bar — and eventually a few hotel rooms, which is Smathers’ side of the business — but also an event venue housed in the old hotel’s grand ballroom. It will be able to accommodate up to 125 people, and Petty’s hoping it will soon become a popular spot for wedding receptions and business meetings. The first phase of the project, the bar and restaurant, are slated for completion around July 10, while phase two, the event venue, will hopefully follow soon after.

But the historic renovation hasn’t been without its hurdles. The initial target date was sometime around Mothers’ Day, but May came and went sans opening, the project hamstrung by the difficulties inherent in tackling such an old and storied structure.

But that, said Petty, is part of its charm.

“The historical aspect of the building really intrigued me. That atmosphere and that venue is what really attracted us,” said Petty.

And the structure is, indeed, full of history.

Built in the late 19th century, it was originally a residence. Following a transformation into a hotel, it remained a lodging house into the 1930s. Later, storefront façades were erected, covering the ornate face of the building. In what will now be the outdoor dining courtyard, the intricate tile pattern that once lined the floor of a menswear store housed there can still be seen.

Gary Cochran, the contractor overseeing the Imperial’s restoration, said they’ve even found photos advertising the hotel as the best $2 rooms around.

Partially, it’s that historic character that makes the project slow going at times.

“We’re trying to put things back as original as we can,” said Cochran, though that’s sometimes hard, given all the incarnations the building has gone through in the intervening century since its construction.

And, said Cochran, the tiles aren’t the only remnants they’ve found of the building’s many past lives. During Prohibition, the place served as a local speakeasy. Cochran and his crew found the trap doors and old bottles used in the clandestine operation. Some of the contractors have even reported hearing voices and spying moving curtains in empty rooms.

The restoration of the storied structure was funded in part by a matching grant from the N.C. Rural Center, who kicked in 50 percent of the money. The other half was raised by Smathers, the building’s owner, along with Petty, its new tenant.

In its newest role, Petty hopes the Imperial will again serve as a gathering place for the county’s eastern end, the kind of place locals have long had to travel to Waynesville or Asheville to find.

And although his cuisine is likely going to step up a notch from down-home lunch fare to American dinner staples such as ribs, steak and chops, Petty said he’s not worried about losing his loyal lunchers.

“You’re still going to be able to get a chicken salad sandwich, you’re still going to be able to get a tuna melt. We’re going to have a lot more parking for people to come to, we’re going to have the outdoor dining, we’re going to be able to do a lot more with that building than we can’t do with the Lunch Box,” said Petty. “We’re not going to run away any of our guests; we’re not going to change.”


Diversify is the buzzword in Cherokee, where candidates in the upcoming primary are facing off over how to move away from Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino as the tribe’s sole breadwinner.

With the primary just a month away, five candidates for principal chief and four for vice chief have been making the campaign circuit to local community clubs and other candidates’ forums. They’ve been pitching all manner of alternative revenue streams, from tribal stores to eco-tourism, to reduce the tribe’s dependence on revenue from Harrah’s. Currently, the casino is responsible for 87 percent of what the tribe takes in annually.

Patrick Lambert, who narrowly lost the chief’s seat in 2007 by a mere 13 votes, said that it was time for Cherokee to move on not only from sole reliance on Harrah’s, but also from the business model that sustained them in the decades before the casino’s arrival.

“We need to get away from these rubber tomahawk type shops,” said Lambert at a candidates’ forum last week, hosted by the Junaluska Leadership Council, a youth leadership program for Cherokee high school students.

He pointed to towns such as Asheville, Waynesville and even nearby Bryson City, where strip malls and kitsch shacks have given way to more upscale boutique and artisanal shops, attracting a wealthier and more modern clientele. This, he said, should also be the way of the future for Cherokee.

Sitting Principal Chief Michell Hicks suggested a similar path to diversified revenue, but proposed that Cherokee play to its strengths, namely their long history of producing unique, high-quality arts and crafts. It would be impossible to compete with tourist havens Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., both just over the mountain, said Hicks, so the wise path is to focus on what other tourist towns don’t have.

“We don’t have the land base to compete with these places across the mountain, so we have got to create a specific market. We have to display in the right way our abilities. That’s how we market Cherokee, that’s how we recreate who we are as a people,” said Hicks. “I think the arts and the crafts is where this town is going.”

Newcomers Gary Ledford and Juanita Wilson both advocated strongly for putting the local economy back into local — and even tribal — hands, stopping the influx of outside business onto the reservation.

“It’s time to stop trying to bring in retail businesses and people who don’t care about us. Why not invest into our people here?” asked Wilson.

Ledford echoed those sentiments, suggesting a tribal alternative to Wal-Mart, so shoppers could pump their money back into the reservation instead of away from it, or tribally run waterparks, zoos and other tourist attractions.

Though there are a multitude of answers to the diversification question, there’s no doubt that it will continue to be a central theme of this year’s election. On some level, all of the principal chief candidates have included it as part of their platform.

Nearly everyone advocated for bumping up the tribe’s participation in Section 8 contracting, a federal program that helps bring a range of contracts to Native American tribes.

And then there’s the debt.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee are in the hole for nearly a billion, and about 60 percent of that is tied up in the massive new expansion under way at Harrah’s.

Of course, a chunk of the debt was laid out on the new, state-of-the-art school complex opened last year, but it’s the casino that’s gotten the lion’s share of the money.

And so far in the campaign, the question has been asked more than once, how and when will the tribe get rid of it?

Most of that grilling, of course, goes to the current chief, Hicks. He’s a two-term leader, so much of the debt has been racked up in the eight years since he took office.

And when asked about his plans in the candidates’ forum, he laid out the bold claim that he would eradicate the debt entirely in the next four years, leaving the tribe debt free when he left office.

Though he didn’t get into specifics about how he planned to dispatch the debt, he did note that part of the plan included diverting more of the casino’s cash to pay its own and other debts.

“As we roll through and increase the expansion, addressing the debt is going to be done through the cash flow,” said Hicks.

But when asked why he didn’t put large-scale projects such as the casino expansion and school complex to a referendum, Hicks didn’t directly answer the question.

“If you look at the things that we put on the ground, in my mind, that’s not spending money, it’s investing in our future. We’re making the services better, we’re making sure that jobs say intact,” said Hicks.

Meanwhile, challenger Lambert said that the way out of debt was fiscal conservatism, avoiding debt increases, softening the regulatory environment to entice in new businesses and possibly even creating tribal utilities like wind and solar power to offset the debt.

The primary election, which will whittle the field to two for both principal and vice chief, is set for July 8. And in a still-troubled economy, it may be the two heralding the best financial future that make the cut.


After a decades-long battle to get it, the first interest payments on Swain County’s North Shore Road settlement are finally starting to trickle in.

Now to figure out what to do with it.

Of the $52 million payout, given to the county by the federal government as a consolation prize for a road that was promised in the 1940s but never built, $12.8 million is already in the bank. There’s another $4 million that’s promised this year — it’s in President Obama’s budget, anyway — although it could be a while until it finally makes its way into the county’s hands.

But after the long and arduous negotiations that led to the settlement, and speculation from all sides over what should be done with the money, there is, as yet, no plan for the interest that’s accruing on the settlement cash that’s already in the bank.

When an agreement was reached last summer, the idea of a steering committee peopled by community members was bandied about, with the intent of directing the county on the best use of the money.  County Manager Kevin King said it’s a concept that has been mentioned in the intervening year by a few commissioners and community members, but no one’s formally proposed it in the commissioners’ twice-monthly meetings, so the cash is still sitting there. No committee has been formed, either.

But, said King, there’s not much money to spend yet, anyway. He estimates the fund will make around $200,000 in interest this fiscal year, which will be paid out at the end of June.

“Of course right now, with the economy, it's not drawing a lot of money,” said King. “It'll take a while to increase to the point at where they could do something with it.”

The funds are held in trust for the county by the North Carolina Department of the Treasurer, with only the interest remitted to the county each year. This year the interest has averaged less than 2 percent.

“If it was making more interest, it would probably be further on the front burner,” said Leonard Winchester.

Winchester is the chair of a group called Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County, and he’s been instrumental in getting the money secured for the county and wants to see citizen input on how it is spent.

“I am in favor of a committee doing it. It's just that there's not that much interest there to be dealt with and so it's not been a hot topic,” Winchester said.

Commissioner Robert White concurs. He’s one of the commissioners in favor of a citizens group.

“We haven't accrued enough yet, but I assure you what I would love to see would be a citizen committee to look at this particular situation,” said White.

His vision is that the money would be used for special projects in the county, things that could never be done otherwise.

“My vision for that North Shore money is once we get enough accumulated, I want to see things that are going to improve Swain County in whatever manner that it may take. You also really have to look and see about things that could really step the county up another level,” said White.

A small portion of the interest money has already been spent, going to erect five commemorative granite pedestals in front of the county’s administration building, one detailing the North Shore Road saga. The project cost around $20,000, with $7,500 covered by a National Heritage Area grant and the rest of the bill footed by the interest money.

Nothing bigger, however, has been proffered as a potential project.  King said he’s in no hurry to rush a decision on the funds, especially in this economy.

“At this point, we're just trying to let this grow,” said King. “And with the economy like it is, it's almost impossible to bank on any investments right now.”


When the town of Maggie Valley bought a grassy field to serve as a town festival grounds in 2005, the hope was that it would bring new visitors and new life to the town’s flagging tourism industry.

Since then, there have been two festival directors, attempts to make the place profitable, and now, an infusion of extra cash from the town is on the table as a boost to the facility.

The town’s proposed budget allocates $120,000 to the festival grounds. But the budget also calls for another $140,000 to put on two festivals — Red, White and Boom, a July 4 festival, and the Americana Roots and Beer festival next spring. The town hopes the festivals will bring in that much in revenue to cover the costs. But if they don’t, the town will be left to pick up the bill.

The festival ground has budgeted an additional $57,000 from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, a cut of local hotel and motel tax.

For the first few years, the festival grounds languished a bit. The first festival director didn’t rise to the town’s expectations in his few months on the job — the number of events was just too low.

The town’s hopes for the venue were pinned in 2009 on Festival Director Audrey Hager, who came in with an impressive event-planning resume and the intent to turn the place around.

Hager said she’s making strides, boosting the reputation of the festival grounds and making inroads with regional and national festival promoters, who would bring their own festivals and events to the space.

But total success doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s really re-branding, getting the word out, building our reputation before people will come,” said Hager. “The expectation of the community was it wasn’t happening fast enough. But I think if we start building our reputation as a quality festival community, then that can only help attract promoters to this area to host such events.”

Ideally, said Hager, such events would include things like Red, White and Boom, an Independence Day carnival subsidized heavily by the town and outside affairs like Vettes in the Valley, an annual Corvette show that rents the grounds.

The festival grounds certainly don’t pay for themselves as yet; they lost more than $13,000 on their recent American Roots and Beer festival, due in part to colder weather that weekend.

But town officials say that self-sufficiency isn’t necessarily the end goal.

“I don’t think the town ever believed from the beginning that the festival grounds were going to pay for themselves,” said Town Manager Tim Barth. “With where the rates are set and the number of events that we have, there’s just no way it’s going to pay for itself.”

In the tourism gap left by departing Ghost Town and the closure of other venues like Eaglesnest and Carolina Nights, the real job of the festival grounds was to bring money into the valley, not necessarily make money itself.

“We hope to create enough commerce so that our constituents — the motels and the restaurants and whoever — can pay their taxes and we have a good crowd in town, to hopefully fill in the gap until we can get a few more venues back,” said Mayor Roger McElroy.

Though there might be some tension in using taxpayer money to support businesses that way, McElroy believes it’s only fair. Residents get services that businesses, by and large, do not, such as trash pick-up and road clearing.

And as the large attractions continue to dissipate, supporting the festival grounds is an effort by the town to buoy up business owners and boost their revenues with more traffic — even if it means taxpayers footing the bill for tourism interests.

Not everyone thinks that the festival grounds can be turned around, however.

“I have to be optimistic like others, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig, I guess is a good way to put it,” said Alderman Phil Aldridge. “They say give the young lady that’s our director time, but when do you draw the line?”

Local businesses, for the most part, are behind the measure. It at least brings in the promise of better business.

“I don’t think it’s as easy as people think it is,” said Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House and a four-decade resident of Maggie Valley. “I’m not unhappy with the job they’re doing. I’ve been here for 45 years and seen a lot go on in this town, and I’m very happy the town has taken it over.”

Hager said she’s making progress in the connections department, stirring the interest of national promoters. She returned from a conference in Texas with dozens of leads to follow.

And, said Hager, that’s going to continue to be her tactic, which she’s confident will pay larger dividends as the years progress.

“I’m talking to a lot of promoters all the time,” said Hager. “And I’m just going to keep selling the festival grounds.”


Above national average. Above state average. Highest regional composite ranking.

These are a few of the phrases that stand out in a recent letter from Haywood County Schools Superintendent Anne Garrett and Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

The missive is not so much an informational paean, extolling the school system’s triumphs as an offensive tactic, as a rebuttal to the call for across-the-board school reform. And more specifically to the local group that’s advocating it.

Tea for Education is an advocacy group whose central tenet is school choice. It’s headquartered on Walnut Street in Waynesville, and earlier this month, the group sent Haywood County Schools, along with county commissioners and local media, a white paper on school reform, accompanied by a letter requesting that it be read “with an open mind.”

And, said Nolte, that’s exactly what they did. But they’re pretty sure they’re fine without the paper’s suggestions, thanks.

“We very often have people come to us and say, ‘You need to use this program that’s used by so-and-so school and so-and-so state,’ but usually when we look at it, we’re outperforming the folks that they want us to be like,” said Nolte.

Bruce Gardner, a school reform advocate behind Tea for Education, said he was disappointed in the quick rebuff the school system shot back with.

“They’re right in being proud in their accomplishments. But if they think there’s no improvements can be made, well, you can always improve on anything,” said Gardner.

But from where Nolte sits, it did not take long to determine Haywood County is already doing more with less — and doing it better.

“When we have people who seriously ask us to look at something and consider something, we try and give them a response,” said Nolte. “I cannot pretend to know why they sent that to us. I don’t know if they’re asking us to change. But the point that I would like to make is if you want high-performing schools that spend less than almost everyone else, then we’re your school system.”

Tea for Education, headed by Haywood County residents Gardner and Beverly Elliott who are also active in the local Tea Party, put out the paper at the same time that they hosted screenings of the documentary Waiting for Superman, a recent lightning rod of controversy in the national school-reform debate.

The paper was put together by a Colorado group called the Centennial Institute, and lists tactics such as abandoning class size reduction, cutting administrative spending and revamping standardized testing, among others. The main idea is this: school budgets have increased over the decades, but test scores haven’t, so change is needed.

The research behind the paper is directed specifically at Colorado schools, but Gardner and Elliott believe that it holds lessons that can be applied anywhere.

“What our goals were in sending out the package were to send out information that has been developed in terms of improving education. When organizations spend a great deal of money working on how to improve a system, it makes sense to read and share it,” said Gardner, who noted that he was disappointed by what he saw as the schools’ failure to even give it a second look.

“I saw no instance from where they may have derived any kind of idea from it. It’s great to be proud of achievements, but I don’t understand their ingrained reluctance or fear of competition,” said Gardner.

Nolte, though, counters that, when it comes to school reform, why reform something that’s succeeding?

“We’re very supportive of school reform. We think low-performing schools should do better. We just hope and pray that people will not lump us in with schools that don’t perform well and ask us to make changes that will hurt our students,” Nolte said.

This means deeper cuts than the $5 million the system has already weathered and more staff axed than the 90 they’ve lost so far. Slashing more, or toying with proven models, said Nolte, will only diminish their pupils’ success. As of 2009, their per-pupil spending — $8,929 per kid — was already in the lower half, 65th out of 115 districts in the state. Administrators say this, combined with their test scores and other rankings, should be proof that they’re already doing more with less.

But Elliott and Gardner maintain that there’s always betterment to be had. They believe that widening the educational field will bring better options to what they see as a monopoly.

“We think the parent needs to have a complete menu of ways to educate their child,” said Gardner. Besides, he notes, it’s not the local school systems they’re focusing on. Their eye is on the broader, national debate, on affecting educational change on a systemic level. If Haywood schools are doing well, then that’s a win for everyone, and one less hurdle they have to jump.

“Then why are they showing Waiting for Superman locally, if they understand that we’re nothing like those schools?” queries Nolte.

And that’s a central piece of this debate, the documentary that has sparked fervor in school-reform advocates and fury in some educators.

The film is a look at the state of the nation’s public schools by director Davis Guggenheim, well known for the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

It highlights the country’s low performance in areas like math and science as compared to other developed nations — 25th in math and 21st in science — and puts the spotlight on notorious schools with dismal graduation rates and sinking test scores, as well as the lottery system used in larger cities for admission to the few flourishing schools.

The movie supports, in part, the school-choice mantra chanted by Tea for Education, especially with regard to public charter schools.

Right now, Haywood County has no public charter schools, and, said Gardner, the system could probably benefit both financially and academically if a few popped up. He and Elliot point to numbers saying that state- and nation-wide, charter schools can educate students for less than system schools, which would take some of the fiscal burden from districts facing deep cuts.

Nolte said he’s not against charters — as long as they can keep pace with the rest of the county’s schools in performance.

“Our job is to be really, really good and not use a lot of resources. If someone wants to start a charter school in our community, then we would say that they need to perform as well as we do with the same students that we do,” said Nolte.

Tea for Education isn’t fighting that point. Yes, they say, accomplishments should be lauded, and schools should be judged by them. But despite assertions by Haywood Schools that they are doing more with less, it’s still not enough — private schools and charter schools manage to do it for even less per student.

“We’re spending a tremendous amount of money on education, and this is not the answer,” Gardner said.


TEA for Education to hold June 7 talk

Bruce Gardner, founder of Tea for Education, will speak about school choice at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 7, at the Mountain High Republican Women’s Club luncheon. The luncheon will be held at the Lake Toxaway Country Club.

Cost of the lunch is $20 for advance reservations and $25 at the door. 828.507.7900 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Rally to show support for public education

The Haywood County Democrats will hold a rally for education at 12 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, on the courthouse lawn in downtown Waynesville. Representatives from the community and various organizations will speak on behalf of public education.


For 3,000 years, the source of silk — shimmering, luxurious and terribly expensive — was a closely guarded secret. Silk worms, it’s lucrative little spinners, were kept jealously hidden by the silk makers of China on pain of death.

But today, 8,000 miles and a few millenia from ancient China, the very same worms are readying to produce another crop of precious silk, still one of the most pricey and sought after fibers on the market today.

Cassie Dickson has a tray of them sitting serenely on her dining room table in Sylva, munching on mulberry leaves, the sole diet of the Bombyx mori, the legendary variety of silk worms responsible for producing the lion’s share of the world’s silk.

“I have emergency trees, I have trees everywhere,” says Dickson. “I can spot trees just driving down the road.”

She’s been rearing the insects herself for 21 years now, after a magazine article piqued her interest.

She’d always been interested in handcrafts and fibers; she got traditional weaving and fiber spinning in the 1970s, and today she weaves historical pieces that have found their way into museums and private collections alike.

So she wrote to the woman featured in the article and got a response — along with some silkworm eggs as well.

She hatched them, and now she travels the region, giving out eggs and advice of her own.

The cardboard tray is teeming with a hundred or so worms, which are really more akin to caterpillars, with their knobbly bodies and tiny, sticky feet that make the sound of gently falling rain as they patter over the mulberry leaves.

In their short, month-long run as worms, they’ll grow to 10,000 times their original size, ballooning up from tiny eggs that are no larger than a grain of sand.

They don’t venture out of their cardboard homes, says Dickson, until it’s time to spin, when the fattened worms begin to get antsy for a dark, secluded place to create the hard, oblong cocoons that can eventually be turned into everything from couture eveningwear to wire insulation.

It takes more than just a few worms, however, to get to the prêt-à-porter phase. According to Dickson, it takes 1,000 cocoons to make an average-size ladies’ blouse, which might be why the gossamer threads are so costly. Each two-inch worm will produce one single filament that’s anywhere from 500 yards to a mile long, and it takes around 48 filaments to spin into a single silk thread.

Dickson, though, says she uses the fiber not only for spinning into yarn and thread, but also raw, unraveled and pulled from a cocoon.

Purchased from a factory, raw silk comes in thin, translucent squares that are unraveled from the hardened cocoons that have been softened in water. But rather than spin these, Dickson often just knits this silk straight from its original state, simply pulling it by hand to the desired thickness or space dying it with natural dyes or even Kool-Aid.

That’s a technique she takes into workshops and schools, to demonstrate how versatile the fiber can be.

“The boys always go, ‘that looks like fish bait to me,’” laughs Dickson, but her worms and their products have always proven pretty popular with kids and adults in her classes and workshops.

And, she says, while the month of raising the worms is very labor intensive, she’s never had a problem hatching the eggs, which she keeps dormant in her refrigerator for much of the year.

This year’s herd has about another week before they begin to branch out and spin themselves into their fibrous shells. And for most of them, that’s the end of the line. The majority of the blind, flightless moths that would naturally emerge from the cocoon will never see the light of day, as their chrysalis damages the silk threads. But Dickson will select a few of the most choice cocoons and let them emerge to lay next year’s eggs — “sort-of my selective breeding,” she says — while the others will be stifled, heated slightly to prevent their exit.

Today, most of the silk used in the U.S. comes from China, still a powerhouse in the industry it founded so many thousands of years ago. While domestic production has seen spikes throughout American history, large-scale sericulture died out in the 1930s, thanks to the Great Depression.

But the age-old tradition is alive in places like Western North Carolina, where natural fibers and natural textile techniques are seeing a new vogue. And the secret of silk is still hatching and spinning, year after year, as Dickson passes on eggs and expertise to a new crowd of silk spinners.


“The good ones always get wet.”  

That, says Ben McFall, is how he tells a decent fly fisherman from a fantastic one.

McFall is a veteran fisherman and also a judge at the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championships, held this year from May 20-22 in Cherokee for the very first time.

Sitting on the bank, waiting for a competitor to haul in a trout, is where you can really tell the good from the great, he says — the great will swim, sprint or crawl through the rushing water, fish in hand, to reach the judge’s ruler before heading back out for another catch.

And milling around outside the Holiday Inn in Cherokee early on the morning of final competition, it’s easy to see what he means. The field for this competition is limited to 60, the top 10 from the country’s six regions. They’re a pretty athletic-looking crowd, but the more impressive display is the staggering array of gear. There are nets and rods and reels, of course, but also insanely complex carrying cases, neoprene suits, shirts with neck gaskets favored by elite whitewater kayakers, and are those knee pads? What does a fly fisherman do with knee pads?

Tucker Horne is one competitor who’s jumped on the gear bandwagon. When he qualified for the nationals, he was so thrilled he found it impossible not to gear up. He had to be ready for such a prestigious event.

Horne is a recent college graduate, picking up a bachelor’s in journalism from Western Carolina University just a few short days ago. He calls himself a retired college student. It sounds nicer than unemployed.

Horne is on what is officially known as Northeast Regional Team 2, a nod to the tournament he fished to qualify in State College, Pa., earlier this year. Having spent the last few years at WCU, he’s a regular in most of the waters being fished in the tournament, but none have been very kind to him this weekend.

The contest is split into five different sessions — two a day on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday — and Horne has turned up little but what anglers call trash fish. In fly fishing, it’s only the trout that count for anything, and the scoring rewards quantity over inch count.

Each fish is worth 100 points, with 20 points tacked on for each centimeter.

Horne isn’t glum about his luck in the tourney, though. Perpetually jocular, he’s rosy-cheeked, bespectacled and what one tournament volunteer jokingly called ‘roomy.’ If the championships had a class clown, Tucker Horne would be it. And he’s thrilled to be competing in such a stacked field at all.

“I’m the worst of the best. It’s like, OK, I went to the Olympics. I’m not going to bitch about not getting a medal. And if Charlie Sheen is winning, then so am I,” he quips.

Competitors are broken into groups for the weekend, making the rounds to all five locations — the upper and lower sections of the Nantahala River, the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County, Cherokee Trophy Waters on the Raven’s Fork River and Calderwood Reservoir in east Tennessee.

This balmy Sunday, Horne and his 11 compatriots are on a bus, rumbling to the Upper Nantahala, to try their hand at the trout one last time.  

Watching the water

Though on the surface it would seem otherwise, competitive fly-fishing can be an exhaustingly physical sport. Apart from the intensity of the catches and river fords that McFall mentioned, the format of the competition itself is fairly grueling.

Each session is three hours long, with a 45-minute window on the front end for competitors to scope out their section of lake or river. These sections are called beats, and they vary in size depending on the water. Here on the narrow, sinuous Upper Nantahala, they’re anywhere from 250 to 300 yards.

So hiking through 300 yards of rushing water, toting armloads of gear and trying to entice skittish trout can be a taxing experience.

That’s what Jenny Baldwin says is the most difficult thing about a high-level competition like this.

She, too, is angling the Upper Nantahala today, and she’s the only female competitor in the tournament.

“It’s exhausting,” says Baldwin. “The amount of focus it takes to try to fish every session excellently — well, by the end of three hours, you’re tired.”

Baldwin is Swedish, with the blond hair, blue eyes and tall frame to prove it. She moved stateside 14 years ago and now lives in Boulder, Co., where she’s a horse trainer.

And, she says, for purposes of full disclosure: this is her first fly-fishing tournament ever. Her boyfriend is a competitor, so when a member of their team dropped out and they couldn’t find a replacement, they called Baldwin into service instead of just taking zeros for every session with an open spot.

She’s no novice angler, though. She’s been fly fishing for 10 years, and fishing in some capacity for most of her life. She doesn’t know many other women in the sport, apart from her best friend. But she says they both love getting out on the river.

“It’s the only thing that makes time stand completely still,” says Baldwin.

But even if she didn’t qualify like the rest of the contenders, her presence is still notable. When the bus stops to pick up some competitors, a female judge — they’re called controllers — sticks her head on the bus to say she’d heard about Baldwin, and she’s so pleased there’s a woman in the ranks this year. She, herself, is a fly fisher.

And they’re becoming more common fixtures in the water, according to a survey by the Outdoor Industry Foundation. It estimates that 35 percent of fly fishers are now women.

The competitive arena, though, is still dominated by men, and back on the river, the competition is pretty fierce. In fly-fishing, unlike other sports, there aren’t just the other players to beat, there’s the clock, the water, the fish and whoever else chooses to be in the water that day.

This particular morning is a sunny, warm May Sunday — in short, the perfect morning for anglers of all stripes to dust off their winterized rods and reels and head to the river. And while most will acquiesce and move to another slice of water when they hear a national competitor is wading in, some don’t. One local fisherman — improbably dressed in drenched cargo shorts, dress socks and loafers — spent most of the morning wandering the riverbank, apologizing to everyone he met for interrupting the competition. But another group of wizened elder Floridians met a controllers’ request that they move with a polite “good luck” and then kept on fishing.

Back at the second beat, Tucker Horne says it’s this uncertainty that he loves about fishing. And does he ever love fishing. Horne is from Davidson, and turned down lucrative scholarships elsewhere to come to WCU so he could fish in the plethora of renowned waters that dot the surrounding mountains.

“I mean, what makes it fun is that you’re also fishing against the fish. If the fish aren’t there, you’re not going to catch them,” says Horne. But what he and many others relish about being in such talented company is watching the real masters prove that adage wrong, pulling trout upon trout from seemingly fishless waters.

“It’s amazing to see a good fisherman,” says Horne. “Those people are just fishy. They just know where the fish are. They pay really explicit attention to detail — they can pick up on little stuff and then use it to their advantage.”

And in that way, fly-fishing for fun and fly-fishing to win are two quite disparate things, say most of the competitors and controllers. A real contender is there to read the water, to mentally navigate the current, watching the swirl of the surface, looking for pockets and deep holes and then working them methodically, pulling fish from each one. An amateur fisherman will chase a fish, says Ben McFall, while top-notch anglers pursue the water.

Devon Olson is one of those guys. He took home second place in the contest and has been on Team USA since before his 21st birthday. He’s a Utah native and in this trip on the Upper Nanty, he pulled a fish about every 7 minutes. So is Coloradan Chris Galvin, who finished the weekend in the top third. He says this level of love for fishing just isn’t teachable.

“Trying to explain why you like fishing is almost impossible,” says 41-year-old Galvin. “It’s like it’s genetic. I have the gene.”

But at the end of the day, all say it’s the camaraderie, not the accolades, that keep them coming back.

At the end of three hours, they strip off hip waders and slink from the mottled shadows and glittering surf of the river, sharing beers and swapping stories on the bus ride home.

Jenny Baldwin pulled in three fish. Devin Olsen caught about nine times more. And no one seems to care too much.

“We did a lot of tree rescues for my flies,” says Baldwin with an easy laugh. “I air launched a few, too.” Shouldn’t she get credit for those? she chuckles.

Of course there are fish stories — “man, he’s convincing sometimes when he’s lying,” said one angler, after another jokingly bragged of his 37-fish haul — but mostly there’s collegial friendship. And when they disembark and snap a final picture, the same sentiment is ubiquitous: we’ll have to do this again next year.


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