Caitlin Bowling

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Canton’s elected leaders could find their two-year terms of office doubling if voters support a proposed change to give the mayor and board of aldermen four years in office.

The town board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 to gauge residents’ feelings about shifting from the current two-year terms to four-year, staggered terms.

“I think it would behoove our community to make that decision,” said Mayor Michael Ray.

Ray said he did not think that adding another two years to the terms would make much difference.

Unlike most towns, Canton’s mayor and four aldermen have to run for election every two years. Every other town board in the region, as well as county commissioners, serves four-year terms.

While Canton’s town board has long toyed with the idea of switching to four-year terms, it would mark a change for Canton voters who are likely accustomed to the more frequent election cycle. The town board discussed the issue at their meeting last week and decided to leave the final decision up to voters.

“It’s been the way it is for a long time,” Alderman Ed Underwood said of the two-year model. “That is what the people have got used to. I think having their input is going to be very important.”

Because the entire board and the mayor run for re-election every two years, a perfect storm of circumstances could saddle the town with a completely new board and mayor, and institutional knowledge could disappear with the previous leaders.

“We were worried about the possibility,” said Alderman Patrick Willis.

Fellow Alderman Jimmy Flynn first broached the idea during his last term but no action was taken.

“I’ve been pursuing that ever since I got re-elected,” Flynn said. “If you do the staggered terms, you don’t run the risk of the whole board coming in new.”

In 2007, Canton saw three of the five seats on the board flip in a single election. And again in 2009, three of the five seats flipped. A wholesale change of the board hasn’t taken place in at least four decades, however.

Two extra years would also allow leaders to tackle longer-term projects more easily.

“I’m sure it would give anyone who is elected a longer time to complete things,” Ray said, adding that candidates would realize personal savings because they would not have to spend on campaign materials every two years.

However, a longer term is also a bigger commitment from the candidate’s standpoint.

“It’s seemed a long time since I’ve been elected, and that was only three months ago,” joked the newly elected Willis.

Although the board is required to hold a public hearing before switching to four-year terms, the law does not require residents to have a vote. The town has elected to make it a ballot issue in November.

“I feel this should be put before the people,” Ray said. “The electorate might like the possibility to have a quick turnaround.”

In addition to four-year terms, the proposal would also institute staggered terms, meaning only part of the board is up for election every two years.

If the new terms are approved, the two aldermen who receive the fewest votes in the 2013 town election would serve for only two years and then have to seek re-election again in 2015 before going to a permanent four-year cycle. The two aldermen and the mayoral candidate with the most votes during next year’s election would begin serving four-year terms at that time.


Like most great tales, it began like any other day.

Sous Chef Alex Tinsley, 24, was working his usual day in The Gateway Club’s kitchen — chopping veggies, toasting buns, helping to ensure that any food that left the kitchen was perfect or as close to perfect as it could be. Then, co-owner Art O’Neill asked to talk to him.

O’Neill had received a call from a friend who was lining up personal chefs for golfers competing in the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., this April. Unable to work the gig himself, O’Neill asked Tinsley and Executive Chef Daniel Morris, 27, to take the spot.

“Of course, I said ‘yes’ immediately,” Tinsley said.

Both are accomplished chefs in the area and, as luck would have it, golf lovers.

“Daniel and I are both golfers — poor ones at that,” Tinsley said, laughing.

Tinsley and Morris will spend the four-day tournament bunked up in the same house as their assigned golfer — namely British pro Ross Fisher — where they will eat, sleep and breathe the world of golf while hopefully wowing him and his support entourage with their cuisine.

The gig is being coordinated by Horizon Sports Management, a firm that represents professional athletes and lines up any and all accommodations during the Masters, including renting houses in the Augusta area for them to stay in.

The pair will be responsible for dishing up Fisher’s breakfasts, dinners and snacks for the course. They will also organize a large cookout for 50 to 60 people during their stay.

Amid the excitement lingers another thrilling prospect: what if their food helps Fisher clinch the green jacket — one of the most coveted prizes in all sports?

But on the flip, perhaps burnt, side of that idea is this thought: “I’d hate to be the reason Ross Fisher lost the tournament,” Tinsley said.

For chefs, food is more about personal satisfaction, knowing that they have created something both visually alluring and pleasing to the palate. For athletes, it is fuel.

“I think a lot of golfers really are conscious of what they eat and how that is going to make you feel,” Morris said.

The duo is just starting to receive details of what Fisher, who is currently ranked 118th in the world, does and does not like.

“I know that Ross Fisher loves M&Ms,” Morris said, adding that a bowl must be set out in the house at all times.

The menu items will be up to Fisher’s discretion. During the first day, the guys will meet with the golf pro to discuss his gustatory expectations and preferred eats while playing in the tourney.

“If he wants a grilled cheese sandwich and a can of Campbell’s soup, I am fine with that,” Tinsley said.

However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t prepping their own ideas of what they think Fisher would enjoy.

“I have some things in my pocket that I have done many times,” Tinsley said. Then again, “He might want nothing but granola and lean protein.”

Morris has already started scrutinizing all his culinary concoctions, contemplating whether this or that meal would be a good option to make for Fisher.

“You start looking at everything you do a little differently,” Morris said.

The whole event won’t be work, however. After shopping for groceries and making the meals, Morris and Tinsley will have the chance to walk the course and see some of the game’s greatest players at work.

Tinsley said he plans to walk every inch of the course, if possible, because it could be his only chance, although both chefs are hoping not.

The two compatriots are “crossing our fingers, kind of hoping we can keep going back,” said Morris, who is confident that the notion is possible “as long as we perform like I know that we can.”

“To cook and to be part of this, you’re dotting all of your I’s and crossing all your T’s,” he said.


Going pro

Morris, a Waynesville native, got his start in the restaurant business about nine years ago while studying at Appalachian State University. While in Boone, he got a job at a Japanese Steakhouse.

“I absolutely loved it,” he said.

After he moved back to Waynesville, Morris worked at Laurel Ridge Country Club and The Sweet Onion. At one point, he quit cooking and worked for an excavation company but couldn’t stay away from the culinary arts.

“I realized that restaurants were where I needed to be,” Morris said.

So, he signed up for culinary school at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. He is now the big cheese at The Gateway Club — and boss of his former boss Tinsley.

Now a sous chef at The Gateway Club, Tinsley was formerly executive chef at Balsam Mountain Preserve, and Morris was his sous chef there.

“I was his boss first,” Tinsley joked, adding that he constantly reminds Morris of that fact.

Tinsley, of Clyde, got his start washing dishes and worked for his family’s Waynesville restaurant, Sunset on Main, which closed when they embarked on the Gateway Club endeavor. His mother, Suzanne, is currently a part owner of and the events director at The Gateway Club.


If you can’t beat ‘em, then you can at least benefit from ‘em.

Waynesville officials are considering joining the growing ranks of towns that impose fees on businesses that operate sweepstakes machines, a recent reincarnation of the previously outlawed video gambling.

“This board has always taken the position that one, these things are illegal; and two, we are not going to tax something that is illegal,” said Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway during a long-range town planning meeting last week.

The controversial machines have been through an “Are they? Are they not?” legal battle during the past few years as state legislators continue to try to outlaw sweepstakes machines and as proponents of the contraptions continue to find loopholes in the law.

“We’ve been back and forth on this a number of times,” Galloway said.

However, with no end in sight, Waynesville has decided to jump on the bandwagon. If they are going to exist anyway, why not benefit from them?

“There are folks out there that are going to find their way around (the law no matter what),” Galloway said.

At the same meeting, town leaders were grappling with where they would find money to build a skateboard park. During their talks about the sweepstakes machines, they realized they could kill two birds with one stone.

Aldermen decided to move forward with fees on sweepstakes machines to fund the skate park and other recreation initiatives.

“I think the idea of funding recreational activities would be appropriate,” said Alderman LeRoy Robinson.

The discussion led board members to another question: How much can the town charge?

Maggie Valley and Canton currently tax the sweepstakes machines in their respective towns. Both demand $2,500 for the first four machines and charge $750 for each subsequent machine. Maggie collects $8,250 a year, while Canton makes in nearly $32,000 each year. The town of Franklin makes $10,000 a year.

Galloway said that Waynesville will likely charge similar amounts. But, it could see higher benefits given the town’s larger size and potentially larger establishments.

A sweepstakes poker café opened on South Main in June 2010, and recently, two people have come into the police department asking for permits to start operations with as many as 40 to 60 machines — meaning that the new fee could be a boon for the town.

“According to Canton and Maggie Valley, they are standing in line to register machines,” said Bill Hollingsed, Waynesville’s chief of police.

No machine owners would be exempt from the new tax; no one will be grandfathered in. Waynesville will issue decals, which people can display on their sweepstakes machines, indicating that the device has undergone the proper inspection.

“They (machine owners) will not argue with that,” said Mayor Gavin Brown.


Future up in the air

While the fees could be a boon, it’s unclear just how long- or short-lived the fees could be. The sweepstakes machines could be outlawed, this time for good, once an appeal works its way through the state courts.

The General Assembly first banned video gambling in 2007. It didn’t take long before so-called “sweepstakes” cropped up as an alternative. Lawmakers viewed the sweepstakes as a reincarnation of video gambling under a different name, designed to circumvent the previous ban. So, the General Assembly went back to the drawing board and passed another ban in 2010 aimed at putting sweepstakes cafés out of business as well. But, lawsuits challenging the ban have allowed the games to continue.

“They found one judge in Greensboro, I think, who found one part of the law and said ‘Well, no, maybe this is not illegal,’” Galloway said.

The ambiguity, meanwhile, has left local law enforcement officers caught in the middle and confused about whether sweepstakes machines operating in their counties are illegal or not.

“The video poker law is unenforceable,” Hollingsed said. “It puts us in a bad position.”

Any gambling machine connected to the Internet is caught in limbo, and law enforcement officials cannot fine or arrest their owners without fear of being held in contempt themselves.

“It is very frustrating for us, I assure you,” Hollingsed said.

The only machines that are definitely illegal are stand-alone devices, including the Lucky Seven and Pot O’ Gold, which are not connected to the Internet.

“Those machines are clearly still illegal,” Hollingsed said.


As the weather cooled this past weekend, Kathy Taylor’s bees were nowhere in sight; sheltering themselves within their manmade, wooden hives, the bees had calmed again after an unseasonably warm winter left them stirring.

This time of year, the queen bee lays her eggs and the worker and drone bees that surround her focus on keeping themselves, and more importantly their leader, alive. A Marxist society, the worker bees happily labor for the benefit of the queen. Without her, they would transform into swarms of anarchists.

This winter has been particularly trying for the insect, however, which usually cluster during the coldest months of the year. The mild temperatures have caused the bees to stir and eat up some of the honey they have stored.

“This is a bad thing for the bees,” said Taylor, president of the Haywood County Beekeepers Association. The association is a local chapter of the state beekeepers association.

As the stores dry up, the bees will die from hunger unless the beekeeper gives them sugar water or other sustenance.

And, if the plants bloom too early, they will not bloom later in the year for the bees, which look for buds to break open as they start a new season of honey making.

Production usually begins in the early spring, with the budding of plants and the rising of the sun. The sooner bees feel the warmth, the sooner they will begin that day’s work so beehives should face the sunrise.

“So if the sun rises in the east — and I reckon it still does — you want it to face east,” Taylor said.

People should also be considerate of their neighbors when they are looking for somewhere to settle their bees because the insect knows no bounds when it comes to searching for quality pollen.

“You can’t say that I live at 195, and you can’t leave here,” Taylor said.

While bees will travel about 100 yards in an adequately pollinated area, they can travel up to three miles hunting for their favorite plants or water — which is key, she said.

If the neighbor has a pool, make sure to keep a sufficient amount of water nearby the hive to prevent the bees from surrounding the pool. Along with pollen, a water source is critical to honey production.

Bee farmers should also strap down their hives somehow or fence them in to prevent predators from attacking them. This year, Taylor said she has seen more animals than usual daring to romp around homes forging for food, which for many could include her bees and their honey store.

“Think about it,” she said. “What did Winnie-the-Pooh love?”

The beekeeper must not be greedy and take all the honey either as it keeps honeybee alive during the winter.

“If we extract too much, then we take away from the bees,” Taylor said.


A swarm of combs

Standing just more than five feet tall, Taylor is the type of person who greets everyone, even complete strangers, with the phrase “Hello, precious.”

Her naturally nurturing personality has become quite handy during the past few years as she cares for and expands her beekeeping operations — which can be an arduous task.

Taylor backed into beekeeping after her husband retired in 2006.

“He said, ‘What are we going to do?’ and I said, ‘Let’s start an orchard,’” she said.

As she began, Taylor, owner of KT’s Orchard & Apiary Barn in Canton, saw the need to nurture bees alongside her fruit trees and bushes, but she didn’t know where to start. At the time, Haywood County did not offer beginner beekeeping classes so she traveled to Hendersonville.

Taylor began beekeeping in 2007 with two hives, which during the years expanded to 21 colonies housed at various locations near her Pigeon Ford Road home in Canton, in Beaver Dam, and in Buncombe and Jackson counties.

Several years later, in early 2010, Taylor helped charter the more than 75-member Haywood County Beekeepers Association.

The group holds school events, participates in local festivals and teaches beginner classes for burgeoning beekeepers.

Taylor suggested that any new or wannabe beekeepers take a beginning beekeeping course. The class teaches the basics of beekeeping and allows people to get acclimated to the bees and overcome any fears they might have.

“The bees know if you’re not calm,” she said. “That’s why beginner bee school is so important.”

And, any gardener or farmer has good reason to keep bees, she said, and bees have made a resurgence alongside the buy local movement as people realize that they need pollinators to help grow other products.

“Just think of the things you would not have without bees,” she said.

Bees cross-pollinate at least 30 percent of crops, including apples, berries, cucumbers and almonds, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The bees also teach the novice or less experienced grower about their favored plants.

“Dandelions, oh my goodness gracious,” Taylor said of the bees love for that particular weed.


Start your own hives

The Haywood County Beekeepers Association will host a two-day introductory course starting this Saturday. The class will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 18 and 25 at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service building.

Topics include equipment, selecting beehive locations and getting honeybees.

The cost is $35 per person, $45 per couple and free for students under 18. The fee includes a yearlong membership with the association.



More bee buzz

The Smoky Mountain Beekeepers is another local organization that brings together beekeepers and offers starter classes for novices in Swain and Jackson counties. The association will host a course in beginner beekeeping from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 14, in Bryson City. Robert Brewer, University of Georgia’s Apiculture Extension Coordinator, will lead the bee school. Brewer is a certified International Honey Judge and co-founder of the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute. Topics covered will include basic bee biology, how to get started in beekeeping, insect and disease control.

The pre-registration fee is $15 prior to April 1 and $20 thereafter or at the door. The course fee will cover the cost of lunch and reference materials.



Two seats are up for election on the Haywood County Board of Commissioners this year, and both Mark Swanger and Kevin Ensley are looking to retain their seats.

Both incumbents seemed relatively unconcerned about this year’s election.

“I’m optimistic,” Swanger said.

While the candidate sign-up period just started this week and continues until the end of the month, Swanger and Ensley were the only ones who had declared they would run by press time Tuesday.

Ensley, 50, has been on the five-member board for eight years and is currently the only Republican on the board. Swanger, 61, has also served as a commissioner for eight years.

Both commissioners listed the board’s response to the recession and the privatization of its solid waste operations among the most important measures taken by the board during their recent terms.

“I feel like the board as a whole has had a good handle on reacting to the economy,” Ensley said. “My first term there was money and revenues coming in. This term … the decisions have been harder because of the economic downturn.”

The county is operating on less tax revenue and has found ways to function more efficiently, he said.

But it has cost jobs.

Early last year, the county cut jobs for the third year in a row to help offset a budget shortfall — eliminating five full-time positions and freezing four vacant posts.

There have been 50 county jobs cut in three years. In 2009, Haywood County employed 557 full-time staff members; it now employs 507.

“I think the most difficult decision that the board did was reduce the number of employees,” Swanger said. “I think our board has done a very good job navigating the economic recession.”

Ensley added that more cost cutting measures could be in Haywood County’s future.

Ensley cited a bill being considered by the state legislature that would allow counties to combine their health and social services departments as a way to trim costs, save on overhead and eliminate any redundant services.

“Now that we have those under one roof in Haywood County, we could realize several hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings,” Ensley said.

Swanger agreed that the board must continue to look for ways to provide necessary services at an economical rate and take proactive steps to combat shrinking budgets.

Last year, the county signed a contract to privatize its solid waste operations — which will save the county an estimated $800,000 a year.

In addition to cutting costs, the board earlier this year signed a long-term lease with Mountain Projects for the Mountain Area Resource Center, which will act as a one-stop site for seniors seeking various services.

“I am pretty happy with what we have been able to do with our senior services,” Ensley said, adding that he would like to continue to augment the county’s senior offerings and possibly allow elderly-focused nonprofits space in the MARC building.

Although Swanger said most of the board’s future goals are a continuation of past milestones, if re-elected, he plans to keep the tax rate from increasing and continue to work with the Economic Development Commission and Haywood Community College to create jobs in the county.

“I think jobs are real important now,” agreed Ensley, adding that he would look for grants to fund county water and sewer projects, which could create jobs.

For example, Canton expanded its sewer system on Champion Drive, which directly created jobs, and it could indirectly add jobs to the area as new businesses move in, Ensley said.


Outgoing Congressman Heath Shuler hopes to pass the torch to his own chief of staff, a like-minded, conservative Democrat who is rapidly being embraced by the party establishment as a replacement for Shuler on the ballot come November.

Hayden Rogers, native of Robbinsville and longtime chief of staff to Shuler, announced his candidacy last Wednesday — one week after Shuler declared that he would not seek re-election.

“He would be an extremely strong candidate,” Shuler said, quick to offer an endorsement of Rogers. “My theory has always been I wanted to surround myself with the best and brightest.”

Shuler said Rogers is “very, very smart” and already known and well-respected by the other members of Congress, giving him a leg up when it comes to serving the district should he win.

Rogers said his decision to run comes from a desire to continue the work he and Shuler have started.

“It stemmed from much of my experience with Heath and the enjoyment and pleasure we have gotten from working for the people of Western North Carolina,” Rogers said. “That is what I would like to continue to do.”

Similar to Shuler, Rogers, who now lives in the Murphy area with his wife and daughters, played football in high school in Graham County. He grew up hunting squirrels and fishing in the mountains with his grandfather, yet went on to major in political science at Princeton, where he also played football. Prior to working for Shuler, he owned his own wholesale nursery and landscaping business.

Rogers said that like Shuler, he will work with people from across party lines and will not pout and whine if he does not get his way.

“I think we’ve got plenty who do that now,” he said.

In the primary, Rogers will face competition from Cecil Bothwell, an Asheville city councilman, who planned to run even before Shuler stepped down. After Shuler announced he was bowing out, Bothwell issued a press release proclaiming himself the “frontrunner” for the Democratic nomination.

“Apparently, Cecil Bothwell is the frontrunner. I read that he said that somewhere,” Rogers said wryly. “I will do the best I can to catch up.”

With his more conservative stance, Rogers has a better chance of pulling out a victory in November than the comparatively liberal Bothwell, according to political observers.

“I am more consistent with the views of this district than probably Mr. Bothwell will be,” Rogers said, citing his affiliation as a Blue Dog Democrat like Shuler.

Rogers declined to say how much he has raised during his first week of campaigning.

“I certainly will have a well-funded campaign and a well-run campaign,” Rogers said.

The seasoned campaign veteran already has a couple of paid staff members, including Shuler’s former communication officer Andrew Whalen, and two-dozen active volunteers.

“Just getting out there. I started that now. (But), I am not starting at scratch,” he said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Shuler’s endorsement is what may take Rogers the furthest.

Shuler brought Rogers on as his campaign manager in his first bid for office in 2006 after firing his first campaign manager.

“I wanted people who weren’t yes people. I wanted people who were straight forward and honest who could make me a better candidate and better member of Congress,” Shuler said.

Shuler credits Rogers with helping pull off his win over longtime incumbent Charles Taylor six years ago, despite everyone being novices.

“Consider this: we ran against a 16-year incumbent with all the money in the world and we didn’t have one person who had ever been involved in a campaign before except one, and he had never won one,” Shuler reflected.

Rogers will face at least two other opponents during the Democratic primary. In addition to Bothwell, two lesser-known candidates have announced they will run: Heath Wynn of Caldwell County and Tom Hill of Henderson County.

Wynn was a teacher in the sociology department at Catawba Valley Community College.


Republicans seeking the 11th District congressional seat are trying to find ways before May’s primary to stand out and attract voters amid a crowded field of nine candidates.

Candidates began actively campaign toward the end of last year, traveling from county-to-county speaking and glad-handing.

“I think what you’ve got to do is you got to show up in all 17 counties so much that they don’t know that you aren’t from there,” said conservative candidate Mark Meadows from Cashiers. “You can’t ignore any county.”

Competitors also must line up endorsements from former politicians and notable district residents to distinguish themselves from the main field.

Tea party candidate Dan Eichenbaum has gathered two Tea Party endorsements — one from the Asheville Tea Party Political Action Committee and another from Cherokee County’s Tea Party. Eichenbaum is going into the race with name recognition, after running two years ago and coming in second for the Republican nomination.

However, he hasn’t recieved the support of the Republican Party establishment, at least judging by the three top-picks of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The national party support arm for GOP Congressional candidates has tapped Meadows, Jeff Hunt of Hendersonville and Ethan Wingfield of Asheville as “Young Guns,” marking them as candidates with promise within the party.

Meadows has already received several endorsements — among them perhaps the crowned-jewel endorsement of the race, that of Jeff Miller, last year’s Republican nominee who went up against Shuler and gained wide name recognition. Others include retired state Sen. Jimmy Jacimun and former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin, among others.

While newcomer Ethan Wingfield has not announced any endorsements so far, he has been able to collect an impressive $204,019 from more than 100 contributors despite declaring his candidacy 10 days prior to the deadline for submitting end-of-the-year campaign contribution reports. Wingfield, a young, conservative, Christian businessman and entrepreneur from Buncombe County, could pose a threat, taking precious fundraising dollars away from his competitors.

Meanwhile, candidate Jeff Hunt has argued that he is the “only one who has a record — a consistently conservative record” as a district attorney for 18 years. Similar to Wingfield and Meadows, Hunt has touted himself as the conservative, Christian candidate who will fight for small businesses and cut government regulations that inhibit job growth.

“I think people will need to make a decision on who is the true compassionate conservative candidate,” Meadows said. Meadows is a former restaurant owner in Highlands and is now a real estate developer in Cashiers.

With three likeminded contenders, the primary vote could split two or three ways among mainstream Republicans. That could give Eichenbaum with his Tea Party backers a chance at victory.

During the last primary in 2010, moderate Republican Jeff Miller received 14,059 votes, and Eichenbaum received 11,949 votes — a little more than a 2,000-vote difference. However, Meadows contends that Eichenbaum has lost some of his footing since that race.

“Some of the advantage that Dan Eichenbaum had in the last election he lost because he didn’t support the nominee,” he said.

Meadows said Eichenbaum and Hunt are a concern but that he will campaign to make sure neither receives the majority vote.

“We don’t see Mr. Wingfield as much a competitor as Jeff Hunt or Dr. Dan,” Meadows said. “We have been, and we will continue, to out work them.”

No matter who wins, the Republican Party will need to band together to support and promote their candidate.

The party “will be uniting behind whoever the Republican candidate is after the primary,” said Dave Sawyer, head of the 11th District’s Republican Party, adding that party leaders are already looking toward the fall competition.

“You want to lay as much groundwork as possible,” Sawyer said.


Meet the candidates

A Republican congressional candidate forum will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 in Bryson City. The following candidates have committed to coming: Spence Campbell, Dan Eichenbaum, Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows, Vance Patterson and Kenny West.

Prior to the forum, people will have a chance to mingle with the candidates and enjoy refreshments, starting at 6 p.m.


Longtime Maggie Valley resident Alaska Presley has seen it all when it comes to Ghost Town in the Sky’s ups and downs.

Presley, now 88, and her late husband Hugh met R.B. Coburn, founder of Ghost Town, more than 50 years ago when he walked into a hotel that the couple owned in Maggie Valley and told them about his plans. It was the beginning of Presley’s connection to and love for the amusement park, which has spanned nearly two-thirds of her life.

Now, Presley is putting her own personal wealth on the line to rescue the shuttered theme park, and hopefully bring back the missing lynchpin in the Maggie tourism trade.

SEE ALSO: Resurrecting a ghost town

Presley knows first hand how important Ghost Town was historically in driving tourist traffic in Maggie. Presley, along with her family, has owned and sold a number of Maggie businesses throughout the years, including Mountain Valley Lodge, Holiday Motel and a trout fishing operation.

Ghost Town enjoyed decades of prosperity after R.B. Colburn conceived of the idea more than half a century ago. As a result, the town of Maggie Valley grew up around it, a string of mom-and-pop motels, diners and shops catering to the 150,000 tourists that once streamed into Maggie to visit the park.

However, the park began a long and steady decline in the 1990s. It began to show its age around the edges and was not well-maintained. The attractions grew dated, yet Coburn failed to add new amenities to cater to the changing tastes of modern tourists.

Ghost Town’s eventual closure in 2002 dealt a major blow to Maggie Valley’s economy, which continued to decline.

When a group of investors appeared and reopened the park four years later, they were seen as saviors. Business owners and leaders were willingly to help in anyway that they could as long as it meant that Ghost Town, once a economic boon for the town, would return for good. Businesses provided supplies on credit, from electricians and plumbers making repairs to hard goods purchased from oil companies to building supply stores — all under the assumption Ghost Town was a good cause.  Meanwhile, Maggie residents, including Presley, loaned money to the new owners in exchange for shares in the company.

However, the park fell into debt and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. The park opened and closed several times as the owners struggled to get out of debt. But in the end, the park left a trail of $2.5 million in unpaid debt to small businesses and hundreds of thousands lost by helpful investors.

BB&T — which was owed $10 million by the new owners for the park’s purchase and later renovations  — filed for foreclosure. Eighteen months later, the foreclosure was finalized, and Alaska Presley placed her bid to buy Ghost Town.


Tears gathered in Alaska Presley’s eyes as she moved one step closer to attaining a Maggie Valley icon that has remained close to her heart but out of her possession for more than 50 years.

Surrounded by supporters, former Ghost Town employees and her lawyer, Presley, a longtime Maggie Valley resident, listened as a foreclosure attorney dryly recited the property boundaries of Ghost Town in the Sky, a once-popular amusement park in Maggie Valley. Presley was one of about 20 people who attended the public auction of Ghost Town on Feb. 10 outside the Haywood County Courthouse.

She is the only person who bid on the property at auction, offered $2.5 million for the property and its equipment. Competing buyers can file an upset bid for 10 days. Presley is now counting down the days until Feb. 20 to see if anyone places a counterbid.

Presley, 88, hopes to leave a functioning and profitable Ghost Town as her legacy to Maggie Valley.

SEE ALSO: Has Maggie found its heroine?

“Maggie Valley has some of the best people in the world,” she said. “And without Ghost Town, they have been having a very, very hard time.”

When the amusement park finally went up for sale, Presley just had to buy it. She said that a forever closed and abandoned Ghost Town is her “greatest fear.”

“Maggie Valley needs it,” Presley said. “I’m most interested in getting it going for the prosperity of Haywood County.”

However, Maggie residents are no longer quick to pin their hopes on the reopening of an amusement park that has been a continual cause for disappointment during the past decade.


Driven by her heart

Acquiring Ghost Town has been a long process and restoring the amusement park to its original glory will be a struggle all its own, which is why Presley began renovating it months before the foreclosure was finalized.

“This is the third time I’ve tried to help bring it back,” she said.

The to-do list is phenomenal. The rides and mock Old West town are decades old and in continual need of repair and upkeep, let alone the neglect they’ve seen since the park shut down three years ago.

Presley has already started touching up the buildings, which are quick to show their wear given the beating they take from the elements on the high-elevation mountain top.

Although she has made a few strides, there is still a lot of work to do and not much time to complete it before June, when she hopes to open at least a portion of the park.

“It has taken so long (to foreclose),” Presley said. “It’s kind of up in the air how much I can get done before the season.”

But, she does have a plan. Presley’s top priority is getting the chair lift and the incline railway working again. Tourists can only reach the mountaintop amusement park by the riding one of the two contraptions up the steep slope — but they have been in a seemingly perpetual state of malfunction in recent years.

Visitors would park in a large lot at the bottom of the mountain and ride either the lift or railway up to the park’s entrance. Neither are currently operational.

She has already purchased the parts needed to repair the incline railway, but it will still be about five months before it’s fixed, she said.

She must also assess the condition of the rides, particularly the roller coaster and drop tower.

“What’s good I’ll keep; what’s good I’ll refurbish,” she said, adding that she has yet to have anyone evaluate them, and some may not be repairable.

In the past, rides did not receive the proper care and maintenance. They looked rundown and often broke down. When Ghost Town briefly reopened five years ago, the kiddy rides and Wild West Town were up and running, but the roller coaster and drop tower — which attracted a more adult crowd — failed to pass state inspections. Although the previous owners attempted to repair the coaster, it only opened temporarily before it was once again deemed a safety hazard.

Next to the rides and cosmetic improvements, one of the biggest projects associated with the renovation is a overhauling of its water system. The previous owners did not shut off the water to Ghost Town after it closed, subjecting the full pipes to the mountain freeze-and-thaw cycle. The already aging system is now likely in desperate need of repair.

“That will be one of the worst things to do,” Presley said.

If she can overcome those hurdles and open Ghost Town for part of the tourist season, Presley can start earning revenue and hopefully move the park toward self-sustainability.


Bittersweet turn of events

People are cautiously optimistic about Presley’s endeavor.

“Only an Alaska Presley could ever get Ghost Town to run again,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said. “She is a very sharp lady; she sees value there.  (But) In today’s market, in today’s world, I don’t see any value there.”

While people disagree about what, if anything, the amusement park is worth, Presley’s long history with Ghost Town and her wherewithal seem undisputable.

“If anybody can do it, she can do it,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “I think she will definitely do the very best she can to get it up and running.”

Although the park has been closed for more than a year, the chamber still receives phone calls everyday asking if and when Ghost Town will reopen — an encouraging sign that if it is rebuilt, people will come.

“It encourages families to come here,” Smith said. “It would just be something else for people to do.”

But, the economy is still struggling, and gas prices continue to bounce up and down. Both are problems that have affected Ghost Town’s visitation numbers in the past and could influence its bottom line in the future as well.

“I think this go around those same worries are going to be there,” Smith said.

Town Alderman Phil Aldridge, who attended Friday’s event, said that residents are weary of anyone championing Ghost Town’s potential success after so many years of disappointments. Maggie Valley residents and business owners have had their hopes dashed before when investors promised to revive Ghost Town and bringing prosperity back to the valley.

But still, Aldridge leans toward the hopeful point of view.

Ghost Town was the “heartbeat” of Maggie Valley, he said. “It certainly can be again.”

When the amusement park profited, so did the town and county. In its heyday, 400,000 people visited Ghost Town each year, and families would pack into restaurants and motels along Maggie Valley’s main strip. Since the beginning of the recession and the park’s first closure in 2002, however, business in the valley has drastically declined.


Clock ticking

If Presley can’t open the park this season, it would cause “more damage,” she said. An open park means money to help cover upkeep and the employee payroll. It could also eventually mean more improvements — something already weighing on Presley’s mind.

“It needs to have some high-tech stuff,” she said, throwing out the idea of adding a zip line.

And, while some little boys still play cowboys and Indians, the Wild West theme has lost some of its luster now that the golden years of John Wayne and “Bonanza” are over.

“The western theme is passé now, and it needs the help,” Presley said. “The gun fights are good, but they are not enough.”

Although Presley was unable to provide more specifics regarding improvements, she estimated that the entire project will cost in excess of $11 million. And, she said she is not planning to take out any loans, adding that Ghost Town has had enough debt problems.

“Poor management and bad debts has plagued it for years,” Presley said. “A friend thought there was demons on that mountain; it has had such bad luck.”

So, for now, she will foot the bill herself.

“I have enough — to get started anyway,” Presley said. “I believe in paying as you go.”

Presley said she did not know how many employees she will need to reopen and operate the amusement park, but she has already hired Robert Bradley, a former gunfighter in the Wild West Town, to help with renovations and an armed guard to keep hoodlums off the property.

“It’s been vandalized pretty bad, but I got guards up there now, and I’ve got cameras all over the mountain,” Presley said.

Like Presley, Bradley has been around since Ghost Town beginnings.

“I started fallin’ off the roof in 1962,” he said, adding that Presley made him promise not to fall anymore now that he has passed 65.

Bradley, who has known Presley for most of his 67 years, is happy to help and anxious to get back to work as director of entertainment — his previously held title.

“I could probably put a show on next week,” Bradley said.

“Give us two hours,” chimed in Tim Gardner, a.k.a. Marshall Red Dawg.

While Ghost Town has been shut down, Bradley and some of the old band of entertainers from the Wild West Town have traveled around the U.S. doing shows. People are still interested in seeing their performances, he said.


What is Ghost Town worth?

During Friday’s foreclosure proceeding, Presley bid $2.5 million for Ghost Town. But, that is not what she will actually pay for the property.

The actual price tag is only $1.5 million, thanks to an interesting and non-traditional financing arrangement Presley struck to bail Ghost Town out of foreclosure.

When Ghost Town’s previous owners went bankrupt, BB&T was their biggest creditor — holding $10.5 million in debt.

BB&T chased Ghost Town into bankruptcy and to the doorstep of foreclosure. But for the past 18 months, it hasn’t pulled the trigger on foreclosure — likely because it knew that the beleaguered park would fetch nowhere near what the bank was owed. The idea that anyone would pay anything close to $10 million for the dilapidated and broken down amusement park is inconceivable.

“Who is going to pay $10 million for Ghost Town? Well, nobody is,” said Waynesville Mayor and lawyer Gavin Brown.

Instead of going forward with the foreclosure, BB&T sold its note to Presley for $1.5 million — a far cry less than the $10.5 million the bank is owed.

“What they (did) is just cut their losses and run,” Brown said.

When Presley purchased the note, she all but ensured that Ghost Town would be hers. Presley now owns BB&T’s entire $10.5 million note against Ghost Town — even though she only paid $1.5 million for control of the note. Someone would have to bid more than $10.5 million before they could top what she has in it.

The foreclosure is a mere formality, as was the $2.5 million Presley bid for the park. In essence, her $2.5 million bid will come back to her since she is the primary note holder.

So, not counting the court fees and related costs, how much did Presley pay for Ghost Town?

The simple answer is $1.5 million — the amount BB&T sold its note for, Presley said.

Other possible investors have until Feb. 20 to place an upset bid. However, John Doe cannot simply walk off the street and offer a few cents more than Presley’s current bid for Ghost Town. Upset bids must be at least 5 percent higher and bidders must put down a percentage of their bid up front.

As for the millions owed to private investors and small businesses by Ghost Town’s former owners? They won’t be seeing a dime.


Anyone can run or bike. And if any two people could testify to that, it’s Gerri Grady and Hugh Lambert.

Both Grady and Lambert have used exercise to overcome health problems. Now, both are leaders in two separate exercise- and social-centric clubs in Cherokee, aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles among members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Back in the 1990s, Grady, a founding member of the Cherokee Runners, could hardly walk, let alone run.

“I started walking because I was a heavy smoker,” said Grady, secretary of the running club. “God. I could barely walk.”

Following the death of her mother from asthma-related complications in the mid-1990s, Grady was determined to get fit and began strolling a 3-mile circuit a couple of times a week with her sister.

“I got scared because of that,” she said of her mother’s death.

Walking eventually gave way to running, and in 2001, Grady ran her first 5K and quit smoking. Now, she is a dedicated runner.

Like Grady, Lambert battled his own health problems — including sleep apnea and diabetes — before he took up cycling and started Cherokee Riders Cycling Club. Formerly 300 pounds, a now 205-pound Lambert has made strides to improve his overall health.

“There is no magic pill,” he said. “Take responsibility for your own health and actions.”

Lambert tried road cycling in college but did not keep it up. In the mid-90s, he tried again with mountain biking, but his carpel tunnel caused his hands to numb.

However, last year when Lambert heard about a Trail of Tears bike ride, things changed.

“I just had to do it,” he said.

Remember the Removal is an annual three-week bicycle ride commemorating the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its homelands during the 1830s - a brutal march where thousands of Cherokee perished from starvation and exposure. Riders retrace the route of the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and finally to Oklahoma. The ride is exclusive, only seven or eight ECBI members can participate each year. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma also sends 10 cyclists to complete the ride.

Desiring to be one of those, Lambert bought a bike and began self-training last spring. He figured that if he could ride 6.5 miles from Cherokee to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which climbs more than 3,000 feet in elevation, then he would be able to make the 950-mile trek to Oklahoma.

“It took me 3.5 hours to not make it half way,” said Lambert, who was impeded by some late winter snow.

But, two weeks later, he completed a similar length ride in Sylva and improved from there.


Club genesis

For years, Grady ran only with fellow enthusiasts from her family, but she continued to see other familiar faces along her running routes.

“I always saw the same people out on the trail,” Grady said.

When winter came, Grady moved inside to a local fitness center, and those familiar faces followed.

“And again, we are seeing all these people who have the same enjoyment,” she said.

However, it was not until spring 2009 when Grady and some of her family members went on vacation to Myrtle Beach that the idea of a running club initially arose. To gauge people’s interest, Grady sent out a Facebook message to her friends, many of whom also ran, advertising a meet-up and the possible formation of a running club.

“Oddly enough, here they came,” Grady said. “It’s just awesome.”

Cherokee Runners has grown from 15 to 40 members since its first meeting. And, as an official club, members have crossed the finish line in three marathons and countless half-marathons, 5Ks and 10Ks.

Members of the club meet regularly throughout the week with a longer run scheduled for Sundays. After a jaunt, the runners eat oranges and socialize while cooling down, Grady said.

“It’s not about competition so much as it is about health and fitness, and social (experiences),” she said, adding that anyone can join.

Taking a cue from the Cherokee Runners, Lambert decided to gather other cycling lovers and form the mountain and road biking club — Cherokee Riders.

“Mostly, we liked to ride, and we wanted to get other people involved,” he said.

Although it is not yet an official club, Cherokee Riders already has 10 members. It hopes to gain official club status, which includes crafting bylaws and membership applications, by the end of the month.

A main focus of the club is to raise money for Remember the Removal participants and help train them. The ride costs about $5,000 per person, as each is custom fitted with a bike.

This year, 22 people applied to be one of the seven who gets to represent the Eastern Band on the three-week ride.

During the ride, members of the national nonprofit Trail of Tears Association meet with the riders to give talks and programs during their overnight stops. Participants are “exposed to culturally significant places” along the way, he said. “Everybody who’s gone on the ride said it changed their life.”


Civically minded

As part of its mission statement, the Cherokee Runners participate in health fairs, training programs and hosts lectures. Speakers give a rundown of what to wear when exercising during the bone-chilling winter months and the sizzling summer months, how to deal with injuries, and training techniques. All of these outside activities are aimed at promoting exercise and fitness to residents of Cherokee.

“We try to be in the community, visible,” Grady said.

The club also sponsors runs and plans to hold a summer running camp for community members.

In the future, Grady and Lambert said they hope both clubs can work together toward their common goal — to get people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“They (the running club) are kind of a role model for community involvement,” Lambert said.

Once it’s more established, Cherokee Riders plans to offer bike safety courses, kids camps, training and, if the funds become available, a bike rental program.


Kick up your heels

The Cherokee Runners meets at 7 p.m. the first and 15th of every month in the Age Link building, behind the Yellowhill Community Club. However, if the meeting date falls on a church day, it is pushed back to the following day. Members also gather for runs throughout the week and go for a longer run every Sunday. To join in the weekly runs or for more information about the club, contact Gerri Grady at 828.497.7083 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Get peddling

A new cycling club is forming in Cherokee. The Cherokee Riders will hold an organizational and interest meeting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Emergency Operations Center in Cherokee, followed by a group ride. The club will hold weekly group rides. For more information about the club or their rides, contact Hugh Lambert at 828.554.6810 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Swain County’s Board of Elections will decide this month whether it is worth several thousand dollars to operate an early voting site in Cherokee again this election year.

The three-member election board all agreed the county might not be able to afford an early voting site in Cherokee this year. However, they disagree on whether low turnout at the site during the 2010 election should be a factor in the decision.

“(Money) is really the only factor,” said Mark Tyson, a member of the three-person board and a Democrat. “I am really hoping that we are able to provide the voting site in Cherokee.”

The board of elections currently doesn’t have the money in its budget to cover the cost of an early voting site in Cherokee, but intend to ask county commissioners for an additional appropriation.

Without the additional location, Cherokee residents will again have to drive to the board of elections office in Bryson City if they want to vote early — a more than 20-minute trek. And, for those living in the far reaches of Cherokee’s Big Cove community, the trip is more like 30 to 40 minutes.

“That is a heck of a drive,” Tyson said.

Election board member Bill Dills said he is in favor of keeping the location in Cherokee as long as it is worth the cost.

“To me, the function of the Board of Elections … is to provide people the opportunity to vote, the way they want to,” he said. “What I want to see is how we can work with those people and get them to take advantage of early vote.”

The board spent about $3,500 to run the site in 2010 and only 226 people used it to vote during that election.

“When you break that down cost wise, it’s not efficient,” said Joan Weeks, director of Swain County’s Board of Elections.

Board of Elections chairman James Fisher echoed a similar sentiment, adding that there is no way to know what the turnout will be this time around.

“We are not against having (early voting) on the reservation or anywhere,” he said. But, “it’s not worthwhile if it’s not used.”

The 2010 election was the first time an early voting site was offered in Cherokee and may need more time to catch on.

Tyson and Dills said they believe more voters will turn out at the early voting site in Cherokee if it is offered again this election.

“Because it was new, a lot of people didn’t know it was there,” Tyson said, adding that the 2010 election did not include a presidential race.

States often see a spike in voter turnout during presidential election years such as this year.

“I think we would see a larger turnout from there,” Tyson said.

However, Dills said that the board did everything it could, including talking to tribal leaders and posting a notice in the tribe’s newspaper, to inform voters about the new site.

“I don’t know what else you could do to make people aware,” Dills said, adding that “a large number” still drove to Bryson City to cast their ballots early.

The cost of holding an election comes from county coffers, namely property taxes. Residents on the Cherokee reservation don’t pay property taxes in Swain County, however, so they don’t directly contributing to the expense.

But the economic benefit — from jobs to tourism — that Swain reaps from the tribe and its massive casino operation far outpaces the about $3,500 outlay the county would pay to staff an early voting site.

The election board plans to meet with Larry Blythe, vice chief for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to ensure that the tribe indeed even wants the early voting site. In 2010, the tribe worked with the election board to provide a suitable site.

Not having a site would “put people at disadvantage,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks.

Tribal Council member Perry Shell said that the purpose of the Board of Elections is to make it as convenient as possible to vote.

“I think it’s important that people have every opportunity to vote,” said Shell, who represents Big Cove.

Board members emphasized that discussions about this year’s early voting sites have just begun. The county has until March 1 to submit its list of early voting sites to the state. Early voting for the primary begins April 19 and ends May 5.

“We just opened initial conversations about it,” Fisher said. “A whole bunch of this scuttlebutt is much ado about nothing.”

The board decided to place a voting site in Cherokee prior to the 2010 election after an elderly Swain County resident and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians made a formal written request.

Early voting has grown steadily in popularity after the state passed a new law in 1990s mandating that the convenient ballot casting be made available to the masses. Before then, it was only an option for the elderly, disabled or those with a qualified excuse that prevented them from getting to the polls on actual Election Day.


Going the distance

Of course, Cherokee residents aren’t the only ones in Swain County who face a long haul into Bryson City to take advantage of early voting. People in Alarka and Nantahala have similar distances to drive.

Fisher said he would like to have early voting locations everywhere, but with everybody tightening their budgets it would not be feasible.

John Herrin, a former member of the Swain election board, pointed out that Cherokee is a population center, whereas residents in other parts of the county, despite being a good distance from Bryson City, are more dispersed.

“You have quite a few registered voters in that area,” said Herrin, who helped set up the early voting site in Cherokee in 2010.

Cherokee residents are less likely to come into Bryson City in the regular course of their lives, while residents from rural reaches of the county usually eventually venture to town for groceries or other business.

Although the board has heard that other residents would like additional early voting sites throughout the county, none have made a formal appeal. A community member must make a written request, and the board must vote unanimously to approve a new location.

In addition to deciding whether to keep the Cherokee early voting site, the board is also expected to receive a request for another site near Nantahala. Residents of that area travel about 21 miles, or about 30 minutes, to cast early ballots in Bryson.

Fisher pointed out that people can mail in their ballots.

The decision to add an early voting site is “based on need and funding,” he said. “If (closing the site) would completely inhibit somebody from voting, I would fund it myself.”

The reservation lies partly in both Jackson and Swain counties. Jackson County operates an early voting site in Cherokee for those who live on the Jackson-side of the reservation near the Bingo Hall at a cost of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the hours and amount of staffing required.


Decision pending

The Swain Board of Elections’ next meeting is at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Board of Elections building off U.S. 19.



All counties in North Carolina are required to operate at least one early voting site, the result of a new law passed in the late 1990s aimed at making voting easier and more accessible

Most counties offered just one early voting site initially, but as early voting took off and grew in popularity, some counties have added a second or even third early voting site in response to demand. The cost ranges between $2,000 and $5,000 per site for each county.

Here’s what some counties are doing.


Swain’s main early voting site is in Bryson City. In 2010, it added a second early voting site in Cherokee at the Birdtown Community Center but is contemplating whether to do so again this year.


Macon County has a single early voting site in Franklin. However, election officials are considering adding a site in the Highlands area this year.


Haywood’s main early voting site is in Waynesville, with a second site in Canton every two years during state and federal elections.


Jackson County has a main early voting site in Sylva but has also run sites in Cullowhee, Cashiers, Scotts Creek and Cherokee. It has not decided where or how many sites it will open this year.


Cherokee tribal council last week decided to change the format for an upcoming vote on alcohol sales, a move that will give individual communities more autonomy on the controversial issue.

When members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians go to the polls in April, each of the six communities that make up the reservation will decided independently  whether alcohol sales are legalized in their own particular community. This means that parts of the reservation could remain dry even if other communities vote to lift the alcohol ban.

The Rev. Noah Crowe, of Snowbird, brought the idea before tribal council last month, pushing for an amendment that would offer more flexibility than an across-the-board vote that would apply throughout the reservation.

“I would just encourage all the Cherokee voters to really consider it,” Crowe said. “We know what’s best for us.”

Tribal council approved the amendment last week.

Tribal Council Member Perry Shell said the people of Birdtown he represents are in favor of having their own voice.

“They wanted to have a say … so I voted to let them have that say,” Shell said.

Michell Hicks, the principal chief of the Eastern Band, has yet to sign off on the council-approved change. However, Hicks backed the resolution at a previous tribal council meeting, saying that alcohol should not be forced on a community. Hicks has also expressed concerns over the implication of a “yes” vote that could lead to package stores selling booze making their way into every corner of the reservation.

The reservation is comprised of six communities: Birdtown, Wolftown, Big Cove, Painttown, Snowbird/Cherokee County and Yellowhill.

Crowe hails from Snowbird, a remote and isolated satellite portion of the reservation in the Graham County, has an older population and is known for being more traditional. Snowbird is the only community that voted against allowing the casino to sell alcohol in another ballot measure two years ago.

The reservation is currently dry, with the sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks outlawed, except for at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort. The outcome of the referendum would not affect alcohol sales that are already allowed in the casino or any future gambling sites, however.

Cherokee’s business community is campaigning in support of the alcohol vote, saying it will boost tourism and economic development. Their primary focus now will likely be securing support among voters in the communities that encompass the primary commercial districts. While those communities have taken on heightened importance, they no longer have to worry about more conservative and traditional voters in outlying communities tipping the scales.


The race for the Congressional seat representing Western North Carolina was flipped on its head last week when incumbent U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, announced he would not seek re-election this year — leaving no heir apparent within his party.

“It is somewhat difficult for the Democrats to find someone at this late date to run,” said Tommy Jenkins, former Democratic state senator and state representative in Macon County. “The Republican candidates, some of them, have been out there campaigning for a year.”

The Republican side of the race was already overcrowded with at least eight people declaring that they will run. But now, with Shuler out of the picture, the election is anyone’s game.

“(Shuler’s decision) changes everything,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

The Republican primary was already hotly contested, and that won’t change, according to Jeff Hunt, a Republican candidate from Brevard. But the Republican nominee will no longer have to do battle with Shuler come the general election.

SEE ALSO: As Shuler steps down to spend time with family, finding a Shuler-esque candidate to fill the void has Democrats scrambling

“It makes November a different ball game,” said Hunt.

The lack of a frontrunner for the Democratic Party could mean that the seat falls under Republican control.

“Shuler is the one Democrat in my mind who had a chance,” Cooper said. “One, he was extremely moderate. Two, he has the name recognition. Three, he had a fundraising advantage.”

Even if Shuler betroths his war chest to a candidate who is Shuler-esque in their political views, they still won’t have the name recognition that Shuler did — not given his football stardom on top of Congressman status.

While a replacement Democrat might be coming from behind in the name recognition field, so are all the Republican challengers, Shuler pointed out.

“The Republican candidates, no one has ever heard of them at all,” Shuler said.


11th-hour bomb

Thus far, Asheville resident Cecil Bothwell is the only Democrat to officially declare his candidacy. He was already planning to run in the Democratic Primary against Shuler. Bothwell is considerably more liberal than Shuler, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, and faces overwhelming odds in a historically conservative district.

“I don’t understand how Bothwell has much of a chance here,” Cooper said.

Despite this, with Shuler out of the running, Bothwell said he is confident that he will compete in November’s election.

“That is good news for the campaign,” he said. “I look forward to being the nominee of the Democratic Party for Congress in 11th District.”

But, a wide-open seat could draw a number of potential candidates out of the woodwork before the candidate filing period closes at the end of the month.

So far, however, Shuler’s Chief of Staff Hayden Rogers is the only Democrat to say he is considering a run for Shuler’s seat. (See related article)

Despite a relative lack of name recognition, Rogers is a conservative Democrat and could potentially garner votes from across the political spectrum similar to Shuler.

A 2010 Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute poll of almost 600 registered Jackson County voters revealed an anomaly in Shuler’s supporter base: Republicans gave him just as high an approval rating as Democrats.

The Democratic nominee — no matter who it is — will have a tough battle ahead in the November election.

“Of course the election will be difficult. It’s always difficult,” said Luke Hyde, head of the Democratic Party in the 11th District. But, “We expect to win in the fall.”

But the 11th-hour bomb dropped by Shuler hasn’t done his party any favors.

“I think he’s done a tremendous injustice to the Democrats for announcing so late,” said Ralph Slaughter, Jackson County GOP chair. “This assures (Republicans) of a victory in 2012.”

Last year, the state reshuffled the 11th District, cutting the liberal-concentrated Asheville out of the district and stirring in four Republican-leaning counties. Now, only 36 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, compared to 43 percent prior to the redistricting.

“This Republican redistricting was masterful,” Cooper said. “It is shocking at how good a job they did to take a state that was about 50-50 Democrat Republican and draw districts that will result in a state with about three Democrats in (U.S.) Congress.”

However, the district is still home to a decent bloc of unaffiliated voters who could sway the election either way.

“You never take for granted that a Republican is going to win even if it has been redrawn,” Hunt said.

The head of the district’s Republican Party said that Shuler bowing out of the competition does not ensure a Republican victory. However, it does improve the odds.

“That fact that it is an open seat rather than an incumbent … can’t help but encourage the Republicans,” said Dave Sawyer, an attorney from Bryson City. “I think we are more optimistic about being able to do so now.”

Mark Meadows, a Republican candidate from Jackson County, agreed with Sawyer.

It would be a “great mistake” to think the election is a cinch now, Meadows said. However, “You look at it as a much easier campaign.”

One obstacle that still faces Republicans is the current size of its candidate pool.

“I think the field right now is extremely large,” Meadows said.

At least eight Republicans are currently battling for the nomination, and the party will need to narrow the field and focus on beefing up the profile of a few candidates.


Democratic decline

Shuler is not the only prominent Democrat from North Carolina who decided to retire this year.

Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue announced in late January that she would not seek re-election. Perdue served only one-term as governor, but it was plagued by battles with the Republican-controlled state legislature.

And, just a month prior, long-time N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, divulged that his 14-year stint in politics would come to an end this year. The nearly 76-year-old state representative decided to retire to spend more time with his grandchildren and possibly travel.

These retirements leave their vacant positions in limbo.

“It is not a good sign for the Democratic party in North Carolina,” Cooper said. The state is shifting from the “old solid democratic South” to “a state dominated by the Republican party.”

In the case of the governor’s race, there is no standout candidate or frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, whereas Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, seems the natural choice for the Republican Party. McCrory made a good showing during the last gubernatorial race against Perdue.

“I would be very surprised if the Democrats pulled out a victory in the governor’s mansion in November,” Cooper said.


Haywood County might not be getting a fair shake from cell tower companies on their property taxes.

County commissioners learned this week that cell tower companies might be underestimating the value of their towers and equipment, and as a result, are likely paying less in county taxes than they should.

To remedy the problem, Haywood County is exploring bringing in an outside consultant to assess an accurate value on the 23 cell towers operating in the county.

Currently, the county relies on cell tower companies’ honesty when declaring the value of their equipment but has no way of being sure whether it is accurate.

“We didn’t have the ability to go out there and dispute it,” said David Francis, director of Haywood County’s Tax Department. “Frankly, we don’t have the expertise and the knowledge to do something like that.”

The county is considering hiring Cell Tower Solutions, a Georgia-based company, which does have the know-how to valuate cell towers and their related equipment.

If hired, Cell Tower Solutions would do a physical inspection of all 23 cell towers in the county and inventory the equipment connected to them. Cell towers should be revaluated about every three years, according the company’s website.

The audit would cost a total of $56,000, but it could result in an estimated $216,000 dollars in additional tax revenue each year.

“The issue for me is fairness,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. The cell companies should pay taxes based on the true value of their towers and equipment, but “We can’t determine the true value.”

Unlike taxing vehicles or homes, the county has no reference points by which valuate cell towers. And, the other problem is that a cell tower’s worth is based on what the cell service provider gets out of them — based on the volume of calls and data that move across the tower — not necessarily the materials that comprise them. Some towers are priced at a mere $5,000, while others are valued at near $350,000.

“It’s all over the place,” Francis said. “We need help with this.”

Five other North Carolina counties are in the process of hiring outside consultants to perform the cell tower evaluations, Francis said, adding that he has been negotiating with Cell Tower Solutions since October.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The Board of Commissioners seemed amenable to the idea.

“I don’t sense any objection on the board,” said Mark Swanger, chairman of the board.

Francis said he hopes to present a contract to the county commissioners early next month.


N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, spent much of his two-hour town hall in Haywood County last week addressing the topic of education.

Davis spoke to a crowd of more than 50 people in the historic courthouse in Waynesville. He didn’t shy away from taking on what has already emerged as a leading issue in state elections, a debate that has Democrats accusing Republicans of going too far in making cuts to education last year.

“I didn’t go to Raleigh and say, ‘Hot dig I get to cut education,’” he said.

Davis said the cuts were necessitated in part by the loss of federal stimulus funding, which was intended as a stopgap to help states through their budget crises.

“The state is also broke,” Davis said. “Schools are going to have to take budget cuts just like everybody else.”

The Haywood County School system has lost $8 million and more than 120 positions during the past three years.

Davis spoke out against Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposal to raise the state sales tax three-quarters of a cent to help offset the education cuts. The senator received cheers when he mentioned Perdue’s decision not to run for reelection.

Davis also said he opposes another form of education revenue — the lottery. The state gives money earned from ticket sales and from unclaimed prizes, is distrubuted to school systems based on a set state formula.

The money supplants school funding rather than supplements it as it was intended, Davis said. Critics equate the lottery to a tax on the segment of the population that plays.

“I think it’s a stupid tax,” he said, adding that less than half — about 40 percent — is actually earmarked for education. The rest is used to pay out winnings and operational costs associated with running the lottery.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County Schools, agreed that schools count lottery money as part of their budgets rather than as padding.

“We haven’t really gained teachers because of the lottery,” he said.

Nolte said legislators should reward schools that show improvement and growth and should consider giving public schools some of the same flexibility allowed to charter schools.

Charter schools are not subject to some of the same state and federal restrictions as public schools. For example, while unionized, tenured teachers tend to staff public schools, charter school instructors are often not unionized. Charter schools also tend to hire younger teachers who receive smaller salaries than their more experienced counterparts.

Private and charter schools survive with fewer resources and produce better test score, said Beverly Elliott, a Haywood resident who is part of the conservative local 9-12 project.

“The answer is not in more money. The answer is in wisely using the money we send to Raleigh,” she said.

North Carolina was recently ranked 49th in the U.S. for per-pupil spending.

Davis said it could afford to cut some of its upper level administrative positions within the state education department. He cited one job that pays six figures to a person who orders periodicals.

People trust teachers with their children, but the state does not trust them to buy the cheapest supplies, queried Davis.

“There are just all kinds of stupid regulations you have to deal with,” he said.


A grab bag of issues

Davis beat out incumbent John Snow, a Democrat from Murphy, two years ago and will face him again in this year’s election.

Following the redistricting, fellow Republicans handed Davis a harder re-election battle. The new district is comprised of the seven Western counties, meaning Davis lost the Republican stronghold Transylvania County and inherited the Democratic-heavy Haywood County.

During the forum last week, Davis spoke briefly about jobs, saying that the government should consider ideas that would benefit everyone. If a company cannot afford to keep a full-time position but could still pay an employee for 30 hours of work, the government could chip in the other 10 hours of pay a week, he suggested. The person would still have a job, the employer would still have an employee, and the government would foot a smaller bill, he added.

Among the mostly conservative-leaning town hall attendees’ other concerns were unfunded state mandates, the gas tax, gun rights and voter IDs.

Chuck Beemer, 71, expressed his worry that the state is requiring too much from counties without offering any funding solutions.

“If you can’t fund it, don’t do it,” Beemer said. “We can’t spend more than you have. You’ll be come the federal government.”

Davis reminded participants that he was once a Macon County commissioner and said that unfunded mandates were “the bane of my existence.”

However, as co-chair of the State and Local Government Committee, he said, he will be able to affect change for county leaders.

Beemer also asked Davis about the nearly 4 percent increase in the state gas tax.

North Carolina has one of the highest gas taxes in the U.S., which prompts some drivers to travel across state lines for cheaper prices, he said.

The tax rate is recalculated twice a year based on a formula involving wholesale gas prices — something the state should take another look at, Davis said.

“We are going to have to revisit that formula,” he said.

A couple of attendees thanked Davis for voting for the Castle Doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force against someone who breaks into their home. The law was spread to vehicles and workplaces last year. However, some did ask if more could be done to expand gun rights.

People should be able to protect themselves anywhere they go, Davis said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mike Clampitt, a resident of Bryson City, asked Davis to work toward passing legislation that requires voters to display a photo ID before casting their ballot. This helps prevent someone from voting multiple times or voting using someone else’s identity.

“All I want is fair legal and honest elections,” Clampitt said.

Perdue vetoed a voter ID bill passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature this past summer, saying it disenfranchise eligible, legitimate voters.


The town of Waynesville is suing a Hendersonville contractor for negligence in the construction of its new fire station on the outskirts of downtown.

In its complaint, the town alleges that Construction Logic’s work was defective and did not follow the planned specifications for the roof of the fire station.

“The suit is about fixing the roof and who is going to fix the roof,” said Town Manager Lee Galloway.

In early 2007, the town signed a $2.3 million contract with Construction Logic to build the Waynesville Fire Department’s headquarters.

“They were responsible for everything, the roof and the beams and the construction of the fire station,” Galloway said.

About a year after its completion when about 14 inches of snow fell in Waynesville, portions of the metal-paneled roof over the fire station’s equipment room began to sag.

Engineers found several flaws in the construction of the trusses, which hold the roof in place. More than 75 percent of the bolts connecting the trusses were loose, and a majority of the bolt holes at the top of each truss were reamed, according to court documents. All of the trusses were bent at least three-quarters of an inch; one was deflected as much as 2.75 inches, which could cause leaks or other structural problems.

The engineers who studied the roof declared that it is not a safety hazard. And, it has not leaked.

“But it needs to be remedied and fixed,” Galloway said. The cost of fixing such a critical part of the structure could reach up to $400,000, he said.

The town brought the defect to the Construction Logic’s attention in 2010, Galloway said.

“And, they have never fixed the roof,” he said. “They never indicated a willingness to fix the roof.”

Construction Logic failed to apply the proper standard of care to which all contractors must adhere, according to court documents.

The town has alleged charges of negligence, breach of contract and breach of warranties. Waynesville officials are seeking $30,000 in damages in addition to the cost of repairing the roof and bringing it into compliance with the original building plans.

The company, according to its website, has operations in Hendersonville and Asheville. Neither the company nor its lawyer Brad Stark of Asheville responded to several requests for comment.


Teeheeheehee, yuk yuk yuk, ho ho ho, BAHAHAHA — no matter how you do it, laughter can boost your mood, lower your blood pressure and help prolong your life.

“It’s spontaneous; it’s contagious; it’s incredibly powerful,” said Cindy Miles, a certified laughter therapist based in Sylva.

These factors are some of the reasons Miles sought out laughter therapy training. Laughter therapy uses the positive benefits of genuine, mirthful chuckling to help alleviate problems such as stress, high blood pressure, lethargy and depression.

“It’s a very simple way to manage stress,” Miles said. “We know that laughter relaxes blood vessels.”

And, it’s cheap. The only cost is Miles’ time and training.

“It’s a way to get a powerful result with very little money,” she said.

Burns calories, increases blood flow to the brain, strengthens the immune system and releases endorphins are among the other listed benefits of laughter therapy.

“100 percent of the people who actively participate feel better,” Miles said.

Miles works for the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging as family caregiver resource coordinator.

In her job, Miles sees strained caregivers ignoring their personal needs in order to support a disabled, terminally ill or elderly family member. As a result, caregivers report a deterioration of their health, higher rates of depression and poor eating habits. And, it is not uncommon for caregivers to die before the person they are assisting.

“One thing I encounter with family caregivers is they are so stressed,” she said.

A tenant of the therapy is that laughter begets laughter. By performing one of more than 100 different activities, laughter therapists’ goal is to trigger fits of guffaws, which lead to various degrees of side splitting, floor rolling and ebullient eye watering.

“They are designed to stimulate laughter (and) it’s better in a group setting,” she said.

Exercises include pretending to be laughter-powered airplanes or simply playing a clip of baby’s cracking up — something that, at the very least, is hard not to snicker at.

“Laughter ends up being the outcome,” she said.

One thing you won’t hear at a therapy session, however, is jokes.

Jokes are typically made at the expense of others, Miles said, adding that poking fun at other people is not condoned.

Laughter therapy has not only benefited the people Miles works with, but it has also improved her already cheery disposition.

“I am more mindful of the need to laugh,” she said.

Children giggle hundreds of times a day, Miles said, but as adults, people forget to chortle on a regular basis.

“If we get 15 laughs a day, we have a good day,” she said.

Miles said she has only encountered one Scrooge during her sessions. A police officer attended one of the events in full uniform and had trouble laughing because he was constrained by a bulletproof vest.

“He just could not bring himself to do it,” she said.

Otherwise, even people who have experienced a recent tragedy have been able to find humor and healing in Mile’s therapy sessions. Miles’ specifically recalled a woman who had lost her father the week prior chortling.

“I was just amazed that she was able to participate,” she said.


Spreading the cheer

Miles was first certified in 2010 and attained advanced certification a year later. She is one of about 6,000 laughter therapists certified by World Laughter Tour Inc., an organization founded by psychologist Steve Wilson. World Laughter Tour trains people and promotes the use of laughter therapy worldwide. Miles is the only laughter therapist in area, according to the organization’s website.

“I am pretty much it in this part of the state,” she said.

However, that could change in the next couple years after Miles completes the final level of training. Once she is named a master trainer, Miles can teach coworkers at the Southwestern Commission and people in similar position around the state how to lead laughter therapy sessions.

“After we saw how well it was received, we sent her for additional training,” said Mary Barker, director of the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging. “I think it’s a great thing to relieve caregivers stress. They get so wound up in taking care they forget to take care of themselves.”

With more certified laughter therapists, the commission will be able to host more sessions and expose more people to its benefits.

“It is so popular that she can’t fill all the requests she is getting,” Barker said.

And at some point in the future the Southwestern Commission hopes to partner with a university to track the psychological and physical effects of laughter therapy.

“We are definitely looking at that, and the state is encouraging us to do that,” Barker said.


Laugh more

To schedule a therapeutic laughter session, contact Cindy Miles at 828.226.5893 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or, visit her website


Giles Chemical pledged last week to do what it could to appease neighbors fed up with intrusive truck traffic on their town streets, but residents maintain the small industry has outgrown its location.

Throughout the day, trucks traveling to and from Giles Chemical to pick up or drop off loads have caused headaches for neighbors. Some truck drivers routinely park their trucks in the road in front of Giles’ Smather Street warehouse, blocking traffic and causing potential safety hazards.

However, all parties involved — including the Waynesville town board — hope “No Parking” signs will help remedy residents’ concerns about tractor trailers, which also end up with their wheels in people’s yards and driveways.

“Keep your fanny off my property,” joked Mayor Gavin Brown as the board discussed posting the new signage.

Town leaders agreed to put up no parking signs along the nearly 1.5-mile stretch of Smathers Street between Plott Creek Road and Commerce Street. That in turn will allow police to ticket any vehicles stopped or idled on the road.

“Cops can make some money off these guys,” said Earl Bradley, owner of Earl’s Automotive on Smathers Street.

It will take the town about a month to post the signs.

In the meantime, Giles Chemical has posted its own signs attempting to corral truck traffic and prevent jams. The company agreed to post such signs last spring.

Signs now direct all tractor trailers to a staging area and instructs truckers to call for questions or further directions.

The hope is that truck drivers will idle in the off-street staging area until the warehouse’s load dock is clear. Giles will then inform the driver when he or she access the dock unimpeded.

The process aims to keep traffic flowing on Smathers Street and prevent tractor-trailers from blocking the road.

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Paul Benson, Waynesville’s town planner. “That’s going to be a hard problem to solve. Honestly, it will continue to be a problem.”

The no parking sign proposal resurfaced as Giles Chemical seeks zoning approval from the town. Giles current zoning classification prevents it from expanding at its current site.

It was rezoned when the town revamped its land-use standards and now wants to be rezoned as commercial-industrial, which would allow for future expansion.

The rezoning was an “unintended oversight,” said Patrick Bradshaw, who sat on the land-use plan review committee.

Heavy industrial technically isn’t allowed in the downtown central business district. Giles’ operations were grandfathered in but can’t expand beyond their current footprint without town approval.

“We simply need our permitted use to be reinstated,” said Matt Haynes, director of manufacturing.


The rezoning conundrum

Giles Chemical will have to wait another couple of weeks to hear whether Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen will approve or deny their request for rezoning, however.

During the meeting, Haynes reminded attendees and the aldermen that Giles, the leading producer of Epsom salt in the U.S., contributes to the local economy.

“Giles has been an honorable and valuable member of this community for a long time,” he said.

About seven Waynesville residents attended the board meeting last week and spoke out against Giles’ rezoning request.

“They have outgrown,” said Mark Yops, a resident of Love Lane, adding that he is “constantly having to wait for the semi-trucks.”

The rezoning would be “more disruptive,” he said.

Earl Bradley, owner of Earl’s Automotive on Smathers Street, said that he must already deal with truckers blocking the road and using his property to back into Giles’ docking area.

“I don’t see it being any different if they get to build more,” he said.

Bradley showed pictures and video of trucks using the street and his parking lot to maneuver into the dock. Bradley said he must often inform truckers that they are not allowed on his property.

“I have to go out there many, many times a day when I should be attending to the business,” he said. “Who is going to control that?”

Part of the problems is that there’s only a small space in front of Giles’ warehouse to make a three-point turn, one that even the most adept truck drivers have difficulty nailing consistently.

“They are trying to put that truck into a match box,” said Peggy Roberts, a Mill Street resident.

The warehouse was built about a year ago, and Giles is still tweaking its procedures, Haynes countered.

“As with any new facility, there are issues,” he said. “It is not the easiest maneuver in the world; it is doable.”

Haynes added that as time passes, more truckers are turning into the loading dock without trouble and without blocking the street.

A couple of the residents said they were glad Giles was prospering but that the rezoning and a possible expansion of the Smathers Street location would only add to already existing problems.

“I would love to see Giles Chemical expand and thrive for another 50 years,” Roberts said. But, “things have gotten greatly out of hand.”

The noise generated by Giles’ operations prevents her from using the front rooms in her house as well as her porch, Roberts said, admitting that the company has made efforts to tone it down.

“Please do not rezone this,” she said.

Alderman Libba Feichter compared the dilemma to the Judgment of Solomon, saying it is hard to appease both parties. In the story, two women fight over a child, and Solomon says he will compromise with them by cutting the baby in two.

“Short of dividing that baby down the middle, what do you do?” Feichter said. The decision is “very difficult for me.”

Aldermen Wells Greeley agreed, asking whether a compromise could be reached.

“I have got to believe somewhere there is some middle ground here,” Greeley said. “I’ve got too many concerns from these folks and from (Giles), too.”

Town officials discussed approving a conditional use permit as a happy medium, which would favor both sides. For example, under its current zoning, Giles may operate anytime day or night. However, if the town moves forward with a conditional use permit, Waynesville officials could restrict its hours of operation.

Currently, Giles is only open during the day, Haynes said.

In the end, the board decided to table the request until its next meeting.


Speak out

What: Giles Chemical will hold a public meeting where citizens can address their concerns operations at its current facility and discuss the basis of the rezoning request.

When: 4 to 6 p.m., Feb. 8

Where: Waynesville Fire Station 2 on Georgia Avenue


Molly McCurdy is rare.

Specifically, she is one of a small number of female luthiers in the U.S. A dulcimer is a three- or four-stringed instrument that gained popularity in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1800s and is linked to the region’s Scot-Irish heritage. It is played like a guitar or banjo but laid across one’s lap.

The body of a dulcimer is either teardrop- or hourglass-shaped. Its sound holes offer exponentially more variety. McCurdy makes dulcimers and has carved bears, dogwood flowers, dolphins and hummingbirds to create personalized, unique sound holes.

McCurdy said she will make “whatever anybody wants.”

Each customer receives a distinct instrument, with differences that are not only visible but also audible to those who are especially musically literate.

“I don’t think any two instruments have the same exact sound,” McCurdy said.

Most of her dulcimers are constructed from walnut or mahogany, though McCurdy has employed more exotic woods such as spalted sycamore or zebrawood. Less traditional woods, however, are often more difficult to work with and bend to the artist’s will.

“Some woods are harder to carve,” she said. “Some woods splinter real easily.”

But, when you have made dulcimers as long as McCurdy has, the process becomes second nature.

McCurdy first took up dulcimer making in the late ‘70s because of her uncle.

“He was my favorite uncle. I did everything he did,” she said. “He built one; so I built one.”

Her uncle made only one dulcimer. But, 35 years later, McCurdy has made hundreds.

“I really enjoyed working with the wood — the smell and the feel,” she said.

Each dulcimer takes four to six weeks to make and McCurdy averages about 20 a year. However, she wants to do more.

“I am hoping to build that up into a full-time business eventually,” she said.

Growing her business was part of her impetus for moving to Western North Carolina from Arkansas in 1992.

“I have family here, and I love the mountains,” said McCurdy, a retired administrative worker. “And, I thought there was a better market for dulcimers here.”

Her dulcimers start at $300. Intricate wood burnings and sound holes, and rare types of wood tend to add to the instrument’s value.

McCurdy works from the kitchen or porch of her Smathers Street home in Waynesville surrounded by a rabbit, three cats and four dogs. From her rocking chair on the porch, she shapes and sands the wood, cutting the elaborate sound holes.

“I do all my work at home and work by appointment only,” she said.

And, family is never far away. Two of her granddaughters, Ariana and Olivia Brown, live just next door and often walk the 20 feet from their yard to visit. While Olivia is just age seven and worked with wood in the past, it’s Ariana, 13, who will carry on her grandmother’s knowledge of dulcimer making.

“I’d like it to be a family business someday,” McCurdy said.


Shaping the next generation

Ariana caught the bug two years ago.

“I just got really interested, and I asked could I try,” Brown said.

This summer, Brown completed her first dulcimer, and now, she is counting coins, trying to save up enough of her allowance for supplies to make her second.

“It was difficult but really fun,” Brown said.

Although her career aspirations extend beyond becoming a luthier — into the completely unrelated field of psychoanalysis — Brown hopes one day to have her own studio where she will continue to build dulcimers as a side job.

When faced with the option of making dulcimers or playing them, McCurdy and Brown in unison reply that making the instrument is their preferred occupations.

McCurdy had played the dulcimer previously but did not seriously begin playing until she started making them 35 years ago.

“I had piddled around with one before,” she said.

On top of fashioning the stringed instrument, McCurdy teaches classes on request and offers two free lessons to anyone who purchases a one of a kind dulcimer.

They are “extremely easy to learn how to play,” she said. “You don’t need any musical talent or need to read music to play them.”


See more

Molly McCurdy established Light O’ the Moon Dulcimers in 1982. View some of her handy work at


A rockslide has shut down a portion of Interstate 40 in Haywood County for up to two weeks.

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, a rockslide occurred near mile marker 451 in Tennessee, about one mile from the North Carolina border. Unlike the two major landslides in the past 15 years, which caused major problems for businesses in Haywood County, this most recent slide was contained to the shoulder of the road.

“It doesn’t look anywhere near as extensive as the major rock slides years ago,” said Mark Nagi, a community relations officer for Tennessee DOT.

It is unclear what or how big an effect the rockslide will have on businesses in Haywood County.

“That is just something that we can’t answer at this point in time,” said CeCe Hipps, president of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. “Hopefully, this will not have a big effect on business in Haywood County.”

For now, county tourism leaders are spreading the word that Interstate 40 is still open near Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton and Clyde.

“We are just thinking how to keep the doors open,” Hipps said.

The Haywood County and Maggie chambers and the Tourism Development Authority have emailed businesses and posted information on their websites about the slide and encouraged visitors not to cancel their plans.

“We want to make sure that people are not deterred,” Hipps said.

Winter means a slower tourist season for most of the area, which gets a majority of its tourism business in the summer and fall. However, Cataloochee Ski Area is one of the local attractions that could be negatively impacted by the natural disaster as people will have to tack on extra travel time.

“The route to Maggie Valley is still open,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Hopefully, the customer base at Cataloochee will add on that extra time.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is stopping motorists at Exit 20 near Jonathan Creek in Haywood County and are directing them to an alternative route through Asheville using I-26.

Anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 vehicles travel the closed stretch of Interstate 40 each day.

As of late Tuesday morning, no traffic delays had been reported, according to NCDOT.

There is no official cause of the slide, but Nagi said the recent freeze and thaw of temperatures played a part.

“That contributed I’m sure at least in some way,” he said.

TDOT is still analyzing the slide and deciding how to clean it up. The night prevented officials beginning the process sooner.

“We had to wait for the sun to start rising before we could get a good look at everything,” Nagi said.

In late 2009, a rockslide shut down a section of Interstate 40 for about six months. Haywood County businesses saw a stark decline in customers as a result because travelers coming from the west were forced to tack more than 70 miles onto their trip.


A long detour

To Tennessee: The official detour around the closed portion of I-40 sends people north from Asheville on I-26 to Johnson City, Tenn. and finally onto I-81 South to get back to I-40. The trip adds an extra 70 miles to the trip.


Enter Balsam Mountain Trust’s nature center and you’ll come face to face with bobcats, skunks, black bears, maybe even a sharp-taloned raptor poised for the kill. But, don’t worry — the animals don’t bite.

The taxidermy creatures are just a few of the educational tools used by the nonprofit to teach people — mostly school children — about wildlife in Western North Carolina.

“You have specimens that people are not going to get up close to,” said Michael Skinner, executive director of Balsam Mountain Trust. “It’s just a way to build a bridge for people into the natural world.”

Balsam Mountain Trust, which is celebrating its 10th year, is a nonprofit focused on preserving the natural environment in part of the Balsam Mountains about mid-way between Waynesville and Sylva.

The Trust’s programs allow kids to explore their outdoor surroundings, see animals they might not otherwise see and learn more about Western North Carolina’s native wildlife.

“We want to be able to fill that niche of getting kids outside,” said Blair Ogburn, the Trust’s senior naturalist. “People fear so many animals and bugs.”

The ideas is that if people understand more about the critters, they won’t be scared and will learn how to behave around them.

Skinner started educational programs nine years ago, talking to local fourth-grade classes — which remains the ideal age the Trust caters to.

Last year, the Trust hosted programs for about 6,000 students, Ogburn said.

“We can teach pretty much anything,” Ogburn said, but the birds of prey and reptile programs are by far the most popular.

This is partly because of the Trust’s impressive array of live birds and reptiles, from a bald eagle to a timber rattlesnake. When teaching about mammals, the trust draws on its collection of skulls and pelts, as it doesn’t keep live mammals.

“When you talk about mammals, you talk about a whole slew of permits,” Skinner said. And, mammals are “messier,” he said.


Tamed wildlife

The trust has three naturalists who care for 18 live animals. There currently are no plans to add any new ones to the mix.

“As much as we all love animals, we have to be very, very careful about providing them with adequate care,” Skinner said. “We have kind of reached our saturation point with the number of animals we have.”

The animals cared for by Balsam Mountain Trust couldn’t survive on their own in the wild. They’re injured either psychologically or physically. Physical injuries can include a bum eye or wing, while emotional harm is the result of imprinting. If an animal imprints on a human, they lose their natural fear of humans and are outsiders when it comes to their own species.

Just because the nonprofit is permitted to own specific animals, however, does not mean they are allowed to rehabilitate them.

“We aren’t rehabilitators,” both Ogburn and Skinner emphasized.

The Trust only has permission to house recently injured animals for a brief period if a vet cannot be reached. For example, if an animal is injured during the weekend, the Trust will keep it until Monday when a veterinarian’s office opens. However, Trust employees encourage people to contact a vet or find a local animal rehabilitation center.


The Balsam Trust team

All three employees have distinguished backgrounds that led them to Balsam Mountain Trust.

Skinner has worked at several zoos and hosted an Emmy-nominated outdoors show “Georgia Outdoors” on public television. Ron Lance has a background in botany, forestry and horticulture has authored or co-authored 11 publications. Ogburn has worked as an environmental educator in Charlotte and a field biologist for the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center.

“For me, just traveling around and exploring the natural world, I would go anywhere,” Ogburn said. “The reason why I love this job is because I (get to) share my passion (with others).”

The Trust’s wide variety of species draws a number of researchers, from forestry students at Western Carolina University to a survey of threatened and endangered species by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Researchers have conducted nearly 40 studies since 2000 — and many of them are ongoing.

While Trust employees coordinate with researchers, they also focus on inventorying various insect, bird and plant species. At last count, there are 800 species of vascular plants on the preserve’s 4,400 acres.

“We’ve got a remarkable plant diversity here,” Skinner said.

The nonprofit does not electronically track any animals. Rather they use visual and auditory tracking to identify creatures.

In addition to cataloging the wildlife and offering educational programming, the Trust maintains the biodiversity of its forest. One particular pest is the hemlock wooly adelgid, which infests and kills hemlock trees. The Trust is not trying to eradicate the insect but rather restrict how far it spreads. Both natural and manmade pesticides can be used to protect the trees.

“You are always looking to find what might potentially be a problem and then finding ways to deal with it,” Skinner said. “What you hope for is control, a balance.”


‘A community within a park’

Balsam Mountain Preserve is unique in that it is an upscale development as well as a nature preserve.

“It’s a community within a park,” Skinner said. “That’s a big reason why people decide to buy and live here.”

When initially founded, the developers of Balsam Mountain Preserve decided to set aside more than 3,000 of its 4,400 acres were set aside as a nature preserve guaranteed to stay wild and development-free.

Balsam Mountain Trust was established to care for and oversee the land. It is independent of Balsam Mountain Preserve even though it is contained within the development.

“We are our own nonprofit,” Ogburn said.

The Trust held its first fundraiser last year with the Balsam Mountain Preserve homeowners and raised about $200,000, Skinner said.

This year, the nonprofit wants to open up its fundraiser to members of surrounding communities. And, of course, the animals would attend, Skinner said.

“For us, it’s just such an important part of our message,” he said.

The preserved land is roughly 3,000 acres total but may add another 550 acres. There is a contiguous section of land that the developers may decide to incorporate into the Trust’s lands because it would be difficult to turn into human living space.

“For me, that is nothing but exciting,” Skinner said.

The land would have no development on it other than a possible nature center, Skinner said. The nature center is currently near the neighborhood’s tennis courts and golf course, and the Trust would like it to move further into the undeveloped portion of the preserve.

In the future, the Trust also plans to expand its aviary beside the nature center to give the fowl more space and visitors a better look at the birds.

“Right now, it’s hard for people to do that,” Ogburn said.

The current cages are housed in a small wooden shed, which allows for only few people at a time.

Outside of its caged birds, the Trust also catalogs the types of birds found on the preserve and makes sure the bird populations are not threatened or overrunning the mountain ecosystem.

The Trust is applying to be named an Important Bird Area, or IBA, by the National Audubon Society, which focuses on restoring and conserving the natural ecosystem in the U.S. IBAs have habitats essential to the preservation of one or more species of bird and have greater access to resources to help maintain the habitat and species.


What is the Balsam Mountain Trust?

The Balsam Mountain Trust is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and teaching about the mountain ecosystem. It was founded in conjunction with Balsam Mountain Preserve, an upscale, eco-development on more than 4,000 acres. More than 3,000 acres within Balsam Mountain Preserve were set aside as a nature preserve. The independently run Trust manages the nature preserve and does educational nature programs for children and groups. It has three staff naturalists.


Educating youth

The Balsam Mountain Trust offers a variety of programs for students based on state educational standards. The different programs focus on anything from birds to mammals to reptiles and amphibians.

The nonprofit also hosts programming for adults and non-school related groups, including scouts and civic organizations.

To find out more about the Trust’s program offerings, visit and click on the education tab.


A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is suing the tribe over sewage overflows onto her property, which she says poses a health threat to her family.

Linda Lambert filed a suit against the tribe in May 2011 over alleged sewage spills from a nearby manhole and sewer pipes. In her complaint against the tribe, Lambert lists 17 specific days that she says sewage overflowed onto her property and into Adam’s Creek during the past two years.

The tribe, however, is asserting that the number of actual sewage overflows is much less. The tribe also contends the overflows were promptly dealt with.

In court documents, Lambert states that raw sewage from the tribe’s sewer treatment plant is seeping onto her land and into nearby Adam’s Creek. Such overflows forced her family to move elsewhere and prevented her from being able to fully enjoy her property, including fishing.

Lambert is seeking $60,000 in damages, including physical, mental and emotional stress. The damages are linked to claims of negligence, trespassing, nuisance, violation of her civil rights and the taking of her property without compensation.

“The fact that it’s overflowing is not in doubt,” said Mark Melrose, Lambert’s attorney with Melrose, Seago and Lay based in Sylva. “I know there are dozens of people who know about it.”

Melrose said they will know more information in the next couple of months as potential witnesses are interviewed.

In court documents, the Eastern Band states that on at least one occasion sewage has leaked into Adam’s Creek, the Oconaluftee River and onto Lambert’s land. However, the discharge was partially treated and posed no health hazard.

“There was an episode, yes,” said Chad Ray Donnahoo, an Asheville attorney hired by the ECBI for this suit. “All that was reported to the EPA.”

Donnahoo said that the tribe did its due diligence by testing any overflows to make sure the seepage was not hazardous and reporting any incidents to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The tribe is in the process of updating its dated sewage system and treatment plant. The last comprehensive upgrade was in 1997 when capacity of the plant was tripled — timed with the opening of Cherokee’s first casino and intended to handle the likely increase in volume. During the past 15 years, the casino has undergone two major expansions — including the recent $633-million enlargement. Adding additional capacity will be part of the coming upgrades, which are in the early planning stages.

The Eastern Band is questioning why Lambert waited until May 2011 to file a formal complaint.

Lambert went before tribal council a couple times before taking legal action, according to court documents.

“She has tried to seek a resolution politically,” Melrose said. “And, she didn’t get any relief.”

Tribal Council passed two resolutions — one in 2008 and another in 2010 — promising to remedy the overflow problems. However, the complaint against the tribe states that nothing has been done and sewage continues to leak onto Lambert’s land.

The tribe “negligently and intentionally” acted or did not act in a way that resulted in “the negligent and wrongful management, operation, maintenance and repair of the Tribe’s sewage collection and transmission system,” states the complaint.

The tribe is hoping to get the case dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity. Some government entities are immune against certain legal actions. However, if the entity obtains insurance to cover possible lawsuits, it waives its right to immunity.

“We are currently investigating with our insurance provider the coverage issues,” Donnahoo said.

Right now, it is unclear whether or not the Eastern Band’s insurance plan would cover such as case.

“Even if the tribe has the legal escape clause, (I’d hope) that they would do the right thing by tribal members,” Melrose said.


An aging system

Cherokee is required to make regular reports to the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the tribe’s wastewater discharges. The tribe is also supposed to report any overflows, but it failed to do so prior to November 2010, said Stacey Bouma, an environmental engineer with the agency.

Bouma added that it is not that uncommon: many plants do not realize that they must report overflows, whether they happened on land or in water. Many only report sewage leaks into waterways.

Since November 2010, the tribe has filed 23 reports with the EPA ranging from benign clogged lines to bona fide overflows. The majority are of little consequence.

The overflow reports include a couple of incidents of pipes being harmed during construction, which resulted in release of sewage.

After receiving complaints about overflows on the reservation, the EPA conducted an investigation and found that heavy rain was responsible for a number of overflows.

“The pipes couldn’t handle capacity when it rained,” Bouma said.

While rainwater is supposed to flow through gutters and storm drains, rain water is being funneled into the sewer system in some areas of Cherokee and overwhelming the lines.

“We have had a lot of problems with infiltration,” said Larry Blythe, vice chief for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “That pushes capacity to the limit.”

This is a common problem in towns with older sewage systems — nearby Bryson City has been plagued by this for years.

Overflows as a result of rain flooding the sewer system are luckily diluted, since the sewage is mixed with rainfall or melting snow.

In addition to reporting any water contamination, the treatment plant is required to tell the EPA if anything is coming out of a manhole connected to the sewer system.

The investigation also identified a manhole near Adams Creek as “a problem area,” Bouma said.

When a pump malfunctions or a leak in a sewage line occurs, the tribe reports it to the EPA, Blythe said. Many of the pipes that carry raw and treated sewage to and from the plant are old, and the tribe is working to replace them, he said.

The Eastern Band is planning to upgrade its sewer system and wastewater treatment plant, replacing old equipment and increasing its capacity. Blythe said the tribe is still working through estimates of what exactly the improvements will consist and how much they would cost.

He declined to address any legal issue regarding the wastewater treatment plant.

The treatment plant was first built in 1984 and was could process 0.9 million gallons of sewage each day. In 1997, however, the plant was updated and its capacity more than tripled. It is now permitted to treat up to 3 million gallons each day.


For most boys, Superman and Batman were their heroes; for Bob Plott, his ancestors were super men.

As he grew up in Haywood County, Plott would spend hours listening to his elders tell stories about the old-timers and life in Western North Carolina.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was always interested in history,” Plott said. “These guys were looked upon as celebrities almost.”

His ancestors regaled Plott with tales starring the Plott hound, a hunting dog named after his family, and the lives of frontiersmen who were the first non-natives to inhabit the area. It was the eventful lives of the frontiersmen — his ancestors among them — who traversed unknown lands and created a life in mountains that most intrigued Plott.

His favorite shows were about cowboys and Indians or frontiersmen like Daniel Boone.

“I really wanted to emulate (them),” Plott said.

Plott drew upon his fascination with his heritage and the remarkable adventures of early mountain men and preserved those tales in writing, including in his fourth book Colorful Characters of the Smoky Mountains.

His lifelong interest in history and a push from author George Ellison were the impetus for his foray into writing about five years ago. Ellison is a scholar of Southern Appalachian folklore and natural historian who lives in Bryson City. He is also a columnist for The Smoky Mountain News.

A shared interest in Appalachian folkways had brought Ellison and Plott together, and the friends regularly corresponded through email and went hiking together. During a hike one day, Ellison told Plott that he should write a book.

“George is like a mentor slash father figure to me,” Plott said.

At the time, however, he considered the idea a joke and shot back that he would only do it if Ellison found him a publisher.

Plott didn’t want to self-publish a book. It is “a point of pride” to have a novel printed by a publishing company, he said.

Not too longer after their hiking excursion, Ellison called Plott to say he had located a publisher willing to read Plott’s book proposal. Shocked and having no idea what to write, Plott took Ellison’s advice and wrote about what he knew — the history of the Plott hound. The hound is a particular breed of dog that specializes in bear hunting. North Carolina honored the Plott hound by naming it the official state dog.

Not a month later, Plott had a book contract with History Press in South Carolina.

It took six to eight months to research information for that first book, he said.

“I think research is the most fun,” Plott said.

Luckily, he had a wealth of information at his disposal.

“My family was like pack rats; they didn’t throw anything away,” Plott said.

His extend family had mixed reviews about the novel idea but later hopped on board.

“The Plott family — at first, it was about a 50-50 split. (Then) I think maybe they saw how sincere I was,” Plott said.

Once he finished writing, Plott once again asked for Ellison’s aid. This time, he needed another set of eyes critiquing his work.

Plott arrived for an editing session with Ellison at 8 a.m. one morning, thinking they would finish by noon and would have time to get lunch or hike together. But, with the exception of a few short breaks, Plott and Ellison reviewed every inch of the manuscript until they finished at 9 p.m. that night.

“I’ve never taken that sort of beating in my life,” said Plott, who was a professional boxer.

The resulting book, Strike & Stay: The Story of the Plott Hound, chronicles the migration of the Plott family and their dogs from Germany to the U.S. and their life in Western North Carolina. Although a main theme of the book and his two subsequent books is hunting, people should not be discouraged from reading them, he said.

People get too caught up in the fact that the book is about hunting, Plott said, but it also focuses on the lives of the people and the troubles they faced while breeding the Plott hound.

Ever since 1750, when his great-great-great-grandfather Johannes Plott migrated to the U.S. from Germany with five of his hunting hounds, Johannes’ descendents have cared for his hounds’ offspring — a torch Bob Plott now carries on himself.

“I’ve been around the dogs and hunted with the dogs,” he said.

Although Plott hounds surrounded him as a child, Plott did not start breeding the namesake dog until after he got married. Previously another family had kept the tradition alive, so Plott did not feel obligated to raise his own pack.

“It’s important, but somebody else is doing it,” Plott said of his mindset at the time.

Plott currently has seven hounds and will keep no more than eight at a time. Anymore than that, the hounds become harder to properly train.

Similar to himself, Plott’s son Jacob has grown up with the hounds.

“He doesn’t care anything about hunting (but) he loves the dogs,” Plott said.


Inspirational mountain men

Plott has now completed four books. His previous books were focused mostly on hunting, but his new book expands more on the lives of Western North Carolina’s most colorful residents, most of whom are dead and whose stories need to be preserved.

“All these stories … I intended to be freestanding,” Plott said. “(But) if you read it from start to finish, there is a progression.”

A big change from his prior books is that Colorful Characters includes two living Haywood County residents — Charles Miller and Earl Lanning. Both men did what they wanted with their lives, Plott said.

For example, when Lanning was 14, he decided he wanted to be a cowboy and hitchhiked to Wyoming. After waiting out a harsh winter in Wyoming and working for a time as a cowboy, Lanning returned to WNC looking for another opportunity.

“These people are so inspirational to me,” Plott said. “They have this passion for life.”

Today, people tell themselves or listen to others tell them that something is impossible.

“If it came in their mind, then they could do it,” he said. “I think that is something we lose sight of sometimes.”

Plott himself is an example of “you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Because of his success as a writer, people often bring him local artifacts or stories, stoking ideas for his future work.

People “come out of the woodwork,” Plott said.

The books and his connection to the Plott hound have also allowed him to branch out into education. Plott brings his hounds into schools as part of a local history lesson and talks about their past and the “the ecological importance of hunting as well as the cultural importance.”

Although he offers programs for all ages, Plott has found schoolchildren to be some of the most entertaining audience members.

“They ask you the greatest questions in the world,” he said.

One girl asked him how puppies are made and another boy continually pitted two dog breeds against each other, asking Plott which he thought would win in a fight.

“The kid goes through 15 different dog breeds,” Plott said in a laughing manner.


Man of many trades

In addition to writing, Plott works in Morrisville, training NASCAR pit crews. Throughout his life he has held a variety of jobs, including running a martial arts school and serving as vice president of several textile companies. He continues to expand his repertoire, adding woodcarver and sketch artist.

“Drawing’s been a God-given talent,” Plott said. “I came from a generation where there was not a lot of value in that.”

The emphasis was more on attending college, getting a degree and earning money to support your family, he said.

“The stuff now is pretty decent,” said Plott of his art, mostly renditions of bears, dogs and people.

Plott currently lives near Hickory but hopes to move back to Haywood County at some point, possibly after his son graduates high school.


Earl Bradley watches from the parking lot of his auto repair shop as a tractor trailer struggles for 15 minutes to align itself with Premier Chemicals’ loading dock across the street in Waynesville.

Bradley has videotaped the trucks for months, with multiple cameras constantly recording the saga playing out on Smathers Street. Despite assertions to the contrary by Premier’s management, Bradley’s videos are evidence of the daily plight faced in the neighborhood.

The delivery trucks park in the middle of the road, block their driveways, tear up their yards, scatter gravel and mud, run over the curbs and generally disturb the neighborhood as they pickup and drop off loads at the warehouse.

“I shouldn’t have to put up with this,” Bradley said. “They’re not a great neighbor.”

Residents and business owners near the small factory have grown so tired of the trucks they have appealed to Waynesville town leaders to crack down on the problem.

Most of the trucks are independent and are not owned by Premier (formerly Giles Chemical), but residents say the company could do more to compel better behavior from the trucks coming and going.

Premier Chemicals employs around 70 people and is the leading producer of Epsom salt in the nation. It has a manufacturing facility in the Frog Level district of downtown Waynesville, as well as a warehouse farther down Smathers Street.

Because Smathers Street is a small, two-lane road, tractor trailers going to and from Premier Chemicals have a difficult time maneuvering. There’s only a small space to make a three-point turn, one that even the most adept truck drivers can’t nail consistently without some luck.

Truck drivers are also forced into Bradley’s private parking lot. The trucks block the flow of traffic and have caused undue wear and tear to his lot, he said.

One day, Bradley went as far as posting a listing of the municipal codes that Premier Chemical was breaking. But, he said they didn’t care.

“They’ve got municipal codes that they break everyday,” Bradley said.

It is not just Bradley who has had problems with trucks on his property.

James Haney, who lives on Smathers Street, said that the trucks have used his driveway to maneuver as well and also ran over his flowers. And, although the company promised that changes to its loading dock would help remedy neighbors’ concerns about truck traffic on Smathers Street, Haney said Premier did not keep its word.

“Everything they said they were going to do, they didn’t do,” Haney said.

Premier Chemical takes in and ships out close to 10 loads each day, according to Matt Haynes, the company’s director of manufacturing.

Bradley said that he did not know off the top of his head how many trucks stopped at Premier each day, but that it is more than 10.

Mayor Gavin Brown said Premier Chemicals is an important industry to the town, providing much needed jobs. Unfortunately, it is not easy for factories and neighborhoods to coexist in close proximity, he said.

“That is a historical problem. We have heavy industrial right against residential, and there is going to be friction. There always is,” he said.

Brown said there are things Premier Chemical could do to be better neighbors, however — mainly telling its truck drivers to alter their habits.

If Premier schedules its trucks better, the traffic would be staggered and wouldn’t have to park in the street, sidewalks and people’s yards, Brown said.

Brown said the town could also help out by passing some specific parking and traffic laws for Smathers Street. After a few weeks of the town’s police officers enforcing the new traffic laws, it should send a message to the truckers and to Premier to figure out a better way.


Sign oversight

Neighbors will ask the town board at its meeting this week to post “no parking” signs on Smathers Street and penalize the company when it breaks municipal codes, such as driving over sidewalks and tearing up neighboring yards.

In fact, residents were promised nearly a year ago that the town would install “no parking” signs, but they have yet to appear.

Waynesville’s planning board voted at a meeting last March meeting to post no parking signs along the street, setting the stage for police officers to ticket offending trucks.

“I think that would take away about half the complaints we get about Giles,” said Town Planner Paul Benson.

However, because of an oversight, the issue did not reach Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen until this month. The planning board had said yes, but the request for the sign was never kicked up the ladder.

“It just got lost,” Brown said.

The no parking sign idea resurfaced as Premier Chemical seeks zoning approval from the town that would allow the company to expand in the future. Heavy industrial technically isn’t allowed in the downtown central business district. Premier’s operations were grandfathered in, but can’t expand beyond their current footprint without town approval.

For now Premier wants to add a 3,000-square-foot storage shed on the backside of its main building. But the zoning change the company is seeking could open the door for additional future expansion as well.

However, residents are concerned that Premier will expand on top of them.

“We need manufacturing. We need the jobs, but we want people to not suffer,” Benson said. “It’s a balancing act.”

The Waynesville Board of Aldermen will have a public hearing on whether to put in the “no parking” signs on Smathers Street and the change in zoning.


Chocolate is not simply a tasty treat; for some, it is the main ingredient for creating masterpieces, and developing the ultimate recipe or concept is serious business.

“We would start in November practicing with recipes,” said Becca Wiggins, a 35-year-old Bryson City resident. Wiggins and her sister, Fran Brooks, 38, have participated in three of the past four chocolate cook-offs that benefit Bryson City’s library.

The duo would begin by flipping through cookbooks looking for unique ideas, and once they settled on a plan, the sisters practiced until they perfected the recipe. And they don’t go for conventional chocolate cake or brownie recipes.

They look for “Something that tastes good but would be hard for someone to make,” Wiggins said.

For last year’s cook-off, Wiggins and Brooks designed a “chocolate-rita.” Just like it sounds, the margarita-inspired sweet is comprised of peanut butter crème, chocolate sauce and a cherry. The dessert is topped off with a chocolate molded into a lime slice that is actually flavored like the green citrus fruit.

“We do more molded chocolates,” Wiggins said. “Something a little bit more fancy.” They have also won with mousse-filled chocolate cones decorated with pink polka dots or brown, white and pink stripes.

The sisters have won three years in a row and now are banned from competing. Instead, they will stand on the opposite side of the display tables and judge others’ molded and baked goods.

“I’m going to miss competing because it was such a creative thing that we would always do, and we would always do it together,” Wiggins said.

The pair at one time discussed opening a bakery so people could enjoy their baking any day.

“But we really don’t have time,” Wiggins said.

Brooks is a certified public accountant and Wiggins works as her assistant. The business keeps them busy year-round.


A Family Tradition

A common thread among some of the contenders is that their mothers played a role in developing their love of baking.

“We were always interested in baking,” Wiggins said. “We grew up baking, and our mother encouraged it.”

Like Wiggins and Brooks, former competitor Susan Coe began baking when she was a young girl.

“My mother baked,” Coe said.

Now, Coe bakes her own bread and pastries, and that talent helps her raise money for another love — the local library.

“I am a supporter of the library (and) it sounded like it would be fun to do,” she said.

Coe won first place during the competition’s first year with her chocolate mint Neapolitan. She went a couple years without competing because as member of the library board she was ineligible. Coe said she is contemplating participating again but only if she can come up with something worthy of the contest.

“The competition has gotten much fiercer,” Coe said.

Anywhere from 10 to 15 people participate in the cook-off each year, and entries are judged on taste, texture, aroma, creativity and aesthetics. Each competitor is required to make at least 150 samples of their creations for the judges and the chocolate lovers who attend.

For $6 or less, attendees receive a “plate full of samples,” Wiggins said.

“I think it’s an excellent fundraiser,” she said. “It’s something a little different.”

Coe suggested that people interested in attending the event and tasting the delicacies buy tickets in advance or arrive early. There is always a line out the door, she said.

“It’s been a sell-out pretty much every year,” she said.


Eat sweets for a good cause

What: The 5th Annual Friends of the Marianna Black Library Chocolate Cook-Off

When: 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11

Where: Bryson City Presbyterian Church on Everett Street

Cost: Adults $6; Friends of the Library members and children under 16, $5; free for kids under 6.

The deadline for entries to be received is Saturday, Feb. 4. The table fee is $10 per entry type. Download the contest application at, or stop by the library. The judged portion is based on taste, texture, aroma, creativity and aesthetics. Trophies and cash prizes will be awarded.


Haywood chocolate bash seeks volunteers

The Haywood Volunteer Center is looking for people to help coordinate its own Taste of Chocolate competition. The Taste of Chocolate, which will be held on May 8, is the Volunteer Center’s main fundraising event for the year.



Maggie Valley was thrust back into controversy over its noise ordinance last week, an ongoing debate that has pitted residents against bars hosting live bands outdoors.

Only four months after the previous town board made changes to the noise ordinance, the current town board decided once again to revise the law — causing concern for some residents.

“You’re changing something that you don’t even know if you’ve fixed yet,” said resident Cheryl Lambert. Lambert said she thought the issue had already been settled in September.

The former Board of Aldermen altered the noise ordinance last fall after complaints from some town residents and lodging owners.

Mayor Ron DeSimone said the old board left disputes regarding the ordinance unsettled — namely the cut-off time for music and a separate criteria for acoustic music.

“Even on the board there was no complete agreement on the times, on not addressing acoustic music,” DeSimone said.

Last September, the town board strengthened the noise ordinance by imposing an earlier cut-off time for music on weekdays and lowering the maximum decibel level.

Last week, the board strengthened it one notch more by imposing earlier cut-off times for amplified outdoor music on Friday and Saturday nights, plus an even earlier cut-off on weekdays.

However, an exception was made for acoustic music, which will enjoy a later cut-off time since it isn’t amplified and thus not as loud.

“We have encouraged acoustic music versus amplified music,” DeSimone said.

Residents and hotel owners complaining of noise spilling over from nearby bars claim the ordinance still doesn’t go far enough, however.

The noise ordinance does not apply to the fairgrounds, which negotiates such details with event organizers on a case-by-case basis.


‘Prisoners in our own home’

During the meeting, several residents and business owners spoke up about how music emanating from Maggie Valley restaurants and bars negatively impacts them.

“It’s louder than most of you think,” said resident Rosanne Cavender. “It’s very stressful.”

Her father Ray Kuutti, who is a musician, backed Cavender’s comments.

“I was outside painting, and this stuff started going on, and I couldn’t stay out there,” he said. Kuutti added that he does not mind the outdoor acoustic music, which generates less noise.

Alderman Mike Matthews argued that people chose to live in the tourist town and must therefore tolerate some additional noise.

“We are not going back to the old noise ordinance at all (but) I am not willing to shut everything down at 6 o’clock,” Matthews said.

Lambert said she would like to move if she could but when her house was put up for sale, it stayed on the market for two years without being purchased. The reason, she said, is because of the noise.

“We are prisoners in our own home,” said Lambert, who lives near the Maggie Valley Inn. “We can’t watch TV; we can’t turn on the radio; we can’t go outside.”

Some Maggie Valley hotels and inns have lost business because the noise emitted from nearby restaurants disturbs their guests.

“There needs to be a level of respect and decorum,” said Carol Burrell, who runs the Creekside Lodge near the Tiki House Seafood and Oyster Bar. “If I can hear music in my business and it’s coming from inside a business, how loud is it?”

Last year, the Maggie Valley Police Department responded to 37 noise complaints.

In a complaint against Hurley’s, Jonathan Creek Inn owner Jeff Smith said he refused to lose any more money because noise from the restaurant disturbs his clients.

In several instances, the Maggie Valley police responded to a complaint and asked the offender to keep it down. However, an officer was forced to return later when the noise once again became a problem.

“Once or twice I heard them turn it down, but it never stayed down,” Kuutti said.

Several individuals also stated that businesses would quiet down before a police officer could measure the noise level to avoid getting in trouble. Officers are required to measure the sound level for 20 seconds while standing no more than 10 feet away from the property line, a procedure that gives bands enough warning to turn down their sound


Reining it in

Original ordinance

Cut-off time: 11 p.m. Mon-Sat

Decibel level: 75 on weekends, 65 on weekdays

Changes made last September:

Cut-off time: 11 p.m. on weekends, 10 p.m. on weekdays

Decibel level: 70 on weekends, 65 on weekdays

Changes made last week:

Cut-off time: 10 p.m. on weekends, 9 p.m. on weekdays*

Decibel level: 70 on weekends, 65 on weekdays

* An exception is made for acoustic music, which can be played until 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.


Noise complaints by the numbers

• Tiki House Seafood and Oyster Bar: 6 (all during August)

• Salty Dog’s Seafood and Grill: 4

• Hurley’s Creekside Dining and Rhum Bar: 4 (all during July)

• Barking Dogs: 4

• Maggie Valley Inn: 2

• Stingrays: 1

• Maggie Valley Festival Grounds: 1

• Other homes and rentals: 15


Cherokee is on a mission to remodel the look of its business district, in the hope that an infusion of native-themed architecture can give new life to its outdated commercial appearance.

“We want it to be pleasing to the eye of the visitor,” said Jason Lambert, the tribe’s economic development director. “We want it to be an area that is a point of pride for the local community and reflects who we are.”

A plan to makeover its tourist appeal has been in the works for 10 years. While some businesses have embraced the idea and jumped on board with Cherokee’s new look, challenges remain. Cherokee is struggling to persuade some building owners and businesses to take on the expense of remodeling because of complex landownership issues and difficulties quantifying the changes’ effects. As a result, pockets of out-dated, run-down facades can still be found along the downtown strip.

The tribe hoped that business owners would see the appearance changes and think, “‘If I don’t improve, then I’m not keeping up,’” said Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Hicks admitted to being “frustrated with some of the downtown.”

“We don’t keep updated enough when it comes to businesses,” he said.


Leaving a legacy

Nonetheless, steady progress has been made to improve the appeal of downtown since the tribe first adopted a master plan dating to 2001, which laid out a uniform appearance for buildings throughout the central business district. The guidelines focused on drawing attention to the town’s natural surroundings and Cherokee architecture by incorporating river walks, heavy timbers, native stone work, earth tones and green, metal roofing and Cherokee lettering.

The development of river walks and greenways particularly are aimed at getting visitors to linger in the area.

“We’re a fast moving society; we’re a fast food society. And so, if we can slow people down and get them out, then that’s accomplished our aim,” Lambert said. “The thought process there is of course that the longer people stay the more likely they are to engage in commerce and spend money.”

Although the recommendations were not mandatory, Cherokee tribal leaders hoped business owners would make the appearance changes on their own.

However, from 2001 to 2006, “Not much was done,” Lambert said. “So the tribe tried to put the first foot forward.”

As a model of Cherokee’s “new look,” the tribe decided to renovate a few buildings of its own in the downtown district that are leased to businesses. The tribe spent $4 million revamping the collection of storefronts known as the horseshoe, a price tag that included the river walk behind the buildings among other improvements.

Meanwhile, the tribe also set up a fund to offer loans with 1 percent interest rates to businesses interested in refurbishing their look.

“The tribe said we will do ours and make low-interest loans available to the other business owners,” Lambert said.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has also paid for other, less-apparent appearance alterations. The utility lines through the main thoroughfare in Cherokee were moved underground, new streetlights were added and more than 20 painted bear statues decorate the town.

“I think actually we’ve made a lot of progress,” Hicks said.

However, he would like to see more changes during the next three or four years.

“We definitely have a lot more work to do, especially with our signage,” said Hicks, who views the improvements as part of his legacy as chief.

After redoing the downtown area, Cherokee leaders decided to extend the new look beyond the central business district to other commercial areas.

The focus is now on the business strip just past the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds on U.S. 441, which will soon see culturally themed streetlights, underground utilities, new and wider sidewalks, crosswalks stamped with cultural symbols, improved landscaping and signage, and the addition of benches, bike racks and recycling bins.

The tribe has received money from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to fund its downtown improvements over the years.

Last fall, the tribe got a $1.8 million grant from the foundation to fund appearance improvements on the new stretch of U.S. 441.

Previously, the foundation gave $2.5 million for downtown improvements — about $1.3 million to remodel buildings in the horseshoe and the $1 million for the low-interest business loans.

The preservation foundation has been “a very integral part” of completing phases of the project, Hicks said. The foundation makes annual grants using a cut of casino proceeds.


Embracing cultural themes

Tribal Grounds coffee shop is one of about eight businesses that moved into the remodeled horseshoe in Cherokee’s downtown.

The coffee shop moved from its old location across from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and began leasing one of the storefronts that were remodeled by the tribe.

“It also works perfect for our purpose,” said Emily Gisler, a manager at Tribal Grounds.

“People seem to like it,” added Jennifer Welch, also a manager at Tribal Grounds.

The push for a more uniform storefront appearance is part of the tribe’s effort to make the Cherokee reservation a destination rather than a one-day excursion.

However, some would rather keep their “unique fronts,” Gisler said. And although the newer look gels more with the Cherokee culture, “a lot of tourists like to see things they are familiar with,” she said.

Some businesses are already housed in buildings that fall in line with the tribe’s appearance recommendations, including the use of wood, earth tones and metal roofing.

“I take care of my own store just to keep my customers,” said Tim Marks, owner of Ravenhawk Gifts and Collectibles.

“It’s worth it to us to hear people come in and tell us the store looks nice,” chimed in his wife, Lorie Marks.

Other Cherokee business owners chose not to change or felt the help came too late.

“We just chose not to,” said Maureen Denman, who has run Heavenly Fudge Shoppe in Cherokee with her husband for 35 years. “I don’t have extra money to do that.”

The couple already has a loan on its business and didn’t need another. They would have considered taking such a deal if it had come sooner.

The tribe is about “20 years too late,” Denman said.

Only 10 businesses accepted low-interest loans from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for building and façade improvements.

The tribe set aside $1 million for the loan program — equaling out to about $100,000 per business. The $1 million pool of funds is now dried up, Lambert said.

“Difference of opinion or lack of interest” has caused some businesses or landowners to forego the redesign, he said. But, the biggest challenge is landownership.

“A lot of the struggle comes from the complicated landownership issues,” Lambert said.

Some building owners do not want to renovate and the business owners who rent their store space do not want to sink money into a place they do not own.

The tribe is currently looking into ways it could quantify the effects of the appearance improvements and show that business has increased at stores with the more culturally focused façades. One option is to look at the tribal levy, Cherokee’s version of a sales tax.

Cherokee has seen a “slight increase” in levy revenue during the past few years, Hicks said.

Although the tribe can’t show a direct correlation between the appearance changes and the number of visitors to Cherokee, the tribe can at least say whether it is seeing more or fewer visitors each year.

“It is difficult to quantify the impact,” Lambert said.


Tribe hopes to diversify attractions

Along with remaking Cherokee’s downtown image, the tribe has launched an aggressive campaign to bring new amenities and attractions in hopes of increasing tourism traffic.

The tribe has already built a new movie theater, skate park and greenway system, and is looking for more ways to sell the reservation as a family vacation destination, such as a water park.

“The water park idea is not off the table,” Chief Michell Hicks said. “It’s the price tag.”

Constructing such a park would be a multi-million dollar project. The casino is a big draw for the 21 and up crowd, but the reservation wants make Cherokee more appealing to families.

Another idea is to build a children’s discovery center where kids could learn about the Cherokee culture and Western North Carolina, Hicks said.

There is also a push to recruit new retail offerings.

“It’s time to start looking at boutique shops,” said Hicks, citing Mast General Store as a prime example of the type of shops he would like to see in Cherokee.

The changes have all been aimed at reminding visitors that there is more to the reservation than the casino.

“We know that the casino is our main attraction, but we want people to know that there is still Cherokee here,” said Jason Lambert, the tribe’s economic development director.

A few business owners said that the casino actually hurts their stores.

Harrah’s Casino pulls visitors’ money away from local businesses, said Maureen Denman, who runs Heavenly Fudge Shoppe in Cherokee. Some people gamble their funds away and have no money to spare at Cherokee’s other establishments.

Part of the future improvements will include drawing events to the downtown area, reconfiguring its parking and generating foot traffic. However, creating foot traffic is pretty much impossible without sidewalks.

Currently, the main business district considered “downtown Cherokee” doesn’t have cohesive sidewalks for strolling. The tribe must decide whether to sacrifice a single row of parking in front of stores to build a continuous sidewalk that runs through downtown Cherokee.

Lambert said the tribe has not decided yet, but will have to address the topic of downtown parking first. There is not enough parking in downtown Cherokee, he said, and the tribe will consider alternative parking solutions such as a park-and-ride depot or a parking garage.

Just because the tribe has shifted its focus does not mean that it will still pushing for renovations to store facades and may offer another round of financial incentives to help.

“We still want to revitalize the downtown,” he said.


Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians might have the chance to decide whether they want alcohol in their individual communities this spring, but Tribal Council is still trying to decide if and how it would include the option on the alcohol referendum.

Tribal council approved a referendum in the fall that will give members of the Eastern Band the chance to vote on whether alcohol sales should be legalized on the reservation. Currently, the reservation is dry with the exception of the casino.

The Rev. Noah Crowe from Snowbird appealed to Tribal Council last week, asserting that individual communities should have the option of banning or permitting alcohol sales. This means that parts of the reservation could remain dry even if other communities vote to lift the alcohol ban.

“The issue of alcohol in our community as tribal members has been very powerful — and not in a positive way,” Crowe said. “I think a question like this gives power back to the community.”

Principal Chief Michell Hicks appeared at the tribal council meeting and backed the resolution brought forward by Crowe.

“I appreciate Mr. Crowe coming in. I know this has always been an emotional issue,” said Hicks. “I think that our communities are different in their makeup. An issue of this magnitude should not be forced on a community.”

Hicks has previously expressed concerns over alcohol sales being allowed in every corner of the reservation. Should the ballot measure be passed as currently written, convenience stores selling booze could potentially crop up anywhere.

The reservation is comprised of six communities: Birdtown, Wolftown, Big Cove, Painttown, Snowbird/Cherokee County and Yellowhill.

Snowbird, a remote and isolated portion of the reservation in the rugged mountains of Graham County, has an older population and is known for being more traditional. Snowbird is the only community that voted against allowing the casino to sell alcohol in another ballot measure two years ago.

No matter what, members of the Eastern Band will vote on some form of the referendum on April 15.

Massaging the verbiage

Although the council seemed amenable to the idea, legal conundrums continued to crop up.

“There are some significant issues,” said Tribal Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky. “Right now the way that this reads, you would have a problem in Painttown.”

The casino is located in Painttown, and the current wording of Crowe’s amendment would make alcohol sales in the casino illegal should the community vote down the alcohol referendum.

“I just want to make sure there is an informed decision,” Tarnawsky said. “There are a lot of things we need to look at.”

The reservation-wide ban has prevented businesses from coming to the reservation. Some restaurants have chosen to skip over Cherokee and open chains elsewhere.

“That has definitely been an issue in the past,” Hicks said.

Tribal Council chose to table Crowe’s proposal until its Feb. meeting in order to give the attorney general’s office more time to tweak its language and to avoid a rushed decision.

“I don’t want to see it fall through the cracks,” Crowe said.

A couple of council members indicated that they thought their constituents would approve of adding Crowe’s question to the referendum.

“My community strongly wants a say,” said Perry Shell, a tribal council member from Big Cove.

Diamond Brown, a tribal council member from Snowbird, said that he believes residents of his community would like to have the option as well.

“If I were to get out and do a survey with the Snowbirders, the Snowbirders would be against it,” Brown said.

And, for his community, voting down alcohol would not affect businesses. Residents of Snowbird must already travel to Robbinsville or other nearby towns to shop.

“We don’t have a town; we don’t even have our own post office,” Brown said. “We don’t even have convenience stores.”


The count down

On April 15, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will go to the polls to decide whether to legalize alcohol sales on the reservation. The three-part ballot will allow voters to approve all, none, or one or two of the following:

• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.

• To permit the sale of beer, wine and liquor drinks only in restaurants licensed by the Eastern Band.

• To permit the sale of beer and wine only in grocery stores and convenience stores licensed by the Eastern Band.

If Rev. Noah Crowe’s proposal is approved, tribal members would also be able to chose whether or not they want alcohol sold in their community. This means that parts of the reservation could remain dry even if other communities vote to lift the alcohol ban.

The option may give the referendum a better chance of actually passing. The Eastern Band has shot down similar measures in the past and even stopped before a vote could take place. Many Cherokee are strong Christians and the tribe has a long history of alcoholism and diabetes, making some inclined to oppose alcohol.


The question ‘which way to Cherokee?’ continues bedeviling the state transportation department, which has been caught in a tug-of-war between Jackson County and Maggie Valley over who deserves a sign pointing the “right” way to Cherokee.

Maggie Valley currently holds title to the sole directional sign pointing motorists to Cherokee via U.S. 19 and over Soco Gap — and would like to keep it that way.

“We are all for helping promote Jackson County, but not at the expense of Maggie Valley,” said Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is “leaning toward” posting a sign indicating that there are in fact two routes to Cherokee — one through Maggie and one that continues on past Sylva.

But by posting another sign, the department of transportation would “take away from one and give to another,” said Alderman Mike Matthews. “There has not been enough information to say you should go this way versus this way.”

Jackson County officials, meanwhile, have lobbied for the second sign, pointing out that the four-lane highway going past Sylva is actually safer and more user friendly than the route through Maggie. The tribe has expressed a desire for a second sign.

“They feel like the two-lane road over Soco is hazardous,” said Reuben Moore, a DOT official who works in the regional office in Sylva.

But DeSimone questioned Jackson’s true motive.

“Obviously, Jackson County did not bring this up because they were concerned for public welfare,” DeSimone said.

Maggie Valley could win out, however, as the DOT has yet to find a place to put the new sign and has not settled on concise wording.


Safety and travel time

Moore updated the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen on the status of the sign issue at a town meeting last week.

If the DOT decides to allow a new sign, it would be placed by May before the beginning of the tourist season.

But, posting a new sign faces several obstacles, including where to place it.

“It takes about a mile of signage to properly sign an exit,” Moore said. But the roadside leading up to the Maggie exit is already cluttered with signage.

DOT has not settled on the appearance of the sign. It cannot simply put two dueling arrows on a sign pointing this way or that way to Cherokee.

“That is strictly against policy,” Moore said.

The DOT has discussed making a sign with the words Cherokee spanning the top half of the sign and the mileage for both routes below it: U.S. 74 at 37 miles and U.S. 19 at 24 miles.

Although the route through Maggie is shorter distance-wise, a study by the DOT showed that travel time was essentially the same — about 35 minutes — no matter which road was taken.

“We found that the travel time was very nearly the same,” Moore said.

Initially, Moore wanted the sign to specify that the travel time was about the same no matter which route is taken, but DOT vetoed the idea because traffic or accidents could delay travel along one of the roads.

The department only test-drove the routes three times during the late fall and winter. The times do not account for increased traffic during the summer and early fall months when tourists flood the area. Get stuck behind a slow moving Winnebago, and the trip through Soco Gap could be a grueling one.

The review of both routes showed that the crash rate on U.S. 19 is 10 percent higher.

Alderman Mike Matthews said that the two roads are incomparable when it comes to wrecks because U.S. 19 runs through a town where cars are often slowing down or speeding up and pulling in or out of parking lots. The U.S. 441 route, however, is a four-lane divided highway.

“I don’t even see how that could be compared,” Matthews said.

Maggie Valley officials said they want “overwhelming, definitive information” showing that the road through Jackson County is safer.

Does DOT consider U.S. 19 to be safe, Matthews asked?

“Absolutely,” Moore responded.

Aldermen Saralyn Price asked Moore pointblank which road would he take if it was snowing and he was in Lake Junaluska.

“I wouldn’t be out,” Moore said.

The Board of Aldermen argued that the DOT has not provided any information that would validate a decision to post a new directional sign.

“I have not heard anything definite about (U.S. 441) being safer,” DeSimone said.


Capturing tourism dollars

Maggie Valley and Jackson County each hope to attract a portion of the 3.5 million people who visit the casino in Cherokee each year.

The idea that Maggie Valley will lose business should an alternative route be posted “presupposes that people are going to do what the signs tell them to do,” Moore said.

Jackson County commissioners haven’t been shy about their desires to funnel tourism traffic through that county. Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten and the five county commissioners expressed surprise last week that their request for a sign had triggered uproars in Maggie Valley.

As they hammered out possible designs for a new welcome sign at the county line, Commissioner Doug Cody joked that they should add to Jackson County’s fantasy sign: “This is the best route to Cherokee.”

A decision will be made based on safety and the speed of traffic, assured Moore, not based on which route is more scenic or needs more business.

According to Jackson County Travel and Tourism, visitors have said that they prefer to take U.S. 441 to Cherokee. But, Moore said he can’t confirm whether that is true.


Allen Davis’ office is cluttered with planks and blocks of wood in various sizes and a handful of circular saws — typical office supplies for a wood turner.

“I always wanted a wood shop,” said Davis, who crafts and sells wooden works in a small building up from his house on Foot Hill Lane in Waynesville.

For the last 15 years, Davis has earned his living as a wood turner, creating bowls, sinks, pens and urns. Different from other types of woodwork, woodturning is the process of shaping wood on a lathe, or rather, a machine that turns the material as a carver works with it.

Davis said he likes to work with wood “because it’s such a challenge.” Each piece must be cut precisely in order to fit perfectly together.

Different types of wood have different viscosities. Purple heart and ironwood are “hard as nails,” Davis said, and must be cut slowly. If split too quickly, the wood will warp and the individual pieces that make a bowl or urn will not fit together.

The majority — about 80 percent — of the wood he uses is scrap, and most of his works include stars or three-dimensional blocks.

Geometry is a large part of his work, Davis said, including the patterns he uses and how the pieces fit together.

“You are totally unlimited as far as what you can do with designs,” he said.

Davis uses 40 different species of tree. Among his materials are driftwood from Florida, California redwood, Louisiana swamp cypress and pecan, Mississippi tupelo or black gum, North Carolina dogwood and apple, and weathered South Carolina barnwood.

The wood sits in a kiln for six months where it dries out before it’s used.

Bowls are by far his most popular work. The base of an average bowl is 16 blocks around. Davis cuts the one- to two-inch trapezoidal pieces with one of his saws and uses tape to connect them in a circular shape. He uses similar, though more, blocks to form the upper layers of a bowl, creating a pattern. Davis then attaches it to a thick, round portion of wood that will later be molded into the bottom of the bowl.

Davis numbers and signs the bottom of each creation. The number corresponds to a detailed profile of each piece. Say someone purchased a large bowl for salad and would like smaller bowls to match, the customer can simply relay the number, and Davis will make a companion piece.


From passion to profession

Davis worked as a professional, heading two Florida corporations during his career. But in 1997, he retired and moved more permanently into his 10-acre Waynesville residence, which he purchased 30 years ago as a second home.

He also returned to his former passion — woodwork. He had some experience working with wood in high school but had not practiced since.

To brush up on his knowledge, Davis registered for a wood cabinet-making course at Haywood Community College but was more drawn to woodturning. And when the rippling effects of Sept. 11 lowered the value of his retirement portfolio, Davis needed something to supplement his income.

His pieces range from $30 to $1,000, and he sells more than 1,000 works every year.

“This is our bread and butter,” Davis said.

His woodturning business has allowed Davis and his wife, Diane, to keep their home in Florida and travel to various destinations around the world, including their upcoming trip to France.

“We do a lot of traveling,” Davis said. “This pays for a lot of really neat vacations.”

Davis and his wife also travel to craft and fine art shows throughout the year. However, he only displays his work at exhibitions that are judged or paid entry.

At other shows, “People aren’t coming to buy,” Davis said.

He said his target audience is “serious art collectors” — people willing to pay an admittance fee.

His work is also featured in 72 galleries and stores throughout the U.S., including Sabbath Day Woods Gallery in Canton, Its By Nature in Sylva, Jarrett House Gift Shop in Dillsboro, and Kitchen Décor and Textures in Waynesville.

During his spare time, Davis gives demonstrations on how to turn wood.

“A lot of my efforts are to teach kids,” he said.

He has hosted workshops for at-risk teens at Eckerd Youth Alternatives Camp in Hendersonville and for Big Brother/Big Sister of Haywood County.

Davis is also a member of the American Association of Woodturners, Carolina Mountain Woodturners, the American Craft Council and Southern Highland Craft Guild.


For more information on Allen Davis and his work, visit


Swain County’s Tourism Development Authority will appeal to county officials for a 1 percent increase in the room tax rate.

The tax on overnight lodging currently stands at 3 percent. The proposed increase would bring in at least an additional $100,000 annually to support tourism initiatives.

Monica Brown, chair of Swain County’s Tourism Development Authority board, said the idea came from business owners who approached her about raising the tax. The extra money could help fund special projects without burdening local residents.

“Basically, there is a lot of capital stuff we would like to help the county with,” Brown said. “It would give us more funding to work.”

Such projects could include helping the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad construct an engine turntable or Bryson City restore the historic courthouse for a visitors center and museum. The extra funds could be used toward beautification efforts and signage near the Nantahala Gorge, the site of the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships expected to bring thousands of visitors to the county.

“(The tax is) more for promotion of tourism in Swain County overall and a main part of that is the appearance,” Brown said.

The county can currently use up to 30 percent of its current room tax collections on capital projects, including the Christmas lights featured throughout downtown Bryson City.

A 3 percent tax is already tacked on to a visitor’s room rate. If someone pays $100 to stay the night in a Swain County hotel or inn, he or she will pay an additional $3, not counting sales tax, to occupy the room. If the increase is approved, that visitor will pay an extra $1 — for a total of $4 — each night.

Brown said the authority wanted to be “conservative” so it will only seek a 1 percent jump in room tax, although state law allows a room tax of up to 6 percent.

Jackson County has recently proposed increasing its room tax to the full 6 percent. More than half the counties in the state already levy a room tax of more than 3 percent, with a definitive trend in recent years among counties to increase the rate.

The Swain County tourism agency is “Right in line with what we are doing across the state,” Brown said. “And, an increase in the room tax is not going to impact the number of visitors to your area.”

The tourism authority has raked in between $300,000 and $353,000 a year in room tax revenue since at least 2006. Swain is one of the few counties that has escaped a downturn in its room tax collections as a result of the recession.

“We have enjoyed pretty steady room tax numbers in Swain County,” Brown said.

The tax has remained at 3 percent since its inception in the 1980s.

The extra 1 percent would be kept separate from the other 3 percent, which funds mostly marketing and promotions, said Karen Wilmot, secretary of the TDA board and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Tourism Development Authority splits its advertising dollars between print and online media. About 70 percent of the advertising budget funds traditional print ads, while the remaining 30 percent targets Internet users. Like other Western North Carolina tourism agencies, Swain County’s TDA focuses its efforts in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.

“We tend to take a really conservative approach to our advertising,” Brown said. “We try to do a lot with a little bit of money.”

The key to obtaining support for the 1 percent increase will be reminding residents of how the Chamber of Commerce and tourism authority has used the room tax to benefit the county, Brown said.

“I want everyone to understand the focus of the tax,” Brown said. “How it benefits the community as a whole.”

But, in order to obtain the increase, the agency must appeal to local government officials and its constituents for support.

“I honestly don’t know” when the measure could be put to a vote of county commissioners, Brown said.

The tourism agency will need to  discuss the possible increase with the county commissioners and then with its lodging owners before even thinking about the vote.

It’s a “lengthy procedure,” Brown said.


Mixed reviews

The idea of an increase received mix reactions from lodging owners in the county who had not heard about the possible change.

“I would not be wanting to add any more to my guest’s room fee than I need to,” said Ed Ciociola, owner of Calhoun House Inn & Suites. But, if it helps advance tourism in the county, he said he would approve of the rise.

A handful of inn, motel and hotel owners vehemently disapproved of the plan, however.

“I am definitely not in favor of any new taxes,” said Blain Slobe, owner of Two Rivers Lodge. “I don’t see raising the tax 1 percent as helping tourism at all.”

If people are spending more money each day on their room bills, they will cut down on the number of days they spend in Swain County, he said.

Several cited the still slow-growing economy as a crucial reason for forgoing the increase.

“I think 3 percent is high enough,” said Mercedith Bacon of West Oak Bed & Breakfast & Cabins.

Bacon said that the tourism agency does an adequate job with the resources it already has and that businesses are still fragile following the recession.

“I just don’t think this is the time,” Bacon said.

A couple of business owners said they would like to hear more information before deciding whether to oppose or support a 4 percent tax rate.

“I don’t think I can say yay or nay,” said Mort White, owner of Hemlock Inn.

Brown was not surprised by people’s responses when they initially heard about the potential increase and said she thinks the majority of business owners will eventually favor the move.

“I think there is almost a knee-jerk reaction” to oppose the tax, Brown said. “I think we just have to let them know what it’s going towards.”


By the numbers: Current tax rates

• 3 percent: Swain, Clay, Graham, Macon, Mitchell, Yancey

• 4 percent: Haywood, Buncombe, Transylvania, Cherokee

• 5 percent: Henderson, Madison, McDowell

• 6 percent: town of Franklin, Watauga

*Jackson County has proposed an increase to 6 percent.


Collection rate for Swain

• 2006-2007    $305,352  

• 2007-2008    $320,820  

• 2008-2009    $309,802  

• 2009-2010    $335,353  

• 2010-2011    $352,437


Share your opinion

The Swain Tourism Development Authority board meets at noon on the last Wednesday of each month at the Chamber of Commerce. This month, however, it will be held Jan. 18.


Swain County has now been targeted as part of a regional effort to drum up financial support for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s steam engine dreams.

Dillsboro officials are leading the charge, already courting Jackson County to make loans or grants for the railroad, and is now asking Swain County to participate as well.

Two members of the Dillsboro town board, David Gates and Tim Parris, addressed the Swain County commissioners last week to discuss the possibility of joining forces to either loan money or pony up cash to help the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad expand its operations.

Specifically, the tourist railroad wants to transport a 1913 Swedish steam engine from Maine to Western North Carolina and build two engine turntables necessary for its operation.

“It would probably be one of only ones in America,” Gates said. The railway has applied to Jackson County for a loan, a grant or both to help make the project a reality.

Steam engines are a rarity, and their antiquity is enough to draw new visitors to the railway.

“This could change Western North Carolina,” Gates said. “It could be probably the second largest tourist attraction outside Biltmore.”

In order for the project to work, the railroad would need a turntable in Dillsboro and one in Bryson City, where the steam engine could be turned around. Currently, the tourist train based out of Bryson City simply goes in reverse when reaching the end of its trip in order to return to the depot. But steam engines cannot move in reverse like the diesel engine that currently runs on the railroad.

Each year, 180,000 people ride the privately owned Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and the new steam engine will increase business by 15 or 20 percent, said Al Harper, owner of the railroad.

“Any steam engine will draw attention,” he said. “There just aren’t a lot of steam engines around anymore.”

And, the turntables themselves would be a big draw for visitors, especially if they include a viewing walkway where spectators can watch the engine being rotated.

The turntables as well as the creation of a walkway surrounding the mechanisms would cost about $600,000 total, plus about $450,000 to move the steam engine and railcars from Maine. It is unclear exactly how much the railroad would put up itself versus how much it is asking for.


A slice of the pie

While Swain and Jackson counties may be amenable to helping the railroad, as talks continue they may bump heads over a fairly significant detail. Both counties would like the steam engine based in their hometown as a condition of putting up money.

“I am very much in favor of the steam engine, and I’m in favor of the turntables,” said Robert White, a Swain County commissioner. “It’s unique.”

However, White would prefer that rides on the new engine originate from Bryson City.

“As far as I’m concerned, the steam engine should come out of Bryson City,” White said. “That is going to be a decision made by Mr. Harper.”

White added that the county is willing to do anything it can to help the railroad as long as it benefits Swain County.

Meanwhile, Jackson County has been clear that is wants the steam engine based out of Dillsboro for at least five years.

Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten said the county would insist on that in writing as a condition in of any loan or grant the county made.

“We wanted to make sure number one that the train was going to operate mainly out of Dillsboro,” he said.

Harper said that Bryson City would remain the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s center of business but that Dillsboro would become the center of operations for the steam engine. This would give both towns a slice of the railway’s revenues.

Swain County commissioners suggested that a meeting between the railroad and leaders in Jackson and Swain counties to iron out the details.

“Everybody wants to see the jobs come in. Everybody wants to see the trains come in,” said David Monteith, a Swain County commissioner.

A talk will not take place for at least another few weeks because several key officials will be on vacation.

“We need a good joint cooperation,” Monteith said.

Talks between Dillsboro and the railroad were put on hold before Christmas because of a problem in Colorado, home to one of Harper’s other railroads.

Gates has spearheaded the negotiations between the Town of Dillsboro and the railroad.


Costs unknown

Harper and Dillsboro officials have tossed around various numbers for nearly a year, but it is unknown how much, if anything, Jackson County will chip in to help the railroad.

“That is kind of a wide open thing,” Gates said, declining to list a number until one is presented to the town or county in writing.

Harper said he is reviewing his original plans and looking for ways “to get the cost down.” One option would be to sell the eight passengers cars that he purchased along with the steam train and only transport the engine to Western North Carolina, he said.

“I really don’t need more rail cars,” Harper said.

Moving the steam engine train from Maine will cost about $450,000 on top of the $600,000 for turntables, but no one was willing to say how much the total project will cost.

“We don’t have a final idea of what funds are available,” Harper said.

However, Harper did say at one point he could pick up half the tab of moving the train if Jackson County paid the other half.

Meanwhile, Gates is hoping that Dillsboro to help the railroad land a grant for up to $200,000 in Golden Leaf Foundation to help pay for the turntables.

However, more details must be settled before the town can submit a funding application.

“We can’t apply for a Golden Leaf grant because we’re not ready to,” Gates said.

The town needs the support of Swain and Jackson counties as well as Bryson City if it wants to move forward with the project.


Boon town

The train used to run from Dillsboro to Bryson City and beyond, but in 2005, the railroad moved its base of operations to Bryson City.

“(In the past) There hasn’t been the cooperation with Dillsboro,” Harper said. “There were some feelings for a while that Dillsboro did not care about the railroad.”

The railroad is a boon for whichever town it originates from. People riding the train shop in the town’s stores and eat at its restaurants both before and after their ride. While those stops along the tracks such as Dillsboro also benefit, the economic ramifications are considerably less because visitors only have a 90-minute layover in the town.

“We need something to get ‘em to stop here,” said Tim Parris, an alderman from Dillsboro.

When the railroad shifted its headquarters to Bryson City, Dillsboro suffered as tourism declined. The steam engine would bring those visitors back to Dillsboro.

The town indirectly lost about 44 jobs as a result of the move, Gates said.

The railroad has said it will hire 15 people to run its operations out of Dillsboro, but the return could create more jobs at local shops and restaurants, Gates said.


Haywood County has offered a helping hand as towns grapple with how to cover the extra cost of hauling resident’s trash to the White Oak Landfill.

Starting in July, towns will have to drive trash out to the White Oak landfill near the Tennessee border. Currently, the towns transport their garbage to a transfer station in Clyde, a convenient mid-way point, and the county takes it the rest of the way to landfill. But, the county has decided to shut down the station to save money.

Rather than leaving towns in the lurch, the county will share some of the savings it realizes with the towns to help offset a portion of the extra cost they would otherwise incur.

“We want to try to minimize any negative impact,” said Mark Swanger, chair of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners. “We knew that it would likely create additional costs.”

The money will come out off the $800,000 to $900,000 in savings the county will realize after it closes the transfer station.

“There will be sufficient savings to help the municipalities,” Swanger said. “I think they are very amenable to it.”

It is unknown how much the county will chip in.

“Any amount that would reduce our costs would help,” said Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway.

The extra driving distance to the landfill will mean more gas and more hours for town trash trucks. Towns could also be forced to buy additional trucks and hire more garbage men as a result.

Realizing the additional burden it would place on towns, the county held off on closing the transfer station until summer to align with the new budget year. The county has been working through the issue with towns for more than a year.

“The cooperation between the county and towns is really important,” said David Francis, chair of the county’s solid waste committee. “We knew that it was going to be a change in the way they operate.”

The county wanted to avoid changing “all the sudden” and give towns a chance to figure how they will handle the change, he said.

The county realizes that town residents are also county residents, Francis said, and wanted to ease the burden on towns and hopefully avoid a situation where the towns would need to pass the added cost onto their residents.

The county’s scales at the transfer station have helped show towns that their garbage trucks were often not filled to capacity when dropping trash, Francis said. If the trucks carried heavier loads, they could take fewer trips to the landfill and possibly avoid the cost of new truck.

The towns are currently tabulating how much each option would cost them and must present their estimates to the county by Jan. 15. The county will decide how much it will give to the towns in May as it constructs its budget.


Haywood Community College has hit a nearly $227,000 roadblock during the construction of it new creative arts building.

The $10.2 million building — a controversial project to begin with — will tap into contingency funds for the project to pay for previously unforeseen gaps in the architect’s plans. Contingency money is built into the price tag at the beginning of a project in case added costs arise.

“The reason you have a contingency is in case something crazy happens. That is the whole point,” said Bill Dechant, director of campus development. Dechant was hired recently as an in-house architect, a common position at state universities with nearly constant construction project but a somewhat new trends at the community college level.

The $226,901 expenditure will pay for the purchase of a new water pump and an outdoor shed to house the mechanism.

It became apparent in July that a pump would be needed to create sufficient water pressure for the building’s sprinkler system.

The architect firm hired to design the building had their engineers test the pressure in water lines on campus during the planning phase. The problem, however, is the pressure was tested down the hill from where the new building is located, Dechant said.

As water flows up the hill to the new building, it loses pressure, a fact the architect did not factor into his plans, Dechant said.

“Anyone who works in the mountains know if you take water pressure (at the bottom of the hill) and it has to go uphill several hundred feet, it is not going to be the same,” Dechant said.

Dechant explained the problem to county commissioners at their meeting this week, as county commissioners ultimately would have to sign off a change order to tap into the contingency funds.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley agreed that Raleigh-based architect Mike Nicklas should have taken the hillside position of the building into account.

“It is just common,” Ensley said. “It is always good to have an architect that is familiar with mountain construction.”

If the problem is not fixed, the building cannot open. All structures are required to have functioning sprinkler systems.

“Time is of the essence,” Dechant said. “This change order really needs to move.”

Even if the problem had been included in the project’s blueprints originally, the county would end up paying a similar amount for the pump at the beginning rather than on the backend.

Commissioners queried how the current added cost was tabulated.

The general contractor submitted five proposals before a price was settled on.

“We have been through several iterations of this design,” Dechant said.

The college negotiated a $100,000 decrease from what the contractor originally sought.

“We have about massaged this as much as we can,” Dechant said. “It is about as economical as we think we can do.”

Commissioners approved the change order but questioned how the oversight could have happened.

“Why wasn’t this done at such time the design would have accommodated this?” inquired Mark Swanger, chair of the county commissioners.

“That’s my question,” chimed in Commissioner Bill Upton.

The community college is currently trying to find out how such a costly slip-up occurred.

“We are in the process of trying to figure out who really drop the ball,” Dechant said. “The college feels like we are not responsible for that, that this is a design error. We are going through the correct procedures to solve that and figure out where responsibility lies.”

At the end of the job if there is evidence that the architect was negligent, Dechant said, the college would negotiate that at the end of the contract.

What is the outside architect saying about the bungle, asked Commissioner Mike Sorrells.

In the architect’s defense, he thought that a campus-wide water improvement project carried out last year would remedy any water pressure issue the the creative arts building might have, Dechant said.

Both the college and the architect plan to submit summary statements — their own version of events — to the state construction office.

Prior to the snafu, the college had a contingency budget of more $600,000. If the project changes are approved, the budget will drop to $365,198.

Dechant could not promise the commissioners that this would be the last of the change orders.

“I am sure there will be small change orders that come along. There always are,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any more change orders of the significance we are talking about. That said, I would never stand up here and guarantee anything.”

For community colleges, approving change orders can be a lengthy process. First, the project managers must get approval from the college’s Board of Trustees before presenting the issue to the county commissioners. The last step is to apply to the state construction office for permission to change a project’s costs and parameters.

Dechant said he did not know how the county or college would spend any remaining contingency funds if they go unused.

In addition to the cost of the water pump itself, the college may end up shelling out more funds in overhead costs to the contractor, who said construction will be delayed because of the error. If the contractor can prove that the change order held up construction, then HCC will pay more than $1,000 for each day that the construction schedule extended beyond what the workers were require to do.


‘Biggest project we’ve ever undertaken’

The commissioners and college administrators battled for months about the scope of the creative arts building project. Commissioners insisted that the college slash the price of its plans, while administrators argued that the building construction and amenities had been whittled down enough already. The new facility will house studio and classroom space for students studying the creative arts, such as pottery and woodwork.

Both groups eventually settled on the current $10.2 million cost. Money to pay for the new building is coming from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters more than four years ago to fund improvements to Haywood Community College’s campus.

“This is the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken at Haywood Community College,” Dechant said. Construction of the building, which is still expected to conclude in early May, is about halfway complete.

The building will feature a number of green initiatives, including rainwater harvesting, solar thermal energy and Energy Star photocopiers.


Living in the mountains of Western North Carolina, it is hard to imagine never seeing snow — but Elizabeth Comberg and Amber Damato of Jacksonville, Fla., got their first taste of the fluffy white stuff last Friday at Cataloochee Ski Area.

“The snow is a blast,” 15-year-old Comberg said.

Last week was Comberg and her family’s first trip to Haywood County and first time snow skiing. She didn’t know much beyond the basics of stopping and going, but Comberg was starting to pick it up thanks to a handy mnemonic device well-known among beginners.

“The first thing I knew was pizza and French fries,” she said. French fries, or parallel skis, if she wanted to shoot rapidly down the hill, and a pizza slice, or turned-in skis, if she wanted to stop.

The family spent several hours on a small, crowded bunny slope to the right of the ski lodge and lifts, taking their cues from other skiers while trying to pick up the fundamentals of keeping their balance on the snow.

The beginner slope is neither long nor steep, giving first-timers like the Combergs a safe place to practice before taking on the steeper, more crowded trails.

“This slope is a godsend,” said Laurie Comberg, 45, who last remembered seeing snow in 1989 during a rare snowfall in Jacksonville.

Elizabeth’s younger brother had fallen a number of times and quickly became weary of the slope. After seeing a fellow skier holding onto a child’s ski poles and guiding the child down the hill, Laurie was able to help her son regain enough confidence to ski again.

Elizabeth’s friend, Amber Damato, was not having an easy time either.

“Skiing is hard,” exclaimed Damato, who had fallen several times including a tumble over the blue netting that is supposed to keep skiers from skidding off into a tree.

Damato said the experience of skiing was worth all the spills, however.

The Combergs and Damato planned to stay at Cataloochee until their lift tickets expired at 4:30 p.m. In the end, their goal was to ride the ski lift at least once and then slip and slide as best they could down a trail.

“By the end of the day, we will do it at least once,” Laurie said.

People packed the slopes of Cataloochee Ski Area during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The gangbuster week is the most profitable of the year. Not only is the sheer volume of skiers monumental, but the vast majority are buying lift tickets and renting gear and hitting the lunch counter — as opposed to locals with season lift passes and their own gear who populate the slopes during a more typical week.

But during this holiday week, skiers from across the South were hitting Cataloochee in force — with  plenty of newbies among them. The landing at the foot of Cataloochee’s main hill was overflowing with skiers, snowboards and spectators alike Friday. To the side of the slopes, five ski and snowboarding instructors led teams of 10 or more pupils through the basics.


Starting young

Just on the other side of the blue nets on a barely sloping, super-intro-level straight away, Trey Ford, 30, was helping teach his 3-year-old daughter Lexi how to ski as his wife, Kelly Cooper Ford, watched anxiously to the side.

Kelly has never skied before and was a little nervous to let her daughter try, but Lexi’s grandfather, a former ski instructor, was also on hand to help teach her. Sitting on her heels with her knees bent, Lexi glided down the slight decline more than a dozen times, smiling each time she slide into her grandfather’s arms.

“I am so proud of her,” said Kelly, adding that Lexi has been begging to ski since the idea was first brought up this summer.

Trey and his wife both work at Cooper Construction Company in Hendersonville.

Trey’s father was a ski instructor for many years. However, it was not until the last three years that Trey himself became interested in skiing. He said he wanted to teach Lexi how before she was conscious enough to fear the slopes.

Trey said he hopes to take a family vacation to Colorado or another popular ski destination in the future, but first he will need to get Kelly as excited about skiing as his daughter.

“If I can get my daughter excited about it, then I can get my wife excited about it,” Ford said.


Hitting the slopes

It’s now all systems go at Cataloochee Ski Area. The more advanced trails opened last week thanks to plenty of cold weather (finally) and the resort’s state-of-the-art snow-making technology.

Where: 1080 Ski Lodge Road in Maggie Valley

When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, non-holiday. 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Holidays. Night and Twilight skiing run until 10 p.m. are also available Tuesdays through Saturdays as well as on Sundays Jan. 15 and Feb. 19.

Cost: The price of a lift ticket ranges from $18 to $71 depending on the day, how long you plan to ski or snowboard, and whether it’s a day, half-day, twilight or night session. Adult equipment rentals run $23 for ski or $30 for snowboard. Group lessons are $20, and private lesson are between $25 and $200 depending on the length of the tutorial.


Lloyd Arneach likes to make people cry.

“That means they understand the stories I am telling,” said Arneach, a 68-year-old storyteller from Cherokee. “A superb storyteller in one program can make you laugh, make you think and move you to tears.”

Arneach’s story starts in the 1970s in Georgia with a request from his children’s babysitter. She could not find any books about American Indians to present to an area Girl Scout Troop and so asked Arneach to speak to them.

At the time, he worked as a computer programmer, and when he arrived at the meeting, he sat casually in his three-piece suit as the girls anxiously awaited the appearance of a real-life Indian in full regalia.

“When I started talking to them, their jaws dropped,” Arneach said.

That first appearance turned into a second Girl Scout gig, until Arneach eventually found himself telling stories at Georgia Tech, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.

“It’s been incredible all the places storytelling has taken me,” he said.

One such place was the Festival of Fires, an all-Indian event during the Olympics in Atlanta where he met record-breaking Olympian Billy Mills, the only American ever to win a gold medal in the 10,000-meter run.

“Billy Mills to me is what an Olympic champs should be,” Arneach said, calling him a gracious individual.

People seem willing to hand parts of their lives to Arneach, who preserves each memory.

A friend dressed in traditional Indian garb once told Arneach about speaking at a large event in Washington when a woman approached, asking who his people were and asking to take his picture. Come to find out, the woman was former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“It’s amazing the people who have sat and shared stories with me,” he said. “I feel very blessed the stories that have come to me.”

Arneach continued working as a computer programmer but told stories part-time. However, he eventually realized that most of his vacation time was spent guest-speaking at various festivals and events.

In 1993, Arneach, who had left Cherokee when he was 21, moved back to the reservation and became a full-time storyteller.


An Emotional Journey

There are several key components to the perfect storytelling experience.

“The sitting has to be correct,” Arneach said. “The audience has to be right.”

The venue must be silent, without the possibility of outside noise to detract from the performance, and the audience must be engaged. With these elements intact, Arneach need only gauge the crowd with one or two starter tales and then decide which narratives will receive the best response — should he stick to more lighthearted fare or is the audience emotionally ready to follow him into a more serious story.

“I never have a schedule when I go in story telling,” he said.

People are encouraged to relay the stories Arneach tells. Anecdotes are meant to be passed on, not hoarded in one’s memory, said Arneach, who is afraid that the art of storytelling will die with the older generations.

He tells a mixture of cultural and personal stories. Arneach chuckled as he recalled a visit to a 7-Eleven gas station. He had stopped at the convenience store earlier in the day.

He returned a second time, and the men working there asked his ethnicity. When they heard he was Native American, the men excitedly exclaimed ‘Wow, two in one day,’ not realizing that Arneach was the Native American from earlier.

His favorite story to tell, however, is Chief Joseph and the flight of the Nez Perce.

After attempting to resist efforts by U.S. soldiers to forcibly remove the tribe from its native lands in the 1800s, the band of Nez Perce fled to safety in Canada.

“I do not understand why that story affects me more than most,” Arneach said.

He requires about an hour to tell the story, but once he’s done, he cannot tell anymore.

“I am emotionally wiped out — both emotionally and physically,” Arneach said.


Hear him for yourself

Who: Lloyd Arneach

Where: Haywood County Public Library in Waynesville

When: 3 p.m., Jan. 16


Town residents in Haywood County will almost certainly see the cost of their garbage service go up this year when the county shuts down its central trash dump.

Starting in July, towns will have to haul their residents’ trash all the way out to the White Oak landfill, an added burden with no easy solution. The extra distance will mean more gas and more hours on the road for town trash trucks. Towns also could be forced to buy additional trucks and hire more garbage men as a result.

Towns in Haywood County will focus this month on how to deal with the closure of the county’s trash transfer station. The station serves as a mid-way drop-off site in Clyde where garbage trucks can ditch their loads. The county then piles that trash into a tractor-trailer and drives it the rest of the way to the landfill, a 30-minute one-way haul to White Oak near the Tennessee state line.

The county is closing the transfer station as a cost saving measure, forcing towns to pick up the trek to White Oak.  The change also applies to commercial garbage haulers and industries with large trash volumes. County residents, however, can continue to use one of the many convenience stations located throughout the county and will not have to haul their trash to White Oak.

Most towns are still analyzing the potential costs of their various options.

“We haven’t decided anything yet,” said Daryl Hannah, Waynesville’s Street Supervisor.

Hannah expects the town to make a decision in the next month, however.


Waynesville’s recycling dreams

Waynesville officials are hoping on recycling will reduce the amount of trash it has to haul to White Oak.

“Recycling will definitely help,” Hannah said. “It will not only help us but will help the landfill as well.”

More recycling means less trash that town trucks must haul to the landfill — which could partially offset the cost of additional trash trucks and garbage men while extending the life of the landfill.

About 60 percent of households in Waynesville recycle but only 5 percent of the garbage generated by the town is recycled.

While any increase in recycling will help, the town would need to reuse about half of its waste to negate the increased cost and workload of running its trash out to White Oak.

“I’m not sure we could recycle that much,” Galloway said.

One rationale for the low numbers — despite curbside recycling in town — is that people don’t know what is recyclable. What can be recycled by the county seemed to constantly change for a few years.

“Some people just got discouraged and quit all together,” Galloway said.

Other people simply did not want to buy the required blue-colored bags, which distinguish recyclables from refuse. Galloway said that Waynesville residents can also use clear bags for their recycled materials — as long as collectors can tell the difference between garbage and recyclables.

The town made an appeal to residents to ratchet up their recycling in the latest town newsletter but do not have a specific recycling campaign planned at this time.

“I just don’t know right now what more we can do (beyond public education efforts),” Galloway said.

The town is continuing to look at how other municipalities have successfully increased their recycling. Waynesville officials have talked to recycling companies, which would collect and promote recycling in town, and studied places that have upped their recycling numbers by charging residents a small fee.

It seems counterintuitive, but people will start recycling or increase their loads if they are automatically charged for the service, Galloway said, adding that he would rather not increase residents’ detritus fee.

Waynesville isn’t ruling out anything yet. It could end up being cheaper to haul town trash to a private landfill in Buncombe County. Or, Waynesville, Canton and Clyde have discussed operating their own transfer station, sharing the cost among themselves and private haulers rather than each making the long haul to White Oak individually.

But Galloway thinks running their own transfer station would likely be more trouble than its worth.

The Town of Waynesville will review recommendations on how it should handle its refuse at one of its town board meetings this month.

Although no town officials knew how much that would cost overall, Galloway said new garbage trucks cost about $180,000 a piece.

And, unless the landfill is upgraded, the towns will also be forking out a lot more truck repairs and maintenance. Currently, garbage trucks must navigate through piles of trash to dump their loads at the landfill. When a mild rain or snow makes the way impassable, trucks must be towed in and out of the landfill by bulldozers, which can damage the trucks.


Canton’s long haul

The Town of Canton is grappling with whether to privatize its town garbage service, outsourcing the town trash department to a private company. Town officials are currently analyzing their options, said Town Manager Al Matthews.

Canton is in a particular tough position because it is the farthest from the landfill — with an additional 40 miles round-trip — about an hour of time — added the journey of each trash truck.

The town currently takes at least three trips to the transfer station each day. That’s an extra three hours a day. The existing trash trucks and crews can’t fit those extra hours into their existing workweek and still make all 1,583 trash stops in town.

“We have some ideas what it will cost,” Matthews said.

On average, other towns pay $10 to $11 per stop, he said.

At those rates, Canton would have to shell out more than $180,000 a year for trash collection. The town’s trash budget is currently $185,000 a year. While privatizing trash pick-up wouldn’t necessarily save the town any money, it may avoid what will otherwise be an increase in costs when the town has to start hauling to White Oak.

Outsourcing garbage collection would require a one-time fee of about $125,000 to outfit each house in town with a standardized $80 garbage can.


Maggie Valley in the clear

Maggie Valley is the only town that does not have to worry about the transfer station closing thanks to the town’s geographic proximity to White Oak.

“It’s not much difference for us,” said Mike Mehaffey, Maggie Valley’s director of public works. “It’s not much farther to go to the landfill.”

The town contracts with Consolidated Waste Service to haul its trash and had already factored in the possibility that it might need to take the refuse a few extra miles. So, the flat fee rate Maggie Valley pays Consolidated Waste Service will remain the same — $7,529.05 per month.

The considerably smaller town of Clyde also contracts out its trash collection, but the change in dumping location could increase the contractor’s asking price. Compared to Maggie Valley, Clyde is considerably farther away from White Oak.

Prior to the county-level procedure change, Hanson Waste simply drove down the street to the county transfer station.

Town Administrator Joy Garland said Clyde officials are in the process of tabulating how much more the extra miles will cost and whether the town should put the job out for bid.

Clyde currently pays Hanson Waste $2,850 a month to dispose of its trash, Garland said. The number was based on an estimated 505 stops.


Why the trash talk?

Haywood County officials hope to save $800,000 a year by shutting down the county’s trash transfer station, a move that is two years in the making and will go into effect this July.

In addition to annual operating costs, the county would have faced a $1.8 million expense to replace the rusted and broken bailer, which compacts trash to fit as much as possible in a landfill-bound tractor-trailer.

The county commissioners argued that the transfer station only benefits those who have town trash pick-up or pay a private hauler. However, towns said that the closure creates a quandary for them and their residents. Town residents will still have to subsidize their trash disposal while county residents will not. Currently, both groups play $92 a year to use the landfill.

County residents who do not have trash pick up can drop their trash at one of 10 convenience centers, and the county hauls it the remainder of the way to White Oak. The county will continue to operate the centers at a cost of $680,000.


When Merrily Teasley returned for her second first day at the Balsam Mountain Inn in early September, a familiar couple was sitting on the entry room couch — a St. Louis duo who had visited the inn those years when she had owned it. They were there to herald her return.

“I thought, ‘Oh my. This feels good,’” Teasley said.

Teasley bought the historic inn on the courthouse steps in 1990, saving it from foreclosure and owned it until she retired in 2004. She has now resumed ownership after the former owners were forced to declare bankruptcy — and once again rescuing the inn on the courthouse steps.

She first spotted the 104-year-old inn, which sits off the Blue Ridge Parkway between Waynesville and Sylva, while night hiking with a friend. A full moon was shining down on the building.

“It looked magical,” Teasley said. “The bones of the building were just exquisite.”

Looking at the building in full daylight gave her a more realistic impression but it did not quell her attraction. The neglected bed and breakfast was not for sale at the time, recalled Teasley, who lived in Tennessee at the time.

But, when she found herself in the area a year later, Teasley found the inn up for sale. Although she was leaving the next day to go home, Teasley was able to pencil in a 6 a.m. meeting with the Realtor before she left.

“I had five hours to think about (buying) it driving over to Tennessee,” she said.

The 42,000 square-foot, 50-guest-room country inn is now one of seven structures she has restored.

“I love old buildings,” Teasley said.

Because the inn is a historic landmark, Teasley had to work within the parameters of the state historic preservation department guidelines. The structure features a mixture of original aspects, such as its molding, as well as accurate replicas from the early 1900s.

Although it has been moved from its original place, a small sink still sits on the wall in the hallway near the gift shop. It was once said that the water from the sink had healing properties.

Teasley’s particular affection for the Balsam Mountain Inn is apparent as she relayed her first time seeing the inn and how green growth creeps up the mountains as the trees and other plant life begin to leaf out in the spring.

“It’s the prettiest place on earth in the spring,” she said.



Teasley officially regained ownership of the inn last month and is busy returning the building to its former glory.

“The book I was reading when I came up here in September I haven’t finished,” said Teasley, who used to read several books a week.

Even her dog is the same as before: Grover is just older now. The white-and-brown shelter dog, Teasley said, didn’t take much time to re-acclimate to his surroundings. He immediately returned to his spot behind the check-in counter, Teasley said.

When she returned to the inn this past September, one of the first orders of business was to let former patrons know she had returned.

Teasley sent out 800 notes to previous guests, telling them that the inn is “going back to the way I used to run it,” she said. Of those, she estimated that she received 220 replies.

Although things are much the same this time around, Teasley herself is more experienced. That’s helped everyone associated with the inn.

“You know what to expect this time around,” said Tom Tiberi from his perch behind the check-in desk.

Tiberi helps Teasley keep the inn. He worked for the couple who owned it during the late 2000s until they were forced to declare bankruptcy. Former regular visitors to the inn had stopped patronizing it, saying the experience had declined without Teasley at the helm.

The staff is “willing to do whatever they can to make it work again,” Teasley said, adding that Tiberi had maintained the inn while it was between owners.

Now, Tiberi’s sister, Mary Kay Morrow, has joined him as head chef of the inn’s restaurant, where dishes are made almost solely from fresh produce. Even some of its fish is shipped regularly from Hawaii, Teasley said. It is caught, packaged and delivered to the inn within 48 hours.

While breakfast is included in the cost of the room, the inn is open to anyone for dinner. The restaurant can seat up to 164 guests in its main dining room and patio. Smaller rooms are available for private dining or meetings.


Stay the Night

The Balsam Mountain Inn will remain open throughout the winter months. Check-in time is after 3 p.m., and room rates range from $145 to $225 a night. The inn is located at 68 Seven Springs Drive in Balsam in the Haywood-Jackson county line.

The inn also has a restaurant, which is open to the public for dinner and breakfast daily, year-round. The dining room and patio can seat up to 164 guests, and smaller rooms are available for private dining or meetings. Musicians regularly perform at the restaurant.

855.456.9498 or


Similar to other parts of the U.S., counties in Western North Carolina have been plagued with high unemployment rates and little job growth.

“We have a lot still unemployed,” said Vicki Gribble, head of Haywood County’s Employment Security Commission.

There are about 600 people still receiving unemployment checks in Haywood County, and only 29 jobs listed for the county on the state Employment Security Commission’s website. The clearinghouse of jobs is by no means all-inclusive: employers choose whether to post their openings with the agency. But it is a relevant indicator of the sparse job market.

And, the number of people getting unemployment checks does not even factor in the amount of jobless individuals who have maxed out their unemployment benefits.

As of late last week, Macon, Jackson and Swain counties showed similar signs of slow growth. The counties had 26, 29 and 10 full-time job openings listed, respectively.

“This is about average,” said Dale West, manager of the Employment Security Commission in those three counties. Some additional temporary and seasonal positions are advertised in summer and spring though, she said.

The majority open at the moment are for registered nurses, social workers and school jobs.

When people get laid off, West encourages them to be re-trained to do something else.

“Some of their jobs might not come back as they were,” West said.


Employment resources

Each county in North Carolina has an Employment Security Commission, which lists open positions in the county as well as providing employment services. Most of the positions require some specialized training and are in the manufacturing or medical fields. Visit, and click on the Individual Services tab to search for jobs in your area or profession.


People once again lined up at the Biltmore Square Mall in Asheville last week, but this time they weren't waiting for hours to see Santa Claus. Instead, they were looking for a belated Christmas gift — a job.

The mall was the site of the largest job fair in the mountains, boasting more than 1,200 open positions. About 2,000 people showed up for the event, most of them members of the 10 percent of unemployed residents of North Carolina.

An older gentleman in a grey three-piece suit looked overwhelmed as he surveyed the seemingly never-ending rows of employers and possible employees that filled a vast majority of the mall.

Barbara Darby, who helped run the event put on by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Coalition, said she was not surprised by the turnout.

SEE ALSO: Stuck in a rut: Too few jobs coming on line 

"We are well aware of the large numbers looking for work," said Darby, a member of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.

People traveled from all around Western North Carolina — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Yancey, Madison, Polk — in search of a job or a better opportunity.

"There are really no county lines when it comes to finding jobs," said Mark Clasby, executive director of Haywood County's Economic Development Commission. "People will really commute where the jobs are."

About 15 percent of Haywood County residents travel outside the county to work, Clasby said, and at least 3,000 people commute into Haywood County for work.

The dismal job market has forced some unemployed individuals to move.

During the past year, Tonya Turner, 40, packed up her belongings and moved from Haywood County to a place in Mars Hill with her son. She is looking for "a new start," she said.

Turner has been jobless for a year and has applied for more than 20 jobs during that time. She is looking for a position as a receptionist or in medical billing and has experience as an administrative employee.

The Potential Hires

While many participants put a face and a name on WNC's more than 8 percent unemployment rate, a number of people with current jobs attended the fair looking for better benefits or for a second or third job to help pay their bills. Some proactively applied for positions, knowing they might soon receive a pink slip.

"It's time to find me something better," said Josh Grooms, a 23-year-old Canton resident.

Grooms works for a roofing company in Fletcher, near Asheville, but the benefits do not include health insurance — a costly bill to foot on one's own.

He was hopeful, however, that he would find a new job at the fair.

"They have plenty of decent jobs out here," Grooms said.

There was no age, social class or race that predominated the fair. Quickly glancing around, anyone could spot a teenager or young 20-something as well as people well into their 50s and 60s. The dress code ranged from jeans, T-shirts and boots to suits and ties.

Terry Gant — one of the baseball hat, T-shirt and jeans people — said he was looking for "anything."

The Haywood County resident is a former employee of Volvo Construction Equipment.

The Volvo plant in Asheville closed in March 2010 and shifted its operations to some of the company's other manufacturing facilities around the world.

The move left Gant and 227 other people without jobs. Gant, 46, said he hasn't worked since.

"I am just ready to get back to work," he said.

Gant has not been sitting on the sidelines waiting, however. He went back to community college and will soon have his associate's degree in industrial systems technology. The degree, plus his welding and electrical experience, will make Gant much more marketable and increase his chances of getting a job.

Like Gant, Darren and Melinda Sims, also causalities of the Volvo plant closure, decided to return to school. The out-of-work couple from Fairview won't graduate until next year but knowing the trouble they will likely face, wanted to get a head start on the job search. Darren, 41, wants to finds a job in industrial systems, and Melinda, 40, is looking for an administrative position.

A noble effort

On the outskirts of the melee at the mall were applicants such as Ken Childers from the Whittier area in Jackson County, who was filling out packets and reading information collected along the employment trail.

Childers worked at a steel mill for 27 years before starting his own trucking company in 2005 — just two years before the recession began. He was not able to sustain his business as diesel prices skyrocketed up to $4.75 a gallon in 2007.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit research group, marked the start of the recession as December 2007. And although the group declared the downturn over as of June 2009, the U.S. is still beset with high unemployment rates and fears of a double-dip recession.

"It's tough out there," said Childers, 55. "You almost have to have two jobs today."

Similar to many fair attendees, Childers is looking for anything he can get. He is even willing to move from his family's 100-year-old farm for a job.

Childers was somewhat pessimistic about the prospect of finding something at the fair, saying there's a "lot of people for them to choose from."

The Employers

Many area businesses are wary of the economy and are only adding one or two jobs at a time.

"I think businesses are very cautious," Clasby said. But, "The economy is slowly improving overall."

With such slow growth, the addition of 35 jobs at Sonoco Plastics in Waynesville is considered a boom. In the past, that number would have been considered low.

"That is kind of a big number all of the sudden," Clasby said. "That's not the norm unfortunately."

Sonoco, which makes plastic trays for frozen food dinners, was among the more than 80 employers at the job fair.

"We are excited to be growing," said Vanessa Crouch, human resources manager at the Waynesville plant. "It's an employer's market right now."

Because the country is still experiencing high rates of unemployment and few companies hiring, employers can be more selective with whom they hire.

Sonoco received 175 applications for seven recently filled positions, Crouch said. The company is hiring only a handful of new employees at a time so as not overload itself with trainees, she said.

Among the open positions are supervisory staff, quality technicians, maintenance personnel and packers.

Amidst the many Asheville area employees at the jobs fair was Mission Health, a healthcare provider with centers throughout WNC, including Angel Medical Center in Franklin.

As of the early afternoon, Gloria Perry, a hiring specialist with Mission Health, said "easily 300" people has already visited their table.

"It breaks your heart sometimes," said Perry, whose husband is actually unemployed. "Everybody's so desperate."

As of Monday, the Mission Hospital website listed 197 available full-time and part-time positions at its various facilities in Western North Carolina — a testament to the health care field as one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the economy. The medical group's biggest need is certified nursing assistants, Perry said, later adding that she had met many displaced or soon-to-be-certified nursing assistants at the fair.

October 2011 unemployment rates

Haywood County 8.6 percent

Jackson County 8 percent

Macon County 9.6 percent

Swain County 12 percent

Source: N.C. Employment Security Commission. October is the most recent month for which data is available.


Despite a double-digit rise in revenue this year, the Sequoyah National Golf Club in Cherokee is at least five more years away from breaking even — let alone turning a profit.

“The cost of maintaining a golf course is astronomical,” said Ryan Ott, director of golf at the club.

To be successful, a golf course must have a quality staff, facilities and well-groomed fairway — all of which come with a price. Few golf courses are stand-alone entities like Sequoyah. Most are run as part of a larger business model, with a country club, restaurant, condos or real estate development underwriting the cost of the course.

“Golf courses aren’t self-sufficient,” Ott said. “Most golf courses are built around some sort of housing.”

Despite this, however, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which owns the course, is determined to make it work.

“Our goal is to make this a break-even or at better a profitable center,” said Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band.

The club needs to be more aggressive in its public relations and advertising initiatives, he said.

“We’ve got to make it work,” Hicks said.

The $9 million golf course was built nearly three years ago as an amenity for tribal members as well as an additional draw for visitors to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. But, tribal leaders have grown weary of helping keep the golf course afloat.

Hicks and members of Tribal Council grilled Ott about the golf course’s budget for more than an hour at a tribal council meeting this month.

“This is dead weight expense to the tribe right now,” said Mike Parker, a council member from Wolftown.

Although Sequoyah’s revenue jumped 20 percent compared to the previous year, it is still in the red.

Tribal Council members agreed that the Eastern Band cannot continue to subsidize the golf course in the way that it has because it takes money away from other tribal programs.

The tribe will supplement the club’s budget with $1.2 million next year. Similar to how Harrah’s is operated, the tribe contracts with an outside management entity, Troon Golf, to run the golf course. Troon, which runs 220 golf courses worldwide, has three more years on its contract with the tribe.

Tribal council members questioned whether the budget for the golf course is too generous.

“I cannot support this budget right now due to fact that we’ve got all our tribal programs on cost containment,” said Tunney Crowe, a council member from Birdtown.

Crowe pointed to a particular line item for Sequoyah — a $30,000 budget for employee relations, which includes human resources expenses, travel and association dues — as an example. Other departments and organizations run by the tribe have little or no money in their employee relations line item, Crowe said.

Adam Wachacha, a tribal council member from Snowbird, said he agreed with Crowe and did not support the budget.

Tribal Council has become a “punching bag” for the golf course, he said, citing numerous complaints from the public about the money being pumped into the course.

“We get some positive, but we get a lot of negative out of it,” Wachacha said.

Kim Peone, the tribe’s chief finance officer, countered council’s budget concerns, saying the club has “bare-boned the budget” for next year. Though, she added, the budget could be trimmed more the following year.


Designing a destination

When the tribe ponied up $9 million to build the signature golf course three years ago, it was seen as an integral component in their long-range vision to become a resort destination. It complement a major expansion of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, which is adding amenities like a spa, luxury suites and upscale dining.

Meanwhile, the golf course fit the tribe’s mission of improving the quality of life for tribal members, with a concerted push to increase recreation outlets. The tribe has built a movie theater, skate park, walking trails and children’s water park.

The golf club’s debt from the construction was paid off this month, Ott said. However, he would not say how large an operational deficit the course is running nor what its total budget is.

Several tribal council members verbalized a desire that Harrah’s and Sequoyah work together to attract visitors. In a perfect world, people would stay at a hotel on the reservation, shop at its stores, gamble at its casino and play a round of golf. Cherokee would be a destination for vacationers, not a brief excursion.

Because of its higher prices, the club has had trouble attracting players.

Memberships are currently $200 with a $35 green fee —meaning members must pay $35 each time they tee off. Non-members are charged between $35 and $59 to play at Sequoyah.

This year, the club had 87 members, and it wants to increase that number to 150 members next year. The 63 new members would amount to about $30,000 in additional revenue, Ott said. The goal for 2012 is another 20 percent increase in revenue, he said.

Parker said he had hoped to hear more about how exactly the golf course can become profitable and how it can work with other area attractions such as the casino to bring visitors to Cherokee.

“It could a very viable component to the gaming side of it going forward,” Parker said.

Although the course’s bottom line may be a negative drain on tribal coffers, it could have intangible benefits that are hard to quantity — namely whether the new amenity increases the reservation’s overall profits by attracting cliental who wouldn’t otherwise come to gamble at the casino or support other area businesses.

The club began offering stay-and-play packages in June and booked 144 hotel rooms this year through the program. That number does not account for people who rented a room through the hotel and decided to golf while in Cherokee.

Next year, the club wants to increase that number to 300 hotel room nights. Sequoyah will book stay-and-play packages starting in May. Golf courses’ peak season is March through October.

“That’s a huge thing for us going into 2012,” Ott said.


Caddying for the customer

The club is currently working on several projects aimed at putting more tees in the grass, but Ott said he was not ready to disclose his plans, which are part of a five-year plan aimed at getting the club to break even.

Like the rest of Cherokee, Ott hopes to cash in on the possible deal between the tribe and the state. The agreement would allow Harrah’s casino to offer live table games in addition to the digital gaming now available.

“That’s the player that plays a lot of golf,” Ott said.

One item that the casino has but the golf course lacks is alcohol. Although Sequoyah is not technically on the reservation, it must follow the reservation’s alcohol ban. The golf course is a tribal operation, therefore it must follow tribal law.

However, with the addition of a tribally run ABC store and a new alcohol referendum up for vote, that could soon change. If tribe members vote to allow alcohol to be sold on the reservation this coming April, officials at the golf course would look into obtaining a liquor license.

Alcohol would “make a dramatic difference in the guest experience,” Ott said, adding that other courses in Western North Carolina already offer such services.

“Guest satisfaction is what keeps people coming back,” he said. “Our goal is to get them back year after year after year.”

Most of the club’s business comes from word-of-mouth or as a result of its search engine marketing campaign. Sequoyah receives 700 to 800 clicks to their site per month through the campaign, Ott said.

One way to build up the course’s reputation is to appeal to the youth market, Ott said.

“Teaching our youth the game of golf is what’s going to help grow the golf course in the community,” Ott said, calling junior golf programs a “big, big” focus.

Currently, the course hosts a summer camp and leagues from the local high schools practice there.

One major marketing snafu is people having trouble finding the golf course. The course is located on U.S. 441 and is marked by a single sign, which is easily missed among the surrounding greenery.

But because of a Jackson County ordinance, their signage options are limited.

Ott said he often hears about people getting lost on their way to clubhouse and has worked with GPS companies for nearly three years, attempting to fix their misleading directions.

The club has also created a mobile application for Apple products and Android phones that helps visitors find their way. The app includes other helpful features including visuals of each hole and its characteristics. An upcoming version, yet to be released, will also have a voice over describing each hole and a pro tip to help golfers stay at or under par.

In addition to the course off U.S. 441, Sequoyah operates a Callaway golf store in Harrah’s casino, which also advertises the golf course’s existence to hotel guests and gamblers.

“That has been a big, big push for us,” Ott said.

People can also use their Harrah’s reward points to play at the golf course.


Donations are already rolling in for the Waynesville Art Commission’s latest public art piece, a replica of the historic Smokies’ arch over Main Street, but the group is still looking for donors.

“I am real pleased with the response so far,” said Jan Griffin, head of the art commission.

The art commission has already sent out its first wave of fundraising letters to many of the established local families of Waynesville and plans to mail more letters in the coming weeks. The donations will help pay for a “Gateway to the Smokies” arch, which will be installed in the mini-park at the corner of Main and Depot streets. The original arch spanned Main Street itself for several decades, proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

So far, the commission has received about $2,000 in private donations toward a new Waynesville arch that will cost between $5,000 and $6,000.

“We are very pleased with that,” said Griffin. “The interest is very, very high. We’ve got an awful lot of really excited people about it.”

With one possible exception.

Town Manager Lee Galloway received a phone call from Bryson City Town Manager Lee Callicutt a couple of months ago regarding the wording on the arch. The piece will read “Gateway to the Smokies,” a slogan that Bryson City has used on its seal and police department badges for decades.

“He said that he had been directed to pass the concern of the Town of Bryson City on to me,” Galloway said.

Some in Bryson were less than thrilled that Waynesville’ arch would bear their catch phrase. Nothing else came of the concern.

The art commission has created and installed three permanent public art pieces around town during the past few years. The latest addition will be the archway, the second art piece referencing the Smokies in the mini-park on the corner across from the historic courthouse. Already in place is a metal railing with mountain peaks and salamanders.

The art commission premiered its artistic renderings of the arch earlier this fall.

Ed Kelley, who has headed the project, is now taking the sketches of the arch to an engineer who will act as a consultant, suggesting specifically how the arch will be made and what it will be made of.

“Everything has to be very specific,” Kelley said.

Once the parameters are set, the commission will take bids from several area artists and award the project to the lowest bidder.

People who wish to donate to help pay for the arch can write a check to the Town of Waynesville and drop it at the municipal building on Main Street. Donors should note that the money is for the art project in the memo line.


The coordinators of the annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle event have strapped Maggie Valley leaders a seemingly impossible ultimatum that could leave the town in straits no matter what they decide.

Rally in the Valley coordinators asked the town to bar any other motorcycle festivals from coming to town the week before or after its September rally in hopes of ensuring a bigger draw for its own event. If the town didn’t comply, Rally in the Valley would be no more.

The town dutifully responded by asking Maggie’s other big motorcycle event of the fall, Thunder in the Smokies, traditionally held the weekend before Rally in the Valley, to move dates.

But, Rally in the Valley then upped its demand. If Maggie wants to keep the Rally in the Valley, it can be the only motorcycle festival held there during the entire fall.

“The Town of Maggie Valley has always welcomed The Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association and their customers to Maggie Valley,” said Sandy Owens, a spokeswoman for the association that puts on Rally in the Valley, in an email. “We are hoping that we can come to an agreement with the town that will allow us to move forward with future successful fall rallies.”

Owens declined to comment further.

And with that, the town found itself between a rock and a hard place: it will lose Rally in the Valley if town officials do not meet the terms, but it will lose Thunder in the Smokies if it does.

The town has a long standing agreement with the company that hosts Thunder in the Smokies, which puts on a May rally in addition to its one in September.

Handlebar Corral Production has run Thunder in the Smokies in Maggie for nine years, and has said it will stop holding both its fall and spring event if the town sides with Rally in the Valley.

Chris Anthony, owner of Handlebar Corral Production, said it would be “practical” to pull out of both commitments — its fall and spring Thunder in the Smokies events.

However, should Rally in the Valley leave Maggie, Thunder in the Smokies has indicated that it would like the rally’s spot on the third weekend in September.


Fat lady yet to sing

Negotiations between Maggie Valley and the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association will not concluded “anytime soon,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone.

DeSimone said that the town has done its best to convince the Harley-Davidson Association to continue hosting its annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle event in Maggie. The town has offered to keep the 2012 event schedule status quo while proposing that the 2013 schedule could be negotiated.

“Balls in their court,” said DeSimone, who spoke at a public meeting on the issue last Wednesday.

The association is expected to make a decision in the next month, and it’s unclear whether it will choose to stop holding the motorcycle rally in Maggie if it doesn’t get exclusive booking or it will continue as it has for 12 years.

There is still a chance that the association will move forward with the event again this coming year, DeSimone said.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” he said.

Discussions at a recent public meeting lasted no more than 20 minutes and focused mostly on whether dates could be retroactively changed should the association pull its event from Maggie’s roster.

However, one resident spoke up about his concern about losing any motorcycle events.

“I want to impress upon you how much money the motorcycles bring to this battle,” said Maggie resident James Carver, who owns Maggie Valley Restaurant. “Save those motorcycles.”

Maggie Valley boosts four motorcycling events each year: Rally in the Valley in the fall, RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend in the summer and Thunder in the Smokies’ fall and spring events.

Each event brings a crowd into the valley — people who will spend their money at Maggie’s shops and sleep in its hotels. And, like many Western North Carolina towns, much of Maggie Valley’s income is based around tourism.

By hosting large-scale events at its fairgrounds, Maggie aims to attract more visitors and money to the town. The loss of one event such as Rally in the Valley would further wound Maggie’s already hurting economy.

“It (Rally in the Valley) brings a lot of business to the town,” said Audrey Hager, Maggie’s festival director. “Also, it’s a big fundraiser for the chamber so that hurts as well.”

The town is still trying to figure out how much impact each event has on the local economy.

The Harley-Davidson Association, which runs Rally in the Valley, has complained that attendance and revenues are down, Hager said. The association has lost “substantial money” during the last few years, she said.

“They cannot sustain the losses they’ve had the last three years,” Hager said.

Without competition from other motorcycle events, the rally would likely see a rise in attendees and profits.

As for Thunder in the Smokies, Anthony admitted that the money generated from running such an event is not always great but said a big factor in attendance is the weather.

“If the weather is good, our crowd is good,” Anthony said. “When I say good, not great.”

Anthony said he did not know how much the events impacted Maggie.

“We don’t really know what the total is that we’re bringing to Maggie Valley,” Anthony said.

Neither event organizer has disclosed their attendance numbers to the town. The numbers would help quantify each event’s impact on Maggie.


In a classic case of the student becoming the teacher, Brock Martin signed up for his first blacksmithing class at the Jackson County Green Energy Park and began apprenticing soon after.

That was four years ago.

Now, he has been teaching classes at the park for a little more than year.

“I was always interested in it,” Martin said.

However, he did not quite know how to get started or if anyone really lived as a blacksmith anymore. After a high school teacher introduced him to a group of medieval re-enactors, he began seeking out more information about the art.

Martin, 23, blacksmiths as often as he can, teaching classes or creating custom pieces for sale. A resident of Hickory, near Asheville, he makes maille jewelry and armor, among other things.

Creating something from metal can be a long process.

Students start with a metal rod, which they regularly heat to up to 2,300˚F.

The progression of the heat turns the metal from yellow to dark brown to blue to black to red.

“Once it gets red, you can really start getting it to do what you want it to do,” said Martin.

Then, they begin working the metal with all variety of hammers — ones with flat, square heads, ones with spherical heads and ones with wedges heads. Each makes a different impression on the metal, works it in a different way and can be used to make a myriad of objects. It all hinges on the angle of the metal versus the angle of the hammer’s blow.

“It’s a misconception that you have to be strong,” Martin said.

Depending on the project, shaping and perfecting an inch-long piece of metal can take more than an hour. The rod must be reheated to make it more malleable, but students must watch that thinner portions don’t get too hot. Steel begins to melt at 2,500˚F.

To temper the heat, they must immerse the thin and more easily warmed part of the rod in water so they can continue to heat thicker portions of it.

Beginning blacksmithing classes are offered about once a month at the Jackson County Green Energy Park. The park is part of a county government initiative to use the old Dillsboro landfill gases as well as promote sustainability and various educational opportunities.

The beginner classes are “very gradual” compared to the intermediate level, Martin said.

Students move from station to station, trying to master individual skills before they tackle the end goal of actually creating something.

The class sizes are generally small, making them more hands on. At a recent intermediate class, three people independently worked on projects as Martin moved from workstation to workstation, offering help and tips.

Although the class was only their first or second attempt, the three burgeoning blacksmiths have all spent time working with their hands.

Todd Sagy, 48, diligently worked on a metal toilet paper holder. As a welder, metal work is second nature, but blacksmith permits more creativity.

Blacksmithing allows him to “take something that’s nothing and make something out of it,” Sagy said.

There is a fine line between working the metal too much and not enough, said Jesse Johnson, a 22-year-old construction worker.

Johnson spent much of his time twisting the small steel rods, with which he worked, to craft a necklace holder for his girl friend’s birthday.

“It’s not that bad, really, if you are used to working with tools,” Johnson said. “Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.”

After taking his first class, Jesse got his twin brother Josh to join in as well. Both said they had been interested in learning to blacksmith for a while but actually decided to take a class after their mother took a glassblowing class at the energy park.


The common phrase heard among kayakers daring the Nantahala’s new wave: “It’s getting there.”

The Wave in the Nantahala Gorge received an overall lukewarm response from paddlers during a formal unveiling Friday. Most kayakers said they liked the apparatus, which creates waves and holes for doing tricks and stunts, but definitely think it could improve.

“Every time they tweak it, it keeps getting continually better,” said Jared Smith, a 29-year-old who has been kayaking for three years. “They still got a little bit of work to do before it’s world class, but it’s definitely getting there.”

The Wave needs to be “fluffier and smoother,” he said, adding that the experts need to adjust dams on either side of the wave or adjust how the water flows from upstream.

“When they get it done, it’s going to be a lot more user friendly to intermediate paddlers,” Smith said, adding that once they perfect The Wave he will be on the Nantahala all the time. Though, he said, it is hard to imagine kayaking more than he already does.

Daniel Dutton, 34, said his first experience on the new wave was “OK” compared to what he expected. The debut of the new wave on the Nantahala has been highly anticipated for months.

In the past, the water sport enthusiasts created waves and holes by stacking up rocks underwater by hand. These different features set the stage for freestyle kayaking — a paddling sport characterized by technical tricks and highly stylized moves such as spins, turns, cartwheels and flips.

Dutton is one of the many kayakers who used to help move rocks in the riverbed to create the wave near the Nantahala Outdoors Center before the new mechanical element was installed at a cost of $300,000, mostly paid for with a Golden Leaf Foundation Grant.

“It’s progress,” said Dutton, who has kayaked for nearly 20 years. “It needs to be tuned a little bit more. Right at this time, it’s a really short and fast in the middle.”

Pro paddlers descended on the river last week to test it out and offer their feedback. That feedback is exactly what organizers were looking for.

The Wave will serve as the site of two world championships in the next two years — the 2012 World Cup of Freestyle Kayaking and the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championship. Honing The Wave is a top priority before the events.

“This thing is going to be fantastic, but it’s going to take some time,” said Lee Leibfarth, head of the world’s organizing committee and NOC’s chief operating officer.

They will not tune The Wave again for another couple of weeks as they process the paddlers’ input and wait for lower water levels. The tuning will involve, among other things, changing the configuration of concrete blocks — a sort of cross between giant stairsteps and piano keys bolted to the main foundation of The Wave, Leibfarth said.

Although it’s still a work in progress, The Wave is getting closer and closer to professional quality.

“From all the steps we’ve gone through in the last month, this is the best we’ve had so far,” Dutton said.

The team of experts from McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, who masterminded the contraption’s creation, and area water sport enthusiasts will keep working on The Wave this week, he said, guaranteeing that they will get it to produce the effects that kayakers want.

“These guys don’t quit. They’ve all been very dedicated to it. So yeah, they won’t stop until we’re real happy,” Dutton said.

Several kayakers complained that they hit The Wave’s concrete ledge when attempting to perform tricks, making it more difficult for freestyle kayakers to use it for its intended purpose.

“It seems like if you plug to do a loop … I tend to hit the bottom level of concrete blocks,” said Rowan Staurt.

At 15, Staurt was by far the youngest kayaker testing The Wave Friday but not the least experienced. Stuart, whose parents kayaked, began liking the sport about five years ago.

“It’s hard not to, growing up around here,” Stuart said.

She was one of the few who said she currently preferred the old man-made wave.

“I don’t love it,” Stuart said. “I think it’s kind of hard to stay in it, and it’s not retentive.”

Stuart said the old wave allowed kayakers to stay in it longer and was easier to learn tricks on. She also suggested that the makers add some wing dams to the eddies, where people wait for their turn to show their chops, so that the kayakers are not hitting each other.

A positive of the new wave, however, is that high water will not affect it. With the old hand-built wave, the force of the water during high flows would shift the rocks, forcing them to start the process of making a wave again. Once The Wave is adjusted, it will stay in place.

Ryan Baudrand, 37, said Friday’s version of The Wave is a “big improvement from what it was on day one.”

The first day kayakers were allowed to test the waters, the river was sticky, meaning it was easy to ride for a longer period of time, but it was also aggressive. By Friday, The Wave was “more friendly” but had a smaller pocket for performing tricks, said Baudrand, who works for Endless River Adventures and has ridden on the Nantahala for 14 years.

Baudrand said he would like to see a bigger eddy, or waiting wing for riders, and more wave.

“I think probably they will have to get a little bit more water into it, to widen it — maybe widen the actual pocket of the hole,” Baudrand said.

Friday’s wave took on more of a smiley face shape and forced kayakers into one spot rather than giving them several places to perform their tricks.

“This is the only way it’s going to get better is people coming out here, practicing, trying, giving their input,” Baudrand said.


After years of talk and little action, Swain County is moving forward with a long-held dream to turn its iconic, domed courthouse into a cultural history museum and visitors center.

The architectural centerpiece of town, the old courthouse has been mostly empty for three decades since court functions moved out in the 1929s, aside from housing a senior center that has since relocated.

“We’ve had this vision for a long time,” said Ken Mills, executive director of economic development.

The county has seriously discussed such a transformation since 2009, though the idea was tossed around for years prior to that. In that time, Mills has not heard a derogatory comment about the county’s plans.

“We have never had anyone say it was a bad project, a useless project,” Mills said.

The cost of renovations is estimated at $750,000. But, by using some of its own building and maintenance employees to do some of the work, the county hopes to reduce the overall price tag, Mills said.

The county has taken out a $600,000 loan for the project. Another $100,000 is being kicked in by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, which will run a bookstore in the museum. The non-profit functions as a support arm for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, operating bookstores inside the park selling everything from guidebooks and maps to souvenirs.

The Swain County Chamber of Commerce will move at least part of its visitor center operations into the old courthouse. The chamber is not sure yet how much of its operations will move into the refinished courthouse, said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County chamber.

“We support this project. We very much look forward to this building being renovated,” she added.

Employees from the chamber and the Great Smoky Mountains Association will help man the center.

Several years ago, the county undertook a three-year planning process to identify what stories should be highlighted in such a museum. In addition to the natural and cultural heritage of Swain County, the museum will include the history of the national park, a major drawing card for tourists traveling to the region.

“The park’s history is our history,” Mills said.

The county has also reached out to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to see if they would be interested in being included in the museum exhibits.

The old building, located at the corner of Everett and Main streets, will also offer people access to public restrooms, which could provide crucial for downtown event attendees throughout the year.


The blueprints

Most of the estimated project cost will pay for renovating the second floor, which needs considerably more attention than the first floor.

The entrance level was redone in the 1980s and features up-to-date fixtures and molding. One of the few original parts of the building, which was erected in the 1920s, is its outward appearance.

“We’re not really sure how much we will be able to restore,” Mills said. “But, most of the things we have saved we’re going to try to keep and somehow put back in here.”

For example, the county saved the original seating from the upstairs courtroom but was unable to restore stamped tiles that decorated the ceiling.

In simply preparing for the renovation, county workers have uncovered several hidden elements of the old courthouse. At some point in its long history, the county decided to drop the ceiling level in the courtroom, concealing a number of small windows at the top of the walls.

In the past, unfortunate souls who found themselves face-to-face with the county judge could look up, through a window in the ceiling to a still functioning bell that crowns the old courthouse. Somewhere along the way, however, the windowpanes were painted white, depriving people of the view.

The main visible changes to the first floor will include new furniture and a long wooden counter where someone will greet and aid visitors, and vignettes painted on the walls, similar to those at the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park Oconaluftee Visitors Center at the park entrance outside Cherokee.

The upstairs portion, which will serve as the museum, is quite a different story. With some missing windows, no ceiling beyond wooden beams and a concrete floor that failed the pounds-per-square-inch test, the second floor will need the most renovation.

“We are going to end up redoing this whole upstairs,” Mills said.

The upper level once served as the courtroom and could in the future include artifacts such as the shell of a log cabin, showing how the people of Swain County once lived.

Several county residents have already offered to display their family artifacts in the museum.

Once construction begins, the renovations will take two years.

“We are hoping to get started soon,” Mills said.

Mills said the new visitor center and museum will hopefully draw more people, or rather potential customers, to the town.

In addition to renovating the building, the county plans to construct a parking lot behind the building that could be accessed via Main Street. Currently, the gravel-covered lot sits empty.

Mills said he did not know how much the lot would cost, but it has not been figured into the estimated renovation costs.

The county is also looking into put a small park next to the lot, where people can just sit or have lunch.

“We are hoping to have nice green space out there,” Mills said.


Counties and towns in the region are sparring over a highway sign that points the way to Cherokee, each hoping to capture a share of the 3.5 million annual visitors en route to the tribe’s casino by bringing that traffic past their own doorstep.

There are two routes to Cherokee — something any tourist could figure out using the Internet or an in-car GPS unit. However, only one route has a highway directional sign pointing the way to Cherokee, namely the route through Maggie Valley.

Jackson County officials are urging the North Carolina Department of Transportation to post a second highway sign letting travelers know they don’t have to get off the highway and head through Maggie but can continue on past Waynesville and Sylva to reach Cherokee as well.

Jackson sees itself as the big winner from such a sign but has appealed to Waynesville to join it in its request.

“We thought Waynesville might also be the beneficiary of that (sign),” said Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten.

Currently, Cherokee-bound tourists coming off Interstate 40 are funneled toward Maggie on U.S. 19 just before they get to Waynesville.

Waynesville leaders discussed the issue at their town board meeting last week but postponed a decision until next year.

Neither Town Manager Lee Galloway nor Mayor Gavin Brown had spoken with officials in Maggie Valley about their take on the matter. However, at least one board member is against siding with Jackson County over Maggie Valley.

“I don’t feel like we should go against our own,” said board member Gary Caldwell.

As for Maggie Valley, officials said they had not heard about or had only heard tell of the possible signage.

Tim Barth, Maggie Valley’s town manager, said he was not aware that Jackson County had reached out to Waynesville looking for support. However, he said he would oppose such a sign.

“We would prefer that they come through Maggie Valley,” Barth said.

If the sign was erected, Maggie Valley would likely see fewer people driving down its main drag – which could further harm tourist businesses that are already struggling.

“Obviously, less people would be coming through the town then, and we depend on people coming through the town,” Barth said.

People traveling to Cherokee sometimes stop at restaurants or stores along the way, which is the main reason why Jackson County wants the sign — to cash in on some of those travelers’ checks.

“Our whole goal was to increase traffic (to the county),” Wooten said.


Which way?

For leaders in Cherokee and within the Eastern Band, having two routes to the reservation is about keeping customers happy.

“It’s important for our customers to have a choice,” said Robert Jumper, the tribe’s travel and tourism manager. “We want people to be able to come, in their most comfortable way, to Cherokee.”

If visitors are not happy with a particular route, they might not come back, said Jumper, who expressed support for the sign. He added that the additional route, which runs past Waynesville, would benefit both Haywood and Jackson counties.

When people call the Cherokee visitor center, they are directed through Maggie Valley or Jackson County based on their driving preferences.

Although vehicles traverse fewer road miles on the route through Maggie Valley, the low speed limits and a windy, two-lane road makes the scenic drive longer than expected, including a rather lengthy dead zone for cell phone users.

“The most direct route, of course, is through Maggie,” said Teresa Smith, head of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Obviously, it’s a straight shot (to Cherokee), and a majority of our businesses are on this main thoroughfare.”

However, the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway through Jackson County is generally the quickest route, a divided-highway with a faster flow of traffic, but drivers miss out on the views when going over Soco Gap in Maggie.

Jackson County has applied for a similar sign in the past, but nothing happened.

While the DOT has indicated that it would be possible to place a second sign near the existing one at Exit 103 on the by-pass, it is still unknown whether it will actually happen, Wooten said.

Hoping to sway the transportation department, the county has applied to others for support. Representatives from Cherokee and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have signed their names to letters that indicate their support for the new sign.

“We feel that giving the motoring public an additional option of four-lane travel will provide better flow of traffic and enhance safety on both routes to Cherokee,” reads the letter signed by Jumper; Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band; Jason Lambert, the tribe’s executive director of economic development; and Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.

The letter also states that the route through Jackson County provides drivers with a “direct, unimpeded” road to Cherokee.

A similar letter written by Jack Debnam, Chairman of the Jackson County commission, states that the expressway route offers an alternative that is easy for any type of vehicle to travel, during any type of weather.

Smith admitted that ice and snow have made the trip over Soco Gap hazardous on occasion but said that the road is nowhere near impassable.

“Vehicles have traveled it for years,” Smith said. “It’s not like it’s impossible. It’s not like it’s dangerous.”

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, declined to comment on the topic until she could meet with other members of the tourism board.


An alternative energy project to convert methane landfill gas into electricity will cost Haywood County a little extra after a wrench was thrown into the plans.

The county will have to fork over an additional $45,000 and bring in a new contractor to finish the job after the original company hired to do the work was unable to complete it.

In 2010, Haywood County embarked on a three-phase $1.2 million project to use methane gas emanating from the old Francis Farm Landfill near Waynesville.

KSD Enterprise was contracted in September 2011 to build a generator and its associated parts to convert the gas into electricity, which would then be sold on the power grid. However, it became evident that the company had not factored an integral part of the project — a system to actually connect the generator with the utility lines — into its bid and did not plan to supply it. Without it, the heating system would not work.

KSD Enterprise was the sole bidder on the contract and agreed to complete the job for about $45,600. Haywood County leaders were pleasantly surprised by the bid, which was lower than anticipated. As a result of a low bid to start with, the project will still come in below budget even with the extra cost for the missing component.

“They (KSD) are really the only provider who could meet our timeline,” said Mark Cathey, senior project manager with McGill Associates, which is overseeing the venture.

Now, the county must shell out an additional $45,750 to another company to manufacture and install the interconnector. The Haywood County Board of Commissioners approved a contract for the missing link with the Wake Forest-based PowerSecure Inc. at its Monday meeting.

The commissioners reduced the scope of KSD Enterprises’ contract to exclude the interconnector.

The county contends the original contract with KSD Enterprises stipulated that they would provide the interconnector. It could press the company to make good on providing the component, but such action would mean costly delays.

“We do not have the time frame to do that,” Cathey said.

The county must complete the project by April 15 in order to receive a $1 million grant from the N.C. State Energy Office — thus the cost of a lawsuit would severely outweigh the benefits.

The county does not want to jeopardize a $1 million grant to haggle about $45,000, said David Francis, a Haywood County tax administrator and solid waste committee member.

With the $1 million in state funds, the county will need only to chip in the remaining $200,000.

When the county put the project out to bid, it received only one response. It was somewhat pigeonholed by the terms of the grant and the state utility commission’s restrictions on generator sizes. Otherwise, the county might have gotten a greater response, Cathey said.


Methane power

The county kicked off the more than yearlong alternative energy project with the drilling of 21 gas extraction wells. The wells direct and funnel the flow of the gas, which would otherwise drift horizontally in the ground before rising into the air.

Even without the considerable funding boost from the state, the county would have been required by the Environmental Protection Agency to somehow dissipate or otherwise use the gas. Methane, a byproduct of decomposing trash, is a volatile pollutant that contributes to global warming.

Once the project is complete, methane will power a generator to make electricity. The county plans to sell the power to Haywood Electric Membership Corporation, which serves 25,000 customers in the Haywood area.

The county still doesn’t know how much gas the now-closed landfill will actually produce and therefore, don’t know how much money they will make on the sale of the resulting electricity to HEMC.

“We probably won’t know for a year because the landfill is so wet,” Francis said. Once the land dries, it will release the methane more quickly, he said, adding that the county should be able to profit off of the gas for 15 years.


In other news

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners met for two hours Monday to discuss and approve a myriad of county business items. Among them are:

• The county commissioners approved a resolution allowing the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department to enter into mutual aid agreements with other town and county law enforcement agencies. The agreements will set guidelines for how and when these agencies will cross jurisdictional lines to fight crime.

• A public hearing regarding the revised Flood Hazard Development Ordinance, new flood maps and a flood insurance study at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 prior to the commissioner meeting.

• The county will hire three full-time night custodians, a cost of about $94,000, to clean the new county building, formerly the old Walmart.

• The Haywood County Animal Welfare Association will receive $32,000 during the coming year from the N.C. State Spay/Neuter Program. The association is a nonprofit that provides low or no-cost spay and neuter services for low-income pet owners.

• Haywood County will get $459,635 from selling the property occupied by Smoky Mountain Mental Health Center to the agency. The mental health agency had leased two buildings on 1.79 acres of county-owned land for years but will now purchase it.


Haywood County has a lower infant mortality rate than the state as a whole, according to a report given at last week’s county commission meeting.

The Haywood County Health Department updated the commissioners on the county’s child and infant deaths as well as the prevention work of its Child Fatality Prevention Team.

The county infant mortality rate is 3.4 percent, compared to the state’s rating of 7.9. The rate is calculated using the number of infant deaths and births in a given area.

Lisa Davis, head of the county’s fatality prevention team, said she believes collaborations between agencies with a similar goal — healthy births — are integral to decreasing the number of deaths.

“That collaboration is paramount to continuity of services to families,” she said.

Early prenatal care, the availability of Medicare to pregnant women, and the quality pediatric care also increase the likelihood that an infant will be healthy when it’s born.

Also possibly contributing to Haywood’s lower infant mortality, however, is that women with high risk pregnancies or complications detected in utero give birth at Mission Hospital in Asheville, which is equipped with the region’s only neo-natal intensive care unit.

To help avert such tragedies as infant and child death, the state mandated in 1995 that each county have a Child Fatality Prevention Team, which investigates the death of any child in the county and educates people on child safety. The team receives only $500 a year — enough to cover lunch during meetings for its 18 members.

“We see it as a community responsibility to prevent child fatalities,” said Lisa Davis, who has headed Haywood County’s prevention team for six years.

The team not only teaches parents to lay infants on their backs to sleep but also passes out flyers to students leaving Tuscola High School about avoiding cell phone use while driving.

New drivers are “inexperienced” and more likely to get into an accident, Davis said.

Research has shown that going over the speed limit and talking or texting on a cell phone while driving increases that likely of having an accident.

The information collected and recommendations made by these teams have resulted in a number of state safety laws including: penalties for landlords who don’t install smoke detectors in their rentals; the Child Bicycle Safety Act; and a statute making it illegal for anyone under 18 to drive while using their cell phone.

Information collected by individual counties gives the state health department a better understanding why children are dying and how deaths might be prevented.

A child is considered anyone under the age of 18.

The team reviews whatever records are available regarding a child’s death. All the information is confidential, and the team does not contact the deceased’s parents. Rather, they see if a government agency or health care provider could have done something more to stop the death.

“We try to look at the records to determine if there were any services or deficiency in services that might have prevented that child’s death,” Davis said.

Last year, the Child Fatality Prevention Team met three times to review the deaths of five children. Two adolescents died after sustaining injuries in car accidents; one infant died from a birth defect; and one child and one infant died due to an illness.

Davis said she is not aware of any child fatalities in Haywood County this year.

“We are so blessed,” she added.


Infant Mortality Rate by County in 2009

• Haywood County: 3.4 percent

• Jackson County: 8.9 percent

• Macon County: 8.6 percent

• Swain County: N/A

* Babies are not delivered at the Swain County Hospital.


Child Deaths by County in 2009

• Haywood County: 3

• Jackson County: 4

• Macon County: 0

• Swain County: 0


After several years without a full-time promoter, the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce plans to bring back an executive director to help the valley rebound from a recession fraught with business closures.

“We need that presence,” said Teresa Smith, president of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “There has been a little bit of a loss with not having someone work there full-time.”

Four years ago, former chamber director Lynn Collins left to become the executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. After her departure, the Maggie Valley chamber chose to save money by not hiring a replacement.

“We decided to try to act without an executive director to try to put some money in the bank,” Smith said.

Instead, Smith took on some of the directorial duties until the chamber finances turned around.

“We are operating now on a positive note,” Smith said.

The chamber will not have to foot the entire salary for the new director on its own, however. The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority last month approved a $15,000 allocation to the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce to cover part of the new director’s salary.

The committee charged with filling the director position has not yet decided on a salary for the position, said Jan Pressley, head of the search committee. The remainder of the salary cost will come out of the chamber’s general budget.

The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce has a $150,000 budget this year — a sharp decline from the $300,000 budget it had in 2007. The decrease is due in part to a drop in chamber membership among businesses.

This year, the chamber has about 170 members, down from 220 members five years ago. The decline in membership is due largely to the economy.

“A lot of the businesses have gone out of business,” said Jena Sowers, the visitor’s center manager for the Maggie Valley Chamber.

Restaurants, attractions and performance venues have closed their doors. And, of course, a large number of Realtors and contractors have left the housing trade, Sowers said.

“It was sad because when we would get the letters from them dropping out, they said if they ever go back in business they would rejoin,” Sowers said.

The loss of members made it difficult to afford the executive director salary — even though the recession was perhaps the time when the business community in Maggie needed a full-time leader the most.

The chamber has also been hurting from a loss of funding from the tourism authority, which it once relied on heavily.

The tourism authority subsidized basic operations and overhead of the chamber and visitor center to the tune of $64,000 a year, compared to only $29,000 a year now.

That number is inching back up with the recently-approved $15,000 earmark from the tourism authority to help cover the director’s salary. The funding will come out of a special pot of room tax dollars designated for tourism promotion in Maggie Valley.


The face of Maggie businesses

The chamber has received seven applications for the executive director position, and the search committee expects to hire someone in January.

The director will oversee marketing, the daily business of the visitor’s center, work with other entities, including town officials and the lodging association, and be present at various meetings.

Because she also runs the Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center, Smith could only devote some of her time to the chamber whereas a full-time director can focus all of his or her energy on the job.

“I think the biggest obstacle that I had was being able to be in attendance at a lot of meetings,” Smith said. “I think that just having that presence out there … will be an advantage.”

Like many small towns in the U.S., Maggie Valley has battled business closures, high unemployment and low economic growth during the past several years.

Businesses closed, leaving fewer chamber members and less dues money, which in turn prevented the chamber from hiring a director to help fix those very issues.

The lack of a chamber director also forced the town to pick up some of the slack by hiring a festival coordinator to continue to bring events to Maggie Valley.

Chamber of Commerce members seem to agree that a full-time director could only help Maggie Valley.

“It can’t hurt,” said Dan Mitchell, owner of Laurel Park Inn.

During the past several years, with the closure of the amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky and Soco Gardens Zoo, Maggie Valley has “sort of died,” Mitchell said.

Laurel Park Inn usually closes during the winter but will remain open after a bad business year, he said.

It will take collaboration between business owners to revive Maggie Valley, Mitchell said.

“When you bring (a customer) in, you’re helping the valley,” he said.

Because her business Nutmeg Bakery is relatively new to the area, Brenda Schwartz said she is not sure what the chamber has done in the past but wants to see Maggie Valley expand beyond motorcycle rallies.

“I’d like to see more business development,” Schwartz said. “It needs to be a diverse group.”

Since October last year, at least nine new businesses moved to Maggie Valley. Four qualify as bars. But the new ventures also included a hair salon, an antique shop and grocery store.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House, has seen several directors come and go during her business’ more than 40 years.

“I do think we need a director,” O’Keefe said. “I would want them to be out in the community.”

The director should be a regular face around town and in businesses, especially those that are currently struggling, and should hold marketing seminars for its members, she said. Maggie Valley businesses need to work on cultivating a repeat customer base — something that has helped her business through slow times.

“Give people what they want, and they will come,” she said.

The director should also reach out to businesses that are not chamber members, or rather possible future members, and paint a rosier picture of Maggie Valley’s future, O’Keefe said.


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