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Bestselling author Cecil Murphey will sign books from 2 to 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, at Dalton’s Christian Bookstore in Waynesville.

Murphey has authored or co-authored 112 published books in more than 30 years.

The book he wrote with Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, has been on the New York Times bestseller list since October 2006 and has sold more than four million copies.

Gifted Hands, written with Dr. Ben Carson, premiered in a TNT movie starting Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr.

Murphey also published When Someone You Love Has Cancer: Comfort and Encouragement for Caregivers and Loved Ones, When God Turned Off the Lights and Christmas Miracles.

828.452.1003.

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Students can soon receive instruction in banjo, fiddle, or guitar in the traditional way mountain music has been taught for generations.

Registration for the Junior Appalachian Musician program will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at Central Elementary School in Waynesville. JAM instructors will be on hand to assist beginning students with instrument selection and rental.

Classes are held each Tuesday afternoon from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Central Elementary School, starting Tuesday, Sept. 28. A string band class is offered to advanced students by instructor referral only.

Beginning its eleventh year in Haywood County, the JAM program is designed for children in 4th grade and older. All students in Haywood County are eligible for the JAM program, but students in adjoining counties may participate on a space available basis.

New this year is a JAM blog and special performance opportunities for students. In spring 2011, Haywood County’s JAM program will host a regional JAM camp where instructors and students from eleven other programs will converge on our county to learn from one another. In May, the year will come to a close with a JAM picnic and performances for family and friends.

$90 per child for the school year. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.452.0593. www.haywoodarts.org.

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Dr. Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.

After 55 years in the business, Stanley’s still one of the best banjo pickers and tenor singers in bluegrass. As a recording artist, he has performed on more than 170 albums, tapes, and CDs. He’s also written many songs himself and with his brother, the late Carter Stanley.  

In addition to the many honors Ralph has received as a bluegrass musician — including membership on the Grand Ole Opry — he is also active in his local community.

Fans can make it a bluegrass weekend and stay for the Del McCoury Band at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18 at the Center.

$15 for Stanley. $15 to $20 for Del McCoury Band.

Buy tickets at 1028 Georgia Road in Franklin, Dalton’s Bookstore in Franklin and Waynesville, GreatMountainMusic.com or 866.273.4615.

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The Pulitzer Prize winning drama, “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley will return to Haywood Arts Regional Theatre for three final performances, Sept. 17, 18 and 19. The play will run at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, and Saturday, Sept. 18, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19.

“Doubt” tells the story of a Catholic priest accused of improper behavior by a nun. The play presents the dilemma of who to believe and the consequences of that verdict. The show won the Tony Award for Best Play and was made into a major film. HART’s production is being directed by Suzanne Tinsley.

“Doubt” was one of HART’s biggest hits during its winter Studio Season. The production sold out its run and featured performances by many of the area’s favorite actors, including Barbara Bates Smith, Art O’Neil, Julie Kinter and Becky Stone.

$8 adult, $5 student. 828.456.6322.

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Several local and regional choirs, including the Womansong Community Chorus of Asheville, the Waynesville Middle School Chorus, and the Carolina Concert Choir of Hendersonville, will perform at the Lake Junaluska Peace Conference.

Womansong will perform at 7 p.m. during the Sunday, Sept. 19, evening session. This community chorus, directed by Debbie Nordeen and assistant director, Althea Gonzalez, is known for quality performances, high energy and creativity, and for assistance to women in need.

The Waynesville Middle School Chorus and the Carolina Concert Choir of Hendersonville will perform at 7 p.m. during the evening session on Monday, Sept. 20.

Directed by Dr. Janna Brendell and accompanied by Mary Neill Rogers, the Waynesville Middle School Chorus of 6th, 7th and 8th graders has a long history of excellence. During its Monday performance, approximately seventy students will showcase a delightful variety of vocal talents.

The Carolina Concert Choir of Hendersonville, under the direction of Bradford Gee, began in 1979 as a madrigal group of ten to twelve vocalists. The current group of forty performs classical and contemporary pieces and has, by invitation, performed in the prestigious Spoleto Festival.

The Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, “Peace for the World’s Children,” will feature children’s activist Dr. Marian Wright Edelman, Dr. Jeni Stepanek, Bishop Kenneth Carder, and Dr. Luther Smith. Stepanek will meet with children, youth, and adults on Sept. 18 and 19. Bishop Carder will speak on Sept. 19, Dr. Edelman on Sept. 20, and Dr. Luther Smith on Sept. 21.

www.lakejunaluska.com/peace or 828.454.6656.

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“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” will be performed on Thursday, Sept. 23, as a benefit for Haywood Animal Welfare Association.

Proceeds will help HAWA continue to provide very low-cost spay/neuter surgery for Haywood County pets. So far this year, HAWA is on target to meet its challenge goal of 2,010 surgeries. More than 38 percent of them are fully subsidized, costing HAWA $35 for male cats and $50 for all other cats and dogs. HAWA’s regular price is $30 per pet, which costs HAWA $20 for most animals.

The benefit is sponsored by the Haywood Regional Arts Theater through gifts from Nadean McArthur, Ron Frendreis and Nila Wilber.  

$35 ($20 for college students and children under 12). Ticket includes heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine and soft drinks

828.452.1329, 828.400.6768 or visit the HAWA office 145 Wall St. from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at the Dog House in Waynesville and starting Sept. 20, at the HART Box Office.

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Eldred Spell, professor of flute at Western Carolina University, will present a recital at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, as part of the School of Music’s Catamount Concert Series for 2010-11.

The free performance will be held in the recital hall of WCU’s Coulter Building.

Accompanied by pianist Andrew Adams, Spell will perform “Sonata Arpeggione” by Franz Schubert, “Hungarian Peasant Dance Suite” by Bela Bartok and “Sonata” by Paul Basler.

The seldom-heard Schubert piece was written for the arpeggione, an unusual cross between guitar and cello that was briefly popular in the early 19th century.  

Bartok, a musicologist as well as composer, collected folk music from his native Hungary and elsewhere, and those melodies are reflected in the arrangement to be performed by Spell.

Basler composed his “Sonata” specifically for Spell, who has performed it worldwide. “Though thoroughly modern, the piece is audience friendly,” Spell said. “With an extraordinarily wide emotional range, the work presents moments of extraordinary beauty, technical fireworks and everything in between.”

A frequent performer at musical venues across Western North Carolina, Spell recently was featured as soloist and master teacher at the Central American Flute Festival, held in the Costa Rican National Theatre in the capital, San Jose.

828.227.7242.

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Cullowhee, named for the community where its sound was born, will reunite for a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, in Hoey Auditorium at Western Carolina University.

The band began in the 1970s as a folk trio and evolved into a six-man mountain rock band featuring former WCU students Terry Edwards, Mike Clark, Sandy Flynn and Thom Jenkins, as well as Fred “Rick” Hubbard and Woody Jenkins. Members wrote and performed music including “Bring Back the Magic,” “Old Man of Sylva” and “Peace on the Mountain.” Cullowhee last toured in 1984.

The Sept. 18 event will be the group’s third reunion concert at WCU to benefit the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor, a nonprofit working to help revitalize the community along Old Cullowhee Road.

“We were proud of where we came from,” said Flynn before the first reunion show to benefit CuRvE in 2008. “We called our music mountain rock, and spread the name Cullowhee around the country and world, playing to audiences from 10 to 20,000.”

Past reunion concerts have raised several thousand dollars used to support beautification projects, including a recently installed student-painted mural.

“I’ve been floored to see the following that the Cullowhee band has,” said Christopher Blake, co-chair of CuRvE and assistant professor of English at WCU. “We’ve received dozens of notes along with their ticket requests telling us their memories of attending concerts more than 20 years ago and thanking us for bringing them back.”

“Students leave the concert amazed at the depth of the group’s musical talent, as members rotate between multiple instruments during the concert,” said Blake.

$25 reserved seats; $15 open seating. For tickets, gocullowhee.org; by mail at CuRvE, P.O. Box 1322, Cullowhee, N.C. 28723; or at the door before the show.

For info, cullowheeband.com, 828.399.1529 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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More than 190 million CDs feature their music. John Michael Montgomery and Garth Brooks have made their songs No. 1 hits. Come face-to-face with three successful songwriters during a 7:30 p.m. show on Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Balsam Mountain Inn.

Richard Fagan spent five years in Los Angeles, where he had a pop record deal on Mercury Records and got his first cut, “The Good Lord Loves You” by Neil Diamond. His songs are in six feature films and on more than 30 million records. Fagan has had three No. 1 country singles: “Be My Baby Tonight,” “Sold, (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” and “I Miss You A Little” — all by John Michael Montgomery. He’s had six Top 10s and 18 charted country singles. Fagan’s songs have been cut by George Strait, George Jones, Hank Williams, Jr., Shania Twain, Clay Walker, Patty Loveless, Collin Raye, Ricochet, Shenandoah, The Crickets, The Blues Brothers Band, and many others. Most recently, Fagan has a cut on the new Jason & The Scorchers CD, “Halcyon Times.”

Hailing from East Tennessee, Amanda Williams grew up in the music business as the daughter of legendary songwriter, Kim Williams. The first song she had recorded was the 2002 Grammy nominated release “Beer Run,” recorded by Garth Brooks and George Jones. Since then, Amanda has written more than 500 songs for releases on up and coming artists such as Todd O’Neil, Tyler Dickerson and Jessie James. Her new release “Little Red Hen” is now available exclusively at live performances.

Kim Williams won the ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year Award in 1994. His songs have been on more than 131 million CDs and tapes. He is excitedly watching the career of his talented singer-songwriter daughter Amanda with whom he wrote the Grammy nominated “Beer Run,” a duet with George Jones and Garth Brooks.

With Garth Brooks he has had four No. 1 singles: “Papa Loved Mama,” “It’s Midnight Cinderella,” “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and “She’s Gonna Make It,” as well as numerous album cuts.

In the past 15 years, Kim’s No. 1 singles include “Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis, which was No. 1 in both country and Christian genres and winner of the CMA, CCMA, GMA, NSAI, and ACM song of the year.

Kim has had Christian No. 1s with “One Perfect Son” and “A Little Bit Of Faith” by Jeff Silvey.

$39 includes show and dinner. Buffet starts at 6 p.m. with seating’s every 15 minutes.

www.balsammountaininn.com, 800.224.9498 or 828.456.9498.

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Seniors can stay fit with a basic belly dancing class now offered from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. every Thursday at the Creative Thought Center in Waynesville. The classes are ongoing until Thanksgiving and will resume after Jan. 1.

“Exercise and Movement for Middle Eastern Dance” is a basic class that offers stretching, strengthening and a breath-focused approach to learning the forms of the belly dance. It is geared toward mature women or anyone who wants a gentle, fun workout.

The art of Middle Eastern dancing, or belly dancing, has been used from ancient to present times for the purposes of celebration, artistry and therapy. Not only does it create an avenue of expression that is joyous & uplifting, but it is also soothing and energizing for the body, mind and soul.

Instructor Damira/Pamela Norris, CMA (Certified Movement Analyst) has been studying the dance for more than 33 years and teaching for 30. She has studied, performed and taught ethnic dance styles from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Persia and Turkey. Damira has been leading dance and exercise classes for seniors since 1995.

828.926.3544.

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The inaugural Autumn High Tea will run from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26, at Country Traditions in Dillsboro. The event will raise money for Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping heritage alive.

In England, where having afternoon tea is traditional, a high tea is usually for special events only. High tea, as it is now used, occurs on weekends, at parties, or on special occasions.

Served at the high tea will an old-fashioned tea called Gun Powder Green Tea, Raspberry Black Tea and Earl Gray, along with scones, lemon curd, petit fours and other typical tea fare. Mimosas will be available for purchase.

“Hats and gloves are optional for the ladies,” joked Janet Chinners, owner of Country Traditions.  

Authors who have been published by Catch the Spirit of Appalachia will be present. The nonprofit has published more than 45 books written by people who either grew up here in Western North Carolina or now work and live in the region. Books include “My Mountain Granny,” “Aliens in God’s County,” “Laughter Was God’s Idea,” “The Legacy of Bear Mountain,” “Little is Much,” “A History of the Bible,” “Johnny, My Favorite Mouse,” “Learning to Fly,” and more.

$7.50. 828.586.1600 or www.spiritofappalachia.org.

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Heritage Crafts Weekend, a celebration of Southern Appalachia traditions, will be held Sept. 25 and 26 at The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville.

The event, now in its fifth year, features craft demonstrations and juried crafts vendors, plant sales and musical performances from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days in the Heritage Garden, Baker Exhibit Center and Education Center.

Vitally important to the Western North Carolina’s craft heritage is the close relationship between crafts and the plants used in their production. Much of the fiber, color and artistic expression of mountain craft is inspired from the character and nature of plants.

The Heritage Garden showcases plants used in the multimillion-dollar craft industry of Western North Carolina, including those used for handmade paper and brooms, baskets and dyes.

Visitors can explore the many plants that support crafts, understand how they are grown, prepared and used, and appreciate their value to the industry.

They will have a chance to explore the new Green Garden Shed, a demonstration exhibit that provides real-world and affordable examples of how to infuse sustainable practices into an existing shed structure.

Admission to Heritage Crafts Weekend is free for members or with the parking fee of $8 per personal vehicle.

Crafters and musicians interested in participating in The N.C. Arboretum’s Heritage Crafts Weekend may email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for an application form.

www.ncarboretum.org or 828.665.2492.

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Artist Laura Davis will demonstrate and discuss her glaze techniques from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Swain Center of Southwestern Community College.

Davis, who has been working with clay since 2002, owns Core Clay, a pottery studio and supply store in Cincinnati, Ohio. Much of her pottery is highly textured and features her signature transparent glazes. Her work can be seen at the Core Clay website, at the Pottery Festival in Dillsboro on Nov. 6, and in the book 500 Vases.

Students who want to try glazing techniques should bring up to two bisqued pieces, cone 6, maximum size three pounds each, to the class. Textured pieces are recommended. Participants will have an opportunity to glaze a piece, which will then be fired. The pieces will be critiqued during the second night of the workshop.

Free for enrolled students of the Heritage Arts Institute at SCC; $10. Bring a potluck dish to share.

828.488.6413.

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Clyde


Town board

Seats up for election:    2

Total seats on board:    4

Carroll Mease (I)    103

Jim Trantham (I)    95

Alan Trantham    42

Registered voters:    780

Voter turnout:    127 (16%)

Village of Forest Hills


Mayor

James Wallace (I)    49

(running as write-in)

Mark Teague    22

Town board

Seats up for election:    2

Total seats on board:    4

Clark Corwin    56

Carl Hooper    55

Registered voters:    344

Voter turnout:    72 (21%)

Bryson City


Town board

Seats up for election:    2

Total seats on board:    4

Stephanie Treadway (I)    28

Tom Reidmiller (I)    28

Registered voters:    1,046

Voter turnout:    30 (2.87%)

Highlands


Mayor, four-year term

David Wilkes    376

Don Mullen (I)    104

Town board

Seats up for election:    2

Total seats on board:    5

Gary E. Drake    330

Amy Patterson (I)    229

Hank Ross (I)    186

Registered voters:    893

Voter turnout:    429 (48%)

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Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band has been awarded the prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands.

Formal presentation of the award, which has been called the “Heisman Trophy” of the collegiate marching band world, was held at halftime of WCU’s home football game against Wofford College on Oct. 24.

Western Carolina is the first institution in the state of North Carolina and the first member of the Southern Conference selected for the award. Past recipients of the honor include the universities of Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, and Ohio State, Louisiana State, Penn State and Auburn universities.

Established in 1982, the trophy is presented to a college or university marching band that has demonstrated the highest of musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a number of years.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the award is especially meaningful because it recognizes an extended record of excellence achieved by the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band under the leadership of band director Bob Buckner. Bardo called the band “one of the most important emissaries of WCU for more than a decade.”

The Pride of the Mountains is widely regarded as one of the top marching bands in the Southeast for its elaborate field shows. Often called “the world’s largest funk-rock band,” the unit performs a crowd-pleasing medley of up-tempo pop tunes, with electric guitars, singers and other musical elements not typically associated with marching bands.

The 360-member Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is performing an entirely new show in 2009 – “Born to Be Alive,” featuring the music of the Black Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, Maroon 5 and Patrick Hernandez.

For more information about the Pride of the Mountains, visit www.prideofthemountains.com or call 828.227.2259.

 

High school bands compete at WCU

Western Carolina’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band recently hosted the Tournament of Champions annual invitational competition. Each year, more than 3,000 high school musicians from Tennessee, Virginia, and North and South Carolina come to E.J. Whitmire Stadium at Western Carolina to compete. Twenty-two bands from across the Southeast took part in this year’s event. Carl Harrison High School marching band of Kennesaw, Ga., was named grand champion. Pisgah High School of Canton took second place in Class A. Tuscola High School of Waynesville also competed.

Comment

In an unusual election storyline, voters in Webster cast ballots for a total of 21 write-in candidates because too few candidates signed up to run for the five available seats on the town council.

When the new town council convenes, three write-in candidates — Mark Jamison, Alan Grant and A.J. Rowell — are expected to be sworn in along with incumbents Billy Bryson and Jean Davenport. Larry Phillips will replace long-time mayor Steve Gray, who also did not run for re-election.

Jamison, the Webster postmaster and a former member of the Jackson County Planning Board and the former chairman of the county’s smart growth task force, was among the write-in candidates who won a seat. Although he did not actively campaign, Jamison was asked by several citizens if he would agree to serve if elected.

“Several people had asked me to run for either mayor or a council seat, and I felt because of my job that I didn’t necessarily want to file. But they asked if I would serve if I was a write-in winner, and I said yes,” Jamison said Tuesday night.

“I’m looking forward to serving. I’ve been active from the sidelines for a while, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to address some of the issues,” Jamison said.

Jamison is a federal employee, but he said that since the town election is non-partisan there are no issues with the Hatch Act, which governs the political activities of federal employees.

While Jamison and Grant were clear winners with 23 and 20 votes, respectively, fifth-place finisher Rowell collected six votes, and two others tallied five. All results are unofficial until canvassing by the county board of elections.

 

Webster

Mayor

Larry Phillips    35

 

Town board

Seats up for election:    5

Total seats on board:    5

Billie Bryson (I)    26

Jean Davenport (I)    26

Mark Jamison (write-in)    23

Alan Grant (write-in)    20

A.J. Rowell (write-in)    6

Registered voters: 445

Voter turnout:    40 (9%)

Comment

The Blue Ridge Parkway will kick off its 75th anniversary celebrations this month with several historical, symbolic and entertaining events, even though the official anniversary isn’t until next year.

• A program called “Natural Resource Stewardship – An American Indian Legacy and Model for Our Future” will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Cherokee High School. The talk will be given by Gerard Baker, superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial who was featured in Ken Burns recent national parks documentary, along with former and present superintendents of the Parkway, Dan Brown and Phil Francis.

• Ceremonial Torch Passing will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 13, on the parkway outside Cherokee. A torch will be passed from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, to the Parkway. Both park superintendents and Eastern Band of the Cherokees’ tribal leaders will deliver remarks. The Warriors of AniKituhwa dancers will perform. Park at the Cherokee Transit Lot on U.S. 441 just outside the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to take a shuttle to the site of the torch passing.

• Guided history tours in partnership with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian will be given by Cherokee storytellers at noon on Friday, Nov. 13, with several stops along the southern portion of the Parkway. Cost is $20 per person and includes a boxed lunch. 828.497.3481.

• Parkway History Day will be held on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Folk Art Center on the Parkway outside Asheville.

There will be craft and music demonstrations and special exhibits. A panel discussion at 10 a.m. will examine the history and lasting impact of the decision to route the Blue Ridge Parkway through Western North Carolina. An interactive session will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Parkway issues, challenges and initiatives, including design guidelines for adjacent lands and preserving view sheds.

• A concert by Nanci Griffith will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14, in Asheville. There will also be a performance of the one-time-only collaboration of The Blue Ridge Bluegrass All-Stars showing their support for the Parkway, including renowned musicians: Doyle Lawson, Sammy Shelor, Bryan Sutton, Tim Surrett, and Jim Van Cleve. The Cherokee Warriors of AniKituhwa will also perform, and the entire evening will be hosted by Asheville’s own Grammy award-winning musician David Holt. General seats are $35 and patron seats are $75. Tickets available at Ticketmaster.

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The Fund for Haywood County recently handed out $16,000 in grants to county nonprofits providing services for recession relief.

The Fund for Haywood County, an affiliate of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, was established in 1994 by a group of local residents as a permanent endowment and resource for charitable efforts that benefit Haywood County.

The grantees are:

• The Community Kitchen — $2,600 to support a food ministry that provides hot, nutritious meals and food boxes to poor and struggling individuals in Canton.

• Crabtree, Iron Duff, Hyder Mountain Community Development Club — $1,400 toward emergency assistance with heating and utilities to keep residents safe and warm in their homes despite economic hardship.

• Fines Creek Community Association — $2,000 to purchase a freezer, increasing storage for the distribution of nutritious foods through the federal Emergency Food and Assistance Program, especially for seniors and mothers with children in this rural community in Haywood County.

• Good Samaritan Clinic of Haywood County — $4,000 toward operating expenses including medical supplies, staffing and other necessary expenses to continue the free medical clinic serving uninsured adults.

• Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church — $2,000 toward the Open Door program that provides food and emergency assistance to families struggling with basic needs as a result of the recession in Haywood County.

• REACH of Haywood County, Inc. — $4,000 toward operating expenses of the emergency shelter providing housing to women and children displaced from their homes due to domestic violence

To help The Fund for Haywood County, donate online at www.cfwnc.org or by mail to The Fund for Haywood County, P.O. Box 627, Waynesville, NC, 28786. Contributions of any size are welcome and are tax-deductible. For more information, contact 828.734.6791.

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It’s the end of another year, and everyone knows what that means — a deluge of countdowns featuring the year’s best releases, of course. While every expert in the world pieces together a list of the best books, movies and music released in 2009, The Smoky Mountain News asked authorities in Western North Carolina to compile their own Top 10 lists for the year. Check out their recommendations below. Happy listening, watching and reading!

 

Movies/2009

By Leigh Nelson • Bryson City movie buff

Without any rambling, here is my list of the best movies of 2009 (in my humble opinion):

10. He’s Just Not That Into You

In this tell-it-like-it-is film, both men and women try to make sense out of the opposite sex by pursuing the wrong one in the wrong way. With hilarious quirks, and often, heartbreaking outcomes, the star-studded cast precariously steps through the world of attraction.

9. Taken

This action-thriller is sure to get your heart pumping. Playing an underappreciated father and ex-“preventer,” Liam Neeson allows his 17-year-old daughter to follow her favorite band around Europe with a disastrous outcome. Neeson will stop at nothing to get his daughter back alive.

8. The Young Victoria

Emily Blunt (also in The Devil Wears Prada) stars as a woman who knows what she wants, as she tries to find her footing as a future queen and overcome her mother’s choking grasp. Two men vie for her attention — one for her heart, the other for her crown. She must decide which is more important, her image or her happiness.

7. Zombieland

Grossly hilarious, Zombieland runs as a “how-to” in surviving a zombie-infested country. Though the characters can barely tolerate each other, they find they just might need to stick together if they don’t want to end up among the undead. You have never experienced Woody Harrelson to the fullest until you’ve seen this film!

6. Up

Don’t forget your tissues! Up is an animated film about a boy who needs someone to believe in him and an old man who realizes there’s still time to achieve his dreams. Both end up unwittingly on a nonstop adventure that is sure to bring laughter and tears!

5. Julie & Julia

An ageless delight, Julie & Julia is a tale of two strong women who love to cook. Julie decides to cook all of Julia Childs’ 524 recipes in one year and blog about it. As we see Julie in the present and Childs through the years, we are faced with their heartaches and triumphs, and fall in love with their tenacity.

4. I Can Do Bad All By Myself

Tyler Perry outdoes himself with this powerful drama-comedy about the importance of family. With Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige, the voices of this film empower you to feel the loss, regret and forgiveness that family can bring.

3. Avatar

You’re in for a visual feast with this futuristic movie. Earth has depleted its fossil fuels and seeks natural treasures on the planet Pandora to survive. However, the indigenous Na’vi people don’t appreciate the humans trying to destroy their existence, especially since they can’t possibly understand the unique connection the Na’vi have to their surroundings. The Na’vi must find a way to protect their home and send the foreigners packing.

2. Inglorious Basterds

This fictional tale of World War II Jewish vindication is definitely a gore-fest, but you won’t want to miss a second of it by shutting your eyes. “The Basterds” are a group of Jewish soldiers who are intent on destroying the Nazis in a cruel and painful way, and they aren’t the only ones. The Jews will have their revenge, and “The Basterds” will give it to them.

1. District 9

District 9 is a phenomenal alien film set in present-day Johannesburg, South Africa. If you find that setting odd and a bit leading, you are on the right trail. The story of how the aliens get detained “for the greater good,” leads to a hair-raising battle for their survival. Throw the word “apartheid” in there, and you’ll quickly understand the moral to the story.

 

Music/2009

By Chris Cooper • Sylva musician

In no particular order ...

1. Album that we shouldn’t have liked:

Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson’s “Break Up.” Recorded in 2006, but released 2009. A great pop album. Scarlett redeems herself after her first horrible solo album.

2. Howling Bells — “Radio War”

Mix of country-noir and alternative pop/rock. Also check out their 2006 self-titled debut.

3. Passion Pit — “Manners”

Boston-based electronic indie pop band. Incorporates sounds from Animal Collective and Mercury Rev to Prince and New Order.

4. Andrew Bird — “Noble Beast”

The singer-songwriter-violinist moves away from his previous sound to create a more cinematic album.

5. It Might Get Loud

Documentary that features three generations of rock guitarists: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. A creative rock documentary that does not get boring.

6. Angela Faye Martin — “Pictures from Home”

Martin, a Macon County musician, released one of the better local releases of the year. Produced by Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.

7. Music at the 10th annual Play for Peace

An all-day music event in Sylva that also raises awareness and funds for veterans suffering from PTSD. Some of the best local bands play the event for free every year.

8. Music at Guadalupe Café in Sylva

Fantastic place to hang out and hear local bands. Saving grace of downtown Sylva.

9. Jeff Beck — “Performing This Week ... Live at Ronnie Scott’s”

(CD and DVD). 72 minutes and 16 tracks featuring the blues-rock legend. Also includes Eric Clapton and Imogen Heap. Really fun to watch and sold very well, a sign of hope that people still like guitars.

10. The Derek Trucks Band — “Already Free”

A mix of rock, blues, jazz, and Eastern music. Amazing, you’ll never get sick of it.

 

Books/2009

Compiled by the staff of City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

This is a novel comprised of letters beginning in 1946 between a single author in her mid-30s named Juliet Ashton and a Guernsey Island farmer by the name of Dawsey Adams. When Adams finds her name in the back of a secondhand book, he writes a letter to Ashton, and they begin a correspondence. Juliet Ashton is drawn into the world of this man, and he in turn invites his neighbors and friends to write to her with their stories. She learns all about their island, what books they read, and the powerful and transformative impact that the German occupation had on their lives. The warmth of these characters draws the reader in and makes you feel so thankful that you got to know them!

— Bookseller Margaret Spilker

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel is based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hardworking, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town — riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Bon Appetit, Y'all: Southern U.S.A./French fusion recipes by Ellen Silverman and Virginia Willis

Bon Appetit, Y’all is my favorite cookbook of the season. It’s fun to read, the illustrations are mouthwatering, and the recipes I’ve tried are delicious. Virginia Willis is from Georgia, spent some time in France and has combined recipes from her mother and grandmother with her own experiences to create a satisfying blend of new and old. The recipe for Cheddar Cornbread alone is worth the price of the book. And I love having recipes for Fried Fatback and Boeuf Bourguignonne just pages from each other.

— Bookseller Joyce Moore

Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is also pretty dark, with our heroine (a 21st century, grown-up Pippi Longsocking) the lead suspect in a triple murder. Prostitution, a biker gang and a blond giant provide plenty of menace in this Swedish mystery. Sadly, the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, due out next year, will be the last in the series as the author died shortly after turning in the manuscripts for the three mysteries.

— Bookseller Chris Wilcox

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

A trilogy. Seriously. There are going to be two more! Those were my thoughts after the first round through The Districts, The Tributes and of course, The Arena. I sank right into this second book in the Hunger Games trilogy knowing that every spare second of the next maybe two days would be spent with Katniss Everdeen. Bliss.

— Bookseller Emily Wilson

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

Beevor's latest book, D-Day, is a thorough and quick-paced account of the Allied invasion of France. He uses letters, diaries, interviews and museum archives to create a stunning book with vivid images and crisp details. Beach by beach and through every patch of the bocage, witness the strife and struggle of not only the soldiers of both sides but the citizens living in the towns and villages devastated by the bitter fighting. I rarely hesitate to read a book about WWII, but this one holds a special place on my shelf.

— Bookseller Eon Alden

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Reading Pat Conroy is like smelling honeysuckle on a warm summer night. South of Broad, his first new novel in some years, is a welcome return to Charleston and to the complex characters that live there. Leo King, son of an ex-nun and a gentle father, is a senior in high school in 1969, nearly 10 years after the devastating death of his beloved older brother and he’s finally ready to put his shattered life back together. The friends that are a part of this rebirth, remain an important part of his life for the next two decades and it is the story of these friendships that provides the foundation of the book. I really enjoyed this book, both for the story and for Conroy’s incredibly lush narrative.

— Bookseller Joyce Moore

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

In her dazzling new novel — her first in more than a decade — Moore turns her eye on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.

As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmer, has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir.

Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny. The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring, she comes to care for, and to protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own. As the year unfolds and she is drawn deeper into each of these lives, her own life back home becomes ever more alien to her: her parents are frailer; her brother, aimless and lost in high school, contemplates joining the military. Tassie finds herself becoming more and more the stranger she felt herself to be, and as life and love unravel dramatically, even shockingly, she is forever changed.

Commandment by Mary Adams

English professor at Western Carolina University. According to Ron Rash, “What makes Mary Adams such an exceptional poet is her ability to fuse formal elegance and profound sentiment. Few contemporary poets can match her combination of craft and feeling, which makes this new collection all the more welcome. She is a poet of the first rank.”

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

This piece of extended journalism is simply fun to read, even for non-runners. Midway through Born to Run, I thought, anybody who has ever gone for a jog would have fun reading this book; by the time I finished it I realized that even folks who never ran, or ran loathing every step, would find plenty to enjoy. Encompassing the world of long-distance running, the focus is the Tarahumara Indians who have fun running continuously for a day or two through the rugged, scorching Copper Canyons of Mexico ... wearing homemade sandals!

McDougall visits the reclusive tribe and compares them to the competitors in ultra-marathon races — often 50-100 miles in extreme environments such as Death Valley or the high Rockies. He cites convincing studies which conclude that modern humans evolved as long-distance runners. Whether this hypothesis is correct or not, the book is a fascinating peak into two misunderstood groups of people brought together by running.

— Bookseller Chris Wilcox

Comment

The Smoky Mountain News is paying homage this week to some of the newsmakers of 2009 by dishing out our annual awards.

Few would chalk up 2009 as a year they want to remember, given the generally gloomy pall cast by the recession over nearly every facet of life in Western North Carolina. We feared the year-end trip down memory lane wouldn’t be quite so much fun as it usually is.

But once we started plowing through back issues, they revealed a hefty share of humdingers: the funny, the astonishing, the dismaying. Some will live in infamy, others we’d rather forget but probably won’t.

For those who made the list, hats off to you for giving us something to write about this year. For those who didn’t, there’s always 2010.

 

Elmer Fudd Award

For the man who brazenly shot at elk in Cataloochee Valley this fall, the words of Elmer Fudd would have been sage advice: “Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.” But in the idyllic valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a shot ringing out across the meadows at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday morning was a dead giveaway something was amiss.

Another visitor who happened to be in Cataloochee Valley at the time got a description of the man’s vehicle and his license plate number. The illicit hunter was tracked down at his home in Granville County five hours away and admitted to shooting the elk. A litany of charges against him are still being crafted by park authorities.

The dead bull elk, which was sporting an impressive antler rack, was left lying in the field in Cataloochee by the poacher. A bull elk can weigh up to 800 pounds.

 

Holding the Bag Award

When Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, it had a trail of unpaid bills — owing $2.5 million to some 215 companies. Local electricians, contractors, building supply stores, sales reps for souvenir merchandise — even newspapers that had run ads for Ghost Town — filled the long list of those never paid for their goods or services. But they aren’t the only ones still holding the bag.

Ghost Town employees never got their final paycheck at the end of the season. Cash flow was so tight all year, the park often couldn’t make payroll on Fridays and instead relied on revenue from weekend ticket sales to pay employees the following Monday, and occasionally still fell short and had to make up the difference the following Monday after another weekend of revenue came in. Employees are still waiting for their last two weeks of pay from October.

The park was plagued this year by lagging ticket sales due to the economy, the primary rollercoaster ride being inoperable most of the season, and expensive repairs to update the aging theme park. The park was forced into bankruptcy after falling behind on its $9.5 million mortgage, but CEO Steve Shiver maintains that the park will reorganize and pull through, including repaying the small businesses and employees who are owed.

 

Biggest Loser

Western North Carolina might not be on prime time yet, but the local version of this reality show could be a real cliffhanger. One mega-development after another has bitten the dust this year. The few left standing have probably escaped thanks to a foreclosure triage of sorts: the banks who hold their loans simply didn’t have the time, money or wherewithal to pursue so many foreclosures at once.

The market for high-end second homes plummeted in mid-2008, shooting holes in the business plan of many a developer. Their plans had looked something like this: take out a big loan, buy a big chunk of land, build roads, maybe a golf course, sell lots, pay back the loan. The formula didn’t work out so well when the demand for lots tanked — as did American’s 401Ks. No lot sales meant no way to pay off those loans, and foreclosure and bankruptcy followed suit.

Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County has been among the most high profile, followed by Legasus, also in Jackson County. The financial status of Wildflower, a mega-development in Macon County, has been publicly questioned of late as well. Further afield, Seven Falls in Hendersonville is in foreclosure and Grey Rock at Lake Lure is in bankruptcy.

Stalled development plans run the gamut from Big Ridge, a Cashiers development under federal investigation for a mortgage fraud scheme, to Cataloochee Wilderness Resorts, where developers never owned even a scrap of land despite crafting a master plan for some 4,000 acres. The faltering real estate and development industry created a tidal wave that crashed through nearly every facet of the mountain economy this year. Exactly what the banks will do as the proud new owners of hundreds of foreclosed lots will be the subject of next year’s awards.

 

Most in need of a N.C. geography lesson

It’s about 300 miles from the Smokies to Raleigh. Always has been, always will be.

Sure it’s a long way, but last we checked, the mountains are still part of the great state of North Carolina. Nonetheless, Gov. Beverly Perdue decided not to attend the opening ceremony of the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “It’s so far out of the way,” a spokesperson for the governor explained.

Making matters worse, the event was billed as a two-state governor’s proclamation, intended to draw attention to the shared status of America’s most-visited national park straddling North Carolina and Tennessee.

Perdue’s staff cited unnecessary travel expense amid a state budget crisis, rubbing many here the wrong way. Mountaineers have long suspected their metropolitan counterparts down East viewed them as lowly red-headed stepchildren, and the perceived snub led some to wonder: “Are we too far out of the way to pay state taxes?”

 

Flaming Pants Award

Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina got national headlines for shouting out ‘You Lie’ during one of President Barack Obama’s speeches about health care reform on the House floor. But this award goes to another Congressman, our very own Heath Shuler caught in a lie in November. Shuler was investigated by the House ethics committee after a lakefront resort he owned a stake in negotiated a land swap with the federal Tennessee Valley Authority to give it better shoreline access. The probe focused on whether Shuler used his influence in the deal. Shuler was cleared of wrongdoing, but a TVA report later confirmed that the Congressman had lied when he told media he had had not contact with TVA. Since he escaped formal censure, the least we could do is say, “Heath, you lie.”

 

Black Cloud Award

At long last, the historic Haywood County Courthouse was restored to its former grandeur and retrofitted to accommodate county offices with fancy modern conveniences, like, oh, say, fire sprinklers and the Internet.

But no sooner had the last touches of paint dried, than the contractor for the project sued the county for $2 million. The lawsuit hit just days before the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new building. The lawsuit came on the heels of nearly two years of drama between the county and the contractor, KMD. The county accused KMD of floundering deadlines and substandard work. The contractor claimed it wasn’t their fault, and instead blamed the architect for inaccurate blueprints.

At one point, commissioners even fired KMD, but the county’s bonding company that assumed responsibility for the project hired none other than KMD yet again.

The lawsuit isn’t settled, and it will likely come down to a dispute between the contactor and architect with the county caught in the middle.

 

Stop, Drop and Roll Award

Without any official fire protection, homeowners on pricey Buck Knob Island in the middle of Lake Glenville might have to resort to this basic technique if a blaze should ever strike.

Homeowners demanded fire protection and even threatened to sue nearby Cashiers-Glenville-Sapphire Volunteer Fire Department for not extending services to the island they call home.

Jackson County had its hands tied since the final decision rested with the volunteer fire department’s nonprofit board of directors, though the county does contribute significantly to its budget each year.

In September, the state fire marshal stepped in to provide recommendations for fire service. Since then, the Buck Knob Homeowners Association and the volunteer fire department continued to work together to resolve the hot-button issue.

 

The Badass Award

Crews for the North Carolina Department of Transportation have started 24-hour shifts to clean up the aftermath of a colossal October rockslide on Interstate 40.

They’ve spent months hand carrying thousands of pounds of explosive up the slope to blast apart mammoth boulders then haul them off to a national forest site.

The contractors have already hauled away 7,000 dump truckloads of rock and dirt. They labored on despite snow and are now working in subfreezing temperatures through the night.

Crews started work in late October, but NCDOT officials say it could take anywhere from March to May to blast apart and haul away the massive boulders.

The rockslide shut down a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 40 in Haywood County, a main artery for thru traffic between North Carolina and Tennessee, dealing a heavy blow to roadside restaurants, gas stations, motels, and other tourism businesses throughout Western North Carolina.

In the meantime, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority and state tourism officials worked zealously to let visitors know WNC is still open for business.

Somewhat luckily, the latest rockslide struck at the end of fall foliage season, unlike the summer rockslide in 1997, which effectively ruined peak season for many tourism businesses in WNC.

 

Barely Legal Award

A nightclub for teens became a focal point for controversy in Sylva in December when an enraged parent found a flyer that encouraged high school students to come to the club “as wasted as you want.”

Parents petitioned the town to shut down the club after finding out that the club’s owner, Nathan Lang, had a son serving jail time for statutory rape and discovering that the club’s MySpace page showed pictures of young women in lingerie pole dancing. Lang considers the club a form of youth mininstry and claims he is reaching out to at-risk teens by accepting the realities of their life. Despite the inuendos of what goes on inside the club, the town board said it could not shut down the club without proof of bona fide illegal activity.

 

Day Late, Dollar Short

A massive mountainside development on Cowee Mountain in Macon County got the attention of nearby landowners when one of its main roads gave way, triggering a serious landslide below. Further investigations by the North Carolina Geological Survey showed the development’s roads had a number of flaws that could trigger more slides in the future.

Wildflower, the subdivision owned by Ultima Carolina LLC, received its permits from the county in the laissez-faire days before county development regulations. Macon has since implemented a subdivision ordinance, stipulating road standards and requiring a bond to guarantee the infrastructure is sound. But Wildflower is exempt from the ordinance and could leave the county holding the bag on a erosion-plagued mountainside, making Macon County leaders very much a “day late and dollar short.”

 

Democracy Inaction

Apathy can be a major issue in municipal elections, particularly in small towns like Webster in Jackson County. After only two candidates met the sign-up deadline for the town board election, it wasn’t at all clear that Webster was going to be able to produce a full board during the November election.

But you can’t ever write off the spirit of a small town or the power of word-of-mouth organizing. On election day, the town board ballot boasted over 20 write-in candidates. With only 40 people voting, half the people those who turned out to the polls ended up being on the ballot themselves

 

Easiest Shoes to Fill

Maggie Valley fired its festival director, Bill Cody, in May after a mere three and a half months on the job.

Cody failed to attract a single festival during his brief stint though he was hired precisely to book events for half of the weekends during peak tourism season from May to October.

Cody also dreamed up the idea of developing a DVD promotional packet but never got started on the project.

The town must’ve been traumatized by Cody’s failure because it didn’t rehire a festival director until December.

Maggie’s new festival director, Audrey Hager, faces an easy road ahead of her when it comes to exceeding the low expectations Cody set during his short tenure with the town.

 

Albatross Award

Jackson County commissioners ended up with more than their fair share of baggage this year. Jackson politics is marked by a handful of simmering controversies that all seemed to boil over and land in the commissioners’ laps, whether invited or not.

First there was the Economic Development Commission, a floundering entity the county commissioners took hold of in an attempt to revive it. But the director resigned, calling the organization dysfunctional on her way out. Four of the nine board members later resigned. Then an accountant hired to conduct a back audit failed to deliver, citing murky financial records for the four-year period in question that made the task impossible.

The episode bears an uncanny resemblance to the airport authority, which despite a power struggle with the county always seemed to turn up hat in hand at budget time. Despite pleas by pilots and small plane owners, county commissioners have been philosophically opposed to spending tax dollars on the airport’s upkeep, leaving its long-term viability in limbo. Commissioners seemed to be subtly undermining the airport by refusing to appoint members to the airport authority, leading to dwindling numbers on the body that manages the small runway.

But in a surprise move, the commissioners decided to appoint none other than themselves to the airport board, effectively taking control of an entity some of them seem to loathe.

Commissioners even got dragged into the debate over whether to build a controversial new highway on the outskirts of Sylva that would bypass the main commercial thoroughfare of N.C. 107. They didn’t think up the highway, or even wade into the fray by choice, but were forced to weigh in when asked to endorse a laundry list of long-term road building projects being sent to the DOT in Raleigh that included the hot-button highway.

And of course, there’s the never-ending tug-of-war with Duke Energy over the fate of the Dillsboro dam, which is altogether deserving of its own award.

 

Most Elbow Room

Swain County had grand ambitions for the $10 million jail it opened last December. The county envisioned it would be easy to fill up the jail’s 109 beds with overflow prisoners from outside Swain — even though other counties made it clear they planned on building bigger jails of their own.

But Swain went on ahead with its dreams of raking in big money from jail fees charged to out-of-county inmates. As it saw the number of overflow prisoners from many counties plummet, Cherokee prisoners served as the last lifeline for the overbuilt jail, which carries a $450,000 annual loan payment.

But that was before Cherokee received a whopping $18 million grant from the Department of Justice to build its own jail, too.

And just when one thought matters couldn’t get any worse, a sinkhole recently cropped up on the hillside right below the jail. Fixing it will scoop another $20,000 out of Swain County’s already depleted pockets.

 

Whack-a-Mole Award

State legislators thought they’d stamped out video poker with their 2007 ban, but that was before the gambling industry got creative.

It took advantage of a loophole in the state law to come up with cyber sweepstakes terminals, which only “simulate” games of chance, according to the gaming industry.

Customers buy phone or Internet cards before playing slot machine-style games. They can walk over to the register and receive payouts from the storeowner if they win.

These technically legal machines have proliferated across the state virtually unchecked by regulations.

N.C. State Representative Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, grew exasperated with the video gaming industry, stating that it would find a way to circumvent every law that the legislature passed.

But some local governments have decided to put an end to the industry’s free ride. Towns like Maggie Valley, Franklin and Canton have taken up the task of placing zoning restrictions or imposing hefty business license fees on the machines.

 

Morrison Sisters Lifetime Achievement Award

The sweet, elderly sisters on “The Andy Griffith Show” — who ran a moonshine still in their greenhouse — paled in comparison to the large-scale operation of Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, who cranked out batches of 1,000 gallons at a time.

Popcorn committed suicide this year at the age of 62, just days before he was supposed to report for an 18-month prison sentence for making moonshine.

Sutton spent most of his life trying to outrun revenuers. He was never secretive about it, however. He often bragged that he “ran more whiskey than Jack Daniel” and detailed his brew-making exploits in a book and self-produced video. He’s even been known to autograph Mason jars of moonshine.

Undercover agents eventually built a substantial case against him over the course of a year and raided his home in 2008, seizing 800 gallons of the illegal liquor, three stills with 1,000-gallon capacities, hundreds of gallons of moonshine-making ingredients such as mash and several guns.

Sutton could have gotten as much as 15 years in prison, but got off surprisingly light — relatively speaking — with just 18 months.

While some will always revere Popcorn as the ultimate renegade and a homespun folk hero, others found his crass, dirty and crude manner less than ideal for being a poster child for the Southern Appalachians.

 

Finding Love In All the Wrong Places

We’ll never know for sure what motivated Anita Vestal, a Swain County jailer, to spring a suspected murderer from his cell and run away with him.

But according to at least one former jailer, the sheriff had been warned of growing intimacy between the guard and inmate witnessed by note passing and frequent long chats, including an afternoon watching the Daytona 500 together in a jail common area.

In the hours and days following the escape, Swain County residents weren’t taking any chances. Many locked their doors and slept with loaded guns on their bedside table, frequently phoning relatives to make sure they were OK.

While many feared the jailer could be in physical danger from the sprung inmate, they both turned up alive and well in California after a month on the lam.

Vestal, 32, was a short woman weighing 275 pounds. Jeffrey Miles, 26, was a tall, lanky black man. Miles was one of six people charged in a double-murder of two Swain County men.

Vestal apparently provided Miles with a key, told another guard on duty he could take a break, then enacted an escape plan. Miles let himself out using the key and hid in her vehicle until she could run out and join him a few minutes later.

The two were caught in Vallejo, Calif., a city where Miles had sent a letter during his stay in the Swain jail, leading authorities to alert police there to be on the lookout.

 

Most Past Due Account

Can this really be happening to Swain County? For 66 years, Swain County has been the victim of a broken promise by the federal government to rebuild the North Shore Road.

The 30-mile road once led from Bryson City to Tennessee but was flooded by construction of Fontana Lake in the 1940s. The once populated countryside was ceded to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With no one living there anymore, the federal government didn’t seem inclined to make good on its signed contract with little ole Swain County to rebuild that road.

Swain leaders fought tooth and nail for the road for decades, but finally gave up their quest for the long-promised road and agreed to settle the matter once and for all with a cash payout of $52 million in lieu of the road. The seemingly odd dollar amount is based on the value of the road at the time it was flooded plus interest and inflation.

The National Park Service — a lead player in the dispute since the park now owns the land where the road would have gone — adopted the number and ran with it, using it repeatedly in a six-year environmental assessment of the unbuilt road and eventually selecting the cash settlement as its preferred solution to the festering dispute.

When it came time to ink a new deal, however, Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson was suddenly uncomfortable with such a big number and contended in negotiations that it was too much.

Swain County leaders felt betrayed for coming to the table under the auspices of $52 million, only to have the rug pulled out from under them yet again.

U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler, a Bryson City native, is trying to right the wrong through Congressional channels. Days before the end of 2009, Shuler announced he had scored $12.8 million for Swain County as a “down payment” on a hopefully much larger total to come.

 

SOL award

Thrill-seeking motorcycle riders and sports car drivers better cross their fingers when traversing the Tail of the Dragon next year. Anyone who wrecks on the challenging, curvy road might have sit tight for 45 minutes, waiting for a Swain County ambulance to amble on up to the accident scene.

That’s because the road that leads to the world-famous Dragon, an infamous stretch of U.S. 129 that sports 318 curves in 11 miles, also led to a tug-of-war between Swain and Graham counties this summer.

Graham County traditionally provided prompt rescue service to the area for free, just because it could get there quicker. The Tail of the Dragon lies in the Deal’s Gap area, a satellite territory of Swain County that is surrounded by Graham.

But Graham grew weary of providing increasing rescue service to Deal’s Gap and demanded compensation from Swain for its neighborly service. Graham set its eyes on annexing the territory or receiving $80,000 per year to cover the cost of responding to complicated and serious wrecks on the road.

Swain refused to budge an inch, deciding to take over rescue services at Deal’s Gap itself, starting Jan. 1.

Swain originally hoped Graham would continue to provide the service since Swain ambulances routinely transported Graham County patients staying in Swain’s hospital at no cost to Graham.

When Swain takes over rescue service at Deal’s Gap, the difference in response time to wrecks could run up to 30 minutes.

 

Most Unlikely Poster Child

Maureen Lackey, a 45-year-old Franklin resident, sought to expose the Macon County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly mistreating her while she was in custody.

Lackey, who suffers from epilepsy, claimed jailers denied her medicine after she was arrested for a DWI in January. She said they refused to allow her to use the bathroom and humiliated her.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office denied any wrongdoing and said Lackey was carrying the unmarked prescription pills in a vitamin B bottle.

Lackey sued Macon County and the Sheriff’s Office for discrimination, hoping to receive compensation for the medical costs.

When it came to the DWI, Lackey claimed total innocence and said the person she’d paid to drive her home had run away after they’d gotten into a car accident. However, Lackey could not name the runaway driver.

Shortly after filing the lawsuit, the unlikely poster child was charged with another DWI, writing bad checks, simple assault contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and misdemeanor child abuse.

A federal judge dismissed her civil lawsuit not on its merits but because of technicalities. Lackey should have sued the sheriff, rather than the county and the entire Sheriff’s department. The judge also said the sheriff could not be forced to provide Lackey with medical care when she is no longer in custody.

 

Survivor Award

When the hospitals in Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties decided to join forces, they knew they could only take one CEO with them.

The choice was between Haywood Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Poore and WestCare Health System’s CEO Mark Leonard.

Poore and Leonard publicly downplayed the intense competition, drawing attention instead to the benefits of affiliating.

They said MedWest Health System, a new hospital company that will represent HRMC and WestCare’s two hospitals in Sylva and Bryson City, could buy supplies in bulk and attract specialty physicians.

In addition, linking up with Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System, which runs 29 hospitals in North and South Carolina, would allow MedWest to gain expertise in hospital management.

While the agreement goes into effect on Jan. 1, the new MedWest board unanimously selected a new CEO for the company by early December.

Following Carolina HealthCare System’s recommendation, the board crowned Poore its new CEO. Leonard says he will pursue other opportunities.

 

Novel Idea Award

Alcohol and gambling? Who knows what Harrah’s Cherokee Casino will think of next. The casino finally took the revolutionary step forward this year and began serving up an array of beer, wine and mixed drinks to its gamblers for the first time.

In June, tribal members voted to allow alcohol to flow freely at the casino, but nowhere else in Cherokee. No longer would poker players and avid slot machine patrons be left thirsting for a stiff drink. No longer would Harrah’s Cherokee be the only casino in the Harrah’s chain to deny its clients alcoholic beverages.

But not so fast.

The tribe had to clear up legal questions with regulators and settle on an ABC supplier before serving drinks. Eager to partake in the lucrative new venture, a new Bryson City-Sylva ABC board was created specifically to deliver alcohol to the casino.

Beer and wine finally hit the hotel, restaurants and lounges in late November, but the casino was only able to bring cocktails to its floor in December, six months after tribal members gave the casino their go-ahead.

 

Long Shot Award

There’s no other way to describe Jackson County’s most recent tactic to save the Dillsboro dam from Duke Energy’s wrecking ball. The county hopes to use the power of eminent domain and take the dam for themselves — an amazingly simple yet incredulous move when battling a political heavyweight and Fortune 500 company like Duke.

Counties can legally take property to create public parks, and lo and behold, Jackson County commissioners decided the Dillsboro dam and surrounding banks along the Tuckasegee would be the perfect place for a river park, replete with fishing piers, benches, boat launches, walking paths and picnic areas.

Duke, however, agues that it is immune from eminent domain, claiming a different standard applies since it is a utility. Furthermore, Duke hopes to hide behind the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has OK’d tearing down the dam.

At times, it’s hard to remember what started the brouhaha. It wasn’t merely the goal of saving the dam, but the belief that Duke was short-changing the county. Duke is supposed to compensate the public in exchange for saddling the Tuckasegee with its hydropower dams. Tearing down the antiquated Dillsboro dam to restore a section of free-flowing river was the lynchpin of its mitigation package, but somehow didn’t feel like much of a perk to Jackson County’s leaders.

Turning the dam into a park seems to be their last and only option to save it, after losing round after round of legal challenges and appeals on the federal and state level. If successful, Jackson will show it held the trump card all along.

 

Showcase Showdown

Bob Barker wasn’t exactly invited to “come on down” to Cherokee, but it didn’t seem to stop him. Barker faced off against the Eastern Band this year over the living conditions of black bears kept in three small zoos.

Barker, an avid supporter of animal rights, was upset about bears kept in concrete pits for tourists to gawk at, a relic of sorts from a pre-animal rights era. Barker’s visit included press conferences, picketing at the bear zoos and an appearance before tribal council.

The controversial group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals piled onto the debate, but as Barker knows, not every contestant can be a winner. The Cherokee leaders didn’t take kindly to his demands. The tribe cited compliance among bear zoos with local ordinances and federal laws and sent Barker packing.

 

Close but No Montecristo Award

Property owners in the upscale Balsam Mountain Preserve development nearly did it, but the $16 million in commitments they raised to bail out their beloved developer from a pending foreclosure fell short of what the unwavering lender was owed.

Balsam Mountain Preserve, a development on 4,400 acres sporting a scant 350 lots in Jackson County, was caught in the lurch by the tanking real estate market. Lackluster lot sales prevented the developers from paying off a $20 million loan, thrusting the property into foreclosure proceedings.

Affluent property owners pieced together commitments of $16.3 million in an effort to stave off foreclosure by lenders, preferring to keep the original developers known for their environmental ethos at the helm. But the lender, a private equity real estate investment firm, wasn’t willing to make a deal if it meant a loss.

 

Filibuster Award

A handful of dedicated county watchdogs took up permanent residence at Haywood County commissioner meetings this year, poised and ready to speak out on most any topic up for discussion on the agenda.

First came the proposed nuisance ordinance, with angry citizens accusing the county of communist rule. The momentum rolled over to budget time, when a 1-cent property tax increase once again demoted commissioners to the role of punching bags to blame for this year’s economic hardships. The equal-opportunity critics chastised the county for its propensity for landing in lawsuits and analyzed nickels and dimes in the county’s budget, from a multimillion dollar landfill expansion to the purchase of office supplies.

Chief among them was Johnnie Cure, who spoke up at nearly every commissioners meeting for months. Her speeches usually took commissioners to task for what she considered excessive spending and earned her a primetime spot on the county’s government access channel where the videotaped proceedings are aired repeatedly in the days following the meeting.

Commissioners tolerated and accommodated the crowds, but expressed frustration at the time-consuming nature of drawn-out public comment at the outset of every meeting.

 

Best Disguised Logger

Ron Cameron didn’t exactly talk like a logger. He didn’t walk like one either. But when it came to declaring amnesty from the county’s erosion control laws, a logger he was.

When Cameron built a one-and-a-half mile road through a 66-acre tract in the Camp Branch area of Waynesville, he claimed the road was for logging. Loggers are held to laxer erosion standards than developers, namely because the cost of complying with more stringent standards could discourage forestry, which naturally carries smaller economic returns than subdivisions.

The county argued that Cameron was merely hiding behind the logging exemption, however. The county claimed Cameron’s real intention was to develop the property, witnessed by the creation of a development master plan, registering a subdivision name with the county and applying for a septic tank evaluation. He never did any logging other than cutting trees that lay in the path of the roads he built. And the cost of building the road was twice the value of the timber.

Cameron won a lawsuit claiming he was being held hostage by an overbearing erosion enforcement officer. The county settled out of court for $75,000.

Before the ink was dry, Cameron had put the tract up for sale. It was billed by his Realtor as perfect for development. One of the selling points listed in ads: “Roads already in.”

Comment

Western North Carolina has a plethora of environmental groups, making it easy to find the one that best matches up with your own passion. Many groups rely on memberships not only for financial support. More members also give an organization clout when pushing for public policy initiatives.

 

Water quality groups

Watershed Association of the Tuckaseigee River

A group that works to protect the Tuckaseigee River and the watershed that feeds it. The group has been active in finding ways to reduce sediment and pollution entering Jackson and Swain counties waterways. 828.631.1500. www.watrnc.org

Haywood Waterways Association

A nonprofit dedicated to maintaining and improving the water quality of the Pigeon River and Pigeon River Watershed — primarily that of Haywood County. The group promotes and advocates for water quality with local governments, does environmental education in the schools, performs public outreach, conducts water quality monitoring and sampling. 828.456.5195. www.haywoodwaterways.org

Little Tennessee Watershed Association

A conservation organization that protects and restores water quality and habitat in the Upper Little Tennessee River and its tributaries upstream of Fontana Lake. The group advocates and promotes water quality and stream protection, and performs water sampling and monitoring. 828.369.6402. www.littletennesseewatershed.org

 

Land trusts

Land Trust for the Little Tennessee

A nonprofit dedicated to conserving rural lands, forests, and waters in the six western most counties. The land trust has saved several thousand acres of farm and forest land from development in the region — sometimes by buying the land outright, but more commonly working with private landowners on conservation agreements. 828.524.2711. www.ltlt.org

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

Works across Western North Carolina to save land from development, protecting the natural, scenic, recreational, agricultural, historic and cultural resources of the region. Land trusts help private landowners place their tracts in conservation agreements or occasionally purchase special tracts outright. 828.253.0095. www.appalachian.org

Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust

Saves land from development in the Highlands area by securing conservation agreements with private landowners and sometimes buying special tracts outright. 828.526.9938 ext. 25.

 

Environmental advocacy

Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance

Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance is a grassroots organization whose mission is to address environmental issues affecting the Highlands-Cashiers area through education, advocacy, hands-on initiatives and collaboration with like-minded organizations. 828.526.9938 ext. 320. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wilderness Society

Since 1935, The Wilderness Society has worked nationwide to protect America’s wilderness, not as a relic of the past, but as a thriving ecological community that is central to life itself. Above all, The Wilderness Society’s mission is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. The national group has a field office in Franklin dedicated to the Southern Appalachians. 828.369.7084. wilderness.org

Canary Coalition

A statewide air quality advocacy group based in Sylva. The group has worked to keep air pollution and global warming at the center of public awareness. The Canary Coalition is also a player in the political arena. Its lobbying efforts have helped shape state policies. www.canarycoalition.org

Wild South

Formerly the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, this group is a primarily a watchdog for the national forests. It’s mission includes fighting logging and road building in national forests, protecting rare and endangered species, protecting against damaging forms of recreation such as ATV-use, and advocating for a healthy ecosystem. Regional office in Asheville. wildsouth.org

Southern Environmental Law Center

This group fights for environmental issues through the court system. Whether it is challenging violations of the Clean Air Act by utilities, stopping logging that threatens endangered species, or fighting irresponsible road construction, this group consistently rights environmental wrongs when legal action — or the threat of legal action — is the only recourse. Regional office in Asheville. www.southernenvironment.org

Chattooga Conservancy

Dedicated to protecting the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River watershed and corridor. Lobbies against more intensive recreational uses in special areas of the Chattooga River, such as high-impact horseback riding or paddling, and advocates for proper care by the national forest service. www.chattoogariver.org

WNC Alliance

An environmental action group operating throughout the region, the group brings concerned citizens together to address critical environmental issues facing local mountain communities, from sustainable development to the plague of exotic plants on the ecosystem. Local chapters in Haywood County and in Jackson County, and elsewhere in the region. 828.524.3899. www.wnca.org

 

National Park supporters

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This group supports the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by providing funds for projects the park otherwise couldn’t afford. Some projects include the reintroduction of elk, installing bear cables at backcountry campsites, restoring historic structures, protecting hemlocks from invasive bugs, building a new visitor center on the N.C. side of the park, and funding salaries for extra park rangers. 800.845.5665. www.friendsofthesmokies.org.

Friends of the Parkway

A nonprofit that works to preserve, protect and promote the Blue Ridge Parkway and its surrounding scenic landscape. Like Friends of the Smokies, the organization plays a vital role in aiding the park service with needs that go unfunded by the federal government. 800.228.7275. www.blueridgefriends.org.

Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Another major fundraising arm for the Blue Ridge Parkway, making possible visitor outreach, preservation of land adjacent to the Parkway, and programs for school children. 336.721.0260. www.brpfoundation.org.

National Parks Conservation Association

This group fights to safeguard the scenic beauty, wildlife, and historical and cultural treasures of the entire National Park system — whether it’s stopping construction of the North Shore Road through the Smokies or limiting snowmobiles in Yellowstone. 800.628.7275. www.npca.org

Comment

Folkmoot USA, North Carolina’s Official International Festival, has locked down its first presenting sponsor.

Evergreen Packaging has partnered with the Festival as its presenting sponsor for 2010 through 2013, becoming the first international corporation to develop a multiyear relationship with the nonprofit.

Based in Waynesville, Folkmoot USA operates a two-week folklore festival hosting approximately 350 musicians and traditional dancers from all over the world.

“This means a lot to the festival,” said Folkmoot USA Executive Director Karen Babcock. “In tough economic times, it’s good to have someone step up and make a multiyear commitment.”

Revenues from ticket sales do not cover the costs associated with hosting the festival. The nonprofit must pay Folkmoot performers’ room, board, and transportation expenses, as well as cover the cost of renting performance venues.

Evergreen Packaging, with facilities in Canton and Waynesville, employs more than a thousand people in Haywood County, home to Folkmoot USA. Evergreen produces paper and packaging products in operations worldwide.

“The fact that we are an international company made sponsoring this festival a particularly good fit,” said Jody Hanks, Evergreen vice president and general counsel. “We’re looking forward to helping bring people from all over the world to experience being in Western North Carolina.”

The 2010 Folkmoot Festival will take place July 22 – August 1 throughout ten counties in Western North Carolina. Folkmoot has been presented annually longer than any other traditional international folk festival in the U.S. and is considered one of the best festivals of its kind in all of North America.

Grand Opening and Candlelight Closing Tickets are now on sale. Call 828.452.2997 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for tickets.

For more information, visit www.FolkmootUSA.org or call 877.FolkUSA.

Comment

By Mark Jamison • Guest Columnist

I’ve spent most of my life minding my own business. I was raised by people who were reticent; reticent in their demeanor and in their culture. My grandfather didn’t have much education, only through the third grade, so even though he was proud of the fact that he taught himself, he was not supremely confident in putting those skills on public display.

I, too, didn’t have much education. That was not because of lack of opportunity or economic hardship — as in the case of my grandfather — but more from an inability to sit still and follow the program. I loved to read and learn because Pappaw loved to read and learn, but perhaps I took the wrong lesson from the circumstances he brought to the table.

So, besides the reticence that can sometimes be embodied in the culture of mountain folks, I found my lack of formal education a source of reticence in speaking up on things.

About 15 years ago I read an article in our local paper, The Sylva Herald, which quoted a newly-elected county commissioner as saying that he wanted to hit the ground running looking for new sources of revenue. The comment struck me in a funny way and over the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t seem to get it out of my head.

I’ve always had a love affair with newspapers. In small towns they tell the comings and goings of local folks. They help connect folks from town or the next cove over. In many places they are the only check on local government, providing the transparency that is critical for democracy to function.

I’ve loved too the writing in newspapers. It is special and different. A well-written lead is a thing of beauty, answering who, what, where, when and why with a precise economy. A good story builds on a good lead to bring facts and information together in a well-wrapped package. And good newspaper writing is neither dry nor boring — columnists like Mencken, Royko, Breslen, Rice, Lippman and Red Smith could bring news and opinion to an art form.

So despite my natural reticence, I decided that I would write a letter to the editor. It was one of the first things I ever wrote, and it went over pretty well. Folks would stop in the post office and say they’d seen it, and whether they agreed with the points I made, they said it made them think and that it was clear. I didn’t change anything, but I got folks to think and that, I thought, was useful.

A few months after my first letter to the editor a controversial local issue arose that affected my community in Speedwell. Folks asked me if I would write something in the paper about it, so I did. What I wrote seemed to articulate a certain sentiment in the community; one thing led to another and folks put me in charge of a committee to fight the issue. That led to more letters to the editor and eventually to more involvement in local issues and local government.

Over the ensuing years, I’ve written about 75 letters to the editor. I’ve tried to be selective and only write when I had something to say, and I’ve tried to recognize that one doesn’t have to have an opinion on everything. The letters have brought me some notoriety in the community — folks come up all the time and say they like or don’t like what I’ve said about this or that. The letters got me involved with a couple of grassroots issues in the county that, in one case, saved a quiet farm community from an industrial quarry.

I don’t consider myself a writer, at least not with a capital “W,” but some of what started as letters to the editor were apparently good enough to become commentaries in the The Smoky Mountain News, Mountain Xpress and some other local papers. Good enough, too, to win a couple of awards, including an N.C. Press Association award, although I have mixed emotions about that — I don’t want to be like the boy who got the medal for being the most humble then had it taken away because he wore it. I’m told I have a style, but it’s not something I’ve tried to craft or culture, I just write down what falls out of my head.

The news today is full of predictions that newspapers are dying. I suppose the advent of new technology and new media makes that inevitable. I have a friend who is curious in a brilliant sort of way. He has a way of researching and learning about obscure and arcane things and a talent for posting some of those things in a blog. When I see the things Perry writes and posts on his blog, I am impressed with the potential for new media. But I also know that what he does can never replace what a newspaper does.

I read two newspapers online every day. I think it’s amazing that I can have access to the New York Times and the Washington Post in that format. The truth though is that, if I could afford them, I would much rather have them spread out on the table in front of me. It seems to me that I can read them better that way. I can scan better, pick and choose what I want to read in detail and actually navigate the media better. I find, too, that reading the paper online actually takes longer — even with a relatively fast internet connection, there is a break in the continuity of my attention as a page loads.

The things I see on the Internet that are supposed to replace the newspaper don’t impress me. What passes for journalism is often just a rehash and combination of other people’s efforts — there seems to be very little actual source reporting. I also see what amounts to a great deal of anonymous opinionating on the Internet. I’m told the Internet is supposed to democratize communication and create broader communities of interest. I don’t really see that. In forums and comments and blogs I see what amounts to anonymous rock throwing and pontificating. It’s easy to be intemperate and wrong from the comfort of one’s own desk at perhaps 3 a.m. in one’s pajamas. There don’t seem to be any consequences for hitting the send button, and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of real communication.

Good journalism, I think, isabout telling stories well, but it is also about ethics and responsibility, about perfecting craft and establishing bona fides. Good journalism is often about immediacy, getting the story first, but it is also about good clear writing with depth. Twitter reduces things to their most banal and inane basis. Twitter is to writing and journalism what a cell phone picture is to Ansel Adams. Immediacy is important, but when it trumps everything, it is nothing but self-indulgent laziness raised to the level of addiction.

Newspapers may be dying and it may be inevitable that one form of media delivery is ultimately replaced with another, but the thing I find dangerous is that what is also dying is good newspaper journalism. We are learning the wrong lessons from our love affair with the Web. We are fueling our destructive need for instant gratification and our fickleness for attention-grabbing new bells and whistles with our move to new technology. In the process of allowing our eyes to be drawn to spangly candy, we are missing the point because the real value of the Web is its ability to add depth. We have the ultimate fact checker with the quintessential ability to store, sort and assimilate untold depths of information, and we are more interested in creating a democratized Tower of Babble where cacophony trumps all.

Today I found and read a section from John Maynard Keynes’ seminal work The Economic Consequences of the Peace on Google Books. On another archive, I found the work of Olivia Darden, a woman who wrote with a fascinating voice about early 20th century mountain culture. This is what the Internet can do, and we’re missing it.

I hope good newspaper journalism doesn’t die. I think there are benefits to print media that give it lasting value. The time, effort and expense it takes to put something in print is a sorting process that has value. The local paper that comes out every week is a marker of time that is important. It gives a rhythm and pace to our week, it is a parameter of community. I hope there continues to be a place where a reticent, not especially well-educated, fellow can screw up his courage and put something in print that says he thinks a local politician said something that didn’t make sense. The effort in putting those thoughts in order, committing them to paper and seeing them in print where his neighbors and friends can read them and hold the fellow accountable for what he said is fundamentally different than hitting the send button and going to bed.

(Mark Jamison lives in Jackson County and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Comment

Anna Fariello believes that artifacts — somewhat like windows — can act as passageways to a culture’s soul.

“Material culture can be a window onto the changes that occur in social and cultural history,” said Fariello, an associate professor and chief architect of the Craft Revival Project at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.

An author, editor and former research fellow at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Fariello most recently turned her attention to Cherokee basketry, a thousands-year-old tradition, passed from mother to daughter, that she believes is integral to Cherokee culture.

Fariello’s new book, titled Cherokee Basketry: From the Hands of our Elders, studies Cherokee baskets and basket-makers who lived during the first half of the 20th century.

The project reinforced Fariello’s understanding that for Cherokee people, “the making of things is significant to their culture and their identity,” a concept foreign to many people in contemporary, mainstream culture, she said. The Cherokees’ use of natural resources as basket materials gave Fariello an appreciation of the environmental sustainability and ecological balance also inherent in the culture.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians played a significant role in the craft revival, a regional movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that produced a wealth of objects, identified traditional skills, and revitalized handwork production in Western North Carolina.

With a grant from the State Library of North Carolina, Fariello originally set out to expand the information available on the project’s site, which chronicles the movement and its impact on Western North Carolina through text and images.

Fariello worked with the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee with the purpose of making their collections available online.

A grant of $47,000 from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation added a second element to the project: to research and more fully document basketry in those collections.

While the project did not start out as a book, Fariello said it seemed the logical conclusion. “The book takes scattered elements and arranges them for a more complete picture,” she said.

Cherokee Basketry examines specifics about basket-makers themselves, how baskets were made, and what they were used for. Archival photographs illustrate “Cherokee Basketry,” published by The History Press of Charleston, S.C.

“I hope that this book has a broad audience,” Fariello said. “I think it can serve as a classroom text for Cherokee studies or the visual arts, and I also think it will have a broad public appeal for anyone interested in regional culture, especially the influence of the Cherokees on Western North Carolina.”

Fariello presented books to Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Michell Hicks and the Tribal Council. Fariello also gave 200 copies of the book to Cherokee School Superintendent Joyce Dugan for teachers to use in the Eastern Band’s new K-12 school.

The project was a great service to the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, whose permanent collection has more than 100 baskets and continues to grow.

“Before the archive organization, the only recorded information in our permanent collection was a handwritten line about each item,” said Vicki Cruz, manager of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual.

Now the co-op’s archives are digitized and include contemporary photos, as well as information about dimensions, materials and patterns, and the artists themselves.

Fariello also worked with co-op employees on the care and display of the baskets, and about recordkeeping when a new piece enters the collection.

Cruz said she eventually plans to use her new knowledge to document the work of contemporary basket-makers. “The daughters of basket-makers Agnes Welch and Eva Wolfe, they’re basket-makers too, and now their daughters are starting to weave,” she said.

The basketry book is the first in the “From the Hands of our Elders” series, a three-year project to document Cherokee arts.

The next book, funded with $87,770 from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, will focus on Cherokee potters and pottery during the first part of the 20th century. A book on Cherokee woodcarving and mask making is scheduled to follow.

For more information about the “From the Hands of our Elders” series or the Craft Revival Web site, contact Fariello at 828.227.2499 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Comment

Waynesville’s land-use plan is an ambitious set of ideas adopted during a booming economic era and thus full of the optimism of such times. Now that times are tougher, we hope task force members charged with updating the plan don’t forsake its guiding principles, a pedestrian-friendly new urbanism that is well-suited to meet future challenges.

Waynesville’s regulations guiding development and growth were adopted in 2002 after 29 months of public input. The rules address everything from building placement on lots to landscaping and signs, and the plan is marked by a decidedly liberal mixed-use philosophy that allows contrasting uses in close proximity as long as certain standards are met.

Since its adoption, there have been many flashpoints as town leaders sought to allay the concerns of builders and developers and address flaws in the plan. Finally, the decision was made to appoint a blue-ribbon task force to update the regulations, and that group has been working for months on modifications.

As expected, parking is one most contentious issues. Current regulations guide parking to the rear of buildings, creating a street wall that re-creates a downtown look rather than the traditional setbacks that give parking lots the dominant spot in nearly all commercial development. A big question is whether this look — examples include the CVS pharmacy and McDonald’s on Russ Avenue — forces too many concessions from business owners, and whether it is practical at all as one of the plan’s guiding philosophies.

We think it is. While concessions can be made in certain areas of town and on particular lots, we believe strongly that the pedestrian-guided growth will remain popular. Years fly by fast, and this land-use plan needs to look to the future. We’re not talking about next year or even five years from now, but more like 25 or 30 years down the road.

A couple of decades from now more people will be walking and biking, and we will have more mass transit. More and more people have decided that protecting what’s special about their communities is tied to the personal choices they make. In other words, shopping near one’s home and not being so dependant on the automobile and fossil fuels are important if our small towns are to thrive. This kind of future fits perfectly with the new urbanism land-use model that Waynesville has adopted.

As is always the case, the future depends on what happens now. Waynesville has to modify its land-use plan to fix the flaws, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The new urbanism model will evolve, but it is growing in popularity for many very important and essential reasons. Communities who get on board early — and stay the course — will reap the benefits in the decades to come.

Comment

Melodie G. Galloway will take over as the new musical director for the Lake Junaluska Singers starting Jan. 1.

“Directing the Junaluska Singers represents a lifelong dream for me,” said Galloway. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with this premiere ensemble.”

Galloway’s experience as a conductor and soprano soloist includes opera, oratorio, musical theatre, and a professional vocal ensemble, where she has been a soloist in Russia, Estonia, Ireland, England, and Spain. She is in regional demand as a conductor, clinician, and adjudicator.

Her research work includes two international conference presentations and an article written for the peer-reviewed UK journal, Studies in Musical Theatre, to be published in the January 2010 issue.

Galloway is a Lake Junaluska Singer Alumna, having sung for several seasons. She has also served as a LJS accompanist, soloist, choreographer, and as the agent for orchestra personnel for LJS concerts.

Galloway holds a Master’s degree from Florida State University in Vocal Performance and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Conducting from the University of Greensboro.

Currently, Galloway is an assistant professor in music at UNC-Asheville, directing the University Singers, the Chamber Singers, and Studio 18 - an advanced vocal jazz ensemble, and she is the Coordinator of Vocal Studies.

For a full biography, visit www.lakejunaluska.com/singers.aspx

Comment

A cash settlement with the federal government in lieu of the long-promised North Shore Road will reap annual dividends for Swain County for years to come.

The county will put the money in a lockbox and only use the interest each year. In fact, the county couldn’t tap the principal even if it wanted to without permission from a two-thirds majority of all county voters.

Last year, the county created a trust fund to safeguard the pending windfall with the North Carolina State Treasurer. The state will remit interest off the account to Swain County, but the principal cannot be touched unless supported by a supermajority of registered voters in Swain County.

“Since by law only the interest income can be spent, the county will have a source of income forever. Therefore every citizen of Swain County will benefit,” Douthit said.

The government will pay $4 million into the account immediately. The remaining $8.8 million will be released 120 days after a final settlement figure is agreed on.

The state’s investment vehicle has performed well. It reaped an average 6.2 percent interest over the past five years, according to the N.C. State Treasurer.

Interest on the $12.8 million would be close to $800,000 annually, based on the average interest rate of the past five years.

Comment

According to the government standards defining poverty in the 1950’s, I was poor. My father did not hold a regular job. My mother took in ironing for neighbors before landing a job in the Bethel School cafeteria washing dishes. We rarely ate meat except for Sunday dinner and my mother sewed all of my clothes. Yet, I never once thought of childhood as deprived. As my father often reminded me, we had food on the table (albeit beans and cornbread) and that was more than he had as a child in the 1920’s.

When December rolled around, the weather became bleak and chilly. My father’s mood matched the weather. Cold weather made his legs — crippled from injuries in the war — ache, and he knew that we had no money for Christmas gifts. My mother tried to put on a happy face but her memories of a bleak childhood in Madison County where holiday joy was considered a sin kept her from truly reveling in the season.

Despite the hardships, I loved December. I had fantasies of Santa Claus arriving at our small frame house and answering all of the requests in the letters that I had meticulously written to him. I would religiously leave cookies and milk by the hearth in hopes of receiving the store-bought items that I longed to own. I wanted Barbie dolls, an Etch-a-Sketch, a Slinky and an Easy Bake oven — all commercial items that I had heard about from my friends. They never came my way, but I was given something far better — gifts from the heart and memories to last a lifetime.

My mother’s homemade clothes were always under the shabby little tree that we found in the woods. When I was older and longed for Go-Go boots and mini-skirts, my mother would sew a small wardrobe of shifts (the kind with pleats on the side) and a-line skirts of a sensible length. My father would construct a toy from wood or simply give me some Indian arrowheads that he had found in the fields near our house. I loved collecting arrowheads and pieces of pottery.

One year he and my mother built a dollhouse for me. My father took an old display case from a general store that he had once owned and with paint and imagination constructed a spectacular house for my meager collection of dolls. He built furniture from scraps of wood and my mother sewed curtains and made small lamps from wooden spools that had once been covered with thread. He even wallpapered the house with remnants from the red velvet wallpaper that he had used to paper the new Red Dog Saloon at Ghost Town. The house with its glass front was truly a work of art — as unique as a Frank Lloyd Wright creation. I don’t think that I’ve felt as rich since.

Thanks to these early lessons, I learned to create gifts from the heart. I made Christmas cards and Valentine cards decorated with pieces of construction paper, left-over lace and stray buttons. I painstakingly copied poems from Leaves of Grass or made up by own messages. My mother and I baked cookies for gifts and my teachers at Bethel Elementary seemed to love them.

When I first married — still a teenager — I was anxious to share my love of home-made gifts with my new in-laws. They worked regular jobs and made more money than my family. They loved to buy expensive store-bought gifts for my husband and me and for some reason, I never felt comfortable around them. My first Christmas with my new family, I wrapped gifts of homemade jams, warm yeast breads, and a host of tacky little crafts that I had made. I painted English walnut shells a bright red, dotted them with black spots, and glued a piece of green felt to the top to create “strawberries.” I placed them in a green plastic tomato basket that I had woven with ribbons. I thought they were lovely but my face still burns with embarrassment as I remember the disdainful looks at my homemade gifts. I never saw the gifts again and they were most likely stashed in the back of a closet.

Fortunately I learned early on that time-intensive gifts made from the heart were not appreciated by everyone. I took to saving Green Stamps, pasting them into the little books and trading them in for store-bought gifts at the Green Stamp store in Canton. The gifts were sterile, lacked any real imagination but were appreciated by my in-laws far more than my cross-stitch samplers and cookies.

When I married my current husband, Tom, I was delighted to learn that his mother baked 50 cakes every Christmas to give to her many friends in the small southern town of Grovetown, Ga. Miss Ginny knew everyone’s favorite — lemon cheesecake, chocolate layer or pound cake — and lined up the cakes on her screened-in porch like soldiers headed for battle. She was locally famous for these cakes and continued this practice well into her ‘90’s. As she sat in her wicker rocker on that wonderful porch, she would greet each recipient of her cakes with heartfelt kindness. Despite her failing eyesight and unpredictable memory, she knew that the best gifts come from the heart, not the pocketbook.

I have tried to continue this tradition with my own children despite the social demands of the teenage years for “mall clothes” and music. I insisted (as I ignored their rolling eyes) that one gift every Christmas had to come from the heart and cost nothing but time and love. It was often a card with misspelled messages, a lopsided ornament, stick-figure drawings of our family or homemade cookies.

Now my children honor the tradition with ideas of their own and love the notion that great gifts can be free and still appreciated. They construct picture collages of themselves because they know that I love family photographs. They write poetry and paint lovely watercolors. They cook wonderful meals for the family and print the recipes.

Each year we love the ritual of planning and cooking a truly spectacular meal for Christmas Eve. I tend to lean toward thematic meals — old English dinners, a Deep-South menu, an Appalachian mountain meal, and recently when we spent a Christmas in Charleston, a low country meal of shrimp and grits. It’s fun to mix it up each year and throw in some surprises.

The preparation of the Christmas Eve meal is a labor of love — a gift of sharing one’s time and energy. We carefully pore over cookbooks to find the perfect recipes. I scour the local stores for table decorations and candles to complement the theme. The little touches often make the meal a success.

This year as we sat at the dining room table after a huge Thanksgiving meal, my children and I began our plans for Christmas Eve. My husband Tom is happy with whichever menu we choose — he is willing to be our gopher and taster — but admits to lacking gourmet tastes. We decide that this year we will have a “Memory of Grandmas” menu. Both my mother and Tom’s mother passed away this past year and it seems to be a good year to cook their favorites. The foods on our special menu will be cooked in honor of these two great ladies and will be our own gifts from the heart to their incredible spirits.

I decided to bake a simple chicken pot pie in honor of my mother. This was her favorite dish. She loved the crunchy pie crust that was filled with chunks of chicken and diced vegetables swimming in gravy. She would hum one of her favorite hymns as she mixed up the pie crust in her mother’s old walnut dough tray. She also loved a fruit salad to accompany the hearty main dish and would usually whip up a bowl of mashed potatoes to help soak up some of the chicken gravy.

My mother-in-law would never be happy with just one vegetable side-dish so we will need to add a bowl of freshly shelled garden peas with pearl onions — one of her favorite side dishes. The dessert will be a couple of the famous “Miss Ginny cakes.” It is hard to imagine that the cakes will be as good as hers or that we will enjoy them as much without her presence. Yet we will try to honor her and remember her loving Southern hospitality and her sweet gentle nature.

In honor of both of our mothers, we will use our best china, a lace tablecloth and fresh flowers on the table — nothing less would suit them on a special occasion. We will serve our food in serving dishes that once graced their Christmas tables. We will light two candles — one for each mother. We will recall wonderful memories of their lives and we will laugh and cry as we tell the stories that defined their lives. They were both remarkable ladies from a time past — a time when cooking a meal and holding a family together were the most important jobs a woman could perform.

As I roll out the dough for the chicken pot pie, I use my mother’s old rolling pin and my grandmother’s dough tray. I remember watching my mother’s worn fingers punching and rolling the flaky pie crust and gently molding it into the baking dish. I remember the sound of the rolling pin on the wooden counter top and her voice as she hummed “Just As I Am” or “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” I feel her presence in the kitchen with me as I pour the warm chicken pieces, garden vegetables and gravy mixture into the crust. I know that she is delighted to be remembered and to share this meal in spirit with her dear friend, Miss Ginny.

When my mother passed away last year, I gathered stacks of notebooks that she had meticulously filled with Bible verses, hymns, her own words of wisdom, and favorite recipes. This December I have taken the time to open the giant plastic container that has housed these beautiful memories over the past year. Each spiral bound notebook is filled with neat pencil entries. Each line echoes the sound of my mother’s voice. She has listed prayer concerns for her family, her community and her country and her many thanks of gratitude for the gifts that this life has provided her.

Through my tears, I recognize this soulful collection of writings as a gift of love; my mother’s gift from the heart to her daughter and her grandchildren. When I hear a particular hymn or bake a chicken pot pie, I will feel the presence of my beloved mother. When I see a homemade cake and a wicker rocking chair on a southern porch, I will think of Miss Ginny and her gracious kindness. And I will know that these memories embody the power of love — gifts that transcends time and death, gifts from the heart.

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Wanda Morris walked into uncharted territory when she started teaching Gaming Management Technology three years ago at Southwestern Community College.

“We were the first community college in the state to offer the program so we took our chances thinking outside the box,” said Morris. “In fact, very few four-year colleges even offer the program.”

At the college’s graduation ceremony Tues., Dec. 15, the first graduates of SCC’s program will receive their certificates.

Gaming is a big business with a certain lure of 24/7 excitement as blackjack tables whirl and slot machines hit jackpot.

To design a college program that accurately represented the professional field, Morris called on experts like Ron Hager, who has more than 25 years experience in the gaming industry. Hager, who came to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino from Caesar’s in Indiana, gave the students an overview of the different games like craps, roulette and cards. Then he took them into Harrah’s training center to practice dealing and playing with professionals.

“I knew if I was going to bring that same sense of excitement to the classroom that the classroom sure wouldn’t be typical,” Morris said.

Harrah’s director of marketing Leeann Bridges-McHattie instructed the class in planning a marketing calendar. Students learned the customer service end from Greg Galloway of Harrah’s. They learned about job descriptions and job analysis from Jo Blaylock and Tina Vaitkus, who talked about how many job descriptions will change as a result of the casino’s ability to serve alcohol.

Other courses in the program dealt with gaming law and regulations, accounting and controls, gaming facility management and social issues in gaming.

For more information, call Thom Brooks, SCC dean of career technologies, at 828.586.4091, ext. 202.

Comment

My Mother’s Chicken Pot Pie

• 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves—cubed

• 1 cup sliced carrots

• 1 cup frozen green peas

• 1/2 cup of sliced celery

• 1/3 cup butter

• 1/3 cup chopped onion

• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

• 1/4 teaspoon celery seed

• 1 3/4 cups chicken broth

• 2/3 cup milk

No Fail Pie Crust:

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 cup shortening

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1 egg

• 1/4 cup cold water

• 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix egg, water and vinegar together. Pour into flour all at once and blend with a fork until dough forms a ball. Wrap with plastic and chill in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, peas and celery. Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir flour, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.

Roll out pie crust on floured surface. Divide into two sections—one for the top crust, one for the bottom.

Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

 

Deluxe Mashed Potatoes*

• 4 large potatoes

• 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

• 1/2 cup sour cream

• 1 tablespoon chopped chives

• 3/4 teaspoon onion salt

• 1/4 teaspoon pepper

• 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

• Paprika

Peel and cube the potatoes; place in a saucepan and cover with water. Cook over medium heat until tender; drain. Mash until smooth (do not add milk or butter). Stir in cream cheese, sour cream, chives, onion salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into a greased 1? quart baking dish. Dot with butter; sprinkle with paprika if desired. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until heated through.

*The potatoes are not my mother’s recipe — she just mashed the boiled potatoes with milk and butter. But I like this mashed potato dish because it can be made ahead of time and heated up in the oven.

 

Green Peas Supreme

• 4 ounces Canadian bacon, diced (optional)

• 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

• 3 cups frozen peas

• 12 fresh pearl onions, peeled (or just use the canned ones)

• 1/2 cup water

• 1/2 teaspoon sugar

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, cook bacon in butter until lightly browned. Add the peas, onions, water, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes; drain.

 

Miss Ginny’s Six Layer Cake

Duncan Hines Butter recipe cake mix

Grease and flour six (yes, six! This is how the cake looks so beautiful on that front porch) cake pans. Mix the cake as directed, divide into six cake pans and bake at 350. Cool, layer and frost. The basic cake can then be iced with any number of frostings. Here are Miss Ginny’s favorites:

Coconut Icing

• 1 package frozen coconut

• 2 cups sugar

• 8 oz. sour cream

Sprinkle sugar over coconut and blend well with fork or fingers. Store in refrigerator overnight. Add sour cream to mixture. Blend and frost tops of layer cake. Keeps well in refrigerator.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

• 1 stick softened butter or margarine

• 4 oz. softened cream cheese

• 1 box confectioner’s sugar

• 1/3 cup cocoa (or desired amount)

Mix thoroughly with a small amount of milk to blend together nicely.

 

Miss Ginny’s Lemon Cheese Cake*

• 1 (18.5 ounce) package yellow cake mix

• 1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix

• 1 cup milk

• 1/3 cup vegetable oil

• 3 eggs

• 6 egg yolks

• 1 1/2 cups white sugar

• 1 cup butter

• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 cup fresh lemon juice

• 4 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake layer pans.

Combine the cake mix, instant vanilla pudding, milk, vegetable oil and the 3 whole eggs. Mix until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until cakes test done. Set aside cakes to cool.

To make lemon Cheese Filling: in the top half of double boiler combine the egg yolks, white sugar, butter or margarine, flour, grated lemon rind and lemon juice. Cook stirring constantly over medium heat until mixture is thick enough to spread. Let cool before spreading between cooled cake layers.

*I had never heard of this cake until I met Miss Ginny — I thought it would be a lemon-flavored cheese cake (wrong). Apparently it is an old southern favorite and now one of our favorites.

Comment

Haywood Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Poore has been named as the new chief executive officer of MedWest Health System following a unanimous vote of the MedWest System Board and the recommendation of Carolinas Heathcare System.

MedWest is the name of the affiliation of Haywood Regional, Harris Regional and Swain County hospitals.

“I’m excited about the challenges of bringing these two organizations together to better serve all of our communities,” Poore said. “With the resources of WestCare, Haywood and Carolinas HealthCare integrated, we’ll be able to enhance further the healthcare of our region,”

As soon as MedWest governing board members were appointed, they faced the tough decision of picking one of two leaders vying for the position of MedWest CEO: Poore, who served as CEO of Haywood Regional Medical Center, and Mark Leonard, CEO of WestCare Health System.

Poore will assume the MedWest CEO position Jan. 1, 2010.

Leonard congratulated Poore on his appointment upon learning the news.

“I would ask the WestCare staff to give Mike the same level of commitment and dedication they have provided me,” said Leonard.

Leonard has chosen to seek other professional opportunities and will be evaluating them in the upcoming weeks and months, according to WestCare spokesman Brian Thomas.

The transitional period will take approximately six months, according to Mark Clasby, chairman of the MedWest board.

“Mike Poore will be very busy over the next few months working with the new organization and with Carolinas HealthCare System as they develop the management action plan to be presented to the MedWest board,” said Clasby.

Before serving as HRMC’s CEO, Poore served as senior vice president and administrator for two hospitals and a nursing facility in Atlanta.

The MedWest Board of Directors is made up of 14 members and has equal representation from both Haywood Regional Hospital and Harris Regional and Swain County Hospitals. Two physicians each from Haywood and WestCare also serve on the board of directors.

Both WestCare and HRMC have experienced financial difficulties over the last two years. HRMC had its Medicaid and Medicare funding yanked after failing inspections. That controversy nearly led to the hospital’s closure and prompted the resignation of former CEO David Rice and the hiring of a new administrative staff. WestCare last year announced a job reduction of up to 90 employees as it struggled to remain financially viable.

The two hospitals announced earlier this year their intention to affiliate under the name MedWest and enter a management contract with Carolinas Healthcare System out of Charlotte. The two hospitals will remain separate and keep their own boards, but Poore will act as CEO of the joint MedWest system.

Comment

Despite the daunting road ahead, Franklin High School principal Gary Shields is steering his undocumented students toward the naturalization process. Gaining citizenship would give his students a shot at higher education and better job opportunities.

“They’re not going home, and so we’ve got to find some way that they can make a contribution to our society,” said Shields.

Shields became interested in helping the students after one of his football players came to him for help after being threatened with deportation last summer.

Shields assisted the student in applying for citizenship and decided to do the same for the rest of the undocumented students at his school.

“The students look at me saying, ‘I don’t even know anyone in Mexico, I don’t even know anything about the culture,’” said Shields. “I call them the hip kids. They came here on mama’s hip. They know nothing about their homeland.”

Shields enlisted the help of Saul Olvera, a Macon County Middle School business teacher who brings firsthand experience of the naturalization process.

The duo met with undocumented students and their parents earlier this school year to educate them on the lengthy, expensive procedure.

“Going through the process was tedious, it was expensive, it required many trips,” said Olvera, who said he’s returning the favor after receiving help from his own teachers in the past.

Shields stressed the importance of starting paperwork early since the application procedure can take five to eight years to complete.

A 16-year old junior at Franklin High School said she’s still waiting to hear on a naturalization application that her parents submitted eight years ago.

Despite the long delay, there’s no guarantee that she will become a U.S. citizen. If she doesn’t become a legal resident by the time she turns 18 next December, she will have to restart the entire process.

“I kind of don’t think it’s fair, for the kids,” said the student, who would like to see children prioritized over adults in the naturalization process. “We have more opportunities than they do.”

While she and her fellow undocumented students wait for a decision, they live with an ever-present fear.

“We can’t go out like other people,” the junior said. “We can get deported ... We’re terrified for our parents to get deported.”

Unlike their classmates, undocumented students cannot obtain a driver’s license, check out materials from the public library, or work summer jobs legitimately.

Olvera and Shields have contacted county commissioners and state representatives to point out treatment they see as unfair.

“Most of the students that are in school now did not have the option to come or not,” said Olvera. “That is the poignant disadvantage. Why are children being punished for something they had no control over? ... We’re just trying to make their dreams possible.”

Comment

Editor’s note: These articles first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times and are reprinted with permission of the writer.

Lawyers for 13 people who bought land in a controversial Big Ridge subdivision in Cashiers say federal prosecutors in Miami and Pittsburgh, Pa., have opened a criminal investigation into loans obtained from SunTrust Bank.

The 13 buyers have asked a federal judge in North Carolina to delay action in a civil fraud suit filed against them by SunTrust due to the federal probe.

“Defendants understand that they are more than material witnesses in the government’s investigation and have not been ruled out as targets of the criminal investigation and/or potential defendants,’’ lawyers have argued in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Bryson City.

The buyers, from Florida and Pennsylvania, bought lots in the development in 2006 and later obtained construction loan mortgages of more than $1 million a piece from SunTrust. The bank alleges that all of them falsified their income to obtain the money. SunTrust is seeking repayment of more than $19 million.

In an affidavit filed in federal court, Michael P. O’Day Sr., a Pittsburgh lawyer, says he represents one of the 13 defendants in the criminal investigation and has been in contact with federal prosecutors in Miami and Pittsburgh.

O’Day said the SunTrust transactions are part of a broader investigation of the development and “certain individuals’’ involved with it.

“I have been advised that the U.S. Government believes some and/or all of the individuals involved with the development potentially committed criminal acts,’’ O’Day said.

Most work in the development started by Domenic Rabuffo is at a standstill as SunTrust and other banks foreclose on lot after lot. Partially constructed houses sit abandoned on more than 15 lots.

Rabuffo, a native of New York and part time resident of Miami, was convicted of mortgage fraud in New York in the late 1980s.

His onetime business partner, the “fat man,’’ was killed in a 1987 mob hit as he dined at Bravo Sergio, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

Rabuffo and his partner were accused of masterminding a $49-million mortgage fraud. Rabuffo pleaded guilty, went into the witness protection program and served a brief prison sentence.

The only recent activity in the development, which was initially named Hampton Springs, occurred last week when workers moved a mobile home from one lot to another after a mortgage foreclosure suit was filed on the lot where the mobile home had been located. The name of the development has since been changed to Spring Ridge Vista.

Foreclosure suits have been brought against owners of most of the lots in the development as well as individual lots Rabuffo purchased in the name of his ex-wife, Mae.

Sylva lawyer Jay Pavey is fighting his own battle with SunTrust, asking a federal judge to quash the bank’s effort to subpoena his files on the land purchases and mortgages he handled for the 13 buyers.

Last month, Federal Magistrate Dennis L. Howell ordered Pavey to surrender some of the documents SunTrust has requested. Pavey said the subpoena is overly broad and would put an undue burden on his law firm.

Lawyers for SunTrust are opposing any effort to delay proceedings in the civil suit and want to question Pavey under oath.

Pavey prepared all of the deeds and mortgages for Rabuffo’s development over the last few years. He says he was not aware of anything improper.

 

Sims Valley sold in foreclosure

Sims Valley, a pastoral subdivision that was once part of a historic farm, was sold in a foreclosure auction Friday, Nov. 20 at the Jackson County Courthouse.

The Bank of Macon County, holder of a $6.9-million mortgage on the property, offered the only bid — $4.7-million for 225 acres left in the development.

Five houses, a clubhouse and swimming pool, hiking trails, paved roads, underground utilities and other facilities were built by Big Ridge Partners LLC during the past three years. The development is on a farm established in 1898 by pioneers Willis and Laura Sims. It lies at the end of Pilot Knob Road off of Big Ridge Road.

Dennis Ford, project manager for the original developer, has been retained by the bank to keep an eye on the project while attempts are made to find a buyer.

Ford said the development is a victim of current economic conditions.

“My guess is that someone will buy it for speculation and wait until the market improves,’’ Ford said.

Sims Valley has 80 lots, including 19 that sold for prices ranging from $125,000 to $500,000.

Big Ridge Land Partners is owned by Brett and Susan Turner of Richmond Hill, Ga.

(Lucy Morgan is a semi-retired, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. She is a part-year resident of the Cashiers Valley area. Lucy Morgan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Comment

A 1,488-acre tract along the Blue Ridge Parkway in McDowell County has been protected from development thanks to a conservation agreement with the landowner, a railroad corporation.

The long, linear tract is owned by CSX, a rail shipping corporation. A rail line on the tract will continue operating, but the property can never be developed or logged. CSX got $3.67 million for placing the property in a conservation agreement with the Conservation Trust of North Carolina. More than half was state money from various conservation trust funds, while the rest was raised privately. Land conservation philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback and Bill and Nancy Stanback, all of Salisbury, were among the major contributors.

In addition to preserving Parkway views, it contains state Natural Heritage Areas and Catawba River headwater streams. The property also includes about 1.5 miles of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, the route followed by mountain militiamen during the American Revolution on their way to the pivotal Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.

Comment

University students conducting environmental fieldwork and research at the Highlands Biological Station have spent the past semester delving into the ecological diversity of the Southern Appalachians.

The students conducted research and internships in conjunction with several local organizations. This year, the Highlands Biological Station partnered with the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, and the Highlands Plateau Greenway, providing the students experience with professional groups while advancing the conservation and educational initiatives of the organizations.

Student research ranged from field studies looking for rare species of salamanders to the development of environmental curriculum for local schools and citizen science initiatives.

Projects included:

• Developing a plan for revegetating sections of the Highlands Greenway with native plant species.

• Updating the State of the Streams report for the Little Tennessee watershed.

• Looking for trends in the Highlands’ Important Bird Area, recently designated by the Audubon Society, using historic and recent birding records, including archival material from the Biltmore Estate.

• Fish monitoring of the abundance and diversity in the greater Little Tennessee watershed, collected over a 20-year period by Dr. William McLarney of Franklin, in collaboration between the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab, the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, and the Highlands Biological Station with help from the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust.

 

Want to know more?

UNC-Chapel Hill students who spent the past semester based at the Highlands Biological Station will present their research findings at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 9. The presentations will be held at the newly-renovated Bruce Biodiversity Building, located at 265 N. Sixth Street in Highlands, accessible from the neighboring Nature Center. 828.526.2602.

Comment

Satire is one of language’s most powerful weapons, and when used effectively, it can foster meaningful dialogue on important topics.

A recent letter in The Smoky Mountain News brings this point home. Lamar Marshall poked fun at Macon County officials who are lengthening their airport’s runway despite the fact that the project is being built over the remains of a former village that contains burial sites and other artifacts. Marshall belittled the officials who place more value on building the new runway than on any concerns Native Americans may have for the burial grounds of their ancestors. He used biting satire to make his point. Some Native Americans may have been offended, but in reality Marshall was arguing on their behalf.

Read the letters in this week’s edition (below) and you’ll see some of the conversation that letter provoked. Marshall is apologizing for those who may have been offended by his piece, which was criticized last week by two writers. In this edition, Cherokee Chief Michell Hicks weighs in, agreeing with Marshall’s point but questioning the use of a literary device that is often misunderstood.

Taken together, the chief’s letter and Marshall’s from two weeks ago prove the value of satire, in particular, and journalism in general. Marshal’s portrayal of Macon County officials marketing their airport as a great place to land on top of ancient Cherokee graves raised valid points about this issue. How far do we go in the pursuit of economic development and the almighty dollar? How far is too far?

The follow-up to Marshall’s letter has been emotional and, from our perspective, very positive. It has unleashed needed public discussion on an issue that had dropped off the front pages.

We applaud Marshal and those who have written to discuss this important issue, including Chief Hicks. Satire can make us wince, but in this case it has led to a fundamentally important discussion about what our society values.

Comment

Three Cherokee Middle School students starred in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park live field broadcast via the web to hundreds of schools across the nation last month.

The rest of Cherokee’s middle school students watched the virtual fieldtrip from the school auditorium. The students watching the video could call or e-mail questions to the park rangers to answer in real time.

The Electronic Field Trip gave middle school students an interactive opportunity to understand how plants and animals depend on one another as part of the same ecosystem. During the educational adventure, students learned how the variety of elevations, abundant rainfall and the presence of old growth forests give the park unusually high level of biodiversity, from black bears to microscopic waterbears, lichens, elk and lungless salamanders.

Southwestern Community College GEAR UP coordinated the three students’ involvement in the experience and the schoolwide viewing of the webcast.

Comment

By Joe Cowan • Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: Jackson County Commissioner Joe Cowan made the following comments following a vote last week to stop legal proceedings against Duke Energy over its plan to take down the Dillsboro Dam, the centerpiece of the utility giant’s mitigation for a new license to use water from the Tuckasegee and its tributaries for the next 40 years.

 

Having observed this all my life, and the power company before Duke — Sylva-Dillsboro Electric Light Company, where my father worked for a few years — I’ve got some attachment to the dam and some interest in the relationships in the past and hopefully the type of relationship we may have in the future with Duke Energy.

I, too, observed the stakeholder meetings that have been referred to many, many times in the past seven years. Those stakeholder meetings, in my honest opinion, were a farce, nothing but a ruse to try and dupe good local people into believing that Duke Energy had the best interest of the people of Jackson County at heart rather than the monetary gain and interests of Duke Energy. That, to me, is a fact.

Greed. That’s the word I hear used frequently when large utility companies are referred to, greed. In my opinion, had it not been for greed, there would not have been seven years of bickering with Duke Energy.

Why did Duke want to take down the Dillsboro Dam? They haven’t said. They said many times in their proceedings that it was a linchpin of their proposal for a settlement, but why did they really want to take it down? It didn’t benefit Duke, didn’t do anything for 20 miles upriver. It’s not going to improve the environment of the river or what lives in it. Matter of fact, there is some evidence just the opposite of that.

Let’s get to why they want it down. Most of the time when an energy or utility corporation is asking to use someone’s water — and that’s what it is, asking to use the water of Jackson County for the next 40 years and make somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 million profit per year — you would think, just as a good neighbor policy, or if nothing else for the good will, the industry would have some desire to give back something to the people from whom this water use is being taken.

This is the thing that burns me up about the whole darn thing. There has been little to no evidence to this date that Duke Energy has been willing to give back even a token to this county for the use of their waterways for the next 40 years. And you multiply $16 million times 40 years, and see what you come up with. You’ll come up with a lot more than two or three hundred thousand dollars, which is the total that Duke offered, the token that Duke has offered.

Duke has had many opportunities to step up and do the right thing as a good neighbor would do. And in many cases others have done that, been good neighbors to Jackson County. Duke has not done that. They have no desire to do it. Thus seven years of bickering back and forth, back and forth.

Why do they want to take the dam down? They did not want to give the county anything, $250,000 or somewhere along there. That’s an insult for the use of the Tuckasegee River and its tributaries to the south for the next 40 years. An insult.

So they came up with this grand scheme: we will take down the dam for you. It reminds me a lot of the elderly lady crossing the street. A Boy Scout was out there helping her. They got to the other side and woman slaps the Boy Scout. A passerby saw her and said, “My God, what happened?” The lady said “I did not want to cross the dam street.”

Well, that’s what we’re dealing with here with Duke taking the dam down. We did not want the dam down, but Duke is going to do us a favor and take the dam down to show good faith to FERC. “Look what we’ve given Jackson County for the use of their water for the next 40 years.” Big deal, I hope Duke knows that.

.... It’s a bum deal. It’s a bum deal. Duke ought to be ashamed of themselves as a large corporation to attempt to pull such a stunt on the intelligent people of this county. I resent the hell out of it, and I think I’ve made that clear. That’s been my involvement in it, and as far as I’m concerned I hope it’s not over yet. We’ve still got 30 days to appeal this thing.

Comment

The newest addition to Southwestern Community College’s Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts holds a piece of Cherokee history. OICA will soon obtain a letterpress that will be used to print books in the Cherokee syllabary.

“We are bringing back the Cherokee history in true art form,” said Luzene Hill, OICA progam outreach coordinator.

Through a $68,846 grant from Cherokee Preservation Foundation and a $47,792 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, OICA will purchase a metal press and develop a printmaking studio at its facilities on Bingo Loop Road in Cherokee.

Years ago, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians published a newspaper called Tsa la gi Tsu lehisanunhi, or the Cherokee Phoenix. This first Native American newspaper was printed on a hot-type letterpress in which each word is put together by hand, combining individual metal letters or characters.

“It opens up a whole new craft of book art for us, including printmaking, hand-papermaking and hand-bookbinding,” said Hill. “For our students, book art will blend fine arts with crafts.”

After 12 years, Sequoyah finished developing the Cherokee syllabary in 1821. Each character represents a syllable, instead of one sound, thus the name syllabary.

As in the Phoenix newspaper, the power of the Cherokee language rises through the printed word on the page, transforming from thoughts to art, Hill explained.

“You already feel the power of words but capturing them in a book through individual characters you’ve laid out in hot type and on paper you’ve made from linen or hemp fiber really helps you feel them in an art form, too,” said Hill.

As students learn to produce first the paper and then the books, they will also learn skills such as precision, technique, spacing and artistic layout composition, said Hill, who is consulting with noted instructor Frank Brannon.

Brannon, who runs his own letterpress studio, SpeakEasy Press, in Dillsboro, earned his master of fine arts in Book Arts at the University of Alabama and has recently taught Letterpress at the Penland School of Crafts and Papermaking and Printing at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

“One of Frank’s specialties is the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper,” said Hill. “He has explored and published copies from the original hand impressions of type from the Phoenix, found in a 1954 excavation of the New Echota historic site. He hand printed and hand bound the publications for exhibition.”

“The Phoenix was a bilingual weekly newspaper printed in parallel columns in Cherokee and English and one of its biggest subscribers was the British Library,” said Brannon, who also teaches at Book Works in Asheville.

The first paper that the Phoenix was printed on came from Knoxville by wagon and it took two weeks to arrive, according to Brannon. The last issue was published in 1834, shortly before the Cherokee removal to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

“Students will learn the Cherokee history right along with the history of the letterpress,” said Hill.

The Cherokee language will also be incorporated into the course since the books can be published in the Cherokee syllabary, she added.

For more information contact Hill at 828.497.3945.

Comment

Another rockslide struck along the already closed section of Interstate 40 over the weekend.

The new slide is nothing like the earlier one, but big enough in its own right. It covered both westbound lanes just past exit 7 at Harmon Den. It brought down an estimated 500 cubic yards of rock — the equivalent of about 50 dump truck loads. The pile in the road is about 40 feet long and 50 feet wide, with the largest rocks the size of SUVs.

While the Interstate was already blocked to through traffic, it is still used 24-7 by workers coming and going to the larger slide repair. Luckily the new slide didn’t hurt anyone. It was discovered at 1 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, by a construction supervisor for Phillips & Jordan, the head contractor over repairs on the larger slide.

The clean up may take as little as three weeks. Additional crews will be brought in, so repairs to the smaller slide should not extend the closure of I-40 any longer than it would be already.

Meanwhile, a rock slide on the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur in Tennessee also happened over the weekend. The slide only covered one side of the road. The unaffected lanes were set up to allow two-way traffic, with one lane in each direction.

Comment

The Waynesville Public Art Commission recently issued a Call for Artists for its fourth public art project. The proposed art will celebrate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its historic relationship to Waynesville.

For many years an arched sign hung across Main Street declaring Waynesville the “Eastern Entrance to the Smokies.” Long-time residents will recall that the archway was near the intersection of Main and Depot Streets, near the former First National Bank. This is also the intersection where Franklin D. Roosevelt made his entrance into Waynesville while promoting the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1936.

The former bank site is now the location of a town “mini-park” which is scheduled for rehabilitation in 2010. Using funds that have been donated specifically for the improvement of the park, the town plans to revitalize the area by improving access, landscaping, lighting, and encouraging more usage of the mini-park. The existing rock perimeter walls will remain, but must be brought into proper code adherence by the installation of a railing along Depot Street. This provides an opportunity to meet functional needs in an aesthetic manner.

The Public Art Commission has requested that interested artists submit designs for a 69-foot railing that will incorporate artistic elements relating to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its historical connection to Waynesville. The artist must reside in either North Carolina or Tennessee, the two states contiguous with the Park, and must submit a portfolio of past works for review. The Call for Artists and other public art information can be viewed on the Town’s website at www.townofwaynesville.org.

Three artists will be chosen from the applicants to make a presentation of their finalized plans to an advisory panel of 35-40 community and arts supporters. After reviewing comments of the panel, the Public Art Commission will decide on a finalist to receive the commission of $20,000.

The $20,000 commission will be raised from private sources, and the public is invited to make a donation to the Public Art Fund. Checks should be made payable to the Town of Waynesville Public Art Fund, and should be mailed to P.O. Box 1409, Waynesville, NC 28786 in care of Downtown Waynesville Association. Donations may be tax deductible.

The other works commissioned by the Public Art Commission include “Old Time Music,” the paver project in front of the new police station, and “Celebrating Folkmoot.”

The installation will coincide with the refurbishment of the park and should be completed by fall 2010. For more information, contact 828.627.0928.

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Producer, editor and videographer John Kenyon of Waynesville has been selected to receive the Award of Excellence in the slide and multimedia programs category by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education for District III.

Kenyon was cited by CASE for his role as producer, editor, and videographer for the multimedia video “Musical Theatre Program.” The video was produced in March 2009 as a promotional video for Western Carolina University’s musical theatre program.

The recent honor marks Kenyon’s second consecutive award in the annual CASE District III competition in the multimedia category. He also received an award last year for his work on a production titled “What is a Catamount?,” a historical retrospective of WCU athletics.

A 1992 graduate of East Carolina University, Kenyon has won a total of five awards from CASE in the past 10 years in the video and multimedia production categories.

CASE is the leading education association for professionals in the field of institutional advancement.

Terrance Mann, WCU’s Carolyn Plemmons Phillips and Ben R. Phillips Distinguished Professor in Musical Theatre, provided narration for the latest video.

The objective of the video was to illustrate the advantages of WCU’s musical theatre program in a smooth, low-key fashion. The video feature dress rehearsal footage of some of the university’s biggest musical theatre productions, as well as images of workshops featuring Broadway professionals. It also includes mountain scenery images that are unique to the university’s location.

The award will be presented Feb. 23 as part of the CASE District III conference in Tampa, Fla.

Comment

It’s a slogan even the slickest New York ad firm couldn’t top if it tried: “Real Beef. Raised Right. Around Here.”

It would be equally hard to find a cattle ranch better suited to the motto than Brasstown Beef, a family farm on 1,000 acres between Hayesville and Murphy.

Steve Whitmire, owner of Ridgefield Farm, recently launched a new line of high-end Brasstown Beef products marketed to local restaurants and butchers. The new venture compliments his long-standing commercial cattle operation, but may replace it one day as Whitmire looks for new ways to keep farming viable in the mountains.

Whitmire raises a line of Braunvieh cattle, an ancient breed originating in the high mountains of Switzerland and known for exceptional flavor. Whitmire has embraced new technology with his cattle operations, like radio frequency ID tags and genetic analysis to select for the most desirable characteristics when breeding his herd.

“The ranch has to make a profit to survive,” said Whitmire. “But you have to have a product that people can afford. To do that I have completely changed the way we raise our cattle.”

Brasstown Beef even has its own ultrasound technician, Cathy Richburg. As a cow approaches harvest time, Richburg uses an ultrasound device to figure out how big the ribeye area is, how much marbling it has and the amount of back fat. After plugging the data into a special computer program, Richburg predicts the ideal day for harvest.

Last month, Whitmire invited executive chefs and restaurateurs, along with butchers from across the region, to tour the savvy operations and get up close and personal with the living versions of the steaks and chops and hamburgers they prepare for their customers every day. Several of the restaurant owners and chefs in attendance were so impressed they said they would switch exclusively to Brasstown Beef products.

“My customers love the taste,” said Paul Crisp, owner of The Hometown Diner in Murphy. “They tell me it’s the best hamburger they’ve ever had. Now even my wife won’t cook anything else at home.”

As added customer service, Whitmire brought in a university researcher and grad student to school the butchers in the crowd on techniques to maximize their cuts of meat.

High-tech methods aren’t the only appealing aspects about the Brasstown Beef operation. Whitmire’s love for his cattle are apparent: freedom to range over the 1,100-acre ranch and shelter from the elements. He’s even installed “spa rocks,” giant boulders that the cattle love to use as back scratchers.

Whitmire doesn’t use growth hormones and antibiotics common to the industry, placing him in the coveted category of all-natural, free range, hormone and antibiotic free.

When Whitmire recently began raising pigs, he bought his start-up load from a Missouri farmer with hormone and antibiotic free stock. The Missouri farmer had previously made the switch, letting every animal in his herd die that could not make it without antibiotics, then rebuilding a much hardier stock from the survivors. The pigs have their babies in custom designed shelters that allow the females to come and go as they please, and other than a six-week weaning period, all of the pigs remain free to roam in pastures.

Ultimately, however, it’s taste that makes the difference, Whitmire said.

“Being local, humane and producing all natural meat is important. However, in actuality, if it doesn’t taste better to the consumer, you will never sell enough meat to stay in business,” said Whitmire.

To that end, Whitmire employs a final step that most beef producers skip, saying it’s too costly and time-consuming. It takes four-weeks to dry-age beef in coolers, requiring more labor, expensive overhead and a longer turnaround time between slaughter and sale. But the method is far superior than traditional aging.

”Dry aging has the dual benefit of vastly improving flavor and making the meat more tender,” said Whitmire. “It reduces the moisture content in the meat, which concentrates the flavor. That means that not only do your hamburgers and steaks taste better, but they won’t shrink nearly as much on the grill. This makes a huge difference to restaurants, retailers and the consumer.”

To find out where you can buy Brasstown Beef or for restaurants that serve it, like the Frog & Owl Bistro in Franklin, go to www.brasstownbeef.com and click on “retail locations” across the top.

This article was contributed by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee.

Comment

Workers on the rockslide slope are laboring around the clock. There’s a day crew and a night crew, ranging from 15 to 25 men per shift. They labor for 10 hours at a stretch on the side of a steep, towering rock face.

“If you need anything you take it up with you. They don’t come back down,” said Mike Patton, the lead DOT inspector on the site.

That goes not just for food, but using the bathroom, too.

“Once you get up there it is every man for himself,” Patton said.

During the first two months, when work primarily focused on busting up and hauling off the major pile of boulders at the base of the slide, there were dozens of equipment operators and dump truck drivers coming and going to the site. Workers would often call in a massive order of hamburgers to a diner in Hartford, Tenn., and a woman who worked there would deliver them. One entrepreneuer set up a Philly Cheese Steak concession stand near the worksite and became known as Hotdog Willie. He even made a turkey dinner for workers laboring on Thanksgiving Day.

But once the pile was carted away and work shifted to the mountainside overhead, there weren’t enough workers on the ground to support the hot lunch spot and he closed up shop, although his stand is still parked at the staging area.

Now, the remaining ground crews, as well as those on the slope, must pack sandwiches and sundry snacks to sustain themselves during the long work days and cold, dark nights in the remote Pigeon River Gorge.

Staying warm is a challenge in the shadow of the tall, narrow walls of the gorge, which block the sun for all but the middle part of the day. Shane Cook, a worker for the main contractor on the job, Phillips and Jordan, knows exactly what time the sun crests the ridge and the first patch of pavement where it hits.

“About 9 o’clock in the morning it comes across that ridge and about 2:30 it goes behind that one, so you don’t get but about 5 hours,” Cook said.

Ground crews and inspectors sometimes pack into the contractor’s trailers for quick warm ups during the day, but mostly resort to climbing in and out of their trucks and blasting the heater to dethaw. Needless to say, they call come to work with a full tank of gas. Some on the night shift bring an extra five gallon gas can.

They wear extra pants, two pairs of gloves, fleece caps with ear flaps under their hardhats and bring an extra pair of socks to change into in case the ones they have get wet.

But those high above on the rock have no truck to climb into to stay warm and can’t work when too encumberd by layers. During the worst of Janurary’s extreme cold, when lows dipped into single digits repeatedly night after night, work was suspended.

Comment

Get ready to hit the slopes and participate in meaningful worship at Lake Junaluska’s Ministries with Young People (MYP) annual THAW President’s Day Weekend, February 12 – 15, 2010.

MYP at Lake Junaluska offers Christian youth ski weekends packed with worship, fellowship, skiing and tubing. While attending THAW President’s Day Weekend, youth will be able to experience live worship bands Esterlyn and Eddie Willis and the Narrow Path. Worship will be led by Andy Lambert, who has a passion to reach youth for Christ, yet his preaching connects intergenerationally and cross-culturally.

Esterlyn is a four-piece independent Christian band that is described as a “melodic indie rock effort reminiscent of The Classic Crime, Ruth, This Beautiful Republic, and Sanctus Real.” Eddie Willis and The Narrow Path is led by Pastor Eddie Willis and his wife, Allyson. Eddie’s music is best described as Garfunkel, Taylor, and Chris Rice in the youth and college retreat setting.

“Our Christian youth ski retreats, known as THAW, include relevant contemporary spiritual messages and awesome Christian music concerts,” said Rev. Carolyn Poling, Director of Ministries with Young People at Lake Junaluska. “I’m looking forward to being a part of those moments that happen on retreats that sustain youth and their ministers. President’s Day Weekend promises to be an exciting and enriching experience for Christian youth.”

MYP at Lake Junaluska has already begun getting registrations for President’s Day Weekend, so get your registrations in early! Packages start as low as $159 per person for 2 night’s lodging and 1 day of ski at Cataloochee Ski Area or Wolf Ridge Ski Resort. Local youth leaders searching for productive and fun Christian youth ski trips should visit www.myp.lakejunaluska.com or call 800-222-4930.

Comment

Fire code violations, compromised client confidentiality, leaking roofs, freezing pipes, lack of energy efficiency, severely limited space, windows that won’t close...

The problems with the current DSS and health department facilities would take pages to list.

And the issues have not escaped unnoticed by the 12,000 residents — 20 percent of the Haywood County population — receiving services at DSS and nearly 10,000 residents regularly making their way to the health department each year.

Whether it’s the client whose confidential health information is heard by everyone nearby or those who routinely get stuck in ancient elevators, these flaws are no secret.

That’s especially the case now that the worsened economy has lead to increased usage of these county services.

Ira Dove, director of social services, asked commissioners last week if they would want to work in such a building or feel safe having their mother riding its broken-down elevator.

The current DSS building, located on the Old Asheville Highway between downtown and the roundabout, was originally a county hospital built in 1927. The portion that the DSS uses was added on in 1950.

Meanwhile the health department, found a mile further down the Old Asheville Highway across from Junaluska Elementary, is housed in a 54-year-old building.

Both facilities have difficulty keeping up with modern technology due to when they were built.

“Back when there was no computer — only typewriters,” said Dale Burris, the county’s facilities maintenance director.

Most commissioners have visited the facility and have found they could easily justify the need for action to taxpayers.

“I’d like to invite the public to come out and see that facility out there,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.

The challenges of renovating the DSS building are many. An extensive renovation would be necessary. It would involve stripping down the interior to its structural skeleton and reworking the space to create efficiency.

DSS has no need for the old hospital’s wide corridors. And the old patient rooms are too big for one social service worker, yet too small for two.

Architects estimate the staff would have to be moved for an entire year as renovation took place.

The county would also face the added expense of dealing with the structure’s asbestos and lead-based paint issues.

The low ceilings would present major challenges for installing modern heating, venting and air conditioning.

An additional 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of space would be required to comply with state requirements.

The health department has insufficient parking for clients, especially during times of mass vaccinations, like flu shots.

“I think this is a lesson that all of us should learn,” said Curtis. “The better you take care of your facilities and your belongings, the better off you’re going to be in the long run.”

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NOTE: Gracie Mayer won the Building Small Essay Contest held in conjunction with the N.C. Arboretum's Building Small exhibit and sponsored by Smoky Mountain Living. Here is her winning entry:

If you’re wondering what it’s like to live in a church, then you’ve come to the right place. Unless you want a human to tell you, of course. I am a mouse named Jack. Now let’s begin the discussion ...

Every Wednesday and Sunday, this place is busy. Music, singing, I mean everything! Good news though! One word ... communion! Bread and grape juice are my all time favorite snacks. On the flip side, it’s hard getting around on Sunday and Wednesday. Though no one sees me, in the tunnels, it’s dark. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you – Well, if you see a hole in the wall, it’s not the first. You see, there is a hole in every room where the tunnel ends. But the main one is in the narthex. You know, the room in front of the sanctuary? And only the acolytes know about me. My house has lost things like watches, handkerchiefs, cotton, broken glass, gloves, etc. And my diet is ...

1. cheese

2. bread

3. grape juice

4. crackers

5. things acolytes feed me

At Christmas, I take a branch off the Chrismas tree and take popcorn and glass and string it on my tree.

If you think it’s lonely, you’re wrong! I have mouse friends like Sam, Lola, and Ben. They all live with me and play with me. Which brings me to the most exciting part! Are ya’ ready? O.K. Well once, it was only Ben, Lola, and me. (Sam was sick). We were making him a card. So we went around looking for things. When all of a sudden ... a door creaked open and then a giant hissss! We investigated, and we saw the minister’s cat slinking in the office. We screamed and ran, but Lola noticed a special thing; it was a box with tiny jewels we could glue on the card. Lola had saved the day and Sam loved the card. He said it was the best one ever!

Well, that is all I have to tell ya’ ... thanks for coming!!! And I almost forgot to tell you ... if you ever want to drop by, just check the narthex and I’ll be there. And that was Jack the Church Mouse talkin’!

Comment

A beekeepers association has formed in Haywood County.

The club meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office in Waynesville off Raccoon Road.

The club has seen a huge level of interest since forming last fall, with as many as 60 people at the meetings.

“The importance of having an association is that everyone who is interested in bees can talk and share their experiences, their problems and their excitement,” said Kathy Taylor, one of the founders of the new club. “Anyone who is interested in beekeeping or learning about bees is welcome to come.”

Bees are vital to pollination of crops, but the wild bee population is declining, making the role of hobby beekeepers more important than ever.

“When I was growing up every farmer had two or three hives,” Taylor said.

Allen Blanton is also a founder of the club.

For more information, contact Taylor at 828.648.0700 or Blanton at 828.400.1735.

Comment

Haywood County commissioners are joining a burgeoning nationwide movement that is making use of abandoned Wal-Marts and foresaken strip malls in creative ways.

Deserted Wal-Marts across the country have been reworked into a library, a mega-church, an indoor flea market, an early childhood center, a go-kart track, and even a museum devoted to spam in Minnesota.

Haywood isn’t even the first county to house its Department of Social Services in a Wal-Mart. Orange County and Person County, both in North Carolina, have already taken that step.

Local governments have increasingly taken the reins after locking down replacement retailers for these behemoth stores proved fruitless.

Countless municipalities across the U.S. have experienced the flightiness of corporate giants that plant then quickly uproot their businesses to build bigger and newer somewhere else — leaving the blight of a forlorn big-box strip mall in their wake.

Wal-Mart and Lowe’s seem to be the biggest offenders, according to Meg Ryan O’Donnell, former advisor to a N.C. smart growth commission. O’Donnell dubs the trend “big-box syndrome.”

Those who have gone before

Just like Haywood, Orange County needed a new home for its aged social services building, which had limited space, security and privacy.

“We needed, instead of just a patchwork arrangement, something that would give us a little bit of room to meet needs and be able to expand,” said Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs.

The abandoned Wal-Mart in Orange County sat vacant for a number of years with no takers. A worsened economy certainly didn’t help sell the property.

“There was no movement,” said Jacobs. “It was an eyesore and a drain for the retail establishments that were nearby.”

The county added energy efficient fixtures and windows, and even skylights to the space.

At first Orange County toyed with the idea of converting the old Wal-Mart to a community college before settling instead on DSS as its new occupant.

Jacobs said the county might move the health department there as well, to create a one-stop facility for residents.

Haywood County Manager David Cotton said utilizing the old Wal-Mart would already be an environmentally friendly move.

Renovating the aged DSS building or building a new facility from scratch would lead to much more waste being hauled off to the landfill, Cotton said.

And Haywood hopes to pursue even more green benefits, including a pitched roof, energy-efficient heating and cooling units, solar panels and even roof mounted compact wind turbines.

Jacobs warned that making the structure more durable would be one challenge looming ahead.

“The problem with those buildings, they’re not built to last,” said Jacobs. “They’re just shells with a roof ... In our society, we’re too ready to throw things away.”

Nevertheless, Haywood Commissioner Mark Swanger is strongly in favor of moving into the old Wal-Mart.

“This is the best and highest use for these types of construction,” said Swanger.

What neighbors have to say

Haywood County officials seem confident that the new DSS and health department would bring significant traffic to surrounding businesses, whether it’s from its 200 employees or clients.

“Albeit it’s not going to be the financial economic anchor that Wal-Mart served, but I think it would serve as an anchor for businesses that are there,” said David Cotton, county manager for Haywood.

For example, clients could make one trip to pick up food stamps then head a few doors down to a grocery store to use them, Cotton said.

Cathy McBride, manager at Dollar Tree in the same shopping complex as the abandon Wal-Mart, said her business had actually improved after the giant left town.

But McBride looks forward to Haywood County taking over the vacant space.

“It’ll bring more business to us,” said McBride. “I think it’s good for the area. It looks bad, sitting there empty.”

McBride said she’d appreciate the security of once again walking out to a lit up parking lot at night.

Debra Surrett, an employee at nearby Food Lion, said she also supports Haywood’s move.

“If anyone’s ever been to DSS, it’s old,” said Surrett. “There’s a lot of people coming in there. They need a nicer building.”

Surrett has definitely noticed a decline in customers at the grocery store after Wal-Mart picked up and left. She expects more customers after the county moves in.

“It’s really gonna boost everything in this shopping center,” said Surrett.

While Surrett has heard opponents complain about the county yanking the business out of the tax rolls by taking it over, she said DSS and health department employees deserve a new space.

“Sure it takes taxpayer money, but they serve the county,” said Surrett.

Comment

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park received a record $385,000 from drivers sporting the special “black bear” license plate program in 2009 — the park’s 75th anniversary year.

Support from North Carolinians for the Smokies’ license plates increased $46,720 over 2008, an impressive 12 percent gain.

“Every person who goes to their local license plate agency office and purchases a Smokies plate is helping the park,” said Holly Demuth, the new director of the North Carolina office of Friends of the Smokies. “The support for the Smokies from North Carolinians is robust. Everywhere you look, you see the bear tag.”

Of the extra $30 annual fee for the specialty tag, $20 goes to Friends of the Smokies to support projects and programs on the North Carolina side of the park. Launched in 1999, the Smokies license plate has now raised a grand total of more than $1.8 million.

With these funds, Friends of the Smokies is supporting a wide variety of significant projects and programs in 2009:

• Providing educational programs for local schoolchildren

• Protecting the park’s hemlock forests from the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid.

• Supporting the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center near Maggie Valley.

• Interpreting the area’s cultural history through new exhibits at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

• Creating a permanent legacy of improvements to trails through the Trails Forever endowment.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fortunate to have such strong support from its neighboring states,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “The specialty license plates are one of the most visible signs of this affinity. After 75 years, the park still has much work to do with conservation, education, trail improvements, and more. We hope people will continue to contribute one plate at a time.”

www.friendsofthesmokies.org or 828.452.0720.

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