Bibeka Shrestha

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Waynesville’s town board is drawing the line at 14 Main Street closings annually.

As a result, the town has rejected a request to shut down part of Main Street to traffic for a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony.

The group organizing the memorial was hoping to close the area in front of the Haywood County Courthouse for three hours so that an American flag could be raised between two parked fire trucks during the ceremony. The group putting on the ceremony is the 9-12 Project, a political group that shares many of the philsophies and goals of the Tea Party.

Representing the 9-12 Project, Jan Sterret said she wanted to interrupt traffic as little as possible.

“I think the greatest thing is the visual of the two fire trucks with the huge flag hanging down,” said Sterret. “It would be very meaningful for a lot of people.”

But Mayor Gavin Brown, Town Manager Lee Galloway and town aldermen expressed concerns about irking the N.C. Department of Transportation with yet another closing. Main Street doubles as U.S. 276, a state maintained highway, and is not technically under the town’s jurisdiction.

Whether it’s for a street dance, International Festival Day or a block party, closing Main Street requires permission from DOT 60 days in advance.

So far, the DOT hasn’t objected to the large number of street closings in Waynesville.

“Although they don’t particularly care for it, they’ve allowed it,” said Alderman LeRoy Roberson.

But town officials fear the DOT might begin clamping down if the town adds any more closings to the list.

“Sooner or later, DOT’s going to start knocking on the door,” said Brown.

Jonathan Woodard, a DOT district engineer over Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties, said he would normally expect one or two street closings a year.

“I wouldn’t expect it to be an every weekend or once-a-month type situation,” said Woodard.

Though 14 street closings a year certainly doesn’t meet that threshold, Woodard said it really depends on which street is being closed.

Making the call

Festivals and events that have historically been part of Waynesville’s repertoire will likely continue to be approved for street closings.

“The newer ones have a tougher time, there’s no question,” said Brown.

Even the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s request to shut down Main Street for the inaugural Fire & Ice festival last winter was denied. The detour would take drivers down the much steeper Depot Street.

“If it was snowy or icy, that could be a hazard that we were directing people into,” said Galloway.

Waynesville’s tight budget continues to remain a concern. During each street closing, town employees must set up and remove barricades and clean up streets during the aftermath. A few extra police officers are often called in to work the events.

“We have to try to control those costs to some degree,” said Galloway.

Brown’s other reservation was that the 9-12 Project is not a legal entity that could held responsible if something went awry during the Sept. 11 memorial.

“You would rather have a group of individuals who collectively take responsibility,” said Brown. “And the 9-12 group is not organized like that.”

In contrast, the Downtown Waynesville Association — which coordinates most of the events on Main Street — is an established organization that carries a large insurance policy for its festivals.

Brown said the 9-12 Project didn’t notify the town until Aug. 17 of its request for a street closing, while the Downtown Waynesville Association applies annually for street closings every February.

“It shows me a lack of coordination,” said Brown.

With about 100 people showing up at the Sept. 11 memorial last year, town officials say the Haywood County courthouse lawn will easily accommodate the entire ceremony again. Fire Chief Joey Webb is working with the group to possibly close down Depot Street to allow a flag to be draped across two fire trucks.

Buffy Messer, director of the DWA, points out that unlike other towns, side streets can’t always accommodate events. The Apple Festival once took place on Church Street, but its slope made setting up booths challenging.

“Main Street is just on this little ridge,” said Messer. “All the side streets are sloped. Our topography is just a little different than any other town.”


After violating their own policy, Swain County commissioners convened a special meeting Wednesday (June 23) for a do-over on a vote that gave Health Director Linda White a $15,000 raise.

In the process, the board’s previous 3-2 vote to grant the raise morphed into a 3-2 vote to rescind it a little more than a week later.

Commissioner Steve Moon was thrown into the spotlight after experiencing a change of heart and casting the deciding vote to take back White’s raise.

Commissioners David Monteith and Phil Carson stuck with their decision to support White’s raise, while Commissioners Glenn Jones and Genevieve Lindsay stood by their votes opposing it.

“I don’t think we should give anybody $15,000 at one lick,” said Jones.

Though the Swain board’s first vote was perfectly legal by state standards, it violated county commissioners’ rules of procedure, which require items up for a vote to be listed as such on their meeting agenda.

This allows board members to prepare themselves with information before voting, and gives the public advance notice whenever the commissioners plan to take action on county business.

However, White’s salary raise was listed on the agenda under “New Business,” implying that no formal action would be taken at the June 14 meeting. That was not the case.

County Manager Kevin King said he was later approached by several department heads who questioned the vote.

“I just wanted to clear the air,” said King, who admitted that he had not noticed the policy violation during the meeting. “We should have caught it there, but we didn’t.”

At the special session, commissioners unanimously voted to keep the policy, but it reared its head again at the very same meeting.

Monteith made a motion to discuss a property tax hiatus at the next regular meeting — even though the agenda had already been published and that subject was not listed. (See “Cashing in the cash settlement.”)

Lindsay mistakenly said commissioners could not discuss anything that was not on the agenda. However, commissioners are free to discuss — but not vote on — items not listed in the agenda.

“It’s funny to sit in there, and they don’t know what they were doing,” said Rebecca Davis, a food service manager at Nantahala Outdoor Center who attended the meeting. Davis had hoped to defend White’s raise before a vote was taken, but no time was set aside for public comment.

Debating the salary hike

White had made a convincing presentation at the June 14 meeting, leading commissioners to vote in favor of raising her salary from $64,000 to about $79,000.

All of a sudden, that raise disappeared into thin air.

“I’m very disappointed,” said White. “I don’t know what happened.”

Moon said he switched his vote after witnessing a backlash from both county employees and citizens since the initial vote. Almost all county employees have gone without salary raises since the recession struck. Moon said White undoubtedly deserves a raise, but so does every other county employee.

“That’s not fair, and I want to be fair,” said Moon. “I regret the fact that we did have to take the raise away. That’s not good, but I felt like it was necessary.”

Earlier this year, however, commissioners voted to approve an $8,000 raise for Tammy Cagle, director of Swain’s Department of Social Services.

Commissioner Jones said Cagle got a raise because she took on a new job component overseeing child support enforcement, which was previously handled by the state.

But White points out that she has taken over the responsibilities of two employees who have left the health department, thereby saving the county $37,000 annually.

About 25 percent of the health department budget comes from the county, according to White. White argued that no county funds would go toward her $15,000 raise. It would come instead from state and federal money.

According to county auditor Eric Bowman, however, any increase in the health department budget, including a salary raise, would have to be supported by county dollars unless there is a specific grant to cover the increase.

White says she’s saved the county $454,000 in the past three years. To put things into perspective, the county provides about $390,000 out of the health department’s $1.7 million budget each year.

Meanwhile, White has the fourth-lowest salary of any health director in the state.

Davis, who has known White professionally for 21 years, said she more than deserves the raise.

“I don’t think that she’s recognized for all that she does do,” said Davis. “I feel that if they had to replace her that it would probably take two people or three to do the job that she does now.”


While conducting a research study a few years ago, tourism official David Huskins came across an Atlanta resident who thought the Blue Ridge Parkway meandered its way through Kentucky.

Another focus group participant said all he knew about the Smokies was what he saw in the movie “Deliverance,” which doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of the region.

An African-American woman flipped through travel guides and said while Western North Carolina looked picturesque, she wouldn’t go.

“She said, ‘There’s no one in here that looks like me,’” said Huskins, director of Smoky Mountain Host, a travel promotion organization for the seven counties west of Asheville.

Researching tourists — both real and potential — sometimes amounts to a harsh reality check, according to Huskins. But it’s what he believes is necessary to greatly improve efforts to market Western North Carolina as a tourist destination.

“That’s the thing we’re lacking ... You want the research to drive your marketing decisions,” said Huskins. “Demographics, what people like, don’t like, we need to be doing that on an ongoing basis.”

Research can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, though, making it less feasible for tourism entities operating on tight budgets. The latest study on Western North Carolina scrutinized tourist demographics back in 2008.

Then, the average tourist to the North Carolina side of the Smokies was a 51-year-old Caucasian with a household income of $53,500.

Most visitors traveled without kids and came for the scenery, to relax and to hike. Predictably, the area was rated lowest by past visitors for “nightlife,” “cell phone reception” and “theme parks.”

Changing any of the latter three might assist in attracting younger visitors, but tourism officials are instead promoting ample opportunities to reconnect youth with the great outdoors.

With more and more kids glued to video games, the Internet and their iPods, fewer families are making their way to the Smokies for outdoor adventure.

Still, outdoor recreation and scenic beauty continue to drive millions of visitors to the region every summer and fall. The types of tourists attracted to WNC fluctuate in their numbers, but tourism remains a staple of the region’s economy.

A changing demographic

Decades ago, the bread and butter of summer tourism in WNC came from blue-collar workers employed at textile mills in North and South Carolina.

One factory after another would shut down for a week or two of summer vacation. Each week would bring a new batch of workers who had saved up all year for an annual vacation to the mountains with their families.

But in the 1980s and 1990s, the Carolinas began losing much of their traditional industries, and the mills began closing their doors for good.

With that came a major shift in the kind of tourists who frequented WNC.

“We lost that segment, that blue-collar worker,” said Mary Jane Ferguson, director of marketing for Cherokee. “It’s like a new generation now and new people.”

Driven by nostalgia, some loyal visitors continued returning to the Smokies, along with their kids and grandkids.

For decades, WNC enjoyed a high rate of repeat visitors, which has been both advantageous and problematic.

As the baby boomers devoted to WNC grow older, the target market begins to die out, literally. The goal now is to bring in new visitors who then will restart the cycle.

Capturing the attention of youth is important in keeping visitors coming back for more as they grow old.

“You’re not going to see a 70-year-old rafting down the Nantahala,” Huskins pointed out.

Older visitors concerned about saving up for retirement are also less likely to spend than younger visitors.

“They’re not going to spend money frivolously,” said Ferguson.

Gen Xers have started showing up heavily in the region, and they’ve already distinguished themselves from their predecessors.

“They’re more active; whereas a lot of folks previously had come for natural beauty and the sightseeing, just to rest and relax,” said Lynn Collins, director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

Gen Xers come to the Smokies for all kinds of outdoor recreation, whether it’s hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking or rafting.

Karen Wilmot, director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that she, too, was seeing more young, active tourists beginning to visit WNC.

According to Julie Spiro, director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association, many tourists there are outdoor enthusiasts, ranging from 25 to 45 in age. However, also in the mix are adventurous 50-somethings who come to hike, bike and tent camp.

Spiro said these older visitors are enjoying a renewal of their passion for the outdoors, something that had probably been put on hold as they juggled careers and kids.

Huskins agrees there are a sizeable number of middle-aged couples out mountain biking.

“What we are not seeing is kids on those trails, on those bicycles,” said Huskins.

Families heading elsewhere

Fewer families with young children are flocking to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for a chance to camp under the stars, according to Huskins.

Kids are not as attracted to the mountains, rivers, rocks and trees as their parents and grandparents were in their childhood.

It’s a trend that concerns Huskins and his colleagues.

“We are an outdoor mecca,” said Huskins. “We’re trying to market the region to get more families interested.”

Losing attractions like amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky and a zoo that had operated in Maggie Valley for decades also put a damper on family visitors.

Ghost Town brought in hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years. After filing for bankruptcy and being plagued by a landslide on top of that, the Western-theme amusement park remains closed for the time being.

“That eliminates a lot of families that would normally come here,” said Collins. “When you all of a sudden don’t have that available, it makes a huge difference in the mix of folks that do come into the area.”

Even if the park reopens, it must reinvent itself if it hopes to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors again, according to Huskins.

“If you’re in the tourism business, you have to reinvent yourself every day,” said Huskins. “It’s got to be more than a rollercoaster and a shoot-out on Main Street.”

Some areas are faring better than others in terms of family visitors, however.

Gem mining in Macon County and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroads in Swain both attract thousands of families to the region.

The Railroad opened a depot in Bryson City in the late 1980s, greatly stimulating the downtown area. Two years ago the railroad moved its administrative offices from Dillsboro to Bryson City and made that depot it headquarters, bringing even more traffic to the Swain County town. Wilmot, who grew up in Bryson City, recalls what the town looked like in the shoulder months before the railroad came along.

“Sidewalks were rolled up. We were gone until Memorial Day,” said Wilmot.

But with the specialty Polar Express train running each winter, Bryson City sees a total of 40,000 riders from November through December.

“That’s a great thing for our local economy in a time we previously had nothing,” said Wilmot.

Now, Bryson City businesses coordinate festivities to complement events at the Railroad. For example, the downtown trick or treat event, coordinated with the Great Pumpkin Patch Express train, draws 3,000 people in just three hours.

Tracking the trends

Changes in tourist demographics would likely seem minute to most lay people, but officials are maintaining watch and picking up on the trends.

Cherokee visitors tend to be more affluent than ever before. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is now marketing toward educated individuals with a household income of more than $75,000.

Cherokee is also focusing on promoting outdoor activities, which have always drawn tourists.

“We’ve always attracted people who enjoy the outdoors and a slower way of life, just being surrounded by beauty,” said Ferguson.

Meanwhile, Swain County has seen an influx of Horace Kephart scholars to visit the famous author’s grave. Bryson City has even come up with an annual celebration in honor of Kephart.

During tough economic times, Jackson County is especially highlighting its outdoor activities that don’t come with a charge.

The Jackson County Chamber is also promoting a free weekly concert series in Sylva this summer.

“Some of the best fun is free,” said Spiro.

With the recession limiting how far most people can afford to travel, Cashiers is seeing more families and young couples from the Atlanta area coming up for the weekend.

“People with money are not flying overseas,” said Sue Bumgarner, executive director of the Cashiers Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’re taking vacations closer to home.”

Cashiers promotes its outdoor offerings, but makes sure not to overwhelm potential visitors.

“We let them know you can come here and be as busy as you want or lazy as you want,” said Bumgarner.

Wilmot concurs, letting visitors know they can spend a lazy afternoon in Deep Creek or enjoy peaceful kayaking on Fontana Lake. If visitors would like to camp without the hassles, guides can do all the grunt work.

“You’re not dealing with a 50-pound pack and two small children,” said Wilmot. “They cook for you, clean up the site for you.”


Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.

Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.

“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, the first Democrat to announce his intentions to run, more than a year before the primary.

Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would be challenging. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.

Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.

“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”

Jenkins, a self-employed logger, locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.

Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May. Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.

About 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, much less than the 28 percent who voted in the primary election in May.


At a special session of the Swain County board last week, Commissioner David Monteith stood up and stunned the crowd with a controversial proposal for spending the North Shore Road cash settlement money.

Monteith called for a one-year suspension of property taxes for Swain County residents and a 3 percent raise for all county employees. Businesses and county commissioners would be exempt from the tax holiday, however.

Monteith estimates his proposal would scoop about $4.5 million out of the $12.8 million the county has gotten so far.

But doing so would dip into the principal of the road settlement money, a step that requires approval by two-thirds of registered voters in Swain County. Without such a referendum, commissioners are only allowed to spend the interest from the settlement, which is held in a special trust fund by the N.C. Treasurer.

Monteith said the tax break would be extremely helpful during these rough economic times.

“I know people are struggling...what better way to give citizens a break,” said Monteith.

It would also guarantee that the cash settlement benefits every taxpayer of Swain County.

Fellow commissioners were left flabbergasted by the proposal, which was brought up during a special meeting on an unrelated topic.

“We wasn’t there to discuss that,” said Commissioner Glenn Jones of the meeting. “Why he brought this up, I have no earthly idea.”

Jones and Commissioner Genevieve Lindsay vehemently opposed Monteith’s pitch, while Commissioner Steve Moon said he would only be in favor of spending the interest money to give county employees a raise.

It’s been more than two years since employees have gotten a raise, and they’ve also had to take furloughs without pay. “For a lot of people, that hurts,” said Moon.

However, giving everyone a holiday from property taxes for an entire year is a different matter.

“I could not agree with that and could not go along with that,” said Moon, adding only drastic circumstances would cause two-thirds of registered voters to support spending the principal. “To me, that would seem to be almost an impossibility.”

With at least three of the five commissioners opposed to it, Monteith’s proposal seems likely to die since the referendum requires approval by the board.

Jones stated outright that he would never support a vote by the people to dip into the principal, though he would like to see a committee of citizens help decide how to spend the interest money.

“If you ever did once get into that principal, then it’s gone,” said Jones. “You can never bring that back.”

Leonard Winchester, chair of the Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County, a group that fought for the cash settlement, says he suspects ulterior motives behind Monteith’s proposition.

“All this is a vote-buying scheme,” said Winchester, citing upcoming elections. “In effect, it says, ‘Vote for me, I’ll give you money.’”

Monteith, who is up for re-election this fall, strongly opposed the cash settlement and was the lone commissioner to vote against it. One of his chief arguments was that commissioners would squander the settlement.

“Now look at who the first commissioner is to make a suggestion that the principal be reached into and passed out,” said Winchester. “It is scary just how far some people will go to try to make the settlement end as a failure.”

Winchester is skeptical that two-thirds of all registered voters will show up to the polls to support Monteith’s idea, and he guesses that Monteith might feel similarly.

“He’s a smart politician,” said Winchester. “He knows this is not going to pass, but he can still get a lot of political mileage.”

Where did the cash settlement come from?

Swain ended a decades-long uphill battle with the federal government this year, and could soon be flush with cash as a result. The federal government flooded a main road through the county for the creation of Lake Fontana in 1943, needed at the time to generate hydropower for the war effort. The federal government promised to rebuild the road, but never did. Instead, it has agreed to compensate Swain County with $52 million through installments in coming years — known as the “cash settlement.”


Every hospital in the MedWest Health System — which covers Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties — will see new construction in the next few years.

A one-story urgent care center, also housing minor X-ray and laboratory services, will be built in Canton within the next two years.

There is already an urgent care center on the west end of the county in Waynesville. The second urgent care center in Clyde will be shut down once the new one in Canton opens.

Haywood will also see a groundbreaking on a six-bed hospice center, paid for with grants and donations, some time next month. Construction should be complete in about a year and a half.

Plans are also in the making for a $9 million outpatient surgery on property adjacent to Haywood Regional — a joint venture between the hospital and local doctors.

Large medical office buildings are being built next to the hospitals in Sylva and Bryson City.

With several practices housed in one office building, it serves as a one-stop shop that will cut down on patients having to run from office to office.

Sylva’s building is being built by a private firm and will also house an outpatient lab and imaging. Bryson City’s will include physician’s offices, a pharmacy and rehab services.

Moving to Canton

Haywood Regional Medical Center is relocating its urgent care center to Canton to better serve residents hailing from the eastern half of the county. Urgent care centers serve patients who don’t need an emergency room but can’t wait days for an appointment.

The new urgent care center in Canton will capture patients who may have otherwise driven to Mission Hospital in Asheville or postponed care, according to MedWest CEO Mike Poore.

“Access to care has always proven to increase the overall health of the community,” said Poore.

The planned location for the urgent care center is on Champion Drive, which hasn’t seen an upgrade of its sewer system since the 1970s.

Town officials consider Champion Drive in Canton a hotspot for future development, and a sewer line upgrade is a high priority.

“Without an upgrade, we would have to place a moratorium on future development,” said Town Manager Al Matthews.

The sewer project will cost about $1.2 million, and the town is actively pursuing both state and federal grants. Matthews says the town will likely have to take out a loan to match any grants it receives.


Eric S. Brown’s neighbors have probably noticed him — planted in his car day and night, writing furiously in spiral notebooks, smoking cigarettes and downing one energy drink after another.

To spare his wife, son and Canton home from a constant onslaught of cigarette smoke, Brown elects to work on his writing from his driveway. Even after deciding to quit smoking, Brown maintains his car as an official place of work.

It’s where he’s produced an astonishingly prolific portfolio in eight years: 20 published novels by next July, articles in hundreds of publications and even his own comic book series.

His fans joke that the real Eric S. Brown died a while ago, and the Flash has since taken over his body.

Living and breathing horror for as long as he can remember, Brown can pen an entire novel in as little as one week. Since most of the last 8 years have been devoted to zombie tales, Brown is widely regarded by horror enthusiasts as an expert on the walking dead.

But after years of publishing in the indie world, Brown is now hitting the mass market.

Major publisher Simon & Schuster recently picked up his War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, a “mash-up” of the classic H.G. Wells tale of a Martian invasion.

The novel has already been published on a smaller-scale under Comcast, and it will be re-released by Simon & Schuster in mid-December.

Brown is not authorized to say how many copies will hit the shelves. According to Brown, books distributed by indie publishers sell an average of 200 copies. His worst-selling books sell several times that.

Brown’s take on War of the Worlds meshes the original work with horrifying new additions. On top of the attacking aliens, Londoners must also stave off the walking dead.

The book follows in the footsteps of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has given rise to a slew of tongue-in-cheek twists on classic literature: Jane Slayre, Little Women and Werewolves, and Android Karenina, to name a few.

While some of these works are clear parodies, Brown considers his contribution to the genre of monster classics a “hardcore, serious zombie book.” He reread the 1898 novel numerous times to make sure his words seamed invisibly with those of Wells, often called the Father of Science Fiction.

With the Simon & Schuster deal coming on the heels of Borders distributing another of his novels, Season of Rot, Brown says he’s finally accomplished his long-standing goal of reaching the masses — but that doesn’t mean he’s putting down his pen.

“I hope my career goes far past this book,” said Brown. “I hope they would buy something more than the rewrite of somebody else’s work.”

An overlooked genre

Brown isn’t blind to the criticism leveled at horror writing, admitting that it’s a genre that’s often looked down upon. But he maintains there is “deeper” work out there for those looking for it.

Brown’s own fascination with zombies comes from a philosophical place. He says zombies serve as a great metaphor for the human condition.

“They’re us, just soulless,” said Brown. “Our greatest fear in our culture may be loss of self and loss of identity — that’s what zombies represent.

Zombies are flexible enough to be thrown in the Old West or outer space, which is exactly what allows Brown to delve into science fiction and Western novels. He’s pushed the envelope with tales of farmers trapped in their house by zombie chickens before animal zombies became a craze. He’s even had superheroes battling zombies.

Obviously Brown has fun with his work, and that’s exactly what he hopes to pass on to his readers.

“My work, while it does have deeper elements, it’s really about the fun, the escapism,” said Brown. “If I don’t give you a fun read, then I failed as a writer. To me, it being entertaining is more important than it being true literature.”

Brown attended Smoky Mountain High School, which offered a class on supernatural horror and literature — it ended the year before Brown could take it.

“I remain bitter about that,” said Brown, who wishes there were more classes on speculative fiction, which encompasses science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction and more.

Brown has had no training in professional writing. He attended Southwestern Community College then transferred to Western Carolina University, but soon dropped out, “fed up with the academia of literature.”

Nevertheless, Brown has found a niche to thrive in.

His pride and joy is his novel, Bigfoot War, which pits an army of 60 Sasquatches against a town of 800 in rural North Carolina, based on Sylva —where Brown was born — and certain towns in Haywood County. At the end, readers see the Macon County Sheriff’s Department materialize as heroes.

Brown is pleased to have revived Bigfoot as a terrifying threat after it slipped from its status as a horror movie icon to a cultural joke. Brown’s book brings the horror back to Bigfoot.

Another of Brown’s accomplishments is World War of the Dead, a Christian horror story about the salvation of one man’s soul in a zombie-infested Nazi Germany. Fans were taken aback by the unusual message.

“They said, where’s the hopelessness? There’s not supposed to be hope,” said Brown.


Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.

Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty and a certified North Carolina law enforcement officer, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.

“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, who plans on taking a vacation in Alaska before getting back into full swing campaigning before the November election.

There were initially eight Democrats on the ticket vying for the chance to challenge Cochran. Of the crowded field, Ensley had been the first to announce his intentions to run, throwing his name in the ring more than a year before the primary.

Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would undoubtedly be a challenge. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.

Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.

“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “...I started my campaign four years ago. The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”

Jenkins, a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, fared better in the runoff than he did in the May primary, when he faced seven other candidates. Jenkins locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.

Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May.

Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.

Jenkins was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday morning.

Voter turnout

Only a dismal 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, compared to the impressive 28 percent who took to the polls during the May primary.

Still, it was far better than the typical voter turn-out witnessed in runoff elections. The local runoff boosted Swain’s voter turnout when compared to the rest of the state and surrounding counties, where the only race on the ballot was a Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Senate.

Only 3 to 4 percent of voters in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties cast their ballots Tuesday, choosing between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham. All four counties went for Marshall, who won the primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote statewide.


Long-awaited relief for Swain County’s dire animal control problem has finally arrived.

For years, residents had no recourse if a vicious dog or colony of stray cats took up residence on their property. Now, county officials hope to hire their first full-time animal control officer some time in the coming fiscal year.

A $7,900 grant from a private national foundation that has insisted on remaining anonymous will cover the cost of equipment, like traps, poles, gloves and chaps.

Meanwhile, state and federal reimbursements, along with a county match, will pay the new deputy’s $27,000 salary.

County leaders are hoping the Town of Bryson City will pitch in by purchasing a truck or SUV for the new animal control officer. County Manager Kevin King estimates the truck or SUV might cost $23,000.

Town aldermen say they are still waiting on an official contract before making a final decision.

King said if the town doesn’t cooperate in purchasing a vehicle, the animal control officer would only work in the county — not within town limits.

However, since town residents also pay county taxes, they are already contributing to the salary of the new animal control officer — just as much as any other resident of the county — yet would be excluded from a service received by the rest of the county.

At one time, the county contracted with a private animal shelter in another county to swing through Swain once a week and haul off strays reported over the course of the week. But the arrangement was discontinued three years ago.

A local shelter run by the nonprofit, no-kill organization P.A.W.S. (Placing Animals Within Society) has struggled to fill the void, but cannot to keep up with the growing number of strays being dropped off at its doors.

For now, vicious animals are reported to the sheriff’s office, then passed on to the county health director Linda White. The only thing White can do is officially declare the animal “potentially dangerous,” making it mandatory to leash and muzzle the animal every time it’s taken outside a fenced-in area. The designation is pointless if the animal is a stray and doesn’t have an owner, however.

Sheriff Curtis Cochran says his office receives about half a dozen complaints about potentially dangerous animals each week.

“We have a lot of animals that are running unattended,” said Cochran.

Even so, Cochran assures residents that the new animal control officer will not be scouring the county, tracking down stray and dangerous animals.

“This is in no way to penalize the owners of the animals,” said Cochran. “We’re not going to go around and try to spot an animal running loose. That’s not what it’s going to be about.”

Since the county lacks a public animal shelter, it’s unclear exactly what the animal control officer will do with strays once they are picked up. County officials are hoping neighboring shelters in Cherokee or Jackson and Macon counties will accept the animals. Swain is still looking at the option of creating an in-house animal shelter.

“We’re entirely in the crawling stages right now,” said Commissioner Glenn Jones. “Then we’ll walk.”

Jones added that a shelter’s location has to be chosen carefully.

“Nobody wants a building put in their back door,” said Jones. “You have to be very selective when you start this process.”

While officials are hoping to move forward as quickly as possible, an animal control officer will probably not be in place by the beginning of the fiscal year.

“It’s not going to happen July 1,” said Cochran.

Bryson City Town Manager Larry Callicut said the county is hoping to have an animal control officer in place by Jan. 1, 2011.


On Tuesday (June 22), Swain County voters will decide which Democrat will face Republican Curtis Cochran in the hotly contested sheriff’s race this fall.

Though candidate John Ensley won the primary with an impressive 28 percent of the vote — despite competing with seven other candidates — it was not the 40 percent he needed to avoid a runoff election

Runner-up Mitchell Jenkins, who won 285 votes compared to Ensley’s 513, called for a second round.

Whoever wins the second primary will face Sheriff Cochran, who has held the seat for four years. In the Republican primary this year, Cochran won in a landslide with 525 votes, compared to his lone competitor Wayne Dover’s 156 votes.

With the sheriff’s race the most heated election in the county, candidates were lining up and campaigning more than a year before the actual primary.

In his campaign, Ensley emphasizes community involvement with the sheriff’s office, more education for officers, outreach programs in the school system and better networking with surrounding counties.

Ensley, 42, is the owner of Yellow Rose Realty but also a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer. He has worked as a jailer in Florida and worked for the Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years.

Jenkins, 52, is a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, including eight years as chief deputy in Swain County and one year in the Bryson City Police Department.

Jenkins is running because he’d like to establish a better working relationship between the sheriff’s office and the public. Jenkins said he’d also respect the confidentiality of those who phone in tips to the sheriff’s office.

Early voting will take place until Saturday, June 19. To find out more, contact the Board of Elections.


While university leaders are nervously hoping state lawmakers will pass a budget that looks something like the Senate version, many K-12 school officials are openly rooting for the House version.

Seeing public schools and colleges compete for the same budget dollars is not unusual, especially during this recession.

John Bardo, chancellor for Western Carolina University, said the budget would ideally not pit educational systems against each other.

“We cannot get good students in our institutions if the K-12 sector or the community colleges aren’t doing their jobs,” said Bardo, adding that lawmakers should consider the various entities as one system that builds competitiveness for North Carolina.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County, added that he understands the dilemma leaders across the board face during this recession.

“We know it’s not the mayor’s fault or the state superintendent’s fault. It’s just the state of the world economy right now,” said Nolte.

According to Nolte, the governor’s budget is the least desirable for K-12 schools. To prepare for the worst, that’s the version Haywood County schools is working with in crafting its budget.

Last year, Haywood County’s school system lost 44.5 positions. This year, Nolte estimates Haywood will lose around a dozen more.

“Out of 1,200 plus, it’s a lot, but it could be a lot worse,” Nolte said, citing the total number of school employees. About 10 of the 12 positions would be absorbed through retirement and resignations, avoiding actual layoffs but impacting staff levels nonetheless.

Other budget cuts will likely limit textbook purchases, replacement of school buses and staff training.

While state lawmakers make mandatory cuts for all public schools, they also require individual school systems to decide where to make additional cuts. Under the governor’s budget, Haywood has to come up with $2.3 million in additional cuts, compared to $1.4 million under the House budget.

Gwen Edwards, finance officer for Jackson County Schools, said the K-12 school system will probably have to make $750,000 of its own discretionary cuts above and beyond what state lawmakers slash.

Federal stimulus money may make up the difference this year, but that money, which has eased the pain of state cuts for two years now, will dry up come the 2011-12 school year.

“We’re anticipating that that’s where a lot of hurting is going to be,” said Edwards.

Jan Letendre, finance officer for Swain County Schools, said many have likened the cutoff in federal stimulus money to a “funding cliff.” What’s also worrying for Letendre, though, are state cuts in funding for custodians, school secretaries and substitute teachers.

Letendre pegs the discretionary cuts for Swain’s school system at about $575,000 this year.


Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo fears the budget passed by the General Assembly this year might cast a shadow over the state’s future for years to come.

Like many university leaders across North Carolina, Bardo opposes the House version of the 2010-11 budget, which requires UNC campuses to cut spending by $232 million this year.

UNC system President Erskine Bowles has estimated 1,700 jobs would be lost across 17 UNC campuses by July should the budget cuts become reality.

About 80 percent of WCU staff is funded through state money. Such a deep cut would jeopardize the ability of universities across the state to accept students — even if they’re perfectly qualified.

House leaders have threatened to fund no more than a 1 percent increase in the number of students who attend UNC colleges in the 2011-12 year, contrary to claims by legislators that enrollment growth is being funded.

“We’re making it incredibly difficult for North Carolinians to go to college,” said Bardo. “We’re restricting access. We’re restricting ability.”

Producing fewer graduates in North Carolina would not bode well for its economic development, Bardo added.

“We cannot cut areas of education and expect this state to have the capacity to compete globally,” said Bardo. “North Carolina tends to lag the rest of the nation in coming out of the recession. This is going to increase the lag, most likely.”

Skimping on faculty would lead to drastic cuts in the number of classes offered, making it harder for students to graduate on time.

WCU is nearing maximum seating capacity for many of its courses already. Only one of the university’s four lecture halls can seat more than 150 students.

On the bright side, the Senate version of the state’s $18.9 billion budget calls for cuts of $105 million, far less than what the House has proposed.

“In this economic situation, nothing is perfect,” said Bardo. “But the Senate really did attempt to make sure the universities had the resources they needed.”

Meanwhile, the governor’s proposed budget would cut $155 million from the university system.

The governor’s cuts equate to about 5 percent of the UNC system’s current budget, the Senate’s version includes 3 percent in cuts, whereas the House budget requires almost 7 percent budget reduction.

The House and the Senate have appointed their repsective delegates to a joint budget committee that will hammer out differences between the House and Senate budget starting this week, to arrive at a mutually agreeable budget hopefully by July 1.

Unfair treatment?

WCU greeted last year’s budget season armed with a plan. The college made painful, but strategic, cuts to reduce its budget by 8 percent.

In 2009, WCU’s budget was permanently reduced by about 5 percent, while the governor asked Western to make an additional 5 percent in cuts.

After passing the state 2009-10 budget, lawmakers left WCU facing the task of cutting the equivalent of 94 full-time jobs.

This year, WCU’s plan to cope with cuts under the worst-case scenario calls for freezing 45 full-time equivalent positions that are vacant. Depending on the kind of budget that’s passed, that number of positions left empty may go up.

On the other hand, Bardo estimates the Senate version of the budget might leave room for WCU to fill some of those positions. At a June 4 meeting of the WCU Board of Trustees, Bardo entreated college leaders to begin campaigning for the Senate proposal.

“We have to be seen as players in making things better,” said Bardo. “We have developed a reputation for being apathetic to what they’re doing.”

That could have led to last year’s budget, which was less than fair to the UNC system, according to Bardo. Although appropriations for the systems 17 campuses equate to 13 percent of the stat budget, 29 percent of cuts imposed across state government came from the universities, according to Bardo.

“We do understand that they have a short-term problem, having to deal with the budget,” said Bardo. “At the same time, we want them to take their responsibility.”


When the hour finally arrived for Haywood County commissioners to vote on a budget for the upcoming year, Haywood County Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick expressed his wish for a unanimous vote. That’s exactly what he got.

But that 5-0 victory for the budget came in spite of Commissioner Skeeter Curtis stating outright that he would vote against the budget just a minute prior.

Curtis’s dissent stemmed from a controversial plan to overhaul the county’s trash and recycling operations in order to save money.

Both Curtis and Kirkpatrick opposed one aspect of that plan — a move to privatize the county’s 10 convenience centers, where county residents without curbside trash pick-up dump household waste and recyclables.

However, all five commissioners agreed on another part of the overhaul: shutting down the line of workers who manually sort recycling before it is sold. Instead, the county will sell recyclables in bulk without putting them through a pick line.

Other than the contentious trash overhaul, Haywood County’s budget — which does not include a tax hike — sailed by this year.

Not a single person spoke for or against the budget at the official public hearing, even though more than 40 people attended. Speakers saved all their remarks for a separate public comment period on the trash overhaul.

“I’d hate to be having a split vote on the budget, based on the (trash issue),” said Kirkpatrick. “I really want to see the budget passed with five votes.”

Commissioner Kevin Ensley moved to approve the budget, with a second from Commissioner Mark Swanger. After an uncomfortable pause, Curtis said he would not vote to contract out jobs at convenience centers.

Kirkpatrick tried his final appeal, reminding Curtis that the solid waste changes are a relatively small part of a $65 million budget. Kirkpatrick added that the board had until August to amend the solid waste fee that have been proposed.

“You’re right,” said Curtis. “It’s a good budget. Everyone worked hard on it.”

Split vote on convenience centers

While all five commissioners voted to pass the budget, Curtis and Kirkpatrick got a chance later in the meeting to formally oppose privatizing jobs at the convenience centers. Commissioners voted three to two to contract those jobs at the county’s ten convenience centers to Consolidated Waste Services, LLC.

Commissioner Bill Upton, along with Swanger and Ensley, voted for the measure, touting the cost savings of $145,000 it would bring to the county. Closing the recycling pick line would bring an additional savings of $286,000.

But Kirkpatrick and Curtis voted against awarding the contract, with Curtis hoping to further study the issue with all stakeholders and Kirkpatrick hoping to postpone the layoffs. A few of the employees were close to retirement, and many had been supportive of the county’s wildly successful recycling efforts.

“I would hope there’s a way to take care of these folks,” said Kirkpatrick.

The contract that was approved does say that CWS should make a “reasonable effort” to hire the current county employees who currently man the convenience centers.

Swanger added that phasing out the soon to be retired employees in a fair manner would likely take a long time.

“The more I think about it, I’m on both sides,” added Upton. “And I know you can’t be on both sides.”

Both Swanger and Upton had served in a solid waste task force that carefully researched the issue. The county appointed a solid waste task force to come up with cost savings in light of the $4.5 million landfill expansion that taxpayers must now pay off.

Due to the landfill expansion, residents will see a $22 increase in the $70 household solid waste fee — but that’s compared to a $40 dollar increase residents would see if not for the cost-saving measures.

Curtis and Kirkpatrick had wanted to hike up the household solid waste fee by $40, which — along with supporting the landfill — would also include $4.50 per household to save the convenience center employees’ jobs, while $13.50 would be dedicated to saving up for eventually closing the White Oak landfill decades from now.

The bill for complying with regulations with the closure of White Oak would come out to a whopping $16.6 million in “2009 dollars.”

“We need to start putting money aside for closure,” said Curtis. “We’re talking about big dollars for future generations out there.”

Kirkpatrick said $110 really isn’t a lot of money, coming out to $10 a month to get rid of all household trash and recycling.

A third part of the trash overhaul, which would be a year away, is to close the transfer station, where town trash trucks and private haulers unload trash. From there, the county hauls it the rest of the way to the White Oak landfill.

At the meeting, commissioners agreed to solicit bids for privatizing the landfill, transfer station and convenience centers — solely for educational purposes.


There was one thing Haywood County commissioners, town officials, private haulers and county employees could all agree upon at last week’s public hearing on the budget: Someone, somewhere has to pay for the skyrocketing costs of trash operations in the county.

The argument, of course, centers around who should be left footing the bill.

Officials are still waiting to see if commissioners will shut down the transfer station in Clyde, where private and town haulers drop off trash that is then delivered by the county to the remote White Oak landfill. Closing the transfer station would save the county $940,000.

Commissioner Mark Swanger said the savings from closing the transfer station are too great to be ignored. Closing the station would prevent trash from being handled twice and would drastically cut down on equipment costs.

“These costs are so great and the potential savings are so great that they must be seriously considered,” said Swanger.

But the shutdown would also mean greater expenses for towns and private haulers who would have to drive much farther to the White Oak landfill. Those higher costs would be passed on to town residents in Canton, Clyde and Waynesville, along with county residents who arrange for private pick-up of trash. Maggie Valley, located close to the landfill, would see no change in their costs.

If the station is closed, Waynesville residents would see their household fee shoot up by $18, while commercial customers in town would see a 35 percent increase. Meanwhile, residents in Clyde would shell out 66 percent more annually.

“All of the savings that the county supposedly is making has got to be made up somewhere,” said Paul White, a private hauler.

At last week’s hearing, town officials joined in on the outcry against closing the station.

“This is not a Town of Waynesville problem. This is not a Town of Clyde Problem,” said Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway. “This is a problem for the whole county ... It needs to be fair.”

Galloway said all county residents should share the burden of higher expenses in the solid waste department.

Residents without town pick-up drop their trash at one of 10 convenience centers stationed around the county. The county then foots the bill to haul it the rest of the way to White Oak.

Town residents, however, would be expected to ship their trash all the way to White Oak on their own dime, while the county would continue to fully cover the final leg of the trash journey for residents using convenience centers.

On the other hand, having a transfer station requires significant investment in expensive equipment to compact trash before it heads to the landfill. No such equipment is used at convenience centers.

Galloway said hypothetically, town haulers could begin dumping their trash at a nearby convenience center, or the town could even do away with trash pick-up altogether, sending residents directly to convenience centers instead. Either move would create an even bigger headache for county leaders.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick asked Galloway if he’d be in favor of a fee for towns to keep the transfer station open instead. Galloway countered by asking if the county would also charge those who use the convenience centers an extra fee.

“It’s the same difference,” Galloway said.

At the very least, Galloway said he hopes the county will give towns enough time to prepare for the changes. Earlier, the county said it might close the transfer station this fall. Now, the county estimates it will take at least until summer 2011 to prepare for the shutdown.

Commissioner Bill Upton said he’s thought about the issue as much as any issue he’s ever thought about, yet he was still struggling to find a solution.

“We’re in a no-win situation,” said Upton, adding that it was obvious the speakers wanted to keep everything the same. “I’ve heard that over and over again, but that’s still not helping the county solve our situation.”


Despite its peaceful atmosphere and long history as a spiritual center for Methodists, Lake Junaluska may lose the annual United Methodist Church conference it has hosted for more than half a century.

Space limitations at the Lake have prompted the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to study alternative locations for its annual conference. A task force recently recommended moving the event to Greensboro on a trial basis in 2011.

“To lose a major conference is very difficult,” said Jimmy Carr, executive director of the Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center. “We feel a kinship with the WNC annual conference.”

The annual conference brings about 2,600 delegates who flock to Western North Carolina for the week-long conference every June — along with their families. In the process, they support the hotels, restaurants, and shops that have come to count on their business.

It is only one small slice of the 100,000 people who come to the Lake for conferences and conventions each year, but the potential loss is being lamented by tourism leaders.

“That would be a huge blow,” said Alice Aumen, chairperson of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “Everybody looks forward to conference week.” According to Lake Junaluska’s estimates, the conference brings approximately $200,000 to the Lake Junaluska Assembly each year, mostly from lodging and meals.

In addition, the conference generates $300,000 of direct revenue to local motels, restaurants and other businesses. The multiplier effect across WNC communities could be up to $1 million, Carr said.

Clergy and lay members will vote on the proposal at this year’s annual conference on Saturday, June 12. During the annual conference, delegates from United Methodist churches from the Tennessee state line to east of Greensboro converge on the Lake to discuss church policies and ordain clergy.

A report released by the WNC Conference task force stated that Lake Junaluska’s Stuart Auditorium could accommodate only 2,000 of its total 3,500 delegates, though not all members attend each year. Parking, lodging and “meal options” are also severely limited, the report reads.

“I don’t think that anyone would say anything against Junaluska,” said Mark Barden, communications director for the WNC Conference. “It’s a wonderful place. It has a place in our hearts and our history. It’s just that it can’t accommodate what we need right now.”

The task force recommends moving the conference to Joseph S. Koury Convention Center, located at The Sheraton Greensboro Hotel, which would offer 988 hotel rooms, plentiful free parking and multiple meal options at a nearby mall.

Carr pointed out that while the location may accommodate more delegates, it is a secular venue, whereas Lake Junaluska has been a gathering place for Methodists for 100 years.

“That doesn’t mean that they can’t provide the services,” said Carr. “But they won’t be able to provide them the kind of surroundings, the settings, the natural places for worship and reflection that Lake Junaluska can provide.”

Many clergy members trace back their ordainment to Lake Junaluska, while delegates have grown accustomed to convening there year after year on what many call holy ground.

“There’s definitely a long history and a lot of sentimental attachment,” agreed Barden.

Decades ago, Stuart Auditorium had hosted Haywood County high school graduations, but space limitations at the facility forced that event off grounds as well.

Carr said Lake Junaluska leaders are presently considering expanding Stuart Auditorium or building a similar venue that will accommodate more people.

“It’s a 100-year-old building that’s been changed through the years, and it’s no doubt that Lake Junaluska needs a [larger,] different kind of space,” said Carr.

Space limitations actually brought the WNC Conference to the lake in the first place. Church leaders voted to move the event to Lake Junaluska after membership grew too large for the local church where the conference had been held before.

“They faced the same problems that we face now,” said Barden.

The WNC Conference has earlier voted on moving its annual conference away from the Lake, but that measure was defeated.

On Monday, Town of Maggie Valley clerk Vickie Best sent out a memo to local leaders and business owners, campaigning for another such defeat.

“Now is the time to talk to the attendees staying at your motel, shopping at your store, or eating at your restaurant,” the email read. “Encourage those folks to vote to stay at Lake Junaluska, where they can enjoy the beauty of the Lake, and the comfort of our valley and mountains.”

Meanwhile, the potential loss of revenue would prove bad timing for the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.

Starting this year, Lake Junaluska will see around $1 million of its operating revenue disappear over the next four years. Instead of subsidizing operations and ministry programming, that money will be reallocated to debt reduction and capital improvements.

The Methodist conference and retreat center has received a long-standing annual subsidy from the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, paid by churches from across the nine-state region.

But the subsidy for operations and programming will be reduced over the next four years, which has already forced the Lake to work harder to recruit more conferences to the site to make up the difference.


Waynesville residents may soon notice the sign on Main Street’s Blue Ridge Books & Café switched out for a new one that says just Blue Ridge Books.

The name change will be the most conspicuous sign of the switch in ownership that occurred this week.

On Tuesday, co-owners Robert and Betsy Baggett officially handed the reins over to general manager Jo Gilley and children’s buyer Allison Best-Teague.

Gilley was the first employee hired when Blue Ridge Books opened its doors in 2007, while Best-Teague transitioned into the store after it merged with Osondu Booksellers last November.

Robert Baggett, majority owner of Blue Ridge, said after spending many years running a 225-employee printing company in Atlanta along with Blue Ridge Books, he was more than ready for retirement.

Baggett sold his Atlanta business in March but retained the Waynesville bookstore. It was only in May that he decided to retire completely from business and sell the store.

At 61, Robert Baggett plans on spending most of the year in North Carolina while boating in Florida in the winter. His sister Betsy will relocate to Florida, where her twin daughters and granddaughters reside.

Also in May, Margaret Osondu, former owner of Osondu Booksellers and director of operations at Blue Ridge books, announced that she was no longer employed at the bookstore. The terse email she sent out to her newsletter subscribers on May 10 did not provide further explanation.

The Baggetts had earlier purchased property on the corner of Boundary and Walnut streets intending to move Blue Ridge to a new location with more parking. However, the store will remain in its current location due to “cost reasons.”

Robert Baggett has torn down two houses on the property and plans to put the land up for sale. “It’ll make a nice three-unit shopping center,” Robert Baggett said.

The future

After deciding to retire, Robert Baggett concluded that Gilley and Best-Teague and Gilley would comprise the best team moving forward. The two were thrilled with Baggett’s offer.

“It was a dream job to work in a bookstore, but owning one is beyond a dream,” said Gilley.

Best-Teague said she has thought about owning a bookstore ever since she worked at Sloan’s Bookstore in Waynesville, which transformed into the Waynesville Book Company before once again morphing into Osondu Booksellers.

Best-Teague fondly remembers that her son literally took his first steps in that bookstore and how she and her husband dreamed of one day owning the business.

Gilley has experience as office manager in a Charlotte bookstore, while Best-Teague has worked in bookstores since the early ‘90s, including at a women’s bookstore in Durham and a large independent bookstore in Raleigh, Book buying responsibilities will be shared, though each co-owner will bring her own specialty.

Gilley is an avid reader of murder mystery authors and adores handing out biscuits to dogs that walk in with their owners.

Meanwhile, Best-Teague is passionate about children’s books and enjoys holding readings for babies under 3 on Tuesday mornings. When Best-Teague reads on her own, she chooses memoirs of people who aren’t famous.

Both learned a great deal about their new business while doing a throughout inventory of the bookstore recently.

“When you have to put your hand on every book in the store, then you come up with ‘We need more of this and less of that,’” said Best-Teague.

With all the upheavals this past year in the Waynesville bookstore world, both Best-Teague and Gilley are ready to go forward with their new venture and settle into a new routine.

“We’re just excited about focusing on the books,” said Best-Teague.

“We can make the store our own and fine-tune things,” added Gilley.

Even with the lingering threats of e-books and online retailers, both are hopeful that the personal contact that only a local bookstore can offer will help carry the business for years to come.


Haywood County’s technology director Kristy Wood wasn’t exactly latching onto the hope that commissioners would grant her $2.8 million budget request for the county’s 911 Communications department this year.

The proposed budget shows an allocation of about $495,000 instead, a little less than what the department got last year.

“I knew that that would be denied,” said Wood. “[But] if we don’t ask for it, they might not be aware that it’s such a big need.”

The big need that Wood is referring to is a total upgrade of the county’s antiquated radio system for first responders, firefighters and law enforcement.

According to a study conducted three years ago, these officials work with a coverage rate of only 55 percent in the county for their portable radios and 70 percent for their cell phones. If the system were updated, that coverage would increase to 98 percent for cell phones and 86 percent for portable radios.

Most times, responders lose coverage in the backcountry and wilderness areas where they must rescue hikers and respond to wrecks, brushfires and more. But sometimes, they lose coverage in parts of the county where residents live.

“Their radio, a lot of times, is their lifeline,” said Wood. “That’s the only way they can call for help or communicate with each other. We just got to get it replaced.”

Wood said if she lived in one of these areas with spotty coverage, she would not feel safe.

Moreover, responders are unable to cross-communicate with different agencies. For example, a deputy from the sheriff’s office wouldn’t be able to communicate with EMS out in the field.

“It’s two totally separate 20-year-old systems between each of those agencies,” said Wood.

While the fire department and EMS operate on the UHF radio system, the sheriff’s office and police departments are on a different bandwidth with the VHF system.

With the county cutting more than 2.5 percent from its budget this year, commissioners have forwarded the appropriations request past state officials all the way up to U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler’s office.

Wood knows several surrounding counties that have put in communications requests as well, and hopes Shuler will realize there is a need for major equipment updates in Western North Carolina.

Assistant County Manager Marty Stamey, who once headed emergency services in Haywood, said while the rural counties can’t afford such a major expense, the federal government may be able to lend a hand.

If the money doesn’t come through, Wood says the 911 department will have little choice but to continue with less than adequate equipment.

“We can go on like we are indefinitely,” said Wood. “But at some point, somebody’s going to get killed. It is a safety issue, and at some point, something is going to happen that didn’t have to happen.”

Wood says there are “plenty of examples” where communication has completely broken down, but she was not prepared to discuss them in further detail.


On one side are local farmers, toiling from dawn to dusk, trying to compete in an increasingly globalized economy.

On the other are local restaurant owners, caught up with the myriad responsibilities of running a successful small business.

Hovering in the background is the increasingly popular belief that food grown locally should also be consumed locally.

The Buy Haywood project recently launched a new initiative that hopes to bring all three together, transforming that big picture locavore philosophy — locavore meaning someone who only eats food grown locally — into an everyday practice on both ends.

Its 20/20/20 goal aims to link up 20 local farmers with at least 20 local chefs, who will use 20 different local products, according to George Ivey, coordinator of the Buy Haywood, which has promoted products from Haywood County farms since 2007.

The goal may seem deceivingly simple. After all, how hard can it be to deliver locally grown produce a few miles down to road to restaurant chefs?

Those intimately involved in the process know the answer better than anybody else. That’s why Buy Haywood recently brought the stakeholders together to a roundtable discussion of the challenges, the solutions and the values of bringing local food directly from farm to restaurant table.

Time is money

Does a farmer want to spend precious summer hours driving a few boxes of tomatoes to Haywood restaurants? Would a chef volunteer to shop around for the best peppers from one farm and the cheapest cucumbers from another?

For both parties, time is of the essence, and convenience usually takes precedence.

Farmers often deliver loads of their produce to a single packing house, while chefs order from a major distributor who can provide products readily and reliably.

Communicating what farmers have to offer and what chefs want each week then becomes a burden that neither side wants to take on.

Dewey Gidcumb, a farmer from the White Oak community, said devoting time to marketing on top of the time he spends on the farm seems unreasonable.

“Knocking on doors is the real hold-up,” said Gidcumb.

“I’ve got more than I can do to grow all this stuff and then sit down at a telephone to call restaurants,” agreed Danny Barrett, a farmer at Ten Acre Gardens in Canton. “It’s just time consuming.”

Once, Barrett took the time to pitch a surplus of romaine lettuce to local restaurants, but he was turned down. It wasn’t because his lettuce wasn’t any good, but because he wasn’t a regular provider.

Barrett had regularly sold produce to the upscale Lomo Grill in Waynesville and other restaurants in the past, and he’s learned that restaurants would rather build consistent business relationships with farmers than sporadically buy from them here and there.

“You have to be set up to where they can depend on you,” said Barrett.

Joe Bolado, owner and chef at the Grandview Lodge in Waynesville, would like to see 100 percent of his relatively small menu offer local food. But he’s surprised that farmers aren’t more proactive in marketing their produce to him and other restaurants.

“Right now, I feel like I have to go out and find it,” said Bolado. “They’re not coming to me.”

Mike Graham, who owns Jukebox Junction Restaurant & Soda Shoppe in Bethel, said it’s difficult for him to know what’s available when, what the quality of the product will be, and what the best prices are without taking the time to drive out to local farms.

Graham, like many others who attended Buy Haywood’s workshop, agreed that communication between farmers and chefs is crucial for farm to table success.

Even with nearly 40 people the Buy Haywood workshop, there was unanimous agreement among farmers, restaurants and distributors that frequent market updates would be immensely helpful. In these emails, farmers would let everyone know their offerings, while chefs would update farmers on how much of what item they needed that week.

Of course, as simple as that sounds, the effort would still take much cooperation from all parties to keep the reports as up to date as possible.

“The farmers just don’t have time,” said Tonya Bennert of Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a distributor in Candler. “Their mindset is not in marketing.”

Those who are serious about farm to table will just have to ease their way into a different mindset to succeed.

“Farmers are going to have to get more involved in marketing their product,” said Barrett.

Eugene Christopher, of Christopher Farms in Waynesville, has successfully made the transition. His farm sells all kinds of produce but is also one of the major food distributors in the area, serving 120 different vendors. That kind of result stems from a great deal of communication with his clients.

“Half of my time is on the phone, answering people’s questions,” said Christopher, who advises farmers to also diversify their offerings and work tailgate markets as much as possible.

A two-sided story

Farmers and restaurant owners are constantly experiencing the push and pull of the locavore movement.

Its advantages are widely known: support of the local economy, less impact on the environment, and fresher, healthier food.

“It’s gathered today and delivered today,” said Christopher.

“It’s going to have more flavor than something that’s picked two weeks early and shipped over here and still not ripe,” said Bolado.

On the downside, chefs don’t have a world of produce to choose from. What Haywood County farmers can provide is obviously limited by Western North Carolina’s climate.

“Restaurants are always going to need things like kiwis and bananas, “ said Ivey. “Things we simply aren’t going to have in Haywood County.”

Denny Trantham, executive chef at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, said his company spends more than $6 million a year on groceries.

“I go through 250 pounds of tomatoes a week, not just in July, but also in January,” said Trantham. “...I don’t think there’s anybody that can give me 1,000 lbs of lettuce in January here.”

Not every farm will be able to meet the demands of local restaurants, but not every restaurant will meet the demands of local farms. Some farmers produce so much that they can’t move all they grow to restaurants here.

Peter Marks, program director of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, said that’s where Buy Haywood will come in. Project managers will see where appropriate matches can be made between local farms and restaurants.

“People mistakenly assume that just because someone has a product and somebody else wants a product, that’s a match,” said Marks, whose organization is a regional version of Buy Haywood. “There are so many other factors, the ripeness, the uniqueness, the packaging.”

But the rewards for those farmers who do find a way to market their produce can be many. Locally grown food has been identified as a top trend in restaurants for the past few years and shows no signs of deteriorating in popularity.

“If you pass the cost on to the customer, I’m living testimony, they’ll pay it,” said Trantham, adding though that not every kind of restaurant could pull off the higher charges.

Regardless, Trantham would like to see chefs use more local produce in the summer at the very least.

“It’s here, it’s readily available,” said Trantham. “We’ve got to be stewards of our own house.”

Searching for efficiency

Local farmers usually don’t compete with each other as much as they compete with unseen farmers thousands of miles away. Buy Haywood invited farmers from surrounding counties in recognition of that fact.

“It seems pretty difficult for anybody locally to be able to match prices from large-scale distributors,” said Paul Denkenberger of Café 50 in Waynesville. “They’re huge.”

John Sealander, of Blue Ribbon Eggs in Franklin, agreed that it’s just easier for restaurants to go to a major distributor. “I’ve repeatedly gotten blown off, and I think part of it is the convenience of ordering from the central place.”

One proposal brought up at the workshop was to create a co-op, but only half the participants supported the plan. Though a co-op would provide a one-stop shop for producers and buyers, it would also add significant cost.

“It requires a business plan, marketing expertise, sales expertise,” said Marks. “Somebody has to be paid to run it well. Like any business, it can succeed and fail.”

Ivey wasn’t too enthused about the idea of a co-op though he is not taking a side in the debate.

“Creating a new entity or new organization might be redundant as well as expensive,” said Ivey.

Marks has seen two kinds of success stories in Western North Carolina, neither of which involve a co-op.

One is the creative and entrepreneurial farmer who actively seeks out customers. The other has farmers cooperating with existing distributors to deliver more local products to restaurants.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel,” Marks said.

Get Involved

The next meeting between farmers, restaurants and distributors will take place 2 p.m., Monday, June 28. Contact Anne Lancaster at 828.683.5560 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the location.

To learn more about area farms and restaurants offering local food, visit, and


Barring relentless rain and a couple of mishaps, the inaugural Blue Ridge Breakaway was a resounding success, according to ride organizers.

About 300 avid cyclists headed out early on Saturday, Aug. 21, for the newest long-distance bike ride in Western North Carolina. More than half of them came from more than two hours away to participate.

“It’s huge for a first-time event to have that many people, very unusual,” said Ken Howle, chair of the organizing committee. “We’re larger than some already established rides.”

With rave reviews and scores of promises from riders to return next year with friends, Howle anticipates the ride will grow to 600 or more cyclists despite its poor luck with weather this year.

Officials closed down the Blue Ridge Parkway portion of the event in the early afternoon due to the downpour and poor visibility. At least three cycling accidents were reported on Saturday, with one rider landing in a coma.

Blue Ridge Breakaway’s 25-, 40-, 60-, and 100-mile options drew riders from all across the Southeast, including North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. The farthest travelers hailed from England and Guam.

Organizers estimate that the one-day event has delivered an excess of $100,000 in economic impact to Haywood County’s doorstep. Howle says with so many riders vowing to bring back families or take a weeklong vacation in the area next year, there could be an additional $200,000 to $300,000 annual impact in years to come.

Shell Isenberg, innkeeper at Waynesville’s Oak Hill on Love Lane, can already attest to the event’s success. Isenberg’s bed and breakfast was packed with cyclists last weekend.

“It’s great. We’re sold out,” said Isenberg. “It’s an off time. Whatever event that will bring people to the area, I think is great.”

All of Isenberg’s guests booked at least two nights. Days before the event, he’d already made dinner reservations for nine people at a local restaurant.

“It was an overwhelming success,” said Lynn Collins, director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “It brought several hundred people to Haywood County on an otherwise slow weekend.”

Selecting August for the ride was a strategic decision, according to Katy McLean, marketing and communications director at the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. Breakaway organizers pored over a calendar that listed all rides in the Southeast.

“What we noticed is that August kind of looked empty,” said McLean. With tourism low in the area and cooler temperatures, organizers thought it’d be the perfect time for Haywood to welcome an influx of cyclists.

Giving local cyclists a major say in formulating the rides was crucial, as was aggressive marketing. The official Blue Ridge Breakaway webpage was linked to 24 other cycling websites, McLean said.

Accidents on the road

Accidents were few but somewhat inevitable during Saturday’s inclement weather.

One cyclist suffered a cracked rib and scratches after taking a curve too fast and running into a briar patch. Another contracted minor injuries after being struck by a cattle trailer making a right turn at a stoplight in Clyde.

The most serious accident occurred on Stamey Cove Road. The cyclist suffered a broken nose, a collapsed eye socket, broken pelvic bone and trauma to his brain. He was taken to Mission Hospital in Asheville and is now coming out of a coma.

“It was very, very tricky conditions,” said Chris Hipgrave, who took up the 60-mile ride on Saturday and witnessed the Clyde accident. “You put a hundred people into a bathtub with water, someone’s going to fall.”

But the risks involved won’t keep Hipgrave from signing up next year. Hipgrave has took part in many rides around the area. He says the Breakaway rose far and above.

“It was awesome, by far the best one I’ve done,” Hipgrave said. “It was a really, really fun loop. The food was awesome, which always helps.”

Howle said many riders were thankful for the volunteers’ enthusiasm and appreciative of the professional way in which organizers handled the less than ideal weather conditions. Dozens of cars made rounds picking up drenched racers after the Parkway was shut down.

“It was the best example of Western North Carolina hospitality that I’ve ever seen,” said Howle.

Early surveys show cyclists were overwhelmingly pleased with all aspects of the Blue Ridge Breakaway. Next year’s ride has been penciled in for Aug. 20.

“Most of the feedback we’ve gotten is not to change anything,” said Howle. “The riders want to make sure we keep it as good as it was this year.”


In the 1970s, blue jeans and boys with shaggy hair were as scandalous in Western North Carolina schools as miniskirts and pants sagging well below the waist are today.

Teenage fashion continues marching onward in its evolution, leaving school administrators constantly scrambling to modernize dress codes. Keeping up with the times while maintaining a distraction-free learning environment has become a delicate dance school leaders take up year after year.

That endless tug-of-war has prompted two Haywood County high schools to take strides in opposite directions this fall.

After an experimental year with a decidedly vague dress code, Tuscola High School in Waynesville is clamping down with strict, clear-cut guidelines. All students need to comply is a card — an ID card, a driver’s license, a debit or credit card — used to measure everything from the height of skirts above the knee cap to the width of tank top straps.

Meanwhile, Central Haywood High, an alternative school in Clyde, has created a more liberal dress code, no longer requiring its students to wear belts or tuck in their shirts.

Other area schools are sticking to their stricter-than-average policies. Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva requires all skirts and dresses to be knee length or longer, while Swain County High School prohibits all tank tops or sleeveless shirts of any sort.

“Knee-length is an easy measurement,” said Jay Grissom, principal at Smoky Mountain High. “There’s no extra steps involved.”

“When spring has sprung, we get a lot of cleavage,” said Regina Mathis, who recently left her post as principal of Swain County High. “Tops are too low, shorts are too short.”

No matter how strict or liberal, though, dress codes were brought up as the number one concern of teachers in at least three WNC schools last year.

The case for stricter codes

Parents found it hard to believe their eyes as they drove up Tuscola School Drive to drop off their kids last year.

Girls donning strapless shirts and scandalously short skirts, shorts and dresses. Guys wearing tank tops and pants that were practically falling off their bodies.

“There was a lot to be seen,” said Stephanie Goodwin, assistant principal at Tuscola.

“We get to lunch, and we got half-naked bodies it seems,” said Dale McDonald, Tuscola’s principal. “It’s fine if you’re going to Myrtle Beach.”

School leaders had just debuted a radical new dress code that simply barred anything that was “disruptive.” Teachers were charged with writing up students and sending them straight to the office.

While some teachers faithfully reported dress code violations, others turned a blind eye to inappropriate outfits. That inconsistency worked against students who didn’t know what to expect with each new class. It also worked in favor of students who argued to their fourth period teacher that there hadn’t been an issue with their short shorts during homeroom.

By the end of the 2009-2010 year, Tuscola administrators acknowledged the failure of their liberal policy and got to work coming up with a replacement.

They thoroughly researched dress codes in surrounding counties and came up with what they believed constituted the middle of the road.

The basics: Students cannot wear anything shorter than a card’s length above their knees. Their tops cannot be lower than a card’s length below their collarbones. Pants must be worn at the waist with no undergarments in view and no holes above the knee. Leggings worn underneath provide no excuse for any violations of the above.

A few of the schools Goodwin looked at had dress codes that prohibited facial piercing, mascara, flip-flops and hair dye — all of which are allowed on Tuscola’s campus.

“A girl here today, her hair was rainbow,” said Goodwin. “That’s fine. That’s her way of expressing something.”

At the same time, Goodwin sees the need to set clear boundaries for attire, whether or not students agree.

“They may be used to dressing that way,” said Goodwin. “At the same time, is it the time or is it the place? School is not a time to look like you’re at the beach.”

Students fuming

Most Tuscola students were angry, or apathetic at best, over the new policy. They often echoed each other in their reactions to the new dress code.

“I think it’s stupid,” said junior Alex Dotson. “We didn’t have a dress code last year. They’re so strict on us this year.”

Dotson is particularly displeased with the longer shorts requirement.

“You can’t find any cute shorts like that unless you cut off your jeans,” Dotson said.

Like a few of her fellow students, Dotson is outright opposed to a dress code on principle.

“I think they should just let us be who we want to be and wear what we want to wear,” Dotson said.

Other students see a need for a dress code, but say the latest one is too strict.

“It’s pretty ridiculous. It think they went overboard with it,” said sophomore Brooke Ferguson. “I like the fact of having a dress code, just not one like we have. Everyone’s talking about it.”

“It doesn’t really affect me, but I know tons of girls are furious about it,” said senior Joey Cutting. “It’s hard for a lot of people. They don’t want to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe.”

“I think that a Mormon church bought our school,” joked Arron Gibson, a 17-year-old senior.

Gibson said he knew many students who had to head back to the stores to replace their wardrobes.

Eli Haynes, 15, was one of them. Many of the shorts that she bought at the beginning of the summer were suddenly prohibited at school. Her mother, Leah Crisp, wasn’t thrilled when she received notice of the new dress code six weeks before the school year started.

Though she was able to afford new clothes for Eli, Crisp pointed that not all families were as fortunate.

“What about children who may not have a lot of money?” said Crisp. “If they had told us at the end of the school year, then we would have been prepared.”

Tuscola’s latest dress code seems stricter than the one Waynesville Middle School had when Eli was attending, according to Crisp.

Though she doesn’t agree with every aspect of the code, Crisp acknowledged it would help prepare students for a professional environment once they graduate.

Principal McDonald, too, emphasized that part of the school’s job is to teach character education.

“Integrity, confidence, self-respect, all those things play into that,” said McDonald.

Gibson remains unconvinced that the stricter dress code is necessary, however.

“They claim it’s because of distraction,” Gibson said. “Any time you have a coed school, there’s going to be distraction regardless.”

The flip side

Donna Parris, lead teacher at Central Haywood High, estimates that 30 percent of the students refused to comply with the dress code last year.

It was a source of nonstop disruption in classrooms. One student after another would be removed from class, and teachers had to sacrifice breaks to monitor students’ attire during lunch.

At the heart of the problem was that students were forced to tuck in their shirts and wear belts — rules that even teachers weren’t thrilled about enforcing.

“We did not feel passionate about keeping this up and letting it interfere with our school,” Parris said. “We want to teach the kids. We don’t want to be so concerned about how they dress, as long as they’re appropriate.”

“We were spending more time on the dress code than we was on the kid getting an education,” said Tara Leatherwood, secretary for Central Haywood.

Modernizing the dress code seemed like the best option moving forward.

“We know it’s the 21st century. It’s not the 1950s,” said Jeff Haney, Central Haywood’s new principal.  “We know they want to dress with style, but we also want to keep it modest.”

Many alternative schools see students only for a short stay before they return to their original schools. It isn’t uncommon for these schools to require uniforms for their temporary students. But most of the students at Central Haywood continue their education there until they graduate.

“We’re not a punishment place. We’re long-term,” said Parris. “The kids feel at home. They also wanted to feel comfortable.”

The school had required all students to wear collared shirts and khakis about six years ago. But dress requirements have been loosened ever since. Students still must wear collared shirts, but jeans, shorts and skirts in solid colors are now allowed.

With the more lenient dress code in place, Central Haywood teachers have already noticed a major improvement just a few days after school started this year.

“A couple of shorts too short, other than that, it’s been a pretty good deal,” said Parris. “The teachers are like, ‘Whew! This is so much better.’ We’re all happier.”


Bryson City merchants can expect some relief from the downtown parking crunch once the old Swain County Jail is torn down in the next two weeks.

The crumbling jail was abandoned a couple of years ago for a new multimillion-dollar facility since it no longer met state codes. County commissioners have opted for the low-cost option of converting the old jail site into a public parking lot once the building is demolished.

“There is a need for downtown parking, especially in the summertime,” said Commissioner David Monteith. “A lot of merchants don’t have a place to park.”

“You’ve got to run yourself to death to find a parking space,” said Commissioner Glenn Jones. “It’s no different from any other town. Parking is always at a premium.”

Tourists riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad exacerbate the problem. Some train riders hunt for free on-street parking rather than paying to park in the train’s lot, tying up valuable downtown spots for hours.

There could be up to 20 additional parking spaces to accommodate downtown patrons now, and also future visitors to a museum planned nearby.

“We’re going to need a lot more parking for that project,” said Kevin King, Swain county manager. “The county doesn’t need another building.”

Commissioners are also planning ahead for a greenway with picnic tables at the edge of the parking lot along the river.

The historic courthouse, which is adjacent to the old jail, will one day house a heritage museum, along with a visitor’s center and store run by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, a nonprofit that supports the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by operating bookstores in the park’s visitor centers.

The visitor’s center will take up about a quarter of the first floor of the old courthouse, according to Monteith. The cultural museum will showcase the history of Swain County and its people, while the visitor’s center will increase the nonprofit’s presence in North Carolina.

But with the courthouse dating back to 1908, major repairs are needed to render the building safe for use. Monteith says the upstairs floor must be taken out and rebuilt, according to a study done early on in the project.

“That is why we had to literally stop before we got started,” said Monteith.

“It’s a laundry list of repairs and improvements,” said Commissioner Steve Moon. “But the historic value of that building is something that we cannot ignore. We need to preserve that all we can and do the best we can with it.”

King estimates it will cost about $800,000 to renovate the courthouse, significantly lower than the $4 million originally estimated. For now, the county has $150,000 in its hands, much of which came through grants from the GSMA, King said.

Several other grant applications are still awaiting responses.


Some musicians just have to discover themselves.

Waynesville singer-songwriter Lorraine Conard grew up singing at church and in plays, jotting down song verses here and there in college.

Music was an inextricable part of Conard’s life, but without outside confirmation of her talent, she opted for a career in web design.

The need to express herself through music eventually took over, though, and Conard decided to go for it on her own terms.

“I realized there’s not somebody out there just waiting to tell you, ‘This is who you are.’ You have to decide who you are,” Conard said. “I never even thought about majoring in music, and looking back, I would have loved that. It didn’t even exist in my picture of who I could be.”

Since her epiphany years ago, Conard quickly built up a local reputation with her powerful croon. Her first album, “Riding on Your Wings,” released last fall, is a mixed-bag of bluesy folk, country pop and Americana intertwined with a tinge of jazz.

The Lorraine Conard Band had its start earlier this year.

Conard had played on and off with mandolin player Ed Kelly for the last six years. Less than a year ago, a mutual friend introduced Conard to bassist Greg Kidd, who was practically a next-door neighbor.

When the first big snow before Christmas essentially shut Waynesville down, Kidd walked up the hill with his bass to Conard’s house to play.

It was an instant musical connection that stayed strong when Kelly joined in.

In newer songs, Conard’s sultry voice still occupies center stage, but energetic bass lines along with Kelly’s adept mandolin playing create a pleasant pared down sound.

A modern approach

After performing nearly every weekend without fail this year, Conard set aside August for a much-needed hiatus.

Conard continues to enjoy her work as a freelance website designer. She says her experience with the web has helped her “a million percent” in her musical career.  

“They definitely inform each other,” Conard said.

Conard has come up with some creative ways to support herself, including one idea that will be carried out for the first time at an upcoming concert in Sylva on Aug. 27.

Conard will offer concertgoers a chance to create their own albums using songs recorded at the live show — as soon is the concert is over. Fans can mix and match songs for a 5-track EP, a ten-song album, or a double disc, which will include the entire concert.

“A lot of times people will say, ‘Do you have a CD like what we heard tonight?’” Conard said. With this arrangement, Conard can give listeners exactly what they want. The CD will be delivered to their doorsteps two weeks after the show.

It’s another way for musicians to support themselves in an age when free music is taken for granted, Conard said.

“Musicians are really struggling right now with finding ways to not make huge sums of money, but to simply be able to afford to play,” Conard said.

Taking time

After a few weeks of polishing up songs, Conard is looking forward to performing again this weekend and hoping for an energetic crowd.

“It’s not just the musicians, it’s the people that come and bring their picnic,” said Conard.  “Everybody is part of the event, just in different ways. That’s what makes it so wonderful.”

Conard hopes to continue taking her music to wider audiences, but she’s not itching to become a full-time musician — just yet.

“What I have right now is this incredibly lucky balance of a flexible job that I work with people that I love, that gives me some balance and also allows me the freedom to go and play music,” said Conard.

Having that flexibility means that Conard doesn’t have to force herself to create. Usually, Conard flips through her notebook full of ideas to see what strikes her at the moment.

She wrote the first two verses of “Dance With My Blues” six or seven years ago and finished it earlier this year.

Conard wrote most of “Carry Me” in college, but added the chorus a year or two afterwards.

“Carry Me,” one of Conard’s first, was inspired by Conard’s great grandmother who in her very late 90s suffered from dementia. She stayed with Conard’s family for a month and would always tell stories about her childhood.

“That really impacted me,” said Conard. “All those parts of life that are still part of someone, even when they are kind of slowly slipping away … A lot of what I write is more about a feeling or emotion, and not necessarily mine.”

What grabs Conard’s attention most about music in general is good storytelling and songwriting.

“I don’t think that is genre specific,” said Conard. “It’s that energy when everything comes together in the right now…music just has a great power to connect people in a way that just talking doesn’t necessarily do.”

But Conard focuses as much on the music as the lyrics, recognizing that listeners always don’t stick around for songs that focus solely for their words.

“Most people aren’t there to appreciate how great your lyrics are,” said Conard.  “They’re there because they want to have an experience, they want to have a great time, they want to be entertained and be transported.”

Listen up

Buy “Riding on Your Wings” and hear other songs by The Lorraine Conard Band at You can also find them on Facebook.

Upcoming shows

• The Lorraine Conard Band will play a two-hour show starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 27, at the Bridge Park Pavilion in downtown Sylva. The show is part of the free Concerts on the Creek series.
• The Lorraine Conard Band will perform at the Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market Saturday, Aug. 28, as part of a customer appreciation day. The market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of HART theatre on U.S. 276 four blocks from Main Street in Waynesville.


Not long ago, Waynesville’s historic Frog Level district was fraught with littered beer bottles and an unrelenting band of vagrants.

“Sleeping under back decks, defecating on front doorsteps, leaving wine bottles and beer cans,” said Lieutenant Brian Beck. “The creek banks looked worse than the landfill.”

The historically bustling railroad and industrial district is just a few blocks from Main Street and was recently revitalized. But it continued to be a gathering spot for the homeless, partly due to the proximity of the Open Door soup kitchen.

Now, Beck says complaints from Frog Level have gone down drastically.

“The business owners are very happy. People can walk down the street without being accosted,” said Beck.

Crucial in the cleanup was the Special Projects Unit at the Waynesville Police Department — a division of law enforcement that is rare in most small towns, especially those west of Asheville.

Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, who has supervised similar units at other agencies, resolved to start something comparable in Waynesville about two years ago.

The Special Projects Unit currently includes five officers fully devoted to community outreach and crime prevention in neighborhoods that are regularly problematic.

“When [neighbors] have to pick up the phone and call several times a day or week over the same house or the same problem over and over again, they get frustrated, we get frustrated,” said Hollingsed. “Instead of reactively responding to calls, we’re trying to be proactive.”

Because Frog Level had its fair share of repeat offenders, SPU officers stepped up their presence in the district and even ordered litterers clean up their own trash.

“They’ve been better than better,” Brian Pierce, owner of Panacea Coffee House in Frog Level, said of the special unit officers. “Patrol officers come down usually every morning and sit in the parking lot and watch things, make their presence known.”

It’s just one example of the many projects SPU busies itself with regularly.

Officers conduct driver’s license checkpoints in areas with rampant speeding. One works full-time patrolling schools to curb drug problems and fights.

The unit also conducts D.A.R.E. programs in the school. It offers presentations to store owners on how to best secure their businesses. Officers even fingerprint children at special community events for parents to keep on file in case they are ever kidnapped.

Battling drugs

SPU officers routinely help rid neighborhoods of drug houses where illegal deals are frequently made and violence is likely to break out.

In extreme circumstances, SPU can use the civil nuisance law to force property owners to forfeit the house. Most commonly, however, drug-dealing tenants are kicked out by their landlords, according to Sergeant Sylvia McMahan with the Special Project Unit.

The SPU has helped seize cocaine and, in one case, $8,000 in drug money.

But solving most cases requires patience, McMahan points out. Officers keep detailed notes on everything they observe and keep in mind that they’re taking a long-term approach.

“It’s not a quick fix,” said McMahan. “It’s a long, drawn-out process.”

In Waynesville, the secret to the Special Projects Unit’s success has a lot to do with flexibility. Since officers aren’t usually tied down with routine patrol shifts, they can go into a community and take the time to work on bigger picture issues, from code enforcement to animal control to extra special attention with surveillance.

“We can be there basically around the clock until we get the problem solved,” said McMahan. “We have more time to spend in a certain area than what your regular patrol officer does.”

Despite SPU’s success, most Waynesville residents aren’t yet in the know about the unit.

“I don’t think they know what we do,” said McMahan. “We’re sort of behind the scenes.”

Rare in WNC

To Chief Hollingsed, preventing crime on the front end reduces the crime load that would otherwise land on the plate of regular patrol officers — making it a good use of resources. But it’s a luxury other small town police departments say they couldn’t afford.

With fewer than 10 officers working at the Bryson City Police Department, Chief Rick Tabor said it’d be impossible to have a whole unit devoted to preventing crime.

“I would love to have the resources to have anything like that, even if it was just one person,” said Tabor.

Det. John Buchanan with Sylva Police said at this time, all officers are required to keep a log of noteworthy events during their shifts. The assistant chief of police reviews those logs and asks patrol to be stepped up in areas with high incidents of crime.

“Our resources are so small here,” said Buchanan. “We just kind of have to do what we can.”


Inside Mary J. Messer’s cozy Bargain Books in Waynesville, hundreds of thousands of books are stacked ceiling high.

Messer sits herself close to the door so she can greet customers as soon as they walk in and help them navigate the immense selection.

Nowadays, many are coming there specifically to pick up Messer’s own memoir, Moonshiner’s Daughter, a special addition made to the bookstore’s hefty stock earlier this summer. “Growing up poor in the Smokies … how did we survive?” the book’s subtitle reads.

For Messer, not writing a memoir was not an option.

Long after the physical pain of cruel beatings by her mother, father, principal and teachers dissipated, Messer continued to think daily of her miserable childhood in Haywood County during the 1940s and 1950s.

“I hurt all the time, seemed like I couldn’t get along a day without thinking about what all happened to me, my brother and my sister,” Messer said.

Messer felt compelled write down her recollections before they slipped away. On slow days at the bookstore, Messer would run out to her car in the parking lot, scribbling her memories as quickly as she could into a composition notebook.

“I just couldn’t write it fast enough,” said Messer. “I was afraid that I would not get it wrote down on paper, that it would leave my mind.”

With the publication of her memoir after a few hurdles, Messer is finally discovering relief from the weight of her story.

She now talks candidly of incredible suffering long kept behind closed doors, episodes that are painful to read about, let alone experience.

“It feels so…wonderful that finally, my story is out there,” said Messer. “It seems like a whole building has been lifted off top of me.”

One customer told Messer she’d buy the memoir, even though Messer had practically recounted the entire story to her already.

Extreme abuse

Messer breaks into tears as she tells the story of the last brutal beating she suffered at the hands of her father.

Messer had been left alone to look after the house, while her parents went off for two days of drunken revelry, taking Messer’s younger siblings along.

A neighbor convinced her to stay over since young Messer was terrified of staying alone at home in the dark.

But her parents and siblings came back early, and Messer’s mother told her to come home promptly, warning her that her father was ready to kill her.

Messer walked home at a crawling pace and tried to avoid her father while he lay sleeping. He had cut off the biggest limbs from the cherry tree in preparation, but her mother had given him smaller limbs to use on Messer.

Soon enough, Messer’s father woke up. He came over to her, grabbed her arm and jerked her out the door.

“He took those limbs and broke every one of them up,” said Messer. “He whipped me till blood was running out of my back and out of my legs.”

After all the limbs broke to pieces, her father grabbed a long wooden stick used for fires and beat her for even longer. He continued thrashing Messer even as she passed out. She remembers regaining consciousness three times, and each time, her father refused to quit.

Afterward, Messer was laid in bed. When her mother offered her soup, she stubbornly refused to eat.

“I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to be in heaven. I wanted to be dead and done with it,” Messer said.

“I remember looking up at the stars, I so wished I was sitting on a star. I wished I was out of this earth.”

Years before, Messer’s mother would regularly lock herself in a room and attempt to poison herself or hang herself, even with the children looking on.

Messer and her young siblings would scream, banging on the door and trying to rescue their mother. “We all cried, ‘Please don’t die mama,’” Messer said.

Messer’s father would often be sent away to jail for making moonshine, leaving her mother, who likely suffered from mental illness, alone with the children.

She, too, became an alcoholic and would stay up all night, cranking loud music and dancing with young boys. During this time, Messer witnessed the rape of her sister on multiple occasions, apparently with the mother’s knowledge and consent.

Messer herself was a victim of child molestation by a janitor in school who targeted young, poor girls and would give them a nickel for ice cream each time they traveled down to the school basement with him. A shopkeeper on Main Street molested Messer while her mother prowled nearby stores on the hunt for items to shoplift.

On top of the overwhelming physical and sexual abuse, Messer had to live in extreme poverty.

Growing up mostly in shacks, Messer long considered running water and electricity a luxury. She and her sister would often have to walk barefoot in the snow to carry water from the spring to her family multiple times each day.

They had to go to sleep hungry and woke up hours in advance to make the mile-long walk down a rocky hill teeming with snakes to get to their school bus stop — only to get on and be teased mercilessly by classmates about their poverty.  

Principals and teachers often seemed to take up sides against the Messer children. Once, Messer was whipped so hard by a school principal that she couldn’t sit on the bus ride home without feeling excruciating pain.

Stroke of luck

While Messer’s older sister was married off to a moonshiner in his 40s when she was only 15, a kind neighbor rescued Messer for good.

The Queen family offered to take her on as a mother’s helper for the summer. Messer recalls the family treated her as one of their own.

“Every time they got a dollar, I got a dollar,” said Messer. “When they went to the movies, I went to the movies.”

It took hard work to take care of the young Queen children, but for the first time, Messer had her own room and was fed regularly.

Later, Messer’s parents gave her permission to move with the Queen family to northern Virginia since she made enough money to cover their house payments. Her father would usually squander the money he made on making more moonshine for himself.

Messer joined her older sister, who had run away from her husband, in New York. During her time in the city, Messer was raped and impregnated by a photographer. She was forced to give up the baby for adoption because she could not afford to keep it.

Messer eventually moved back to Haywood County, married and had a family of her own.

Messer was determined early on to lead a better life, even if her abusers were never brought to justice.

“I rose above it, A lot of people turned to drugs, turned to alcohol,” said Messer. “I had it in my mind from a very young age. I’m going to get out of this hell one way or another.”

To this day, Messer refuses to touch a drop of alcohol after seeing its horrifying impact. She said she can’t even stand the smell of beer.

Messer is thankful that plenty of resources are now available for people that continue to suffer from the same tragedies that she experienced when she was young.

“They can find shelter,” said Messer. “They’re not like my mother having to stay and get her teeth knocked out, running away dead of winter, sleeping in barns.”

With her memoir finally published and in the hands of readers across the region, Messer is now focusing on one last goal: forgiving.

“I do have to work on this. It’s very hard,” said Messer. “I cannot get this off my heart, what was done to me, and what has happened in my life. I just want to be able to forgive.”


Meet the author

Mary J. Messer will sign copies of Moonshiner’s Daughter at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 21, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. Call 828.586.9499 for more information.

Part of the proceeds of Messer’s book will benefit REACH of Haywood County, which assists survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse.

To learn more, contact Messer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.452.2539.


According to public input so far, a reworked Cowee School could bear close resemblance to another historic Western North Carolina schoolhouse — what is now known as the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Graham County.

Students at the Cowee School will vacate the campus in two years for a newer and bigger school. Macon County is considering a long list of possible future uses for the building.

At a series of public input workshops last week, consultants showed that the county is far from alone in its quest to reinvent the Cowee School.

A school built in 1915 in Portland, Ore., was recently converted into a 35-room hotel with a restaurant, movie theater, bar and brewery. Another school in Toronto was transformed into a community art center with cheap rent for artists’ studios and art-related nonprofits.

But the Cowee School is closely looking at the nearby Stecoah project as a model to aspire to.

The Stecoah Center now provides 20 programs to more than 12,000 people each year, including an Appalachian concert and dinner series, heritage crafts and cooking classes, Cherokee exhibits, and an artisans gallery featuring regional crafters.

“It would be great if we could get to that point here,” said Eric Moberg, chairman of the Cowee Community Development Organization.

However, the planning process is still in its preliminary stage, and dozens of ideas abound on how to move forward.

Endless possibilities

On Thursday, consultants met with 14 entities, including Southwestern Community College, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, several folk heritage groups and a range of county agencies.

Gabriel Cumming, a facilitator at the workshop, said the organizations he heard from pitched a variety of ideas: culinary classes, quilting bees, Little League games, hunting safety courses, and turning the gym/auditorium into live entertainment space.

At this point, Cumming said he isn’t sure which ideas will rise to the top.

“We can accommodate a number of possible uses,” said Cumming. “Some are more compatible than others.”

In a week or so, the team will put together a publicly available report on results from the two-day workshop.

Macon County Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who represents Cowee, said he’d rather not reveal his thoughts until after receiving input from the community.

“I would not want to put Bobby Kuppers’ vision out there until I find out Cowee’s vision, not just Cowee but the entire county,” said Kuppers. “That building is an asset to the entire county. I think the entire county should weigh in.”

Kuppers praised the community for working in advance to determine a use for the school.

“We don’t want the building to sit there without some kind of plan,” said Kuppers. “I’m proudest that we did get out there in front of it. We’re not reactionary, ‘Well, the building’s empty, what are we gonna do?’”

Commissioners will ultimately endorse which uses will find a home in the old school.

“At the end of the day, a balance is going to have to be struck between the competing interests,” said Kuppers.

The contenders are…

The Macon County Parks & Recreation Department is “extremely interested” in setting up basketball courts where rows of classroom trailers now reside, according to Stacy Guffey, who is serving as a consultant for the process. The Recreation Department may also want to convert the school’s green space into a soccer field, and turn the semi-circle walking trail into a full loop, Guffey said.

One benefit of having the Parks & Recreation Department take over is that county government would cover the cost of grounds maintenance, Guffey said.

Southwestern Community College is also highly interested in offering heritage-related classes at the school.

Many Cowee residents are simply thankful that the school will stay in tact.

“It doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t torn down or allowed to decay,” said Connie Rehling of Cowee. “I just don’t want to see it go away.”

Moberg acknowledges that many in the community have a soft spot for the school.

Jo Corbin, 77, started attending Cowee School in the sixth grade. Her mother taught third grade there for decades, and she returned to Cowee to teach second grade for eight years. Corbin’s three children attended the school as well.

“So when I come through that front door, I’m at home,” said Corbin.

As former students reminisced over historic photos and signed their name to a quilt, some shared their own ideas on how to rework the school.

“I think it’d be great to have antique shops,” said Dorothy Berry, one of the first students to attend Cowee School.

Betty Duvall Teem, Berry’s twin sister, said she’d like to see the school continue being used for fundraisers.

“I really want the building to be a useful part of the community like it always had been,” Duvall Teem said.

Bob Corbin, a 77-year-old Cowee resident, said he would like to see multiple uses for the school. “Just have it available, and let it be productive in its existence,” he said.

Corbin favors keeping the gym, track and fields open to the public, and opening up the school for meetings of community and political organizations.

Like many others, Corbin is not in favor of drastically changing the historic school’s look.

“It’d be good to preserve the general appearance established in the 1940s when they built it,” Corbin said. “It could be a tribute to that time, that era.”

Moberg said he would like the schoolhouse to continue its focus on education with college-level classes in traditional arts like weaving, quilting, and jewelry-making. There could also be courses for adults on basic computer and digital photography skills.

Moberg said he’d also love to see a substation for the Sheriff’s Office and a permanent EMS station since first responders usually have to drive over to the community from Franklin. Guffey said, however, the volume of calls in Cowee are likely too low for law enforcement to move in.

Many participants favored a focus on historical preservation with museum space.

“There’s so much history here in Cowee,” said Moberg. “We want to make sure and exhibit that.”

With the historic Cowee mound nearby, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has also been participating to ensure any Cherokee exhibit is historically accurate.

The next step

After ideas are gathered on how to use the school, consultants will have to come up with a concrete business plan on how to use every inch of the building.

Fundraising will also be integral in moving the project forward.

“We’re going to need community support, there’s no question,” said Moberg. “I hope the community will rise to the occasion and help with fundraising.”

While Moberg said he’d like to see the school be self-sustaining, Lynn Shields, executive director of the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, said revenue from programs aren’t enough to cover costs. Despite its success, the Stecoah center still relies on grants and donations to subsidize operations.

“It’s a constant struggle,” said Shields. “We are still reliant upon grant funding. The search for funds is constant. It is not self-sustaining at this point.”

Shields’ advice for the Cowee group is to stay focused on the mission.

“It takes a long time,” said Shields. “You just have to hang in there and show up every day.”


An elderly man was swindled out of $5,500 by a Department of Social Services employee in Swain County, according to an investigation by the Bryson City police department.

As nursing home bills for his wife mounted, the man had sought help from DSS worker Nicole Warren in hopes of qualifying for Medicaid.

Warren has been charged with three counts of obtaining property under false pretenses and one count of felony conversion, or theft, by the Bryson City Police

Warren had told the man — who wants to stay anonymous and whom authorities refused to name — that he and his wife had too much money in the bank to qualify.

It isn’t uncommon to ask Medicaid applicants with too much money to “spend down” their assets on valid household expenses before they can qualify. In this case, however, Warren proposed some rather unorthodox solutions.

According to Bryson City Det. Sgt. Diane Wike, Warren first asked the man to give her a $3,000 loan. He felt pressured to relent.

“He felt like if he didn’t give her the loan, he might not get the Medicaid for the wife,” said Wike.

Later, Warren asked him to “spend down” a further $2,500. While he proposed making a donation to St. Jude hospital, Warren suggested an alternative charity: the N.C. Social Services Association. She told him to make out a check and she would make sure the organization got it. Instead, Warren tried unsuccessfully to cash it herself, an attempt that was caught on bank surveillance.

Warren went back to the man, insisting that he make the donation in cash instead, according to police reports. The elderly man eventually conceded but demanded a receipt. Warren wrote a handwritten receipt in which she scribbled her name illegibly.

He then asked for an affirmation on letterhead, which Warren wrote using the official DSS letterhead.

“She didn’t sign her name to that one,” said Wike.

Warren also asked for the man to transfer property deeds to her name, but he refused.

The man reported Warren to DSS in late May, and the attorney for DSS in turn reported it to the Bryson City Police Department in mid-June.

Wike said Warren confessed almost instantly.

“Her explanation was that she got in a bind and needed money,” said Wike. “She had a clean record. She’s never been charged with anything.”“

Tammy Cagle, the Swain County DSS director, did not return calls, and Justin Greene, the attorney for Swain County DSS, said that he could not comment on any “ongoing personnel issues or certain issues involving law enforcement.”

Abuse of the elderly

This particular case undoubtedly qualifies as elder abuse, according to Kim Gardner, elder abuse program coordinator for the 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance.

“It’s financial exploitation,” said Gardner. “She used her power and influence to obtain $5,500 from this man fraudulently.”

Gardner suspected the Bryson City Police did not include specific elder abuse charges in Warren’s indictments because its penalties are less severe. There is no mandatory jail time though probation can be given.

“That’s probably why they went with the stronger charges,” said Gardner, adding that she’d like to see the charges changed. “We need more teeth in the elder abuse laws.”

To qualify as elder abuse, the victim must be over 60. Though Gardner warned the elderly to be cautious with their money, she doesn’t think they should be afraid to ask for assistance at DSS.

“I know a lot of people have negative thoughts about DSS from time to time,” said Gardner. “[But this is] an unusual occurrence. They’re there to help people.”


From the Macon County Fire Department to a persistent group of contra dancers, a long list of groups is vying for the chance to use the old Cowee school once it is vacated by students in two years.

Stacy Guffey, who is helping to coordinate the effort, more than welcomes the interest.  

“I’ve been encouraging folks who haven’t been in the valley long, and folks who’ve been here for generations [to participate],” said Guffey, a consultant with The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. “I think they all need to be at the table.”

The Cowee School was built in the 1940s and is still used as an elementary school today. It’s a fairly large school built out of local stone, which lends it a beautiful historic look, Guffey said.

Students from both Iotla and Cowee schools are currently crowded into the elementary school as they wait to move to the new consolidated North Macon elementary school by 2012.

Macon County commissioners have committed to take the building over from the school system and reserve it for community use. What that use entails is the question of the hour.

The many county departments interested in claiming space include the economic development commission, the sheriff’s department, the library, the recreation department and emergency medical services.

Incorporating county offices at the Cowee School simply makes financial sense, according to Guffey.

“It helps keep the lights on and keep the yard mowed,” Guffey said.

Other groups officially interested include Southwestern Community College, the Chamber of Commerce, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and a plethora of community groups.

Some are itching to hold basketweaving and other heritage classes there, while others want to display quilts. Still others are craving space to contra dance the night away. Dancers say the closest permanent contra dance floor requires a long drive over the mountains at night to Sylva.

Guffey said another possibility is providing the school’s commercial-grade kitchen to local farmers and holding food processing classes.

He’s heard from a strong contingent of local families who are adamant about keeping the school’s walking track, baseball field and playground in tact.

Ultimately, having a mix of uses would be ideal, Guffey said.

“It’s an opportunity to have a lot of things in on spot,” said Guffey. “It also makes it easier in terms of sustaining it financially.”

Input sought

A two-day public workshop will be held on the future use of the Cowee School and its role in the greater historic district. The public session runs at the Cowee School from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, and from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14. Free lunch provided at noon on Saturday in the cafeteria.

828.371.1754 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


A $300,000 federal grant awarded to three community colleges will help ready a Western North Carolina workforce for the rapidly growing green technology field.

Some 400 students are expected to enroll in programs supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission grant at Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges.

Since 1998, clean energy jobs in North Carolina have grown by over 15 percent, while jobs in other fields have increased by only 6 percent. Officials say focusing on green job training is already a must in preparing students headed into the working world.

“It is incredibly important for the future of our state and country,” said Janet Burnette, interim president at Southwestern Community College.

Donna Tipton-Rogers, Tri-County college’s president, said this particular field was especially relevant with Murphy located close to major auto manufacturers in the South.

“It fits in great,” said Tipton-Rogers.

At a press conference held at Western Carolina University last week, the $300,000 check was officially presented to the Southwestern Planning & Economic Development Commission, which will work with the community colleges to develop the training program.

Rose Johnson, president of HCC, said the ARC money would be put to work as soon as the next semester begins. In all, $794,000 will be invested in the green training initiative, with local sources making up the difference.

The Appalachian Regional Commission works to promote economic development in 13 Appalachian states.

With a persistently high unemployment rate in the area, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl pointed out the important role of higher education in bringing prosperity here.

“In an economic recession, one point that always comes out is the level of education has a direct impact on the level of income,” said Gohl. “It’s essential for a competitive workforce to be well-trained and well-educated.”

U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler emphasized the importance of not only creating green technology, but also creating the workforce necessary to implement it locally.

“We develop it, we produce it, we sell it — all in America,” said Shuler.

Governor Bev Perdue added that the grant would help bring Western North Carolina jobseekers up to speed.

“The world has morphed,” said Perdue. “We have a really deep and abiding commitment to going green.”

Green funding for colleges

The $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant will help three community colleges expand training in green jobs. Here are some ideas on how they plan to use it:

• Haywood Community College plans to use its share of the grant to fund equipment and instruction for low impact development, green building technology and weatherization.

• Southwestern Community College will focus on low impact development, alternative fuels, weatherization and sustainable energy.

• Tri-County Community College will invest its grant on teaching students to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.


Twenty-five years ago, a fledgling farmers market got its modest start in a small parking lot on Waynesville’s Main Street with only two vendors.

Today, Waynesville is home to two farmers markets — held on the same day, at the same time and less than half a mile apart.

The rarity of two markets in a town the size of Waynesville shows a clear love for local produce. But the dual markets stems from key philosophical differences among the vendors, which ultimately led to a split.  Two years since the divorce, leaders of both markets say a reconciliation is still nowhere in sight.

“They are pretty well set to continue on the way they are,” said Joanne Meyer, a member of Haywood’s Historic Farmer’s Market board. “We will continue on the way we are. We have always said they were welcome to join us. They would have done so by now if that’s what they wanted to do.”

“I don’t see a problem with it continuing being two markets,” said Judy West, co-market manager of the Waynesville Tailgate Market, the original market in town. “They’re new-age, and we’re old-age.”

With one vendor already at 90 years old and others in their 80s, Judy West estimates that her vendors have more than a 1,000 years of gardening and farming experience under their belts.

However, the Historic market, too, has many old-timers in its ranks, including mountain farming families going back several generations, who sell alongside young farmers and transplants to the area.

Steve West, former director of the Haywood County Extension Office, remembers the early efforts to start Haywood County’s first farmers market. He led a dogged phone campaign to entice farmers and home gardeners to the market, which expanded little by little until eventually its own success got the better of it.

By the summer of 2008, the Tailgate Market was bulging at the seams and could no longer fit in the confines of the Main Street parking lot.

As farmers hunted for a new location, a difference in philosophy that had been brewing below the surface finally boiled over, and vendors went their separate ways.

Each market seems content to continue operating under its own ideology.

“We deal strictly with fresh fruits and vegetables,” said West. “We think a farmers market and tailgate markets, any way you want to slice it, should be about fruits and vegetables.”

Unlike its counterpart, the Historic market allows vendors from counties that are adjacent to Haywood, as well as farmers selling eggs, cheese, homemade breads, jams, meat, seafood and heritage crafts.

Meyer pointed out that at the Historic market, seafood is delivered right from the North Carolina coast the day after it’s caught.

“Everything’s very fresh,” said Meyer. “It’s just wonderful to have that available in this area.”

A looming threat

West can only think of one scenario in which the two markets will merge. The Food Safety Modernization Act, which is being considered by federal legislators, has the potential to impose costly new requirements at farms. Depending on the version that is passed, the burden might be too heavy for small-scale farmers to shoulder. West fears only large, commercial farms will be able to survive the tougher regulations. Farmers left standing might have to band together at one market since their numbers will likely decline drastically.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of markets, not just ours,” said West.

West’s husband, Steve, anticipates the worst if a strict version of the federal law is passed.

“You will see these markets belly up across the country,” he said.

Meyer said for now, she and her counterparts are just waiting to see if the bill is passed.

“On the one hand, you want to see food safety,” said Meyer. “But it seems like maybe the government ought to concentrate more on the agri-business and leave the small farmers some room.”

Steve West pointed out that most farmers at markets aren’t exactly making a killing.

“We’re not rich growing squash, you know,” Steve West said. “Most of us do it because we enjoy growing and we enjoy meeting people.”


Have your pick

• Haywood’s Historic Farmer’s Market at the HART Theater in Waynesville. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays May through Oct. 828.627.3469.

• Waynesville Tailgate Market at the American Legion in Waynesville. 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturday June through Oct. 828.456.3517. In marking its 25th anniversary, the Waynesville Tailgate Market will have a $50 cash giveaway this week. Entries will be taken at the market on Wednesday, Aug. 11, and Saturday, Aug. 14.


Advocates for a cleaner Pigeon River have filed a formal challenge against a state water pollution permit for the Canton paper mill that was renewed this summer. They allege that Evergreen Packaging can well afford to be held to stricter environmental standards.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency took a rare step in demanding stricter standards from the N.C. Division of Water Quality, some say the federal agency did not go far enough.

“We really wish they had pushed the envelope even further,” said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina. “We felt they had strong grounds to be able to do so.”

The advocates’ objections are many, but their two chief complaints are that the permit doesn’t adequately regulate the temperature and the color of the water discharged from the Canton paper mill into the Pigeon River.

The paper mill draws roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in myriad aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp  — before returning it to the river.

“Citizens downstream from the plant are being deprived of high quality recreational experiences as well as a healthy environment to develop their businesses and raise their families,” said Iliff McMahan, Jr., Mayor of Cocke County, Tenn., in a statement.

Mike Cohen, a spokesman for Evergreen, said the company has no public comment about the appeal that was filed.  

Sergei Chernikov, the state environmental engineer who was charged with writing the permit, said he, too, could not comment.

Jamie Kritzer, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, confirmed the agency had received the petition last week.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to review the specific comments made in the challenge,” said Kritzer. “Challenges like this are very much a part of the process.”

The mill must renew its water pollution permit every five years. The state imposes tougher limits on the mill every time the permit comes up, and as a result, the Pigeon River has made a dramatic turnaround in water quality.

During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $300 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by lawsuits. Fish consumption advisories for every species in the Pigeon have now been lifted due to the major reduction of chemicals. The better water quality gets, the tougher it gets to make additional incremental improvements, however.

As for the next step, a formal hearing akin to a court proceeding will be held by the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, likely three to four months from now. In the meantime, all parties will be allowed to file more detailed pre-hearing statements, which will include facts that will be used to determine the case. The current permit will remain in effect unless it is overturned.

Opponents line up

The Southern Environmental Law Center will argue the appeal on behalf of Clean Water Expected for East Tennessee, Clean Water for North Carolina, Cocke County, Tenn.; the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, Tennessee Conservation Voters, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and Western North Carolina Alliance.

The sheer number of groups that have signed on is telling, according to Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper for the Western North Carolina Alliance.

“This is a big deal,” said Carson “ You have county government, you have environmental groups, you have rafting folks. It’s a pretty broad spectrum.”

In filing the challenge, the groups cited a 2007 incident in which hot water discharged from the mill killed more than 8,000 fish. That occurrence did not count as a violation of the mill’s permit, which measures compliance based on a monthly average. The spike, while deadly to fish, did not bump the mill to more than the monthly temperature requirements.

For Carson, the new permit still has no safeguards to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

It allows Evergreen Packaging to raise the water temperature in the river by a monthly average of 8.5 degrees Celsius when comparing the water upstream of the mill to that downstream.

The state’s proposed permit would have allowed the water temperature to be increased by 13 degrees – instead of only 8.5 if the EPA hadn’t intervened. Also, the state’s draft permit didn’t require sampling of fish tissue for dioxins, cancer causing chemicals.

For Carson, having a daily — not monthly — limit for how much the mill’s discharge raises the temperature of the river is the only answer.

Opponents also point out that the temperature gauge is located nearly half a mile downstream from the mill. That gives the discharge a long distance to mix with the cooler water before being monitored, essentially sacrificing the stretch of river in between.

“It’s far too weak to protect the fisheries in this area,” said Taylor.

Another issue is the amount of color allowed by the latest permit. Color is measured in pounds of discharge per year. The new state permit allows Evergreen Packaging to dump 38,020 pounds per day. Four years from now, Evergreen will be required to reduce that figure to reach between 32,000 and 36,000 pounds of color per day. While it is less that what was allowed under the old permit, the mill had already reduced color to those levels.

“This is right around what they have been discharging anyway,” D.J. Gerken, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s not tightening down at all.”

Threat to jobs?

Many in Haywood County have stood up for the mill, arguing that stricter environmental regulations might put the paper mill out of business and deal a massive blow to its workers along with the local economy.

Haywood County commissioners approved a resolution in support of the mill and against the EPA’s objections in March. The resolution first cited that the mill currently employs more than 1,000 area residents.

Commissioners said they supported the state in saying that the color standard is purely “an aesthetics concern and not based on scientific evidence.” They pointed out that 22 other states have similar effluent color standards as North Carolina.

“The [EPA’s] proposed color limit requirements appear to single out Evergreen Packaging without the benefit of support from scientific data,” the resolution said.

Disagreeing with the economic argument, however, Taylor alleges that the Canton paper mill even has a chance of saving money by using more efficient methods that also decrease pollution.

“The mill has available affordable technology that are no threat to the mill or jobs,” said Taylor.

Taylor said she was confident that the current permit requires “significantly less” than what is reasonable and best available technology would require, which is precisely what the Clean Water Act calls for.

“The permit limit is so weak,” said Taylor. “It doesn’t require significant progress at all.”


On Monday morning, Haywood County commissioners listened as one citizen after another came up and blasted a change to a health board rule that has been on the books since 1970.

About 40 people stood up to express their opposition to the rule when one speaker asked for a show of support.

Citizens accused the commissioners of backhandedly reviving a nuisance ordinance that had already been stamped out by public outcry.

“You asked the health board to do your dirty work,” said Lynda Bennett at the meeting. “This is a very, very unpopular ordinance.”

The rule that’s now in question chiefly deals with safely storing garbage that can attract disease-carrying pests. Its most controversial aspect is a measure that allows the health director to step onto private property in the case of an imminent hazard — something that is already permitted under state law.

Another component of the ordinance that’s up for debate is the maximum penalty for a Class 1 misdemeanor for not storing garbage safely and creating a health risk for others — another issue that’s been set by the state, according to Chip Killian, Haywood County attorney.

“The statues are there, we need to enforce them,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.

Haywood’s health board was ready to vote on the amendment with little ado in January when a crowd of 75 showed up to voice strong opposition.

After months of addressing citizens’ concerns and altering wording on the rule, the health board is now ready to vote on the amendment on Tuesday, Aug. 10.

Citizens rallied together once more Monday to express their fury concerning the measure, which they see as an unconstitutional violation of property rights.

“My only concern right now is our freedoms,” said Catherine Jones. “Little by little and on all levels, our freedom is being chipped away.”

Some speakers pointed out that commissioners up for re-election this year might feel their objections come fall, unlike the many health board members who are appointed, not elected.

“They cannot be held accountable at the ballot box like you can,” Bennett added.

Responding to certain concerns, the Haywood health board already amended its amendment to the rule to say the health director must always try to get a search warrant before entering property unless there is an imminent threat.

Commissioner Mark Swanger, who serves on the health board, said to his knowledge, no one has ever been arrested, fined or had their property entered without a warrant in the 40 years the health board rule has been in effect.

“Now what more can anybody ask for?” said Swanger.

Later, Swanger gave an example of when the rule would come in handy. He pointed out that trucks carrying nuclear waste constantly pass through the county on Interstate 40. If one should get in an accident, run off the road and spill toxic waste on private property, health authorities should be allowed to enter and abate that threat immediately.

“I see people smirking,” said Swanger. “If it were your backyard, you would wish they would help you.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick added that this was in no way an attempt to violate people’s constitutional rights. He had his own example for the rule’s utility.

If a child gets sick playing in a filthy yard with feces and other health risks, there would be little health authorities and law enforcement could do without the rule. A worried mother’s only recourse would be to pursue expensive legal action.

“You guys can say it’s farfetched, but it’s certainly possible,” said Kirkpatrick. “Without this particular rule, there’s nothing the county can do.”

Kirkpatrick also emphasized the difficulty of penalizing violators with a Class 1 misdemeanor. He said such cases are extremely difficult to prosecute and the last thing Haywood County wants to do is spend money to enforce the rule. The health department will instead cooperate with violators right off the bat.


Have your say

The Haywood County health board will vote on the controversial amendment to its solid waste rule at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the county health department.


The first inpatient hospice west of Asheville had its groundbreaking in Clyde last week — complete with Jimmy Jack the mule and its own theme song.

The hospital is targeting September 2011 as the opening date for the Homestead hospice, to be located on the campus of Haywood Regional Medical Center. The new facility will house six beds for hospice patients, offering families with a dying loved one a choice in between hospitalization and in-home care.

Anyone who’s seen a loved one face a terminal illness can appreciate the hospice that’s to come, said N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, who was at the ceremony.

“I can’t think of anything more stressful,” Haire said.

The second phase of the project will be the end-of-life outreach center, which will offer:

• private rooms for counseling services and bereavement therapy.

• a reference library for resources related to terminal diseases and end-of-life issues.

• a community education center with multimedia capacity.

A courtyard will connect the two buildings. Memorial gardens will serve as a site for butterfly and dove releases.

The Homestead is expected to create 15 new permanent jobs, with an annual payroll of more than $500,000, along with dozens of short-term construction jobs.

An inpatient hospice center is also in the planning stages in Franklin. But as of now, families seeking that kind of setting must go to Asheville.

Mike Poore, CEO of MedWest — Haywood Regional Medical Center’s parent company — emphasized the significance of building a hospice like this closer to home.

“Having family close around is very important for patients,” said Poore. “We think this is really a sort of a new era for Haywood County.”

Poore added that the hospice is a testament to MedWest’s philosophy of keeping care in the community.

With more family members living far away from each other, Haire said hospice workers could also provide caring support to those who live far from their family.

“This is another way,” said Haire. “A lot of retired people don’t have support of families that live close.”

The $1 million difference

After several years of planning and fundraising, Haywood Regional Medical Center has raised $2.66 million of the $4.9 million needed for the Homestead hospice.

The effort got a major bump with a recent $1 million donation left in the will of Bernice “Bee” Medford, a long-time Haywood County benefactor who split her time between Maggie Valley and Sarasota, Fla.

“She loved this community,” said Bill Medford, her stepson. “She gave more to Haywood County than anybody in Florida.”

Medford said Bee would’ve been pleased to see her donation invested in the hospice.

Poore called Bee Medford a great friend to the hospital. “Her generosity will touch people’s lives well beyond her time,” said Poore.

Other contributions toward the hospice include $150,000 from The Duke Endowment and a $132,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Center.

State legislators Joe Sam Queen, Ray Rapp and Haire, who helped secure the grant money, all attended the groundbreaking on Friday.

“North Carolina is very proud of this project and what this community is doing,” said Queen.

The fundraising effort is still underway, and HRMC is still actively seeking grants and donations to finish the outreach center.

Call 828.452.8471 for more info.


Aileen “Poochey” Greene has been clogging for 44 years, and even at age 77, she has no intention of stopping.

“That’s the place I am me, on the dance floor,” said Greene. “That’s the only time nothing bothers me.”

Greene was a founding member of the popular clogging outfit the Southern Appalachian Cloggers.

Its current director Keith Silvers grew up clogging at the Maggie Valley Playhouse and the Waynesville Armory, where every Friday and Saturday night, regulars from the community would join together for a square dance with a live band.

Silvers went with his mom, who was the lead lady, and his dad, who was a square dance caller, like Silvers is today. “It was part of my life, and I started when I was 5 years old,” said Silvers. “I’m about 52 now and still doing it.”

Haywood County’s Southern Appalachian Cloggers has been in existence since 1967. Since then, it has performed for Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The group has earned its share of trophies over the years. Now, they are a regular at festivals, conventions and charity benefits.

The Southern Appalachian Cloggers are a nonprofit, and any money they make goes only to operating expenses.

“Nobody gets a dime,” said Silvers. “We do it out of our enjoyment.”

The Cloggers include members from as young as 18 to as old as 87. Age really does seem like it’s just a number when the older members get clogging. Admirers often come up to the group after shows to tell the cloggers they’ve still got it.

Greene remembers the days there were so many clogging teams they were hard to count.

“The competition was so keen, it was unreal,” said Greene.

Only five or so of the original members remain with the group, carrying on the traditions that were originally established in Appalachia. Younger cloggers are changing steps and putting less emphasis on keeping in time with the music, according to Greene.

“We do it like it used to be done back in the olden days,” said Greene.

Silvers is heartened to see other clogging groups, like the Fines Creek Flatfooters and Mountain Traditions, form over the years.

“We are getting older,” said Silvers. “I’d like to see it go on ... It’s a dying out thing, and it would be nice if everybody got a chance and could support it to keep it going.”

Silvers added clogging has had a positive influence on kids, who are too active dancing to get into trouble with drugs and the like.

For those who are itching to try, Silvers invites everyone to get in touch with the cloggers at festivals or just give them a call.

Once a month, there’s a community dance at Fines Creek. It’s a chance to get in touch with the era Silvers remembers from his youth, a time when the people who came to one dance couldn’t wait to come back the next.


See them in action

The Southern Appalachian Cloggers will be performing at the Mountain Music Jamboree on Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Haywood County Fairgrounds.

Dances are usually held the first Saturday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Fines Creek Community Center.


Attendees of the 2nd Annual Mountain Music Jamboree will not only enjoy delicious BBQ and traditional mountain music — they will help the Haywood County Fairgrounds stay alive.

The festival will benefit the struggling venue, which has lost all funding from the Haywood County government. “This is something that people really need to support with these budget cuts,” said Roy Kirkpatrick, administrative assistant for the Haywood fairgrounds board.

The Jamboree will kick off with a BBQ dinner at 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 14, for $7. Lively music follows at 6 p.m. with performances by Paul’s Creek String Band, Water Bluegrass, Buncombe Turnpike, Gray Wolf and The Unexpected.

“We think it’s really going to be an exciting evening of top quality bluegrass music,” said Sam Smith with the Haywood County Fairgrounds.

One featured band is Paul’s Creek Band, whose guitarist Carol Rifkin was featured in the BBC documentary “Down Home, Appalachia to Nashville,” the movie “Songcatcher,” and more. Rifkin has been a member of the Green Grass Clogger for more than 30 years and appeared with the group in two Emmy Award-winning shows. Rifkin is also a founding member of the Lake Eden Arts Festival and a journalist who hosts WNCW’s “This Old Porch.”

Banjo player Troy Harrison plays two and three finger bluegrass plus old timey claw hammer, Jamie Soesbee is an award-winning bass player who genre jumps with ease, and Tim Gardner is an award-winning fiddler and multi-instrumentalist from Brevard.

Also at the jamboree, well-known Southern Appalachian Cloggers and the up and coming junior Fines Creek Flatfooters will wow the crowd with dances all night long.

Master of ceremonies will be WPTL DJ Cliff Hannah and Randy Johnston will take care of sound.

Admission tickets may be purchased at the door for $12 or purchased in advance for $10 at Strains of Music, Joey’s Pancake House, Duvall’s Restaurant, and Ammons’ Drive-In Restaurant, and the Haywood Café.

For more information, contact Roy Kirkpatrick at 828.627.6396 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


No one is more intimate with the highs and lows of amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky than the people of Maggie Valley.

In its heyday, the mountaintop theme park routinely drew 400,000 visitors a year to the small town. Families on vacation could be counted on to pack into Maggie’s motels and restaurants each summer.

Throughout the years, the park’s Western theme and rides grew outdated. The amusement park fell into disrepair and ultimately succumbed to bankruptcy.

The recession struck the town hard, as did natural disaster. A massive rockslide on Interstate 40 routed traffic away from Maggie all winter long. On top of that, a major mudslide that originated from Ghost Town took out a road to the park earlier this year.

The slide, which remains destabilized, has dampened any hopes of the amusement park reopening this summer.

Business owners in the valley have felt the painful economic impact of Ghost Town’s closure. Vacancy signs linger over the town’s commercial corridor, while vacant buildings for sale have become an all too common sight.

“That park needs to be open,” said Phillip Wight, owner of the Clarketon Motel. “Weekly business has dropped off tremendously.”

“There’s still people coming into the valley just to go to Ghost Town,” said Teresa Smith, manager at Maggie Valley Inn. “Once they know it’s closed, they leave.”

Mayor Roger McElroy estimates that most motels are experiencing a steep 30 to 40 percent drop in business since Ghost Town shut down operations.


Spirited efforts


Maggie’s town government hasn’t taken the major economic blow sitting down.

It purchased land to create its own festival grounds, a rare move for municipalities anywhere. A full-time festival director now works round the clock talking to promoters who might hold events there.

Maggie’s leaders have also charged a newly-formed economic development commission to study ways to bring prosperity to the valley.

Meanwhile, the planning board is crafting a set of controversial design standards to spruce up the town’s outmoded appearance that harkens back to the ‘60s. Another option being explored is a 1 percent restaurant tax to be used on tourism promotion and projects within town limits.

Town leaders as well are setting their hopes on a $6 million sports complex planned for Jonathan Creek one day. Tournaments there hold the promise of bringing thousands of new visitors each year.

Not forgetting Ghost Town, however, the town has taken the lead in obtaining funding to clean up the mudslide below the amusement park.

Not every resident supports every direction the town has taken. Many have their own ideas on how best to proceed — with or without Ghost Town.

“The biggest summer tourism market that is underfunded is motorcycles,” said Wight. “It’s not about the [motorcycle] rallies, it’s about keeping traffic flow.”

The already popular Wheels Thru Time museum, which houses rare vintage motorcycles, recently earned its own brown highway sign, which will likely draw more curious visitors to town.

Lynda Bennett, member of the Maggie Valley’s economic development commission, would like to see tax incentives for remodeling old businesses rather than have the town set design guidelines.

“People don’t want to go in and plow under businesses, even though they’re dated,” said Bennett, who is also a Realtor. “Their building has value.”

Bennett very much likes the idea of small businesses opening up “micro-offices” in some of Maggie’s many vacant motel rooms. A computer repair business could start up next to an insurance salesman, for example.

Bennett sees a dire need for fresh ideas.

“We’re trying to change the shape of our box a little bit,” said Bennett. “If we don’t get outside of where we’ve been thinking, then Maggie could continue on the same path it’s been going on.”

Wight, too, understands the gravity of the situation.

“Without a Ghost Town, we’re somewhat doomed,” said Wight. “Ghost Town made this town.”


Counting on nature


In Mayor McElroy’s view, Maggie Valley needs to focus on the basics.

“I think we need to get back to some of the things that put Maggie Valley on the map to start with, which is the beauty of the mountains,” said McElroy.

Bennett can rattle off the benefits of visiting and living in Maggie Valley: close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the cool mountain temperature and incredible views. Maggie Valley also caters to those with a more adventurous state of mind, Bennett said.

“We have a little more challenging winters; we don’t have a grocery store,” said Bennett. “It’s not like we’re convenience oriented. We have other things to offer.”

Whether it’s mountain biking, ziplining, kayaking or skiing, emphasizing nature is key to revitalizing Maggie’s tourist economy in Bennett’s opinion.

Another key might be the festival grounds, which cost the town almost $500,000. A 1 percent lodging tax devoted to Maggie Valley helped bring electric lighting and other improvements to the festival grounds.

“We’re looking at everything and any way to use that facility to the fullest,” said McElroy. “Because we have a large investment in it.”

The town hired a festival director to help promote the venue after much prodding from some business owners.

Audrey Hagar, who recently went full-time as festival director, has created a promotional DVD to sell the venue to potential clients. She’s exhausted many of her connections from previous jobs to find appropriate events for the venue, which can fit up to 40,000 people.

“I’ve planted a lot of seeds, and now I’m watering,” said Hagar.

One new event Hagar recently helped bring is a vintage Volkswagen show. The town will soon vote on whethe attendees can camp overnight at the festival grounds.

Hagar is also looking at bringing back the popular Maggie Valley Moonlight Race, which once garnered ESPN coverage.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” said Hagar, pointing out few other festival grounds are run by a single municipality.

Town Manager Tim Barth said while it’s a difficult time for everybody in Maggie Valley, he urged them not to give up.

“It’s important to continue to try and find what’ll work,” said Barth.


With ever shrinking pockets, the regional economic development arm AdvantageWest is scaling back its investment in tourism for the time being.

The group — which represents 23 Western North Carolina counties — says it will primarily focus on agribusiness, entrepreneurship, green technology and high-paying, advanced manufacturing.

“The board looked at where resources needed to go in this time of limited allocation,” said Scott Hamilton, president and CEO of AdvantageWest.

While AdvantageWest is best known for its role recruiting and luring traditional industry, it also dapples in newer economic development models, from coaching entrepreneurs to funding niche initiatives like Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a commercial kitchen where farmers can turn their produce into value-added products.

With so many organizations already focused on tourism — including chambers of commerce and tourism development authorities in nearly every county, along with the regional Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and Smoky Mountain Host — AdvantageWest decided to focus on less represented fields.

“There is not another regional advanced manufacturing organization,” said Hamilton. “There is a regional tourism organization that does marketing.”

The argument that other tourism agencies can pick up the slack isn’t convincing David Huskins, director of Smoky Mountain Host, a travel promotion agency for the seven counties west of Asheville that has lost its AdvantageWest funding.

Huskins points out that there are also many economic development organizations in each county. They often call on their counterparts at tourism entities to tout the quality of life in the mountains in order to lure businesses to relocate.

“What if the tourism agencies just said to AdvantageWest, ‘Well, there’s so many of your kind out there, we’ll just focus on attracting tourists and let y’all worry about presenting the region’s livability?’” said Huskins.

Hamilton said the funding cut doesn’t mean that AdvantageWest is blind to tourism’s importance in Western North Carolina.

“We see that tourism is a vital component of the regional economy,” said Hamilton. “I had my start in the tourism business when I was eight years old. I know what that means.”

Hamilton pointed out that funding had likewise been cut to traditional economic development commissions like CarolinaWest and the N.C. Industrial Crescent.

“Tourism wasn’t the only one that felt that,” said Hamilton. “Everybody has felt the pain. As the state climbs out of the recession, there will be other opportunities to get back into it and support it.”

According to Hamilton, AdvantageWest will continue funding tourism projects with a significant regional impact on a case-by-case basis.

“They just have to ask,” said Hamilton.


A dwindling impact


Smoky Mountain Host already stopped receiving its annual $25,000 grant from AdvantageWest in 2009. Likewise, Blue Ridge Mountain Host and N.C. High Country Host have also lost their $25,000 grants.

These grants had comprised the majority of AdvantageWest’s regular contributions to the tourism industry.

Smoky Mountain Host used AdvantageWest money to support cooperative regional advertising in major publications like the N.C. Travel Guide, Frommer’s Budget Travel, and Southern Living. Purchasing one or two pages to create a visible splash in such magazines can cost up to $80,000 per page.

“A $15,000 contribution makes a big difference,” said Huskins.

Working with partners to create co-op advertisements also promoted collaboration in the tourism industry, Huskins said.

Years ago, Smoky Mountain Host had used AdvantageWest grants to support an annual conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and set up a tourism call center to field inquiries from prospective travelers.

Occasionallly, AdvantageWest took on special tourism initiatives in addition to the annual grants to the Host organizations.

For example, AdvantageWest had supported the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area in its infancy until it could stand on its own legs. It also took part in the MountainSouth USA initiative, a multi-state organization that promoted international travel to the mountains. AdvantageWest had secured funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce for the project.

“I know of no equivalent investments by AdvantageWest in the Western North Carolina tourism industry since that time,” said Huskins.

Hamilton emphasized that the recession has prompted AdvantageWest, along with other organizations, to make tough decisions about cuts. AdvantageWest stopped funding economic development groups years before it cut off funding to the Host organizations.

“Nobody likes where we are with the economic conditions,” said Hamilton. “These are just some of the hard realities of when funding is reduced.”

Smoky Mountain Host will continue receiving funding from tourism-related grants and member dues, but the loss of AdvantageWest’s support will take away from its tourism research initiative.

Research is “vital” to creating a marketing and branding strategy for Western North Carolina, Huskins said.

Up until a few years ago, AdvantageWest had been a major facilitator for Western North Carolina’s tourism industry, but not anymore.

“Frankly, it is clear that the AdvantageWest agenda for economic development in WNC has little, if any, focus on the tourism industry,” said Huskins.

Hamilton said at this point, he could not say whether the Host organizations would receive grant funding once more.

“I don’t know what’s coming down the line,” said Hamilton.


Plunging revenues


AdvantageWest, which promotes economic development in the 23 westernmost counties, has seen its state contributions shrink by more than 33 percent since 2006.

• State revenues in 2006-07: $1,674,910

• State revenues in 2009-10: $1,089,843


Tourism’s impact on the economy


According to the latest figures from the N.C. Department of Commerce, travel and tourism in the 23 western counties is responsible annually for 27,100 jobs; $509 million in payroll; $2.4 billion in expenditures within the region; $99.7 million in local tax receipts and $119.3 million in state taxes generated within the region.


Starting next February, all law enforcement officers will be required to collect DNA from people arrested for certain crimes.

Anyone arrested for murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping or even cyberstalking will automatically have their DNA collected via a cheek swab.

The DNA sample will be entered into a database to see if it matches DNA collected in unsolved crimes. By law, arrestees who are proven innocent will have their DNA eliminated from the database.

For a long time, DNA was routinely collected only from convicted criminals. Taking DNA at the time of arrest had required a warrant or permission from the individual.

State leaders are touting the new law as a step into the 21st century that will help close the books on unsolved crimes and prevent future crime.

“It’ll be a tool to solve crimes quicker, more effectively and the public will be well-served by this,” said Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville. State officials say this measure will help solve hundreds of violent crimes and prevent even more.

But civil libertarians argue the law is unconstitutional and violates the right to privacy.

Sarah Preston, policy director for North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, likened the new legislation to an end-run around the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Taking DNA is invasive,” said Preston. “It could also reveal a great deal of information. Thousands of genetic traits are contained within DNA.”

Preston said the existing law already allows police officers to collect DNA from those arrested in certain cases — they just need to get a warrant or an individual’s permission to do it. Making it mandatory in every single arrest, however, infringes on privacy rights, Preston said.


WNC officers weigh in


North Carolina joins 23 other states that have passed similar legislation, along with the federal government, which collects DNA from arrestees and detained immigrants.

Local law enforcement officers wholeheartedly support the move.

“DNA is the wave of the future,” said Capt. Blaine Jones of the Waynesville Police Department, adding that the legislation is much needed.

“It’s going to be a big asset to the law enforcement,” said Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran.

Someone arrested for a particular crime today might also be guilty of an unsolved crime in the past. Collecting DNA from these individuals at the time of their arrest could put the earlier mystery to rest.

Moreover, in certain crimes like rape and murder, fingerprints — which can easily be wiped from a crime scene by the perpetrator — are not enough to nab a suspect.

“DNA is the 21st century fingerprint,” said Queen. “This new law will allow the state to fight crime with high-tech identification tools.”

But Preston disagrees that DNA is anything like a fingerprint.

“It’s pretty obviously not,” said Preston. “At the very least, there is so much more information that could be subject to a lot more abuse.”

Christopher Heaney and Sara Huston Katsanis, researchers at the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University, recently wrote an editorial pointing out a serious flaw in how the system currently operates.

Government reports show that evidence from hundreds of thousands of rapes are left untested for DNA, even years after the crime is committed.

While labs would be testing thousands of arrested criminals’ DNA, they might find it nearly impossible to take care of the major backlog of DNA samples already collected from crime scenes, the researchers wrote.

Still, Cochran has faith that the new law will be for the overall good and that the benefits outweigh the cost.

“It’s going to work both ways — for the guilty and for the innocent,” said Cochran.

Queen emphasized that arrested individuals who are found innocent can be assured that their DNA will be expunged from the database.

“We think we’ve got plenty of safeguards for abuse of this DNA evidence,” said Queen.


For community nonprofits facing a daily test of survival, thefts from the thrift stores they rely on are like a slap in the face.

Anita Robinson, manager of Swain/Qualla SAFE Thrift Shop, has seen emboldened thieves brave security cameras to swipe donations dropped off outside the store after-hours.

If those items had made it into the thrift store, they would have supported a shelter for victims of violence and sexual assault. It’s a service Robinson says is desperately needed in the area.

“We help the community,” said Robinson. “I mean it’s a shame, that we have to deal with people like that.”

Ellen Kilgannon, director of P.A.W.S., an animal welfare organization in Swain, said people are stealing both after-hours and in broad daylight.

“It’s happening to all the thrift stores,” said Kilgannon. “It’s really discouraging because we’re in an economic recession, so things are hard enough to start with.”

Stolen items range from a bag of clothes to a mountain bike that was snatched from the porch of the P.A.W.S. thrift store just last week.

Not being able to identify the freeloaders has been a major problem in capturing offenders. They often cover up their faces with hoodies and turn their backs on surveillance cameras.

Kilgannon said she’s even thought about hiding in the thrift store at night to catch the thieves redhanded.

“[But] who wants to spend their evening hiding out, trying to catch a thief that may or may not come by?” said Kilgannon. “There’s no set schedule for them.”

To prevent more thefts, Kilgannon encourages citizens to drop off donations only during normal business hours, and to send in an anonymous tip if they see any suspicious behavior.

To make a donation or report a tip, contact P.A.W.S. at 828.333.4267 and the Swain/Qualla SAFE Thrift Shop at 828.488.4756.


Longtime Folkmoot volunteer and supporter George Escaravage was given the Alan Brown award for service to the international dance festival at the July 22 Gala Preview held at Eaglenest Entertainment in Maggie Valley.

Escaravage is a former Folkmoot USA board president who was instrumental in moving the dance festival to its current location at the old Hazelwood Elementary School, which is now known as the Folkmoot Friendship Center. He helped acquire congressional money to pay for improvements to the center, volunteered as co-interim executive director of the festival when it was between directors, and for many years was in charge of organizing Folkmoot’s portion of International Festival Day, along with volunteering in many other ways.

Current Folkmoot USA Board President Chuck Dickson said Escaravage’s “contagious enthusiasm for Folkmoot has motivated us all. We are deeply grateful for his inspiration and for his many years of service to Folkmoot and to our community.”

The Alan Brown Award is named after an Englishman who helped establish Folkmoot and is given for “extraordinary service and dedication” to the festival. In its 27 years, Escaravage is just the ninth recipient. Previous honorees were founder Dr. Clinton Border, former Speaker of the House Liston Ramsey, former Rep. Charles Beall, Tim Welch, Rufus Setser, Ken Wilson and Rolf Kaufman.


An unseen cultural exchange takes place every day in the cafeteria where Folkmoot performers take their meals.

Before, during and after a grueling day of performances, Folkmoot dancers fuel up on North Carolina fare. Whether it’s squash casserole or a juicy slice of watermelon, Folkmoot dancers have a wide-ranging choice of fresh produce grown locally at each of their four daily meals.

“They love anything that’s fresh,” said Sue Shoemaker, food service manager at Folkmoot. “I don’t buy any frozen vegetables.”

A group of performers from Netherlands, who happened to be vegetarian, raved about the squash, zucchini and tomatoes during last year’s Folkmoot when a shift was made to food grown in Western North Carolina.

The benefits of featuring locally grown produce are clear-cut for Sybil Mann, Folkmoot’s food committee coordinator.

Other than supporting the local economy and minimizing the carbon footprint, buying from Western North Carolina producers is also more cost-effective, Mann said. Folkmoot saved $9,000 from buying locally last year alone.

Moreover, it shows off the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Western North Carolina to performers coming to the U.S. — many for the first time.

Fresh produce is also more nutritious than what’s usually found in cans, a fact that dancers do not overlook at meals. “These folks are expending huge amounts of calories,” said Mann. “It’s important to provide them with top-notch nutrition while they’re here.”

Though much of the produce is bought from local farmers, others are also in the mix.

The Historic Haywood Farmer’s Market is collecting extra fruits and vegetables from its vendors, while grocery chains like Ingles and Bi-Lo are donating bread and bakery items at the end of each day. Wal-Mart has donated a $250 gift card to Folkmoot for food as well.

Meanwhile, small-scale gardeners are also chipping in. Whether they have a surplus of cucumbers, extra basil or a bushel of zucchini, locals are donating their own homegrown food to the Folkmoot cafeteria.

One man recently delivered a beautiful bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from his garden. Shoemaker said that generosity adds intimacy to the process.

“It’s like family,” said Shoemaker. “It gets you closer into Folkmoot.


Two-way street


Sam Queen, a former Folkmoot board member, would regularly drive to the farmer’s market in Asheville and to nearby farms and bring back truckloads of fresh produce for the Folkmoot cafeteria. But after Queen passed away, Folkmoot began to shift back to canned and frozen foods, Mann said.

Last year, George Ivey —a local advocate for farm to table initiatives — convinced Folkmoot to begin buying local fruits and vegetables once more.

Unfortunately, a cool growing season translated to decreased availability, but this summer has been especially good to the region’s farmers, bringing a bounty of fresh produce to Folkmoot’s doorstep.

Skipper Russell, a farmer in Bethel, is supplying much of the fruits and vegetables, including zucchini, squash, beans, cucumbers, romaine lettuce and tomatoes. Whatever he isn’t growing, he gets from other local farmers.

Russell considers himself a dedicated advocate for eating locally rather than purchasing food grown outside the country.

“You might be getting a better deal on it, but you don’t know what kind of quality you’re getting,” said Russell, adding that much of the food that enters the country is uninspected.

While Western North Carolina is impressing Folkmoot dancers with its locally grown produce, the performers are also sharing their own culinary traditions. Starting last year, the dancers have taken turns cooking typical meals from their country during late night meals at the cafeteria — their fourth and final meal for the day after all performances are through.

The exchange became an instant hit and will continue again this year.

“Food is a really important part of the sharing that we can do and the sharing they can do with each other,” Mann said. “As we highlight our regional food here, we just see benefits across the board.



For those who think getting a travel visa is a headache, try steering hundreds of Folkmoot dancers from a dozen different countries through the highly bureaucratic process.

That’s what Folkmoot USA’s group relations committee is responsible for doing months before the performers step foot in the U.S.

“It’s nerve-wracking during the months of March and April because that’s when you have to begin to get things really settled down,” said committee member Dave Stallings.

By then, visas must be in hand and funding for tickets in place. While groups are ultimately responsible for getting their own visas, committee members still have a lot of work on their hands.

“It’s just hard to convince groups, ‘Yeah you’re not coming until July, but you got to start working on it in January,’” said Stallings.

A group from India had to drop out of Folkmoot this year because it did not start the visa process on time, despite constant prodding from Folkmoot coordinators.

Performers from Turkey also had to drop out because they couldn’t raise enough money for the costly trip across the ocean.

“If you’re talking about buying international airfare for 30 people, that’s a lot of money,” said Stallings.

Though Folkmoot provides housing, meals and transportation from the airport, financing every dancer’s journey to the States hasn’t been feasible.

“They pay their own way,” said Rolf Kaufman, chair of the group relations committee. “We have a hard enough time raising the money to feed them and transport them.”

Visa issues and financial constraints usually make it difficult for Folkmoot to recruit dance groups outside of Western Europe. International airfare for 35 people plus baggage and visa fees can add up to $40,000 at times.

Due to unexpected cancellations at the last minute, Folkmoot had no choice but to recruit more Western European groups than usual this year.

Kaufman — who has been involved with Folkmoot since its inception — said he would like to see a fund set up to partially pay for plane tickets, but no one has stepped up to sponsor that idea yet.

Many groups are able to fundraise successfully and coax their governments into donating to the cause. The Turkish dancers weren’t able to get the appropriation they expected this year, which is what led them to cancel the trip.

Another challenge is just finding seats on the same flight for a few dozen performers with luggage and musical instruments — especially when faced with small, commuter flights within the U.S.

“You may have more than a ‘planeful,’” said Stallings.

A new era

The visa process has grown more and more difficult each year, especially amid increasing alarm about illegal immigration.

Embassy officials will try to determine the likelihood that each applicant will become an illegal immigrant after arriving on U.S. soil.

Those who are enrolled in universities, employed or have extended family back at home are more likely to obtain a visa than those who have no tangible reason to return.

Performers from Africa are most likely to have trouble receiving a visa, according to Kaufman.

According to Stallings, the most at-risk performers come from countries with large expatriate populations in the U.S.

“It’s hard for somebody to just come over here and disappear without some kind of support,” said Stallings.

About two decades ago when Folkmoot was just finding its footing, the lead dancer from China attempted to run away with her boyfriend. He just pulled up one day in a rental car and tried to sweet-talk Folkmoot officials into allowing her to go out with him.

But even back then, Folkmoot had a strict policy of not allowing dancers to venture out alone. The Chinese dancer was forced to stick with her group for the remainder of Folkmoot.

Shortly after that, she was scheduled to go to another festival in Utah, which is where she made her escape. Kaufman later heard that she married her boyfriend, who had traveled here from Texas. “She had a family and lived happily ever after,” Kaufman said.

On another occasion, the Folkmoot director heard rumors that a few dancers from Haiti were planning on running off to Miami. The director alerted immigration officials there, who would only say that incidents like that happen every day and there was little they could do about it.

Once, a girl from Trinidad took off after arriving in North Carolina. She had been visiting relatives and ended up rejoining her group members before they flew out.

“She didn’t violate her visa, she just violated [Folkmoot],” said Kaufman.

Despite a few examples of misbehavior here and there, Folkmoot has done an excellent job of keeping tabs on its performers thus far. Performers are in group housing rather than private residences, which are easier to escape.

“We’ve had extremely good luck with avoiding these sorts of things,” said Kaufman.

Heading off problems

To avoid complications as much as possible, Folkmoot avoids recruiting dancers from countries that have volatile relationships with the U.S.

“We don’t try to get, for instance, Iran,” said Kaufman. “We get petitions from Iran, but we don’t try.”

Most dancers pay $130 each to travel with tourist or business visas. In rare cases, though, they must obtain a performers visa. The lengthy process for an entertainer visa requires a petition and a $1,000 fee for the whole group, a cost that Folkmoot covers. Priority processing demands another $1,000 fee on top of that.

Even after all that is invested, the performers visa can be rejected for the group.

In dire circumstances, Folkmoot has turned to U.S. senators for assistance in obtaining visas for performers.

One group from Kenya had especially great difficulty getting to Western North Carolina, Kaufman recalled. By the time the Kenyans received their performers visa, it was too late to round up money for plane tickets.

Last year, the Kenyan group went through the performers visa process once more, got their visa then all of a sudden, the U.S. consulate demanded a special fee of several hundred dollars.

The fee was retribution for a similar charge Kenya levies on U.S. citizens. Kaufman dreaded the worst, but the group was able to raise the funds for the fee.

At the very last minute, the group’s funding source for travel expenses backed out. The group had to cancel.

A few times in recent years, Folkmoot has to resort to finding a ethnic dancers from the U.S. due to incidents like these.

This year, it’s Peruvian dancers from New Jersey. The upside is: they’re coming by Greyhound and don’t need a visa.


By the end of this year, nearly every student in the six westernmost counties will have unprecedented access to technology in the classroom.

Thanks to a collaborative project called WNC EdNet, high-speed Internet will become a reality for all public and charter school classrooms in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties, along with the Qualla Boundary.

WNC EdNet recently got the go-ahead to connect The Highlands School — the last remaining school to join the regional network.

As late as 2000, schools in Western North Carolina could only transmit 1.5 megabyte per second. Now, schools with fiber can enjoy 100 megabyte per second connections.

Once these high-speed connections are in place, star pupils from far-flung schools can join together in a virtual classroom to take advanced courses that aren’t normally offered at their own schools. Live video will allow for face-to-face interaction between students and teachers.

“It’s not like an online class,” said David Hubbs, CEO of BalsamWest FiberNET, which implemented the WNC EdNet project. “You’re speaking to or interacting with a teacher in real time.”

Linking up to the state network creates access to The North Carolina Virtual Public High School, which already offers 72 courses including Advanced Placement and world language classes.

The widespread reach of fiber across North Carolina to even the most rural schools holds the promise of creating a level playing field for students, according to Bob Byrd WNC EdNet project manager.

“That’s our big push now, to narrow that digital divide,” said Byrd.

Moreover, fiberoptic technology makes professional training more readily available for teachers. Once colleges are hooked up to the statewide K-12 network, student-teachers at Western Carolina University or other colleges may observe teachers in actual classrooms without interrupting lessons.

Being on the same fiber network also decreases overhead for school systems, which only have to pay one Internet bill for all their schools, Hubbs said.


Jumping hurdles


The WNC EdNet project has traveled down a long road to get to where it is now.

Nearly 60 schools have been hooked up to their central office in the county via a fiberoptic line, which makes broadband Internet possible and also provides an important backbone for communication between the school district office and individual schools.

A separate project by a nonprofit called MCNC is in turn connecting these school district offices to a statewide fiber network, the North Carolina Research and Education Network. Now, MCNC is also working on linking colleges up to the state network.

WNCEdNet piggybacked onto the larger BalsamWest project, which has installed hundreds of miles of fiber underground to promote economic development in the Western North Carolina.

The mountainous terrain was a major obstacle BalsamWest had to overcome while installing equipment underground.

“The very things that we love about our rural area create challenges for technology,” said Hubbs.

Constructing in the remote area between Cashiers and Highlands was another challenge. BalsamWest had to speak individually to every property owner to get permission to build.

“We had more private easements between Cashiers and Highlands than we did everything else put together, over 300 miles,” said Hubbs. About 15 grant applications had to be submitted to lock down funding for the $6.1 million WNC EdNet project. The project was partly funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation, which chipped in $2.2 million, and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, which contributed $1.7 million.

Even with 12 different partners — including Southwestern NC Planning & Economic Development Commission, the Western Region Education Service Alliance, seven school districts and three colleges — WNC EdNet was smoothly coordinated.

A similar project in eastern North Carolina had failed due to infighting, according to Leonard Winchester, chairman of the WNC EdNet technology committee.

WNC EdNet coordinators were asked to come to Raleigh and explain how their particular project ended in success. Winchester said cooperation was key.

“We had a group of people that trusted each other,” said Winchester. “That trust, you can’t give to somebody else.”


The very beginning of the Nantahala Brewing Company story began — appropriately — at a local bar.

Mike Marsden had long thought the 1,200-square-foot warehouse adjacent to Across the Trax, the bar he owns in Bryson City, would be perfect for a brewery.

While enjoying a drink at another local establishment, a bartender friend introduced him to a couple sitting at the other end of the bar. It was Chris and Christina Collier, award-winning home brewers who had long dreamt of someday opening their own brewery.

By the end of the night, the three were excitedly sketching out details on a cocktail napkin. With Joe Rowland and Ken Smith signing up as partners along the way, the Nantahala Brewery has finally opened its doors for business a year later.

At this point, the brewery is serving up five varieties of beer. The Colliers — who are nationally certified beer judges — say their aim is not so much to appeal to a mass audience as to please the “beer geeks.”

The company is offering the Nantahala Pale Ale and the Eddy Out Stout, but its two most popular brews so far have been the Bryson City Brown, a smooth brown ale, and the Noon Day IPA, which carries a heavy West Coast influence and a hoppy, grapefruit-inspired taste.

This summer, the Nantahala Brewery is also brewing batches of Depot Street Summer Wheat, a spicy German hefeweizen with hints of cloves and bananas. Nantahala Light, a crisp and easy German pilsner, is on the way.

The brewery is already selling its offerings at an increasing number of restaurants and bars in Bryson City, Sylva, Waynesville, Asheville and Murphy, along with a few grocery stores and at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Rowland says his company is hoping to churn out 600 to 1,000 barrels of beer this year, even though its equipment can produce a much higher output. Chris Collier says he’d like to see the Nantahala Brewery maintain a personal touch rather than become large-scale.

“It appeals to me keeping it small, keeping it simple,” said Chris Collier.

According to Marsden, Nantahala’s craft beers thus far have gotten a great response at Across the Trax. More visitors are looking for local brews, and Asheville’s status as a nationally recognized beer town hasn’t hurt.

“The biggest thing about it is it’s fresh,” said Marsden. Many breweries produce quality beer, but by the time it’s delivered, it’s already a few months old. Nantahala’s brews, on the other hand, arrive less than two weeks after they’re ready, Marsden said.

Those who enjoy sampling the fresh local beer at Across the Trax are often invited to see where the magic happens next door. It’s not often that people can get that close to their brewers, but Christina Collier would like to see that change.

“I think every town should have a local brewery,” said Christina Collier. “It should be like a local bakery.”

Right now, Nantahala Brewing Company gets most of its hops from the Pacific Northwest. It hopes to gradually get more from Western North Carolina to use late in the process, which helps create a stronger aroma in the beer.

The Nantahala Brewery’s tasting room is in the process of being set up, but the space is generally open to anyone who wants a tour.

Though the fledgling company has worked hard to renovate its warehouse space, most customers don’t immediately recognize the progress that’s been made when they walk in. They only see a gaping space with brewing equipment and nowhere to sit.

But even getting that huge equipment up and running was a challenge for the newcomers.

“This was just a shell before,” said Christina Collier, who spent a chilly winter helping paint the 30-foot walls inside an inviting blue.

By the time the tasting room is set up and retailers move into adjacent spaces within the warehouse, though, Nantahala Brewery hopes to become a popular destination in Bryson City.

According to Christina Collier, other breweries in the area probably won’t mind the competition. There’s more cooperation than competition among brewers, she said.

“Everybody wants everybody else to succeed,” said Christina Collier. “It looks bad for small-town microbreweries to fail.”


Want to try?


Check out to find out where you can sip some of Nantahala Brewing Company’s offerings. The brewery also offers growlers.


Owners of video sweepstakes parlors in North Carolina are out of luck for now.

Governor Bev Perdue is expected to sign a bill passed by the legislature that will ban cyber sweepstakes starting Dec. 1 this year.

Sweepstakes operators in Canton, Maggie Valley, Franklin and other towns who have paid $2,500 or more for a business license fee won’t receive a refund — even though the ban goes into effect midway through the fiscal year.

“A business license is annual,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews. “If a business closes after operating for a few months, there is no refund.”

Gas stations, laundromats and other businesses with sweepstakes terminals often house them in exchange for a cut of revenue from the machine owners.

Internet sweepstakes is a form of computer gambling that took advantage of a loophole in the General Assembly’s 2006 and 2008 bans on video poker.

The video gaming industry has adamantly fought against the two bans, filing challenges against the state in court and conjuring up new ways to get around the law.

Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, has long been a strong advocate against video gambling. Rapp said while he hopes this round will be the last against the gaming industry, he’s not overly optimistic.

“I’m not naïve enough to know this will be the end,” said Rapp.

The N.C. Council on Problem Gambling reported that every Gamblers Anonymous Group in the state has increased in size by 75 to 100 percent in the first half of 2009 when sweepstakes games emerged. About 88 percent of new calls to the nonprofit indicated that Internet sweepstakes was the source of addiction.

Ira Dove, director of Haywood County’s Department of Social Services, confirmed that more residents are suffering from gambling addiction than before.

“The cost for them, their families and U.S. taxpayers is severe,” said Dove.

In the N.C. House, the statewide ban passed 86-27 following three hours of back and forth on July 8. State senators had put their foot down more decisively with a 47-1 vote against sweepstakes earlier.

The chief argument centered on whether sweepstakes should be banned outright or whether the state should begin regulating and taxing the industry during a severe revenue shortfall. According to one estimate, regulating video gaming could bring $500 million a year to the state.

The economic argument failed to win Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who called the ban the single most important legislative action taken by the Senate this year.

“This industry is predatory,” said Queen. “We’re strong in our resolution to stop this scourge on North Carolina.”

Rapp emphasized that the industry was highly exploitative of citizens who could least afford to lose their paychecks.

Police Chief Bill Hollingsed of Waynesville said he has come across gambling addicts who have spent entire paychecks on gambling and those who have opened up fraudulent bank accounts in order to keep playing.

Hollingsed said ever since sweepstakes arrived on the scene, it’s been a confusing issue to tackle for officers who are charged with enforcing the video gambling ban.

“This provides the clear direction we’ve been looking for for several years,” Hollingsed said

Business owners that attempt to secretly house the machines face a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on the second.

“We’re serious about it,” said Rapp.


Aaron Plantenberg was relaxing by a lake in northern Wisconsin when his vacation was abruptly cut short by a phone call.

Fortunately, it was a good surprise.

Plantenberg and his bandmates in Bryson City-based Big House Radio learned they were one of four finalists in WNC Magazine’s Last Band Standing competition.

“He thought we were pulling a joke on him,” said lead guitarist Tommy Dennison.

Big House Radio wasn’t counting on getting that far after last year’s unsuccessful run in the same competition. But this time, they not only made it to the final round at The Orange Peel — they won.

“It was so surreal when they called our name,” Dennison said.

“When I walked off the stage, I floated. I didn’t walk,” said lead vocalist Jeremy Hyatt.

Thirty-two bands from the region had entered the competition, which seeks to discover the best unknown talent in the mountains. As the winner, Big House Radio gets to kick off Asheville’s Bele Chere Festival with a concert on Friday, July 23.

While the band has been pleasing crowds in hometown bars for the last two years, it now finds itself on the precipice of a new kind of success. Band members say they are ready to step out of their comfort zone and play for people who’ve never heard of them before.

“I certainly feel more energized into writing more music, playing out of this town, out of Western North Carolina,” said Hyatt.

Either way, Dennison said the band feels blessed to have so many dedicated fans who gave the band a big lift by supporting them during the contest, which is mostly decided by popular vote.

Big House Radio proved themselves to both the five judges as well as the crowd after hitting the stage at The Orange Peel, a venue that has seen some of the biggest names in rock ‘n roll play.

“With a crowd like that and the stage, you can’t help but feel like a rock star,” said Hyatt.

“I’d play shows like that every day if I had a chance to,” added Dennison.


Rock without the fuss


Big House Radio prides itself on playing plain ol’ rock without the hyphenations, though there’s a Southern tinge to their style.

According to the band, there are too many groups out there trying too hard to reinvent the wheel. “There’s a tendency to kind of hide from really kickin’ it and killing it,” said bass guitarist Jeff Redman. “They’ve got to have some angle, some tortured lyrics or perform in an odd key.”

“The world needs some good, straight rock ‘n roll,” said Hyatt.

Big House Radio’s main objective is simply for everyone of all ages to have a good time.

Most of that fun so far has taken place during live shows, but that will soon change. The band has put the final touches on their first studio album, titled “Daylight,” which will debut at Bele Chere.

The album title was inspired by the many twists and turns the band went through recording it. Throughout the winter, Big House Radio had only five days to record in the studio, and on day 2, the studio lost power.

Later, the Nashville-based producer couldn’t get to Western North Carolina after a major flood hit the city. Then, there was equipment failure at the studio. The band had no choice but to be patient, but Hyatt said the extra time probably helped the band produce a better album.

While Mother Nature seemed to throw one obstacle after another at the band, Big House Radio’s first album is now ready for release.

“Finally, we’re seeing daylight,” said Hyatt.

As for their upcoming performance at Bele Chere, the band is a bit nervous.

Drummer Joshua Mason said he usually has a hard time falling asleep before shows. This concert is so big that insomnia has hit two weeks beforehand.

“I keep waking up, thinking: I gotta remember this. I gotta remember that,” said Mason.


Catch Big House Radio at Bele Chere

Big House Radio will perform from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, July 23, at the Rock ‘N Kiss Stage at Coxe Ave. in Asheville. Look for Big House Radio’s first album “Daylight” on iTunes and CD Baby. Visit or find them on Facebook and MySpace.


When a $4,000 payment showed up in the mail to cover a $1,195 bill, Jim Freeman knew something was up.

Freeman, owner of Freeman’s Motel in Almond, made his way to Google and learned he had just narrowly avoided a sophisticated scam.

Earlier, Freeman had received emails from Nicole Bloomer, supposedly a 38-year-old accountant in London looking forward to a relaxing vacation in the mountains.

“Bloomer” was friendly, adding personal touches to her emails to increase her legitimacy. “Have a great day and God bless,” she wrote at the end of her first email.

After Freeman’s response to her inquiry, there was a delay. Bloomer wrote back later saying her dad had just undergone a triple bypass operation.

“It’s been a very nervous period for my family and I. Thanks to God he is awake today and responding well to treatment,” Bloomer wrote.

When it came time to reserve the room, Bloomer said her employer Shell Oil Company would send a money order paying in full. The money order Freeman received far exceeded the original bill, however.

Bloomer wrote again saying the finance department had made a mistake, instructing Freeman to return the remainder. To expedite the process, she even included the address of the nearest Western Union location in Robbinsville.

Freeman Googled “Shell Oil Company” in Stockton, Calif., where the money order came from. He learned from an actual employee that it was a scam.

The money order was counterfeit, which Freeman would learn only after sending the alleged overpayment from his own account.

Freeman immediately notified the Sheriff’s Office and was told to file a complaint with the FBI online. He then alerted the Swain County Chamber of Commerce to ensure other businesses would not be duped by the scam.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” said Freeman. “Don’t be greedy. That’s what scam artists prey on, someone that is either greedy or trusting.”

Karen Wilmot, director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, admits that scams are getting much more sophisticated, especially with the poor economy.

“Everyone needs to be vigilant, more so than ever probably,” said Wilmot.

The most common scam Wilmot comes across is a poor quality map of the region that claims to be affiliated with the Chamber.

“It gives them a tinge of legitimacy,” said Wilmot. “We publish our own maps and do not work with other agencies for the most part.”



At the end of a rough week, your dog might consider stopping in at Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery in Dillsboro for “Yappy Hour” or perhaps heading to Woof Gang Bakery in Cashiers for a homemade gourmet treat.

Dogs older than the age limit have their choice of non-alcoholic beverages, including Bowser Beer and Sauvignon Barkundy from Bark Vineyards, “Fine wine for the canine.”

Depending on their mood, they can nibble on a barbecue beef bone (grill marks included), pumpkin pie fire hydrants, or snicker poodles at Woof Gang.

At Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery, chicken and beef tacos, pizza, hot dogs, banana cream pies and even birthday cakes are up for grabs. Most treats will cost $2 each.

Jackson County has been no exception to the booming worldwide trend of gourmet dog food. It’s nothing like what has dominated store shelves for decades. And now more than ever, the trend is catching on in Western North Carolina.

Smoky Mountain Bakery plans to open a new location in Waynesville in the next month. Woof Gang Bakery recently opened a store in Cashiers, the Florida chain’s first in the state. A grand opening for a second store followed in Asheville last week, and one more is planned for Chapel Hill late this summer.

The gourmet dog treat business continues to thrive, flying in the face of the recession.

“The pet industry has not suffered at all,” said Janet Martin, owner of Woof Gang Bakery. “In fact, it has grown.”

More people are traveling with pets, and hotels are trashing their “No Pets” signs accordingly. A few are even tucking gourmet treats in their rooms to welcome canine customers.

Walt Cook, owner of Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery, said with an increasingly mobile society and family members no longer living nearby, pets have become more important to people.

“You don’t have the connection, the family dinner every Friday night or the 4th of July picnic with 30 or 40 family members,” said Cook. “That’s what I grew up in, and you don’t have that anymore.”

The loss of a family member is what prompted Martin to get her dog late in life.

Her 20-year-old son Jacob died after undergoing a bone marrow transplant at Duke University. While coping with the tragedy, Martin continually felt an impulse to get a dog. Her younger son Jonathan had always wanted one as well.

Soon after, Brady joined the Martin family.

“I just thought it would be good for healing,” said Martin. “They’re such wonderful creatures. They give you unconditional love … They require you to walk them; they require you to keep on living.”


Recipe for success


The enticing aroma wafting from the oven at Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery easily deceives the human nose.

But one bite is enough to tell the difference.

“It tastes like a very bland peanut butter cookie,” said Cook, adding that it is a healthy treat.

Cook’s handmade organic treats have no sugar or butter. His simple recipes often include oat flour, oatmeal, carob and peanut butter.

“No wheat, corn, soy — none of the things that dogs have allergies to,” said Cook, who regularly researches to make sure all the ingredients he uses are puppy-safe.

In the last 10 years, there’s been a growth in the natural dog food market, prompted by the deaths of several thousand dogs in the U.S. after ingesting unsafe chemicals used in dog food. Many more had contracted serious health problems.

Cook’s foray into the dog treat business came after he noticed many travelers dropping into his restaurant in Florida with their dogs. He began baking treats for them, and they were so popular that travelers came back on their return trip specifically for more treats.

After moving to Dillsboro for retirement, he started hunting for something new to do.

“I don’t golf,” said Cook. “You can only fish so many days of the year.”

The store met with instant success, but Dillsboro shortly afterward lost droves of tourists when the scenic Great Smoky Mountain Railroad moved its operations to Bryson City. Forced to find a new business model, Cook began selling his products wholesale and online.

He’s hoping to shift back into retail with a new location in Waynesville. While he would like to see the Dillsboro store stay open, he’s not sure yet if it will.

For now, Cook, who is friendly with every customer that walks in, is looking forward to the grand opening of the store on Main Street in Waynesville.

With more space, Cook can offer more products. He will continue to focus on bringing locally made products to his store, especially items not commonly found in chains.

Meanwhile, Martin has opened her store to brisk business in Cashiers.

“It’s a very happy place,” said Martin. “When you walk through that door, everybody’s got a smile on their face.”

Woof Gang features dog-friendly concrete floors and a crystal chandelier over a table chock-full of treats.

Customers of all kinds have paid a visit even if they didn’t own a dog. In Martin’s experience, though, North Carolina is very much a dog state.

“I’ve quit asking customers, ‘Do you have a dog,’” said Martin. “I now ask them ‘How many do you have?’”

One recent customer had a whopping eleven of them, Martin said.


Though many Jackson County residents shy away from publicly airing their views on alcohol, a recent poll shows that a comfortable majority of voters support alcohol sales countywide.

Whether you’re a college student in Cullowhee or socialite in Cashiers, stocking up on beer, wine and spirits requires a trip into town. But a WCU Public Policy Institute/Smoky Mountain News poll shows 56 percent of voters in Jackson County support alcohol sales everywhere in the county, not just in Sylva and Dillsboro, compared to 39 percent who would be opposed.

This particular question polarized respondents more strongly than any other issue on the poll, which was conducted by the Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, one of the Southeast’s most respected polling companies. Only 5 percent of those polled were undecided. Most questions saw undecided numbers of around 20 percent.

The poll questioned nearly 600 registered Jackson County voters.

“It’s fascinating that so few people are unsure,” said Christopher Cooper, director of the Public Policy Institute at WCU. “It seems like the kind of issue, if it’s ever on the ballot, that would lead to a high voter turnout.”

The alcohol question sticks out in a poll where most of the questions address trust in government. Clay County — one of the region’s smallest and most rural — recently voted to allow alcohol sales countywide, so it seems to be an emerging issue in Western North Carolina, Cooper said.

Though the area has traditionally been conservative on alcohol sales, a lingering recession may have created more favor for the potential boost in tax revenues that widespread alcohol sales promise.

Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie, however, doesn’t see the issue as pressing.

“I don’t have a whole lot of people stopping me in the grocery store, on the streets or calling me saying ‘We need alcohol sales,’” said Massie. “It’s not one of those things on my radar screen.”

Massie doesn’t see a trend toward acceptance in Western North Carolina, either. Clay County seems to be more the exception than the rule in the region, according to Massie.

“That’s got a whole lot more to do with tradition and deep-seated beliefs held by the populace,” said Massie.

Though Jackson County Commissioner Mark Jones said there is actually more acceptance of alcohol in general, the primary motivating factor for legalizing alcohol sales countywide is most likely financial at this point.

“It is a revenue-generator at a time when sales are down and economies are tough,” said Jones.

WCU sees opportunity

According to Cooper, the biggest supporters of countywide sales were men, liberals, the more educated and the young.

Those who face a long drive to get a six-pack of beer or a few bottles of wine resoundingly said “yes” to countywide alcohol sales as well. About 68 percent of Cashiers residents clamored for change in Jackson County’s alcohol policy.

Meanwhile, Sylva residents just barely supported countywide sales, with only 50 percent voting “yes.”

Though WCU Chancellor John Bardo was reluctant to comment on the results of a poll conducted by the university, he did say legalizing alcohol sales in the county would have a tangible impact on the college.

The main effect, Bardo said, would be the potential for a viable commercial environment around the university. For now, Cullowhee is short on restaurants and grocery stores, and the total ban on alcohol sales may be to blame.

“People want to be able to go out to eat,” said Bardo. “It’s part of the quality of life they’re looking for.”

Alcohol sales countywide might lead to higher tax revenues for local government, a better business environment in Cullowhee as well as a positive impact on student enrollment.

“More services make the university more attractive,” said Bardo.

Jones agreed that Cullowhee businesses would make a handsome profit if students weren’t forced to drive to Sylva to buy their alcohol.

Moreover, Jones cited the trend of more retired individuals moving to college towns for its culture and activities. Allowing alcohol sales in Cullowhee would enhance the area’s attractiveness to these potential residents, Jones said.

But Massie said the few miles drive to Sylva most likely isn’t a major problem for students at Western. He recalled the days Jackson County was completely dry, when students would make beer runs all the way to Waynesville.

“College kids, if they want beer, and it’s legal for them to get it, they’re going to get it,” said Massie.


Cashiers highly supportive


Commissioner Jones, who manages High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, constantly encounters guests who query him on the nearest place to buy alcohol.

“For convenience, I send them to Highlands [in Macon County],” said Jones. “I’m guilty as charged.”

With Highlands a lot closer than Sylva, guests and residents alike often opt for the quicker trip when they’re thirsting for beer, wine and liquor. Jones said he cannot gauge how many thousands of dollars in potential tax revenue Jackson County loses each year in the process.

Some businesses in Cashiers are allowed to sell liquor, but only if they are established as a private club. Because these venues are required to purchase alcohol only from a Jackson County store, every restocking requires a drive down the mountain to Sylva or Dillsboro.

“It would save a lot of time, gas and trouble and expense to have an ABC store [here],” Jones said.

Though Jones supports countywide alcohol sales, he said he would rather see citizens petition to put the issue on the ballot than for the commissioners to get involved.

Massie, too, said he’d like to see a vote by the people, though he did not have a strong opinion on the matter.

“I’m not a teetotaler so it doesn’t bother me one way or another,” said Massie.

Still Massie, Jones and Commissioner Brian McMahan said they are all concerned that Jackson County ranks in the top 10 in North Carolina for alcohol-related accidents.

Though towns benefit economically from alcohol sales, there’s always a price to pay. “The trade-off is what are the social problems and liabilities that come with the sale of alcohol,” said Massie.

“Any time you have alcohol sales, you’re going to have that problem,” said Jones, adding that part of the tax revenues from alcohol sales do go toward law enforcement and education.

For McMahan, having widespread alcohol sales would probably not be worth the risks. McMahan said he would neither support legalizing alcohol sales in the county nor putting the issue on the ballot.

“The present system works, and there’s no need to change it,” said McMahan.


Sylva not swayed


Cooper has two theories to explain why Sylva voters were more reluctant than others to welcome countywide sales.

Of the alcohol tax that stays locally, Sylva shares half of the tax revenue from alcohol sales with the county and keeps the other half.

Allowing alcohol sales everywhere obviously means fewer people driving into Sylva or Dillsboro to buy their beer, leading to a direct decline in the town’s revenues. Sylva voters might have taken that into account when a higher number of them opposed countywide sales.

Cooper’s other theory is that alcohol is already widely available to Sylva residents.

“If you live in Sylva, what do you care if there’s alcohol in Cashiers?” said Cooper.

Massie, who represents Sylva on the county board, has another conjecture altogether. While elected officials and town employees are well-aware of the alcohol’s impact on revenues, that’s probably not driving your average Sylva resident to vote “no.”

“Sylva has a concentration of some of the biggest churches in the county,” said Massie. “That’s what I’m thinking is the reason.”

If Rep. Ray Rapp has his way, the state House will crush video sweepstakes as fervently as the state Senate did late last month.

N.C. senators voted 47-1 to ban the video gambling machines that have evolved to circumvent a statewide ban. Court battles waged by the gaming industry had previously stalled new legislation to outlaw video sweepstakes.

The ban proposed in the House would go into effect Dec. 1. Towns like Maggie Valley, Franklin, Canton and Hendersonville would no longer be able to charge the $2,500 or more annual licensing fees on the newly illegal businesses.

Rapp, D-Mars Hill — who has been a major opponent of video gambling all along — looks forward to finally voting against sweepstakes in the House.

“It’s spreading like a contagion, and it’s got to be stopped,” said Rapp. “This puts an exclamation point on the fact that it’s an illegal activity.”

Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, wholeheartedly supported a total ban on sweepstakes machines when it came to a vote in the Senate.

“These parlors are nothing more than unregulated casinos operating outside the law,” said Queen. “I listened to all sides, but stand firmly with the sheriffs and police chiefs across the state who asked us to tighten the law because of the increase in crime and high social costs that come with these illicit operations.”

Rapp cited a desperate woman in Marshall who robbed a Wachovia Bank after running up debt at two video sweepstakes places.

Rapp also pointed out that the machines are predominantly found in poor neighborhoods. According to a survey conducted in Florida, the majority of people who play earn less than $30,000 a year or are retirees.

But the gaming industry — which previously denied that internet sweepstakes were at all related to video gambling — argues now that regulation is the key. It would protect customers and create accountability for businesses.

“[Taxation] would provide more than $500 million a year in revenue according to recent figures released by the N.C. Lottery,” said William Thevaos, president of the Entertainment Group of North Carolina. “Lawmakers know there’s a pot of money there if they would just regulate it and tax it.”

Rapp has hardly been won over by the argument.

“If an activity’s wrong, you don’t do it,” said Rapp, adding that most people would not advocate making other illegal activities permissible simply to generate revenue.

Rapp said out of frustration, he has sometimes considered resorting to what his attorneys term the “nuclear option” — banning sweepstakes of all kinds.

“Every time we try to do this surgically, and sit there with our lawyers, it’s a challenge,” said Rapp. “[But] cooler heads prevailed.”


Restaurant and bar patrons in Maggie Valley may see an extra tax on their bills to support tourism promotion and projects in town by this time next year.

Maggie Valley’s town board has unanimously approved applying to the state for the authority to levy a 1 percent food and beverage tax in restaurants within town limits. The tax would be used to promote tourism in Maggie Valley and tourism-related projects in town.

The venture is far from a done deal, however.

State legislators are not expected to vote on the measure until after February 2011. Even after that, the town board must hold a public hearing and another official vote.

Still, the idea has already garnered widespread attention and a divided response among restaurateurs in Maggie.

James Carver, long-time owner of Maggie Valley Restaurant, is a strong supporter of the tax. Carver says it’s no different than the 4 percent lodging tax charged by hotels and motels to fund the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

“I think it’s time that we step up and do the same thing that the hotels and motels did back in [1983],” said Carver. “It’s time for us to support it and get the benefit of it.”

Carver has so much faith in the tax that he believes the trend will catch on with other towns instantly, much like the lodging tax was adopted by one county after another in the region two decades ago.

“Once we do it, it will spread to other locations overnight,” Carver said.

While the lodging tax captures overnight tourists, a long-standing problem was capturing revenue from daytrippers and seasonal homeowners. A restaurant tax could be the answer to that problem, according to Alderman Scott Pauley.

“It’s an untapped side of the market that hasn’t been explored,” said Pauley, adding that the tax would create a level playing field between restaurants and hotels both catering to tourists.

But Cheryl Lamberth, owner of Bar-B-Que Shack, is not so sure another tax is the solution.

“We don’t need anything else to hit us,” said Lamberth. “I mean the winter was bad enough with the rockslide, the mudslide, and all the snow.”

With the rough economy, Lamberth said the 1 percent tax may cause locals to take their business elsewhere. “People are going to do it. They’re not going to think of how little it is,” said Lamberth.

While Lamberth agrees Maggie Valley needs additional promotion, charging the locals and tourists more money would probably be counterproductive.

But Alderman Colin Edwards is skeptical about the claim that a 1 percent tax will turn away customers from Maggie Valley in large droves.

“If I want to eat, I’m going to stop and eat,” said Edwards. “I ain’t going to spend more money to drive to another town, because it’s going to cost you a lot more in Waynesville or Canton or Asheville than it would to eat in Maggie.”

Edwards said most of the larger, well-established restaurants seem to be in favor of the tax while smaller restaurants seem to oppose it.

Mayor Roger McElroy said without enough public support, the town board would not pass the tax. If it is passed, however, revenue would be used to advertise Maggie as a tourist destination and possibly make improvements at the festival grounds, McElroy said.

Town Manager Tim Barth said revenue could also be used to fund the $6.3 million sports complex proposed at Jonathan Creek. The park could bring in major revenue from visitors during tournaments, but as of now, there’s no funding for it.

“We were trying to think of ways to maybe help in that regard,” said Barth.

Town leaders envision setting up a board, heavily represented by restaurant owners, to decide exactly where collections from the 1 percent restaurant tax will go.

Inspiration for the model comes from Hillsborough, N.C., which has levied a similar 1 percent tax for years.

Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson had only high praise for the prepared food and beverage tax.

“It’s been extremely successful as far as being able to promote and run a lot of activities we couldn’t afford to do otherwise,” said Peterson. “If it works half as good for Maggie Valley as it does for Hillsborough, I think the community will be happy.”


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