Elizabeth Jensen

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Steve Lampl paints with acrylics and loves to golf. But last year when he had shoulder surgery, he had to put golfing on hold. That’s when he decided to organize The Mainstreet Artists Co-op Gallery.

A year later, the co-op has grown to a total of 20 artists and has moved to a larger location — a prime storefront on Waynesville’s Main Street left vacant when the Furniture Village closed last year.

“We are very pleased with the space,” Lampl said. “The traffic flow is great. We feel like we have to be on Main Street.”

On the first Saturday the gallery opened this season, more than 300 people walked through the art displays, said Char Avrunin, an original member of the co-op and oil painter.

The co-op has a three-member jury to select new artists, but the gallery is already full. The last artist who will be added this season is a fine quilt-maker.

Lampl said the jury selects artists on the basis of quality, salability, price points and how they will meld with the rest of the gallery.

Nancy Howell Blevins is new to the co-op this year. In order to be accepted, she submitted a portfolio, including pictures of her art and a statement about what she would bring to the group.

Blevins hand dyes silk scarves and paints with watercolor.

“There were no other silks or watercolors with styles like mine,” she said. “The committee was looking for something different.”

Blevin recently taught Avrunin how to paint on silk.

“The artists in this community are wonderful about sharing their techniques with each other,” Avrunin said.

Unlike other artists in the co-op, Avrunin works mainly on commissioned portraits. She uses her gallery space to showcase her skills to potential clients. Avrunin’s past subjects include golfer Arnold Palmer and racecar driver Leilani Munter.

Although she majored in art during college, Avrunin earned her master’s in educational communication and became a manager for Chrysler Satellite Network in Detroit.

She became mysteriously ill in 1995 and spent about a year in bed, she said. In 1998, doctors at John Hopkins Hospital diagnosed her with a rare neurological disease.

“I asked God what I should do next,” she said. “He said, ‘Paint my people.’”

Like Avrunin, George Dixon is also an original member of the co-op. He displays his color photography in the gallery. He primarily shoots nature but also some architecture.

“I’m trying to capture the natural beauty of Western Carolina before it’s developed away from us,” he said.

Before retiring, Dixon was a physics professor. Long before he became the photographer he is today, he understood the optics and technology that make cameras work.

Dixon got his first “good camera” when his oldest child was born, he said. He’s sold between 30 and 40 prints since he joined the co-op last year.

“It’s been a complete delight,” Dixon said. “None of us are getting rich at this, but it’s fun.”

Members of the co-op pay a fee that goes to cover rent and other expenses. When an artists’ work is sold in the gallery, all the money goes back to the artist.

“It’s been a positive experience for me, and I love to create,” Blevins said. “I appreciate having an outlet where I can present my scarves for sale so I can support my habit.”

Artists staff the gallery themselves, working a half day once a week or a full day every other week. Many of the co-op artists are at the gallery for Art after Dark on the first Friday every month.

“I think what we are doing is a positive thing for downtown Waynesville,” Blevins said. “It is good for me because I love my little town.”

For more information, call Steve Lampl at 828.452.4592, or stop by 93 N. Main Street 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, Mon.-Sat.

The artists

The original co-op members include Char Avrunin (oil, watercolor and silk), Gretchen Clasby (acrylic and watercolor), Jeanne Colburn (acrylic and watercolor), George Dixon (photography), Pam Haddock (watercolor), Sandy Lampl (acrylic and oil), Steve Lampl (acrylic), Margaret Roberts (acrylic and collage), Sharon Smith (acrylic and watercolor), Bill Smith (photography), David Stone (acrylic) and Carolyn Taylor (watercolor).

The new additions are Nancy Howell Blevins (hand-died silk), Rebecca Hellman (glass fusion), Anita Painter (graphite portraits), Terance Painter (pottery), Terry Thompson (jewelry) and Dan and Wendy Wright (stained glass and copper).


At 9 years old, Italian Joseph Di Lillo lost his leg as a civilian casualty in World War II. He felt he no longer fit in at home or school. After months of self loathing, Di Lillo ran away and found purpose again playing soccer on a team comprised of handicapped children at an orphanage in Rome.

Now Di Lillo lives in Bryson City and hopes to impart the values he learned through soccer to children and young adults in the community, he said.

“He’s very interested in the kids’ welfare. He has a love for soccer, and he has a strong desire to teach that to the kids around here,” said Julie Richards, who has coached a clinic with Di Lillo. “It’s very impressive to see him out there when it’s 90 degrees, and he’s carrying that gear all over the place, especially on one leg.

Having only one leg doesn’t ever stop him, said Romano Michelotti, another coach who’s worked with Di Lillo.

“He wouldn’t quit playing soccer if he had no legs at all,” Michelotti said. “The community is fortunate to have someone like him.”

About three years ago, Di Lillo founded the Western North Carolina Youth Soccer Association. It runs spring and fall soccer clinics for 60 to 65 children. There is no registration fee, and a $1,000 grant from the Asheville Community Foundation covers the cost of shin guards and cleats. The association has also received two $500 grants from Wal-mart and Sam’s Club, he said.

But that’s not enough. The association needs a field to play on, Di Lillo said.

“I’m desperate for a field,” Di Lillo said. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to quit.”

Di Lillo has been told a field in Swain will cost at minimum $250,000, and he doesn’t have the money. While he could always leave the county to coach elsewhere, De Lillo wants to stay in Swain. With a high incidence of poverty, kids in Swain County have little opportunity to play soccer, which can sometimes be too expensive to afford.

But finding a field in Swain is not the biggest obstacle Di Lillo has had to overcome.

Di Lillo grew up in Italy during World War II. In his book Soccer: My Life, My Passion, he recounts the struggles and loss his family faced during the war. Nazis forced his father onto a German military truck because they thought he was a “suspicious individual.” The soldiers severely beat Di Lillo’s father and left him abandoned on a country road.

Another day when a convoy of German soldiers headed to Rome, one soldier threw a small parcel off the side of a truck. Thinking it was a can of food, Domenico, one of Di Lillo’s brothers, grabbed it. But it exploded, ripping off his thumb.

Later in the war when Di Lillo and his 5-year old brother Sebastiano headed home from school, the two found themselves in the middle of an air raid. Bombs fell on an ammunition plant near the school. As a result of the plant’s explosion, Sebastiano died from hemorrhaging two days later.

A British military truck hit another brother. At the hospital, doctors said he would die. The family wanted him to die at home so they could have control of the remains. But the hospital would not release the boy, so Di Lillo’s family lowered the boy out of the window in a bed sheet at night. He died the next day at home.

And it was during the war that Di Lillo lost his leg. In 1942 on his way home from school, a Nazi military truck ran into him, fracturing the femur in his thigh. It took seven hours for Di Lillo to receive medical attention. The doctor amputated Di Lillo’s leg to prevent complications and infection.

“At the age of nine, I found myself without a right leg and shattered by the reality of being handicapped for the rest of my life,” Di Lillo wrote. “My best and closest friends withdrew their friendship.”

Some of his relatives thought God was punishing him for poor behavior, and he was no longer able to help on the family farm.

Di Lillo’s father insisted he return to school despite his son’s embarrassment about his lost leg. Although Di Lillo once excelled in school, when he returned he began to associate with street urchins and routinely skipped class.

His uncle found out and told his father. His father beat him and tied him to a tree for two days. No one was allowed to bring him food.

When he was untied, he decided to run away from home and go to Rome. He took the Italian equivalent of $10 for a train ticket and a soccer ball. Di Lillo had never seen a game or played with the ball.

“For unexplainable reasons, holding the ball under my arm I felt I had a companion with me,” he recounted in his book.

Feeling that life had no meaning, Di Lillo wandered the streets of Rome hopeless. Di Lillo thought about jumping off a bridge and drowning in the Tiber River.

At that moment, a man approached Di Lillo and brought him to a headquarters for the Italian Communist Party. He was given a little money and became a temporary foster child before he was placed in the San Michele orphanage.

The orphanage had a soccer team of handicapped boys, and because Di Lillo couldn’t run, he played goalie. The team would play before professional soccer games, and the orphanage would get a small fraction of the ticket price.

“I saved the orphanage quite a bit of money,” Di Lillo said. “At the orphanage there were only two things to do: pray the rosary to save the orphanage or play soccer.”

When Di Lillo was 20, he could no longer stay at the orphanage. He returned home and applied for a visa to come to the United States.

He worked odd jobs and traveled before coming to Chicago where he met his wife, Concetta, at a festival called the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. She spoke little Italian, and he barely knew English. But Di Lillo said it was love at first sight.

The couple married and moved to Iowa, where she started attending graduate school at the University of Iowa. Di Lillo, 26, started attending high school but he never received a diploma.

With the help of an Italian professor, Di Lillo began attending the University of Iowa where he coached and played soccer on the International Soccer Team. He transferred to Northern Illinois University where he completed his undergraduate degree in comprehensive social sciences.

From there, he went on to Southern Illinois University where received a scholarship to coach and play soccer and ultimately graduated with a doctorate in international relations.

“I had such a craving for education, I couldn’t stop,” he said.

After retiring from a professorship, Di Lillo moved to Bryson City in 2002 to be closer to his children and grandchildren. His daughter came to North Carolina first to attend Western Carolina University and decided to stay in the area after graduation.

Di Lillo is no an assistant coach at Swain County High School.

Ben Christoph, who graduated this year, played goalie and received two years of Di Lillo’s tutelage.

“Everything he taught me about soccer and life is summed up by his motto: ‘Give 129 and a half percent all the time,’” Christoph said. “He said, ‘Never ever give up no matter what your circumstances.’ Coming from him, it meant so much more.”

Christoph recalls Di Lillo teaching the team innovative drills and demonstrating some of them himself.

“It was beyond admirable how at his age and his condition how he’d show us the drills,” Christoph said. “It made me give a lot more than I thought I could.”


The N.C. Department of Transportation dedicated the bridge at Exit 31 of Interstate 40 in Haywood County in honor of State Trooper Shawn Blanton, last Thursday, the two-year anniversary of his death.

“From this day forward, all who cross this bridge will be reminded of Shawn’s sacrifice and dedicated and unwavering service to the community,” Jim Trogdon, N.C. Department of Transportation Chief Operating Officer, said during a ceremony at the Colonial Theater in Canton last week. “In this small way, we’re insuring he will never be forgotten.”

Blanton was shot and killed on June 17, 2008, after pulling over a car for a routine traffic violation along the stretch of Interstate 40 outside Canton. The EMS rushed Blanton to the intensive care unit at Asheville Memorial Mission Hospital.

The first-degree murder trial of Edwardo Wong, who is charged with Blanton’s murder, is set for August. Wong could receive the death penalty if proven guilty. The trial was moved to Catawba County for fear it would be impossible to find unbiased local jurors.

Blanton’s son Tye, who was born premature 17 days before Blanton’s death, was receiving treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit also at Memorial Mission Hospital. Tye died four months later from numerous medical problems, including congestive heart failure.

Michaela Blanton, Shawn Blanton’s widow, established the Tye Blanton Foundation and the Trooper Shawn Blanton Scholarship in memory of her son and husband. The third annual Trooper Shawn Blanton – G540 Scholarship Golf Tournament will take place Aug. 6 to raise money for the scholarship fund. For more information or to register, contact Tony Belcher at 828.356.6710 or 828.226.0984.


Thousands of poor and low-income children across Western North Carolina rely on schools to get least at one square meal a day, but with classes now out for summer, there’s no easy solution for keeping kids fed.

“This question has been asked many times, and we’re trying to come up with a solution for the problem,” said Beth Stahl, MANNA Food Bank youth programs coordinator. “It’s scary to know they don’t have nutrition on a regular basis. We’re trying to fill in the gaps, but it’s a slow process.”

Throughout North Carolina, about 700,000 children qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year, but only 53,000 or about 8 percent get free meals during the summer, said Cynthia Ervin, North Carolina summer food service programs coordinator.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Ervin said. “I believe we can do better than 8 percent.”

The United States Department of Agriculture reimburses approved programs $1.85 per breakfast, $3.25 per lunch and 76 cents per snack.

But nonprofits, schools or other programs have to be in charge of preparing the food and keeping up with the paperwork required for reimbursement.

“It’s definitely one of the most needed federal programs,” Ervin said. “But it is the most underutilized program.”

In Macon County, 66.6 percent of the 4,239 students enrolled in public schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch. But no programs are in place to ensure those 2,825 children get good nutrition during the summer.

“It’s because we don’t have organizations that are interested or aware of the program,” Ervin said. “They just haven’t stepped up to the plate.”

Jackson, Swain and Haywood counties all have free meal centers and programs to reach kids who need food. But the number of kids fed during the summer through these programs still falls well below the number eligible for free or reduced meals during the school year.

In all three counties, any child up to 18-years-old can simply go during the right time to an open meal site and get a free meal. Proof of lower-income status isn’t required in counties where more than 50 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced lunches during the school year.

In Jackson County, 52 percent or about 1,500 to 1,800 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch during the school year, said Jim Hill, director of child nutrition. But in summers past, free lunch and breakfast programs have served only about 250 meals a day.

This year, Hill anticipates that number will double, he said.

“There is a major effort in North Carolina to get the feeding numbers up, and we want to be a part of that,” Hill said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to get a lot of people involved.”

Led by Jeffery Vickery, senior pastor at Cullowhee Baptist Church, volunteers are delivering lunch to children at four free meal sites in the Tuckasegee, Cullowhee and Canada communities every weekday this summer to expand the reach of the program to more remote areas.

“These kids are spread out in little pockets everywhere,” Hill said. “You want to take it right to their neighborhood, and that’s the tough part.”

Vickery met with school officials to determine which areas had the poorest children and estimated the number of meals to prepare based on how many kids get off at nearby school bus stops.

“This is filling a gap that no one else has,” Vickery said. “The children needed the food. We are just a conduit willing to do it.”

Staff at Smoky Mountain High School prepares lunches that meet strict government nutrition guidelines, and Vickery and his crew deliver them.

Last week — the first week the four satellite sites were open — Cullowhee Baptist Church distributed 151 meals, Vickery said. He anticipates the number will increase as more children learn about the sites, he said. On Fridays, the students also get bags of food to take home for the weekend.

“We said going in that if there were four or five kids who didn’t go hungry this summer, it would be a success,” Vickery said.

Even with the new meal sites, about two-thirds of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch during the school year aren’t taking advantage of summer feedings.

“The big challenge is that there’s other children we can’t get to,” Vickery said. “The difficulty is knowing we could feed twice as many if we had other people willing to host a site.”

Although Jackson County has seen a great improvement in the number of children getting lunch during the summer, Swain and Haywood counties only have one location where meals are served to the general student population.

In Swain County, 1,230 of 1,880 or 64 percent of enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals during the school year, said Diane Shuler, Swain County school food service director.

Swain County Schools will offer breakfast and lunch at the Swain Middle School cafeteria seven weeks during the summer, starting next week.

Last year, between 140 and 150 kids came to the middle school each day to get food. Most of those children attend summer camps. Few come in off the street, Shuler said.

Although Haywood County has several meal sites, only one — the Pigeon Community Center — is open to the general public. The rest serve students in specific summer day camps.

The Pigeon Community Center also offers a summer camp for eight or nine weeks each summer and usually enrolls between 37 and 47 children, program coordinator Lin Forney said.

Forney said the day camp focuses on children whose families can’t afford other summer camps. For the entire summer, the camp costs $200. But any child up to 18 years old can come in for breakfast or lunch, Forney said.

Besides a handful of children just down the street from the center, relatively few children come in for the meals, Forney said. She said she never sees children from other parts of the county like Canton, Clyde or Maggie Valley.

“The major issue is transportation,” Forney said. “Awareness is another factor.”

During the school year, 42 percent of enrolled students in Haywood County Schools are eligible for free lunch and another 9 percent can receive reduce priced lunch. Allison Francis, Haywood County director of child nutrition, said she is sure some children fall through the cracks, and other organizations are stepping up to try to fill the gaps.

In addition to meal sites this year, MANNA Food Bank is supplying food to Haywood Christian Ministries, which in turn will distribute it every Friday to eligible kids through a program called Summer Sacks.

The kids will receive between four and a half and five pounds of food, which may include pasta meals like Hamburger Helper, dried beans, rice, fruits, vegetables and a smaller bag of kids’ snacks, Stahl said.

“With what the family is already receiving from the food bank, I would say it would last about a week,” Stahl said.

Summer Sacks is a spin-off of a similar effort in Haywood County during the school year. School counselors identify students in need of extra food on weekends, and teachers stuff it in the kids’ backpacks on Fridays to get them through until Monday, Stahl said.

The last week of school, these same students got notes put in their backpacks to let their parents know they can pick up extra food bags at the Haywood Christian Ministries this summer.

Nobody knows how many kids will come for the summer backpacks, however, Stahl said.

The Summer Sack program started with a food drive led by Bonnie Williams with the Waynesville office of Keller Williams Realty. The company does regular service projects, and Williams raised the question in a planning meeting for their spring project.

“I said, ‘Does anybody know where these kids get their food in the summer?’” Williams said. “Over the summer there would be two months where they wouldn’t get food. So we decided to take it on.”

The realtors gathered food at four locations in Waynesville and collected more than 1,500 pounds of food on a single day in May. There was so much food, they couldn’t fit it into their cars to take to MANNA. Instead MANNA had to send a truck, Williams said.

“We didn’t know how much food it would take so we worked our butts off,” Williams said.


Summer meal sites for school kids

Jackson County

• Tuckasegee Baptist Church

• River Park Trailer Park (Cullowhee)

• Jackson County Recreation Complex

• Canada Community

Lunch 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Haywood County

• Pigeon Community Center

Breakfast 8:30 – 9:30 a.m.

Lunch 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Swain County

• Swain Middle School

Breakfast 7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

Lunch 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Macon County

• None


Wanting to help?

Organizations interested in sponsoring meal sites should contact Cynthia Ervin, North Carolina summer food service programs coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ervin begins recruiting new sponsors in the fall and visits potential organizations. Organizations must apply and be approved before they can get reimbursement, and volunteers must go through training.

There’s no minimum requirement for how many days or weeks an eligible organization serves meals during the summer or how many kids get fed through the site, Ervin said.

“We want them to do whatever they are capable of doing,” Ervin said.


Kaleigh Davis, 12, comes to the Haywood County Public Library with her aunt Marlene Arrington almost every Thursday night. Arrington said the family can’t afford a computer at home so when Davis had to do a project that was a fifth grade requirement, the family depended on the library.

“There’s no way without the library that we could have done it,” Arrington said. “Thursday night is the only time I can come. I work during the day.”

Thursday is the only night of the week the library stays open past 6 p.m. But starting June 14, the Haywood County Public Library will terminate evening hours completely.

The four branches of the Haywood County Public Library system will see about a $60,600 cut in the county’s budget for the upcoming year, according to Julie Davis, Haywood County finance officer. That’s brings the libraries budget down more than 4 percent from last year’s $1.42 million.

This year’s library allotment is about $162,000 less than it was in the 2007-08 budget prior to the recession. “You’ve got to figure out how to keep the doors open and that’s what it comes down to,” County Library Director Robert Busko said. “It’s a big chunk of money to have to make up.”

To deal with the cuts, the Haywood libraries will restrict hours at some libraries, reduce the materials budget and cut one full-time position — the director of the Maggie Valley Branch who is retiring.

“It’s only one position, but it comes on the heels of last year when we lost two full-time and six part-time positions,” Busko said. That year, the county made budget cuts across all county departments in response to the recession.

Fines Creek Public Library will now be open Monday and Wednesday, and the Maggie Valley Public Library will be open on Tuesday and Thursday.

Both libraries were previously open Monday through Thursday.

No hours will be cut at the Canton Branch, which had to cut nine hours of service with last year’s budget cuts, said Nan Williamson, the director of the Canton Public Library.

“We are as skeleton as we can be in providing services to the public,” Williamson said.

Busko said part-time librarians helped cover schedule gaps created by the later night hours and staffers’ summer vacations, but after last year’s cuts, the library now only has one part-time staff member. The small crew makes it near impossible to cover shifts when employees take their vacation.

“My concern was getting into the summer season and getting in a position where we can’t cover the hours,” Busko said. “In my mind, we are going to reinstitute those (evening) hours in the fall.”

But given the lean staffing, a bad flu season or other unseen events could keep the library from having the staff to open the library on Thursday nights again in the fall, Busko said.

The evening hours are critical to some — whether its working parents with schoolchildren or those who simply can’t get away from their jobs during the day to check out a book or use the Internet.

But the library will keep its Saturday hours so those who are on the job during normal workweek hours will still have access.

Alan McRae from Canton is a computer consultant with a flexible schedule. The cuts in the Thursday hours won’t keep him from coming to the library. But McRae said he is concerned about the budget cuts to the libraries and fine arts in general.

“It’s a shame with our financial issues in the States that we have to cut back on all these things,” McRae said. “I hope we do come up with creative solutions to these problems.”

Busko said the library has examined the budget and cut where they could, but a lot of the budget is fixed. Certain line items such as utilities and the Internet can’t be cut, he said.

Last year, the Internet cost the library $10,000 more than anticipated, Busko said. In order to cover it, the library had to move money around from other areas in the budget.

“Right now, there’s no money to move around,” Busko said.

In case something like that happens again, Busko has cut excess money from the new materials budget to save up a reserve.

The total cut to new materials budget is $25,000, which affects the number of copies of new releases that the library can buy.

“Basically we will be working with a book budget that’s been the lowest it’s been in 15 years,” Williamson said, adding that book prices are also much higher than they used to be.

In the past, the library could buy nine or 10 copies of a popular new release. Now they can only afford five or six copies, Busko said. To make sure everyone still gets a chance to read the books, some of the most popular authors and books will have shorter circulation times.

“It inconveniences the reader because they don’t have three weeks to read it, but it insures that everyone gets a fair shot at the materials,” Busko said.

The libraries in Jackson, Swain and Macon counties are a part of the Fontana Regional Library system and have been mostly unscathed by budget cuts.

For the past three years, Macon and Swain counties have not changed library funding.

“We are so fortunate and blessed that the counties don’t cut us at all,” business manager Deb Lawley said. “But our expenses are getting higher and higher, and it’s getting harder to make ends meet.”

Due to a new library in Sylva, scheduled to open in early spring 2011, Jackson County has actually increased library funding by $121,000 to cover the new library’s operation costs for the last four months of the next fiscal year.

The tri-county regional library network receives about 20 percent of its funding from the state, Lawley said. State funds have decreased between five and 10 percent the last two years, Lawley said. Whether the state will again cut the network’s budget for 2010-11 fiscal year remains unknown.


Hidden behind 16 feet of Main Street storefront, the inside of The Strand Theater looks like a cave. The floor slopes down to a black stage surrounded by tall, black walls. Old theater chairs are stacked on the wall closest to Wall Street.

Tools, random pieces of furniture and a few lights are scattered around the interior. A ramp leads up to the balcony, which is little more than wooden beams overlaid with plywood.

But all of that is about to change.

“I can see it all,” developer Richard Miller said, looking around the vacated building. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Miller has renovated several other properties, including buildings at the corner of Church and Main Streets. He acquired the theater in a trade for apartments and condos last year, he said.

The theater has been closed since the early 1980s, and opening The Strand again will cost about $1.4 million, Miller said. His next step is raising $1 million from investors who can contribute between $50,000 and $250,000. Waynesville has secured a $300,000 grant from the state’s Main Street Solutions fund to renovate the theater.

“We are offering a chance to own a piece of Waynesville and a piece of Waynesville’s future,” he said.

Kevin Sandefur, founder of Headwaters Brewing Company, said he thinks the renovated theater will draw more tourists.

“I think it will be a huge draw to the downtown area because there’s not an attraction on Main Street,” he said.

Sandefur will be opening a microbrewery in the theater. He also won $8,000 in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Business Start-up Competition this year to buy brewing and bottling equipment so he can start selling his beer out of The Classic Wine Seller on Church Street, which is also owned by Miller. The area at the Strand will serve as a small distribution center, he said.

He has established five beers he will serve at both the Strand and The Wine Seller, including a rich, robust chocolate porter; an Irish red; an ale that’s one of his favorites; a hoppy, citrusy IPA; a lager; and his award-winning Black Eye Rye.

Sandefur said he also plans to create specialty beers flavored with local produce. He said he’s both excited and overwhelmed by the grant.

“It puts a sense of urgency on my plans,” he said. “But if anyone can do it, we can.”

Sandefur is a full-time emergency room nurse at Harris Regional Hospital. He works three 12-hour shifts a week but plans on spending some of his own time on the construction since he has a contractor’s license.

“I feel I can invest some time and sweat equity into it,” Sandefur said.

The first steps will be leveling the floor that slopes down to the old stage and fixing the plumbing, Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s brewery will be located beneath the existing balcony. The balcony overlooks the old stage and is perpendicular to Main Street. Although the old stage will be removed and replaced by a kitchen, the balcony will stay.

The old balcony will be walled in and turned into an art gallery. Another lower balcony, opposite of the existing one, will be built over the kitchen with restaurant seating.

An affordable Italian restaurant will occupy the center of the first floor, and a new stage will be built on the wall adjacent to Main Street.

Miller said he envisions a variety of performances, including Sunday morning gospel music accompanied by brunch.

Although the Main Street grant is a start, Miller said he and others will not receive the money until the building’s renovations are complete.

“It’ll be a good thing to have a building that’s been empty for 25 years open,” Miller said. “It’ll bring a lot of new life to downtown.”

From the time the project has enough investors to start construction, it will take 14 months to complete, Miller said.


Gov. Beverly Perdue visited Main Street Friday to announce that Waynesville received a $300,000 grant from the state’s Main Street Solutions fund to help with The Strand Theater renovations.

“We decided Waynesville would be one of the best places in the state to invest $300,000,” Perdue said. “That’s not a lot of money, but it’s a jump-start in this economy.”

Eight other towns across North Carolina received money from the fund, totaling $1.95 million.

“It’s pretty cool what you can do with something old to ignite the growth in small towns across North Carolina,” Perdue said.

“I believe fundamentally that the more Main streets we can see grow and prosper the way you’re prospering, the more of that we can do across North Carolina, the better off we’ll be for economic development.”

Buffy Messer, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, estimated 150 people packed into the Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86 to hear Perdue’s speech.

As the governor entered the gallery, chatter and The Bean Street Boys’ bluegrass music filled the room. Zeb Ross, Levi Ross, Connor Lucky-Smith and Keegan Luck-Smith, ages 13 to 16, have been playing together for seven months.

“We’ve had audiences, but nobody like the governor,” banjo player Levi Ross said.

On the sidewalk outside, local and national Tea Party members used the governor’s visit to protest high taxes and government spending, including the Main Street Solutions grants.

“It’s an opportunity to reinforce with our state leaders that we’re concerned about state spending and what they’re spending it on,” Waynesville Tea Party member Lois Venardi said.

Venardi and other protestors said they did not disagree with the renovation of the theater.

“I think there’s other ways it could be done without using taxpayers’ money,” she said.

After her speech, the governor went to Just Ducky, a clothing and gift store for children, to shop for her grandchildren.


I grabbed my guidebook and pen and wrapped my camera in a plastic grocery bag as it started to rain. Stuffing it all into my backpack, I headed down the ancient looking road, nothing but two narrow ruts overgrown by tall weeds. I wasn’t going back to Waynesville till I found waterfall 50.

I was approaching the last day of my internship, and I had less than four days to complete an online map identifying, describing and providing directions for waterfalls in our widespread Western North Carolina coverage area.

The road lead to a smaller path that headed straight for the creek, and I sloshed upstream in search of the trail on the other side. The path weaved from bank to bank, and it continued to rain.

I waded up the creek around a bend, and there it was — a 60-foot beauty known simply as the Upper Waterfall on Sols Creek.

Two months ago, with Kevin Adams’ waterfall map spread out on a Rubbermaid tub filled with back newspaper issues in the office, some coworkers and I decided which waterfalls to include in the map.

The list of potentials was daunting. More than 270 waterfalls fell in our four-county coverage area and neighboring parts of Transylvania County. With so little time, seeing them all would be impossible.

Since we don’t distribute papers in Transylvania, most of the county’s beautiful falls got axed from the list first, followed by those that involved bushwhacking or hiking more than two miles to access.

After having lived in Charlotte for 10 years and being the descendent of Midwestern farmers and Lutheran pastors, I didn’t want to do anything that would test my limited high-country outdoors experience beyond its limits.

With friends headed on vacations or tied up with summer jobs, my pool of hiking partners dwindled. And although I was afraid to venture out on my own, I had to reconcile myself to the fear of getting lost because if I didn’t get started soon on my own, I’d never finish.

About a month and a half later — and about 30 waterfalls into my journey — I set out to find Yellowstone Falls in Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. My directions, in short, said to find a trail at the back of a couple of campsites and follow a path to the river.

I never found the path to the river. Instead I found a path that at first seemed like the right one, but eventually dwindled to nothing more than trodden grass, and beyond that a thick maze of tangled, impenetrable rhododendron bushes. When I tried to find my way back, I reached another dead end at a blackberry briar.

Had I not just come this way? A sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach overtook me. I was lost.

I retraced my steps back and forth a few more times, then started to rip out pages of my reporter’s notebook, leaving them on the tree branches I passed.

Making no progress, I sat down at a small campfire ring. Small grassy footpaths like the one I came in on spread out like a spiderweb from where I sat. I dug my phone out of my backpack and figured the worst thing I could do was panic. Thank God for cell phone towers — I had one bar.

I called my editor, Becky Johnson. She studied a trail map of the area on the other line, but I still couldn’t determine which direction was out. She gave me the number for the Forest Service, and I called them next.

A few hours later, I heard them yelling my name from the other side of a blackberry briar a couple hundred feet away. They stomped a path through the blackberry thicket. I was getting out and going home!

After loafing around my apartment the next Saturday, convincing myself I had better things to do than hike, I finally found the gumption to face Graveyard Fields again.

I didn’t try to find Yellowstone Falls but had to get Upper Falls crossed off the list. I found a few hikers eating blueberries and followed them to the waterfall.

Even having to face what scarred me most didn’t dull the obsession with the Western North Carolina landscape that brought me to a summer internship at The Smoky Mountain News.

I knew that if there was paradise on Earth, it had to be at the base of some of the region’s waterfalls. And I wanted to see them all, but I now know that’s impossible.

So as I pack my boxes and prepare for my senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill, I’m left with the same sentiment most reporters feel when the deadline approaches for their big stories: I wish I had more time.

For now, 50 waterfalls will have to do.

— Elizabeth Jensen


Although most people are drawn to waterfalls, many pause before they can articulate why. For some, it’s the sound of the water tumbling over the rocks. For others, it’s the sheer beauty or tranquility.

“Everybody loves them, but nobody can tell you why,” said Kevin Adams, author of North Carolina Waterfalls, A Hiking and Photography Guide. “We’re just mesmerized by them.”

• View the interactive map of 50 selected waterfalls in WNC

• See also: A few wrong turns on the way to paradise 

Part of Adams’ love for waterfalls stems from his passion for photography.

Sometimes he’ll take ladders and ropes or swim with his camera to get the shot he wants. But he’s careful and has never hurt himself at a waterfall.

“I respect them. I know how dangerous they are,” Adams said. “I have a wife I love very much that I want to come home to.”

For a quarter of a century, Adams had been trying to shoot a picture of a moonbow, a rainbow caused by the light of the moon instead of the sun. And last winter, he got the shot after standing for 45 minutes in the freezing spray of Rainbow Falls on the Horsepasture River.

With eight inches of snow on the ground and temperatures dipping to 15 degrees, Adams’ camera, clothes and tripod were covered with a thin layer of ice. But he didn’t notice — not until he started heading back to his car.

Whatever the power of attraction may be, the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority knows the ability waterfalls have to draw visitors to the area.

“We understand that waterfalls are one of our greatest resources and attractions,” said Julie Spiro, tourism director in Jackson County.

Spiro has capitalized on being at the heart of waterfall country by creating a map of 19 waterfalls in or near Jackson County. They go through 50,000 of the brochures every year.

“We hand them out all the time,” Spiro said. “It is the most popular product we put out. It’s a wonderful relaxing thing to do that’s still free.”

Spiro has been to all the waterfalls on the map so she can give accurate instructions to visitors. If a tourist can only see one waterfall, she recommends Whitewater Falls, which at 411 feet is the highest waterfall on the East Coast.

“This is the one that will make the biggest impact on their memory,” she said.

Adams also has had great success with his guidebook and photography, so much so that he was able to quit his carpentry job about five years ago and follow his passion fulltime.

His parents always talked about writing a guidebook on North Carolina waterfalls after seeing Lineville, Whitewater and Looking Glass falls on vacation. But it wasn’t until the early 1990s that Adams took on the task.

In 1992, Adams made a cold call to the John F. Blair publishing house in Winston-Salem to see if the guidebook was a feasible idea. He got an answer he wasn’t expecting.

The publisher just happened to be looking for someone to write a book on waterfalls and invited Adams in for an interview. He landed the job. It took Adams a year to do the research and six months to write before the book went to press in 1994.

The waterfall gurus

Adams has seen more than 800 waterfalls — likely more than anyone else alive. But he remains humble about his expertise and willing to share his knowledge. When someone calls him a “guru” or refers to his book as a “waterfall Bible,” he chuckles.

“I realize I know more about North Carolina waterfalls than anyone else on the planet, but I don’t think of it that way,” he said. “Nobody will ever come close to seeing all of them.”

Like Adams, visiting waterfalls is a part of both Jordan Mitchell’s family heritage and publishing success. But Mitchell has gone the online route, posting his information about waterfalls online at northcarolinawaterfalls.info.

The website draws 150,000 unique visitors every month during the summer.

“I have this dueling interest between the outdoors and computers,” he said. “This allows them to come together.”

Between his fulltime job as a software developer and as a new father, Mitchell only makes it to waterfalls a few times a month — still more than most people do in a year, but not enough by Mitchell’s standards.

His daughter, Harper, was only 5 months old when he took her to her first waterfall — also one of the first waterfalls he had ever been to, Douglas Falls in Buncombe County. At the base of the falls, the chronically fussy baby simply stared at the water in silence.

“She was more thrilled than I could imagine she’d be,” he said. “She was mesmerized.”

Why the rush?

Bryson City writer and naturalist George Ellison said he thinks part of the reason people are fascinated with waterfalls is that they activate all five senses, likening the experience of standing at the base of a waterfall to walking into a bakery.

But there may be an even stronger scientific reason behind people’s fascination with waterfalls and for the euphoric feeling many have at the base of a waterfall.

Rushing water in waterfalls releases negatively charged ions. Once they’re breathed in and begin to circulate in the blood, negative ions trigger biochemical reactions that increase the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which can reduce stress, lift the mood and increase energy, according to “Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes” written by WebMD reporter Denise Mann and reviewed by Dr. Brunilda Nazario. They also increase the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain.

“The air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions — much more than the average home or office building, which contains dozens or hundreds, and many register a flat zero,” Mann wrote.

But  some scientists remain skeptical of the claim. And many waterfall goers feel the escape the scenery offers is enough to lift their spirits.

“I enjoy taking the day off from work and getting away from it all,” said Tom Mendenhall after hiking with his brother and friend to reach Wardens Falls in Panthertown earlier this month.

Wayne Joyce, Mendenhall’s friend with a vacation home in Cashiers, said he plans most of his hikes around waterfalls, often eating lunch at the base. Wardens Falls is one of his favorites.

“We hiked five miles to get here so we must like it,” he said.

That same day, Dawn Lavers came to Wardens Falls with her friends and family, who recently moved to Lake Toxaway from Florida.

“We only come when we really don’t have to be anywhere,” she said. “You don’t ever want to be rushed to leave.”

Lavers said that there’s beauty in every waterfall, but that each one is beautiful for a different reason. Some are powerful and dangerous; whereas, others are tranquil and secluded or make for great swimming holes.

The beauty of the region’s waterfalls was enough to lure Rich Stevenson, founder and developer of ncwaterfalls.com, to move to the mountains from Raleigh.

While he was working at Federal Express, Stevenson visited friends in the mountains who took him on a tour of the chain of falls on the Horsepasture River, including Turtleback and Rainbow Falls.

“I used to be a big beach person, but after that I kept coming back to the mountains,” he said.

Stevenson quit the two jobs he had in the Triangle and moved to Western North Carolina. Since then, he estimates he’s seen 400 to 500 falls. Some of the falls he heard about from locals he worked with at his manufacturing job in Candler — locals who’ve spent their entire lives exploring and fly-fishing in the backcountry.

“Once they realize I wasn’t a city wacko, they’ve turned me on to some places,” he said.

In 1999, Stevenson began posting his waterfall finds online. And in 2001, he launched ncwaterfalls.com, one of the most comprehensive online indexes of North Carolina waterfalls.

“At first I thought I was the only fool out there looking for waterfalls,” Stevenson said.

But Stevenson was wrong. The site has grown to include about 280 waterfalls and receives between 1,000 and 2,000 unique visitors a day.

Waterfall hunters

Stevenson soon learned there was a circle of waterfall hunters like himself, those who will strike out along a creek coursing over steep terrain, sometimes bushwhacking and sometimes wading their way down the mountain hoping to discover a previously unknown waterfall.

Stevenson’s swing shift job keeps him from exploring new falls as often as he’d like. Usually, his friend Bernie Boyer, a retired man in his seventies, will study topographic maps, discover a new falls and take Stevenson to it on his next trip.

But sometimes Stevenson finds time to hop in a creek bed and head upstream in hopes of discovering something himself.

“Usually the first thing is that you hear the sound,” he said. “You feel your heart pounding a little bit. There’s a real excitement knowing there’s something around the corner.”

But when it comes to the relatively undiscovered falls, Stevenson and Adams use discretion before making directions available to the public.

Although some of sights they discover are spectacular, the environment at the base of the falls is fragile, covered in rare plant and animal species. A plethora of hikers would destroy the falls’ unique inhabitants.

“You go there and you see that it looks like nobody’s been there for 100 years,” Stevenson said.

Some of the most unique species located at waterfalls are rare ferns, typically found only in the tropics. Because these species of ferns in North Carolina don’t grow to their adult form, they don’t look like a typical fern. They are usually only a small leaf.

The species grow in low light and moist, cool environments, the conditions found behind a waterfall.

“You have a small area with a lot of diversity in a microclimate,” said Anya E. Hinkle, Highlands Biological Station associate director. “Even if it’s hot, a waterfall really cools things off quickly.”

Figuring out how the species took root at North Carolina waterfalls can solve mysteries related to plant migration or provide geographical clues about how the areas were once located closer together before the continents shifted to their present positions.

Naturalist George Ellison often leads flora tours to waterfalls to view the unique plants. He’s seen many of the area’s falls, but some of his fondest memories come from Little Creek Falls, a small-flow, nearly vertical cascade in a lesser known area of the Great Smoky National Park outside Bryson City.

He would take his children to the falls decades ago before the public property in front park entrance came under the ownership of a trout farm.

“People are naturally attracted to the larger ones like Whitewater Falls,” Ellison said. “But those aren’t the ones that mean the most to people around here.”

It’s one of those smaller waterfalls that Kevin Adams holds a particular fondness for. Although he doesn’t usually name the falls he discovers, he named one in the Nantahala National Forest Loretta Falls after his mom.

“She instilled the love of waterfalls in me,” he said. “I knew she would absolutely love it.”

The falls is the tall freefall of a small creek. At the base of the falls, there’s no pool, only thick moss and ferns and some tall hemlock trees.

“It’s a really nice feeling to walk up to a waterfall that you’ve never seen before,” Adams said. “I got to tell you that’s one hell of a feeling, standing there in front of it.”


Temperatures boiled above 90 degrees as the dancers grabbed their partners and lined up on the floor. The caller patiently explained the moves for the first contra dance of the afternoon as members of a volunteer pickup band plucked notes on dulcimers, fiddles and guitars.

Music filled the pavilion. Skirt hems whirled around dancers’ ankles. And shoes clapped against the wooden dance floor as the dancers dosey-doed and swung their partners.

“Thank your partner, get a drink and get back out there on the floor,” the caller said through the microphone as the music ended.

Such contra dances are a regular occurrence in downtown Sylva on the second Sunday of every month. Ron Arps typically organizes each dance and calls the steps. On the day of the August dance, he turned 65.

Arps began contra dancing in the late ‘70s when his wife was invited to play her fiddle at the Odd Ball — a contra dance that used to be held in Jackson County on the odd Friday every month.

Arps said he loved it right away, but that it took him about two years before he finally got the hang of it.

“I’m one of those people with two left feet,” Arps said. “In contra dancing, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s just dancing.”

The dance now hosted at the concert pavilion is a continuation of the Odd Ball held years ago. Though the contra dance has been held at different venues and hosted by different folks throughout the decades, someone has always had the passion to keep it going.

About a year ago, Arps began hosting the dances on the second Sunday of every month at the pavilion or an indoor location when the weather is too cold. The dances are free, but Arps asks for donations to help cover the $50 cost of renting the space.

When the pavilion was still in the planning stages, Arps instructed its architect to make the floor at least 28 by 36 feet so it would be big enough for dances.

The only problem is that the floor is concrete, which is hard on the dancers’ knees and shins. Arps’ solution was to make a portable wooden floor.

The floor cost $1,000 to build, and Arps raised the money within a few weeks from customers at his farmers market booth and area dancers.

“Some didn’t know what contra dancing was [at the farmers market], but they were giving so I could build a dance floor anyway,” Arps said.

The floor has 64 panels and weighs 2,400 pounds.

The wooden floor reduces friction, allowing dancers to slide. It also creates more noise as all the shoes hit it in unison — a sound that energizes the band, caller and dancers.

Andrea Woodall from Florida called the August contra dance so Arps could dance on his birthday. It was her first time calling, both in North Carolina and at an outdoor venue.

“I love inviting people in and helping them enjoy what I love so much,” she said.

Woodall has a box filled with more than 150 note cards, containing dances she’s participated in throughout the years. She said 150 is a small number compared to most callers.

She chooses dances based on the variety of moves, the group’s experience and how smoothly different parts of the dance flow into each other.

“I figure if the dancers don’t know what’s going on, it’s my responsibility,” she said.

At contra dances, beginners are warmly welcomed. Often times, experienced dancers will pick them as partners and show them the ropes.

“Of course you’ve heard of no child left behind,” Kim Lippy said. “They’re like that with their dancers. They take them all with them.”

Lippy has been contra dancing for more than 10 years. Her favorite part of the dance is its flirtatious nature. The dance strongly emphasizes eye contact and breaks down personal space bubbles that are apart of today’s culture, she said.

“You have to look your partner in the eye or else you get dizzy,” Marsha Crites said.

Crites has been contra dancing for more than 30 years, but during that time she had a stroke that she said could have killed her.

“I wanted to run really bad when I was disabled,” Crites said. “Dancing wasn’t a goal until later.”

It took Crites three years to rebuild her muscle coordination to the point she could dance again. During her recovery, she remembers a time when she fell during a dance, bringing a few others to the floor with her.

She said that the experience wasn’t embarrassing, but it was instead a good laugh for everyone in the room. All the dancers were supportive as she tried to get her footing back.

Crites is still dyslexic as a result of the stroke, but it doesn’t slow her step.

“Pretty much all you’ve got to know is to know your right from your left,” she said.


Go dance

The next contra dance will be 3:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, at the outdoor Bridge Park Pavilion in downtown Sylva with a potluck dinner to follow.


A little known law went into effect this year requiring landlords to install carbon monoxide detectors in any rental property with oil or gas furnaces, gas appliances, fireplaces or attached garages.

The bill, passed by the N.C. General Assembly, went into effect Jan. 1, 2010. However, some landlords are unaware of the new law.

In a survey of 15 landlords advertising rentals in newspaper classifieds or on craigslist, only half had carbon monoxide detectors despite all the rental property meeting the criteria. Six did not have detectors and two said they didn’t know.

Four rental agencies in the region that manage fleets of properties were also surveyed. One had never heard of the law, another heard of it but hadn’t yet complied with it, and another refused to say. Only one of the four had both heard about it and was currently in compliance.

Warren Putnam, Waynesville’s Code Enforcement Officer, said there’s no good way to get the word out about the new law.

“There’s really no way we can enforce it unless someone calls to complain about it,” said Putnam.

But tenants are even less likely to know about the law, so the lack of a carbon monoxide detector fails to raise a red flag as something worthy of complaint.

Putnam said he’s inspected three to four houses this year that were required to have detectors and didn’t.

“We are trying to work with the landlords, not against them. They’re willing to fix the problem,” Putnam said.

However, rental houses don’t get inspections as a matter of course. Nor is there a database of landlords that would make it possible to send them all a letter.

Bruce Totty, the former broker manager at Select Homes in Haywood County, found out about the new legislation in January shortly after the law went into effect, thanks to a property owner of one of their rentals.

“When we got the word to start installing them, we started putting them in,” she said.

Dawn Johnson, property manager for a large number of rentals owned by Joe Sam Queen in Haywood County, found out about the new law by reading the April edition of the Waynesville town newsletter.

“They expect us to know it, but we’ve not received much of a formal notice,” Johnson said.

It took the firm until June to finish installing carbon monoxide detectors in all its units. Queen is a state senator.

Carolina Vacations, another rental property company in Haywood County, refused to say whether it had carbon monoxide detectors in its rental units. The company said that it doesn’t give out that kind of information.

Don Wood, a Jackson County landlord, home inspector and appraiser, was unaware of the new law but is a champion of carbon monoxide detectors. Wood said all his properties that have combustion occuring inside have had detectors since he’s owned them, simply because it is the safe thing to do.

“You should never live in a place that absorbs oxygen as a part of its operation that doesn’t have one,” said Wood.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. It is released as a byproduct of combustion — the burning of wood, oil, kerosene, coal, propane or other fossil fuels. Inhaling too much is fatal.

Carbon monoxide bonds better than oxygen to the hemoglobin in red blood cells. If a person inhales too much carbon monoxide, it prevents the blood cells from bonding with oxygen. Therefore, the red blood cells are not able to carry vital oxygen to body tissue, and the person suffocates.

About 170 people die every year in the United States from carbon monoxide poisoning that is the direct result of malfunctioning appliances, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.


Ruffin Shackelford led a group of boys, referred to his program by a juvenile court judge, deep into the Shining Rock Wilderness. That night one of the boys started beating up another, and when Shackelford separated them, the aggressor said he didn’t answer to anyone and was leaving.

Shackelford pointed out that he’s the one who got them to the Shining Rock campsite miles from the closest road and was pretty sure he was the only one who could find the way out. The boy realized he had no choice but to stay.

The next morning the boy shared his life story with Shackelford, telling Shackelford of a life plagued with parental drug addiction and violence. By the end of the week, the boy converted to Christianity, and when he returned to school, he was promoted two grades.

“Of course not every story is like that, but that is one of them,” said Jamie Shackelford, Ruffin Shackelford’s wife. “They were scared to death that bears were out there but they would sleep in the projects next door to a drug dealer.”

The couple started hosting backpacking trips for juvenile delinquents in 1998 during Ruffin Shackelford’s time off of work from his job managing a power plant in Roxboro. In 2008, the Shackelfords opened the Outdoor Mission Camp based in Maggie Valley fulltime.

Now the couple hosts a wide range of campers and focuses on training college students to become leaders. The camp’s focus is to introduce “people to the Creator through the majesty of creation.”

Ruffin Shackelford said he grew up in the 1960s when drugs, sex and rock were the cultural source of excitement. When he started to raise a family, he realized not much had changed.

So he did what he could to make sure his five kids got their fair share of adventure in the outdoors instead of less favorable alternatives. The couple took their children cross country skiing in backpacks before their kids could walk.

They also helped raise foster children, and their kids’ friends always tagged along on outdoor trips.

“The camp seemed like a natural growth from that,” Ruffin Shackelford said.

Ruffin Shackelford’s father was an art professor at the University of Houston, and in 1963 the Cataloochee Ranch built a cabin a little way down the mountain. His dad traded portraits of ranch owners Tom and Judy Alexander for the cabin.

Although the camp was originally based out of that cabin, two and a half years ago the couple finished building a house at the top of the mountain where they now live and run the camp. That’s when Ruffin Shackelford quit at the power plant.

“There wasn’t enough time in life to follow my career and do this,” he said.

Throughout the years, the couple has led more than just juvenile delinquents through the wilderness. They also have hosted camps for teen mothers, at-risk students and church groups.

Last week, 22 middle school boys from Person County came to the Outdoor Mission Camp, many at the suggestion of the school reading specialist.

One of the campers Dezmond Wilson, 13, had never been hiking or camping before. He’d never been to the mountains either. But that week he hiked more than 10 miles and camped two nights on the trail.

“I thought I was going to be way behind,” Wilson said. “I just started pushing myself. I felt amazing because I hiked that far. I’ve never been pushed as hard as I’ve been this week.”

The Shackelfords are finding it more and more challenging to keep up with the younger campers.

“I’ve got to keep up with 20-year-olds, and I’ve got the heaviest pack,” she said.

Besides changing the lives of children, the couple has developed a vision to train another generation of leaders. Each summer they bring in college students to serve as camp counselors, or Sherpa.

They chose to call their counselors Sherpas after the ethnic group native to the Himalayan Mountains, which teach and prepare mountaineers from around the world to conquer Earth’s highest peaks.

The Sherpa at the Outdoor Mission Camp receive several weeks of training before they tackle the task of leading campers. They earn wilderness first aid, rafting guide and top rope belaying certifications.

Before becoming a Sherpa at the camp, Jane Savage, 20, said she placed more value on outward appearances, money and her future career.

“Then I came here and realized that’s not what’s really important,” she said.

Savage was drawn to the camp because it was set in the wilderness. However, before starting she had little experience backpacking.

“The first couple of times, it’s like you’re on survivor and then you’re back at the house in the Ritz,” Savage said.

July 30 the Sherpa will put into practice everything they’ve learned when they travel with the rest of the camp staff to Honduras to lead a weeklong day camp.


At the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville, performers’ costumes erupt from the sleeping quarters to fill spare rooms, hallways, and an unused nook in the auditorium.

“We always assume that the costumes and performers will fit in the same room,” said Karen Babcock, the festival’s executive director.

But this year, the Folkmoot staff and volunteers had to make last-minute adjustments to accommodate more costumes than usual.

“It’s thinking on your feet and coming up with solutions,” Babcock said, adding that throughout the festival every year, unexpected challenges always arise.

Babcock said that many of the groups this year are larger than the average sized groups in years past, which leaves less room for costumes in the sleeping quarters. Because many of the groups are from Europe, some of the costumes are thicker.

The Russian group alone came with more than 100 costumes. Each of the group’s 14 dances has a different set of costumes. Each dancer came with up to eight costumes because some of the parts are mixed and matched for the different dances.

The group brought 12 bags containing only costumes and eight more bags with their requisites, accessories and hats.

When the Apple Chill Cloggers arrived at the Folkmoot Center, their room — located across the hall from the Russians’ quarters — was covered in Russian costumes. The costumes hung on a two-tiered clothing rack with bags spread about its base. The red pants and ornate shirts hung on poles close to the windows.

The cloggers had one empty rack in the center of the room to hang their own garments. And the group still needed to open more beds so all their performers could sleep in the room. With some rearranging and relocation of costumes, the cloggers finally were able to open the beds.

Like the Russian group, the Polish performers also brought several costumes. The group has 37 members, and 26 are dancers. Most of the Polish dancers came with five costumes each, performer Magda Majewska said.

When the group arrived July 20, one of the first tasks was to hang up the costumes.

“It always takes a lot of time to put them in the right order,” Majewska said. “We always have to be careful about putting them on the floor or in water. [Putting them in water] would be a disaster.”

One of the guides for the Polish group, Megan McLeod, said she was surprised when she saw all the costumes. Last year, her group had only nine performers with two costumes apiece.

Because the Poles had so many costumes, McLeod had to help find extra racks and hangers around the Folkmoot Center.

“They all got them out and knew exactly what to do,” she said.

Many of the costumes arrived to the States wrinkled. Majewska estimated it would take the group a couple of hours to iron the 20 shirts and 10 aprons for their Thursday night performance.

Depending on the length of their performance, the dancers might bring two costumes with them to the venues and change when they get to the site, which makes for a very crowded bus.

The five costumes the dancers brought come from different classes and regions of Poland. Two come from Southern Poland.

One is from the peasant class. The women wear a flower print skirt, vest, shawl, wool socks, leather boots and white blouse. The other is based on what the 17th century gentry would wear. The dresses are black, red and green with gold embroidery and costume gold chains and decoration.

Another costume comes from the central region of Poland, from where the group is based in Pkock near the capital. These costumes have heavy wool jackets.

The costumes from the northeastern region of the country have unique black hats that lay flat in a wooden suitcase. But when the performers put them on, they curve around the crowns of their heads, tied with long ribbons in the back.

The group’s fifth set of costumes is from countries across Europe for a dance Majewska called European Fantasy.

The group from Portugal brought two costumes for each dancer and had some difficulty transporting all their costumes and instruments.

“We had to cut into our personal luggage to bring all the costumes with us,” group co-director Amabélio Pereira said. “It’s very difficult to bring a group to the U.S. because they’re strict with the dimensions and weight.”

The group had one large box for all their instruments, including several accordions, but the box was too big to bring on the plane. The group had to divide its contents among the members in the airport.

The airline misplaced two of the group’s bags, which finally arrived on Thursday. The dancers wear heavy boats and hats, which they fill with items when they pack so they don’t get squished in their suitcases.

Only the Sunday or party outfits the Portuguese still wear in the southern mountain region have hats, and the women wear scarves under the hats, hiding their hair. The group also has more elaborate city costumes from the 19th and 20th centuries.


Last year, Folkmoot USA relied on about 4,000 hours of community service to pull off the festival. Volunteers hosted BBQs, sold souvenirs, bandaged sprained ankles, answered phones, served four meals a day and helped in many more ways.

In April, volunteers started painting the Folkmoot Friendship Center, and people will work for a month to a month and a half after the festival ends to make sure all of the sheets are clean.

“We rely on our volunteers very heavily,” said Doug Garrett, the Folkmoot guide and volunteer coordinator. “It would be impossible to have a festival without our volunteers.”

Seasonal residents Bill and Louise Voreis have been volunteering with Folkmoot for 10 years.

Before retiring, Bill Voreis worked as an air traffic controller, and Louise Voreis taught kindergarten and their schedules kept them from spending time together. Now the couple works with each other to record the T-shirt inventory from souvenir sales.

“It’s wonderful because we can do it together,” Louise Voreis said. “These few weeks, we don’t really plan anything else.”

The inventory room at the Folkmoot Center is near the gym where they can watch the performers socialize and practice.

“It’s just fun to watch them,” Bill Voreis said. “They don’t have any of the animosity that adults get later on. … It is the color and the young people and their energy that inspires you to be a part of it.”

Bill Voreis doesn’t hesitate to help around the center in other ways either. He’ll take out the trash, flip hamburgers and buy the performers candy bars and Frisbees as small gifts.

“You start to see the same people day in and day out, and you start to form a bond with them,” Bill Voreis said, recalling the relationship he formed with a French group a few years ago.

Louise Voreis remembers walking around the corner of the building after the closing ceremony, and her husband had on a beret that the French performers had just given him.

The couple also looks forward to seeing the volunteers they’ve made friends with throughout the years at Folkmoot. Along with Louise and Bill Voreis, the Folkmoot volunteer database contains more than a hundred names.

“We can always use more,” Garrett said.

Some jobs allow the volunteers to have close access and relationships with the performers. Others are less glamorous but not less important.

Bill Skelton and his family moved to Waynesville nine years ago on the festival’s International Day. Since then, the family has been to a couple Folkmoot performances each year.

This year, Skelton will man the Folkmoot Center during some performances for five or six nights from 6 to 11 p.m. He anticipates the night shift will be slow and hopes to get some reading done in between the office work. If he runs out of reading material, he’s got Sudoku puzzles on reserve.

“I know how much volunteers mean to different events,” Skelton said, mentioning he often relies on volunteers to accomplish his goals as the director of Haywood County Extension Services.

Skelton’s 15-year-old daughter, Jean Skelton, also will volunteer for the first time this year selling souvenirs at four events – the first being the parade.

“I can’t wait till Friday,” she said.

Jean Skelton is looking forward to practicing her Spanish, while her father is nervous about not being able to communicate with those who may need his help.

“Neither one of us really know what we’re getting ourselves into,” he said.

But both are excited to experience new cultures. Neither has had much opportunity to travel “unless you count Charlotte as a foreign land,” Bill Skelton said jokingly.

Jo Wooten, who heads the first aid room at the Folkmoot Center, enjoys her volunteer position because like the Skeltons she hasn’t had a lot of chances to travel.

“It’s giving people who don’t travel outside of the country the opportunity to learn about other cultures,” Wooten said.

She works in the first aid room from 9 to 11 a.m. every day. She organizes a rotating team of about seven doctors or physician’s assistants and 11 nurses to help in the room.

One of her biggest challenges is the language barrier, she said.

“You get good with hand maneuvers and charades or what have you,” Wooten said.

Most of the ailments she sees in the first aid room include sore throats, coughs, allergies and some injuries such as strains and sprains.

Two other nurses and one doctor or physician’s assistants help Wooten in the clinic every day. One nurse records the vital signs, and the others work in the back with the doctor or physician’s assistant.

“We try to take care of everything without sending them to urgent care,” she said.

But the need for volunteers goes beyond the first aid clinic, souvenir sales and office work.

Before the festival, a group of eight to 10 women come into the center to make the 350 to 400 beds the performers will sleep in. One man waxes the cafeteria floor every year. Painters who are short on jobs due to the recession have donated their services.

“There are so many small jobs that require so many people versed in so many talents,” Garrett said.


Armando Basulto had his opponent’s arm sandwiched between his legs. He leaned forward, putting pressure on the man’s shoulder. The man gritted his teeth and patted the mat in surrender.

Basulto slid away from the man who was still belly down on the mat, looked at his class and said, “Don’t snap off each other’s arms. You don’t want to take them home with you.”

Two years ago, Basulto and his wife, Christine, opened a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu academy at the Waynesville Recreation Center.

Five people attended the first class. Within three to four months the club had 15 people. Now, Tuesday and Thursday classes average 25 participants.

“For a club that’s only been in existence for two years, we’re in the top 10 in the Southeast,” Armando Basulto said.

The group attends three competitions a year, and almost all of Basulto’s students who compete place in the top three. Some members also travel to competitions individually. Five from the academy competed at the North American Grappling Association Tournament in Atlanta last weekend.

At a competition earlier this year in Charlotte, Ryan Conn, a white belt, took the mat against a blue belt — someone who’d been practicing Jiu-jitsu a few years longer than he had.

“When you go in there, you try not to have your doubts,” Conn said. “I was a little nervous, but I didn’t go in there to lose.”

Conn went on to beat three blue belts to win the gold medal in that division.

“People were like, ‘Man, what do they feed their white belts?’” Armando Basulto said.

Even members who don’t fight will attend the event to cheer their teammates on, the Basultos said. Family members and friends, whom Basulto likened to soccer moms and Jiu-jitsu groupies, will also caravan to Atlanta.

“There’s a real feeling of camaraderie and family,” Christine Basulto said.

The bond between the teammates goes beyond the mat, the Basultos said. Members come together to help teammates in need — whether it’s helping each other find apartments and jobs or taking a team member who’s had a bad day out to dinner after practice.

When a member’s gi was stolen from his truck, everyone else donated a belt, jacket and pants to make sure he had something to wear to practice.

“It’s such an intimate art,” Armando Basulto said. “You can’t help literally dripping each other’s sweat onto each other’s faces.”

That sense of family and a dedication to teaching fundamentals have made the academy a success, Basulto said.

“I teach from the fundamentals and take a little longer to build a strong foundation,” Armando Basulto said. “I take the time to teach the why of everything.”

Besides Jiu-jitsu, Armando teaches fifth grade at Hazelwood Elementary, and Christine teaches K-8 English as a Second Language.

Since childhood, Armando Basulto had studied Judo. But while living in San Diego in 1994, he heard about a group of guys practicing in a garage and beating everyone in fights. That’s where he discovered Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

“I just became obsessed with it,” Armando Basulto said.

Armando Basulto moved to New Jersey and opened his first academy. He started teaching his wife Jiu-jitsu when she began teaching school in the Bronx.

“I remember at the time thinking if I start, this is for life,” she said.

Women like Christine Basulto are more prone to excel in Jiu-jitsu than men because they depend more on technique than strength to win a match, Armando Basulto said

The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that the Basultos teach goes back to the 1920s when Carlos Gracie started developing the art.

Many questioned his ability to fight because of his small size, but before long, Gracie had a hard time finding opponents because renowned fighters got sick of losing.

Carlos Gracie ended up placing a provocative, open challenge in a Brazilian paper loosely translated as saying: “If you want to get your face beaten and well-smashed, and if you want broken arms, look for me at this address…”

Royler Gracie, a descendent of the Gracie Jiu-jitsu legacy, will travel from Brazil to teach a seminar and instruct the club later this month before visiting Australia to surf.

Jiu-jitsu is designed to transform small fighters like the Gracies into more than formidable opponents.

Daniel Gottliebsen, a purple belt who’s been training for five years, remembers the first time he took the mat. He was 180 pounds — his opponent 130 pounds.

“He just wiped the mat with me,” Gottliebsen said. “I still learn something new every time I step on the mat. I get humbled.”

Armando Basulto said he’s seen many different types of people wander into his classes.

“It’s always the jock type that don’t stick around,” Armando Basulto said, adding that they don’t like being put in choke holds by women.

He said his job as an instructor would be much different if he got to hand pick his athletes. But instead he finds it rewarding to watch the transformation of students.

“I take the raw material, and I give them these skills,” Armando Basulto said. Many of his students make major changes in their lifestyles.

“It’s not just about athleticism,” Christine Basulto said, “but how it helps people’s lives improve.”

The Basultos have seen men lose 60 pounds and people who’ve changed their diets and stopped smoking so they can do better on the mats.

They’ve seen a woman afraid of breaking nails her first night overcome extreme nervousness to medal months later at competition.

“It’s about the little guy, and I also mean the little guy in his mind,” Armando Basulto said. “All of our success stories are about that.”


Measuring the overall health of a population at the local level is an elusive and cumbersome task. As a result, there have been few statistical studies historically that hint at how Western North Carolina stacks up.

But this year, an unprecedented study compiled health rankings for every county in each state across the country.

The results weren’t good news for Swain County, which ranked in the bottom 10 percent in several categories. However, Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties went against the stereotype of poor health in the Appalachian Mountains and ranked in the top third.

“The western part of the state is a good deal older. When you control for that, the east part of the state seems a good deal unhealthier,” said Dr. Tom Ricketts, past director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Compiled by the University of Wisconsin, the study divided heath rankings into two broad categories: health outcomes and the health factors that cause them.

Swain County ranked 91st out of 100 counties in the state — the lowest ranking of any county in WNC when it comes to health factors. Meanwhile, Jackson, Haywood and Macon Counties are ranked in the healthiest third at 31, 19 and 15 respectively.

Diet, smoking, drinking, exercise, access to quality health care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment all play into the ranking.

“Health and health behaviors and care are all tangled up in a multi-complex system,” said William Aldis, a World Health Organization representative to Thailand who lives in Sylva and has taught health classes at Western Carolina University and at a university in Thailand. “You can never completely separate these things.”

Aldis said he notices the difference in health as soon as he steps off the plane and into the airport terminal when he returns to the United States.

“It surprises me when I come back how sick people look here compared to other countries,” he said.

While the University of Wisconsin study took on an enormous task, the rankings are not universally accepted by public health officials.

Linda White, director of the Swain County Health Department, has not used the information in any strategic planning because she thinks the data may be skewed.

She often compares Swain to Graham County in her planning because the populations are similar. But she noticed the study reported Swain to have the highest percent of smokers in the state while failing to report a percentage of smokers in Graham.

“It causes me to question the validity of the data,” White said.

Macon County Health Director Jim Bruckner said some counties may need to look harder at some of the statistics to determine their quality because of the sampling methods. But Bruckner said the health department has a lot it can glean from the statistics.

Every three years, the health department uses a variety of statistics to create a “snapshot” of health outcomes and contributing factors in Macon County. Bruckner said the county health rankings will now be included in the project.

“We hope to use this report to shed light on what more we can do to help residents lead healthier lives and to mobilize community leaders to invest in programs and policy changes that will improve Macon County’s health,” Bruckner said.


Health behaviors


The University of Wisconsin study looked at key health behaviors — which will ultimately affect people’s health in the future — such as diet and exercise, tobacco use, unsafe sex and alcohol use.

The study uses obesity as the measure for a county’s commitment to diet and exercise. Although obesity is a problem across the state, Jackson, Macon, Haywood and Swain Counties are no worse than the state average, according to the County Health Rankings.

North Carolina is the 10th most obese state in the nation with an adult obesity rate of 29 percent, according to the Trust for America’s Health “F as in Fat” 2010 report.

And North Carolina has grown heavier. In 2009, North Carolina was the 12th most obese state, 16th in 2008 and 17th in 2007.

“Obesity is one of the most challenging issues and has had the more lasting impact on our society,” said Carmine Rocco, Haywood County Health Department director.

Reducing childhood obesity is a big focus for health departments in Western North Carolina.

“We’ve attempted to combat that for years,” White said. “It’s a lifestyle change. Kids will eat what’s offered to them.”

White has worked with schools in Swain County to get healthier food on the menu. Between five and six years ago, the health departments removed the deep fryers from the school cafeterias and purchased them ovens instead, White said.

But it’s other health behaviors that earned Swain County its low ranking. Swain has the highest percentage of smokers in the state and one of the highest teen birth rates, which is used to indicate unsafe sex tendencies.

Dr. Mark Engel, a family doctor in Swain County, said he thinks part of the problem with Swain’s health is that preventative care has not been emphasized until recently and that Swain has been more isolated than the counties to the east.

“Swain has been socially isolated long enough,” Engel said. “It will be an uphill climb for better health.”

He’s noticed higher social support for both smoking and teen pregnancy, he said, adding that it will take generations to change the population’s attitudes.

Forty percent of adults in Swain County smoke compared to 23 percent across the state.

“We’ve come leaps and bounds,” White said, who questioned the accuracy of the statistics. “We work on lessening those numbers regardless of what they are.”

Both Dr. John Stringfield and Dr. Michael Brown, who are family doctors in Waynesville, said that they’ve seen a decrease in the number of smokers in their offices even though the study reports that Haywood still has a higher percent of smokers compared to the state average.

“There’s been an increase in education and peer pressure against smoking,” Brown said.

Only Macon County with 19 percent of the population being smokers falls below the state average.

Ricketts said that there is a strong correlation between smokers and more rural environments. He suggested that smoking might be a form of entertainment where few other options exist.

“It’s hard to explain,” Ricketts said. “It just is.”


Clinical care


Another key component in assessing an area’s health is the availability of healthcare. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin examined several factors, including the percent of uninsured adults, the number of primary providers in the area and preventable hospital stays.

Jackson and Swain Counties have poor clinical care rankings at 86 and 93 respectively while Haywood and Macon Counties are both in the top 15, according to the study.

“In the early ‘70s, the main problem was that there’s been a misdistribution between urban and rural areas with primary care physicians,” said John Price, director of the N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care. “The issue over the years has changed a little. The issue is economic access to care.”

Three of the four counties — with Haywood being the exception — have more than 22 percent of adults without health insurance.

That portion is noticeably higher compared to about 15 percent of American and 17 percent North Carolinians who are uninsured.

The Good Samaritan Clinic in Jackson County is a free clinic that treats uninsured adults. A volunteer doctor at the clinic, Dr. David Trigg, said there are often misconceptions about who the uninsured are.

“They’re not unemployed. They’re just uninsured, and they certainly aren’t lazy,” he said,

But in the clinical care rankings, other factors have a role in bringing down Jackson and Swain counties’ rankings.

Swain County has a high rate of hospitalization for typical outpatient services, according to the study. This suggests that outpatient care in the area is less than ideal or that the people overuse the hospital as the primary source of care, the researchers wrote.

A strike against Jackson County’s ranking is a low percentage of diabetic Medicare patients getting annual blood sugar control tests. The tests are considered a standard of good healthcare — a standard at which Jackson is the lowest in the state.

“One reason that could be lower is the way it’s recorded,” said Paula Carden, the Jackson County Health Department director. “Whether all the numbers get reported or not is hard to say.”

Carden said doctors are responsible for reporting the screenings when their patients come to get them. The codes used by doctors in Jackson to report the data may be different from those in other counties.

In one aspect of clinical care, the number of primary care doctors per capita, the study found all four counties at or above average.

But some of the physicians are counted twice, inflating the number of doctors for Western North Carolina. Many doctors in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties practice across countylines — with their main office in one county but a satellite office in the other where they hold weekly office hours. These doctors appear to be counted in both counties.

“Even if there are enough providers to the population by the numbers and they appear at the right levels, they’re not,” Good Samaritan Clinic director Becky Olson said. “The problem is that Jackson County doctors don’t just serve Jackson County alone.”

The study also fails to take into account the influx of seasonal residents and tourists to the area. Doctors in Western North Carolina said they can tell when the part-time residents begin to arrive in the spring.

“It’s an elusive number, hard to quantify,” said the Haywood County Health Department director Carmine Rocco. “But it’s a reality we have to deal with when we plan health care. If something happens, we have to be able to respond.”

Flu and respiratory illnesses keep his schedule filled during the winter, and during the summer, he sees an influx of seasonal residents. Some older residents who come for four or five months in the spring and summer have chronic conditions that require a physician’s monitoring, said Dr. John Stringfield, a doctor at Waynesville Family Practice.

“What keeps me busy is different for each season of the year,” he said.

But Ricketts said he wouldn’t call seasonal homeowners or tourists a stress on the Western North Carolina healthcare system.

“For a rural place, it generally does pretty well on physician supply,” Ricketts said.

He gave the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., as an example of something that would cause stress on the system. In 2008, the rally brought more than 400,000 bikers and three rally related deaths to the small town.

“[Tourism in Western North Carolina] doesn’t necessarily provide stress but provides income,” Ricketts said.


Social & economic factors


Research has shown that social and economic factors also play a key role in determining health.

“To have an overall picture of health, it’s affected by economic factors,” health director Carden said. “If you don’t have enough money for the good health care, your overall health is affected. … Economics plays an important role in our overall health whether we like it or not.”

According to the University of Wisconsin study, Swain County has the lowest high school graduation rate, fewest college degrees, highest unemployment and most single-parent households compared to the other three counties.

“More educated people are in a much better position to analyze health choices,” Aldis said. “Education is a powerful tool in expanding people’s health choices.”

Aldis said that in his work in foreign countries where the populations are less literate than in the United States, women who can read are more likely to get their children vaccinated even if they haven’t had any medical training.

But even less educated patients are attentive and willing to learn how to make better health choices, Trigg said about his patients at the free clinic. But without the clinic, they don’t have the same knowhow about getting health information, he said.

“They don’t get on the Internet and look up health information the same way someone from the university would,” he said.

Hand-in-hand with education, poverty also limits a people’s health options in that they can’t afford the best or at times adequate care, said Stringfield, a Haywood doctor.

“Those in a lower social economic status may tend to have more medical problems,” Stringfield said. “Sometimes that has to do with access to care or access to medicine. Many simply can’t afford to fill a prescription.”

Poverty also influences people’s food choices. Fruits and vegetables are expensive compared to a value menu at the local fast food restaurant. Snack food is also cheaper but contains unhealthy ingredients such as excess salt and high fructose corn syrup, Aldis said.

“There’s not a sense of autonomy of choice,” he said. “We have a very interesting inversion going on. Obesity is a disease of the poor.”

To learn more, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org/north-carolina.



How WNC stacks up

The University of Wisconsin ranked all counties in all states by health outcomes and health factors. Within health factors, four subcategories determined the rankings: health behaviors (30 percent), clinical care (20 percent), social and economic factors (40 percent), and physical environment (10 percent).
There are 100 counties in North Carolina. A ranking of 1 would denote the healthiest county while 100 would signify the unhealthiest in that category.

Health Factor Rankings denotes overall health. The others show what went into determining the rankings.

Health Factors Rankings
Macon    15
Haywood    19
Jackson    31
Swain    91

Health Behaviors Rankings
Macon    12
Haywood    35
Jackson    39
Swain    97

Clinical Care Rankings
Haywood    11
Macon    14
Jackson    86
Swain    93

Social and Economic Factors Rankings
Haywood    16
Jackson    19
Macon    33
Swain    79

Physical Environment Rankings
Swain    14
Jackson    35
Macon    51
Haywood    72

Percentage of Smokers
Macon:    19%
Haywood    27%
Jackson    28%
Swain    40%
State Average    23%


Last Thursday morning was atypical for song sparrow IR-IF. While defending his territory from the song of an intruding male, he landed in the net of Jeremy Hyman, a biology professor at Western Carolina University.

Held tightly in Hyman’s hand, IR-IF got a set of ankle bands. Hyman measured the bird’s wing length, tarsus and beak before putting him in a white bag to weigh him.
Hyman released the bird from his grip, and IR-IF flew to a nearby bush to pick at his new bands with his beak.
“He’ll be back to defending his territory in no time,” Hyman said.
IR-IF is king of the small garden and shrubs by a courtyard on campus and is one of the most aggressive males at WCU. IR-IF’s territory is one of more than 100 on the campus.
Hyman studies 40 of the territories. He researches the behaviors of song sparrows and compares the urbanized population around the campus to other areas. Hyman has loved bird watching since he was a kid and learned the art of birding from his grandpa in New York City.
“I didn’t know it could turn into a profession,” he said.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Chicago in 1993 and remembers awkwardly trapping his first bird, a Carolina wren, as a senior.
“I quickly learned the hang of it though,” he said.
He started teaching at Western four years ago and is once again spending the summer studying local bird populations on campus.
“I immediately saw these birds were way more aggressive than the ones I’d known before,” said Hyman, who studied the same species of sparrow extensively in Pennsylvania.
Hyman measures how aggressive the birds are through playback experiments. He goes into a male’s territory and sets up a small speaker. The speaker plays the song of another male from his field studies in Pennsylvania.
Each male has a repertoire of about five to 13 songs. During mating season, roughly March to September, they sing the songs to attract females and hold their turf.
Aggressive males will swoop down and chip lower pitched songs at the speaker. Hyman tracks how close the males get to the speaker and how many songs they sing during the experiment.
To make sure the difference is truly between urban and rural populations instead of just between North Carolina and Pennsylvania sparrows, Hyman has done playback experiments at Purchase Knob, a remote area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Haywood County where the birds encounter few people.
While Hyman has detected broad trends in the aggressiveness of rural versus urban populations, personalities vary between individual birds — just like they would within a group of people. For example, not all male song sparrows have the boisterous personality of IR-IF.
“You also have these birds that are real wimps year after year,” Hyman said.
He recalled one bird from Pennsylvania that would live in the same territory for six or seven years. Every time Hyman would play a foreign bird’s song, the sparrow would fly off in the opposite direction and hide in the bushes.
“How are both those things coexisting in a population?” Hyman said.
Hyman has two hypotheses about why the birds in urban areas like the campus are more aggressive.
“One hypothesis is this is great real estate, and they are going to fight for it,” he said.
The other hypothesis is that birds that live in more urban areas learn to be more aggressive from the environment.
“We don’t know the answer at this point,” Hyman said, adding that it would be a hard question to answer without hatching sparrows in a controlled environment.
Hyman also looks for a correlation between aggression and other behaviors, which may also be more prevalent in the urban university setting. The other behavior he mainly studies is how bold the birds are around humans.
Hyman studies song sparrows because they are common and visible and live at eye level. But Hyman’s interest spans all species of birds.
He recently returned from the first vacation he’s taken in years – a bird watching trip to Jamaica. He was most fascinated by two species of large, colorful cuckoo birds.
“Seeing them was pretty spectacular,” he said.


Eight-year-old Devon Heenan stood with her arm extended in the parking lot of the Ingles in Cashiers. With her cell phone camera, she and a friend were taking pictures of the summer sun in hopes of seeing a sky ship or UFO like her mother Glynis Heenan.

The night before Glynis Heenan saw a bright light in her backyard. She thought it was the moon and stepped outside to have a better look. Instead, she said she saw a circular sky ship with radiating rainbow colored lights.

“The first thing you do is feel afraid,” Heenan said. “It’s amazing how afraid you can be of what you don’t know.”

But Devon Heenan wasn’t afraid. She turned her head from the sun and snapped another picture. When she looked at the screen, she saw the outline of a ship in front of the sun.

The picture Devon Heenan captured finally pushed Mary Joyce and Evelyn Gordon to create a forum where people from across Western North Carolina could report similar sightings and information.

“That’s the picture that started the whole thing,” Joyce said.

In 2008, Joyce and Gordon launched www.skyshipsovercashiers.com. Since then, the website has gained international attention and got the duo a speaking engagement in Laughlin, Nev., at the 2010 International UFO Congress, the largest UFO conference in the world.

In front of an audience of more than 900, Joyce and Gordon presented a log of UFO and spiritual sightings in Western North Carolina.

At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13, the women, along with eyewitness Glynis Heenan, will share their conference presentation and answer questions at the Jackson County Senior Center, 100 County Services Park in Sylva.

“This isn’t about us,” Gordon said. “It’s about helping the world.”

Seeing UFOs is commonplace for the women. Gordon claims she receives telepathic messages from them, which Joyce then transcribes. The two have delivered letters to presidents and foreign dignitaries.

Although most of the messages are personal – secrets only known by Joyce, Gordon and the recipients – Gordon and Joyce will share portions of the more generic messages with audiences.

The three women also will tell of spiritual sightings in the area such as 30-foot hologram of Jesus and a man with the face of Jesus wearing a maroon space suit.

Military actions, missile silos and nuclear power plants attract alien activity, the women say.

According to Joyce, what may draw the aliens to Western North Carolina in particular is a secret underground facility at Balsam Mountain.

The facility goes six stories deep into the earth and has electromagnetic equipment that can erase memories, the women posted on their website.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity in North Carolina period,” Gordon said.

Gordon and Joyce have known each other since the 1980s when a mutual acquaintance suggested they meet. The two have been a team since, and Joyce has written books Gordon has helped promote. They moved to Western North Carolina 12 years ago from Florida.

Joyce lived within eyesight of Kennedy Space Center, and every time a rocket launched, her Cocoa Beach apartment would vibrate. She’d see UFOs guiding the rockets through the upper atmosphere and into space, she said.

Joyce said an unnamed NASA insider she knew said all astronauts who’ve been to space have seen UFOs. The group’s website includes testimonies from law enforcement officers, a security watchman, a man who was in the Navy, among others.

For more information, visit www.skyshipsovercashiers.com.

Hear it firsthand

“Sky Ships and Cosmic Spirituality” will take place 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13, at the Jackson County Senior Center, 100 County Services Park, Sylva.


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