Giles Morris

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Cherokee’s trout streams have earned their reputation as the crown jewel of North Carolina’s trophy waters, and now the area has an outfitter shop of the same quality. Business partners Joe Street, Chris Anderson and Steve Mingle, building on the success of their Spruce Pine store, believe their new all-purpose outfitter shop will help make Cherokee a national trout Mecca.

“Our goal is really to be the best fly shop on the East Coast,” Street said.

Joe Street’s ambitious plans for River’s Edge Outfitters Cherokee were incubated during a 20-year corporate career at UPS in Atlanta. An avid fisherman who used his guided trips as a pressure release, Street retired to his home in Spruce Pine two years ago knowing where he wanted to put his passion.

“It had always been a dream of mine to open up a fly fishing shop, and in the world’s worst economy, we decided we would go for it,” Street said.

The Spruce Pine store offers a full range of top-of-the-line gear and a two-mile stretch of private trophy water. With the tourism economy lagging in general, Street said he was only a little surprised that River’s Edge did so well.

“Rather than people doing elaborate vacations, they’re spending more time within a three-hour ride from home,” Street said. “The store’s had a lot of success.”

With some of the best trout water in the nation, less than three hours from Atlanta, and only a little ways down the Blue Ridge from their Spruce Pine store, the partners kept track of what was going on in Cherokee.

“We’ve been watching Cherokee for a while and saw how well they managed the fishery. We did some market research and we felt the area needed an outfitter shop,” Street said.

Spruce Pine only gets about 200,000 tourists per year and Cherokee, as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and home to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, beats that number by about 3.8 million.

Add to that fact Cherokee is centrally located within striking distance of the Tuckasegee, Nantahala, Oconaluftee, Watauga, Little Tennessee, French Broad and South Holston rivers and the thousands of miles of streams that flow into them, and you’ve got a formula for success.

Street wants the shop’s outfitter trips to spread the joy he felt when he was still in the corporate trenches.

“It was my getaway, my stress reliever,” Street said. “When I left UPS to move back to the mountains, I wanted to share that with people.”

Street, Anderson and Mingle are newcomers to Cherokee, and they relied on strong local connections to execute their plan. They had made friends with television fishing host Curtis Fleming.

Fleming brought his Fly Rod Chronicles to Cherokee last year, and he had already built relationships with local guide Eugene Shuler. Street said Shuler supplied the missing piece of the puzzle.

“We knew no one guide-wise, so we hired Eugene to direct our guide operation and he has a network of guides, so it’s a perfect fit,” Street said.

An experienced local guide, captain of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team, and creator of the Southeast Fly Fishing Forum, Shuler had a network of friends with decades of on-the-water experience in the area.

“It’s kind of a neat thing,” Shuler said. “I knew their abilities and skill levels and the way they were on the water, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to put a team together.”

Shuler said his team of 12 guides will emphasize customer service and friendliness, but the focus is still going to be the abundance of prime fishing water.

“The Southeast is slowly becoming the West in terms of fly fishing,” Shuler said. “Our rivers may not be quite as wide as some of theirs, but we just have great water and great fishing.”

With that kind of water and a steady supply of tourist passing through Cherokee because of its casino and other draws, a large-scale outfitter was the only thing missing.

River’s Edge Outfitters in Cherokee will model itself after the biggest full-service outfitter shops in the West. The shop will offer a full range of gear with top of the line brands like Sage, Simms, St. Croix, and TFO, as well as every kind of trip from all-day floats and wading trips to week-long backcountry adventures.

They’ve even got partnerships in the works with local bed and breakfasts and cabin rentals to create a seamless fishing vacation experience for beginners and experts alike.

“Sometime fly-fishing comes off as being stiff to folks, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Shuler said.

Joe Street said the Spruce Pine shop has been successful making fly fishing approachable for groups by providing features like catered lunches and specialty trips for women.

“It’ll be something you won’t find many places,” Shuler said.

River’s Edge Outfitters Cherokee, located on the west side of N.C. 441 a few miles south of NC. 19, opened Saturday, Feb. 27, and the guide service will be ready in time to launch trips for walleye during their spring run.

Shuler said his guides will harness their experience in creative ways to go after white bass, walleye, carp, smallmouth bass, and, of course, the mammoth trophy trout that make Cherokee’s waters so spectacular.

On April 17, the shop will hold a grand opening to celebrate its involvement with Healing Waters, a nonprofit fly fishing program for injured war veterans.

River’s Edge Outfitters Cherokee will also offer free fly fishing clinics every Saturday at the shop. For Street, that’s just part of spreading the word.

“Trout only grow in beautiful places, and it’s a great way to get outdoors and relieve the stress for a while,” Street said.

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Zach Phillips and Mike Valente graduated from Western Carolina University just in time to enter the worst job market in 80 years. Instead of crying into their beers, they decided to brew their own.

“I’d applied for a few jobs and when it didn’t work out, it sort of disillusioned me,” Phillips said. “So I figured I’d work, and work on my beer at the same time.”

Phillips has spent the last year perfecting his home-brewing techniques, while Valente has been a mainstay as an apprentice brewer at Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva since 2008.

Next Saturday, the two friends will showcase the fruits of their labor alongside 15 or so other local brewers at the inaugural Smoky Mountain Craft Beer Festival. Phillips organized the event after being inspired by craft brew festivals in Chapel Hill.

“You get to brag and show off your beer and everybody who’s there is an experimenter,” Phillips said. “It’s a great way to trade ideas and get to know other brewers. It’s beer and music and food. What’s not to like?”

Craft beer is essentially small batch beer that showcases the brewers’ recipes and measures their technical acumen. The festival marks the growth of the craft brew scene in the mountains west of Asheville –– breweries from Sylva, Bryson City, and Waynesville are slated to show off their wares –– but the effort to put it together is really a testament to the commitment of two friends who see beer as more than a pastime.


From Blue to Brew

Phillips graduated in May 2009 with a communications degree. He thought he had a job lined up in his hometown, Raleigh, but when it fell through, he was lost in a sea of resumes.

Phillips traces his love affair with beer to his 21st birthday party, when his mother presented him a bottle of Delirium Tremens to mark the occasion. The high-alcohol Belgian pale ale won the “Best Beer in the World” title at the World Beer Championships in Chicago 1998, and it opened Zach’s eyes to a world beyond frat party kegs.

“Up until then I was a Bud Light/Miller Lite type of guy,” Phillips said. “That beer really opened my eyes to what’s possible with beer.”

He bought a $150 beer kit at Dingleberry’s Home Brew Supply in Sylva and turned mad scientist.

“I’m kind of an obsessive-compulsive person,” Phillips said. “When I started brewing my first batch, it was okay, but I was already thinking about how to do it better.”

For many years, home-brewers were treated as odd tinkerers, people who pilfered water coolers from work and created wild concoctions in their dark basements to be doled out at parties.

But in the heart of North Carolina beer country, just a few miles up the road from AshVegas, Phillips wasn’t isolated. For one, he had his friend Mike Valente and the inspiration of Dieter Kuhn, Heinzelmannchen’s German brew-meister.

“Everything I haven’t learned from a book, I’ve learned from Dieter,” Phillips said. “He’s been so supportive, and that guy really knows his beer.”

The first Smoky Mountain Craft Beer Festival will be a farewell party for Valente, who is heading to Chicago in May to pursue an associate degree in beer brewing at the Siebel Institute of Technology’s World Brewing Academy.

“After six months to a year with Dieter, it all started to make sense,” Valente said. “I wasn’t ruining batches anymore or contaminating barrels. The customers were happy. It grew from a fun job and passion into something bigger.”

Like many young craft brewers in their age group, Valente and Phillips tend to gravitate towards beers with unique and powerful flavor profiles. But being around Kuhn, who espouses the German brewing tradition that favors balance and drinkability, has influenced them.

“These guys have a penchant for something extraordinary, something big,” Kuhn said. “But if you have a base in balance, it’s easy to accomplish a beer that’s drinkable.”

Mike and Zach are brewing together one last time.

While their contest offerings at the festival will showcase their own ambitions, they’ll also not surprisingly reflect the Heinzelmannchen influence. Phillips and Valente plan to offer up a single decoction extra special bitter ale inspired by a Green Man ESB and a rye pale ale inspired by offerings from Terrapin and Goose Island versions.

Phillips has worked hard to whip up local support for the event, which will take place at Soul Infusions Tea House & Bistro in Sylva and will feature local bands and the beer of local contestants and barrels from Henizelmannchen, Nantahala Brewing Company, Pigtopia Brewery, and Tuckeseegee Brewing Cooperative.

Brewing contests that award medals can be competitive and controversial. Kuhn helped get experienced judges fresh from the Hickory Hops Festival to contribute their expertise to the Smoky Mountain contest.

But Valente and Phillips are really just hoping for a community-centered celebration of beer, something they hope their own craft brews will foster.

“I want to please the crowd. I’m not worried about the judges,” Valente said. “I want people to want to drink our beer and to get excited about what you can do with it.”

Kuhn, meanwhile, will say goodbye to one protégé.

“I’m hoping he’ll come back,” said Kuhn. “If he doesn’t, I hope he’ll win world beer competitions.”

And Phillips is starting to see how his communications degree and his love of beer might make for a brighter future than he expected.

“I think the brewing industry is definitely going to be my career choice in some way,” Phillips said.


Try a taste

The inaugural Smoky Mountain Craft Beer Festival will be held at Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro in Sylva from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 1. The event is a charity fundraiser for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and all donations will go to the charity. The Dan River Drifters and Affliktion will play live music, and local craft beer will be provided by a number of home brewers, as well as Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva, the Tuckaseegee Brewing Cooperative of Cullowhee, and Pigtopia Brewery from Waynesville. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.293.0148.


On Monday evening, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners met with leaders from Jackson County Schools to talk about next year’s budget, but any outstanding fears had already been put to rest.

County Manager Ken Westmoreland said because the county has spent 12 percent less than it budgeted for the current fiscal year, he didn’t anticipate cuts in any county departments.

“I do not anticipate any furloughs, layoffs, or losses of service,” Westmoreland said. “We’re pretty much just going to tread water.”

Jackson County Public School Superintendent Sue Nations said her staff had already submitted capital outlay and operating requests to Westmoreland for consideration. The school district is asking for a 2 percent increase in funding to offset increases in insurance premiums and deep cuts in state discretionary funds.

Westmoreland said the county would evaluate the school budget request in line with its other funding obligations.

“It’s not that they would be treated any differently than any county department or agency we fund,” Westmoreland said. “I’m not anticipating any cuts or expansions.”

For her part, Nations was confident that the county would come through for the school district, but she expressed concern about Gov. Perdue’s proposed budget.

“The county will give us the amount of money we had last year, and I hope they’ll give us the 2 percent increase,” Nations said. “But the county can’t pick up what the state won’t give us.”

Perdue’s 2010 budget calls for $135 million of cuts in addition to the $304.8 million worth of discretionary cuts already contained in the budget the General Assembly approved last year for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Overall, the governor’s budget calls for an additional 3.8 percent in cuts plus another $90 million in General Fund reductions to the K-12 budget.

According to the North Carolina School Boards Association, districts across North Carolina had 16,253 fewer state paid public education jobs, including 4,701 fewer state paid classroom teachers, in the 2009-10 academic year. The additional $135 million in discretionary cuts could mean as many as 2,430 additional teaching positions could be eliminated next year.

Nations said her district already employs 95 fewer people than it did in May 2008. She said she does not intend to cut any positions this year, because she hasn’t replaced employees that have left or retired.

“I know we have to do our part. I really do,” Nations said. “But there’s a point at which it’s going to affect the classroom.”

Nations said the district would still benefit from federal stimulus money it received last year. Districts were instructed to use the money over a 27-month period, and last year the stimulus funds offset state cuts nearly dollar for dollar.


What if the driveway to the county’s administration building were lined with blueberries?

It was January, and Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin and Heather Stevens were on a walk, dreaming about how green Jackson County could be. They had read an article on a little town in West Yorkshire, England, called Todmorden, which transformed the way it produces food in two years.

“I read the article, and I just thought, ‘Wow,’” Stevens said. “This would be great. We could do this here.”

Cabanis-Brewin and Stevens, long-time organic gardeners from opposite ends of the county, didn’t want the idea to die. Last week, Cabanis-Brewin asked the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to consider taking on the challenge of making the county the greenest in North Carolina. She’ll go back next month with a more formal proposal to be considered on the board’s agenda.

“We would need to formally declare that Sylva and Jackson County have a strategy for economic development and environmental preservation that involves trying to be the greenest county in the state,” Cabanis-Brewin said.

So far, their greenward movement has been based on food. Todmorden revitalized its food economy through a grow-your-own initiative that used publicly owned space for raising vegetables. Today the town’s three schools serve only locally grown vegetables and locally raised meats during meals, and its restaurants draw tourists from all over Great Britain.

Cabanis-Brewin said the Todmorden example — coupled with the knowledge that a Manna Foodbank report showed that more than 100,000 people in Western North Carolina seek emergency food assistance each year — made growing food the perfect place to start.

“You could focus on transportation or energy, but you have to start somewhere,” said Cabanis-Brewin. “And because it’s easy and because it’s spring, we wanted to start with food.”

Stevens called seed companies that have nonprofit initiatives and managed to get her hands on more than 500 seed packets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and the Seed Savers Exchange. She is working with community partners to find people who are willing to plant the seeds in unexpected places. So far both the Sylva and Dillsboro community gardens have stepped up to the plate.

St. John’s Episcopal Church and the First United Methodist Church in Sylva have taken seeds to plant. Soul Infusion Café, Spring Street Café, and Café Guadalupe have also agreed to plant seeds and look for ways to use more locally grown food wherever possible.

Stevens argues that rainbow chard, purple basil, sunflowers, and scarlet runner beans can be as beautiful as any flowerbeds while still producing food for the table. Cabanis-Brewin told the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that their Buncombe County counterparts authorized a study that showed growing and eating local would bring $452 million into the local economy in Western North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Gov. Perdue recently named the Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council to study how to increase the amount of local and sustainable foods served to public school students.

“It’s a smart thing for business and it’s a smart thing for the environment. The two things don’t have to be in contention,” Cabanis-Brewin said.

Besides, she argued, with Sylva’s historic watershed in trust, the county’s thriving community gardens, and a board of commissioners who were the first to pass building regulations focused on land preservation, Jackson County already has a head start on becoming the greenest in the state.

“We can preserve the time-honored mountain tradition of self-sufficiency, and give our county a bright economic and environmental future at the same time,” Cabanis-Brewin said.

County Commissioner William Shelton, a local farmer who has focused on land preservation issues, said he liked the idea, but he wanted to learn more about the specifics.

“We should never close our minds to these types of ideas, and if there are models out there, then let’s look at them,” Shelton said.

Shelton fears that while the dream of producing food in public places is attractive, the work ethic it would require may be more than people can handle.

“We would have to figure out a way to adapt it to what’s here and what’s practical. It’s the type of idea the whole community would have to be behind,” Shelton said.


Interstate 40, closed since October due to a massive rockslide, reopened with little fanfare on Sunday evening. For the people who depend on the road for their living, seeing the traffic flow again brought a sense of relief.

“We are thrilled to death,” said Mike Sorrells, owner of Sorrell’s Marathon and Auto Repair in Jonathan Creek. “You do not know how much that road means to your well-being until it’s not there.”

The work on I-40 in the Pigeon River Gorge will continue through the summer as crews complete stabilization efforts, but with both eastbound lanes and one westbound lane open, Western North Carolina’s main transportation artery is back in business.

The total cost for the repair project, initially slated for completion in February, is estimated to be $12.9 million, and according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the federal government will cover nearly 100 percent of the cost.

For business owners like Sorrells, though, there is no way to recover what was lost. They watched with horror as the timetable for the road opening was pushed back due to poor weather conditions.

“It looked like this thing was going to get opened in February, and it was like a blow to the stomach when we learned it wouldn’t be until late April,” Sorrells said.

The economic effects of the I-40 rockslide have been a source of attention ever since the road was closed. In March, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that it would hand out $1.4 million in loans to businesses affected by the slide, but the money was spread over the region from Asheville to Sevierville, Tenn.

Before the rockslide, about 19,000 vehicles a day traveled on the road, and almost half of them were trucks. Businesses that directly relied on the commercial traffic, like gas stations and hotels have been hardest hit by the closure.

Sorrells said he was forced to lay off weekend staff as his sales of gas and tires plummeted.

“We survived,” Sorrells said. “It was very difficult. You really saw the fall-off on the weekends.”

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, said the road reopened just in time for the summer tourism season.

“We’re thrilled obviously,” Collins said. “We have a lot of special events, beginning with this weekend, and hopefully we’ll have a good attendance with the road being opened.”

Still, the authority’s numbers have been bleak during the closure. Occupancy tax numbers were down 25 percent in the month of January from 2009 and 7 percent to date for the year. The numbers of walk-in visitors at the Canton Visitor Center were even more stark, only half of what they were a year ago through March.

Collins said the low numbers in January and February were likely the result of the weather, the economy, and the road closure.

Until the road reopened, eastbound travelers were detoured to I-26 on a route that added 53 miles and nearly an hour of driving time. The detour was not enough to stop skiers from visiting Cataloochee Ski Area, which enjoyed a successful winter season this year.

“We had a good season and the folks from Knoxville were able to get to us,” said Tammy Brown, Cataloochee’s marketing director. “We found that by offering differing routes, folks were able to deal with it.”

Brown attributed Cataloochee’s success to a great winter of natural snow and ideal conditions for snowmaking. The fact that the ski area did so well showed that the closure of I-40 was not a death sentence for tourism-based businesses on its own.

Traffic was also up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which experienced a 5 percent increase in visitors over last year, primarily because U.S. 441 through the park offered an alternative route across the mountains.

While the interstate opened officially on Sunday, the work to stabilize the rockslide area will continue through the summer as crews complete the installation of rock bolts and anchor mesh at five separate sites. Both eastbound lanes are open, but one westbound will remain closed for about three miles and westbound truck traffic is restricted.


In a 2002 referendum, the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted to authorize an audit of the tribe’s enrolled members. Almost eight years later, the process is coming to a head as the Tribal Council considers how to use the findings of the study.

The primary issue facing the council is what to do about the 300 names the audit showed to have no connection with the Baker Roll, the tribe’s benchmark for enrollment qualifications.

“The Cherokee people are currently working through the procedures and policies to be set in place to deal with these individuals,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “This is a difficult situation for us all, but a necessary step to ensure we are all in compliance with the Eastern Band’s enrollment guidelines.”

After perusing 18,000 files and more than 115,000 documents, the staff of The Falmouth Institute presented the final enrollment audit report to the Tribal Council last October. Now the council is charged with setting the policies and procedures that will be used to implement the findings.

The auditors found 1,405 files they deemed actionable, 683 files that did not meet the current enrollment requirements, and 300 people with no connection to the Baker Roll

At stake is not just who can be considered a member of the tribe, but also the benefits and rights that come with recognition as a tribal member, including the right to own land in the Qualla Boundary and the right to per capita payments. There are currently about 13,000 enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

During committee meetings last month, tribal council members considered the possibility of taking land back from disenrolled members and asked their legal team whether they would have to provide compensation for it.

EBCI Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky said the Pechanga Tribe in California and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan are in the midst of similar enrollment verification proceedings, but neither has used the enrollment audits to expel people from their reservations or to repossess land.

Jennifer Bainbridge, a tribal attorney in charge of researching the issue, said the lack of precedents makes for slow going, but that property rights issues would be the sticking point.

“There’s not any case law out there about tribes who have disenrolled people and taken their property,” Bainbridge said.

As complicated as it is, figuring out how to enforce the enrollment audit may prove simpler than determining how to interpret it.

Tribal Council member Terri Henry, who represents the Painttown community, pointed to the fact that the original Baker Roll was a contested document. When the roll was adopted in 1926, the Tribal Council approved 1,924 names and challenged 1,222 names on the 3,136-person list. For Henry, that fact shows that even at that point the tribe felt its membership should be a smaller group than the one the federal government recognized.

“To me, this kind of answers the question about the body politic at the time,” Henry said. “This was actually at the time the roll was enacted. This would be at the genesis moment of the enrollment of the tribe.”

The dispute over the Baker Roll can be traced to the fact that it was a document that relied on land records belonging to William Thomas, who facilitated the purchase of the land used to establish the Qualla Boundary. According to Tarnawsky, the Baker Roll “was derived from landholdings of Cherokee enrolled members who either sold or gave land to Mr. Thomas that then became part of the boundary.”

The Thomas papers date to the 1840s.

The difficulty of verifying all of the records available to the Cherokee that could establish enrollment criteria was made evident when David Wyatt, head of the tribe’s GIS mapping program, began discovering historic documents during his research of land tracts.

“In the process of scanning all that information at BIA, we came across a little bit of everything,” Wyatt said

Wyatt found original copies of Thomas’ records, census records from as early as 1912, and a 1967 revised version of the Baker Roll, among other documents. None of these were included in the enrollment audit conducted by Falmouth, and their staff indicated to Tarnawsky that the scope of their project would be limited to records in the possession of the tribe’s enrollment office.

So far, the Cherokee have spent $746,000 on the audit, with another $100,000 budgeted for its completion. But with the discovery of new records that could be pertinent to the effort, it’s not clear when the job will be done.

Tribal Council member Teresa McCoy was clear in the meeting last month that her constituents want closure.

“I do prefer that there be a deadline placed on this. Let’s not let it drag out for another six months. Our community met last week, and they were adamant. They were ready to start the next morning. They are tired of waiting. They have waited for seven years, and they don’t know what’s taking so long,” McCoy said.

But the council will have to decide whether to push disenrollment proceedings on the list of 300 or on a broader group identified by the audit.

With a vocal part of the membership clamoring for resolution, the council will have to negotiate intricate legal issues in addition to sorting out how to deal with records in possession of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the State of North Carolina that could shed light on the status of enrollment claims.

Tribal Council member Tommye Saunooke asked for patience.

“I think the public needs to understand that the results of the audit did not come back to the council until late 2009. Council has not drug their feet on this,” Saunooke said.


I turned 35 years old on Tax Day. I’ve been stuck with that birth date from the beginning and have never tried to read into it much. April 15 is also the date Lincoln issued the call for troops that started the Civil War, but for me what is important is that I am an Aries, a spring baby, someone who sees every day as a new beginning.

In that spirit, I have never treated my birthday as a retrospective landmark until now. Thirty-five years is half a lifetime, a place from which to look backwards and forwards. I won’t get too deep into my personal assessment of my career, life, and philosophical goals, but I wanted to write about the fact that for the first time I relate to my generation’s label.

I’m a Gen X-er, the name used to describe the post-Vietnam offspring of baby boomer parents. Gen X-ers grew up during the last throes of the Cold War, came of age during the dawn of the Internet, and make less money than their parents did.

The phrase Generation X comes from much further back. It was the title of a 1965 journalistic study of Britain’s youth culture, authored by Hamblett and Deverson, describing a movement in young people who “sleep together before they are married, were not taught to believe in God as ‘much’, dislike the Queen, and don’t respect parents.”

Billy Idol, the ‘80s pop punk icon, named his first band Generation X, but its impact as a real social phenomena in America happened in the early to mid ‘90s.

My generation, as young adults, experienced profound ennui. We rejected the world our prosperous parents laid out for us on a platter in favor of becoming nomadic, anonymous, and hedonistic.

Remember “Reality Bites?” My generation’s icons are Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace. Suicide talents. And our films are “My Own Private Idaho,” “Boyz in the Hood,” and “True Romance.”

I never thought of myself as part of Generation X. I was never a grungy, café-loitering near-poet. I grew up in Washington, D.C., a city full of contradictions, and I found the world mostly contradictory. I wore a blazer to school and put A Tribe Called Quest and U2 on the same cassette tape.

Trying to label a generation is silly, in some ways, because people don’t change that much. But the labels can be a helpful thumbnail sketch of how a group of people’s circumstances shape the narrative of the individual in relation to society. They also help us differentiate ourselves from our parents and our children.

Generation X, as we are called, grew up during a watershed. I remember, distantly, air raid drills in kindergarten, but I also remember when the Berlin Wall came down, then when dead American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. I remember when the War on Drugs began, the first time I heard Public Enemy, and my first rave. I remember writing term papers with a pen in high school. I remember registering for my first Hotmail account as a freshman in college, and I remember when people just a few years older than me starting making millions during the dot com boom.

You don’t hear the term Generation X much anymore. Recently, more attention has been paid to my grandparents’ generation, The Greatest, and my parents’ generation, The Boomers, because America is aging.

The generation younger than me, Generation 2.0 or Y2K or whatever they end up getting stuck with, grew up playing video games in a fast-paced world, have a very proactive mindset and tremendous business acumen.

I doubt my grandparents would have sat around thinking about how great they were, and I know my parents don’t find commonality with their peers for having survived the late ‘60s and then succeeding in their professions.

If there is meaning to our own tag as Gen X-ers, it is that we mainly rejected the doctrine of prosperity, and having done so, refused to grow up. I have a lot of friends who fit the bill. Where our Peter Pan feet have tread, we have created hip-hop culture, body art, the indie rock world, the blog, and the X games.

The X is a sign of rejection, on the one hand, and anonymity on the other. Straight edge kids put an X on their hands to show they didn’t drink and so were part of something. Illiterate farmers signed an X on tax rolls. Malcolm X chose his name to protest being labeled by a slave owning forefather. An X-factor is an unknown. And X marks the spot.

This year, on my birthday, sitting in an Ingles parking lot in Cashiers because my truck’s radiator blew up on my way back from a day trip in Panthertown Valley, I embraced my X.

Postmodern theory tells us that rupture and continuity exist in conversation. In other words, you can’t reject something without embracing it first. My parents probably still think I don’t listen to them, but I do. I always did. As the world around us contracts in this recession and the doctrine of prosperity fades away, I feel my generational ennui as much as ever, but I also feel at home.

Maybe, I’m thinking to myself, we are like a pack of seeds left on the shelf with an X on it, planted and forgotten, now ready to bloom in the most adverse of conditions. Maybe at 35, I have finally found the X on my American treasure map, and I am ready to sign my name.


The Jackson County Sheriff’s race is hot and getting hotter. While a controversial pay raise and allegations of questionable financial transactions are dogging incumbent Sheriff Jimmy Ashe, the possibility of a politically-motivated arson at challenger Robin Gunnels’ business has provided a sinister sub-plot to the campaign. Now the contest has taken a new turn with a group of Cashiers residents forming a political action committee aimed at unseating Ashe.

Taxpayers Against Ashe for Sheriff has spent more than $2,000 on an ad campaign that reiterates allegations against Ashe that originally surfaced in newspaper accounts in recent months.

A primary organizer behind the political action committee is David Finn, the owner of Blue Ridge Public Safety, a private security business that patrols housing developments in the southern part of the county around Cashiers.

Finn sued Ashe in 2007, but he says the still unsettled lawsuit isn’t the motivation for the ad campaign the committee has launched.

“It’s no secret that I don’t like Jimmy Ashe,” Finn said. “It hasn’t always been that way. I’ve known him for 20 years, and I supported him in two elections.”

Finn said he could not comment on the lawsuit except to say he feels the trial will justify his stance against Ashe in the election.

“I’m looking forward to the trial, so the public can understand my change of heart,” Finn said.

Ashe has repeatedly said he will not engage in mudslinging with his challengers, and he said he could not comment on the lawsuit, either.

The suit itself provides a compelling backdrop to the election, because it sets up the rift between Ashe and Finn in the context of an up-county, down-county divide. In it, Finn alleges that Ashe used his office as sheriff to sabotage the $1.5 million sale of Sapphire Valley Public Safety as an act of political retribution.

The issue began innocently enough with Finn and Ashe on opposing sides of a policy debate playing out in Raleigh.

In 2006, as president of the North Carolina Company Police Association, Finn was advocating for a bill in the General Assembly that would have given private security forces like his jurisdiction on state and county roads adjacent to the properties they patrolled.

Ashe and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association “vigorously opposed” the measure, which Ashe’s legal counsel concedes in the case file.

But Finn’s complaint goes on to allege that Ashe used his office and his deputies to harass Finn and the personnel of Blue Ridge Public Safety, then later sabotaged the sale of Sapphire Valley Public Safety. Finn had lined up a buyer for the subsidiary company, receiving a formal offer in May 2007.

In July, the buyers rescinded the offer.

The lawsuit alleges that Ashe used his influence to get the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate Blue Ridge Public Safety for wrongdoing — even though none had occurred — and that the investigation scuttled the sale.

“The investigations instigated by defendant James M. Ashe were based upon groundless and false accusation and were the specific reason the prospective purchasers did not perform under the contract,” the complaint alleges.

The case is scheduled for a trial in May.

From the beginning, Finn’s counsel has pushed for a jury trial while Ashe’s lawyers have asked that the case be dismissed on a lack of merit. In February, a judge declined to dismiss the case and ruled that it could proceed to trial.


Why form a PAC?

While political action committees are common in national politics, they are rare locally. People who spend money in local races usually donate to the candidate of their choice rather than form their own PAC with their own agenda.

In creating a political action committee, Finn said he is attempting to shed light on a pattern of abuse that has characterized Ashe’s leadership.

“I think the revelations in print media show Ashe’s misuse of tax money and raise some unanswered questions,” Finn said. “Without that attention, I think it would still be business as usual at the sheriff’s office.”

Ashe has come under fire for misappropriating revenue from drug seizures and for using a Harley Davidson seized from a drug dealer for personal use.

“The purpose of the PAC is to throw these things out there to get some answers,” Finn said. “We’re not supporting any candidate. I have my personal preference, but the PAC is not supporting anyone.”

Finn claims that he and his PAC are speaking out on behalf of a broader group of people who are reluctant to go on record for fear of incurring Ashe’s ire. The rules of PACs require any donors of more than $50 to be named in campaign finance reports. The PAC’s treasurer, John Bayley, said he preferred to let Finn speak for the group. The other two named contributors, Gary Ramey of Cashiers and Jeff Scott of Glenville, could not be reached for comment.

“A lot of people want to contribute under $50, because there is a real concern if the sheriff finds out,” Finn said.

The PAC has run ads in the Smoky Mountain News, The Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle and The Sylva Herald.

Ashe’s supporters have seen the ads as a smear campaign in what has become a dirty race for the sheriff’s office.

John Burgess of Sylva said seeing the negative ads in the newspaper have reinforced his support of Ashe.

“He really is the only candidate that is qualified to do the job,” Burgess said. “He has run a clean, no-slander campaign and is a leader in the community. I’ve never even heard of any of these other guys, but I do hear how nasty a campaign they run.”

The person who may have the most to gain from Finn’s ad campaign is Democratic candidate Robin Gunnels, who has emerged with Ashe as the frontrunner in the May primary.

Gunnels said the ads don’t have any new information, and he doesn’t think they’ll help his campaign.

“Those are things that came out last year and they’re just getting brought back up,” Gunnels said. “It’s just giving people the opportunity to see it and reflect on what’s right and what’s wrong in the county.”

Gunnels said the bigger issue in the election is how the Jackson County Sheriff will deal with the southern part of the county, where private security firms patrol expensive developments that are unoccupied for large portions of the year in the greater Cashiers and Glenville area.

Gunnels and Ashe clashed during a candidate’s debate in Cashiers last Tuesday over that subject.

Ashe has said one of his top priorities is to create a new substation in the south central part of the county that would help bolster security and enhance cooperation in those communities.

But Gunnels said Ashe had a policy of not responding to alarm calls in that area, something he routinely did when he was at the sheriff’s department.

Both Gunnels and Ashe have their power bases in the northern part of the county. Gunnels lives in Cullowhee and runs a business in Sylva, while Ashe is a highly visible political figure also in the north. Between now and May, both men will be trying to convince every voter they can that they have what it takes to keep the whole county safe.

The primary winner won’t be out of the woods, however, as two unaffiliated candidates are planning to get on the ballot through a petition process. One of them, Tim O’Brien, has worked for Finn at Blue Ridge Public Safety and lives in Cashiers.


With Sylva’s annual street festival Greening Up the Mountains right around the corner, town commissioners had a somewhat unusual decision land on their doorstep last week: risk a lawsuit or pay a licensing fee to a music industry group.

Apparently, you can’t just show up with a guitar at a town event and play “American Pie” anymore.

Sylva’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, advised the board not to pay $305 to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, because he believed paying the fee could set a precedent that would allow other licensing companies to gouge the town.

Ridenour based his advice on an experience with a representative of another licensing company, SESAC Inc., last year. The sales representative harassed Ridenour for weeks.

“It became more of a marketing tactic than a legal issue and it wasn’t hard to see through that,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour believes the town could win a lawsuit in the event that they are sued over a copyright violation during a town-sponsored event, in part, because the licensing companies don’t guarantee which artists’ songs are covered by their fees.

ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are performing rights organizations. Effectively, they all do the same thing, issuing blanket licenses to music broadcasters, like television and radio stations and music performance venues.

By paying the blanket license fees, towns like Sylva are ensured that they can’t be sued if an artist at their festival plays a song without the permission of its author. It sounds ridiculous at face value, since most part-time musicians regularly play cover songs without permission, but if you don’t pay licensing fees, you are potentially liable.

“Potentially liable means it’s a gray area and you could probably write a dissertation on it,” Ridenour said.

Towns like Maggie Valley and Franklin, which have long-standing festivals that include music, pay the licensing fees. Ridenour said if Sylva was really concerned about the liability, it could get the musicians to sign a waiver saying they accepted responsibility for any copyright violations.

Mayor Maurice Moody didn’t like that idea.

“I would really be opposed to that,” Moody said. “Too many local musicians have day jobs. They’re part-time and they play for pleasure. I wouldn’t want to shift that burden on to them.”

The performing rights organizations aren’t boogey men. The licenses sold by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay royalties on copyrighted music. Royalties pay the songwriters. But Ridenour’s point is that the town could end up forking over $300 per year to each of the organizations, and over time the amount adds up.

Moody said he would rather pay the fee than face the possibility of a costly lawsuit.

“I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Moody said. “Even though from a legal standpoint he’s probably right.”

Music rights will be an issue at Greening Up the Mountains, but they’ll be even more central to the town’s ability to hold its Friday night music events throughout the summer.

Commissioner Stacy Knotts also voted against passing the buck to the artists and said she didn’t mind the town paying the licensing fees.

“It might just be a part of doing business –– part of the joy of having music downtown,” Knotts said. “I definitely want to keep having music in the town.”

The commissioners voted 3 to 2 to pay the ASCAP fee. Cue up the Don Henley.


Anyone who thought the discussion over the Jackson County Economic Development Commission’s missing audits was over when the board closed the issue last December got a surprise on Monday night.

Chairman Brian McMahan announced that he had gotten a letter from the North Carolina Department of the Treasurer that cleared the county of the responsibility to produce the missing audits for the EDC for the years between 2002 and 2005.

The county was previously under the assumption the audits were necessary under state law, but an accountant hired to perform the back audits concluded it was an impossible task due to spotty records from the era. The EDC operated as an independent agency without county oversight during those years.

The county sought advice from the Local Government Commission in hopes of clearing the air once and for all.

“We went through a process where we asked the LGC what is the next step?” McMahan said. “How do we complete this obligation?”

That in turn prompted the state treasurer’s department to weigh in. The answer, apparently, was the county needed to get letters from each town that participated in the EDC and from past treasurers then communicate with the district attorney’s office.

“It is my understanding, if I interpret this correctly, that Jackson County is not being required at this time to comply with the audits,” McMahan said.

Controversy over the EDC erupted in 2005 amid allegations of financial mismanagement by its leaders. While the EDC was a separate entity, it relied on funding from the county. Concerned by the lack of oversight of public funds at the disposal of an all-volunteer body, the county decided to withdraw from the EDC and seized the organization’s records. But part of the records either weren’t there to begin with or went missing in the process.

The county tried to enlist the services of two separate auditing firms to help piece together what happened to the EDC’s finances to no avail.

But the commissioners, all but one of whom inherited the EDC fiasco, have received so much criticism over the issue that they apparently felt the need to go further.

Perhaps their most vocal critic has been Sylva resident Marie Leatherwood. Leatherwood has attended nearly every board meeting since May 2007 demanding at each one that someone be held accountable for what she claimed was the inexplicable disappearance of taxpayer money and the records that proved it. Getting to the bottom of the issue has become a crusade for Leatherwood.

McMahan became so exasperated with Leatherwood’s constant criticism that he invited her to present her evidence to the board. Leatherwood declined, saying the material was too sensitive.

At Monday’s meeting, Leatherwood reacted to the new information so strongly that the commissioners were forced to call a recess to escape her harangue.

“I’m not going to accept any ‘We’ve done it all,’” Leatherwood said. “That’s making a liar out of me.”

McMahan resorted to using his gavel to try to maintain order during the outburst. After the recess, Leatherwood left the building escorted by a sheriff’s deputy.

Commissioner Joe Cowan, who was on the board when the EDC controversy first emerged, was dismayed by the scene. Having remained quiet on the issue for months, he took time to reiterate that the county has never been responsible for producing an audit of the entity’s finances.

“We separated ourselves from the EDC. There was no legal responsibility to do anything with that audit in the first place,” Cowan said.


I don't do people, Bart Crowe said matter-of-factly.

But there he was getting his fishing tackle together to hit the trophy waters in Cherokee with a couple of fishing buddies.

Crowe carried an M-60 machine gun during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. His war was four days long, he said, and punctuated by a 20-hour tank battle. Now he is a disabled veteran with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic brain injury, fybromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

I don't sleep. I've bounced from job to job. I've literally gone after bosses, Crowe said. I really don't do people. I center my life around veterans.

Crowe and a handful of other Western North Carolina veterans gathered at River's Edge Outfitters in Cherokee on Monday morning and then headed up Oconaluftee River to fish alongside members of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team. The outing was the inaugural fishing event for the Cherokee Chapter of Project Healing Waters.

For Crowe, it was a much-needed respite.

Just getting out there on the water is relaxing, Crowe said. It's not about catching fish. It's about getting some peace and hearing the streams instead of thinking about things I shouldn't.

Project Healing Waters was founded in 2005 as a way to help rehabilitate wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Today, there are more than 80 chapters nationwide and the project continues to grow.

John Bass, the project's regional coordinator for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, has been involved since the beginning. Bass is wheelchair-bound, having broken his neck in a swimming pool in 1974. He got involved in Project Healing Waters after meeting a young wounded veteran on the water near Lebanon, Va.

I made up my mind right then, that I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do something to help these guys, Bass said.

Bass called Project Healing Waters founder Ed Nicholson, and the rest is history. He started working with veterans at Walter Reed and realized he had something special to give them. Having been a fly fisherman since his school days, he never let his injury keep him from his passion afterwards.

It's sort of hard for a guy to tell me he can't do it, when I've done it, Bass said.

Bass has a special place in his heart for the Cherokee chapter of the organization because of his longstanding friendship with a Native American Vietnam Veteran from Kyle, South Dakota, named Archie Hopkins.

I think a lot of the reason the veterans today get the opportunities they do is because the guys from Vietnam didn't get the thank yous they deserved, Bass said.

Crowe, whose father is a Vietnam veteran and whose two brothers served in Iraq, agrees.

My father dealt with people in airports spitting, calling him baby-killer, but when I got home, I got an orange certificate, Crowe said. The country did an about face and started welcoming home its veterans.

But after the hero's welcome, life wasn't the same for Crowe. He drank heavily and divorced his first wife. He hit rock bottom one day and checked himself into the suicide watch at a hospital in Gainesville, Fla. Since that time, he's actively sought ways to deal with his PTSD, which he says acts the same for everybody whether they got it in Vietnam or the desert.

It's all the same. One place had trees and the other had nothing. I tried to have a job and a family and put it all behind me and it didn't work, Crowe said.

After moving to North Carolina, Crowe heard about Operation Healing Waters through the VA, and he has embraced it wholeheartedly.

On Monday, Crowe was fishing with Jamie Dufault, a 29-year-old disabled veteran who lives in Hendersonville, and Brandon Wilson, a 31-year-old Brevard native who got back from Iraq in February and now lives in Maggie Valley.

Wilson, a life-long fly fisherman, has organized a side project called Pints and Flies at the Rendezvous Bar inside the Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center as a way of sharing his passion for the sport.

It's awesome to see guys getting into it, beginning to understand it for themselves, Wilson said. You don't think about anything you did in war. It's just you and a little bitty fish out there in the water.

Crowe's wife Melinda, tied him a fly at Pints and Flies. It was pink and purple and three times the size of a normal wooly bugger. He caught three fish with it.

The art of healing

Joanie Ledford is a recreation therapist at the Veterans Administration hospital in Asheville. Ledford has been involved with the Asheville chapter of Project Healing Waters for two years, and she sees the fishing as a multi-faceted therapy that incorporates fine motor coordination, self-esteem building, and patience.

It lets them learn that they can continue fishing or learn a new skill no matter what their ability is, Ledford said. To help the overcome their limitations and learn some self-confidence.

Ledford's embrace of the program has been crucial. Project Healing Waters chapters require a VA or Department of Defense hospital or clinic to act as hosts, a local fly fishing organization to supply volunteers and organize events, and wounded or disabled veterans who want to participate.

In the case of the Cherokee chapter of Project Healing Waters, the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team is the sponsor organization, and their effort is supported by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal fishery.

Fisheries Manager Robert Blankenship said helping underwrite Operating Healing Waters is a chance for the tribe to accomplish its goal of providing an accessible fishery for everyone. Blankenship hopes to see the Cherokee chapter attract Native American veterans from the Qualla Boundary, and to that end, the tribe will help host a tournament event in September that will feature a team of Cherokee veterans against a team of veterans from North Carolina.

We'll support them in any way we can, Blankenship said.

On Monday, Blankenship closed a section of trophy water to give the veterans first crack at the giant rainbow, brown and brook trout there.

Troy Bailey, a Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair, got some individual attention from Asheville project coordinator Ryan Harmon, and much to his own surprise hooked a beautiful trout.

Somewhere far upriver Crowe, Wilson and Dufault waded into the water.

Healing Waters

The Cherokee chapter of Project Healing Waters a national nonprofit whose mission is to encourage the physical and emotional rehabilitation of servicemen and veterans through fly-fishing is currently recruiting members from Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Clay counties. 828.550.8487 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or


After years of being the in-the-stream science guy behind Haywood Waterways Association, Eric Romaniszyn is taking the helm as the nonprofit’s executive director, something he sees as a natural outgrowth of his work in conservation biology.

“Doing what I do now is in some ways a lot like what I did growing up,” Romaniszyn said. “Turning over rocks in streams and seeing what’s underneath.”

Romaniszyn succeeded Ron Moser as executive director in January, and since then, he’s been working hard to make up the gap on his predecessor as a bookkeeper.

“Ron brought a lot of skill in record-keeping and accounting, and my strong suit is on the science side,” Romaniszyn said. “So that’s been my biggest challenge.”

With a supportive board and Moser just a phone call away, though, Romaniszyn is ready to take on Haywood Waterways perennial challenge –– restoring the rivers and streams of Haywood County to a pristine state –– with his own set of skills.

Originally from northwest Pennsylvania, Romaniszyn grew up fishing and exploring the rivers and streams of the northern Appalachians. He went on to get a master’s degree in aquatic entomology from the University of Georgia and did his research at the United States Forest Service’s Coweeta Hydrologic Lab in Macon County, where he fell in love with the mountains of Western North Carolina.

He settled on studying aquatic insects because of his love of fishing and because of a supportive advisor who told him bugs were a good way to go.

“The problem with biologists is we’re interested in everything,” Romaniszyn said. “It’s hard to find a niche.”

Romaniszyn and his wife both lucked out to find jobs in the region in their field. His wife, Kathleen, is a sociology professor and dean at Western Carolina University.

Since 2004, Romaniszyn, who’s now 38, has been using his science to organize and educate property owners in Haywood County about the benefits of creating a clean and healthy Pigeon River watershed.

The Haywood Waterways Association is small shop –– one-and-a-half full time staff right now –– that acts as a facilitator to arrange the funding, technical assistance, and community cooperation that can make a watershed healthier. The work primarily involves leveraging grants and matching funds to engaging partnerships between agencies that have technical resources and landowners.

“We find the money and technical resources, and then we work with partners to get it to the landowners,” Romaniszyn said.

They’re the good cops in the environmental world, giving other people’s money to landowners who can’t afford to clean up their failed septic systems or don’t know how to build driveways without intensifying runoff.

Romaniszyn points to Haywood Waterway’s record of obtaining grants with pride. The nonprofit has applied for 80 grants since its inception and gotten 76, bringing a whopping $5.8 million to Haywood County during that period.

The organization’s aim is to reduce all the pollution that runs off the land and ends up in the creeks and streams — from hog manure to over-use of pesticides to oily residue from parking lots. Erosion from construction is the worst culprit for water pollution these days.

In a current project that demonstrates its mission and function, Haywood Waterways has partnered with N.C. Department of Environment, Mountain Projects, and property owners to repair septic systems in the Hyatt Creek watershed.

Romaniszyn’s biggest challenge is following through on his board’s mission to build reserve accounts and an endowment over the next 10 years that will guarantee Haywood Waterways Association’s future in perpetuity.

But those ambitious goals are part and parcel of his experience at Haywood Waterways, and he’s happy to have a board with high expectations.

“We’ve really grown in the last six years,” Romaniszyn said. “Every week seems to bring a new project. It’s just been a challenge to make sure we have the resources to do everything.”


Shane Burrell’s idea was simple: create a Web site where political candidates can talk to directly to voters about issues.

“I knew that a lot of the candidates just weren’t able to get out there and online is an easy way to do it,” Burrell said. “I wanted to know for myself what the candidates were about before I voted.”

The co-owner of Metrostat, a Sylva broadband provider, Burrell had the technical know-how to build the site. His challenge has been getting the candidates to participate.

Burrell launched at the beginning of the primary season with the hopes of creating a lively forum for candidates in county races throughout Jackson, Swain, and Macon counties.

With primary elections a few short weeks away, the site still doesn’t have enough candidates to create the exchange Burrell was hoping for.

“A lot of them haven’t even responded,” Burrell said. “I don’t know if they are afraid of participating or they’re not technically savvy or what.”

For instance, in the race for Jackson County commissioners’ seats, only Tom Massie has submitted a profile and interacted with voters.

Massie is well known for his willingness to speak his mind, but his support of WNC Debate’s project is based on his desire to tell voters about who he is.

“Any way we can get this information to the public is useful,” Massie said. “How do you make an informed decision if you don’t know who you’re voting for? What kind of democracy do we have if we don’t have an informed electorate?”

Massie’s open attitude has made him a de facto star of the site despite fielding a sometimes unpleasant barrage of questions — from controversial salary raises doled out last year to top county brass to defending Sheriff Jimmy Ashe’s use of drug money to support youth sports teams outside accepted government accounting protocols.

But supporters and critics alike have responded favorably to his willingness to get down to the nitty-gritty on issues.

A registered user named “JacksonCountyCorruption” had this to say to Massie:

“Although I entirely disagree with the decision made by the commissioners, I completely respect your answer Mr. Massie. Furthermore, I would like to thank you for being willing to answer such questions in an ongoing public forum.”

Massie said he wasn’t sure why more candidates weren’t using the forum, but he guessed it was a combination of political savvy and a lack of understanding about the online platform.

“I guess people are scared things could be taken out of context,” Massie said. “Or it’s that you don’t really know who’s running the Web site. I don’t even know who Shane is, but I feel I’ve been treated fairly.”

The site is essentially a tricked-out blog that allows the candidates to post profiles and then respond to comments, which are tallied chronologically.

Burrell says the site gets about 1,000 visitors per day, but only 73 people have voted in the staw poll for Jackson sheriff and 43 in the poll for Swain sheriff. Burrell acts as system administrator and enforces a few simple rules. Any previously published materials relevant to the races like newspaper articles, communications directly from candidates and comments from registered users are fair game and will be posted, as long as they aren’t offensive or salacious.

Massie said he has heard from some candidates that they believe the site has been put together to support a particular ticket or group of candidates. Burrell thinks people haven’t really come all the way around to the concept.

“A lot of people don’t understand that anybody can participate,” Burrell said. “Any one of the candidates can create their own space (on the site).”

Burrell said he has reached out to anyone and everyone he could think of to let them know the space he built is an open forum for the community.

The site has arguably had the most participation from people interested in the Jackson County sheriffs’ race. Two candidates, namely Robin Gunnels and Mary Rock, have posted and interacted with voters. The heated nature of the race and the fact that Gunnels’ business was victimized by arson have fed the interest in the interaction.

Rock wrote a candid post condemning the crime and indicating that she thought it was politically motivated, a sentiment Gunnels also has expressed openly. His campaign signs were stored in the building, and he did not have fire insurance.

“In my opinion, this was a cowardly act carried out by a person who is trying (and obviously desperate) to manipulate the outcome of the election,” Rock wrote, saying it “threatens to undermine the freedom of the people to choose from the candidates whom they want to serve them.”

While Burrell may not yet have succeeded in creating a paradigm shift in the way political candidates interact with voters, he has certainly injected a new element into the conversation. Besides, it’s only primary season and Burrell said he’s in it for the long haul.


While three of five seats are up for election on the Jackson County board of commissioners, there is primary competition for just one of the seats: the Democratic primary for the Cherokee/ Whittier/Dillsboro district profiled here.


William Shelton, 47, Whittier, farmer

• Experience: Shelton has been on the board for four years and is a full-time farmer. Shelton has worked as supervisor for the Jackson County soil and water conservation district and served as member of the planning board and the steering committee for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative.

• Platform: Shelton was elected to his first term after running on a platform of environmental stewardship and controlled development in Jackson County. While on the board, he helped pass steep slope and subdivision ordinances as well as create a Historic Preservation Commission and a Farmland Preservation ordinance.

“The beauty and natural resources of this area are our number one asset. We need, as always, to find ways to strike that delicate balance between growth and stewardship.”

Shelton said his focus now is on economic development, job creation, and fiscal responsibility.

“I think our goal as commissioners in Jackson County should be to support the infrastructure and services, from education and recreation to emergency services and well-justified capital projects, that would set the table in making this county as attractive as possible to people who are looking for business locations in this new ‘green’ and ‘high-tech’ economy.”


James “Bo” Brown, 55, Dillsboro, pastor/business owner

• Experience: Brown is pastor of Alarka Missionary Baptist Church in Bryson City, works full-time on the night shift at WestCare Medical as a floor technician, and is the owner of Bo Knows Construction.

• Platform: Brown believes the people of Jackson County are overtaxed and that over-regulation of development has accentuated the effects of the recession.

“The hard-working people who have grown up here starve or are having to sell off their land to pay the taxes. The people of Jackson County want a place they can be proud of, with jobs for all and the ability to keep their land for their children, so they too can raise their children here instead of having to go away to find work.”

As commissioner, Brown said he would seek to diversify the local economy by attracting manufacturing jobs and hiring local contractors for county work.

“Jackson County needs to seek manufacturing companies to come to this area to give jobs to the people. Tourism is fine, but not everyone has a business that runs on tourism. We really need stable places to work where people can look forward to having a retirement.”


This year in Macon County, three seats on the board are up for election. Each commissioner represents a geographic district in the county, although all voters get to vote for all seats. Once the board is elected, the sitting members choose a county chairman from their ranks.

There are two Republican candidates running for the Franklin district, Ron Haven and Charlie Leatherman, not profiled here since they automatically advance to the general election.

Franklin district

Democratic candidates, pick two

Carroll Poindexter, 50, building/ electrical instructor

Experience: Poindexter works part-time as an instructor for building and electrical courses. Poindexter is a former code enforcement officer who worked for the county.

Platform: Poindexter is running on a platform of limiting taxes and communicating more openly with the voters of Macon County. His goal is “to be a servant for the people, hold the line on taxes, and make sure the people are informed.”

Poindexter is critical of recent school expenditures in the county that will raise the tax rate.

“Our government has a record of passing things before they have figured out how they are going to pay for or operate it,” Poindexter said.

Ronnie Beale, 54, owner of Beale Construction

Experience: Beale has been a commissioner four years and serves as chairman.

Platform: Beale is running on a platform that emphasizes job growth and retention and the creation of more affordable housing in the county. He points to his record of establishing the county’s mental health task force and child daycare committee as proof of his record of looking for solutions for working families. Beale favors a steep slope ordinance, but wants it to incorporate the needs of the construction industry.

“We all recognize that these ordinances have an impact on property rights. I believe we must be very careful how this ordinance is crafted, but I also believe that future potential buyers will be looking for a safe place to construct their house and I do believe that a Steep slope ordinance will be of help in providing safety not only for the new homeowner, but also for their neighbors.”

Bob Simpson, 61, self-employed contractor

Experience: Simpson has been a commissioner for eight years. He is a trustee of Southwestern Community College.

Platform: Simpson is running on a platform that emphasizes fiscal responsibility. He believes his experience on the county board is crucial as the county faces its budgeting process in a harsh economy.

“I think the most important issue is the budget. We’re experiencing zero growth and the bills keep coming. This will take experience to get through.”

Simpson also supports steep slope regulation, provided it does not prevent property owners from developing their land.

“I’ll continue to be open, and my votes will reflect the concerns of everyone in the county.”


Highlands district

Democratic candidates, pick one

Michael David Rogers, 47, Highlands, contractor/grader

Experience: Rogers owns a landscape/grading business and runs a Christian-based recovery program at the Pine Grove Baptist Church. He also serves on the Appearance Committee for the Town of Highlands.

Platform: Rogers is running on a platform of balanced development, job growth, and protecting natural resources. “I am passionate about our natural resources. We have one of the most beautiful areas in the United States to live in, and I want to see us protect it.”

Rogers said he is running for commissioner in order to give Highlands a stronger voice on the county board. He supports the implementation of a steep slope ordinance, a subject with which he has firsthand experience, and he wants to support the school system.

“I feel there is a need for growth in our county, but at the same time, we do need ordinances and laws to protect our environment as well as our citizens.”

Allan Ricky Bryson, 53, business owner

Experience: Bryson has been owner and operator of Highlands Outdoor Tool for 26 years. He is assistant fire chief for the Highlands Fire Department and served two terms as a commissioner but lost re-election in 2006.

Platform: Bryson is running a platform that stresses fiscal responsibility and keeping taxes low. “I just believe we can move Macon County forward in an affordable way without raising people’s taxes during an economic turndown.”

Bryson favors steep slope regulation.

“I’d rather have it written by Maconians than it being written by the state.”


Republican candidates, pick one

Brian McClellan, 53, financial advisor

Experience: McClellan is a current commissioner and works as a financial advisor at Edward Jones Investments.

Platform: McClellan is running on a platform that stresses financial responsibility. He wants to limit county spending and attract business to the area.

“Creating a plan for economic development and putting that plan into action to bring non-polluting jobs to our area has been an important part of the process of working to revive our local economy. We need to hold the line on county spending and create opportunities for businesses to locate here in our area and provide us with jobs that will allow us to continue to live here and enjoy the uniqueness and beauty of Macon County.”

McClellan also favors a balanced steep slope ordinance that regulates building without rendering lots “unbuildable.”

Jimmy Tate, 38, landscaping business owner

Experience: Jimmy Tate is president of Tate Landscaping Services and a volunteer firefighter. He has served on the town planning board and land-use committee.

Platform: Tate is running on a platform that stresses fiscal responsibility. As a sixth-generation native of Macon County, Tate said his experience in local political offices will help him to guide the county during a difficult time.

“In a time when our country and state are falling deeper and deeper in debt, we, at the very least, need to be responsible and wise with our decisions and finances at the local level. Public service is all about listening to and respecting the taxpayer, and I want to work in this respect for the people of Macon County.”


Last week, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians celebrated the topping off of their new 21-story hotel tower, the centerpiece of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino’s $633 million expansion.

“This, for us, is a game-changer,” said Harrah’s Cherokee General Manager Darold Londo. “This is the exclamation mark on the resort.”

More than 1,000 workers gathered with tribal officials, casino administrators, and others to watch as the final steel beam, decorated with an evergreen tree, was hoisted by crane to the highest point of the structure.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks said the event was an opportunity to recognize the workers who had erected the tower in nine months, but also to celebrate the foresight of the tribe’s leaders in planning the expansion.

“I just want to take a moment to recognize the planning and foresight not only for creating these jobs, but for creating a facility that will benefit us for many, many generations,” Hicks said.

The 21-story Creek Tower will add 532 new rooms to the resort, doubling the casino’s overnight capacity and making Harrah’s Cherokee the largest hotel in North Carolina. Construction should conclude later this year.

The ceremony was a chance to recognize the grandiose nature of the casino’s expansion as a resort. When the project is finished, it will boast a Paula Deen Kitchen restaurant with 400 seats, 78 luxury suites with mountain views, a 16,000 square-foot spa, and a 3,000-seat auditorium.

Together with the new Robert Trent Jones-designed Sequoyah National Golf Club, the elements represent Cherokee’s move to remake itself as a resort destination.

For Norma Moss, chair of the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, that’s exactly what the goal has been since the EBCI Tribal Council approved the investment in 2008.

“Take a good look around you,” Moss said. “Our masterpiece in the mountains is becoming a reality.”

For Tribal Council Member Perry Shell, who voted for the appropriation, said Cherokee and the tribe is becoming an economic driver for the region.

“I see this as an investment,” said Shell. “I think it will have a positive impact not only for the tribe, but for the entire area.”

Builder and tribe share love of ceremony

Topping off ceremonies are a 1,000 year-old tradition for builders, according to Turner Construction Company’s project manager Bobby Fay. With his 1,000-plus workers arrayed in front of him, Fay took pains to make sure they knew the ceremony was for them.

“This ceremony has traditionally been for the workers,” Fay said. “To honor their sweat.”

Fay, a bear of a man with a bushy beard, stood in a black full-length duster with his hard hat on and gave a rousing speech in English and Spanish to a delighted audience.

“We brought in the drillers from the south. The concrete workers from north over the mountains. The architects from the west. The steel workers from the east,” said Fay. “I’ve never had so many area codes in my phone.”

Londo said Turner Construction’s value system has been a good fit with the tribe and that was evident in the topping off ceremony, which began with a traditional prayer to the seven spiritual directions of the Cherokee offered by tribal Elder Jerry Wolfe.

“I love the fact that Turner honors traditions,” Londo said. “We appreciate those types of things in Cherokee.”

The company won the $120 million construction contract last summer, and they have worked hard to get the hotel tower up in just nine months. Miraculously, the project has not lost a day to weather, despite Western North Carolina experiencing an historic winter of snow and ice.

Fay said the hotel construction was on schedule to finish in December. In the meantime, the casino will be rolling out a series of new amenities. The first full bar on a gaming floor is scheduled to come on line next month, the events center will open Labor Day weekend, and Paula Deen’s Kitchen restaurant will start serving food late in the year.


Throughout the years-long bickering over the future of the Dillsboro Dam, the little brown bats that spent the summer in the dam’s powerhouse had no voice.

Each April, the little browns would return to the Tuckaseegee from their winter homes in caves and mines throughout the region in order to mate and enjoy the bounty of insects the river furnished. They established a burgeoning colony in the dam’s old powerhouse, which offered the perfect warm, dry shelter.

“That was an ideal place for them by the dam,” said Mark Cantrell, field biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “With the powerhouse and the food sources on the river, it was just about perfect.”

The powerhouse was demolished along with the dam this winter.

Cantrell worked with biologists from Duke Energy to create mitigation plans for the different species of birds, bats, and fish affected by the radical overnight change. The idea of putting in bat boxes to replace the demolished powerhouse roost was Cantrell’s.

Duke erected four bat houses to accommodate the estimated 500 bats that colonized the powerhouse. Each four-compartment bat box has the capacity to accommodate about 250 bats. They are patterned after recommendations from Bat Conservation International.

T.J. Walker, the owner of the Dillsboro Inn perched on the river shore where the dam once stood, is also coping with the radical change in the landscape. Walker initially opposed Duke’s plan to take out the dam, but now he says he’s pleased to see the Tuckaseegee flowing wild and free beneath the deck of his inn. But Walker is worried about the bats.

“For as many bats as were in there, there are not enough houses,” Walker said. Walker doesn’t see how the boxes, roughly the size of a television set, will hold as many bats as biologists say they will.

Walker is not just a casual observer of the nocturnal hunters. He counts on them to keep the riverfront free of mosquitoes.

“We love the bats. They do pest control,” Walker said. “They make Dillsboro’s waterfront special. Our customers love looking at the bats. We don’t have a mosquito problem.”

Walker recently bought three additional bat houses himself because he has been worried by the sight of the bats swarming the site where the powerhouse once stood.

Cantrell believes there’s plenty of room for the Dillsboro bat colony in the new houses, but it will take them time to set up new roosts.

“I expect the bats to utilize the houses. They will come back,” Cantrell said. “Most bats will come back to an area like that. They’ll be a little surprised at first, but then they’ll start looking for other places nearby.”

Walker was concerned that the bat houses weren’t placed in close proximity to where the old powerhouse was, but are a quarter mile or more away. Cantrell believe the bats will find the houses, however.

Cantrell said the bat houses will be monitored for the next two years to see how well the bats have adjusted to the new surroundings. For both T.J. Walker and the bats, this spring involves more than just the normal change of seasons.

Becky Johnson contributed to this article.


Spring nesting

In the spring, little brown bats form huge nursery colonies like the one observed at Dillsboro. A nursery colony may have thousands of bats in it. Maternity colonies are commonly found in warm sites in buildings or other structures and can occasionally be found in hollow trees. The female little brown bat gives birth to only one baby a year.


Avram Friedman is not your average North Carolina political candidate.

Born in the Bronx, Friedman studied political science at Hunter College, and he’s been a grassroots activist since the late 1960s. After spending his life affecting change from outside the system, the 60-year-old Sylva resident is trying to make good on what is perhaps the most radical idea of his career: taking his brand of green thinking to the State House in Raleigh.

“I’ll be a voice in the state legislature that doesn’t exist right now,” Friedman said.

This year, Friedman is running for the second time against long-time incumbent Phil Haire of Sylva in the Democratic primary in hopes of representing Jackson, Swain, Macon and Haywood counties in the state House.

Friedman got 30 percent of the vote the last time he ran against the five-time incumbent Haire, so he can’t be considered a fringe candidate anymore.

Friedman admits to liking his opponent, but he’s intent on changing the system, starting with his home district.

“It’s not just Phil Haire,” Friedman said of his decision to run. “I would probably be challenging any representative anywhere I was living.”

Friedman is running his campaign armed with a broad and well-thought out liberal issue platform, but the driving force behind his bid is to put an end to the business-as-usual attitude of state government.

As the executive director of the Canary Coalition, an environmental nonprofit that aims to improve air quality in the North Carolina, Friedman has seen firsthand how energy companies like Duke Energy and Progress Energy force their agenda in the legislature.

“They are such an intimidating force on the political level that very few legislators are willing to stand up to them or question the veracity of their information or offer proposals that might not increase their profit margins,” Friedman said.

Friedman may sound like a radical, and in one sense he is. He was arrested twice last year for protesting Duke Energy’s new Cliffside coal plant, once in front of the governor’s mansion and once in front of Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte. Haire’s support for Senate Bill 3, which paved the way for Cliffside’s construction, is one of Friedman’s major points of contention.

But in an election year in which the ailing economy and the state’s looming budget crisis are bound to be the primary topics of conversation, Friedman wants to make the case that the environment isn’t a side discussion.

“That’s the impression I have to overcome,” said Friedman. “The fact is the environment poses a challenge, but it also offers incredible promise in the economic sphere. There’s a tremendous opportunity in solving the vast environmental problems we’re confronting. There’s a second industrial revolution occurring right now.”

Friedman spent 25 years running a plumbing business that focused on solar and electric hot water heating systems, so he understands the connection between green technology and the economy.

In some ways, Friedman believes the election climate suits his platform better than Haire’s, whose powerful legislative record includes his position as chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Right now, our state is experiencing such budget shortfalls. There are no new programs,” Freidman said. “I don’t think pork is as big a factor as people just being fed up.”

For people who are fed up, Friedman’s platform is refreshingly progressive.

He believes that if North Carolina commits itself to phasing out coal power and developing alternative energy like solar and wind power, the state will create thousands of new jobs.

“There are tens of thousands of jobs waiting for us,” Friedman said. “They’re doing it all over the world. We’re banning wind energy in Western North Carolina, and they’re building a new economy in China.”

He also rejects the idea that today’s political climate is decidedly conservative.

“When there’s a conservative wave in the country, Democrats in office try to make themselves look even more conservative,” Friedman said. “I don’t think that’s a winning strategy.”

If he’s elected, Friedman wants to implement a statewide public transportation system that connects the university system by high-speed rail. He wants to raise teacher salaries and improve public education. And he wants to revamp the state government’s system to include full-time state legislators, so ordinary people can afford to serve in elected offices.

For the natives of Western North Carolina, Friedman has an idea that breaks the boundaries of his otherwise environmental platform. He wants to set up a lower property tax structure for full-time residents and low-income people. That’s not going to win him the snowbird vote, but Friedman doesn’t care.

“I’m giving a lot of people a choice they haven’t had in a long time. One they maybe haven’t ever had before,” Friedman said.


Last month, officials from the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and the Town of Sylva clashed over who was responsible for fixing a clogged town sewer line.

The issue has since been resolved, with TWASA’s board voting 4-1 to reimburse Sylva for the cost of the repair after all. But the larger issue of what to do with “orphan” sewer lines that don’t appear on TWASA’s maps remains.

A committee representing all of the entities that formed the TWASA two decades ago has been convened to examine and interpret TWASA’s charter, according to Board Chairman Randall Turpin

At stake is whether TWASA is responsible for maintaining and repairing lines that weren’t on the original maps back when the newly formed private enterprise took over Sylva’s water and sewer system in the early ‘90s.

“How do we categorize the lines that weren’t identified at that time?” Turpin said.

TWASA’s has a policy not to repair small lines that didn’t appear on the original maps.

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody doesn’t understand how such a policy could be in place.

“From my perspective, when TWASA was formed in 1992, they accepted the entire sewer system in existence at the time,” Moody said. “Therefore, I feel they have the responsibility to maintain it.”

But while TWASA’s charter document clearly gives the authority the responsibility to operate and maintain the entire system, it also gives it broad discretion to determine how and when to repair, upgrade and maintain the sewer lines.

The TWASA board felt it was important to pay Sylva back for the clog in order to move forward with a more productive discussion, according to TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline.

But they also wanted the municipalities to understand the planning process that goes into upgrades and maintenance of the system.

Turpin said TWASA relies on a regimented capital improvement plan that goes through its Water and Sewer Projects Committee, a system set up in the charter document.

Turpin said the authority has to be able to budget for maintenance and upgrades each year based on projected revenues. Spur of the moment repairs on unmapped lines present a problem.

“If there’s lines that are identified out there that we can get to the WASP committee and into the capital improvement plan, then that’s a positive outcome,” Turpin said.

TWASA already has a board made up of representatives from Jackson County, Dillsboro and Sylva. But Turpin wanted to get other people into the discussion, so he asked the municipalities to appoint members.

Jackson County commissioners refused to make an appointment, saying that County Chairman Brian McMahan could represent the county through the seat he already has on the TWASA board.

The committee will include Brad Moses, Larry Phillips, Chuck Wooten and Brian McMahan from the existing TWASA board; Maurice Moody and Chris Matheson from Sylva; and Mike Fitzgerald and Wade Wilson from Dillsboro. The subcommittee will meet for the first time at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at TWASA’s main office.

Matheson said she was happy to serve on the committee, but she was still slightly confused about why she was needed.

“If going into the meeting, the idea is that the forming document is valid and binding and we just have to make sure everybody is on the same page, I’m fine with that,” Matheson said.

But she said Sylva’s board hasn’t changed its position that TWASA needs to repair broken lines when they cause problems.

Turpin said the meeting would provide a unique opportunity to talk through the issue of orphan lines and capital improvement planning.

“We have annual meetings with all the forming entities but this is the first time since I’ve been on the board that all of the entities have come together over a common concern,” Turpin said.


Smoky Mountain Center, the mental health management entity for Western North Carolina, has finally gotten itself out of the game of providing services.

The suite of programs known as Smoky Operated Services would be handed over to a partnership forged between Appalachian Community Services and Jackson County Psychological Services, two local mental health providers.

Those services include the Adult Recovery Unit at Balsam Center, the psychiatric walk-in and outpatient services at Haywood Regional Medical Center, and mobile crisis services in a seven-county area. Meridian Behavioral Health of Waynesville had also submitted a bid to take over the services, which are supported by approximately $4.5 million in state funding each year.

Smoky Mountain Center CEO Brian Ingraham said the partnership between Appalachian Community Services, which operates in the far western counties, and Jackson/Haywood Psychological Services is best equipped to serve the large region, which was one of the chief criteria in the decision.

“We have all the seven counties covered in one beautiful model which will create a continuum of services with a synergy that didn’t exist before in the seven counties,” Ingraham said.

Under state mental health reform, Smoky Mountain Center could no longer provide services directly to patients since it acts as a Medicaid payer, dispersing state and federal money.

Duncan Sumpter, CEO of Appalachian Community Services, said the partnership with Jackson County Psychological Services stems from a desire to guarantee access to the people who need these services.

Ingraham said the handover would not result in any interruption of services to the clients.

“We want this to be seamless. We don’t want anyone out there worrying about not having services,” Ingraham said.


When I was young, Easter was a circumscribed affair. We woke up, hunted for painted eggs in the backyard, ate lamb chops, and went across the street to St. David’s Episcopal Church, a quaint stone monument to polite Christianity in Washington, D.C. There we listened to the pastor –– who spoke even in regular conversation with the same affected rise-and-fall diction of the Psalter –– bray about the allegory of the resurrection.

Afterwards, we loaded into the car and drove to my mother’s brother’s house, where we hunted for eggs (plastic this time) alongside my cousins. Their family was Catholic, which is how my mother was raised and I was baptized, and Easter was their big day.

I couldn’t feel in myself the joy they felt, and it made me sad.

I think I really first learned the true meaning of Easter on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where I was a school teacher for two years and tried very hard to learn the traditional religion of the Oglala Lakota. The ikce wicasa tawolakota (way of the common man) is a system of thought and ritual that centers on the wiwang wacipi (sundance) ceremony. Watching the men tie their souls to a slender, green cottonwood tree and renew their covenant with God (wakan tanka) and the people (oyate) over four days under the blazing, prairie sun, I began to see the connection between suffering and joy. But I also began to feel inside me the confirmation of a theological principle that was naturally a part of me. The love of light.

In many ways, as misguided as it may sound, it was the desire to reconcile the dissonance between my Episcopalian youth and my Lakota rebirth that drove me to divinity school at the age of 28. I was, ostensibly, intent on becoming a priest, but I recognize now I was desperate to hammer out how a “pagan” belief system had become the root of my Christian experience.

I never worked it out. I did learn Greek and have a brief theological love affair with the early church fathers (Gregory of Nazianzus was my favorite). For two Easters in a row I would wake up at 3 a.m. and ride my bike to the Society of St. John the Evangelist, where I would sit through the Easter vigil, sing the litany, light the candle, celebrate mass and the baptism, and leave feeling wholly renewed.

In part those services meant so much to me because of my close friendship with Brother John Mathis, an octogenarian monk who became my spiritual director. It was his happy day too, and I remember the gleeful look on his face when he would exchange the archaic Easter greeting that was, in some ways, like a secret code.

“Alleluia,” he would say. “He is risen.”

And then the response.

“He is risen indeed.”

Needless to say I did not become a priest. Instead, I wrote a graduate thesis on the Trinitarian allegory of the science of photosynthesis. My desire to translate my experience on the Rez into the Christian vernacular had resulted in an obscure piece of rhetorical theology focused on the power of light.

After divinity school, I kept moving. At 35, I have lived in D.C., New Jersey, New York City, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Boston, Eugene, Chicago, Rhinelander, and now Sylva. I have tried to go back to church in various places but it never works. I feel most at home, closest to God, in nature.

Church is about community, they say. Ekklesia, the Greek word, means as much –– gathering. But when you’re new in town, you fill out a card, and for weeks well-meaning people greet you and try to figure out how such a nice young man can be so distant. And then at some point, you both give up.

In part, the distance those kind folks feel in me is the result of pain. I have lost two close friends to spiritual rifts. One a Pole who grew up Communist and found a home in American Presbyterianism as a cab driver in New York City; the other a Californian who upgraded his evangelical Presbyterian youth in Orange County to a spot in the Anglican Diocese of Uganda (still in California). What twisted webs we all weave in the name of understanding.

I reject their notions of Calvinist orthodoxy, their belief that in the human will lies the basic decision between good and evil. Kierkegaard’s Either/Or. And their belief that you HAVE to be Christian to be saved.

They reject my syncretic belief system, my failure to fall at the foot of the cross. Anyhow, try hooking horns on that debate at coffee hour. I’ve tried to fit in, and I give up.

This year, on Good Friday, I went to the store to buy plants for the yard. I saw the Episcopal priest there, buying Easter lilies. On Sunday, Bethany and I woke up and sat in the sun. We watched our neighbors walk to church. Then we drove to Pinnacle Park and walked up the mountain.

We saw no one, but the three of us, Bethany, Lena and me, were one community. On the way back down, I stripped down to my birthday suit and submerged myself in a deep, cold pool. The baptism.

And in the evening, I could see the wide smile on Brother John’s face in my mind’s eye.

He is risen, Brother John.

He is risen indeed.

(Giles Morris is a staff writer at The Smoky Mountain News. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


After years of a stalemate with the state over live dealers at Harrah’s Casino, the election of Gov. Beverly Perdue signaled new hope for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that an agreement finally could be reached.

Perdue had signaled a willingness to reopen talks about allowing live dealers, in addition to the electronic games now offered at Harrah’s. But the state’s banned video gambling industry has other ideas.

A lawsuit filed by a video gaming firm argues the governor does not have the right to negotiate gambling compacts with the Cherokee, alleging that the power lies only with the General Assembly.

“The approval of compacts between the State of North Carolina and other sovereign entities, including the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, is a core legislative function; therefore, by negotiating and executing the Compact and amendments thereto Governors Hunt and Easley violated the state constitution’s ‘separation of power’ clause,” states the complaint filed by New Vemco Music Co. in Wake County Superior Court in February.

It’s the second such case filed by New Vemco. Last year, a lawsuit claimed the state didn’t have the right to allow video gambling in Cherokee while banning it everywhere else. The company has appealed to the Supreme Court, which hasn’t yet decided whether to review the case.

Ralph Amik, New Vemco’s owner, pledged to keep fighting for to restore the outlawed video poker industry in the state.

“We may wind up taking it to the Supreme Court to do it, but we are going to win,” Amik said. “I don’t care what the Cherokees do. I really and truly don’t, but we were in business first. They can’t give it to one and not the other.”

Together the two cases have been seen as an effort to force the state to lift its ban on video gaming, which it prohibited in 2007, by hamstringing the process of expanding gaming on the Qualla Boundary.

Officials in the governor’s office have acknowledged that the cases have stalled negotiations over live gaming at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

“The governor has always welcomed that dialogue with the Cherokee, but the fact that there are two legal cases pending in court certainly affects her ability to carry those discussions forward,” said Chrissy Pearson, Gov. Perdue’s press secretary.

Pearson said the governor would wait until the cases are resolved to move forward with the live dealer discussion.

“The crux is that both cases do need to go through the courts so we can know what precedents will be set before we proceed any further,” Pearson said.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Michell Hicks would not comment on the status of the live dealer discussion or the lawsuits, citing a policy against discussing “pending lawsuits or compact negotiations with the state” with the media.


A coalition of Cherokee and Swain County residents have stepped up the pressure on a proposed Duke Energy substation in the vicinity of the sacred Cherokee mothertown, Kituwah.

Last week, a coalition of more than a dozen people filed a formal complaint with the N.C. Utilities Commission asking the regulatory body to halt the project. According to critics, the substation and related transmission lines would mar views of a rural valley between Cherokee and Bryson City and alter the character of the nearby Cherokee ceremonial site.

Natalie Smith, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has been an outspoken critic of the substation and has spearheaded a grassroots effort to move it away from Kituwah. Smith is the only named complainant in the case, but says the coalition includes a mix of county residents, property owners, business owners and tribal members.

“This wasn’t started or formulated for the Eastern Band’s interest,” Smith said of the challenge. “It’s for all the citizens of Swain County and all Cherokee people.”

The coalition’s complaint alleges that Duke Energy began work on the substation without state approval required for projects that exceed a certain capacity and that the project will have significant adverse impacts on residents.

Duke Energy spokesperson Jason Walls released a written statement reiterating the company’s willingness to work in conjunction with tribal leaders to resolve the issue.

Duke is considering alternative sites for the substation suggested by the tribe. It is also looking for ways to reduce the visual impact should it stay in its proposed location, Walls said.

Smith expressed her concern that the tribe has not taken any legal measures to stop the project, even after the tribal council authorized legal action in February.

“I’m curious as to exactly why they haven’t, and I suspect that it is politics,” Smith said. “If it proves to be politics, then I think our leaders need a major recalibration of their priorities, because Kituwah is the heart and soul of our people. It’s beyond any individual or political status.”

The utilities commission has the power to issue an immediate injunction on the project pending resolution of the complaint, but the project has already been halted.

Last month, Swain County commissioners passed a moratorium that put a stop to the project for 90 days, enough time for the county to create an ordinance regulating substations and cell towers.


Imagine buying an idyllic piece of land in the mountains only to learn you’ll be living under a giant, humming transmission line the size of a 12-story building. That’s what happened to Swain County residents Paul Wolf and Jennifer Simon.

“This is unsellable now,” Simon said, looking at her manufactured home on Davis Branch. “Nobody is going to buy this property.”

The controversy over a Duke Energy power substation located in close proximity to Kituwah, one of the Cherokee’s most revered sites, has thrown the company’s larger line upgrade project into the spotlight. Now a group of Swain County residents who live along the power line right of way are saying the company ignored rules governing the construction of transmission lines that would have given them the chance to object to it.

“I believe there’s been a devaluation of my land, and I believe it’s quantifiable,” Wolf said. “What we’re asking for is a do-over, because Duke didn’t get a permit.”

Duke has initiated a massive upgrade of its West Mill transmission line, which serves parts of Jackson, Swain and Macon counties. The upgrade entails replacing the existing unobtrusive 66kv line mounted on wooden poles with a 161kv line mounted on 120-foot steel towers.

Wolf and Simon have joined residents who object to the substation near Kituwah in filing a complaint with the North Carolina Utilities Commission under the complainant name Citizens to Protect Kituwah Valley and Swain County.

A hearing on the complaint was canceled last week because the utility commission determined the complaint’s primary purpose — namely a request for an injunction on the work — was moot.

Duke has, according to the NCUC response to the complaint, voluntarily stopped work on the substation due to the dispute over its location. The substation would not only mar views for the spiritual and historical Cherokee mound site, but create a visual blight on the rural farming valley of Ela.

While the hearing was canceled, the utility commission has required the power company to respond to the citizens’ complaint in detail by May 10.

The ruling means that a new argument has emerged in the controversy. What began as Cherokee outrage over the new substation’s proximity to Kituwah has expanded to include questions about the process of upgrading a large stretch of transmission line. The complaint to the utility commission cites both issues.

“Although [Kituwah] is a vitally important issue to the Citizens, there are also serious matters addressed in the Complaint over the siting and construction of the transmission lines,” the complaint reads.

The Swain citizens group has banded together to fight Duke on both fronts.

“We have a better chance as a group than as a few disaffected landowners,” Wolfe said.

Don’t tread on me

Wolf and Simon know they are fighting a David versus Goliath battle. Both of them signed easements that permit Duke to use their land to develop their lines.

“When you buy land out here and you need power, which we all do, you basically have to sign a blanket easement,” Wolf said.

But the way Duke has gone about its business has shown such disrespect, according to Wolf, that he has no choice but to fight.

State law requires a utility constructing new transmission lines of 161kv to go through a process that includes an environmental assessment and public hearings. While Duke’s new lines feeding the substation through Swain and Jackson counties are indeed 161kv, Duke has argued the work is exempt since it is an upgrade and not new construction.

“This is an upgrade of an existing transmission right of way that has been there for decades,” said Jason Walls, Duke spokesperson.

For Simon and Wolf, that argument is absurd. They bought property along the right of way and didn’t mind the wood poles and power lines, which were mostly obscured by trees. In fact, the right of way served as a kind of greenway for the neighbors in the vicinity.

Now, though, they have to deal with a huge naked swathe of land marked by massive steel towers that hum through the night. Simon lives with Dorothy Proctor, who is 100 percent dependent on a pacemaker that could be affected by the electric and magnetic fields produced by the new high voltage line.

To add insult to injury, Simon claims the subcontractors and employees she has encountered have been dismissive. Work on the line upgrade began at the end of 2008. Simon recalled her first encounter with one of the engineers.

“We were sitting by the fire pit and a truck passed us and then turned around and came back,” Simon said. “I have a dog that’s protective and the man stopped the truck and said, ‘That dog is going to be a problem.’ And I said, ‘Yes he is. And who are you?’”

Wolf has his own horror stories. With sons ages 11, 7, and 4 accustomed to having the run of the land, he now has to contend with the human waste of the subcontractors.

“These guys have literally [defecated] all over my land and not covered it up,” Wolf said. “It’s disrespectful, it’s unsanitary, and it’s got to be illegal.”

Walls said Duke has not received any formal complaints about the behavior of contractors, but the company would take them seriously.

“This is not behavior that we tolerate from subcontractors, so if there are allegations about their behavior, we encourage our customers to let us know about them,” Walls said.

A battle on many fronts

In March, Swain County commissioners passed a moratorium on telecommunications and utility projects that effectively halted Duke’s construction of the power substation near Kituwah. The moratorium gave the county time to create an ordinance regulating the construction of those kinds of facilities.

The moratorium expires on June 9. Swain County Manager Kevin King said the county commissioners would likely begin reviewing draft regulations in the next week.

County Chairman Glenn Jones said he was not sure if the new ordinance would be an obstacle to the substation. Swain County and Duke are in negotiations over alternative sites for the substation, but Walls said it might stay where it is.

“At the end of the day, this may be the best site, but we are working very hard with the tribe and the county to determine if there are alternative locations or if we can do anything further to mitigate the impact of the tie station,” Walls said.

Neither Swain County or the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has filed complaints with N.C. Utility Commission. According to public staff there, if Duke satisfactorily responds to the complaints of the Swain County citizens’ group, the project will be cleared to move forward.

Walls said the timetable for the transmission line upgrade has not changed, and Duke would move forward as soon as it has resolved the issue of the substation’s location. According to Walls, the company’s capacity studies have shown that the power supply from the existing 66kv line could be inadequate for consumers as early as next summer.

Jones said Swain County is still looking for an amicable solution to the issue and has not considered joining the complaint.

“We’ve got to look at both sides and try to come to a happy medium,” Jones said. “If we need ever enter in... if that’s best for the citizens of the county, I guess it’s possible we could enter in.”

Meanwhile landowners like Simon and Wolf are challenging the idea that a signed easement is a license for Duke to do whatever they want on private land.

“Do we have to live in fear that by right of condemnation they’ll come back in and take more of our land?” Wolf said.

Wolf said he hopes the fight against Duke over the line upgrade will at the very least prompt the county to look into the way the company operates.

“We realize we may be screwed here, but maybe this can be a lesson for Swain County,” Wolf said.

Learn more

• To learn more about the citizens’ group complaint, visit

• To learn more about Duke Energy, visit


Incumbent William Shelton beat challenger James Bo Brown by almost a two-to-one margin to win the Democratic spot on the November ballot for the Whittier/Dillsboro district seat. The race was the only one of three county commissioners seats up for grabs in Jackson County this year that had a contested primary.

Shelton said the difference in the race came down to the fact that the Jackson County board has tried hard to push the county forward, even during one of the harshest economic climates in history.

“I think it was a choice between moving forward and moving backwards,” Shelton said. “With all the mistakes we’ve made, we’ve tried to lay the groundwork for future growth when the economy turns around, and it will turn around.”

Shelton said he was humbled both by the support he received during the primary run, and also by the significant vote count of his challenger.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has been criticized for giving pay raises to some of its high-ranking employees, for losing a fight with Duke Energy over the Dillsboro Dam, and for enacting stricter building regulations.

Shelton said his board was elected during a boom and worked through a bust and has at all times been proactive about its agenda.

“We’ve tackled a lot of controversy,” Shelton said. “We’ve inherited a lot of controversy and created a lot of controversy. We have not shied away from the issues, and I guess I should say I feel lucky to get the nomination.”

Shelton will run against a Republican candidate in the fall. He said that election will likely focus on the economy and jobs.

Whittier/Dillsboro district

Democrat – one winner advances

William Shelton: 2,417

James Brown: 1,315

*The winner of this race will face a Republican challenger in the fall. There was no primary for county commissioner chairman or the commissioner for the Sylva district, although both will see competition in the fall election.


Wal-Mart will not build a new Supercenter in Cherokee. After months of speculation that the deal between the tribe and the mega-retailer had fallen through, a company spokesperson confirmed the news this week.

“We decided not to move ahead with the project,” said Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart spokesperson. “It is a combination of things. We have to consider a number of factors.”

The tribe hoped Wal-Mart would be the center of a new mega development bringing an array of services to Cherokee, saving residents a drive into Sylva or Waynesville to purchase household wares that they can’t get on the reservation. But the planned Wal-Mart also drew criticism for its potential to hurt local businesses.

To lure Wal-Mart, the tribe intended to build a 150,000-square-foot store at a cost of $25 million on Hospital Road near downtown Cherokee and lease it to Wal-Mart. The store was projected to create 200 jobs and nearly double the tribe’s sales tax collections, theoretically paying for the tribe’s upfront cost of the building over time. Last May, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council approved the deal, which was four years in the works, by a vote of 9 to 3.

Last month, Cherokee’s director of economic development, Mickey Duvall, said a consulting firm working on behalf of the tribe was still trying to persuade Wal-Mart’s upper management to move forward with the deal.

“Our consultants informed us in early 2010 that Wal-Mart’s domestic focus had changed primarily to urban markets due to the recent recession, however they would continue to pressure Wal-Mart’s upper management to get the Cherokee deal approved and construction scheduled as soon as possible since lease negotiations with the Tribe had been ongoing prior to the downturn in the U.S. economy,” Duvall said in an update published in the Cherokee One Feather newspaper.

The Tribal Council split on the issue of offering hefty incentives to Wal-Mart to bring the store to Cherokee, and some local retailers said the store would kill their businesses if it came. With the announcement that the project is scuttled, Wertz stopped short of saying Wal-Mart would rule the site out in the future.

“Every year we have a certain amount of investment capital, and we have to determine the sites best suited for its use,” Wertz said. “This site didn’t meet the threshold this year, but that’s not to say it couldn’t do so in the future.”

Wertz said Wal-Mart has focused more energy on remodeling existing stores since the recession hit.

“Two or three years ago, we made the decision to build fewer new stores and devote some of the money to remodeling existing stores,” Wertz said.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks, whose administration has been characterized by an aggressive agenda of economic development, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Last month, Hicks had been hopeful that the deal would still go through.

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee remains committed to opening a Wal-Mart in our community however we cannot discuss the content of those negotiations at this time,” Hicks said.


Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe proved he could survive a tough race during the Democratic primary, defeating challenger Robin Gunnels by nearly 700 votes on the unofficial count.

Ashe may have another tough race in November, but on Tuesday night he could celebrate holding off a crowded field and a strong challenge from Gunnels, a former employee. Ashe also had to stave off the efforts of a third-party political action committee en route to winning his third consecutive Democratic primary nomination for Jackson County Sheriff.

In the end Ashe’s popularity in Jackson County and his firm resolve not to enter into dialogue with his critics proved decisive in the hotly contested race.

Ted Coyle, a Caney Fork resident, said the ugly tactics employed by a third-party political action committee from the Cashiers area prompted him to vote for Ashe.

“I was kind of disgusted by the politics of that race coming out of Sapphire and I’m not for private law enforcement on public roads by any stretch,” Coyle said.

The sheriff’s primary was far from typical this year. After Gunnels emerged as an early challenger in the race, his business was burned in a case still under investigation as arson. Gunnels did not blame Ashe or his supporters for the fire, but he insisted it was politically motivated.

On Tuesday night, after the votes were totaled, Gunnels still rued the incident.

“With the whole fire business it took a couple of weeks to get that cleaned up and get back out there,” Gunnels said. “I don’t want to blame the result on anything, but it was a real issue for us.”

Ashe looked vulnerable because he received a controversial pay raise during the recession and had to withstand allegations of questionable financial transactions involving an account from narcotics seizure money.

The contest heated up considerably when a group of Cashiers residents, led by Blue Ridge Public Safety owner David Finn, formed a political action committee aimed at unseating Ashe.

Ashe refused to enter into a back and forth with his critics, instead electing to run advertisements that included personal testimonies of supporters. The tactic seemed to pay off in Jackson County, where Ashe has been one of the most popular and widely recognizable political figures in recent years.

Ashe did not immediately return a request for comment before the news deadline.

Jackson County sheriff

Democrat – one advances

Jimmy Ashe: 2,290

Robin Gunnels: 1,572

Marty Rhinehart: 140

Radford Franks: 116

*The winner will face competition from two unaffiliated candidates in the fall.

Other sheriff races:

Haywood County sheriff

Democratic primary

Bobby Suttles*: 3,720

Dean Henline: 966

*The winner will face a Republican challenger in the fall.

Macon County sheriff

Democrat – one advances

George Lynch: 965

Richard Davis: 776

Ricky Dehart: 114


For the past year or so, Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody has been focused on cleaning up his town.

“We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and in the last year we’ve made significant progress,” Moody said.

The city’s health and sanitation ordinance says the town can order property owners to clean up public health nuisances on their property within 24 hours of being notified of the hazard. The so-called hazard abatement ordinance draws its force from state statutes that outline the rights of property owners and municipalities in the cases of public health nuisances.

In the past year, the town has gotten nine property owners to clean up perceived health hazards that range from rusting hulks of trailers, to piles of junk parts, to old tires in yards. Businesses haven’t been exempt from the push either, with Jackson Paper and a local auto repair shop making the list.

In town, the nuisance abatement program is considered Moody’s pet project, since he has pushed the stalled conversation forward.

Sylva’s updated list of residents with health risks on their property identified between 2009 and the present contains 17 names, and nine of the nuisances have already been abated.

The way the program works is that members of the town staff or board identify potential nuisances. In the event that there is confusion over a property, the town’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, evaluates the site and makes a determination about the town’s legal ability to enforce the ordinance.

The town then sends legal notice in the form of a letter from the town manager to the property owner to clean up the health hazard. Upon receiving the letter, property owners have 24 hours to start the process of eliminating the nuisance.

Not everyone is thrilled with the program.

William Woodring was cited under the ordinance for junk car parts in the yard of his Rhodes Cove property.

“I don’t think it’s a health concern if it’s car parts,” Woodring said. “If it was trash, they might have something.”

Woodring said he got the notice in the mail, and was never spoken to in person. His mother died at the beginning of the month and much of the junk belonged to his brother, who was living in a trailer with his mother. It was a difficult time to get things cleaned up.

Woodring agreed to clean up his property, but he wonders whether the program is really about removing health risks or people making assumptions about other people’s property.

“I guess it’s just people nosing around and saying that’s junk,” Woodring said. “Some people’s junk is really worth something. Somebody ought to come talk to me about it anyway because I do pay my taxes.”

But Moody is unapologetic about the program.

“It’s certainly a health and sanitation thing, but it’s also an appearance thing,” Moody said. “What you do in your backyard does make a difference.”

Moody said that as land tracts in town get smaller, the effects of health nuisances on neighboring properties are accentuated. He allows that some people might object to the idea of being told to clean up their land.

“Some people might feel that way, but I don’t think our ordinances violate anybody’s property rights,” Moody said.

Commissioner Chris Matheson said the program isn’t designed to harass people or enforce aesthetic standards. She said calling people on the phone or talking to them doesn’t qualify as legal notice, and the town does what it can to help property owners clean up their land, including offering yearlong extensions in certain cases.

“We don’t go through the final steps without really trying hard to work with the property owner. It’s really just about getting the health nuisance cleaned up,” Matheson said. “There’s also grounds for someone who feels like it is just an aesthetic issue and not a health abatement issue to challenge it.”

In the end, the program relies on cooperation from property owners, and its record of success has shown that most people are willing to clean up health hazards on their land if they are given enough time to do it.


North Carolina’s farmland is rapidly disappearing. The state has lost more than a million acres of it since 2007, and only 17 percent of the land in cultivation in 1950 is still farmed. In the mountains, the pressure to develop flat land near water sources accentuates the problem.

“That’s the first place a developer will build,” said John Beckman, pointing at his melon field in bottomland. “I could have subdivided this into one-acre lots and sold them all as waterfront property.”

Beckman and a handful of other property owners along Tilley Creek in Cullowhee are working in conjunction with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee to save their land from development and keep it farmed by using conservation easements and elbow grease. Last Saturday, they opened up their properties to the public to showcase the effort.

Four separate landowners in the Tilley Creek watershed have put more than 200 acres of land into conservation easements and kept close to 20 of those acres bearing food.

“People look to county and state government to conserve land, but there’s another way it can happen,” said Paul Carlson, executive director of LTLT. “There’s starting to be a cumulative conservation story in Tilley Creek.”

Tough row to hoe

Beckman doesn’t have any illusions about why farming has all but disappeared in Western North Carolina.

“Nobody wants to farm. It’s hard work. There’s not hardly any money in it. I still haven’t found anything that makes money,” Beckman said.

A builder and a developer who was raised in upstate New York and has lived in Maine, Colorado, West Virginia and Wyoming, Beckman moved to Jackson County from Raleigh in the mid-1990s to run an organic farm on Betty’s Creek. After selling that property to developers, he intended to take a break from farming, but fate intervened.

The historic Pressley farmstead, a picturesque piece of land that was farmed by Bob Pressley between 1900 and 1960, was in danger of becoming a shooting range. In 2006, Beckman bought the 200-acre property, which is only three miles from the Western Carolina University campus, in a tax foreclosure auction with the intention of preserving it.

“Rather than being smart and taking a break, I got involved in another project right away,” Beckman said.

But Beckman couldn’t afford to pay taxes on the entire property, so he put 135 acres into a conservation easement with LTLT. He has divided the rest into 5 to 10-acre lots centered on a common area that can be farmed. So far he has only sold one of them, to Cindy Anthony, a Pressley descendant who has hopes of restoring the old farmhouse to its original splendor. But Beckman’s broad aim is to create a new model for land conservation and development.

On his own piece of the land, he’s spent the past three years creating an organic farm that produces a wide array of vegetables to sell at farmers markets. The effort to clear his garden plot, which had reverted to a mixed poplar forest, was tremendous.

“The saying is we’re blessed with rock and it’s true,” Beckman said. “You can’t stick a shovel in the ground without hitting rock.”

Beckman hauled out 20 truckloads of rock and used it to build his “Frank Lloyd Lite” house beside the burbling waters of Tilley Creek. But for Beckman, the job of figuring out how to minimize the workload of running a 5-acre farm is part of the challenge. To that end, he was thrilled to welcome interested conservationists for a tour.

“It doesn’t do any good to get other farmers out here,” Beckman said. “That’s the choir. Half of my job is education. Showing people this is possible. Showing people you don’t have to kill yourself.”

Russ Regnery came to the tour having never been to Tilley Creek. Beckman’s farm and the precedent it offers blew the Macon County native away.

“It’s just a fantastic example to set for people,” said Regnery. “You can have a way of life that pays for itself and preserves an agricultural tradition that almost doesn’t exist anymore.”

Beckman estimates that he spends 20 hours per week in his fields during the growing season, but he maintains that people should bite off whatever they feel they can chew.

“What I want to emphasize to people is that farms don’t have to be 100 acres,” Beckman said. “Everybody should have a 10 by 10 plot in their backyard.”

As for the broader picture of farmland conservation, Beckman believes there isn’t a single approach that will do the job. County and state government will have to spend money to preserve what they can, and private landowners will need to work with land conservation groups like LTLT to create a patchwork quilt of farmland in places like Tilley Creek.

“It’s going to take the contributions of a lot of people working a lot of different angles,” Beckman said.

Setting the example

Joan Byrd has lived on Tilley Creek for almost 40 years. She started her life there on a one-acre lot on the ridge above where she lives now. Twenty-six years ago she married her husband, George Rector. Both of them are ceramics instructors at WCU. They purchased land and began farming a pasture alongside Bryson Branch, a picturesque mountain stream off Bo Cove Road.

In order to preserve their peaceful life on the mountain, they continued buying land that was likely to be developed. Five years ago, they put 40 acres into a conservation easement with LTLT.

“We just didn’t want it to be developed,” Byrd said.

While Byrd still focuses her energy on her pottery studio in summer, Rector has embraced the backbreaking work of maintaining a stunning garden of raised beds, grapevines and kiwi pergolas. To look at the perfectly manicured beds is to understand that a garden can be artistic as well as functional, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require hard work.

“There’s a lot of stoop labor involved,” said Rector. “The Italians have a saying that the ground is very low. I remember that a lot at the end of the day.”

While Beckman fights the rocks on his land, Rector has settled into a 30-year war with voles, burrowing rodents that have a taste for vegetables. His potatoes sit in the ground in makeshift containers with hard bottoms and wire mesh sides, and as the season goes forward, he mounds the plants with soil.

The struggle is worth the effort for Rector, who sees producing food as a step towards self-sufficiency that may become critical in the future.

“Cheap food is a luxury right now, but it’s cheap because oil is cheap,” said Rector. “That may not always be the case.”

For Kate Parkerson, outreach coordinator for LTLT, Beckman and Rector are the unsung heroes of the farmland conservation movement because they have succeeded in showing how the land can be saved and used by the people who live on it.

“Some people think that if you put your land in conservation you can’t use it,” Parkerson said. “You can’t use it for development, but you can use it in a way that’s productive and energizing and free and still protects the resource.”

The landowners of Tilley Creek –– Vera and Don Guise own another historic farmstead higher up Tilley Creek with a 48-acre conservation easement, and Kathy Ivey, their neighbor, has 46 acres in conservation –– are preserving a watershed that could easily have been cut up into tiny pieces for second home lots.

“If the people who owned these properties didn’t see the risk and take the steps to get the conservation easements, that might have happened,” Parkerson said.

Through their efforts, they want to show that the value of land is in the way that you use it, not how much you can get for selling it.

About LTLT

LTLT helps to conserve the landscape of the upper Little Tennessee and Hiwassee river valleys by protecting private lands from inappropriate development. LTLT does this by working with private landowners to place conservation easements on their property, by accepting gifts of land, and by purchasing at-risk properties. As of September 2009, LTLT had protected 3,564 acres through conservation easements, and another 1,278 acres through acquisition. LTLT also played an important role in the State of North Carolina’s acquisition of the Needmore Tract, a 4,500-acre tract on the banks of the Little Tennessee River.


Going into the primary elections in Macon County, every candidate stressed the need for a fiscally conservative mindset as the county continues to contend with declining revenues. With little to separate the candidates’ platforms, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the incumbent county commissioners would win their primaries without trouble. The results showed that to be true.

In Highlands, Republican incumbent Brian McClellan held off a challenge from Jimmy Tate and is headed for a rematch with Alan Ricky Bryson, who won the Democratic primary for the Highlands seat. The two are now set to square off in a rematch of their race four years ago. McClellan narrowly ousted Bryson, the sitting commissioner at the time, by 6,311 votes to 6,186 in that 2006 race.

McClellan said the race in November will pit two candidates with clear track records and the voters will have to make a decision.

“We both have a record to run on or defend depending on how you look at it, and I expect that’s what the race will be about,” McClellan said after the polls closed Tuesday night.

During the last election, Bryson came under fire from his Highlands constituents for his actions as county commissioner that went against local interests. Bryson was blamed for a county lawsuit against Highlands when the town attempted to create an extra-territorial jurisdiction — a special area that is not taxed but is subject to town zoning regulations.

McClellan has the advantage of running as an incumbent but also has to contend with a DUI offense for which he received attention last summer.

In the Franklin district, incumbents Ronnie Beale and Bob Simpson were in a race with newcomer Carroll Poindexter to secure two seats. Beale and Simpson won their seats back, though Poindexter came close to unseating Simpson.

Beale said he was surprised by the low voter turnout in the race –– just over 16 percent –– but he took the support of the incumbent candidates as a confirmation of support for the board’s body of work.

Beale said the commissioners have a tough budget season to get through and he expects their decisions to become the basis for the candidates’ positions in the November election.

Macon County commissioner

Democrat, Franklin district — top two advance

Ronnie Beale (Incb.): 1,252

Bob Simpson (Incb.): 1,021

Carol Poindexter: 943

*The winners of this district will face two Republican challengers in the fall.

Democrat, Highlands district — one advances

Allan Bryson: 1,047

Michael Rogers: 781

Republican, Highlands district — one advances

Brian McLellan (Incb.): 997

Jimmy Tate: 771


Mid-term election primaries are normally characterized by poor voter turnout, and that held true this year as only 14 percent of the state’s voters made it to the polls. In Western North Carolina, the percentages were higher than the state average, a fact that points to interest in certain highly contested local races.

Swain County enjoyed a high turnout in comparison to its neighbors with 28 percent of registered voters casting ballots. Jackson County had 19 percent turnout, and both Haywood and Macon counties came in at 16 percent.

Macon County Chairman Ronnie Beale expressed his concern about the low turnouts, but said he expected better voting rates in November.

“Everybody has a choice, but voting is the greatest right all of us have, and we’d certainly like to see more people turning out,” Beale said.

In Waynesville, voters who did turn out were hoping their fellow citizens would get to the polls in good numbers.

“I just hope we had a good turnout. Everybody should be exercising this right that we have,” said Chris Forga, a Waynesville voter with a nephew in the military. “People fight for this right we have. We should not take this for granted.”


Phil Haire is a fortress as a state candidate. The seven-time incumbent is head of the General Assembly’s appropriations committee, and he’s been endorsed by every kind of voters group from realtors to the Sierra Club. On Tuesday night, he beat challenger Avram Friedman in a Democratic primary election characterized by a low voter turnout.

Haire took the vote as confirmation that his track record in Raleigh speaks for itself.

“It just tells me that people know my roots are here and I’m a mountain person and the voters feel like I’m representing them to the best of my ability in Raleigh,” Haire said.

In the election four years ago, Avram Friedman challenged Haire with a green platform that shook up the business-as-usual feel of the race. Friedman won 30 percent of the vote then, a total that gave him hope to challenge Haire this time around, but he fell short by a wider margin than last time.

Friedman said the low voter turnout was a sign of a demoralized electorate.

“I think the one thing that is pretty clear is the voter turnout was extremely low and what it shows is people are fed up with business-as-usual politics,” Friedman said.

Friedman challenged Haire’s reputation as an environmentally friendly candidate and offered voters a progressive platform that included reforming the way the state government does business.

Friedman said the media coverage of the election didn’t allow for a real debate on issues, which hurt his chances.

“I felt the issue behind the election were not well discussed in any of the media,” Friedman said. “For me, the race was worthwhile because it did get the message out to some degree.”

Haire said Friedman’s challenge was too one-dimensional.

“I had a tradition of support for environmental causes before Friedman got into it,” Haire said. “Friedman is basically a single-issue candidate and that’s being against Duke Energy and coal power.”

Friedman said the vote confirmed that the district’s voters weren’t ready for a change.

“Business as usual won. Congratulations to Phil Haire. We’ll keep on fighting,” Friedman said.

Haire will now face Republican candidate Dodie Allen in the fall, and he said that race will be about a broader range of issues.

“I think it’ll be jobs, the economy and education,” Haire said. “Those are the three things we need to be concerned about all the time. I’ve got a challenge, and anytime you have a challenge, you never take it for granted. I’ll get out there and work hard.”

N.C. House of Representatives, 119th district

Democrat – one advances

Phil Haire: 5,213

Avram Friedman: 1,894

*Winner will square off against Republican Dotie Allen in the fall. The seat represents Jackson and Swain counties, and portions of Haywood and Macon.


On a sunny Friday afternoon, I shanked my flick Hyzer into Copperhead Row in the company of the Doctor, Yoda, and the Kid.

For those uninitiated into the manners and lingo of disc golf, allow me to shed some light on the situation. First the translation: Whilst playing disc golf with three friends, I threw a Frisbee very poorly, and it landed in the weeds next to a drainage ditch on the Western Carolina University campus.

Now, the wake-up call. Disc golf is one of the region’s fastest growing forms of outdoor recreation, and you still haven’t played.

Dr. Justin Menickelli, a fitness professor at WCU who created the course on campus, describes the sport succinctly.

“It’s ball golf for Democrats,” Menickelli said. “I like ball golf, but it’s expensive, it takes a long time, and it’s... the same.”

Menickelli, a.k.a. the Doctor, has been the force behind the sport’s growth at WCU, where he estimates students play an average of 200 rounds a week on the 12-hole course. Menickelli and his colleague, Chris Tuten, built the Catamount Links in 2006 as a joint project between the school’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and WCU Intramural Sports.

The idea was to create a safe, fun course that didn’t require any maintenance without altering the existing landscape. The result is that disc golf has already become a defining characteristic of the school.

In disc golf, the “holes” are actually chain baskets mounted to poles and trees. One round at Catamount Links takes about an hour and the Tuesday night scramble, which involves playing the course twice, takes a little over two hours.

“What other sport can you take up for an initial investment of $8?” Menickelli asked.

The lure of disc golf –– besides its charm as an environmentally-friendly, wallet pleasing past time –– lies in two of its most basic elements. The first is throwing a disc, which the Greeks made popular and which involves twisting your body to create torque and timing the release with precision to establish a clean flight.

The second is that disc golf, as Menickelli said, is golf. You have to drive the fairway, plan your approaches, and make putts under pressure to win. You can play alone or with friends and it’s equally fun. By the end of a round, you’ve walked two miles.

The perfect sport

Menickelli hails from upstate New York and his physique is appropriate to his profession. He was an avid ultimate Frisbee player as a PhD. student at Louisiana State University, but didn’t discover disc golf until about 10 years ago.

On the morning of his wedding in 2004, Menickelli played disc golf, not ball golf, with the men of the group, and since then he has been galvanized by the game.

“I love playing against par,” Menickelli said.

The moniker he uses to describe the game –– “golf for Democrats” –– points to disc golf’s roots as a public park sport nurtured by hippies who had had enough of the dislocated shoulders from their ultimate Frisbee days.

Menickelli says disc golf’s low impact, low cost and fast pace make it the perfect alternative to “ball” golf, which costs upwards of $50 per round, uses a lot of water and fertilizer, and takes four hours to play.

The sport of disc golf is in the midst of a growth spurt, but it emerged first in the mid-‘80s, when a few hundred courses were created around the country. Its roots can be traced all the way back to 1965, when George Sappenfeld, a camp counselor on summer break from college, realized the kids on his playground could play golf with Frisbee discs. Sappenfeld later became the Parks and Recreation supervisor for Thousand Oaks, Calif., and institutionalized Frisbee golf with underwriting from Wham-O, a Frisbee company.

Today there are over 3,000 disc golf courses in the U.S., more than 100 in North Carolina alone, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association.

Clark Lipkin, a.k.a. Yoda, runs Lipkin Land Surveying in Cullowhee and remembers his first ace (hole-in-one) at a course in Springfield, Va., in 1982.

Lipkin has never stopped playing since the early days. When he discovered the course at WCU, he became a regular at the Tuesday night doubles scramble. The baskets and the courses are much like they were when Lipkin started, but the discs have changed dramatically from the Frisbees thanks to the innovation of companies like Innova ( These days, serious players fill their bags with specialized discs that turn right or left, emphasize distance or accuracy.

The reason for the evolution of the Frisbee is that disc golf enthusiasts want to experience the perfect shot.

“Once you hit an ace, it feels great and you come back for more,” Lipkin said, explaining how he got addicted

In response, his doubles partner Drew Cook, a.k.a. The Kid, responded, “Damn, you’re old.”

At 25, Cook is a Menickelli product. He’d rarely played disc golf before 2006, when as a junior at WCU he got addicted to the Catamount Links. For Menickelli, the growth of the sport at WCU has justified his decision to build an easy course.

“We were shooting for a one-hour, low intensity, aerobic activity that’s fun,” Menickelli said.

If Asheville’s Richmond Hill is the Pebble Beach of disc golf, then the Catamount Links is like the course down the street –– sunny, approachable, and fun. Menickelli is currently engaged in a nationwide study sponsored by the Professional Disc Golf Association and a nonprofit called Education Disc Golf Experience ( aimed at quantifying the fitness impact of disc golf on young people.

Iowa has the most per capita disc golf players in the country, and Texas has the most total, but North Carolina is second in both categories, making it one of the sport’s strongholds.

In the mountains, the disc golf is growing so rapidly that Menickell’s description of it may already have run its course.

Ryker Helms, a 22-year-old WCU student from Charlotte, showed up at the Catamount Links Friday wearing long mesh shorts and a black on black Duke Blue Devils hat. Helms said he doesn’t identify with a political party. He first saw the sport during a high school tennis match in Charlotte. People were playing the Hornets Nest course, and Helms didn’t know what they were doing. Now he plays once a week.

“I just want to see how far I can throw stuff,” Helms said.

As Helms stepped up to the first tee, another group of students looking like ex-football players was just finishing up their round.

Menickelli’s sport is still growing and it’s taken on a more competitive edge. The WCU Collegiate Disc Golf Team won the 2009-10 Western North Carolina Intercollegiate Disc Golf Challenge.

Now all disc golf needs is its own Tiger Woods... or Phil Mickelson rather.


Area courses

• Waynesville Recreation Park. 18-holes located along Richland Creek

Greenway starting from the Waynesville Rec Center on Vance Street.

• Haywood Community College. 18-holes on the HCC campus near Waynesville.

• Catmount Links. 12-hole course on Western Carolina University Campus.

Course starts at Commuter parking lot.

• Richmond Hill in Asheville is an 18-hole, heavily wooded course with

elevation changes that make it one of the most difficult in the region.

• Fontana Village. 18-holes in highly forested setting on Fontana Village in

Graham County.

To find other courses in the region go to


Iolo Williams is one of the Wales’ most recognized TV personalities. “Wildlife” Williams, as he is known by some fans, or “Birdman” as he is known by others, revolutionized BBC nature shows by bringing heady ecology together with rugged good looks and his native language, Welsh.

Williams and his production crew traveled to Cherokee this past week to film an episode of a series whose working titles is “Iolo yn Native America,” scheduled to air in the UK later this year.

The crew –– camera director Mei Williams, researcher Luke Peavey, and producer Bethan Arwell –– have already cut an episode in Navajo country.

But for Iolo, the trip to Cherokee was special, primarily because he sees the parallels between the Cherokee and Welsh efforts to revive their native languages.

“Williams in Native America” is being filmed entirely in Welsh and the indigenous languages of the tribes Iolo interacts with.

“When I was little, Welsh wasn’t cool, and that’s a big thing for kids,” Williams said. “But there’s been a massive revival, mostly through education. With the Cherokee, and with this school, you can see there’s hope now.”

Last Thursday, Iolo visited the Kituwah Immersion Language Academy, the Cherokee’s state of the art new immersion school.

Williams grew up in Llanwwddyn in the Welsh midlands as a Welsh speaker and a child yearning for wild places. His imagination was captivated my Native Americans from an early age.

“One of the main reasons is because of the huge similarities I see between the Native Americans and the plight of the Welsh,” Williams said.

Americans know little of Welsh history. But if your name is Thomas, Morris, Williams or Jones, chances are you could trace the roots of your family tree and wind up somewhere near Cardiff or Builth Wells.

Wales was conquered by England over 800 years ago, and since that time they have slowly become Anglicized.

“A lot of our old traditional ways are long gone, but we do have differences from the English, especially with regard to the ways we value our family and the language,” Williams said.

Today, only 1 in 10 Welsh speak their native tongue, but it is taught to schoolchildren and is an official language in the country. Welsh is cool again, and the Welsh are exploring the boundaries of their own identity. While the English have forgotten they did anything bad to the Welsh, the Welsh haven’t forgotten.

Williams said he admires the way the Cherokee have taken advantage of the economic benefits available in American society while working hard to preserve their own identity.

“The Cherokee haven’t forgotten,” Williams said. “They do remember, but they’ve moved on. You know we still hate the English.”

As Williams and his team toured the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, he felt a sense of satisfaction.

“It looks like you’ve caught the Cherokee language within a hair’s breadth of dying out,” Williams said. “This really has to be the way forward. There’s a lot of personal responsibility placed on the individual when a language is dying, but education has to be the way forward.”

Williams and his crew will return to Wales to work on other projects before coming back to the United States and Canada to film episodes with the Haida, Lakota, Blackfoot, and Northern Cree tribes.

The show has not yet been scheduled for airtimes in Wales, but Iolo said anybody interested in watching has plenty of time to practice their Welsh.


In 1970, Cecil Groves was the 30-year-old provost of Delgado College. The city of New Orleans was on fire, rent apart by the legacy of former President Lyndon Johnson’s policy of desegregation, and Groves was trying to guide his little two-year college towards national accreditation at a time when the future of American cities was very much in doubt.

The lessons he learned during the early years of his career explain why even the largest problems seem small to Groves now, their solutions already grasped in the teeth of the gears that turn the wheels in his mind.

“Cecil struck me as a visionary of a proportion I hadn’t interacted with at my level or at the community college level,” said Bill Gibson, director of the Southwestern Planning Commission, recalling the first time he met Groves.

Last Friday, Cecil Groves said goodbye to Southwestern Community College after a 13-year run as president during which he reshaped the regional landscape and turned SCC from a little school with good teachers into one of the best community colleges in the country.

At the graduation, Groves was recognized for his hand in expanding SCC to its Macon County campus, growing the largest graduating class in its history, and creating a technology platform that has allowed the college to reshape the way it delivers education to students.

Groves is almost universally loved by staff and students, and he sees SCC, the smallest and sweetest job of his career, as something like a beloved child.

But to understand why Groves was so successful at SCC, you have to go back to the beginning.

Born in Magnolia, Texas, a sleepy town outside of Houston, Groves was the son of a sawmill worker and worked in the self-same mills as a young man.

“Eat it up. Wear it out. Make do. Or go without,” Groves said, recalling the country sayings that shaped his worldview. “And I thought, ‘Why don’t we just get together and work this out?’”

Groves got his PhD. in higher education administration from University of Texas in 1970, having spent his college years during the time Lyndon Johnson was unrolling his plans for the Great Society. This was the America of the Whiz Kids, a time and place when the human systems that make the world go round were getting crunched into equations and spat out on IBM punch cards.

When you listen to Groves talk about what makes a two-year college tick, it’s like listening to Eisenhower explaining the European theater of World War II.

Gibson, who was trained in planning and administration around the same time, recalls learning to plan with three variables: physical capital (p), fiscal capital (f), and human capital (h). That’s product, money, and labor, for the uninitiated.

“Cecil was one of the first people to understand the real impact of relationship capital and how the interactions among people and the institutions they represent either add value or take away value from a desired end,” Gibson said.

Groves describes the basis for his success as a networker and dealmaker in plainer terms.

“I like people. I just do,” Groves said. “I think they’re basically good, and they like to do good.”

A time to change

“My career has been in the midst of growth and expansion in different areas,” Groves said, somewhat formally, responding to a question about his remarkable record for being in the right place at the right time.

Groves is careful to point out the coincidences in his past, but the fact is that everywhere he’s been, he has helped change the regional discussion around economic development and education. He guided Delgado College towards accreditation through desegregation, white flight and the attenuating upheaval that grew out of the civil rights movement.

He grew Austin Community College from an after-thought in a city dominated by UT-Austin into a 16,000-student workforce development engine and a national template for the university transfer model — where community colleges act as a stepping stone to local four-year universities.

He guided Pike Peaks College in Colorado Springs through the trial of the savings and loan crisis of the mid-‘80s while helping to create a workforce that paved the way for the growth of one of the nation’s key high-tech regions.

When he came to Western North Carolina to take over at Southwestern Community College –– which serves Jackson, Macon and Swain counties along with the Qualla Boundary –– Groves faced certain challenges he had seen before.

The North Carolina Community College system was about to move from a quarter schedule to a semester schedule to create better alignment with the UNC system. Groves needed to create a more flexible curriculum that would allow students to pursue open-ended goals, like university transfer, or immediate goals, like a one-year associates degree.

Having taken stock of the situation, Groves set about applying his own principles, one of which is to value what you already have.

“It’s like the Hippocratic oath,” Groves said. “Do no harm when you go in. This was already a good institution, but to make it better, we had to look at the whole region.”

Having spent the better part of 30 years at the helm of educational institutions, Groves’s pedagogical philosophy has been honed to a point.

“Anybody in education needs a credo — just like a minister in the pulpit,” said Groves. “These are the four things I believe.”

Educators, sharpen your pencils.

One, students learn best if they are engaged in as many ways as possible. Two, teachers are catalysts, not people who give out information, and their job is to create a learning environment. Three, the more you do something, the better you get at it. Four, if something makes sense, it’s easier to learn. The application needs to be clear from the beginning.

Groves takes this philosophy wherever he goes, but he also learns the lay of the land.

“He sought to understand before he sought to be understood,” Bill Gibson said, paraphrasing Steve Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

What Groves wanted to preserve about SCC was the culture of family.

“One of the interesting things about the mountains is the family tradition, the feeling that the people who come to school here are family,” Groves said. “It’s a cultural issue that needs to be protected. It’s the value of the person.”

But he also realized early on that the college needed to move towards an online delivery model that was flexible enough to serve a wide panorama of students across a far-flung, difficult to access mountain region.

Changing the way a faculty delivers its message to students can be tricky, especially when you’re requiring them to update their technological skills.

“I don’t think technology is as complicated as people think,” Groves said. “Sometimes technical people obfuscate it so that other people think they can’t do it themselves.”

Groves said the curriculum changes worked themselves out with few kinks. Teachers who already had their students on the edge of their seats were allowed to maintain their old practices. But teachers who weren’t reaching their students were asked to update the way they created a learning environment or leave.

“What we did was to let the market drive it,” Groves said. “I won’t try to change a teacher who is already successful. This has been a natural evolution without any pushback, and it has moved along very nicely.”

A tangible legacy

“I hope that I positioned this institution and this region, in terms of infrastructure, facilities, and relationships, for the next 20 to 30 years,” Groves said, answering what he wants his legacy to be.

It’s fitting from such a practical thinker that above all of his other accomplishments at SCC, Groves believes his biggest contribution to the region is something he helped put in the ground.

Groves helped to broker the creation of Balsam West FiberNET, an unprecedented collaboration between SCC, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Drake Enterprises, a Franklin-based tax software company that employs 500 people. Balsam West FiberNET, a for-profit business jointly owned by Drake and the tribe, created a 300-mile fiber broadband ring with a 10-gig capacity.

For Groves, the broadband capacity was essential for his school but he also saw it as a means to help the region adapt to the growth spurt that was just around the corner.

“You’ve got to have this level of connectivity that can create jobs and put you on the same kind of level playing field with Asheville and Raleigh,” Groves was saying.

Without any public money, Groves created the vision for the mountains as a destination for high-tech businesses by brokering a deal that resulted in a broadband network that could support a company the size of Google.

Conrad Burrell, SCC board chairman and a close friend of Groves’, remembers when he first heard the idea.

“I couldn’t even start to believe something like this could happen,” said Burrell.

Here is Groves the visionary, using his experience watching the development in other regions and his skill with human relationship capital to find a solution for a whole region.

“I saw the growth coming, and it was going to happen no matter what,” Groves said. “The question was, ‘How do we preserve the quality of life and protect the people who live here?’”

Gibson said Groves was the person who got all of the string-pullers in the region to face the reality that was rapidly impinging on their dreams of real estate booms without collateral costs.

“We were going to grow regardless,” Gibson said. “We were going to put more strain on our resources regardless. If we turned around and walked away those things were going to happen.”

Here is Groves the Whiz Kid. The broadband capacity would create an environment that could attract high-tech businesses and entrepreneurs. The taxes the businesses paid would offset the impact that fast-paced development was having on the region.

“You can’t just say you don’t want anyone else coming in,” Groves said. “You have to bring in another payer group if you’re going to minimize your taxes and retain the quality of life. The college’s role was to engage with the community to mitigate some of the impacts.”

Burrell, and many others, watched a fantasy come true.

“He had this dream out there and that’s just exactly what he made happen,” Burrell said.

While the mountains of Western North Carolina haven’t exactly turned into a new Silicon Valley, Groves still thinks they will. He has seen recessions and upheaval, and he marks the region for growth through the next 30 years.

Upon retirement, Groves will head back to Waco, Tex., where two of his children live in the same neighborhood. He’ll take on the challenge of full-time grandparenthood.

For Burrell and many others, he will leave behind a void, a fiber ring, and a lot of good feeling.

“We’re going to miss him and his leadership, and it’s going to be a vacant spot for a while,” Burrell said. “But I understand what he’s got to do. We’re both getting up in years.”

Perhaps the best way to end a discussion of Cecil Grove’s legacy at SCC, is with his own words of advice to young people. Like the man, they are both simple and elusive.

“Find something you like doing and do a lot of it,” Groves said, smiling. “Forty hours a week isn’t enough.”


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians plans to build a Class II gaming facility in Cherokee County, but the project will not move forward without a fight.

Earlier this year, the Tribal Council approved the concept of a satellite gaming facility to be built in Cherokee County, where tribal members owns more than 5,000 acres and there are hundreds of enrolled members.

The facility would give the tribe a gaming presence close to East Tennessee’s population centers in Chattanooga and Knoxville.

Last Thursday, Principal Chief Michell Hicks indicated at a tribal council meeting that he had signed papers on a land deal that would give the Tribe road access to two pieces of land it has purchased for the purpose of developing the gaming facility, which would likely be home to a high-stakes bingo parlor and some similar games played on video platforms.

But at least two members of the Tribal Council –– Painttown Rep. Terri Henry and Big Cove Rep. Theresa McCoy –– have said they’ll do what it takes to stop the deal from going through.

Henry and McCoy were the only two members of the council to vote last month against authorizing a committee within the tribe “to continue the planning and negotiating, and the seeking of necessary bank approvals and to secure all necessary bank loans” for a gaming facility.

McCoy said she objected to the construction of a new gaming facility because the tribe is already over-extended with debt from the $600 million expansion of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Henry has said the closed-session negotiations over the land deals involved in the process should be handled in open session.

Henry and McCoy filed a protest to the resolution last month, but the council voted it down. With the majority of the council and Principal Chief Michell Hicks behind the project, the issue appeared to be a fait accompli. But during a council meeting last Thursday, McCoy and Henry played a wildcard.

Having traveled to Cherokee County to meet with landowners near the recently purchased trust lands, McCoy alleged that the deal Hicks brokered through negotiator Lew Harding would unnecessarily cost the tribe $6.5 million.

According to McCoy, landowners in Cherokee County have already agreed to sell another piece of property in the vicinity for $2 million in addition to giving the tribe a right-of-way worth $2 million.

“If you’re going to do this to our people, then do what’s best for them and bring it in at the least amount, consider all the options, make your minds up yourselves,” McCoy said. “Let’s stop listening to what Mr. Harding has to say. He has lied to this family, he has lied to other people in this community, and he has lied to this tribal council.”

Donald Palmer, an enrolled member and Cherokee County landowner, owns the tract of land just south of the site where the tribe plans to build the gaming facility.

Palmer said he was approached by Harding three months ago and told he would be able to negotiate the sale of his land, but never heard from him again.

“Evidently he forgot about us down in Cherokee County. We’ve got a good property for gaming,” Palmer said.

Henry introduced Mr. Palmer to the council during its meeting on May 6 and cited the information he shared as proof that the committee in charge of negotiating with landowners hasn’t been doing its job.

“The reason I’m bringing this up today, Mr. Chairman, is because this is the information the council should have been presented back in March,” Henry said. “This is how we could have made an informed decision on this.”

McCoy told the rest of the council that they needed to visit Cherokee County to talk with landowners and see the land for themselves.

“Our point has been this. Go and see before you make a commitment. This is an opportunity at a $2 million deal versus a $6.5 million deal,” McCoy said. “The whole point behind this is you have been misled, I have been misled, our people have been misled since this whole project began.”

McCoy said she would reintroduce motions that would bring the land deal to referendum and formally protest the committee authorization during June sessions.

When asked if the pending land deals had gone through, Hicks said the resolution and a bank document were signed on May 5, but he did not know if any money had changed hands.

Hicks defended the land negotiations and said they came through a committee process that Henry was part of.

“As each one of these requests came to me, and I told you this before, I pushed it to the committee,” Hicks said. “I kept pushing them to the committee, and I had confidence that they would make the right decision and bring the right recommendation back to us as a tribal body.”

Acting Tribal Council Chair Alan Ensley said the council would schedule a work session on the issue, during which Cherokee landowners in the vicinity of the proposed gaming facility could present information.


Bluegrass recording artist Buddy Melton feels like he owes Jackson County. He had never played an instrument until he started fiddling in his college dorm room in Cullowhee. He had never experienced the roots of mountain music until he found Gene Brown’s house in Cope Creek and began sitting in with the pickers. And then there’s the fact that he wouldn’t exist at all had not his parents, who both hail from Jackson County, brought him forth.

“My music career started in Jackson County, and everything I’ve done since then is the result of what happened in Jackson County,” Melton said.

In creating “Songs for Jackson County,” an informal musical history that explores some of the county’s most emblematic stories, Melton feels like he is offering some payback for what has become a successful music career. Melton recently released a self-titled bluegrass album featuring Tony Rice on guitar, a sure sign of his enduring presence as a fiddler and vocalist.

Melton and his former bandmates — Mark Winchester, who has won Grammy Awards with Emmylou Harris and Brian Setzer, and Milan Miller, a Haywood County native — created “Songs of Haywood County” in 2006.

“We were just writing songs to be writing, and there were some graves up above my house, just two graves in a meadow that no one ever came to,” Melton said. “ And I decided to go ahead and research it.”

One of the graves, as it turned out, belonged to Dave Mason. Mason was the first man in Haywood County to be hung for murder, and the detailed accounts of his trial included the fact that his father called out from the crowd as his son prepared to be dropped, “Take it to the grave, Davey.”

It’s that kind of poetic moment that makes for a good song, and Melton, Winchester, and Miller felt they were onto something.

“We wrote it and then we got talking and it was like, ‘Hey, there are a lot of stories out there in this part of the world that deserve songs,’” Melton said.

What the threesome created in their first historical album, they have tried to improve in their latest release.

Creating a collection of historic songs isn’t purely a songwriting project. Melton said his first concern was to make sure the history was the primary focus, so his song selection had to conform to the information at hand.

“You research the history and the stories, and the songs you end up writing are really based off of what factual information you’re able to find to lend themselves,” Melton said.

The music also has to fit the characters and setting of the stories that needed to be told, so “Songs For Jackson County” shows off a range of styling and instrumentation.

“I think it just came down to the feel of the song. We didn’t set out to do a bluegrass record or a country record. We just set out to make a historic record that suited the stories,” said Melton.

Singing for Jackson County

Part of the reason Buddy Melton felt he needed to create this new history record is because he wanted to preserve the stories he grew up with. He credits local historian and genealogist Bill Crawford with passing down many of those tales, but the liner notes of the record cite many other local sources, including Gary Carden, Nina Anderson, George Ellison, and the Jackson County Genealogical Society.

“The good thing about Jackson County is folks like Bill and many others have really tried hard to preserve the history,” Melton said

The subjects of the songs for the album range from characters who gained national attention in their days –– like Aunt Samantha Bumgarner who became a Columbia recording artist as a clawhammer banjo player in the ‘20s –– to characters whose fame has been preserved primarily in local legend, like Dave Hall.

Mark Winchester and Milan Miller shared the songwriting load equally with Melton, and their hand in the record shows the quality of their music pedigrees.

“I think these two guys in particular have the gift of taking the facts and still making them artistic, not stiff,” Melton said.

Winchester’s work on Jack Lambert’s “Letter” and Miller’s effort on “Cowee Tunnel” are remarkable.

Melton’s best song on the record didn’t come easy.

Buddy grew up with the story of Dave Hall, a man who refused to enlist in the Confederate Army, was called a coward, and spent his time in a cave above Big Savannah. Hall would watch for Union cavalry raids, and when he saw the riders coming through the valley, he would sound off on a horn that echoed through the valley.

The liner notes for Dave Hall are accompanied by a picture of his cave.

“With only a few belongings and a bugle, he left his home and took up residence in the hills above the village. Located at the head of what is now Cabe Road, Dave built a shelter within a large rock outcrop that had a spring flowing at the back.... From this elevation, Dave could see the entire valley and serve as a lookout for the people below,” the notes read.

The enigmatic objector/hero is the perfect vehicle for Melton’s singing, because the story is so emblematic of a mountain war experience in danger of being lost to history. Melton visited the cave with Charlie Cabe to get in touch with the story.

“When I crawled up in the cave –– it’s more of an outcropping –– you could see where he had taken rocks and mud and jointed it and sealed it up,” Melton said. “You could see where there was a spring in the back that he used for water and it really brought it all to life, because there really wasn’t much written down.”

Even then, the song didn’t write itself. Melton woke up at 2 a.m. one night before the album was due to be recorded with the words and melody in his head.

Melton, Winchester and Miller created “Songs for Jackson County” as a side project. Melton’s band Balsam Range is set to go back into the studio to cut their third album at the end of the month, and Melton recently released his first solo album, backed by some of the best bluegrass players in the business.

With his own daughter 5 years old, Melton feels like the songs are a way to pass the histories down in a way that people of all ages can really understand them.

“The music really makes it all connect, because the stories stick with you,” Melton said. “That very much happens with the kids. We’ll be driving down the road and my daughter will start singing ‘Aunt Samantha.’ As much as I love music, the education and historic value is important. Keeping the stories alive.”

“Songs for Jackson County” is on sale at City Lights Bookstore, Bryson Farm Supply, the Cashiers Farmer’s Market, Jackson’s General Store, the Well House in Dillsboro, and from the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

More of Buddy Melton’s music is found at


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is talking about moving to DNA testing as a way of verifying the blood requirement to be enrolled as a tribal member.

The tribe’s latest quandaries over its enrollment audit have led Principal Chief Michell Hicks and a number of members of the Tribal Council to point to DNA testing as the way forward when enrolling new members of the tribe.

“Going forth DNA is the only way to correct this issue. I’ve said this from day one,” Hicks said. “Council has control over the enrollment process. The chief’s office doesn’t have any control here. But that’s always been my recommendation. If we want to get it right, let’s get it right, going forward with the DNA process.”

Making DNA testing mandatory for those who want to be included on the tribe’s rolls became the focal point of discussion at a Tribal Council meeting earlier this month. The conversation ensued after two enrolled members from the Snowbird community asked the tribe to stop enrolling new members until the auditing process had been completed.

The Tribal Council received the results of the enrollment audit in October. Since that time, an enrollment committee has worked on implementing the policies and procedures that would allow the tribe to proceed with disenrolling tribal members who don’t meet enrollment requirements.

The auditors report showed that 50 people on the rolls don’t meet the blood degree to qualify as a member of the tribe. Another 303 people on the rolls can’t prove they have an ancestor on the Baker Roll, a 1920s-era federal roster of tribal members considered a litmus test for enrollment today.

Even the Baker Roll is a contested issue. When the roll was adopted in 1924, the Tribal Council approved 1,924 names and challenged 1,222 names on the 3,146-person list.

Big Cove Representative Theresa McCoy said the audit can’t be considered complete until the council acts on the findings of the consulting firm that conducted the study.

“The process included the removal of the names of persons who do not meet the criteria for enrollment when they were enrolled, so to me, the enrollment audit is not complete,” McCoy said. “The paperwork is, the findings are, but the audit is not.”

While the enrollment audit was approved by a vote of tribal members in 2002, it was not until 2006 that the Falmouth Institute, an outside consulting firm, began its work. The Tribal Council is scheduled to vote on the policies and procedures it will use to enforce the results at its June meeting and the process could be complete as early as September.

The painstaking and lengthy audit has led some sitting council members to push for the use of DNA testing in the future.

“Let’s start doing DNA. We’ve got that technology, and we need to utilize it. Instead of putting people on that aren’t supposed to be,” said Snowbird Representative Diamond Brown.

The tribe has enrolled 157 new members, mostly infants, since last June. At its meeting earlier this month, the Tribal Council voted to pass an amendment that would prevent any new members, except those ages 0 to 3 and 18 to 19, to enroll until the audit process is complete.

One of the major issues concerning the tribe’s rolls centers on the right to per capita payments. Every tribal member gets two checks a year as a share of casino revenue. It amounts to about $8,000 a year. Per capita payments will be released to members on June 1.

Snowbird Representative Adam Wachacha said a complete enrollment audit and DNA testing were the only ways to save the tribe from repeating the painstaking review process again in the future.

“The people want the rolls to be cleaned up and unless we fix the process which we’re at, 20 years from now we’ll be in the same boat we are in now,” Wachacha said.

Hawk Brown, an 18-year-old enrolled member from Painttown, said DNA testing could make for painful realizations for some families.

“Everybody’s got skeletons in their closets. But if we want to clean this up, the people voted on it and that’s what they want to do,” Brown said. “Them things will have to brought out. Them things will have to be brought out in my own family.”

The Tribal Council will vote on the issue of whether to include DNA testing as an enrollment requirement and on policies and procedures governing disenrollment hearings in June.


A new road that would traverse the campus of Southwestern Community College and provide a new link between two of Jackson County’s major roads is in the final planning stages.

The proposed two-lane road is designed to alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow at the intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 116 and help transit to and from SCC, according to N.C. Department of Transportation project engineer Steve Williams. The congested intersection is flanked by an Ingles grocery store and a Lowe’s home improvement store.

According to NCDOT projections, daily traffic on N.C. 116 is expected to increase from 10,200 vehicles per day in 2008 to 19,100 vehicles per day by 2035, and traffic on N.C. 107 is expected to increase from 23,300 vehicles per day in 2008 to 51,100 vehicles per day by 2035.

Engineers have developed two options for the new road. Both follow the same route and include plans for a bridge over N.C. 107, but they differ in the style of intersection.

SCC President Cecil Groves said the new road was crucial for the college’s expansion.

“The road is essential to the future development of the college, particularly with regard to our ability to handle traffic patterns and expand the number of students,” Groves said.

Groves said the new road would give SCC an exit out of the back of the campus that would greatly enhance its ability to complete construction projects related to its expansion. It would also make the N.C. 116 entrance safer for faculty, students, and staff.

The 0.7-mile connector road would run along the edge of the SCC campus and connect N.C. 107 at Evans Road to N.C. 116 at Bonnie Lane.

The NCDOT will hold an information session to share designs for the new road from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 20, at the Balsam Center on the SCC campus.

The meeting will provide an informal venue for dialogue about the proposed road’s effect on the community.

According to Williams, the two scenarios mainly affect the intersection with N.C. 107.

The major components of the plan involve the construction of a roundabout on N.C. 116 –– close to the site of the Jackson County Schools bus garage –– that would serve in lieu of a stoplight at the intersection.

The new road would then cross a U.S. Forest Service property, traverse the SCC campus, and eventually intersect with N.C. 107 just over the hill from Smoky Mountain High School — after crossing 107 with an overhead bridge.

In one set of plans, the new road would have a second roundabout that would provide access to N.C. 107, while the other option traffic would access N.C. 107 directly from Evans Rd.

The new road would be built with a sidewalk and bike lane to accommodate pedestrian traffic and cyclists.

In order to move forward with the new road, NCDOT will need to purchase additional right of ways from landowners and undergo the necessary environmental assessments for the road project.


As one development after another began to bite the dust two years ago, lenders who had bankrolled the mountain building spree in its heyday fretted nervously. The demand for high-priced lots had evaporated into thin air.

Banks reluctantly foreclosed, resigned to the downturn and hoping to wait things out — wait for the financial markets to stabilize, baby boomers’ 401Ks to rebound, and the buying and building to resume.

But not Mark Antoncic. Unwilling to write off one of his hand-picked investments, Antoncic rolled up his sleeves and did what few lenders want to do.

Antoncic’s firm seized control of Balsam Mountain Preserve, a 4,500-acre mega development between Sylva and Waynesville.

While some foreclosures take a year or more to play out, this one moved at lightning speed. Antoncic forced Balsam Mountain Preserve into foreclosure last October and by March, he held the keys to the gates — a record five months. When asked how he did it, Antoncic smiled.

“We are very good,” he said.

With other mega developments spiraling into bankruptcy and foreclosure across the mountains, lenders and developers are taking notes as they watch the turnaround of Balsam Mountain Preserve. One key is a high-quality development to start with. The other is a savvy and well-leveraged lending firm behind the scenes, which, like TriLyn, was willing to take the reins when the developers floundered.

“The alternative could be horrible,” said Antoncic, a founder and managing partner of TriLyn. “You can imagine what this place would be like shut down. You would have to close the golf course, weeds would grow up on the tennis courts. You see a lot of that around the country and some of that you can’t reverse the damage for the property owners and the community. We made a conscious effort not to let that happen.”

Property owners who paid half a million for lots in the upscale development are breathing a sigh of relief after a rocky year.

“So far so good,” said Dave Sparks, a homeowner in Balsam. “It could have gone a lot of other directions.”

Instead, their Arnold Palmer golf course is open again, the security and maintenance staff is back to full force, and their private mountaintop dining room is back.

The quick timetable was critical.

“We have kept the wheels on the cart in doing that,” Antoncic said.

When in doubt, foreclose

Antoncic’s career in real estate investment and finance placed him in the realm of troubled and distressed assets before the term was a household world. He recently founded Carpathia, a third-party real estate adviser firm, named after a sea vessel that rescued 705 passengers from the Titanic, which the firm calls “one the greatest all-time distress-situation performances.”

Carpathia specializes in counseling lenders who don’t know what to do about the failing developers they loaned money to.

Lenders are typically eager to avoid foreclosure. They opt to cut their losses and accept whatever loan payoff they can get rather than assume ownership of a gated community with lot sales going nowhere.

But Antoncic’s advice? Err on the side of foreclosure.

“The sooner you do it, the better off you are going to be,” he said. “You have to be proactive, not reactive. You can’t rescue everything, but you can’t just sit back and hope it goes away.”

Antoncic does not recommend one-size-fits-all advice through the newspaper. The closest he came to such an edict, however, was to say that lenders should choose their investments more wisely upfront.

“We are real estate professionals,” he said. “We own real estate, we manage real estate, and we finance real estate all up and down the capital stack.”

The principals of TriLyn have managed $15 billion in investments over their careers.

“We don’t look at this as just a loan. When we make an investment, we make it based on the quality of the real estate with the expectation and capability to take over the asset and run it,” Antoncic said. “Where lenders sometimes fall down is they make loans on assets they don’t really understand.”

The question to ask is: “Could we own this and would we want to own this?” he said.

It’s the same reason Antoncic could pull the trigger on foreclosure without being bogged down in the courts for a year or more.

“It was structured properly on the front end to provide for that,” Antoncic said.

Foreclosures rarely end well for the banks these days. The lender is usually standing alone on the courthouse steps when the property gets auctioned to the highest bidder. The bank becomes the proud new owner, not quite sure what to do with its new real estate.

As a result, most lenders owed money by developers are willing to take what they can get. A partial payoff is better than none at all. If the developer shows promise, the lender may grant generous extensions or refinance the loan to avoid foreclosure.

Balsam developers tried to settle for less than the full amount owed. It was close enough that most lenders would have agreed.

“Our view is very different than a typical lender. A typical lender would not want this on the balance sheet,” Antoncic said.

Balsam Mountain Preserve borrowed $20 million from TriLyn in 2005 to finance infrastructure for the development, including the pricey golf course. The debt owed to TriLyn reached $22 million by the height of foreclosure. It included most of the original loan, plus months of interest at higher-than-normal default rate and attorneys fees. It also included money fronted by TriLyn to keep the lights on and the grass mowed as Balsam developers began to run out of cash to make payroll on their own.

TriLyn is not a sharky lender of last resort. It doesn’t make risky loans with astronomical interest rates. It doesn’t target naïve developers, waiting to gobble them up at the first sign of a stumble.

But Antoncic wasn’t going to settle.

“Should we have taken less and walked away with it?” Antoncic said. “We wouldn’t have gone into this project if we didn’t think it had a long-term prospect. We had planned the investment to be five years. The market is what the market is, so it is going to take longer.”

He hopes patience will pay off.

“If you bail today, you lose all that. We would turn over a good asset to someone else,” he said.

The key, however, is a “good” asset.

“We can fix this. It is fixable, unlike so many other projects around the country,” Antoncic said. “So many had no business being built to start with. There is a list around the country that will never get anywhere.”

Doing the math

Before the recession, lots in Balsam Mountain Preserve sold for an average of $500,000. Those days are over, at least for now, Antoncic said.

“The whole market is down 30 to 40 percent. If we did not react to that appropriately we would be as guilty as the next guy,” Antoncic said.

Of the 354 lots in the development, only 120 remain.

When asked how he plans to market them, Antoncic has no magic formula.

“Carefully and strategically,” he quipped, then turned serious. “I don’t know what an appropriate marketing campaign looks like today. I don’t think you can force feed the market anymore.”

The marketing campaigns of days past instilled prospective buyers with a “fear of loss,” said Ken Costanzo, the new president of Balsam. Buyers were convinced there was a limited pool of resort mountain real estate and they could miss out if they hesitated.

Now “there is lots of inventory out there and there aren’t buyers lining up for it, so it is a different world,” said Costanzo.

Antoncic has two options to profit from lot sales at Balsam Mountain Preserve.

He could slash lot prices and unload the inventory with minimal effort, luring buyers by the bargain alone. Lots would go more quickly, saving on overhead and operations that could otherwise drag on for years, and avoiding expensive marketing campaigns.

Or Antoncic can keep lot prices high enough that Balsam retains its image. He’ll be in the game longer, be stuck subsidizing the golf course and other operations for possibly years to come, as well as fund a marketing campaign.

But it’s the route Antoncic is choosing. Existing property owners are glad the new owners don’t subscribe to the fire sale mentality.

“I think it would tend to have a negative impact on the community,” said Dave Sparks, a homeowner in Balsam.

It would likely anger the 170 individual property owners who bought into what they presumed would remain an upscale development.

TriLyn has hiked both the fees paid by the property owners association and club dues for members who use the amenities, bringing revenue closer in line with expenses.

The former owners were taking a substantial hit on golf course operations and overhead for the amenities, including a horse stable, pool, tennis courts and clubhouse.

Antoncic also plans to cut costs, claiming the former owners weren’t very efficient. The move bring the operations “closer to break even,” Antoncic said, but they will still have to be subsidized.

Dave Sparks, a homeowner at Balsam, said property owners aren’t mad by the move.

“Quite honestly, they should be higher,” he said of the fees. “We expect that. That was in play before all this stuff crumbled.”

Of the 170 individual property owners, 120 are club members — about 30 fewer than last year. But Sparks said it is not because of the fees. Some simply don’t visit their property that often, and others bought lots only as investments and never visit.

Sparks is just glad the golf course has reopened after being closed abruptly during foreclosure last fall.

Not ‘just another’

gated community

Balsam Mountain Preserve has just 354 lots despite its massive size. Most of the 4,400 acres are protected in a conservation easement. It was the region’s first eco-development, and the lot prices and culture — top-notch amenities, an environmental ethos, strict covenants and a woodland estate setting — cater to affluent buyers.

Balsam Mountain was created and run by Chaffin Light Associates until the foreclosure. Unlike some developers who forayed into the mountain real estate world during the boom, Chaffin Light was no amateur. Massive developments touted as sustainable and set in striking landscapes — from Colorado’s snow-capped mountains to coastal South Carolina — are a Chaffin Light specialty.

But the firm failed to adjust to the new real estate reality brought on by the recession, Antoncic said.

A new president, Ken Costanzo, is now at the helm of Balsam Mountain Preserve. Costanzo was the chief operating officer of the Cliffs, the epic Tiger Woods golf resort with properties spanning from Western North Carolina to Upstate South Carolina.

Costanzo said Balsam doesn’t have the same uphill fight as other developments.

“It’s not just another beautiful mountain golf community,” Costanzo said. “Golf is important, but there is so much more to offer here.”

Unfortunately, Balsam’s presumed turnaround doesn’t offer a model for other faltering developments to follow. Many troubled developments are carrying far more debt than they’re worth and lack infrastructure to make lots sellable. Golf courses exist only in master plans not on the ground. Roads haven’t even been built yet.

But Balsam was nearly complete and had a realistic debt load.

“Unlike so many around the country, the assets were good. The infrastructure is here, it is built out,” Antoncic said of Balsam Mountain Preserve. “If there is a leader in the market, we have the ability to be that leader.”

Antoncic said there is still a lot of carnage to come in the real estate market. He estimates a turnaround is three to five years away.

“At one point, I was concerned we were just having warm-ups, but I think the game has started,” Antoncic said.

Boosters of the mountain real estate scene like to think the area was insulated from the downturn, that the spectacular scenery and lifestyle here was so desirable prices here didn’t fall. Not so, Antoncic said.

“It is better than other parts of the country, but it is not as though the region escaped the downturn,” he said.

Eventually, confidence of buyers will return. After all, there’s still 77 million baby boomers out there dreaming of their own golden retirement.


A collaborative effort between The American Chestnut Foundation and the Coker family has put Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley on the frontlines of the effort to reintroduce a tree that was integral to life of early settlers in Western North Carolina.

Before a devastating airborne disease arrived on U.S. soil in the early part of the 20th century, the American chestnut tree ruled more than 200 million acres of woodlands that stretched the length of the Appalachian Mountains. An estimated four billion American chestnuts grew in that range, nearly a quarter of the entire hardwood population.

The Chestnut blight—a fungus that enters the bark of damaged trees—came to the country on ornamental Chinese chestnuts. Durning the first half of the century, it wiped out nearly the entire population of American chestnuts, which had no inborn resistance to the disease.

Since 1989, The American Chestnut Foundation, a group founded by prominent plant scientists, has been working to create a blight-resistant strain of trees that retains the characteristics of the American chestnuts that once ruled the Eastern Woodlands — but has just enough of the Chinese chestnut strain to make it blight resistant. The effort began at the Foundation’s experimental farm in Meawdowbrook, Va., but as the scientists began to develop the third generation of their crossed trees, they also branched out to satellite farms that could represent the diverse terrain and climate characteristics of the American chestnut’s historic territory.

For Judy Coker, who grew up at Cataloochee Ranch when giant chestnuts still loomed on the hillsides, being involved in the reintroduction effort is special.

“It’s something you could call almost romantic,” She said. “You remember it in the past and you have all your hopes built up on the future. To be a part of it is really important.”

Judy Coker, known to most as Miss Judy, has been on the board of The American Chestnut Foundation’s Carolinas Chapter, and has passed that role on to her daughter, Judy Sutton.

In the mountains only the older generation remembers what chestnuts were like in their glory, and Miss Judy’s recollections of healthy trees are fleeting.

“The one memory I have—and I was probably 6 years old—was going to the Purchase, which is a huge open pasture,” Miss Judy said. “I remember there were six huge trees in the open field, and they were spread out wide. We went to pick the chestnuts, and they were just everywhere.”

The chestnut

past and present

The American chestnut was perhaps more important to the economy of Western North Carolina than to any other area in its range. A late-flowering and extremely productive tree, immune to seasonal frosts, the American chestnut was the single most important food source for wildlife, from bears to deer to birds.

Mountain communities depended upon the annual chestnut harvest as a cash crop and as a primary source of forage for their livestock, which were turned lose in the chestnut forests to gorge themselves and fatten up before the harvest.

In addition, chestnut wood split straight and was rot resistant, making it ideal for everything from fence posts and barn frames to coffins and shingles.

“The mountain people took the chestnut for granted because it was used for everything from the cradle to the grave,” said Richard Coker, whose grandparents started Cataloochee Ranch.

Cataloochee Ranch is a rugged outdoor resort on expansive mountaintop acreage near Maggie Valley, dating to the 1930s. Even though the chestnuts were already dying, much of the ranch was built with wood from the still standing but dead trees.

In 2007, Dr. Paul Sisco, a plant geneticist and Chestnut Foundation board member, helped the Cokers plant 320 trees, representing three strains of North Carolina American chestnut stock, on a hill above the Cataloochee Ranch.

“We are a conservation business so the chestnuts just fit right into that,” Richard Coker said. “I, as well as many other people, took the chestnuts for granted. When they died we realized how important they were.”

Now 4-years-old, the trees are still two or three years away from blooming. Before they reach blooming age, which is when the blight begins to infect trees, they will be inoculated with measured doses of the disease. Unfit trees will be culled, and the resistant trees crossbred again.

Sisco said the Haywood County location and its high elevation were a perfect site for the experimental grove for both historical and biological reasons. Historically, Western North Carolina was third in the country in terms of chestnut acreage behind Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the largest chestnut ever recorded was cut in Haywood County in Francis Cover before 1915. That giant tree measured 17 feet in diameter — or approximately 53 feet around.

“The best land for reintroduction of chestnuts is really the high mountains because it’s the best topsoil left,” Sisco said.

Mountain natives know that certain names for hills are ubiquitous. Cold Mountain, Black Mountain and Balsam Mountain are names derived from common characteristics. So, too, is the name Yellow Mountain, which Sisco said originated from chestnut covered hilltops in June, when their yellow flowers color the landscape.

The American chestnut was significant to the local economy in Haywood County even after the blight had killed the trees. According to Sisco, who has researched the tree’s uses in detail, the wood of dying trees insulated Champion Paper Company from the Depression. Until 1951, Champion operated a chestnut extract plant that used the high tannin content—up to 11 percent dry, white tannin—to process tanning agents for local tanneries.

Chestnuts are naturally resistant to frost and like well-drained soil. While Cataloochee Ranch’s 5,000 foot altitude is just at the high end of the chestnuts preferred range, the trees their have been thriving. Another benefit of the altitude is that it reduces the threat of a root rot, called phytopthora, that doesn’t do well in colder temperatures.

“We’ve had a tremendous survival rate up here,” Sisco said of the three strains planted from seed.

The American Chestnut Foundation’s backcross breeding program took Chinese chestnut trees, naturally resistant to the blight, and crossed them with their American cousins, resulting in trees that were half American and half Chinese. The offspring were backcrossed to the American species twice more to produce an American chestnut tree that retained no Chinese characteristics other than blight resistance.

The trees at Cataloochee come from three distinct North Carolina mother trees being crossed with Asian trees. There are 44 experimental chestnut orchards in Western North Carolina, but the Cokers’ is the second biggest and by far, the most visible.

Richard Coker helped put the seeds in the ground, and he said watching the seedlings grow has shown him the power of the American chestnut tree.

“I’ve learned what a dominant species they are,” Richard Coker said. “ We have 4-year-old trees that are over my head. They just love the mountaintops.”

Sisco stops short of saying that the reintroduction of the American chestnut is sure to succeed, but he said the Foundation’s scientists will continue to produce better varieties of American chestnut until they have surviving adult trees that are capable of living free.

“What’s going to happen is we are going to have better materials coming along all the time. People are just going to have to be patient,” Sisco said.

In September, the Cokers will host Chestnut Saturday at Cataloochee Ranch, a fundraiser for the Carolinas Chapter of TACF, and a national gathering of chestnut scientists.

For Richard Coker, the events will mark a milestone on the way to a monumental victory.

“I would hope that within my daughter’s lifetime the chestnuts will be free-ranging,” Richard Coker said.

For more information, go to


Jackson County Manager Ken Westmoreland said he would deliver a balanced budget with no cuts to services or staff and that is exactly what he did on Monday night.

While neighboring counties are taking drastic measures to offset budget shortfalls for the second year in a row, Jackson County is once again holding steady.

Westmoreland presented a draft budget to county commissioners at a county meeting Monday (May 17).

“We have not had to cut services. We have not had to furlough individuals. We have met all of our obligations,” Westmoreland said in his characteristic business-like language.

The one exception to a budget that essentially holds last year’s line items is the additional money to outfit and operate the county’s new library branch at the old Jackson County Courthouse site.

Westmoreland’s proposed budget includes $121,000 for staffing, collection materials and additional operating expenses for the library. Since the new library is not scheduled to open until January, the extra money in the budget is designed to cover costs for six months. The funding will have to be continued into the following fiscal year.

If there was a surprise in the proposed budget, it was Westmoreland’s decision not to meet the Jackson County Schools’ request for an increase in operating funds to offset their anticipated decreases in state funding.

Jackson County Schools Superintendent Sue Nations asked county commissioners to help the schools bridge an expected budget gap that could extend to nearly $1 million if Gov. Perdue’s proposed discretionary cuts take effect.

Westmoreland’s draft budget includes a meager $18,000 increase for the schools’ operating budget, when Nations requested an increase in excess of $350,000 to help pay for faculty and support staff.

Westmoreland said as early as March that he would produce a budget that held departmental funding levels steady but would not involve service cuts or tax increases.

Commissioner Tom Massie welcomed the draft budget and commended the county’s department heads for recognizing the difficulty of the economic climate.

“We’re finding savings every day in the budget and that’s why we’re not having to make some of the cuts going on in neighboring counties,” Massie said. “That reflects good management.”

Massie pointed to the fact that the county could carry over money from this year’s budget if their spending rates hold steady through June.

In the current fiscal year, Jackson County’s expenditures are 11 percent below their budgeted allotment to date, despite the fact that the county’s revenues are 1.6 percent below their predicted levels.

The county will hold a public hearing on the draft budget at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 7, in the county boardroom.


Okay, so we didn’t cross the Kauai Channel, but last Friday Mark Singleton, executive director of Sylva-based American Whitewater, took me stand-up paddling for the first time. The sport –– which is basically standing up on a surfboard with a long canoe paddle and making tracks –– has become a huge phenomenon in ocean spots from NoCal to the North Shore.

Here in Western North Carolina, it provides one more way to get out on the lakes and rivers of the mountain region.

Mark and I left downtown Sylva at 11:30 a.m. and were unloading our boards on the Bear Lake boat ramp, a beautiful half-hour drive later. As we put our gear on, hundreds of Monarch butterflies gathered together in the gravel on the boat ramp, and a lone bass boat with three happy fishermen loaded in.

It was a perfect, sunny day that was going to get cloudy and storm before most people were out of work, and while he knew he was doing me a favor, Mark was looking kind of bummed to be toting along a barney (surf talk for awkward newbie) on what was shaping up to be an epic paddle.

Mark only began stand-up paddling last year, and his job keeps his finger on the pulse of the paddling universe, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know anything about it. He was just slightly worried I would climb on the board, stand up, freak out, and fall down.

But the benign waters of Bear Lake and an 11-foot polyfoam board are a stable platform, and stand-up paddling is a remarkably intuitive sport. We were up and away and I felt fine, a little awkward, but fine. It’s just like standing up in a big old Coleman canoe and paddling, or at least that’s my only analogous experience.

Mark got exposed to the sport last year, when he attended the Outdoor Retailer conference in Salt Lake City. The nation’s biggest whitewater trade expo was head over heels for stand-up paddling.

“The surf show kind of looks at stand-up paddlers as freaks of nature, and they found a welcome home at the OR show,” Singleton said.

Friend and whitewater freestyle guru Jimmy Blakeney, opened up a stand-up paddling school on the Deerfield River in Western Massachusetts, and Mark went with him on a trip.

“I hopped on a board and started paddling right there below Zoar Gap, and I had a blast. It was great,” Singleton said.

Since then, Mark’s been paddling away, and standing up a lot of the time.

“Stand up paddling doesn’t replace kayaking for me. The thing about SUP is it provides some depth to the types of paddling experience we have in WNC,” Mark said.

What SUP provides is, essentially, whatever you bring to it. Laird Hamilton paddles into 30-foot waves. Three women paddled from Kauai to Oahu. Mark and I cruised across Bear Lake on a Friday.

Mark loves the sport because it’s a core-strengthening exercise that’s cured his lower back pain.

“It’s a simple choice. A bottle of Motrin in one hand and SUP in the other. I think I’ll go stand-up paddling,” he said.

But also because it’s fast, low-maintenance and fun.

“It’s a way I can get a paddling workout in during a workday where I wouldn’t be able to get a day off to paddle on the river,” Mark said.

We were only gone about three hours total, having paddled nearly five miles, seen butterflies, a fawn and a waterfall from our spots atop our boards. I loved it, too, and that was just a taste of SUP on the slack water.

Mark also stand-up paddles on the moving part of the Tuckaseegee out front of his home in Cullowhee, navigating Class II rapids equipped with a helmet and a sense of adventure.

“Balance is a skill just like anything else,” Singleton said. “You don’t all of the sudden hop on something and feel your balance right away. It takes time.”

You can get as good and as crazy as you want to with SUP, but you can also get on a board for the first time — like I did — and experience life on the water standing up.


A parking study of downtown Sylva conducted by a Western Carolina University graduate student has gotten local merchants talking and left the town board facing a puzzle.

For years downtown merchants have complained that the lack of available parking for customers hurts their businesses. But the study concludes that the town’s some 600 existing places are enough.

Thaddeus Huff –– a graduate student in public administration in his last semester at WCU –– authored the study as his final research topic for his professor, Dr. Chris Cooper. Huff circulated 50 surveys to business owners in the Downtown Sylva Association asking five basic questions about their views on parking downtown. The responses showed that 65 percent of the business owners felt there wasn’t enough parking for customers, and 69 percent felt there wasn’t enough parking for employees in downtown.

In March, Huff followed up the survey with a study of the supply and demand of parking in each of the downtown’s eight blocks, counting the number of spaces and the occupancy rate in each block four different times of day on four separate days.

The findings were surprising. Only three blocks downtown in the areas of Mill and Main streets closest to their intersection routinely had more than 70 percent of their parking spaces utilized at a given time of day.

Huff’s summary of the survey reframed the discussion about parking in downtown Sylva as having more to do with how far people are willing to walk from available spaces to their destinations.

“Given that the supply, in this case, is not the problem, the issue seems to be the proximity to certain locations for drivers,” Huff concludes in the study. “The answer is not more parking spaces. Even with no access to private lots, an argument could be made there is plenty of parking to meet the demand given the time periods the counts were conducted in.”

But tell that to the merchants who get phone calls from customers in their cars asking if they can get curbside service because they’ve already circled past the store three times.

Sarella Jackson, an employee of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, testified to that as she walked out of Annie’s Bakery on Monday.

“Most of the time, parking is a problem. It’s relatively hard to find parking close to the building at lunch time,” Jackson said.

She said it is not uncommon for her to circle the block two or three times before she finds a spot.

Annie Ritota, who opened Annie’s Bakery eight years ago, winces when she hears customers complaining about parking.

“We do have a problem on this end of town,” Ritota said.

A parking solution discussed in the past is for the town to purchase or lease a vacant private lot on the prime stretch of Main Street, the former Dodge dealer lot owned by Sam Cogdill.

Ritota said she would support the town leasing or buying the lot, although she wasn’t 100 percent sure it would solve the problem. Instead, Ritota suggested limiting how long people could occupy a prime downtown spots.

“Obviously that lot would be very helpful,” Ritota said. “But I’ve always said maybe if we went back to paid parking so people could come and go, people wouldn’t stay all day.”

Huff has also taken planning courses, and he said from a planning perspective, the town would ideally put the empty car lot owned by Cogdill to some use because vacant lots in a downtown send the wrong message.

But both Mayor Maurice Moody and Commissioner Sarah Graham said they would have a hard time spending the town’s money on parking when it was facing a very tight budget this year.

“Right now we’re paying for a pedestrian plan and directional signage, and I’d like to see those play out before we commit to another expense in parking,” Graham said.

Sheryl Rudd, co-owner of Heinzelmannchen said Mill Street’s problem is almost certainly the result of too many merchants and their employees occupying the handful of prime on-street spots readily accessible to customers.

The result is infuriating for Rudd.

“We lose business,” she said.

Rudd attended the town board meeting where Huff presented his findings and said she appreciated the information but would like to have seen the results of a similar study conducted during the high part of the tourist season.

Rudd said she favors the idea of the town leasing the Cogdill lot and either the Downtown Sylva Association or merchants reimbursing the town for a particular number of designated spaces.

Huff, who lives in Asheville, said most of the studies he used as models dealt with bigger towns. But he still thinks Sylva’s free parking could be part of the problem.

“If you give out free pizza, there’s never enough pizza,” Huff said.

Huff recommended a number of measures that could alleviate some of the strain the merchants are feeling around parking. He advocates better signage to steer people to the town’s public lots. He also recommends a firm policy against employees parking in spots for customers, and reviewing the idea of metered parking on Main Street.

The issue of downtown employees taking up prime on-street spots in front of businesses has been a topic of heated discussion the past, and a number of downtown business owners agree that it is a starting point for the discussion.

Recently one downtown merchant anonymously left flyers on car windows that read, “Dear customers. I work downtown. I took your parking space and you, the customer, had to search for parking.”

Steve Dennis, owner of Hollifield Jewelers, also thinks employees parking on Main Street all day are a large part of the issue.

“The enforcement needs to be addressed in terms of people staying a long period of time,” Dennis said. “You don’t need to drive up and walk straight into your job.”

Mayor Moody said he needed to study the results of Huff’s project in more detail before he responded to it directly.

“I think we all need more time to look at it closely,” Moody said.

Huff agreed the same type of parking count he conducted should be repeated during the high tourist season and on a festival week, but he really believes the town has to look at the parking issue holistically and not a simple shortage of open parking spaces.


With the single-mindedness of Ahab and the devotion of a wounded heart, Phil Schmidt is building a monument for his wife.

“If I didn’t have this to do, I don’t know what I would do,” Schmidt said.

The Martha Jean Memorial Garden, as it reads on the wrought iron work over the driveway, is a private garden in South Otto, the Macon County hamlet just north of the Georgia line.

Begun the week after his wife Martha Jean died from cancer that began in her lungs and spread to her bones and brain, Phil Schmidt spends 10 to 12 hours a day tending a garden that approximates the beauty of his lost bride.

On one side of the house is the part they built together, a mature perennial garden and fruit orchard that is a paradise for the bluebirds and butterflies. On the other side is the memorial, beds of rose bushes and flowering perennials situated on a slope surrounding a Koi pond and dotted with sculptures.

“My only goal in life is the preservation of this wonderful person that Martha Jean was,” Schmidt said, trying to describe his work.

But Schmidt’s devotion to his purpose is not as simple as his mission. Working on the garden has been his mechanism for dealing with the grief of losing a younger wife to a disease that could have been caught earlier.

“In the nine days, Martha Jean was in hospice, I read the Bible to her from my knees and she passed away anyway,” Schmidt said. “And I thought well...”

Schmidt is angry Martha Jean wasn’t diagnosed earlier after she complained of chest pains and went for x-rays in 2006. He’s angry that a woman he met too late in his life, died too early in her own.

The two of them met in St. Petersburg, Fla., at a bar and restaurant called The Spice of Life, which Phil owned and operated after retiring from a career as an industrial engineer.

“Martha Jean was the hostess, and I was the alcoholic,” Schmidt joked.

Schmidt said the couple fell in love in a way they had not in their first marriages.

“We both had terrible first marriages and were blessed to find each other,” Schmidt said. “We adored each other.”

Phil Schmidt is no stranger to heartbreak. Two of his sons have died before him, his oldest in a freak mountain climbing accident in Hawaii.

“I beat my head on the coffee table when I heard about my first son. I was surprised I didn’t break it,” Schmidt said.

But he counts his 36 years of marriage to Martha Jean as sweet ones.

“I touched her all the time she was near enough. A couple of times she told me I should get a hobby, and I looked at her and said ‘I’ve got one,’” Schmidt said.

The couple purchased the piece of historic farmstead in South Otto where Schmidt still resides after living parttime in a different house up the valley.

“We loved this valley. We used to walk around this place so one day we put a note in the mailbox telling them if they were ever interested in selling, we’d be interested in buying,” Schmidt said.

Once they moved to North Carolina from Florida full-time, the couple threw themselves into gardening. Schmidt said Martha Jean was a tiny, fastidious person who loved to tackle projects independently. Her nature forced Phil to work to keep up with her.

“She always thought I had a green thumb, but I don’t,” Schmidt said. “It’s just perseverance. You have to take care of everything everyday.”

Caring is something Schmidt can do. He cared for Martha Jean through nine months of radiation and chemotherapy that couldn’t stop what was happening to her body.

“If I had known more about cancer, I wouldn’t have let her do it,” said Schmidt, recalling the horror of the treatments.

Schmidt was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988 and received seed implants and radiation that kept it in check since then. He says his urologist now gives him two to three more good years.

“I have to die some time so that’s not too disconcerting. I just need to get this done,” Schmidt said.

What does he need done?

“The story out in the public. That this woman was such a wonderful person that her spouse would spend 12 hours a day building a garden in her memory so other people could know,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt has gone farther than devoting the remaining days of his life to the garden. He’s also dedicated his land to it.

After learning from a hospice organization that the house wouldn’t meet their needs, Schmidt wrote a provision into his will that deeds the land and the house to anyone who will maintain the Martha Jean Schmidt Memorial Garden for 10 years.

His own family has declined to take him up on the offer.

“My kids are not happy about it, but it will be preserved,” Schmidt said. “That’s all there is to it.”

The memorial garden is decorated with hundreds of stones, more than 30 rose bushes, a 17th century bronze statue, beds of brightly colored perennials, and the ashes of Martha Jean Schmidt.

Phil has planted his flowers so there is color in the garden throughout the year. He has installed a waterfall for the Koi pond and seeded over 4,000 square feet of wildflowers.

He has planted the vegetable garden with corn, beans and squash. His berry bushes are already yielding ripe fruits. This year, three pairs of bluebirds have nested in the garden, and the hydrangeas and wisteria were the brightest they’ve ever been.

Schmidt doesn’t think the proposition spelled out in his will is a simple deal.

“This is a lot of work. There was a horticulturalist who came out here and said, ‘My God, it would take six people to keep this place up,’ and I said, ‘Well now I don’t feel so bad,’” Schmidt said.

If you’re ever in south Macon County, stop by the garden. It will be there for at least another decade.

“I consider it a labor of love,” Schmidt said. “Some people don’t want to get dirty, but I stay dirty.”


“The Nantahala River has been many things to many people, but it’s never been a World Championship destination,” said Joe Jacobi, CEO of USA Canoe/Kayak, the governing body for whitewater sports in America.

In April, the International Canoe Federation named the Nantahala River Gorge as the site of the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, and while it may seem like a long way away, the outfitters, event organizers and regional tourist planners are already working feverishly to prepare.

For Jacobi, who won an Olympic gold medal in whitewater slalom in 1992, bringing the freestyle championships to the gorge is a double opportunity. The event could revitalize the Nantahala Gorge, the country’s cradle of whitewater competition, as a paddling destination. At the same time, it could raise the profile of whitewater freestyle for American audiences.

Freestyle kayaking, similar to vert-ramp skateboarding, features an athlete performing technical moves and tricks on a single feature. Instead of using a half-pipe, kayakers use rivers features like waves and holes. Freestyle moves are usually highly stylized spins, turns, cartwheels and flips that often involve the boater going completely airborne.

It’s the fastest-growing segment of whitewater competition, and bringing the championship to the gorge is a chance to mix old school and new school.

“The lure and the feeling that makes the Nantahala gorge special has never gone away,” Jacobi said. “It’s still a place that all paddlers have to go at some point.”

Winning the bid

Sutton Bacon, CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, knows all about the gorge as a destination. His company sees a huge chunk of the approximately 200,000 tourists who travel the eight-mile stretch of river each year.

It was NOC, under Bacon’s leadership, that jumped on the opportunity to win the bid for the freestyle championships, which were held for the first time with the sanctioning of the International Canoe Federation in Thune, Switzerland, in 2009.

“I think this is something that will be transformational, not only for the gorge community but for the region,” Bacon said. “It will put Western North Carolina on display to the entire world.”

Bacon is quick to credit the greater community in the gorge and region for putting the bid together. While NOC took the lead, outfitters like Juliet Kastorff at Endless River Adventures, along with stakeholders like Duke Energy, the U.S. Forest Service, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and myriad local legislators, pitched in with letters of support and offers to help make the event a success.

Bacon said the gorge’s high profile as a paddling destination, its strong existing infrastructure, and its proximity to the population bases in Atlanta, Charlotte and Asheville contributed to the success of the venture.

The ICF, it turns out, wanted an American venue. The U.S. whitewater freestyle team has dominated the last few international competitions and the International Olympic Committee seems keen to emphasize the growing sport, as evidenced by the presence of its president Jacques Rogge at the medal stand in Thune.

If that event is an accurate indicator of the magnitude of the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, the gorge can expect to host 500 international athletes and between 6,000 and 10,000 spectators per day. Scheduled tentatively for the second weekend in September, a time after the main tourism season on the river and just before the fall color season, the event will bring needed tourism revenue during a slow period.

But Bacon believes the recognition and long-term impact that come with hosting the event will be even more positive.

“In terms of impact of paddle sports, I’m as excited about before and after the event than the event itself,” Bacon said. “Our ability to start leveraging the event and all the international events that will start coming will give us the chance to promote the gorge as a destination.”

The Ocoee River in East Tennessee was the site of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics whitewater events. The river gained an international reputation as a result, but it has not seen the transformational economic boost that Bacon hopes the 2013 championships will engender in the gorge.

Juliet Kastorff, who runs Endless River Adventures and has been paddling in the gorge since the late ‘80s, says the larger success of the event depends on the extent to which the greater community in the gorge and the rest of Swain County embrace it.

“I think the challenge is getting organized and getting everybody fired up that this thing is going to be great for the community,” Kastorff said. “It cannot be perceived as an NOC event, but to a certain extent, it will be.”

The event may be perceived as an NOC event because it will be held at a play feature on the Nantahala River, “The Wave,” that sits in the middle of the NOC campus.

Kastorff said NOC deserves the lion’s share of credit for getting the bid, and now the community needs to do its part.

“They took the bull by the horns and put the bid together and then they brought it to the community,” Kastorff said.

She explained that that while the outfitter community may not have much to gain during the event, the restaurants, hotels, and cabin rental businesses stand to benefit tremendously.

Making it work

Part of the question surrounding how big and successful the event can be centers on how much money, time and energy the community needs to expend to pull it off.

Estimates vary widely.

Bacon believes the gorge is well situated in terms of the infrastructure on the river, lodging accommodations, and transportation options. He believes the play feature needs to be upgraded by solidifying the riverbed around it to make it as consistent as possible.

But there are larger considerations. The ICF was looking for a high-profile destination for its world championship event to raise the standard for the whitewater freestyle to a level that would enhance its bid to become an Olympic sport.

There are currently nine disciplines in the competitive whitewater world, but only two are sanctioned Olympic events.

Whitewater slalom, the competitive sport that put the Nantahala Gorge on the map in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is declining in popularity and at the same time moving towards artificial water parks like the U.S. Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

The Nantahala Gorge, with its relatively modest natural features, has been outgrown.

Kastorff said most outfitters were surprised when the bid was announced.

“Everybody’s first reaction was, ‘Are you kidding?’” Kastorff said. “But thanks to the fact that we have history and really dependable releases, the ICF saw the value in it.”

Kastorff believes the event can bring the kind of old energy to the gorge that made it the center of the U.S. whitewater scene for many years.

“There aren’t many improvements you can add to the gorge. The support for this event is not going to come from $5 million, it’s going to come from everyone pitching in and making it happen,” she said.

One of Bacon’s pressing concerns is the gorge’s lack of broadband access. The IOC expects Olympic-caliber events to be broadcast live via the Internet so fans all over the world can have access to it. With the current levels of broadband access in the gorge, that’s impossible.

David Huskins, director of Smoky Mountain Host — a nonprofit that serves as the destination marketing organization for the seven western counties — believes the gorge needs a significant makeover if the region is to profit form the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships.

For him, that starts with the river itself.

“Lets go from the put in to the take out and figure out how to make it a more exciting venue,” Huskins said.

In 2008, Huskins’ organization took the lead on a $60,000 study of how to revitalize the Nantahala Gorge, which has seen a 17 percent decrease in the number of paddlers and rafters over the last decade. Huskins thinks the river needs to be improved if it’s going to become an international draw, and that means, among other things, creating a Class V rapid.

“I’ve said it is a tired product, and it is a tired product. You have got to get people to want to return,” Huskins said.

The improvements Huskins is talking about will require raising a huge amount of money and would involve all of the federal stakeholders that have an interest in protecting the Nantahala River. A number of outfitters have been critical of the Smoky Mountain Host study, but Huskins thinks they’re missing the big picture. In short, the championships can be a game-changer for the region.

“We think it’s going to have a tremendous economic impact that will last for years,” Huskins said. “Not just in terms of revenues during the event but in terms of exposure and branding down the road.”

While Huskins is thinking of the event as a regional marketing push, long-time paddler and Swain County resident Bunny Johns is thinking back to the last time the gorge hosted an international event on the water.

It was 1990 and the participants in Project RAFT, Russians and Americans for Teamwork, were using paddling as a common ground to break through decades of Cold War tension. Johns helped organize concerts, dinners and school events that made the raft rally a community-centered gathering that energized the whole region.

For Johns, the recipe for success is simple.

“You need to decide what you’re going to do, establish a timeline for getting it done, and figure out how to get the right people involved,” Johns said. “It sounds like a long time away but it comes up fast.”

Indeed, as a result of winning the bid to host the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, the Nantahala River will also host a 2012 qualifier event that will offer the chance at a test run.

For Jacobi, whose love for paddling gave him a love for the Southern Appalachians, the chance to invigorate the freestyle scene in the gorge makes him giddy.

“I’m not a serious competitive kayaker anymore,” said Jacobi. “Even though I like every discipline, I spend more time in a freestyle kayak that any other kind of boat.”

Bacon believes Jacobi’s story is a window into how important hosting the championships will be over the long run.

“We’ll hopefully have more of these kinds of athletes on the water who come here to train and stay and become leaders in our community,” Bacon said.


While Sylva’s downtown organization struggles for stable financial footing, similar programs in Waynesville and Franklin are seeing the results that strong support can yield.

In May, Gov. Bev Perdue announced the awards of the first round of state funding for participants through the Main Street Solutions Program. Waynesville was one of the big winners, receiving a $300,000 grant to help with the rehabilitation of the historic Strand Theater building.

Also this year, the Franklin Main Street Program received a $130,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Center that will help the town refurbish its waterfront on the Little Tennessee River.

The grant hustle is just one facet of Main Street programs, whose work also includes holding events that draw both tourists and residents back to downtowns in order to create a thriving business environment that encourages rehabilitation and growth.

Liz Parham, director of the N.C. Main Street Center, stresses the fact that each community has its own challenges, needs and resources. If there is a commonality between programs, it’s often linked to their maturity.

“A program that is 30 years old and has operated consistently that entire time may be more willing or better equipped to take on a riskier project than a 5-year-old program that struggles to secure their operating funds each year,” Parham said. “It’s a matter of how sustainable the organization is.”

According to Parham, the vast majority of N.C. Main Street programs have a full-time downtown director in place. Some, like Sylva, operate with a part-time downtown director, but it is a requirement to have paid-professional staff in place in order to be considered an active member of the state program.


Mayor Gavin Brown credits the Downtown Waynesville Association, which was started in 1985, with helping to kick-start a much larger effort to revive Waynesville’s downtown business district and, indeed, reinvent the town.

“You have to focus on something, and we’ve focused on revitalizing our Main Street,” Brown said. “We’ve spent a lot of money on downtown, and I think we’ve gotten a good return.”

The DWA, which gets the majority of its funding through a tax on the downtown business district, has two full-time staff and helps organize more than 20 events each year to drive traffic and create a center for community activities.

In the past three years, DWA has also increased its destination marketing efforts with the help of more than $70,000 from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

Buffy Messer, the program’s executive director, believes the success has been the result of strong support from the town and its community, especially the downtown business community, and to the creation of a downtown business tax district that provides the bulk of its operating budget. It receives only a minor contribution of up to $12,000 from the town each year.

Brown thinks the tax district is the best way to fund the program because it creates ownership and autonomy.

“It gives them a voice. It takes the politics out of it a little bit, which is good,” Brown said. “It’s a community effort, but I do like the fact they’re independent of me.”

DWA has a 17-person executive board that governs its operation.

Messer said as the program has thrived, its expectations have grown. She sees DWA as a partner in the community involved in every facet of the downtown from building design and infrastructure to marketing and event planning.

“Everyone is encouraged to be a part of the solution,” Messer said. DWA focuses on its strengths when selecting projects. “We do more of what we know we do well and less of what we do not do well,” said Messer.


The Franklin Main Street Program first came into existence in 1990 but failed to gain traction. The town re-applied for Main Street status in 2006 and the second go-round has worked much better than the first.

The town of Franklin funds the bulk of its Main Street program itself, which includes the operating of the downtown merchants’ organization, Streets of Franklin.

The town provides close to $100,000 in operating funds each year, enough to pay a full-time director and have some left for the four major festivals it stages each year.

Town Alderman Sissy Pattillo was instrumental in getting the program off the ground and serves as its liaison to the town. Pattillo remembers how hard it was to get people to take the program seriously.

“When we started we had no support, and now it’s really paying off for us,” Pattillo said. “It’s opened doors for us as a town we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Pattillo said winning broad support for the program was the first step.

“I went to banks. I went to people I knew. I went to the county commissioners. I went everywhere, and finally they came on board with us,” said Pattillo.

The Franklin Main Street Program is different from the Downtown Waynesville Association and the Downtown Sylva Association in that it is not solely limited to the downtown business district.

While historic downtown Franklin is the only area that qualifies for the state’s program, locally they’ve expanded the vision to include the other commercial districts in the town limits.

“You can’t just do downtown,” Pattillo said. “If you have businesses in other areas, you have to include those people. If you don’t, you’re a dead duck.”

The program’s executive director, Linda Schlott, has been able to build on the support of the town and county to create new relationships with entities that have a shared vision for the town. This year, Franklin became an Appalachian Trail Community, in large part because of the Main Street program’s leadership.

“It’s the relationships and it’s getting the work out and it’s trying to make everything a partnership effort,” said Schlott.

Schlott said the support of the town has shepherded the organization to maturity.

“It’s much easier when you go talk to someone that you know you have the town behind you,” Schlott said.

What is N.C. Main Street?

Franklin, Sylva and Waynesville all have local organizations that belong to the N.C. Main Street Program, which started as part of a national revitalization effort for historic downtowns developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the early 1980s.

The N.C. Main Street program provides training, planning resources and administrative support for local member organizations that rely on a combination of funding from their towns, private sources and event revenues in order to operate.

The Department of Commerce oversees the N.C. Main Street Center, which supports 61 local organizations that have, according the department’s Web site, generated $1.4 billion in new investment and 13,700 jobs since the program’s inception in 1980.

In North Carolina, the program focuses on communities that have less than 50,000 people and have a full-time town manager.

All Main Street programs are based on four fundamental renewal principles –– organization, design, promotion, and economic restructuring –– aimed at the overall goal of economic renewal in the framework of historic preservation.


Recently, the town of Sylva passed a $1.6 million budget on a 3 to 2 vote. The most contentious line item in the finance package was a $12,000 allocation to the Downtown Sylva Association.

Since the DSA was formed in 1995, its town funding has fluctuated from $20,000 at its high point to $2,000 at its nadir.

The ups and downs in the town board’s support for the DSA sheds light on a the bigger questions. How much does the town value the program?

Sylva first joined the N.C. Main Street program under the name Sylva Partnership for Renewal in 1996. With strong support from Mayor Brenda Oliver the town funded the program up to $20,000 per year and used it to drive the revitalization of Sylva’s downtown.

With the leadership of Sarah Graham, who later became a town board member, the DSA spearheaded the $120,000 fundraising drive that created Bridge Park, a unique downtown green space that hosts events like the Sylva Farmer’s Market and Concerts on the Creek.

These days, the DSA operates with less than $50,000 in its budget which includes a $12,000 contribution from the town, more than $10,000 in dues from its 50 members and another $9,500 from sponsorships.

Mayor Maurice Moody believes the DSA is under-funded by the town, and he considers it a crucial part of the equation.

“I think it’s absolutely essential really,” said Moody. “Not just for the downtown but for the whole town.”

DSA Director Julie Sylvester, a part-time employee, is worried that the program still doesn’t have a sustainable funding scheme.

“We have to go in the hole each year and dip into our savings, and that’s pretty much gone now,” Sylvester said. “Now more than ever we need the support of the town and the community.”

Sylva has broached the possibility of a business tax district, but those plans have never come to fruition. In the absence of a tax district, the DSA relies on getting more money from the town or from private sources.

With two of the five members of the town board, Ray Lewis and Danny Allen, opposing the $12,000, Sylvester fears for the future, mainly because Sylva’s town contribution is already so much lower than in surrounding Main Street communities.

Of the 10 programs around the state that serve towns of 5,000 people or less, Sylva’s contribution to the DSA is second lowest.

“I’m not just asking for money because I want to see certain things happen,” Sylvester said. “We’re trying to keep this community a place that people want to move to.”

Allen and Lewis have said they don’t like the idea of funding a program that only benefits one sector of the business community.

Moody and board members Stacy Knotts, Chris Matheson, and Sarah Graham all support the DSA.

“I think the $12,000 is just a drop in the bucket to what it needs,” Moody said. “Obviously some people feel the downtown doesn’t have much importance, but I disagree.”

Moody said he would support the expansion of the DSA to cover the town’s other business districts, but that would require even more money to accomplish effectively.

Sylvester said the support of the full board is crucial to the success of the DSA moving forward. Instead, the annual funding for DSA has been a source of controversy among elected leaders for five years running.

“I think what would be great first is for everyone to be on board and them to sit down and think through how this can happen,” Sylvester said.

The DSA has had many successes and it operates a full schedule of events throughout the year, but the history of the N.C. Main Street program has seen many local organizations fall by the wayside.

For Sylvester, support for the DSA amounts to a vote for a town with better opportunities.

“If we have a vibrant downtown it helps our property values. It helps the tourist experience and it helps our families. You need to have everyone working together to have a vibrant community,” Sylvester said.


The Sylva town board is in for another shakeup. The board will vote at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 1, to appoint a replacement for Sarah Graham, who had to step down from her position because she and her family have moved outside the town limits.

It’s the second time in less than a year that Sylva’s board has had to vote on an appointment. Mayor Maurice Moody vacated his commissioner’s seat after the November municipal election.

Harold Henson, who lost his board seat to Danny Allen, was bypassed for the appointment when the remaining members tapped Chris Matheson for the seat Moody left.

Now Matheson, Allen, Stacy Knotts, and Ray Lewis will have to vote to fill Graham’s vacant seat. As with the November appointment, the newest town board member could provide a decisive third vote on key issues.


The make-up of Sylva’s town board shifted this week when board members voted 3-1 to replace outgoing board member Sarah Graham with Harold Hensley.

The vote changes the town’s disposition from one with a progressive voting majority to one likely to be characterized by fiscal conservatism and a more traditional philosophy.

Graham, who came to the board after leading the Downtown Sylva Association, stepped down from her seat after moving outside the town limits, making her no longer eligible to serve as an elected town leader. Hensley formerly served on the board for four years, but narrowly lost re-election last year.

Graham and Hensley often had opposing visions for the town and voted on the opposite side of key controversial issues.

It’s the second time in less than a year that Sylva’s board has had to vote to appoint one of their own. Mayor Maurice Moody vacated his seat after the November municipal election, and the board replaced him with Chris Matheson.

In the November 2009 election, board members Danny Allen and Stacy Knotts narrowly edged out Hensley. It was Allen who tipped Hensley for the spot at this week’s town board meeting.

“I think the fairest and the honest thing to do is consider the third runner up, previous board member Harold Hensley,” Allen said.

Only Knotts objected to the motion. In a dignified prepared statement she explained her opposition to Hensley, who was seated in the crowd.

“To respect the voters who voted for me I’m going to vote ‘no’ to the motion,” Knotts told Hensley. However, “I will work with you for the betterment of Sylva.”

Knott’s opposition to Hensley was based on her support for town initiatives like downtown improvements, funding for the Downtown Sylva Association, the expansion of recreational facilities and making a forray into land-use planning. That type of progressive platform is one that was largely shared in recent years by Graham and Moody — and more recently by Knotts, Graham and Matheson — giving them the three votes needed to push an agenda.

Now Hensley, Allen and Ray Lewis, who in general share a vision of fiscal conservatism, now hold the majority voting block.

Hensley downplayed his historic opposition to funding for the Downtown Sylva Association after the appointment.

“There probably will be a difference between mine and Sarah’s opinion, but I’m definitely not against the DSA,” Hensley said.

But he did indicate where is priorities lie.

“I hope I can do what I did before, which is never take a decision without the taxpayer in mind,” Hensley said.

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody only votes in the case of a tie. Moody shares a progressive inclination with Knotts and Matheson, but has also used his energy to try to create consensus on the board. He had hoped to find a candidate that would result in a unanimous nomination.

“I’m not disappointed,” Moody said. “Harold and I agree on some things, and we disagree on some things. I can work with Harold. We’ve known each other most of our lives.”

Another result of Hensley’s appointment is that Knotts is the only sitting member of the board not originally from Sylva.

Moody said Graham had provided a fresh outlook and great experience to the board, and he said there was little point in attempting to draw meaning from a board member’s birthplace.

“I don’t put much importance on being a native, even though I am one,” Moody said. “I would put more importance on the welfare of the town.”


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