Quintin Ellison

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Counties are shouldering the cost of cleaning up clandestine methamphetamine labs for now, but the state is promising some dollar relief starting in January.

The State Bureau of Investigation announced the start of the Clandestine Laboratory Hazardous Waste Storage Container program, which will help take the place of federal and state funding underwriting methamphetamine-lab removals that ran dry in February. The program will train local officers to neutralize the hazardous materials utilized in methamphetamine making, then have SBI agents take the materials to a site where they will be destroyed by a private contractor the federal Drug Enforcement Agency plans to pay. A $197,000 grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission will launch the project, covering start-up costs, training and equipment.

The program is expected to be up and running by Jan. 1.

The SBI has responded to 227 labs in the state so far this year, more than any other nine-month period since 2005. Three of those were discovered in Jackson County, with clean up costs amounting to several thousand dollars, and several have been found in Haywood County as well.

“This program should eliminate any future expense we would have,” Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten recently told commissioners. “But we have a couple more months of exposure until that grant starts.”


Macon County might postpone revaluating property — again — from 2013 to 2015, a remarkably different response to the crushingly bad housing market than Jackson County is taking.

Richard Lightner, longtime tax assessor for Macon County, said there simply hasn’t been enough property changing hands to set meaningful property values. And most importantly, he said, it would be difficult to set accurate values that Macon County could adequately defend from costly legal appeals. Property owners who disagree with a county’s revaluation have the legal right to challenge on a state level.

By waiting, more selling and buying will have taken place, though Lightner emphasized there’s no crystal ball he’s holding that allows him to read the future — and no guarantees that the market will be better then. Still, just by adding years to the process, one can safely assume some pieces of property will have sold, he said.

Macon and Jackson are similar on the tax fronts because of the communities of Highlands (in Macon) and Cashiers (in Jackson). Both communities are dominated by high-priced, multimillion-dollar homes, at least pre-recession prices. Those homeowners currently shoulder the bulk of the tax burdens in both counties. In Jackson County, by way of example, 57 percent of the tax base is located in just two townships: Cashiers and Hamburg, both in the southern end of the county.

Here is the key issue for taxpayers, the why-you-should-care, bottom-line point: Macon, by likely postponing a revaluation until 2015, would keep the tax burden predominantly on its higher-end residents in Highlands, and spare tax increases for the short term to the county at large. Jackson, by comparison, is looking still to do its revaluation in 2013, which means revaluated property, coupled with a revenue-neutral budget would, almost inevitably, shift the tax burden from the Cashiers area to the less-affluent areas of the county.

“It seemed that most of the pushback about delaying beyond 2013 came from taxpayers in the southern end of the county,” Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten said in explanation. “Property owners in the southern end could see larger declines in tax value while those in the northern end will see smaller declines, which could result in less taxes for the citizens in the southern end versus more taxes for the northern end.”

Revaluations in North Carolina must take place at least every eight years. Jackson County has the option of pushing back until 2016. Macon County must do its revaluation by 2015.

What’s not in question is what revaluation will mean for both counties: declining values when compared to the boom housing years. Jackson County did its last revaluation in 2008, and Macon County in 2007. Both counties opted to postpone revaluation past a four-year cycle, which they’d gone to because escalating land prices were causing sticker shock to taxpayers. This means Jackson County is using property values set in about 2007, and Macon County is using property values determined in 2006.

New values would mean “the $150,000 home on one acre would probably go up; undeveloped land and more expensive home will have a decrease,” Macon County Commissioner Kevin Corbin said in a recent meeting on the revaluation.

And that would shift the tax burden.

“I don’t have a problem with that per se,” said Macon Board Chairman Brian McClellan, who lives in Highlands and works as a financial advisor there. “If a big house loses value, they should get a tax break. My issue is, if we don’t have good comps, then we don’t want to be at risk defending a lot of revaluations we might not be able to defend.”

Corbin said that he does have some questions about whether Macon County should just go forward, like Jackson for now is set on doing, “and let the chips fall where they may.”

“When is our economy going to return? Maybe we are living in the new normal,” Corbin said.

Macon Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former commander of a submarine, said the board should be clear in the message it sends to the county’s citizens.

“I think we can say, with some degree of certainty, where those chips are going to fall,” Kuppers said. “If we do the revaluation (in 2013), we owe it to the people of this county to warn them, ‘Incoming Chips.’”

Lightner added, “Those people you see at the grocery store or getting their car fixed, the burden of the chips are going to fall on their laps.”

Commissioners Ron Haven and Ronnie Beale indicated they would support postponing the revaluation.

“The people this would hit the hardest are the very people who can least afford it,” Beale said.

A vote by commissioners is expected in Macon County next month.


Casino dollars, and lots of them, have brought the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians newfound clout this past decade, from the legislature in Raleigh to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.

“It has put us at the table,” Larry Blythe, the tribe’s vice chief, said in a blunt assessment of the tribe’s political transformation since Harrah’s Cherokee Casino opened in November 1997. “I would say that we’ve always been recognized and listened to as an important tourist destination. But the political influence — we didn’t have the influence we have now.”

With gaming money came the benefits of being able to attract and hire the state and nation’s top lobbyists. Money also brought tribal leaders the ability to wine and dine state and national leaders when needed to try to influence votes and shape perceptions.

Gone are the days when Cherokee could ill afford to even send its leaders to Raleigh, much less to visit leaders in the U.S. House and Senate. Before the casino, Blythe said, the hard work of individual Cherokee leaders to build political bridges was hampered by being money-poor and, perhaps more importantly, by the perception of Cherokee and its people as politically insignificant.

“Lobbyist can open doors, and we can truly now step through them,” Blythe said. “And we can go en masse, and we can go in force.”


Bridging Indian and white

Sara Waldroop lives in Franklin, but she keeps a close eye on politics in her home community of Cherokee. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band, and the 74-year-old never misses voting in tribal elections. Waldroop was formerly the director of the board of elections in Macon County, and she now serves as chairman of that county’s election board.

You could accurately say that given her professional background, Waldroop’s political perceptions are a bit more honed than many. These days, for the most part, she likes what she sees — a principal chief, Michell Hicks, who has financial acumen (he once served as the tribe’s finance director) re-elected for yet another term, and a tribe that doesn’t shy from taking a leadership role in the region.

SEE ALSO: A rising tide lifts all boats

SEE ALSO: New Cherokee Home Center fills a void

That’s a far cry from the situation Waldroop remembers growing up, when Cherokee families such as her own lived paycheck to paycheck, running credit tabs at one of the two stores in that area. Her father worked for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they lived in Ravensford and later in Smokemont Campground. Her grandfather was white (Major McGee, who grew up in Big Cove, spoke fluent Cherokee and who proved instrumental in reconstructing Mingus Mill), her grandmother, Cherokee. Waldroop, of the Yellowhill community, found herself with pretty much with an equal stake in two worlds, Indian and white.

She went to school in neighboring Bryson City. Waldroop doesn’t particularly remember there being notable differences between the Cherokee children and their white classmates. No overt racism, no particular distinctions made by adults. Then, as now, Cherokee children were not a novelty in Swain County’s school system, or in neighboring Jackson County. Besides, Waldroop said, no one had much money — Indians or whites. And that created a commonality that transcended race. Everyone was of the mountains, and no one had dollars to spare.

“I don’t think we had it any harder than anyone else,” Waldroop said. “So we didn’t think that much about it (any differences).”

Waldroop believes the addition of the casino, overall, has been good for Cherokee.

“It’s another world from what we had back in the 40s and 50s,” she said, adding that Cherokee tribal members actually seem more aware these days of their culture, and take real, visible pride in being Indian. When the casino was being built, some tribal members openly worried that Cherokee would lose its unique cultural identity.

Instead, Waldroop said, “the casino, I think, has really helped.”


Bridging white and Indian

Growing up at about the same time, storyteller and all-around regional personality Gary Carden was experiencing the flipside from Waldroop. A white kid from Jackson County, Carden washed dishes at the bus station in Cherokee for then manager Winona Digh, later Winona Whitetree.

“That was the best deal around, $12 a week,” he noted. “I remember coming into town in the early morning fog and seeing Fess Parker wading across the Oconaluftee with Buddy Ebsen. They were filming ‘Davy Crockett.’ A lot of Cherokees got steady work with the Disney’s film crew and some of them traveled to Mexico for the Alamo scenes because Disney felt that they looked like Mexicans. I later recognized some of my friends in the Mexican army that invaded the Alamo.”

It would be hard to over-emphasize the economic importance of tourism in those days, and “Davy Crockett” and the and the lure of real live American Indians helped draw the crowds to this remote corner of the Smokies. Stereotyping was rampant.

“Every day, I sat on the bridge with these Cherokee kids and our favorite thing to do was to watch the tourists,” Carden said. “We’d never seen them before. They were in Studebakers and Henry J’s. We sat out on the bridge and played this silly game where we tried to see the most exotic license plate — New Jersey, Minnesota. But most were from a 100-mile radius.

“They would sometimes pull up and stop, and of course I was this little white kid sitting there in the middle of all the Cherokee. They consistently thought the Cherokee couldn’t speak English. The drivers would roll the window and they would say ‘You got teepee?’ making a teepee motion with their hands. And to the girls, ‘You got papoose?’ and they would take our pictures. Little by little it caught on, and enterprising Cherokee gave them sheet-metal teepees and some of the girls brought their little brothers tied in a bed sheet.”

What developed was a strange new economy based on tourism and faux American Indian culture that was good each year for six months only.

“When the tourists left it was dead in Cherokee, but it created a tourist-oriented economy,” Carden said. “And of course, they had to pretend to be something they weren’t in order to stimulate that economy, and they did it for so long they forgot who they were. Today they are trying to go back to their authentic Cherokee culture.”


No longer reliant on tourists

David Redman helped develop that critical Cherokee tourist trade. A white man, he worked in Cherokee travel and tourism for years, starting in 1988. Like Carden, he saw the limitations of a local economy totally dependent on tourism.

“Unemployment was high in the region for decades, with Swain County reaching the 30-percent level,” Redman said. “It was even higher on the reservation. Prior to the casino, the tribe was probably the strongest tourism destination west of Asheville. However, the tourism season lasted between five and six months (May through October) with employees being laid off until the beginning of the next season.”

Pre-casino, the Cherokee experienced overt discrimination in the region and beyond, Redman said.

“Employees in the tribal program I managed would often complain that area businesses would not accept personal checks and that they were treated differently than non-Indian customers,” he said. “I would take my staff to a Christmas breakfast, sometimes to Pigeon Forge, other times to the Dillard House or Grove Park Inn. Customers’ eyes were on us, and there was a definitely feeling of coolness.”

That said, being white in Cherokee then wasn’t always easy, either.

“How was a white man working for an Indian tribe being accepted?” Redman said. “First, with a huge amount of distrust — a shipload of distrust. Trust between the white and Indian isn’t immediate and mutual. I felt that I had the trust of some Indian co-workers only after five years or more.”     

The casino has changed that. Racism certainly still exists here as it does everywhere, and stereotypes of Indian culture live on, too. But the casino, a vast and hungry employer of the region, has helped further mix white and Cherokee. Both work in the managerial ranks, and in a large corporation such as Harrah’s, hard work is the way to climb the corporate ladder.

Cherokee scholar John Finger, a retired professor from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the author of several books and academic writings on contemporary Cherokee culture, said he started paying attention to the tribe in the mid-1970s. The changes, Finger said, have been profound.

“I’ve seen the tribe become more economically prosperous, the end result of both the tourist and gaming industries. They seem much more in tune with modern American business and life.”

Like Waldroop, Finger believes the casino has actually strengthened and deepened the Cherokees’ ties to their culture, “making them more aware of their status as Indians, particularly Cherokee Indians.”

And, even as tribe members’ cultural awareness has awakened, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has emerged as a potent political and economic force for all of WNC.


I have learned, yet again, the virtues of doing something right the first time. My sloppiness was a bloody and painful lesson for two young goats this past weekend. It was an experience I could have spared them — and me — by giving proper and prompt attention to their horns just after they were born late last winter.

Ideally, within a few days of a kid’s birth, if you plan to burn off horn buds you do so then. These are dairy goats; horns on dairy goats are dangerous for everyone involved. Brenda, an experienced goat keeper who is kind enough to come help me with horn burning and on horn-removal days, learned this lesson the hard way. Just last week she had a horned kid on her farm pop its head up unexpectedly, catching her with its stubby weapon just below the left eye. Half an inch higher, and this might have been a different, more serious, story.

Goats not properly disbudded grow scurs, or abnormal-looking horns. This is particularly difficult to prevent in male goats even when proper disbudding occurs. In female kids, however, you can generally hinder scurs by early and thorough disbudding.

This helps protect them from each other during the inevitable challenges for dominance in the barnyard. Chickens, I’ve discovered, have nothing on goats when it comes to establishing pecking orders. Someone gets to be queen, and everyone else tries not to be the actual bottom goat on the goat-yard totem pole. Last to get food, first to get butted out of the way when treats are being handed out — it plainly sucks to be bottom goat.

We’ve also had goats with long scurs somehow manage to get their heads through the pig-wire fence enclosure, and of course be absolutely unable to pull their heads back out once they’ve discovered that no, the grass truly isn’t greener on the other side. In fact, it’s much browner and all-around less juicy and tasty. That makes for a long, frightening day for the goat involved, and it lasts until someone driving on the road by the barn spots and frees the unfortunate victim, by then traumatized and deeply resentful over the day’s entrapment.

With several of the kids born last March and April, I was a week or so late getting to disbudding. This is an unpleasant task. It’s easily forgotten and postponed in the joy of watching new kids find their legs and a new world. It simply isn’t fun to take them, screaming in unhappiness, from their bawling mothers and apply a hot piece of metal — several times — to the tops of their tiny, precious heads. The smell of burning horn combined with the cries of pain is excruciating.

The experience, when I finally did get around to disbudding, reminded me of a few years spent living on a cattle ranch in Mississippi when I was a young child, not long before my family moved to Bryson City. I vaguely remember screaming calves on the ranch being castrated, to my four- or five-year-old self’s vast unhappiness (I’m sure it was more terrible for them, but it was bad enough for me). At the time, of course, I lacked the adult ability and understanding to justify such horrors. It left me with bad memories, and I had my own little post-traumatic stress disorder memory attack when disbudding kids.

These past few months, despite my best efforts not to notice, scurs emerged on little Coreopsis and her half sister, Dandelion. Both their mothers were sold earlier this year, and now provide ample milk and goat entertainment to a family in the Balsam community.

Coreopsis is the hardy sort, and recovered quickly from her sudden plunge into orphan-hood. Dandelion has had a more difficult time.

Coreopsis likes to be petted and loved upon, given treats and talked to, and pushes her way through the goat crowd for attention; shyer Dandelion, just in the past few weeks, would finally accept an alfalfa cube from someone’s hand. If, that is, the presenter stood on the other side of the fence and extended their arm as far out as possible  — Dandelion, extending her long neck in turn as far as possible from her trembling body, would snatch the yummy green cube … if you didn’t suddenly blink or make similar threatening moves and scare her away first.

That being the case, it was of course almost no trouble to remove Coreopsis’ scur, but Dandelion’s was a doozy. One snip and Coreopsis was done; 50 snips and an escape, chase and tackle later, and Dandelion had been done, too.

“That went well,” Brenda said to me when Dandelion was finally released. “Next spring, we disbud within three days of their being born — three days. I mean it.”

I mean it, too. Coreopsis recovered her nerves within a couple hours. Two days later, and Dandelion is still shattered, shivering and hiding under a picnic-table-turned-goat-jungle-gym, reluctant to approach within 50 feet of me. And I don’t blame her a bit — I bet those calves in Mississippi never forgave the ranch’s owners, either.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


You know economic times are tough when the business that helps other businesses thrive shuts its doors, too.

The Mountain BizWorks office in Sylva, which serves would-be entrepreneurs and other small business owners in the state’s seven westernmost counties, will close next June.

Shaw Canale, executive director of the group, emphasized this is “a pause” by the group, not a full stop or retrenchment. Mountain BizWorks, headquartered in Asheville, has maintained a physical presence via the Sylva office in the westernmost counties for more than a decade.

“We need to figure out, how do we deliver what we need to deliver into very rural communities?” Canale said. “What’s the real impact we are having, and how do we measure that?”

Bottom line, financial issues forced the closure. The decision to close the Sylva office was made “carefully and systematically,” Canale said. “This very difficult decision was made to ensure that in time Mountain BizWorks can achieve a level of self-sufficiency that will assure that we remain financially healthy.”

One full-time staffer and one part-time staffer, as well as workshop leaders and business coaches hired on a contract basis, will lose jobs as a result of the shutdown in Sylva.

Resource specialist Sheryl Rudd is the part-time staffer at Mountain BizWorks. She and her husband, Dieter Kuhn, started Heinzelmannchen Brewery eight years ago with the help from the nonprofit where Rudd now works. She said Kuhn went through an eight-week course provided by the nonprofit to help determine whether a craft brewery could be successful in Sylva. Kuhn developed a business plan and figured out how to market the product he wanted to produce.

“It was critical,” Rudd said, “to deciding is this going to work, is it not going to work.”

Rudd and Kuhn also relied on Mountain BizWorks for a loan that, coupled with personal funding and investor dollars, allowed them to launch Heinzelmannchen Brewery. Rudd worries whether future entrepreneurs in the area will be able to find similar support in years to come.

Rudd said as the economy soured and grant dollars became increasingly difficult to attain, Mountain BizWorks found itself competing for an ever-smaller pot of money with organizations that provide food, clothing and utility-payment help.

“Of course if it comes down to helping small businesses or feeding someone, you are going to choose to feed someone,” Rudd said, adding that such an obvious need, however, does not mean small-business owners don’t deserve help.

The loss of Mountain BizWork’s local presence also worries and saddens Annie Ritota, who with husband, Joe, owns Annie’s Naturally Bakery in Sylva. The wholesale side of the bakery is based in Asheville.

The Ritotas turned to Mountain BizWorks for help about four years ago. The business, founded in 1999 in the couple’s garage, had grown into a success story “but we’d sort of lost our focus,” Annie Ritota said.

“They helped right our ship and get it turned in the correct direction,” she said. “We were at a place where we weren’t sure where we were going.”

Mountain BizWorks helped the bakery reduce the line of products offered, plus helped resolve cash flow and bookkeeping issues. Ritota said after that positive experience, she often recommends new business owners avail themselves of the nonprofit’s expertise.

Now, Mountain BizWorks has similar anxieties regarding its own purpose and focus. “We are not getting the type impact we want to see,” Canale said. “We want to do things in a much more thoughtful, durable way.”

“There are times when the best decision to make is to stop doing what you’re doing and to give yourself a clear space for reconsidering what to do,” she said. “That’s the situation we’re in now  — the answer is not to try harder and do more, but to stop and think and be sure that whatever we do next is right and that we can support and sustain our work.”

Canale said there is definitely a huge and growing interest in agriculture options in the western counties, as well as across Western North Carolina. Agriculture might well provide at least one area where Mountain BizWorks can continue to serve this section of the region.

Rudd said 35 people attended a workshop recently in Sylva, hosted by Mountain BizWorks, on forest-farm products.

The group is working on a three-year ag-biz pilot project to determine whether, and how, Mountain BizWorks would be helpful to small family farms in Western North Carolina.


Organizers of the World Freestyle Kayaking Championship in 2013 have a short-term fix for getting telecommunication capabilities into the Nantahala Gorge, but have yet to find a long-term solution for business owners and residents there.

BalsamWest FiberNet, a company jointly owned by Macon County businessman Phil Drake and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has already dug in fiber along the railroad tracks traversing the steep-walled gorge. It is part of the 225 miles of fiber built and owned by BalasmWest in this section of Western North Carolina. BalsamWest currently provides the Nantahala Outdoor Center, located along the railroad tracks, with high-speed connectivity to the outside world. The service isn’t inexpensive and other businesses in that remote area west of Bryson City haven’t been as lucky.

BalsamWest CEO Cecil Groves said that the fiber company could, however, provide 21st-century internet for everyone’s use during the games. This service will be available only on a temporary basis, he said last week.

“We can’t do it permanently, but we can for that short amount of time,” Groves said. “Once this is over, there’s not enough demand for us, or probably another carrier, to bring (the technology) fulltime. But for the event, we can help.”

BalsamWest’s willingness to hookup the Gorge might literally be saving the event for organizers of the kayaking freestyle world championship.

Ten thousand visitors a day are predicted to descend into the gorge Sept. 2-8, 2013, including reporters from around the world, to see the ICF Freestyle World Championships. And before that, the kayaking Junior World Cup will take place in September 2012  — with 5,000 to 6,000 people a day expected.

Without broadband, reporters will be unable to cover the competition, which has a major following in Europe.

During the search for serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, when dozens of news organizations from across the nation and beyond swooped into the region to cover the manhunt, only one news organization had the technology to communicate from the Gorge area. There was suspicion then that Rudolph, who was later captured in Murphy while pilfering a grocery store Dumpster for leftovers, was holed up in one of the caves dotting the landscape of the Gorge.

CNN reporters had a van equipped with a satellite phone, allowing them to keep viewers somewhat abreast of events that didn’t develop as the manhunt dragged on (for a long five years or so during the late 1990s). They’d occasionally loan the phone out to desperate colleagues affiliated with other news organizations, who needed to alert their editors of Rudolph’s non-capture, too.

The situation hasn’t advanced much in the intervening decade for business owners and members of the Nantahala community such as Juliet Kastorff, owner of Endless Rivers Adventures, a whitewater rafting company. Kastorff is helping to organize the world championship. She said that one of the commitments made by the organizing committee was to develop a long-term economic incentive for helping to host the championships — broadband capability was chosen.

“It is disappointing,” Kastorff said. “When the event is over, there will still be nothing there for the community — we are the last mile, literally and figuratively, for North Carolina.”

There’s not likely to be an easy answer anytime soon for the seven or so miles of dead zone. Enter the Nantahala Gorge, and cell phones and internet connections stop, the result of the steep, rocky walled gorge-area blocking modern communication abilities.


Watching the sausage being made at local government meetings isn’t most people’s idea of high entertainment … or low entertainment, or entertainment of any kind of all, for that matter.

Outside of the occasional spat between elected board members or, even more rarely, hot-topic issues that get everyone in a community revved up for a time, these meetings are amazingly the same no matter which town or county you might land in.

The same sorts of people with similar axes to grind generally speak during the public sessions, their words so familiar that anyone left listening could stand in and give the speeches, verbatim, themselves. In towns, water and sewer issues often dominate leaders’ agenda; at counties, such riveting topics as 911 road-name changes, landfill issues and resolutions in favor of apple pie and the American flag and resolutions against muffins, communists and unfunded state mandates proliferate.

But in Macon County, there’s a group of four regular folks who find the county commissioners’ meetings the best show in town — they say the price is exactly right in these times of economic restraints (free), the performances routinely scheduled (at least once each month), and the cast of characters and the storylines comfortably predictable, yet with enough variation to keep things interesting.

“We like knowing what’s going on, and hearing what they say, and it’s a good way to find out about how they think and how things really work,” said Kenneth McKinney.

“It’s part of the charm of living in a small town,” his wife, Dianna McKinney, said. “And, it’s cheap entertainment.”

The McKinneys are joined at the Macon County Board of Commissioner meetings by close friends Catherine “Cate” Robb and husband, Richard Robb. The four always try to sit together on the very back row. Not exactly the peanut gallery, but they do joke around with and greet commissioners familiarly before the start of each meeting. They are as predictable a sight as Mike Trammel, the Macon County deputy posted to the county beat to keep order at meetings, or any of the six or so local reporters assigned to write about the commission meetings.

“The more people that are here, it helps the commissioners,” Cate Robb said, clearly sympathetic to commissioners’ need for an audience. After all, no one enjoys performing to an empty hall.

The two couples have known each other and been friends for 20 years. Since Kenneth and Dianna McKinney made the retirement move to Franklin about three years ago from Texas, they and the Robbs have made a point of attending the monthly meetings together.

And, yes, they do actually believe in civic duty — and that’s one reason they attend. Though when civic duty becomes too boring, they bail out early and go eat dinner together at their favorite local restaurant, Monte Alban Restaurante Mexicano, a monthly double date.

The four made it an hour-and-a-half last week before fleeing the meeting, after having enjoyed the following entertaining acts:

• Act 1: An apology by Chairman Brian McClellan who was six minutes late. He explained that driving from Highlands to Franklin had been slow going. McClellan counted — the motorist in front smoked four cigarettes on that 10-mile drive.

• Act 1.5: Recognizing Commissioner Ronnie Beale for his election as an officer of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. Beale thanked many people for their support, but particularly all of the people in Macon County (not, mercifully, each by name) in something of an Oscars-type speech.

• Act 2: Prayer and pledge of allegiance.

• Act 3: Public hearings on 911 road names and the transit program — nobody from the public spoke, so that didn’t take long.

• Act 4: Public comment, in which Macon County resident Mark Hirstir complained at length about damage done to his property by Duke Energy, and urged Macon commissioners to please pass some land regulations (they thanked him for his comments, and made no commitments or promises).

• Act 5: Presentations by Jane Kimsey, director of social services; resident Jerry Cook about a floodplain issue involving Wells Grove Baptist Church; and resident Jean Jordon on healthcare access.

• Act 6: Pleas from the sheriff and Highlands police chief for commissioners to help the town persuade the state not to eliminate the magistrate post in Highlands.

Then the four left, entertained enough apparently, but already anticipating the next meeting.

“We’ll be here if we’re in town,” Dianna McKinney promised.

And that suits the commissioners just fine.

“I teach civics, what am I supposed to say?” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, a Macon County educator when not performing on the political stage, said with a laugh when actually queried on that point. “No, really, it’s great that they’re engaged. I wish even more people would come.”


Getting a kidney dialysis center in Franklin grew more likely last week after a state committee agreed Macon County had demonstrated a tangible need for such a facility.

With a county population older than that of many surrounding communities, an increasing number of residents here have been forced to travel over Cowee Mountain to Sylva for treatment.

Driving to Sylva is an inconvenience during the warm-weather months, but during snowfall, it is a true danger for those seeking the lifesaving medical procedure, dialysis family members and patients have said. Last winter’s harsh weather set the stage for Macon County’s dialysis-center push, highlighting the difficulties patients faced making their way to the nearest facility in Sylva.

Macon County has a loose agreement from DaVita, a publicly traded national company that operates the dialysis center in Sylva, to come into Franklin if the state gives the OK. The state limits health care competition to ensure hospitals and medical facilities are financially viable, issuing a “certificate of need” only if patient demand warrants it. In this case, the state said there wasn’t enough demand for a dialysis center in Macon County.

Macon County leaders objected to the state’s assessment, however. DaVita prepared a letter of support for the county to show state officials, signaling its intentions to consider opening a center in Franklin.

The state requires that new dialysis facilities be able to project a need for at least 10 dialysis stations, or 32 patients — at last official count, in the state’s semiannual Dialysis Report, Macon County had just 23 residents receiving dialysis.

But county officials dispute that number, saying that more than 30 dialysis patients currently drive U.S. 441 from Macon County to Sylva for treatment. Additionally, officials suspect there are some dialysis patients in the southern end of the county driving to neighboring Clayton, Ga., who aren’t included in that number. The state’s threshold for justifying a kidney dialysis center also doesn’t take into account the particularly arduous health challenges associated with end-stage renal disease — yet Macon County’s end-stage population is increasing by an average of 10 percent a year, according to county records.

The state uses a 30-mile radius to determine locations of dialysis centers.

Friday, the long-term and behavioral care committee, meeting in Raleigh, agreed unanimously with Macon County’s arguments, according to County Manager Jack Horton. The committee recommended Macon County be allowed to build a five-bed dialysis center; that bed number could change to accommodate increased need.

The proposal now hangs on a State Health Coordinating Council meeting set for Sept. 28, said Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who has led the dialysis-center push.

Beale was optimistic the 29-member council would approve the proposal. If that happens, in March the county would apply for a certificate of need, which Beale believed would be forthcoming.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” Beale said.


A state plan to eliminate a part-time magistrate in Highlands is being roundly condemned — and resisted — by Macon County law enforcement leaders and government officials.

Slashing the positions in the name of savings has been likened to a cutting-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face measure. Good on paper, perhaps, if you’re sitting in Raleigh trying to make the numbers add up.

But inane if you’re among those who live in this region and drive the 10 winding mountain miles between Franklin and Highlands — a trip that costs cops and deputies an hour each time they need to charge someone with a crime.

The loss of two magistrates in Jackson County, reducing the number from five to three, is posing problems for the court system there, too, and has prompted official requests that the cash-strapped state Administrative Office of the Courts reconsider the cuts. The last time Jackson had just three magistrates, it was 1979 and the sheriff’s department had 14 employees, said Clerk of Court Ann Melton. Today, Jackson County’s sheriff’s department has 78 employees.

The magistrate situation is OK in Haywood and Swain counties for now, with Haywood standing at five magistrates and small Swain at three, Chief District Judge Richie Holt said last week.

But in light of the cuts in Jackson and Macon, Holt has been forced to reduce the amount of time magistrates in those two counties are available to book suspects, issue warrants and the like. Law enforcement is very unhappy about it, Holt said, and the public is often forced to wait for a magistrate to appear.

There is supposed to be a magistrate on duty 24 hours a day, Holt said. “With three in Jackson County, do the math — we just can’t do it. It’s not possible to have 24-hour, seven-days-a-week coverage,” he said.

Magistrates are on-call for law enforcement when they aren’t physically in their offices.

Elimination would take place in the fall of 2012. Macon County will lose another fulltime magistrate in Franklin, too, in the name of state savings, but it’s the part-time position in Highlands that’s causing the heartburn. That’s because if the elimination happens, Highlands would be left without law enforcement protection while officers make the drive down the mountain to obtain a magistrate’s services in Franklin. Or, more town officers or county deputies would need to be assigned to protect southern Macon County.

Most likely at a much higher cost than what the state is proposing to save, Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell said. The magistrate in Highlands costs the state $20,000 a year.

“In Raleigh, it looks like 15 minutes (between the towns). It’s actually a 40-minute drive,” Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland said. And that, of course, doesn’t figure in the amount of time officers and deputies spend on individual cases — that could be hours, not minutes; and in the case of mental-health patients, days and not hours.


What do they do?

Magistrates have legal duties in both criminal and civil cases. In many instances, a citizen’s first contact with the judicial system comes via a magistrate. The magistrate determines if, and to what extent, additional action is needed when a police officer or a citizen says that a crime has been committed. Duties include issuing arrest warrants, search warrants, subpoenas and civil warrants. Magistrates conduct bond hearings to set bail and conditions of release when someone is charged with a criminal offense, among many other duties.

Source: N.C. Magistrates Association


Phil Drake acknowledges that he has two kinds of enterprises. There are those launched or purchased for strategic business reasons; others he owns to ensure family members in Macon County have places to work.

Drake has a lot of family, and he owns a lot of businesses: some 18 or so under the Drake Enterprises umbrella alone. These include a tax software company, an internet company, a performing arts center and a printing press.

Here’s how Drake and Drake Enterprises work, in what’s virtually a textbook model of a business practice dubbed “vertical integration,” or expanding within the core company’s supply chain of operations:

• Drake Enterprises was responsible for 75 percent of the work at Macon Printing in Franklin. Drake, once alerted to that fact by the shop’s owners, bought the business.

• Drake needed more reliable internet service than was available in WNC, so he joined with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to create BalsamWest FiberNet. The company, headquartered in Sylva, has built 225 miles of underground fiber in Western North Carolina.

• Drake Enterprises had extensive marketing needs; Drake launched PRemiere Marketing in response. PRemiere serves as an in-house marketing service for Drake Enterprises, plus handle advertising and marketing for “outside” companies.

• Drake’s companies use computers extensively. Today he owns TechPlace outlets in both Franklin and Hayesville, specializing in computer and cell-phone sales and repairs.

Not bad for a boy from Franklin whose mother used to come home from work with bloody fingers from making denim jeans for Wrangler at the local factory. These days, Drake owns that place, too — he turned the 56,000-square-foot building into a “Fun Factory” for kids, complete with arcade games and a go-cart track.


Buying into the Drake dream

More than 500 people work for Drake. Key employees, those he wants to keep in the company for life, are encouraged to buy stock in Drake Enterprises using money Drake loans them. These employees now own 10 percent of the company.

“I picked employees who are loyal, have the same vision I do, and who don’t have an exit strategy,” Drake said. “I hope to work there until I die; the employees I picked, I hope they’ll work there until they die.”

With that many employees, there are that many people in WNC who owe Drake their comforts and livelihoods. His legion of supporters view Drake as a man who takes care of family and community, pays his dues and debts, and gives proper homage to God.

“He has worked very hard for what he’s got,” said Ronnie Beale, a Franklin native and Democratic county commissioner who owns and operates a construction company in Macon County. “We might differ politically on some things, but Phil has a heart for Macon County and its people.”

Drake would like to branch out of the private sector and serve in Congress. To date, however, his wife has made it clear she’d rather he not. Drake was equally clear in a recent talk in Asheville to area business owners about his intention of honoring her wishes.

Don’t count Drake out of politics too quickly, however. When you examine his history, this is a man who has managed to do pretty much whatever he’s wanted, one way or another. Through sheer perseverance, an uncompromising business intellect and an almost uncanny ability to time his business deals, Drake has prospered, and the extended Drake family has prospered right along with him.

“If I can create a job, make a little money or break even, I’ll do it,” Drake said. “God put me in the right place at the right time, and I really hit a homerun in software. On some of these other businesses, I’ve gotten some singles and some doubles. I’m still out there trying to find that next homerun.”


From bankruptcy to wealth

Drake’s rags-to-riches, Horatio Alger Jr.- type tale takes something of an odd turn in 1981, when shortly before the age of 30 he plunged into bankruptcy. Drake, a proponent of small government who has spoken at area Tea Party venues, was forced to rely on food stamps to help feed his family. Today he expresses gratefulness for that particular program of the federal government.

Drake grew up on a farm. He went to Davidson College after graduating from Franklin High School, and then headed into neighboring South Carolina. Drake taught high school math for three years in that state before deciding he couldn’t support a family on take-home pay of $425 a month.

Drake returned to Franklin in 1976 and joined his father in the family tax business. These were the days when taxes were done with pencil and calculator — pre-computer and pre-computer tax programs. Drake said he just knew there had to be a better way of preparing people’s taxes.

Drake bought an IBM computer for $22,385 in 1977 using borrowed money. At his son’s urging, his father mortgaged a piece of property to cover the cost. Drake was confident he could program the new computer — which, in fact, he did. Drake developed an accounting program that he was soon selling to other accountants.

He remembers boasting to his wife, “I’m going to be a millionaire by the time I’m 30.”

There was one problem with Drake’s plan, however. Each year the computer needed updating. The updates required new, expensive computers — not the relatively cheap, internal fixes you’d get today. Drake kept borrowing and buying new, expensive computers.

“I was $100,000 in debt just from buying computers,” he said.

Then he left the state and went to Kansas City for a time to help another company automate its tax service, putting faith in an on-site manager to take care of his business at home.

That didn’t happen. The Internal Revenue Service didn’t get its due in the form of payroll taxes. One day a federal agent informed Drake the IRS planned to padlock the family’s office door and seize their business equipment if the government didn’t get its money.

Drake didn’t have that kind of cash. He instead drove to Asheville, retained an attorney, and filed for bankruptcy.

Time seems to have helped heal the sting of that decision, and there’s clearly balm on the wound from having, Drake emphasized, paid back every dime to every creditor involved. He estimated that took about six years.

Drake described learning some hard lessons during those times. About not using money you don’t have, and about not getting out on a limb and sawing it off behind yourself.

“You know the only thing my wife and I could talk about then? Money. We didn’t have any, and that’s all I could talk about,” Drake said.

He’s self-critical, too, of the 100-hour weeks he once worked, remembering tearfully how one of his three children begged him over the phone, “Daddy, please come home.” Drake described his younger, driven self as “ornery,” a perfectionist who had difficulty letting workers write some of the most basic software code the business needed.

Now, he said, he hires good people and gets out of their way.

“I’m getting easier to work for,” Drake said.

And, he turned to his faith.

“This was a life-changing experience for me,” Drake wrote of the bankruptcy in an article published by the National Christian Foundation, on whose board he serves. “I came to the place where I finally said, ‘God, I’ve messed this up. From now on, I’ll manage your business, and Lord, would you manage mine?’”

The National Christian Foundation is based in Atlanta, Ga. It is the largest Christian grant-making group in the world, self-reporting that it has received more than $4 billion in contributions since 1982 and given more than $2.5 billion in grants to thousands of churches, ministries, and nonprofits. While board members such as Drake are technically elected each year, they are expected to serve for life.


An ‘angel’ investor

In a downward spiraling economy that has seen countless businesses go under, Drake has instead thrived — these days he’s emerging as a self-described “angel investor,” a man with enough money at his command to select only those investments that interest him. He likes to buy-in low, on the promise that the sellers will get their money back, and more, if the targeted business turns around. That minimizes his risk, and promotes cooperation to get the invested-in business moving in the right direction.

“We don’t pay more than we can sell it for tomorrow,” Drake said.

Bob Dunn, director of consulting for Mountain BizWorks, said Drake motivates companies he invests money into.

“His deals are tough love, but they have an attainable upside,” Dunn said.

Cecil Groves, a former president of Southwestern Community College who is overseeing BalsamWest for Drake and the Eastern Band, described Drake as a man who reaches business decisions quickly and decisively. Groves also sees Sharon Drake as a true partner of her husband, in every sense of the word, including in the business side of his life. Sharon Drake handled accounting and human resources for Drake Enterprises for two decades.

In addition to an ability to sift through facts and data quickly, Phil Drake has that near perfect pitch when it comes to timing on business deals. He was among the first in the nation to start filing taxes electronically, for example.

Drake is also a stickler for customer service — in January, just as the tax season kicks off, his business gets 14,000 to 15,000 calls a day from customers needing support using his tax software. Drake has call centers in both Sylva and Hayesville.

He expects the support line to be answered in three rings, an eight-second wait on average. This, Drake said, compares to the 45-minute wait time of some competitors.

Ron Haven, a Republican commissioner in Macon County, is an unabashed fan of Drake’s and of the business empire he’s built.

“He could have picked up and moved everything away,” Haven said. “But he’s stayed here instead in Macon County, and helped this community.”


Drake’s political future, if there is one

On YouTube there’s a video from an April 16, 2009, Tea Party event in Franklin featuring Drake. He sounds familiar Tea Party themes, such as: “you cannot legislate the poor into prosperity; you cannot borrow your way out of debt;” “If you take the resources from successful companies and reward those that are failing, that’s a picture of our bailout, and that’s unacceptable.”

For the most part, Drake appears on the video reasonably polished and smooth during this minor political foray. But there’s an awkward intellectual straddle when he attempts to pin the U.S. deficit, in large part, directly on abortion, which as a fundamentalist Christian, he strongly opposes.

“We have killed 30 million people who could work today and pay into the social security administration,” he told the crowd.

Drake said though he certainly would love to serve in Congress, he’s not really willing to run.

“I think I’d have some trouble,” Drake said. “I’m somewhere to the right of Jesse Helms. So getting elected might prove tough.”


The Drake empire:

• Drake Income Tax and Accounting: founded by Phil Drake’s father in 1954, Drake sold it to employees in 2004 for $1 on the 50th anniversary of the business’ founding.

• Drake Software: Software for accountants and tax preparers. Headquartered in Franklin, with additional call centers in Sylva and Hayesville.

• WPFJ Radio: Commercial AM station, Christian programming, in Franklin. Donated this year to Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, a Christian college. The move will save Drake Enterprises $50,000 a year, Drake said, and the college plans to continue with the same Christian-based music and programs.

• WNCSportsZone: Sports equipment and athletic shoes and apparel. Stores in Franklin and Waynesville.

• Dalton’s Christian Bookstore: Stores in Franklin and Waynesville.

• Macon Printing: A commercial printer in Franklin. Publishes The Real Estate Buyers Guide in five communities.

• PRemiere Marketing: Advertising and marketing agency based in Franklin.

• Franklin Golf Course: Nine-hole public golf course, driving range, pool.

• DNET Internet Services: Dial-up, DSL, wireless, webhosting. Based in Franklin.

• BalsamWest FiberNet: A partner with the Eastern Band in building underground fiber.

• TechPlace: Computer and cell-phone sales and repair, stores in Franklin and Hayesville.

• The Fun Factory: Family entertainment center in Franklin. Includes the Pizza Factory and The Boiler Room Steakhouse in the same building.

• The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts: 1,500-seat theater in Franklin, with orchestra pit and full staging; 80 events per year.

• EPS Financial: Process banking transactions and debit-card transactions. Based in Easton, Pa.

• GruntWorx: Converts scanned documents into readable and searchable PDFs and can import data into tax software. Originally based in Massachusetts, Drake moved the company to Derry, N.H.

• Stellar Financial: Drake is an investor in this Stroudsburg, Pa., company providing software and integrated management services for nonprofit donors.

• Sylvan Sport: Drake is an investor in a Brevard-based company that builds the “GO,” a camper.

• Galaxy Digital: Drake is an investor in this Asheville company that creates digital campaigns and works on web communications.

• Drake Capital: Drake is a partner in this Matthews-based real-estate acquisition and development company.


A 36-member commission charged with developing a new strategic plan for Western Carolina University is on a tight timeline: Chancellor David Belcher wants the guiding document in the board of trustees’ hands next June.

The commission, a mix of university employees, local business leaders and prominent figures in the community, held its first meeting last week. Belcher described the commission as “a unique gathering of people.” He noted the university’s last strategic plan was implemented in 2008. Belcher urged the group to focus closely on “what we are going to do; what we’re not going to do.”

“This is big picture stuff,” Belcher said. “(The plan) should be ambitious, but achievable.”

Commission member Kenny Messer, a WCU alum who serves as a business manager for Milliken and Company, a South Carolina-based textile and chemical manufacturer, said that in his opinion, financial needs and funding were going to drive the development of a strategic plan for the university.

North Carolina has cut WCU by $30 million in a three-year period. More cuts are expected as the state continues to grapple with a sour economy.

Among the group’s first tasks will be developing a “SWOT,” or a document outlining the university’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The last SWOT was prepared by a university strategic planning group for 2009-2010, and now is somewhat outdated, said Melissa C. Wargo, WCU assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness. Wargo is heading The 2020 Commission for the university.

That SWOT predated heavy state budget cuts, and the arrival of Belcher in July after longtime leader John Bardo retired. It had been stamped “Internal Use Only” and was never shared with the public, but was released to The Smoky Mountains News last week after it was requested. The document included a rather candid assessment of WCU’s weaknesses. Here’s some of the findings in the four SWOT areas.

• Strengths: student access to faculty and undergraduate research opportunities; a growing national and international reputation; a mature and experienced faculty and competitive student costs relative to other University of North Carolina schools.

• Opportunities: an increasing demand for online programs and untapped faculty expertise that could be diverted into public service.

• Threats: continuing state budget cuts loomed big, as did increased competition for students in higher education and marketplace competition for qualified staff. The university also noted accountability in the form of exit exams for students as a threat, geographic location resulting in limited social interaction for students, inadequate infrastructure and more.

• Weaknesses: A lack of administrative transparency topped the list of weaknesses. Others included non-competitive salary and recruitment practices, poor undergraduate retention and graduation rates, ineffective organization communication tools/practices, no institutional plan to address diversity concerns and issues.


Planning assumptions for the WCU strategic plan

• WCU will pursue strategically controlled enrollment growth.

• The quality of the student body will increase.

• The economic instability within the state will continue.

• The university’s role in, and focus on, Western North Carolina will remain strong while its influence grows across the state and region.

• Fundraising and alternative revenue streams will become increasingly more important.

• State funding will be tied to performance.


Community hearings for WCU strategic plan

• Sept. 21: 10:30 a.m. until noon, Macon County Public Library, Franklin.

• Sept. 26: 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., Jackson County Public Library, Sylva.

• Sept. 30: 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m., Waynesville, place to be determined.

• Oct. 20: 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., Cherokee, place to be determined.

Meetings also being held in Asheville, Hendersonville and Murphy.


Macon County commissioners decided last week to try to buy the old Cartoogechaye School, raze it and build two ball fields on the site.

County Manager Jack Horton called a special board meeting last Friday after realizing the possibility of acquiring the old school on U.S. 64 west of Franklin was, literally, in its last moments. The Macon County Board of Education is auctioning off the old school to the highest bidder. A farmer, wanting the rich, flat bottomland where the school is built beside Cartoogechaye Creek for tomato fields, had entered a sole bid for $235,000. The 10-day “upset period” on the bid was about to expire.

In previous years, the county had considered purchasing the vacant school from the Macon County Board of Education, but had balked at the then $1 million fair-market asking price. That was just too much money, Commissioner Ronnie Beale said. But real-estate values have since plummeted.

The commissioners voted last Friday to put in an upset bid for $247,000 (each new bid must be at least 5 percent higher than the last one.)

If they could get the nine acres and a still serviceable gym for just a quarter million? Well, said Chairman Brian McClellan, a financial advisor in Highlands in real life, “I’d kind of consider this money out of the left pocket into the right.”

That’s because county commissioners serve as the funding arm of Macon County Schools. Commissioners noted they’d have a mental tally of the payment for Cartoogechaye Schools the next time there was a school board funding request.

Beale, who owns a local construction company when he’s not on duty as commissioner, noted septic and water are in place at the old Cartoogechaye School. The school building itself, he said, is not salvageable; but grading for fields wouldn’t be necessary because the land is already flat. There are some wet areas, but no actual wetlands, Beale said.

If the county gets the old school, they have schematics already drawn calling for the two ball fields, a restroom area and a concession stand.

“The recreation department would be able to do things a piece at a time, if they knew we had the land,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said. “Not knowing doesn’t allow them to plan.”

The new fields could allow the county to have separate locations for its adult and youth recreation leagues.

Another buyer could upset the new bid by commissioners, or the farmer could come back with a higher offer as well, within a 10-day period.

Macon County built a new school several years ago to replace the old Cartoogechaye School, which was declared surplus in October 2007, allowing it to be sold by the school board. It has been vacant since. An archery club uses the gym.

Commissioners had considered using the old school for a daycare, but the cost of renovating the building was prohibitive, Beale said.


Sylva leaders this week demanded their town manager resign, just more than two years after she was hired.

“This was not my decision,” Adrienne Isenhower, now Sylva’s former town manager, told The Smoky Mountain News on Tuesday.

Isenhower resigned Monday following a town board meeting, which included a closed session.

“I did submit my resignation, because they asked me to,” she said.

Some town board members initially told the public she had resigned for “personal reasons,” but Isenhower told The Smoky Mountain News she “wanted to clear the air.”

The board hired Isenhower to replace former Manager Jay Denton, who was fired in September 2008. Isenhower was a planner for the city of Lenoir. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.

Town board members were split 3-2 on the vote to hire her.

Town Commissioners Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring Isenhower, saying she lacked the experience necessary for the job, particularly in managing a budget. Neither Hensley nor Lewis had wanted to fire Denton in the first place. Town Commissioner Danny Allen, while he wasn’t on the board at the time, came out publicly against firing Denton and hiring Isenhower.

Hensley on Tuesday didn’t want to elaborate on reasons why Isenhower was asked to resign, or who exactly on the board wanted her to resign.

Instead, the commissioner said he wanted to make it clear that he “never had any problems whatsoever with Adrienne.”

“I wouldn’t want to say anything bad in the world about her — she did whatever was asked,” Hensley said, then declined again to comment on which of the commissioners demanded the town manager’s resignation, and whether he was among them.

While Hensley, Lewis and Allen hold the majority control on the board right now, Hensley and Lewis are up for election this fall.

Mayor Maurice Moody described Isenhower as a competent town manager. He said he doesn’t believe that she will have difficulty finding another job in municipal government. Moody said Isenhower’s recent job evaluation, overall, was “fair and pretty good, really.” The five town commissioners and the mayor evaluated Isenhower just a few weeks ago.

“I did not know it was coming at this particular time,” Moody said, adding that he was not among those who asked her to resign.

“I had a different opinion on the type job she was doing than some on the board,” the mayor said, adding that he thought the 28-year-old manger had “made some progress” since she’d been hired in spring 2009.

Dan Schaeffer, the town’s public works director, is serving as a stopgap manager until an interim can be hired, Moody said. The board will then seek a permanent replacement for Isenhower. She made $61,581 annually.


Tammara Talley, while gracious in her acknowledgments during the shower of verbal high-fives raining down upon her at Saturday’s farmers market, couldn’t help but beam proudly. No different, really, than any mother just delivered of perfect babies bearing precisely the correct number of eyes, hooves and tails.

“Congratulations on your new litter!” Penny O’Neill, a pediatrician in real life at Sylva Pediatric Associates when not farming, came up and told her as I stood nearby. Tammara had mentioned the litter to one, maybe two, fellow vendors. The information spread in a couple of hours across the market; everyone, it seemed, was rejoicing in this gift of new life.

One of Tammara and husband Darryl’s sows delivered the litter at their home in Whittier. Tammara works for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee. Two or three years ago she and Darryl started Trillium Farms. The couple specializes in natural pork.

This column easily could be about pigs. That’s because I’m thinking about buying two of them, which is why I was at the market picking Tammara’s brains on the subject this past weekend. And if I dwell long enough mentally on how much I like pigs, how very exciting it’s going to be when I get them, and contemplate how I’m cleverly intending to put them in an area for a future vegetable garden, this column will indeed write itself in that direction.

But, that’s not my intention today, as feverish as I am at this moment for all-things pigs. I’ve been wanting to write something about the sorts of people who raise pigs. Or, rather, who raise virtually any kind of farm animal, who keep bees, or who till the good earth and raise vegetables.

I like people who farm. There are, of course, a few unlikable ones mixed in there. But as a rule, people who connect themselves to the land are humble, generous and fun to be around. Good folks who find plenty of joy in the lives they’ve built. And these are lives built on hard work and determination; lives that are very often short on dollars but long on authenticity.

That same spirit was on display Sunday, too, at the Mountain State Fair in Asheville. A friend and I headed an hour east to watch the goat shows and talk goats with a group of experts on the subject.

I’m fairly new to goats, and still struggle to grasp the nomenclature veteran goat owners’ use. I’m doing somewhat better these days than at my first goat show, when I struggled mightily to fathom what on earth the judges meant when they discussed such bewildering points as “good udder attachment” or “poor udder attachment.”

After attending a few shows I started grasping what they might be referring to, though I’m certainly no expert and remain baffled as to why certain goats emerge blue-ribbon winners. I have learned that biggest isn’t everything, though it’s part of the winning formula. The ideal dairy goat has a huge udder, yes, but that huge udder somehow looks exactly right on her body — good udder attachment.

Really, though, you don’t particularly have to grasp udder attachment to get a kick out of goat shows. The animals are beautiful and charming, and their owners are laid back, pleasant, helpful and eager to talk goats. They are some of the most unpretentious people I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around.

Want to understand milk-fat content? Just ask. Considering a certain breed? Ask and learn every conceivable virtue and fault associated with that particular breed of goat. Dying to understand the complexities of udder attachment? If I’d asked, trust me, I’m sure someone would have been eager to explain.

I’m not sure if farming brings out the best in people, or if the best people are attracted to farming. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I do know that living closely with the cycles of life — birth and death; spring, summer, fall and winter; planting, tending and harvesting — help gentle a person. It has me, anyway.

If there’s a larger message here, then I guess that it’s this: If you want to farm, whether for a living or as a hobby, reach out for help — you’ll find it waiting in the form of a bunch of really nice people. I believe you’ll find this true, too, whether you’re at a local farmers market or at a regional goat show. I sure have.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


There is a core of energy to Thomas Rain Crowe, a get-in-there and get-it-done spirit, evident both in his writings and the man himself.

So it isn’t surprising that when fellow poet and friend Brent Martin mentioned an interesting concept he’d stumbled across — a group, the Center for the Study of Place, reviving that great tradition in American letters, the poetry of place, through the project Voices from the American Land — Crowe was off and running.

“Thomas is Thomas,” Martin said affectionately.

Crowe, Martin said, contacted the nonprofit group involved, the Center for the Study of Place, and got down to business.

The result is a lovely little book, Every Breath Sings Mountains, featuring poems about the Southern Appalachians written by Crowe, Martin and Cherokee scholar Barbara R. Duncan.

The writing is superb, the subjects timely and meaningful, the book lovingly published, the illustrations by Robert Johnson of Yancey County are perfectly rendered.

“For those of us who love these mountains, this volume is a crucial reminder of what we have, and how easily it can be lost. Every Breath Sings Mountains is small in size but large in wisdom,” as author Ron Rash noted of this exquisitely presented book of poems.

A book launch is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 at in the community room of the Jackson County library complex in Sylva. The event, however, is intended as more than simply a forum to introduce the community to Every Breath Sings Mountains, as enjoyable as that alone would undoubtedly prove.

Many of the region’s most notable authors will be there to help create a multi-layered event, to create on this night their own Voices from the American Land, through readings, conversations, music and more. The event’s major sponsor is the N.C. Humanities Council.

Charles Frazier, Wayne Caldwell, Keith Flynn, George Ellison and John Lane will carry on “conservations.” Sylva’s own Ian Moore will perform his unique, Southern-Appalachian inspired style of music. Duncan, Martin and Crowe will read poems from the chapbook. Johnson, the book’s illustrator, will show work from the chapbook. George Frizzell of Western Carolina University, William Shelton, a farmer and former commissioner, and Jerry Elder, a revered Cherokee elder, will be guest speakers.

As Crowe put it, “we’re throwing a party to celebrate the place in which we live. A unique and relatively large group of accomplished authors, Cherokee elders, political spokespersons, scholars, musicians, cooks and bookstore reps all in one place. In this case, ‘the whole’ is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The region’s “uniqueness, diversity and starpower,” Crowe said, all on display, and intertwined with the very serious mission of protecting this area from devastating outside, or economic, encroachment.

“The Great Smoky Mountains is a special part of the world and we, as authors and artists, write and sing about it in order to plant the seeds of sustainability in the public mind so that we, our children and grandchildren, will have a beautiful place to live and prosper into the indefinite future,” Crowe said.

With Frazier’s new novel set for release Sept. 27, the event provides an opportunity for people in this area to get inscriptions in his new book. These personalized books, however, won’t be available for pickup until the actual release day, by orders of the publisher, Crowe noted.


Voices from the American Land

This unusual land conservation program uses contemporary poetic voices to “move the message of the land.” Through chapbook publication, local readings and educational activities, the group seeks to revive and amplify a dominant tradition in American letters: the poetry of place. In this way, it seeks to celebrate and help protect America’s extraordinary heritage of land and landscape.

Voices from the American Land was founded in 2008 by a group of writers, editors, and graphic designers who had worked together for some years on a quite successful series of local poetry readings in Placitas, N.M., taking place every winter solstice.

The organizers met with poets and editors from New York, Virginia, Colorado, California, and other parts of the country to discuss whether the idea of a national program of chapbook publication, and readings, could make its way. The idea of single-author chapbooks was the key feature of the program, since they could be inexpensive to produce, and could concentrate on a single landscape or locale needful of conservation.

Source: Voices from the American Land

“Over rock and gravel bed

Mingus Creek runs fast through the tall trees.

Diverted by a makeshift dam,

It turns to the right

Into a millrace lined with boards.

An ‘Appalachian aqueduct,’

race becomes flume

and flume becomes water’s trestle as

it flows downhill to the mill.”

— Thomas Rain Crowe, from “Mingus Mill.”

“English place names

clatter on our tongues

cacophonous gibberish:




They mean:


They signify:

People were here, now gone.

The names remain, shadows.”

— Barbara R. Duncan, from “Naming Place.”

“Here is where Brush Creek at last frees itself

from State Highway 28

and shouts hallelujah as it races

into the wilds of the Needmore game lands.

Here the creek leaves behind its burden of old sofas,

washing machines, car parts, and garbage.

Here people were once free of the need

for such things; and here things were thrown

after the need was placed upon them. …”

— Brent Martin, from “Homeplace.”


I was pleased to see quite a few people selling meat this past Saturday at the local farmers market in Sylva. That’s a noticeable change from just a year or so ago, when naturally grown meats were hard to come by unless you were willing to raise the animals and slaughter them yourself. These days, however, you can stroll through the farmers market and select from free-range chicken, pasture pork, goat, rabbit, quail and more.

I’ve always struggled with whether to eat meat or not. To date I have accepted I’m a carnivore, except for a brief, six-month period in college when I tried on vegetarianism like another person might try on a shirt. I welcomed the opportunity to be a bit radical and cool, or so I imagined myself, and in a casual, offhand manner made frequent mention to friends about my newfound conversion to tofu and vegetable protein. Not knowing how to cook these items in an appetizing manner, my ardor for protein substitutes lumped on a plate in an unappetizing pile of mush soon subsided, though I soldiered on for a few more weeks out of sheer stubbornness and pride. I without comment one day returned to eating meat, and my friends were kind enough not to notice, or at least not to say anything in front of me about it, anyway.

These days I eat meat on a regular basis. Three or four times a week, sometimes more. I do try to remember Thomas Jefferson’s admonishment to consider meat a condiment, not a main course.

Accepting that I’m a meat eater, my second, more serious struggle has involved killing animals I’ve raised myself — I’ve done that, too, but frankly it leaves me uneasy. I wholeheartedly believe there is a fundamental honesty to eating meat you’ve raised from egg to chicken, kid to goat and lamb to pork chops; but I just hate dropping the hatchet on some poor chicken’s neck or hauling animals down the road to the slaughterhouse.

Cowardly, perhaps; but it’s a hard thing to cut the head off a young rooster that you’ve fed as a chick twice each day, routinely cleaning his little bottom when poopy-butt strikes. It’s also hard to handover for slaughter a goat or lamb you helped birth on a cold March night, remembering all the time how you picked him up and wiped his squirming body down, made sure all his little legs worked, and stayed in the stall long enough to ensure mom gave the tiny, wee thing a good suckle.

These experiences make me very grateful to the farmers market vendors who are willing to raise and kill animals for the rest of us. I know the farmers personally, and I can buy from them confident that the animals they’ve raised have been reared in clean, healthy conditions, with good husbandry and kindness — even love.

Because the truth is, unless your farm gets so large that the numbers overwhelm compassion, or become so hardened that the act of killing leaves one cold, there is indeed love between farmers and their animals.

So how does one kill something they love? That, as I’ve been reflecting on, is very hard indeed. And I know that it’s just as difficult for the farmers involved as it was for me when I was farming for a living. I’m no more sensitive or less squeamish than they, perhaps even less so than some. I’ve just returned to the regular work world and can afford for now to make different decisions. I can skip the struggle of slaughtering and cleaning and simply buy my meat.

I don’t know if I’ll return one day to raising animals for slaughter, either for home use or for the market. If I do not, I’m still thankful that I have experienced exactly what that means, and understand the difficulties of what these farmers are doing for the rest of us. It makes me very grateful for what I receive, and very appreciative of what they do.

And one day soon, I’ll perhaps use this space to explain why it costs so much more to buy a pound of meat that is naturally raised rather than conventionally raised. Just take it on faith for a while, if you will, that these folks aren’t making much profit at what they’re doing. Not once you back out purchase of stock, shelter and feed costs, time and labor, medical care and emotional and mental anguish. In fact, once you’ve experienced these things firsthand, it makes you feel embarrassed that such meat can be bought locally at almost any price at all. Pearls before swine, in a manner of speaking — such bounty should, I think sometimes, actually be priceless.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


WRGC, a local mainstay on the AM radio dial in Sylva for more than five decades, went off the air last week, the latest victim of a sour economy and plummeting advertising revenues.

The static left in the radio station’s wake disappointed many in the Jackson County community, which has long relied on the 680 AM station for weather reports, school updates, local news and such specialties as “tradio,” a popular tell-it-and-sell-it program. WRGC went off the air Aug. 31 without warning. The radio station had about 8,000 daily listeners.

Three part-time workers and one fulltime employee lost their jobs; another fulltime employee was able to transfer elsewhere within Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting Company, which owns WRGC.


A blow to the community

Terry Fox, owner and operator of a vegetable and fruit stand in Sylva, said over his makeshift lunch of deviled ham and crackers on Saturday that local people don’t much like this kind of drastic change — one day you have a radio station; the next you don’t.

Fox sometimes played the radio station in his store to entertain the largely local clientele who frequent it for peaches, greasy beans, sweet potatoes, local honey and more. In recent years, he’s relied on it less and less. WRGC went to “adult contemporary” programming from the country music and gospel lineup many coming through here particularly enjoy.

He added that in his opinion, the station lost local following, too, after limiting NASCAR programming and changing the tell-it-and-sell-it program’s format.

“People are going to miss it, though,” Fox said of the station’s demise.


What happened

“This incredibly difficult economy has made it impossible for us to secure the local advertising support needed to continue providing Jackson County a full service community radio station,” WRGC’s parent company says in a posting to the radio station’s website.

“While WRGC has successfully maintained a large audience across northern Jackson County and adjacent areas, it has become clear that the station must discontinue operations until the economy improves. With these uncertain times and the fact that our studio/office/transmitter site lease is set to renew at the end of 2011, we did not feel it was prudent to commit any more of our company resource to subsidize the station’s operation.”

Company President/CEO Art Sutton said in a follow-up interview via email that “the economy of Western North Carolina has been hit especially hard, particularly where real estate was such a driver. … I have just concluded that in this new normal, WRGC needs an owner who is from the community, lives in the community, and can give it the attention, time and care only a local owner can.”

Sutton said he has no plans to shutdown his AM and FM radio stations in Franklin, which he described as profitable enterprises. At the peak of revenue (the company bought WRGC in 2002), the Sylva radio station did just 21 percent less in revenue than the two stations combined in Franklin.

“Since 2008, our revenue in Sylva has dropped 40 percent while in Franklin the revenue, despite the economy, grew nearly 10 percent over the same period,” he said. “As in Sylva, all the advertising revenue is generated locally in the station’s county of location.”

Additionally, operating costs are higher in Jackson County than in neighboring Macon County, Sutton said, where the company owns the transmitter site and studios and only needs one tower. In Sylva, by contrast, the Georgia-based company rents space and requires two towers.

Sutton pointed to the specific advertising losses in the past few years of two car dealers and Southern Lumber Company. Revenues also dropped after the local hospital merged with Haywood County and Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College experienced steep state budget cuts, impacting their advertising budgets.

“These were major advertisers for the station,” he wrote.

The Federal Communications Commission won’t let a station remain silent for longer than one year, or its license is cancelled. Sutton hopes to sell the station to a local buyer. But if not, he said he would consider moving WRGC to another market.

“We will do that before we lose the license as much as I would hate to see Jackson County lose its only commercial radio station, when all is said and done, a radio station is not a charity. It’s a business that depends on advertising sales, entirely,” he wrote.

WRGC was a family affair

A local buyer just might be a real possibility, however. Radio founder and longtime owner Jimmy Childress owns everything about WRGC except for the license and equipment, which he sold to Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting Company 10 years ago.

The Childress family owns the property involved.

WRGC’s call letters come from the initials of Childress’ son, Ronnie, who was electrocuted in the 1970s while working on the station’s transmitter.

At 87 years old, Childress laughed when asked if he planned to get back in the radio game, saying bluntly: “I’m too old to fool with it.”

Childress expressed his disappointment that WRGC has gone off the air, but seemed optimistic the day would be saved and the radio would again hit the airwaves. He’s been in discussions with local radio personality Gary Ayers, a Sylva resident, Bryson City native and fixture in Western Carolina University Catamount sports, about Ayers leasing the radio property.

“It would be an excellent buy if he took it,” Childress said, adding that the key to a local radio station is “that you’ve got to know your audience, and try to appeal to a good cross-section of the whole county.”

Ayers early Tuesday confirmed his interest in acquiring WRGC, though he described the negotiations as complicated by two different parties (Childress and Georgia-Caroline Radiocasting) being involved.

“Therein is the interesting scenario,” said Ayers, who owned a radio station in Canton for seven years. If the numbers add up to acquire WRGC, and the necessary local advertising support is evident, then Ayers said he hopes to move forward on the deal.

When Starcast South let WBHN in Bryson City go dead in September 2009 as Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting Company has done now with WRGC, local residents formed Lighthouse Broadcasting, raised money, bought the station, and changed the format to Southern Gospel/Christian.

WBHN, 1590 AM, signed on again in 2010 in the nick of time — just eighteen hours before to the station’s license was set to expire had it gone past the one-year mark.

The loss of WRGC in Sylva is the latest in a series of changes rattling Jackson County’s airwaves. The Canary Coalition, a nonprofit group headquartered in Sylva, won rights to the frequency 95.3 FM over Western Carolina University, when the FCC decided to make it available. By comparison, the Canary Coalition’s station would be full-powered, with a possible three-state range. Avram Friedman, director of the clean-air advocacy group, pictures a radio station largely focused on environmental issues that would open up media access to a variety of the region’s nonprofits.

WCU is appealing the FCC’s decision to give The Canary Coalition the frequency. Regardless of whether WCU or The Canary Coalition ultimately prevails, it will deal a major blow to National Public Radio listners. WCQS, the region’s main NPR station, broadcasts in Haywood and Jackson on 95.3 FM.

Being knocked off the frequency would leave more than 100,000 listeners potentially without public radio in Haywood and Jackson counties. WCQS, based in Asheville, has used the frequency for 20 years. The radio station, however, was not considered “local” when the FCC was assessing who to grant the license to, a requirement of the federal agency.


To hear many Cherokee leaders on the eve of last week’s tribal elections, the tribe is incredibly close to striking an agreement with Gov. Beverly Perdue that would allow live dealers at the casino, perhaps within weeks.

Two letters from the governor’s office to the tribe in August indicate the truth is murkier than the political message, however.

In return for those live dealers Cherokee maintains would lead to a surge in gaming dollars, North Carolina wants a slice — perhaps more accurately described as a chunk — of the casino-revenue pie.

Exact dollar amounts aren’t detailed. But reading between the lines of a politely worded argument between the tribe’s attorney general and general counsel for the governor, the two parties are clearly at odds over exactly how much the cash-poor state can realistically expect to squeeze out of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“They are not close,” said Perdue’s spokesperson, Chris Mackey, when asked Tuesday how near negotiations are to finalizing between the tribe and Perdue.

The state, under federal law, can’t tax casino profits or sales taxes on casino purchases, because the tribe enjoys sovereignty. The state can, however, demand a percentage of gaming revenue in exchange for giving the tribe gambling privileges.

The state initially wanted the tribe to give up a share of all revenue from the entire resort: the existing gaming machines, the new table games, along with hotel, restaurants, spa, concert revenue, retail shops, you name it.

That tack was sidelined, however, by the Department of Interior, which ultimately has to approve any “revenue sharing” arrangement between the state and the tribe. Oversight by the federal agency attempts limit what states demand of tribes to a reasonable amount.

But there’s the rub: What’s reasonable? While the state was forced to back off demands for a cut of all resort revenue, the sides are still at odds over what’s on the table: all gaming revenue, including existing gaming machines, or only revenue from newly introduced table games with live dealers. Another option being debated is a direct, flat payment to the state each year rather than a percentage based cut.

Negotiations with former Gov. Mike Easley several years ago reached an impasse, but were rekindled with Perdue this year. Easley had demanded too great a share of revenue, and neither side was willing to budge.

The tribe can’t play hardball forever, however. Getting live dealers at the casino is critical to the tribe’s financial wellbeing: The Eastern Band has a $633-million expansion to pay for at a time when the recession has taken a toll on casino business.

“If they don’t get table games it is hard to see any of this succeeding,” said Vin Narayanan, Managing Editor of Casino City Press in Atlantic City and an expert on the industry. “That is the first thing.”

The casino can’t diversify its audience, or attract a younger generation of gamblers, without table games and live dealers, according to Narayanan.

“Young players play table games. Young players don’t play the slots,” Narayanan said. “Casinos know they have an aging demographic that is attracted to the slots. If you have 4,000 seats of all slots your demographic isn’t going to get any younger.”


Action in Raleigh next week

If the tribe can reach an agreement with the Democratic governor — which state Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson County, sympathetically described as akin to hitting a rapidly moving target — the Eastern Band does appear to have the votes necessary for passage in the General Assembly, Apodaca said.

The General Assembly is expected Sept. 12 to signoff on allowing the tribe and Gov. Perdue to renegotiate a gaming compact that would allow live dealers. Perdue noted in the proposed legislation that she “desires to amend the compact,” provided the tribe and state can reach an actual agreement.

Despite the blessings of the General Assembly anticipated next week, the letters from the state reveal the critical agreement with the governor might not be easily won anytime soon, however. Cherokee hasn’t exactly gotten the cart before the horse, but this horse sure is proving difficult to saddle and ride.

While the state clamors for a cut of gaming revenue, the tribe has a wish list of its own that includes more than live dealers. The tribe also wants the state to guarantee its gambling monopoly — a promise not to allow any other casinos anywhere in the state for the 30-year duration of the gaming compact, or until 2041.

The state doesn’t appear willing to go that far.

“We believe the area of exclusivity should be focused on Western North Carolina, recognizing that this protects the tribe from an encroaching competitor while at the same time it avoids binding the hands of future governors and legislatures,” read one of the letters from the governor’s office.

In earlier negotiations that allowed the tribe’s existing casino operation, the tribe was made to give up some of its gaming revenues (at least $5 million a year) for the good of the region. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation was formed to award grants to worthy economic development or cultural initiatives across the mountains, not just on the reservation. The state is willing to reduce the amount the tribe has to funnel to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation if that’s what it takes for the state to get the cut it wants for itself.

Ultimately, the negotiations between the tribe and the state are playing out like the ultimate poker game. A cash-strapped state that’s eager to claim a cut of casino revenue; a debt-burdened tribe that needs live dealers. Only time will tell who has the better hand.

Comments by Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe about a rape victim published in the weekly Cashiers newspaper two weeks ago have sparked protests from local and state groups that combat sexual violence, as well as individuals from the Cashiers community.

The news article, printed under the banner headline “Alleged sexual assault reported,” appeared in the Aug. 24 edition of the Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle. It included a blow-by-blow account, attributed to the sheriff, of the rape victim’s long evening of barhopping and heavy drinking in the hours leading up to two men following her home and breaking into her house. The 34-year-old woman told deputies one man raped her while the other waited for him to complete the act.

Critics have reacted angrily to the tone of Ashe’s comments. They said the sheriff seemed to cast doubt on the truthfulness of the woman’s rape claim. The news article also emphasized that several hours passed before the woman reported being attacked and discussed, at length, her level of alcohol intake that night.

“It painted the picture of someone who is lying, or who was to blame for anything that happened,” said Monika Hostler, executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Now in Jackson County, if I’m a woman and I’ve been drinking or gone to the bar and been sexually assaulted, I know what’s going to happen if I report it.”

Ashe said he’d provided the Chronicle’s reporter a factual recounting as the victim relayed the situation to law enforcement. After the sheriff indicated that he had not read the article — “I know what I said, I don’t know what they printed” — a reporter for The Smoky Mountain News read the article from the Cashier’s paper, in its entirety, aloud to him during the course of a cell-phone interview late last week.

Ashe was asked whether he wanted to correct any inaccuracies or misquotes in the newspaper’s report. The sheriff neither disputed the accuracy of the article nor asserted that he’d been misquoted. Kelly Donaldson, editor of the Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle, declined to comment, which is the policy of the newspaper’s parent company, Community Newspapers Inc. of Athens, Ga.


Sheriff: woman not at fault

Ashe emphasized that he did not intend to indicate that the woman’s barhopping brought on the sexual assault. A suspect, Efrai Ubera Morales, 30, of an Amethyst Drive, Cashiers, address, was arrested 16 days after the attack on a charge of first-degree rape.

“I’m not saying (the victim) went out and asked to get raped, but we can’t change the facts from what she told us,” Ashe said. “That’s the truthful statement from the victim.”

Hostler and other critics, however, said Jackson County’s top law enforcement leader and the way the newspaper article was framed crossed serious moral and ethical boundaries. In the end, according to Hostler’s assessment, an innocent victim appeared on the front page of her local, hometown newspaper (circulation 3,200) in substance, at least, judged responsible for a sexual assault.

The woman was not identified by name in the Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle’s report, which is standard practice by most news organizations when reporting on sexual assaults. But in that small community in southern Jackson County, who she is and where she lives rapidly became public knowledge.

The article and the sheriff’s comments outraged Mary-Allyson Henson of Cashiers. She blames both Ashe and the newspaper equally for heaping further abuse on a woman who’d suffered through a sexual assault.

“There are no circumstances that would justify a woman being violated, period,” said Henson.

In fact, however, Henson said the victim was a friend who rarely goes out, and who had simply wanted to enjoy the evening celebrating another friend’s birthday.


The article in question

Almost from the beginning of the news article, the Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle focused on the woman’s actions that night.

“Though the assault occurred at the home, Sheriff Jimmy Ashe said that the night consisted of trips to multiple bars, which may or may not have been where the perpetrators encountered the victim,” the Chronicle’s article stated in the first paragraph.

The newspaper and sheriff also elected to tag the woman’s report an “alleged” sexual assault.

“It actually started at an individual’s house consuming alcohol,” Ashe was quoted as saying. “From there, the victim went to the Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company, and from the brewing company it went to the Gamekeeper where a birthday party was going on for one of her friends. There was continued consumption of alcohol during that course.”

When the article was published, detectives were hoping to locate surveillance video that would reveal the suspect’s identity, which is perhaps why Ashe elaborated on the victim’s schedule that night. He did not say that, however. Ashe did defend the use of the word “alleged.”

“It is ‘alleged’ until we can prove that it happened,” Ashe told The Smoky Mountain News. He does not apparently agree that the use of the word “alleged,” when attached in this manner to a victim’s report of sexual assault, might cast doubts on whether law enforcement believed the woman involved.

Generally, newspapers use the word “alleged” when referring to someone charged with a crime. A suspect can allegedly commit murder, but the murder itself is not alleged. The murder happened. The only uncertainty is who did it. If arson was committed, or a theft occurred, those crimes are not alleged. They occurred and are treated as facts. A suspect later charged with the crime allegedly committed it until a court of law proves them guilty.

Ashe, via the Cashiers newspaper, then described the actual rape.

“She said that two Hispanic males entered her home,” Ashe told the Chronicle. “She was not sure how they got into the home; there was no forced entry. One of the Hispanic males forced her to the floor and had sexual intercourse with her in the bathroom area. … She was able to send a message from her cell phone to the friend, whose residence she was at previously, and said something to the effect that she was being assaulted.”

The newspaper reporter then wrote: “According to Ashe, it was not until the following morning when one of the victim’s friends convinced her to go to the hospital for a rape kit, around 6 a.m., that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was contacted in regards to the assault.

The article then quoted Ashe directly as saying: “’During his whole time, no one had contacted law enforcement: not when she was being followed, not when the assault occurred, not after she had a conversation with her friend on the phone who she spoke to. During none of this time had any law enforcement been contacted. It wasn’t until she had a female friend who she was talking to convince her that next morning around 6 a.m. that she (needed) to go to the hospital and be checked.’”

Later in the newspaper article, Ashe is quoted as saying the victim provided “very vague descriptions,” and that she knew one of the Hispanic males involved went by the alias or nickname of “Drug Boy.”


‘Victim blaming’

Brent Kinser, president of REACH of Jackson County’s board of directors, said in an email interview with the The Smoky Mountain News that he wasn’t “sure in whom I am more disappointed: the sheriff, Mr. Ashe, who made the statements, or the writer … who presented them in such a clearly accusatory way.”

REACH is a nonprofit that works to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“Surely neither of these good men intended to imply that this victim had it coming to her, and yet the article reads in such a way that lends itself to precisely that interpretation. The only question here is the guilt or innocence of the perpetrators of this crime,” Kinser wrote. “The victim is only that, a victim, whether she decided to enjoy herself with friends at one location, or several, alcohol present or not. It is indeed painful to see yet another case of sexual violence in which a victim, in addition to all else, will now have to find some way to forgive herself, since according to this article, she behaved in such a way to invite the assault.”

Kim Roberts-Fer, executive director of REACH, said that “victim blaming is definitely the issue here.”

“It was reported that there were trips to multiple bars, with extensive information on alcohol consumption,” Roberts-Fer said. “It leads one to believe that if you consume alcohol you deserve or can expect to be raped. Not only is this information irrelevant, it actually is giving false information to the public, by implying that if you don’t consume alcohol you can somehow avoid being raped. This is not true — anyone can be raped, under any circumstance, and the one responsible for the rape is, very simply, the rapist.”


There is nothing that smells quite as bad as a male goat in rut.

During the mating season, excited billy goats urinate on their own beards and front legs. An amazing feat, really, if one ignores the ickiness of it all and instead simply dwells on the sheer athleticism involved.

Female goats find these unique yoga poses of the bucks, and the malodorous aromas that ensue, simply irresistible. This time of year, the does’ tails are starting to flick, flick, flick, and they are spending inordinate amounts of time shamelessly positioning their rumps toward the billy goat’s pen.

I can’t explain why the does believe the heavy, musky smell of a buck is the hottest thing ever — someone recently described it to me as patchouli gone bad, and that will do well enough for a description — but then I’m not a doe, now am I?

My adventures started early one morning last week. Showered, appropriately deodorized and dressed for work, I stopped by the barn to feed the animals before driving to Waynesville to help put out the newspaper.

Boo the billy goat had broken out of his pen. He is a good-looking buck, with a fetching black and white pattern and a single horn that gives him a dashing, even rakish look.

That horn is becoming a problem. Boo has started hooking me with it when he’s feeling frisky and I’m not quick enough producing his rations. And these days, with fall in the air and a constant parade of sluttish does in front of his pen shooting him come-hither looks, Boo is getting very frisky indeed.

When he was a young thing, I could push and pull and bully him about, but no more.

At just a year and a half, Boo has filled out into a large, impressively muscular beast. He, thankfully, is not in the least bit mean or ill tempered. But Boo wants to do what Boo likes to do, and that certainly does not include being confined in a pen away from all those winsome lasses. He cares not a bit that four of the six are his own daughters.

I cursed when I saw Boo cavorting about the barnyard, kicking up his hooves while emitting an occasional fart, to the clear and obvious delight of the does. They managed to add to the mayhem by running around as if panicked by his presence. Actually, everyone involved was having a fantastic time. Including the guard dog, who was barking hysterically.

I glanced at Boo’s enclosure. He’d bent down the top of one of the stock panels with his bulk and scrambled over and out to freedom. I didn’t have time to repair the fence. Instead, I grabbed Boo by his collar and wrestled him into a stall, kicked the gate shut and latched it, spoiling the goats’ morning antics.

After feeding and helping some with the milking, I climbed into my car and started toward Waynesville. Boo’s scent was clinging to me, but I pretended it wasn’t that bad. No one will notice, I thought to myself.

Within minutes of arriving at work, I observed one of my co-workers looking at me with a funny look on her face.

“Do you smell something?” she asked me finally.

“Sorry,” I replied airily, “but I might smell a teensy, weensy bit like a billy goat. Boo broke out this morning and I had to put him up.”

No one said anything for a while. We worked on in silence.

Finally, Becky — who sits beside me in Waynesville — burst out, “would you change into another shirt if I got you one?”

“Why? Do I smell that bad?” I said, feigning surprise. “Can you really smell it that much?”

“Yes,” Becky, who is not known for subtlety, replied. “You really stink. I don’t think I can stand it.”

I felt slightly offended, but drawing in a deep breath in anticipation of delivering a cutting response, got a nose-full of billy goat odor. I thought for a minute, and remembered I had my running clothes in a duffle bag in the car. I got them and changed.

Even then, I could still smell Boo on me, and I’m sure everyone else could, too. But the odor was at least tolerable, if not enjoyable, and nothing else was said.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


A new urgent care center in Sylva is proving a welcome addition to the community.

Before MedWest Health System opened the urgent care center in early August, Jackson County residents seeking immediate medical care but that doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency room visit were forced to head over the Balsams to Waynesville or over the Cowee range to Franklin.

“This would be a lot easier, if we needed medical help,” said Joe Buchanan of Sylva, who has driven to Franklin before to seek medical care at the Macon County town’s urgent care center, located about 30 minutes from Sylva along U.S. 441. Buchanan said he’d had a bad cold at the time and couldn’t get a doctor’s appointment but didn’t want to go to the emergency room.

Jane Cabe, a visitor to the area from Florida, welcomed news of an urgent care center. She and her husband — he has roots in Macon County — were staying in a Jackson County campground catering to recreation-vehicle users.

“If you need something, you need it quickly,” Cabe said. “You don’t have time to drive to another town.”

MedWest’s urgent care is located at 176 Wal-Mart Plaza, and provides walk-in examinations six days a week to patients with non-emergency illnesses or injuries. The new center has eight patient exam rooms, X-ray and full lab services in 3,770 square feet.

The new center’s staff includes two physicians, two physician assistants or nurse practitioners, two medical assistants, two registered nurses and four radiology and lab technicians. The hours of operation for the center are 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.


Hampered by a leash law that keeps their canine friends at heel, an ad hoc group of Sylva residents hope to find a place — a puppy park — where dogs can just be dogs, enjoying various doggie things.

In an informal, grassroots sort of get-together that took place one evening last week at City Lights Café, seven Sylva dog owners envisioned a fenced dog park where Rover could run unfettered, chasing a Frisbee or tennis ball, playing nicely with all the other dogs. No cats, of course, would be allowed. Rowdy dogs would be banned.

This field of dreams looks a lot like the dog parks found in Haywood County. Waynesville leaders set aside two fenced areas along the Richland Creek Greenway for dogs and their owners. The parks come complete with baggie dispensers so people can more easily cleanup after their dogs.

“We need an off-leash dog area,” said Stacy Knotts, a Sylva dog owner and town commissioner who emphasized that this, however, was not a town project.

And for good reason: A couple of years ago, Sylva’s town council erupted in fierce debate over whether dogs should be allowed in the then new Bridge Park, a small green space adjacent to downtown with a covered pavilion for holding concerts and community events. The fur flew as council members accused each other of voting to suit various canine agendas.

With that bitter history serving as a backdrop, Knotts said that the group’s hope is to convince county commissioners to let dog owners use one of Jackson County’s parks, with private money, perhaps, paying for needed fencing. Mark Watson Park, located near town, emerged as a clear favorite of the group, but any county park where they’d find an official welcome would be fine, they agreed.

Keith DeLancey, a local therapist with three dogs of his own, agreed to serve as point person on the project. The united effort to develop a dog park grew out of an email exchange between DeLancey and Knotts. DeLancey and his dogs have visited and played in Waynesville’s dog parks, and he proclaimed them “very nice” indeed.

There was discussion about the possibility of having an agility area at this fantasy future Sylva dog-park. Pat Thomas suggested keeping costs down by using bamboo, an idea gleaned from the Internet. She has some on her property that might serve such a purpose.

DeLancey said rough estimates show building 6-foot tall fencing for a half-acre area would cost just more than $600.

The first step will be to discuss the possibilities with the county’s recreation department, Knotts said, and then, later, ask for county commissioners’ support.

“We have a lot to do before we get to that point,” Knotts said.  

A Facebook site for the group, to garner more support from local dog owners, will be built. The group also plans to start a petition drive — a “would you use a dog park” type questionnaire — too.


A 24-year-old with family ties to Jackson County has been hired as the new leader of the Downtown Sylva Association and as the town’s economic development director.

Paige Roberson, who grew up in Sylva, graduated from Smoky Mountain High School, and whose family once owned and operated Roberson Supply, a hardware store on N.C. 107, replaces Julie Sylvester in the director’s post. Sylvester opted not to reapply for the position when it shifted to a town-employee post earlier this summer, citing family commitments (she is the mother of young twins).

Roberson will work 20 hours a week for the town, and 20 hours a week for Jackson County’s planning department, where she completed an internship. Roberson received a bachelor’s in economics from N.C. State University in Raleigh, and received a master’s degree in public affairs at Western Carolina University.

“Paige is going to focus more on the Main Street program instead of the event side so much,” said Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower, who added that the number of future town-sponsored events hasn’t been determined yet.

Roberson was scheduled to attend a Main Street managers’ conference this week to learn the ins and outs of the state program. The N.C. Main Street Program stipulates towns must have a Main Street director to be eligible for certain state grants.

“I’m passionate about Sylva,” Roberson said in an interview late last week. “I’m eager to have this job and I’m very excited.”

Roberson cited the underlying architectural “bones” of Sylva — ie., the historical character of many of the town’s buildings that, she said, set it apart from other mountain communities — as a structure to work on. Roberson said Mill Street (locally called Back Street), is full of possibilities for enhancement.


There will be no new faces on Franklin’s town board after November’s elections, no matter which way voters decide to cast their ballots.

That’s because only the current slate of town leaders opted to file for the election.

“I have been the director for 10 years, and in those 10 years I’ve never just had the incumbents file,” said Kim Bishop, director of the Macon County Board of Elections.

This means that Mayor Joe Collins and four aldermen will run unopposed. The aldermen up for election are Verlin Curtis, Bob Scott, Joyce Handley and Farrell Jamison.

Jamison was appointed to fill Alderman Jerry Evans’ post. He died in February. Jamison will, however, run for Scott’s four-year position; Scott will run to complete the two years remaining on Evans’ term.


A new FM radio station in Western North Carolina means more than 108,000 people living in the region might not be able to pick up their local National Public Radio station anymore.

That’s because the frequency involved, 95.3 FM, currently serves as a translator for WCQS, serving residents in much of Haywood and Jackson counties. It’s been in service for two decades.

Though there remain a number of other frequencies public-radio fans can tune into west of Buncombe County if they want to listen to WCQS, it will be hit and miss in many mountain valleys — the station comes in on four different frequencies depending on your area — once a new radio station takes over the frequency.

“It is, unfortunately, a challenging situation for us,” said Jody Evans, who has been the executive director of WCQS for about a year. “I think this is a loss for the community, but we are going to do what we can, within the guidelines of the FCC, to get public radio to the people of Western North Carolina.”

Evans was careful to emphasize that The Canary Coalition, who won tentative rights to the frequency, is not at fault; and nor is Western Carolina University, she said, which is fighting the environmental group for rights to 95.3. Rather, WCQS simply isn’t considered “local” under FCC regulations, though the radio station does serve the entire region.

“We can stay on the air until someone builds a station,” Evans said.

In its application with the FCC for rights to the frequency, WCU made the argument that the federal agency should give it 95.3, in part, because the university had plans to help out public radio. Evans deferred any comment on those possible plans to the university.

Granted, public radio will no longer be picked up via 95.3 once another entity takes over the frequency, whether it is WCU or The Canary Coalition, WCU noted in its FCC filings. But “much of this proposed loss area would be avoided, however, by transfer of WCU’s current facilities (WWCU and WWCU-FM1 to WNC Public Radio) … If an applicant other than WCU were to be awarded the Dillsboro allotment, it is virtually guaranteed that the public will lose this source (i.e., the programming of FM Translator W237AR) of noncommercial service upon which it has relied for nearly 20 years.”


Western Carolina University, eager to broadcast Catamount sports and other school-based programming to a larger audience than it can currently reach, is fighting The Canary Coalition for rights to a new FM radio station.

The station could reach up to three states once on the air, depending on which Jackson County mountaintop the transmitter is located, according to regional radio experts.

WCU’s current radio station, WWCU 90.5 FM, on a good day is heard roughly from Sylva to parts of Buncombe County. The signal is spotty at best, however.

WWCU 90.5 FM currently reaches about 43,627 people. Meanwhile, 73,800 people potentially could hear the new FM radio station, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

Asheville-based public radio station WCQS, the Cherokee Boys & Girls Club and a nonprofit Christian foundation based in Georgia also applied for the new frequency.

While the FCC tentatively awarded air rights for the new full-powered FM radio frequency to The Canary Coalition, a small grassroots environmental organization headquartered in Sylva, WCU is not going down without a fight.

WCU has hired the private Raleigh law firm Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey and Leonard, whose specialties include telecommunications and media law, to persuade the FCC to give it the license instead of The Canary Coalition.

The Canary Coalition has a staff of one, Executive Director Avram Friedman, and is using the legal services of an attorney in California to fend off WCU’s bid for the radio station. The attorney is helping the nonprofit for a reduced rate, Friedman said.

Larry Nestler, chairman of The Canary Coalition’s board, questioned why WCU would choose to pick this fight during such tough budgetary times. The state cut the university’s budget this year by 13.5 percent.

“And here is Western hiring a big-time law firm out of Raleigh using taxpayer money,” Nestler said. “It seems a little much.”

WCU has paid the Raleigh lawyers $21,752.34 so far in legal fees, according to the university.


WCU tightlipped on legal battle

The university issued a terse statement when queried about its bid for the radio station, saying through spokesman Bill Studenc that: “Because the application is still pending with the FCC, the university is unable to comment on the status of the application, or any specifics about the application, until that process has moved forward to completion.”

The Smoky Mountain News then filed several requests for information from WCU under the state’s public records law. WCU complied with most of the requests, but has yet to produce emails, as also requested under the state law, to-and-from various university leaders regarding the radio station.

WCU’s legal battle against The Canary Coalition originated under former Chancellor John Bardo, who retired this summer from the university’s top post. It isn’t clear whether new Chancellor David Belcher will embrace his predecessor’s fight.

Records reveal that WCU is fighting The Canary Coalition on every front that it can, challenging a variety of claims in the environmental group’s FCC application, and even arguing about whether The Canary Coalition is locally based as claimed.

The FCC used a point system to award licenses, with applicants given a set number of points if they met certain criteria. The Canary Coalition received five points (three for being local and two for diversity), WCU just three (localism only).

In its petition to overturn the FCC’s ruling that tentatively favors The Canary Coalition, WCU countered that the nonprofit is not a local entity — rather, that people think of it as an Asheville-based group, though it indeed leases office space in Sylva.

Perhaps most significantly, WCU has called into question the financial solvency of The Canary Coalition. The group, WCU’s high-powered legal team says, doesn’t have the money to back the dream of a radio station with regional reach.

The Canary Coalition indeed might have trouble proving it has the financial ability to get a radio station up and running. Friedman estimates it will cost about $50,000 to get on the air, for equipment, staff and so on. The FCC wants those awarded a frequency to have enough money in the bank to construct and operate a radio station for three months.

In a filing with the FCC, The Canary Coalition pointed to a bank balance on Feb. 5 of $43,945.97 as evidence that it can build and operate a radio station.

That just doesn’t cut it, WCU responded in a follow-up filing. A more complete financial picture of The Canary Coalition, not a one-day snapshot, doesn’t bode well for the group’s ability to pay for a radio station, WCU claimed. The Canary Coalition is attempting “to elevate the significance of that one-day balance determinatively above the significance of three years’ worth of public IRS filings … that show Canary’s downward-trending revenues and dire financial health,” WCU wrote to the FCC.

When Friedman put out a fundraising call to help get the radio station up and running in an email newsletter to Canary Coalition members and supporters last week, WCU jumped on it as more evidence the environmental organization doesn’t have start-up costs required by the FCC. WCU filed a supplemental petition late last week, citing the newsletter, that indicates Friedman is soliciting money now from group members for the project.

“This admission by Canary conclusively demonstrates not only that Canary lacks the funds to construct and operate the proposed station for three months without revenue but also that Canary recognizes that it lacks the funds. This admission is fatal to Canary’s financial certification and qualification,” the university’s lawyers maintained.

WCU’s lawyers also pointed out that The Canary Coalition originally estimated costs for the radio station at just more than $39,000, but now is seeking $50,000. Regardless of which amount is correct, WCU’s Raleigh law firm stated, a radio station “is clearly beyond (The Canary Coalition’s) financial ability to build and operate.”


Why WCU wants it

If WCU is able to overturn The Canary Coalition’s rights to the new FM station, plans call for the university to continue serving the area with its current “unique, locally originated programming,” plus to turn the station into “the flagship station in the WCU Catamount Sports Network, airing live college athletics of substantial importance to the local community.”

“Through the airing of its non-commercial educational program service, (WCU) brings thousands of hours of unique radio broadcast programming — including educational and curriculum-related programming — to its service area every year, and … seeks to further its educational mission by expanding its ability to provide such programming to the residents of Western North Carolina.”


Facts about WCU's current radio station

How old is the radio station at WCU?

In 1948, WCCA 550 AM signed on as a radio station from the lower floor of the Joyner building. In 1949, the call letters were changed to WWOO. In 1972, WWOO changed its call letters to WCAT. In 1977, WCAT 550 AM went off the air and WWCU 90.5 FM went on the air.

What’s the coverage area?

Roughly, from west of Sylva to the west side of Asheville, though the terrain of the mountains makes the coverage sporadic in places. The station transmitter is located on Cutoff Mountain near Balsam Gap.

How is it subsidized, to the tune of what each year?  

The radio station receives two funding allocations each year for operational expenses.  The station receives $15,000 from the provost’s office and $27,500 in education and technology funds.

Does the radio station make any money?

The radio station is licensed as a noncommercial educational station and as such does not sell commercial advertising.

Is it student run?

WWCU operates with a student general manager and student program coordinator under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The student general manager and program coordinator work with a volunteer staff of students, staff, and faculty.

What is the programming?

Classic rock, plus weather, WCU sports programs, and some Native American-geared programming.

Source: WCU


The Canary Coalition, a nonprofit group rooted in Jackson County that fights for air quality, might soon take to the airwaves via its own educational, community radio station.

Avram Friedman, executive director of The Canary Coalition, believes a local radio station would provide the entire environmental community in Western North Carolina with its own forum, plus open educational and networking opportunities for those involved. A range of community-oriented programs by other nonprofits could be included, and local musicians featured, Friedman said. A more complete vision of the future community radio station still must be hammered out, he said.

In a newsletter announcement last week to The Canary Coalition’s members, Friedman noted: “The organization’s leaders view this an opportunity to bring the public educational and advocacy mission of the Canary Coalition to a new level of effectiveness. This will be a radio station that offers programming found nowhere else, delivering in-depth coverage of environmental issues and news.” 

Friedman added that in his view, the environmental and social progress community has little voice in a world of corporate-owned mass media.

“Important events, demonstrations, public hearings, discussions, debates and informational forums are often ignored by the conventional media or relegated to small back page, one-time articles that may even miss the point entirely. Even public radio stations have been less than forthcoming with covering the news and events organized by local nonprofits,” he wrote.

There are, at rough count, at least 34 environmental organizations based in WNC. If The Canary Coalition successfully launches its radio station, it could open the region’s airwaves to issues that are of interest to other nonprofits as well, empowering the grassroots movement in WNC as never before.

That’s because The Canary Coalition’s radio station wouldn’t be a dinky, low-powered station with a broadcast reach of a measly two blocks or so.

The Federal Communications Commission has given The Canary Coalition the OK for a full-powered FM station. Regional radio experts say the station could potentially broadcast to a three-state audience, depending on where the transmitter is placed. The radio station would be based in Dillsboro, frequency 95.3 FM (for two decades where listeners in WNC have found public radio WCQS, see accompanying story).


Tentative plans

“We view this as an opportunity to provide that voice for the environmental community,” Friedman said one day last week in a cell phone interview as he headed to Washington, D.C., to take part in a protest against a pipeline that would connect oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas.

In an application filed with the FCC, The Canary Coalition promised to “coordinate with local educational institutions, community health, environmental, social and cultural organizations and the business community on developing programming for the station. In addition, it will broadcast cultural programming including musical content relevant to the population of the service area, as well as local news, public affairs programming and public service announcements.”

Friedman, a Bronx native, is a fixture in the WNC environmental movement. Friedman studied political science at Hunter College, and has been a grassroots activist since the late 1960s. Friedman, a Sylva resident, ran unsuccessfully — twice — against Democrat Rep. Phil Haire for the right to represent Jackson, Macon, Swain and Haywood counties in the state House.

He is unapologetically liberal, even perhaps something of a radical, at least by many mountain residents’ standards. He was arrested twice for protesting Duke Energy’s Cliffside coal plant, once in front of the governor’s mansion and once in front of Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte.

If the FCC issues a construction permit (Western Carolina University wants to wrest the frequency away from the nonprofit, see accompanying article), Friedman and The Canary Coalition would have a three-year window to study what programming to offer, and how to get the radio station actually up and running.

SEE ALSO: University fights environmental group for rights to radio frequency

Larry Nestler, who chairs the nonprofit’s board, said he believes a radio station could serve both as a source of revenue for The Canary Coalition, and “as a way of getting the word out on soliciting help on getting clean air.”

Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville, which operates the low-powered MAIN-FM 103.5, said in his group’s case the Internet Service Provider side of MAIN subsidizes the radio station. The technical staff essentially has done double duty for the ISP and the station, Bowen said.

The Canary Coalition has even shallower pockets than MAIN. This would be noncommercial radio — minus paid advertisements — so listener contributions and grants would most likely have to sustain the operation in Dillsboro, Bowen said.

SEE ALSO: Asheville public radio’s reach threatened by new FM station


What it would take

The Prometheus Radio Project, a national group promoting community-based radio, estimates that a “minimalist” studio can cost only $4,000 (not including furniture), depending on how much equipment is donated. A high-end studio, however, can cost as much as $100,000.

Friedman estimated it would cost about $50,000 to buy the needed equipment, hire some staff and get the radio station started. In a recent newsletter, he urged members to consider supporting the effort with cash donations.

Friedman told the nonprofit’s members that “if and when we overcome this challenge (from WCU) and gain the FCC license, we look forward to a new era when The Canary Coalition can serve the community in a new and spectacular manner, broadcasting news and information about air quality, climate change, new developments in the renewable energy and efficiency economy transformation. News of the Fukishima catastrophe and other nuclear accidents will not be blacked out in our region, on this station. Listeners will learn about the realities of hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking). There will be no corporate tampering with this news. The facts will be presented, discussed and debated.”


Why this frequency?

In 2007, in a relatively rare event, the FCC accepted applications from community groups across the nation seeking full power, noncommercial radio licenses. A second round of applications took place last year.

There were a limited number of these new FCC licenses to go around — only in areas with open bandwidth on the radio dial, and only for nonprofit, community radio stations.

The idea was to open up the airwaves to non-corporate interests and encourage citizen access and community participation, said Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville.

Bowen, a nationally known advocate for local ownership of media infrastructure, was on the lookout for just such an opportunity. Bowen’s group already operates MAIN-FM 103.5, a low-powered FM radio station that bills itself as “The Progressive Voice of the Mountains” and is based in Asheville.

As Bowen followed the FCC’s release of new frequencies, he discovered there indeed would be one in the mountains, but not in Asheville — it was being issued in Dillsboro.

“We didn’t qualify, because we are Asheville-based,” Bowen said. “But I immediately thought of The Canary Coalition. This was a golden opportunity, and there are folks (including MAIN) who have the experience to help them.”

He called Avram Friedman, executive director of The Canary Coalition, and the idea of Canary Coalition radio was born.


The Macon County School system has changed its tune on the controversial preacher who delivered an overtly religious speech at Nantahala School’s June graduation ceremony.

Superintendent Dan Brigman initially defended the content of the speech in an article published in The Smoky Mountain News, but after receiving a complaint from the national Freedom From Religion Foundation, Brigman said “circumstances prevented a proper vetting” of the Nantahala graduation speaker.

Brigman said the school system “will ensure that future graduation speakers refrain from religious speech.”

In an Aug. 4 letter responding to the foundation’s complain, Brigman didn’t expressly say that the school had erred, but implied that the vetting process had failed when the Rev. Daniel “Cowboy” Stewart was picked as the commencement speaker.

Stewart offered prayers at the graduation and delivered a sermon that involved wrapping a student volunteer in ropes to demonstrate the hold of the devil.

Rebecca Markert, attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said she sent a letter to the school system after a local resident contacted the foundation with concerns.

Her letter, sent more than a month prior to Brigman’s response, asked that the school system take “immediate steps to ensure that religious ritual and proselytizing” stay out of graduations in the future.

In his response, Brigman defended the school system, saying that it didn’t and wouldn’t intentionally schedule a prayer or sermon. Markert, however, pointed out that the school should’ve known Stewart’s intent.

“Not only should the district have realized Stewart was apt to view the speaking engagement as a carte blanche invitation to abuse the situation to proselytize to a captive audience, but the district is on record endorsing his sermon,” said Markert’s letter. “Your very own public statements about the sermon expressed no disapproval.”

Indeed, Brigman told The Smoky Mountian News and other media outlets that he saw no problem with Stewart, as he had been chosen by the graduating students.

“It wasn’t a revival, but he had some strong encouraging words for the kids to make good decisions,” Brigman told The Smoky Mountain News after the graduation.

Student-led prayer is allowed in schools, but the law prohibits outside speakers or school-sponsored events from including religious elements such as prayers, sermons or Biblical object lessons.

Markert said this is a situation she sees quite often. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national membership organization with chapters around the country. It’s dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state.

“We cover a wide range of state-church violations,” said Markert. “The biggest complaints we receive are about religion in schools.”

As the staff attorney, Markert acts on those complaints, conducting background investigations and then sending what are essentially cease-and-desist letters and pushing issues into court when necessary.

She sends out between 10 and 20 letters a week, and mostly what she’s looking for in return are letters such as Brigman’s: a mea culpa of some sort and promise of better future behavior.

Mostly, she said, that’s what she gets, especially in school cases, because the law is so clear.

“I think there’s been rare occasions where we haven’t heard back and in those instances we have talked to the plaintiffs to see if they’re interested in suing. But really, it rarely every happens,” said Markert.

The school system’s response signals, perhaps, that they were aware of such a legal threat.

“Macon County Schools is committed to protecting the rights of its students, parents and teachers,” Brigman wrote in the letter. “We do employ a process to prevent the presentation of inappropriate materials to our students.”

This time around, Brigman referred all questions on the issue to the school system’s lawyer, John Henning. Henning said that the school system’s policy was not at fault, but it wasn’t exactly followed in this situation.

“The process that we would follow now is that presentations or materials that will be presented need to be reviewed by the principal and the principal will make a determination,” said Henning. Nantahala School Principal Robbie Newton died of cancer before the end of last school year, and the duty never fell to anyone else.

Henning, however, said the school system received no complaints from students or residents, but one other letter from a group called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.


There aren’t too many road races in Western North Carolina with the storied history of the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race, sponsored this year by Mission Health System. Nor will you find many, like this one, that take place at night.

Which is exactly why Sean Grady of Cherokee is so inclined to run the upcoming 8K on Aug. 27. He wants to run this race even though he’s preparing for the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Va., and despite his careful efforts otherwise to adhere to a peak-at-the-perfect-moment training regimen.

And Grady’s marathon training plan certainly does not call for a 4.8-mile road race this coming weekend.

But that’s the allure of the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race, which in its heyday attracted more than 2,300 people to this Haywood County community. The race has been subject to fits and starts over the last decade — this is the first time in a couple of years it’s been held — but the reputation of the nighttime run is legendary.

“We want to bring back some of the traditions of the race,” said Greg Duff of Glory Hound Events in Asheville, who is organizing this 30th version of the Moonlight Race.

That includes inviting regional running clubs to the run, one of the great traditions Duff wants back. Clubs would have “tailgate” parties, swap meets and meetings for members, and generally good times were had by all.

Grady and wife, Gerri, both belong to Cherokee Runners, a club on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. While Sean Grady is still vacillating a bit about whether to run the race as a tempo run (an outing done at a steady effort level, these runs are generally just a little slower than a runner’s average 10K race pace, helping to develop anaerobic or lactate thresholds), his wife is definitely participating, as are others with the Cherokee running club.

They’ll find an excellent course with plenty of running support, said Duff. The rectangular course takes runners 1.2 miles up the valley to Ghost Town, then 2.4 miles in the opposite direction, before returning them 1.2 miles to the finish line back at the fairgrounds.

The race gets under way at 8:30 p.m.


Want to run the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race?

Cost: $30, with registration/packet pickup on Friday, Aug. 26 from 3-6 p.m. at the Maggie Valley Fairgrounds and from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 at the fairgrounds.

Time: Race starts at 8:30 p.m.

Awards: 10 p.m. at the fairgrounds stage.

Post race: Budweiser of Asheville is a race sponsor, and all runners, 21 years and older, will be able to receive one beer after the race. Bottled water will also be available at the finish line and food tent.


A number of readers have informed me that the agonizing sting I described in last week’s column was the work of a Japanese hornet. That sent me trotting to my computer, where I read a description of being stung by one. He wrote the sting of a Japanese hornet felt like having a hot nail driven into his leg.

I guess one man’s hot nail is another woman’s hot poker. I had written it felt akin to a hot metal poker being jabbed in my foot.

In actuality, a European hornet probably stung me — the Japanese hornet isn’t present in North America. The European hornet is the largest and, technically, the only true hornet found here. It was first reported in 1840 in New York, and the European hornet has since spread to most of the eastern United States. I certainly don’t remember seeing bees this size while growing up in Bryson City, though maybe I simply didn’t pay attention and they’ve been here all along.

Here’s the official description, courtesy of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service: “Adults somewhat resemble yellow jackets, but are much larger (about one-and-a-half inches) and are brown with yellow markings. Queens, which may be seen in the spring, are more reddish than brown, and are larger than the workers. Nests are typically built in hollow trees, but they are often found in barns, sheds, attics, and wall voids of houses. Unlike its cousin, the bald-faced hornet, European hornets rarely build nests that are free hanging or in unprotected areas. Frequently, the nest is built at the cavity opening, rather than deep within. The outside of the exposed nest will be covered with coarse, thick, tan, paper-like material fashioned from decayed wood fibers. Nests built in wall voids may emit a noticeable stench.”

Now that I’ve been stung by one, I’m seeing them everywhere. Including a nest under the porch of a cabin on the property here. I’m suspicious that the hornets are actually in the wall of the cabin, flying down into a crack through the porch, but I hope that I’m wrong. That will mean suiting up in protective clothing and pulling off boards to get to them. Understandably, I’m not eager to be stung again by one of these monster-sized hornets.

I’ve helped with bee removals before at other people’s homes. Usually it’s honeybees that take up residence. Here’s a free tip for those of you who want to do the removal yourself: fill the cavity with fiberglass insulation after you’ve gotten the bees out. Otherwise, it is inevitable that another swarm of honeybees eventually will take up residence in the same place, attracted by the pheromones of their predecessors.

Since the column published last week, I’ve had several people ask me why I fool with honeybees since I react so violently to being stung. There’s a big difference between swelling from the venom — which is what I do — and having an actual life-threatening allergic reaction.

Most people have some sort of reaction — pain, swelling, redness and itching, that kind of thing. I’m in smaller subset, about 10 to 15 percent of people, who experience larger areas of swelling for up to a week. Uncomfortable, yes; unsightly, yes; but not life-threatening.

Over in Macon County, Lewis Penland, who heads up the planning board, falls into the still rarer group (about 3 percent) who have full-blown allergic reactions that cause anaphylaxis. It forced him to give up honeybee keeping.

The same thing happened to my maternal grandfather, if I remember the stories correctly. He had honeybees, but one day he simply couldn’t have them anymore — he’d developed full-blown allergies to the venom. It happens like that sometimes.

Interestingly, the venom of various stinging insects isn’t the same chemically speaking. I hardly swell from yellow jacket stings, or wasps. But let a honeybee pop me and I blow up like a hideous balloon animal.

And, I’ve now learned, from the sting of a Japanese/European hornet.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Aside from the occasional “welcome WCU students” signs, there isn’t much visible evidence in Sylva that signals more than 7,000 students have flooded this community for the start of school.

The town isn’t awash in purple, the school’s official color. You won’t see many images of catamounts, the university’s mascot, splashed about.

But despite the lack of an obvious welcome mat, the influx of students is a critical cog in Jackson County’s economic engine — and merchants and elected leaders here know that.

But it’s not always about the direct exchange of dollars. The economic ties between the university and community are often subtler than that.

At Rick’s Full Service Car Wash, Manager Mark Harwood relies on students for a workforce. And, as a general rule, he said, the students are simply stellar in that role.

“They do a great job for us,” he said, gesturing toward the car washers busy cleaning out a line of cars. “I love having them.”

Without WCU’s students, Harwood said he’d be hard pressed to find the dozen or so workers he needs to keep the 15-year business running. Students don’t usually have enough extra cash to get their cars cleaned here, he said, but they are vital to the car wash’s economic wellbeing nonetheless.

“With the economy the way it is, we are a bit of a luxury item,” he said.

At Super Wal-Mart in Sylva, displays cater to students and parents to shop for go-back-to-college items. That money returns to the community in the form of retail taxes.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Jackson County Commissioner Charles Elders of the economic ties between this county and the university.

Elders owns a gasoline station on U.S. 441 between Sylva and Whittier. Students headed west, or commuting in from outlying communities, help make up his business clientele, too — though gamblers headed to the Cherokee casino are even more important on a day-to-day basis, Elders said.

But at the Exxon service station on N.C. 107 in Sylva, students make up most of the business, and on this day WCU student and worker Samantha Talbert is rushing to keep up. It’s 9:30 a.m., and she oversees both the main cash register and drive-thru area.

Even at this early hour, people are driving though picking up six-packs of beer. It’s a Saturday, and people are eager to start their day of fun.

“It’s mostly locals during the day, and college kids at night,” Talbert said between customers.

Talbert eats at local restaurants and shops at local stores. Though she’s more frugal than many — she prefers to make her own meals most days, for health and economic reasons — Talbert still, like other WCU students, helps bolster Jackson County’s economy.


Western Carolina University is facing, at best, an austere financial year.

Chancellor David Belcher, in his first address to faculty and staff, was blunt about the financial difficulties facing the university. He warned his new employees that all spending would be scrutinized, and said they must fully and satisfactorily justify any new programs and course offerings, particularly electives.

The state, when all was said and done, cut WCU’s overall budget by 13.4 percent. While university leaders were prepared for an economic wallop, they were caught off guard by the sudden yanking of another $2 million they’d planned on. This happened when the state didn’t let universities use money left over from the previous budget year. The plan had been to use this carry-forward funding, as had been a usual financial practice at WCU, to help cover ongoing expenses, Belcher said.

Combine the $2 million with the other state cuts, and WCU found itself with a total $4.85 million overall deficit.  

“We cannot run a university this way,” the new chancellor said, explaining that the university’s top officials balanced the budget by whittling away at expenses. This included money set aside to maintain WCU’s information-technology infrastructure.

“Send your most positive thoughts to our IT system,” Belcher told his employees. “It cannot malfunction this year.”

Many in the crowd chuckled — and it really was a crowd, so many faculty and staff showed up for what is generally a beginning-of-the-year formality a balcony was opened in the fine and performing arts center’s auditorium to handle overflow. Belcher added in a serious tone: “No, I’m really not kidding.”

“The budget situation remains uncertain,” he said. “But I assure you that we will make it through these tough financial times.”

Belcher emphasized the need to raise enrollment numbers — which leads to increased state money and tuition money — but doing so while not lowering the caliber of students the university accepts. Additionally, with the state now heavily emphasizing retention and graduation rates, a shift in emphasis must take place, he said.

“Improving our retention rate is everybody’s responsibility,” he said.

But Belcher told faculty he wanted to shed his “reactionay mantle” that defined his first two months on the job. He planned now to throw himself headlong into crafting a new strategic plan for the university. The chancellor urged faculty and staff to join him in taking ownership of WCU.

“The strategic planning process is an opportunity to identify what we will pursue and what we will not pursue,” Belcher said. “In light of the current conditions, we cannot be all things to all people. Everything cannot and will not be a priority.”

The strategic planning process will be led by a steering committee called the 2020 Commission, and will include participation from various stakeholders on campus, such as faculty, staff and students. And, he said, from the external community – alumni, donors, and business and community leaders.

The target is to have a plan ready for presentation to the Board of Trustees at its June meeting 10 months from now.

“Achievement of such a plan will require rejection of myopia and commitment to the good of the whole,” Belcher said. “We will be guided by our commitment to student success – the success of every student. And we will retain that value that has defined us for years, an external focus and external engagement.”

Belcher announced the formation of the Chancellor’s Leadership Council, a group composed of about 40 campus leaders from the faculty, staff, student body and administration.

He also unveiled a more inclusive budgeting process designed to provide additional input into decision-making and enhance transparency. That process will include an annual budget hearing that will involve the newly formed leadership council. Belcher also asked Faculty Senate and Staff Senate to consider the creation of a joint budget and planning committee to ensure that faculty and staff concerns are integrally involved in the budget process.


Between the two of them, daughter Alison “Ali” Howie is clearly holding up better than her mother, Paula Dennis.

“I’m an emotional wreck,” Dennis openly admits after queuing up her vehicle in front of Scotts Dorm. Her husband, Howie’s stepfather, pulls up behind her — Dennis laughs a bit when it’s gently pointed out that her daughter has supplies enough to sustain her through a doctorate degree, not just a single year of college.

Bottled water. Shampoo. Sheets and blankets. Laundry detergent. Snacks. Cleaning items. Clothing. Books. Pens and paper.

It’s move-in day for freshman at Western Carolina University, and Howie is one of 1,450 freshmen and first-year students enrolled for classes. The cars and trucks, and yes even a few U-hauls, stretch in lines as far as the eye can see.

“We’ve been planning and buying for the past three weeks. Well, really, all summer,” Dennis says.

Howie, a self-described “very independent, very organized” 18-year-old from the Mount Pleasant area, hands off a tidily labeled box to a man in shorts with a baseball cap turned around on his head. There’s a lot of help on freshman move-in day at WCU. Professors and staff have turned out in force to ensure their new charges enjoy these first moments on campus.

“You earn brownie points for the labels,” the man says pleasantly. Howie just nods in brief acknowledgement, not yet realizing that this extra pair of arms belongs to WCU’s new chancellor, David Belcher.

SEE ALSO: Faculty packs overflow balcony to hear new chancellor’s opening address

Howie, if she’s nervous, isn’t showing it. She’s got one thing on her mind: maintaining at least a 3.6 grade point average as a nursing major. And that’s one of the main reasons this academically minded young woman chose WCU — because when you get right down to it, there’s not many distractions to be found.

There’s no college scene — nothing close to the much-ballyhooed Athens, Ga., or iconic Chapel Hill — not even a Boone-for-Appalachian State type college town.

In fact, there’s no town at all in Cullowhee, unless you count the handful of businesses that make up the “Catwalk” near the center of campus — a few restaurants, a bank and a laundromat. Or on old Cullowhee road, a tattoo parlor, a hair salon, and a car body shop.

This isolation suits Howie just fine.

“I can drive to Asheville if I really want all that,” she says. “That’s part of the reason I like it.”


Numbers alone no longer count

The University of North Carolina system is changing how universities are allotted money. It’s no longer just about sheer enrollment numbers — more students equal more dollars, so round ‘em up, cowboy. Instead, in the name of accountability, the state is increasingly eyeing retention and graduation rates.

The graduation rate is the percentage of people actually graduating from college. The retention rate, on the other hand, is something that reflects the student body’s overall interest in what’s being offered by the college — the number of students who start at that school who go on to the next year, or years, at the same college.

The student retention rate at Western Carolina University stands at 74 percent, with Belcher recently noting the school needs to pay particular attention to the freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate.

The graduation rate at WCU is low, at an estimated 28 percent in 2010 for fourth-year students, at 46.8 percent for fifth-year students, and 51.6 percent for sixth-year students.

Former Chancellor John Bardo, who retired this summer, often blamed retention and graduation problems, in part at least, on the lack of a college town here at Cullowhee. There’s simply nothing to keep students on campus or coming back each year, according to this theory. In the absence of a college town, Bardo suggested the university build one itself. He forged a vision in his final year for a “town center” built on campus and then leased to restaurants, shops and the like. His plan included a strategy for legalizing alcohol sales for the new “town center,” another aspect of student life now lacking.

As Bardo maintained, the lack of a hip college scene might well feed into university’s graduation shortcomings. But it’s equally clear from incoming freshman that WCU also attracts many students — such as Howie — because of the rural, intimate, anti-urban feel of the campus.

The town center plans have gone on hiatus with the arrival of a new chancellor. And, given the possibility of Jackson County voters next May legalizing countywide alcohol sales — which would suddenly make Cullowhee an attractive market for new restaurants and bars — the very need for a university-driven “town center” might prove unnecessary.

“I like that it isn’t too big,” says Hannah Wallis-Johnson, an incoming freshman from Asheville who is following her mother, Sharon Wallis, to WCU as a student.

Sharon Wallis commutes to WCU in pursuit of a pre-nursing degree; she persuaded her daughter to give this Jackson County university a hard look.

SEE ALSO: Students — and their wallets — return to Jackson County

Wallis-Johnson did just that, and to her surprise (who really wants one’s mother to be proven right, after all), found she loved it: few distractions to disrupt academics, and just an hour’s drive from all the fun in her hometown. That means she can actually drive home for dinner with family, or to entertainment with friends in Asheville, whenever she wants.

“Here, you have to make an actual decision to go out,” Wallis-Johnson says, citing what some might view as void as, instead, a positive.


First-day jitters

Across the hall, Allison Cathey of Haywood County chose WCU for similar reasons. Familiarity with the mountains, in her case, too, didn’t breed contempt — she loves them, and says she never plans to leave them.

Cathey graduated from Haywood Community College, and is excited about this nearby transfer to WCU. She shakes her head when talking about WCU skeptics, those who maintain the school should offer its students a full plate of fun to go with an academic diet.

“The people who say there’s nothing to do in Cullowhee — well, that’s silly,” Cathey says. “I don’t think a town center is really necessary.”

Mother Doris Cathey adds that while she wouldn’t have attempted to influence her daughter’s college choice, WCU is, in fact, the only university her daughter applied to attend.

“This is where she wanted to go,” she says.

“This is where I want to be,” Allison Cathey emphasizes.

On the next floor up in Scotts Dorm, Bryce Hedrick looks and acts nervous. He openly admits to a full-blown case of the jitters — Hedrick, from Thomasville, worries about doing well in his classes.

His mother, Shannon Hedrick, says this is the first time her son has really been away from home.

“This is a big deal,” she says, adding that she’s happy with her son’s decision to attend WCU.

“I like the fact that they seem so focused on the education of the kids,” Shannon Hedrick says.

Her son, like the other freshmen, is enthusiastic about WCU. Many of his friends went to East Carolina University, but Bryce Hedrick says he welcomes the relative isolation of his new home.

“I just really felt like I could focus better here,” he says in explanation.


Macon County’s embattled planning board has agreed on a handful of basic construction guidelines for developers building houses and roads. This sets up a possible showdown between land-planning advocates and opponents to play out before the county commissioners.

Last week, the planning board voted almost unanimously in support of rules that would limit how high and steep cut-and-fill slopes can be. The planning board will call upon the county commissioners to adopt the rules.

“I hope they realize we need to address these issues,” Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland said in anticipation of commissioners taking up the issue in September.

It marks the second time in two years the planning board has voted on such measures and sent them to commissioners. Last winter, the planning board approved a similar set of regulations — billed at the time as “guiding principles” intended to lay the groundwork for a much more comprehensive steep-slope ordinance. County commissioners signed off and gave the planning board the green light to move forward.

But the steep slope ordinance proved too controversial and was ultimately abandon by the planning board, which settled instead for the simpler guidelines — which will once again be sent to commissioners for approval.

Contacted after last week’s meeting, Penland said that in the hubbub surrounding the steep slope ordinance, he’d forgotten the planning board and previous board of commissioners had approved the principles one time before.

“It is almost like they got us chasing our tail,” he said.

Three of the five county commissioners have been replaced since the last time around, however, flipping the board from a Democratic majority to Republican majority.

But the regulations at least stand a chance of getting passed.

The most conservative of the new commissioners has indicated he’d support reasonable regulations. Commissioner Ron Haven, who vigorously campaigned against the adoption of a steep-slope ordinance when running last fall for public office, has told The Smoky Mountain News that he believes there must be some rules in place to guide builders and protect homeowners. It remains to be seen, of course, whether he and other commissioners will consider the planning board’s suggestions “reasonable.”

Commissioners Bobby Kuppers and Ronnie Beale, the two held-over Democrats, are already on the record last year voting for the principles. Commissioner Kevin Corbin has said he needs to review what the planning board presents before staking out a position; Chairman Brian McClellan hasn’t indicated which way he’s likely to vote, but he has pushed for the planning board to meet a September deadline, which it now has.

The planning board’s guidelines set general parameters for earth moving.

Before the shift from steep slope, discussions had disintegrated into arguments by planning board members over the validity of state landslide hazard maps, among other things.

That same volatility surfaced at last week’s meeting, too, leading Kuppers, who serves as liaison to the planning board, to caution members to “take a big, old, deep breath.”

Penland questioned why fellow planning board member Lamar Sprinkle took the podium during the public comment period at a recent county commissioners meeting and complained about other members of the planning board.

Sprinkle, a local surveyor who has consistently attempted to block efforts to develop either a steep-slope ordinance or general construction guidelines, described planning board members he disagreed with as “extreme ideologists” who were pushing a liberal agenda. He urged commissioners to derail the attempt to develop construction guidelines, a suggestion commissioners ignored.

Sprinkle defended going over the planning board’s head and publicly complaining to commissioners.

“I believe when a man continually uses his position to push his ideals, he’s not helping anything,” a recalcitrant Sprinkle said to Penland.

Planning-board veteran Susan Ervin fired back at Sprinkle, telling him: “I think it’s not appropriate to go to county commissioners and ask them to subvert the process we have agreed on.”

Sprinkle then made it clear that his main complaint — at least when it came to leftist agendas and leftist-agenda makers — was about Ervin.

“If you want to get into appropriate, we can get into appropriate … if you want to call names, we can call names,” Sprinkle responded. “I was talking about you, Susan.”

Though Sprinkle also told Penland, “I just think things have not been handled right — you’ve tried to suppress opposition.”

Jimmy Goodman, a point of past strife on the board and a historic opponent of planning efforts, emerged suddenly in a new, hitherto unsuspected guise as planning-board peacemaker.

Goodman urged the planning board to move on to actual planning-related discussions, a suggestion eventually followed. Kuppers encouraged Goodman with a hail-fellow-well-met of “Jimmy, I’m with you 100 percent — when you’re right, you’re right.”

And when he’s wrong? Kuppers didn’t touch on that.


If you’re going to put on and sponsor what has quickly evolved into one of the region’s most popular road-bike events, it sure helps to have a qualified nutritionist on staff.

When it came to stocking food and drink at rest stops along the Blue Ridge Breakaway’s grueling 65-mile haul — with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain — the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce turned to its own Lois Beery, the chamber’s administrative assistant who teaches nutrition as a personal wellness coach on the side.

Beery is now in charge of the beverages and food bike racers will use to refuel when rolling up to the eight rest stops incorporated into the route.

Bike riders on the race committee imparted inside information on what they need to have good race outings, Beery said, which has helped her in setting up the rest-stop stations.

“You want carbs that are salty, because they’ll need the sodium,” she said. “Then, drinks such as Gatorade to provide magnesium and potassium.”

Protein, too, is important, but racers don’t have time to sit down and feast on steak dinners. They want items they can grab and eat and go, Beery said. That means offering them an array of snacks such as trail mix, peanuts and the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

As for after the race? Pasta — massive quantities — with an array of toppings will be catered by Nico’s, along with fresh salad.

Rides at the second-annual Blue Ridge Breakaway will begin and end at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in Haywood County. There are four routes, geared for beginner through advanced riders. The centerpiece race is the 105-mile century ride that ascends through Haywood County to the Blue Ridge Parkway before descending back to Lake Junaluska.


Nothing extreme

Bill Jacobs of Cashiers is a returning racer. He got into the sport after participating in the grueling 50-mile Tour de Cashiers 15 years ago, in his 50s.

“I said, ‘never again,’” Jacobs said ruefully. “Didn’t work out that way.”

Jacobs has come a long way since that first, painful experience. For one thing, he knows now to focus carefully on the fuel he feeds his body — not just at rest stops during the race, Jacobs said, but all year long.

“I follow a healthy overall eating approach,” he said. “I’m careful about meaty fats, and eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and some carbs — (also) nonfat dairy and wholegrain breads. I do eat meat, but I tend toward selecting fish.”

Jacobs, unlike some riders, isn’t particularly overzealous about selecting a particular race-day breakfast — he wants some protein in it, so he’ll likely eat eggs.

“I really don’t do anything extreme,” the Cashiers resident said.

“Concerning diet, cyclists burn a lot of calories and some of us have to be careful not to lose too much weight,” Jacobs said. “So I eat a lot.”

Last year, Jacobs rode coast-to-coast in 35 days of cycling.

“On the cross-country ride I actually gained a couple of pounds, by eating pretty much all the time, both on and off the bike,” he said.  

A moderate, thoughtful approach to fueling and training — in addition to eating well and in a balanced fashion, Jacobs most weeks gets in a 60- to 70-mile bike ride, plus mixes in some shorter outings and workouts at the gym.

You can’t control every variable in bike racing, however, and one thing about racing up to the Blue Ridge Parkway is that you never know quite what the weather is going to bring. Last year, Jacobs bailed out at Balsam Gap and took a back way back to town. It started raining, and several racers became hypothermic, forcing rangers to shut the parkway to them for safety reasons.

“That’s just the risk you take,” Jacobs said.


A marketing event

CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber of Commerce, said the rest stops are supplied with ponchos, trash bags and newspapers (good for stuffing inside those thin racing outfits and cutting the wind). The ponchos and trash bags will be there, she said, if like last year rain pours on riders in the Blue Ridge Breakaway.

“These stops are an oasis in the desert,” Hipps said, adding that six to eight volunteers will staff each rest stop.

“It is very detailed to put on,” she said. “A lot of logistics are involved with this.”

Despite the bad weather last year, racers’ after-race reviews were overwhelmingly positive, Hipps said.

That’s important, not only because you want racers to enjoy the event, but because Blue Ridge Breakaway is also serving to market the region.

“If they have a good experience, this will be a special place in their minds,” Hipps said in explanation.

Typically, August is a fairly slow month for tourism and visitation in Haywood County. That’s why the chamber targeted a road-bike event for this time of year, Hipps said.

“It’s a passion for these people,” she said of the racers. “And many are of a generation who have means, and disposable income.”

Calculating that the bikers drive approximately two hours to participate in Blue Ridge Breakaway, they’ll probably opt to spend the night, she said (it’s no fun trying to drive home after cycling more than 100 miles). Roughly speaking, the chamber expects each racer to drop about $150 a day in Haywood County.

As of Monday, 270 people had signed up for the ride, double the pace of entrees as of a week out last year. There were 300 total participants last year, with as many as 500 expected this year.


What to expect on race day, Aug. 20

• The routes goes from Lake Junaluska through Jonathan Creek, on to Fines Creek, then back through Clyde. From there, metric-century and century riders go through Bethel, Sunburst Trout Farm and past Lake Logan. One hundred-mile riders climb all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway and then stay on it until Soco Gap, descending through Maggie Valley and back to Lake Junaluska. If you’re in an automobile in these areas on Saturday, Aug. 20, please keep an eye out for cyclists.

• The Blue Ridge Breakaway starts at 7:30 a.m. Please be careful of riders if you are in the Lake Junaluska-Jonathan Valley area at that time, as large groups of riders will be on the road together to start the ride.

• Riders may register on Saturday, Aug. 20, from 6-6:30 a.m. at Lake Junaluska.


If I overdose and you have to take me to the emergency room, I told a friend Friday night, please tell the doctor I took three ibuprofen, two Benadryl and a Hydrocodone. Then, mercifully, I passed out. And, awoke to tell what happened.

That afternoon, unaware of the great agony that loomed before me, I’d gaily tripped barefoot into the garden to water my parched looking turnip and collard beds. While rendering this vital aid (my garden shoes were downstairs and I was too lazy to fetch them), I inadvertently stepped on and smashed a large, yellow thing under my left foot, an overgrown version of a yellow jacket with slightly heavier striping, and it stung me — hard.

It hurt like no other sting I’ve ever experienced. I really don’t know what to compare it to, except to say it was akin to what I imagine it would feel like if someone took a hot metal poker and rammed it into my foot.

As a beekeeper, I have great practice in and attunement to the varying pain levels of stings — there are the drive-by stings that, well, sting. Then there are the I-really-should-have-lit-the-smoker-before-getting-in-this-hive stings, when the honeybees bury in as deeply as they possibly can, and you actually bleed a bit after scraping the stingers out. That hurts, a lot, but they are weak nothings compared to Friday’s sting.

I’ve been stung in the hands, the arms, the legs, the butt, and three different times on my face — I swell like nobody’s business, and my eyes puffed shut each time. The face stings curtailed my social outings for the three days or so required for my eyes to reopen. But even being stung in the face didn’t hurt like this latest sting.

In addition to honeybees, during my life I’ve been stung by wasps and by countless yellow jackets. I’ve squished sweatbees by accident into my armpits, and been stung in retaliation. As a child, I once endured 14 stings on my back after blundering into a hornets’ nest out in the woods. That really did hurt, and I seem to remember the shock sent me screaming out of the woods, but again it doesn’t even come close to the pain levels reached after this unidentified yellow thing stung me.

It stung, and once I reacted to what had happened, I started hopping about on my right foot, cursing. I got cold chills, and briefly considered throwing up.

I remember an elderly beekeeper in Bryson City who told me he’d never truly known how badly a sting could hurt until a bumblebee nailed him. I hope I never get the opportunity to compare pain levels with his experience, but I can’t imagine bumblebee stings could hurt more than the yellow thing sting. The very thought makes me shiver and cringe.

I hopped, one footed, back into the house and found a version of Sting Ease. It eased the pain nary a bit. The top of my foot quickly turned an angry red, and then my entire foot started swelling. I took two ibuprofen, thought about it a minute, and took another. I might as well have swallowed sugar pills for all the good they did.

I started in on Benadryl. First I took one pill, waited for a bit and when nothing happened, took another. Still my foot throbbed. Eventually, seeing my agony (loudly and frequently expressed, I wasn’t suffering in silence), my friend dug out some Hydrocodone left over from a previous broken-bone experience that I’m sure paled next to my foot-sting pain.

At that point, I’d have taken arsenic if someone had simply assured me it would dampen the throbbing.

I’ve taken Hydrocodone before, after having my wisdom teeth taken out, in my mid 30s. It had a very strange effect on me — I’d started talking, and couldn’t shut up. Usually, of course, it knocks people out. But I got totally wired, and talked for hours and hours despite the gauze crammed into my cheeks.

I didn’t give my prior Hydrocodone experience a thought, however. The idea of babbling mindlessly, but free of pain, was infinitely more desirable than dealing a second longer than necessary with my throbbing foot. As it happened, the Benadryl tipped the scales in favor of sleep, and I conked out.

The next day, the pain was gone, but my foot looked foreign to my body; hugely fat, grossly sausage-like. I cancelled my planned run, and settled in for a supine day indoors. But by lunchtime Saturday the swelling had all but disappeared. And, as I write this on Sunday morning, I can’t even tell where I was stung. Amazing.

There is no moral to this story, no lesson to be learned. Except, perhaps, that I need to set a pair of garden-designated shoes upstairs to slip on when I go out to water; I should keep a close eye out for unidentified yellow stinging things; and, as my friend sometimes says, there are times when the living is better through chemistry. Hooray for drugs, that’s what I say.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Macon County officials, concerned by the growing numbers of residents here forced to travel over Cowee Mountain to Sylva for treatment, are pushing for a kidney dialysis center in Franklin.

Macon County is a Mecca of sorts for retirees and aging seasonal visitors — the 2010 U.S. Census showed the average age of all residents living here is older than 50. County officials, citing Macon’s aging population and growing numbers of residents requiring dialysis, has asked that the state adjust methods it uses to award the required certificate of need.

The state requires that new dialysis facilities be able to project a need for at least 10 dialysis stations, or 32 patients — at last official count, in the state’s semiannual Dialysis Report, Macon County had just 23 residents receiving dialysis.

But county officials dispute that number, saying that more than 30 dialysis patients currently drive U.S. 441 from Macon County to Sylva for treatment. Additionally, officials suspect there are some dialysis patients in the southern end of the county driving to neighboring Clayton, Ga., who aren’t included in that number. Nor, said Commissioner Ronnie Beale, has the state considered all of the part-time residents that flood into Macon County each summer, a boost that almost doubles Macon County’s official 33,922-resident population — some that, no doubt, require dialysis.

A resolution adopted in June by Macon County pointed out that the state’s rules for allowing a private company to consider building in a community doesn’t allow for developing a kidney dialysis center to serve end-stage renal disease — yet Macon County’s end-stage population is increasing by an average of 10 percent a year, according to county records.

End-stage renal disease is the complete, or almost complete, ability of the kidneys to function. There are only two ways for patients to stay alive once their kidneys stop functioning: dialysis, in which the blood is artificially filtered; or kidney transplant.

Additionally, the state uses a 30-mile radius for determining locations of dialysis centers — but, Beale said at a recent Macon County Board of Commission meeting, there’s simply no comparing driving 30 miles on Interstate 40 downstate to driving 30 miles on mountain roads.

“Because of the terrain of the mountains, the distance is much more time consuming and difficult,” he said.

That’s certainly what Juanita and Leonard Max Wiggins have discovered, too. The couple has owned a residence in Macon County for two decades, but only started spending half of each year here after both retired a few years ago. Leonard Max Wiggins, who is 75, experienced kidney failure, and in January 2009 started dialysis.

Initially, he was able to drive himself much of the time. But his wife has been driving lately.

“When he gets so weak, he just can’t make that trip by himself,” she said Monday.

Her husband goes to Sylva three times each week, with each treatment lasting four hours. It requires 40 minutes to drive there, Wiggins said, and during the time he is in treatment she usually spends sitting outside in the car working on crossword puzzles.

The situation isn’t so hard in Florida, with a dialysis center just four or five miles from their home. Then, Wiggins can either slip back home for the wait, or her husband can make the trip by himself since it is a shorter distance.

By leaving the area in November, the couple misses the added difficulties of driving over Cowee Mountain in the snow and ice.

Commissioners last week passed an official petition asking the state to adjust its need determination. There would have to be an adjustment made to the need determination contained in the 2012 N.C. Medical Facilities Plan.

If granted, “hopefully private companies (would then) come in and determine if it is profitable for them to establish a center,” Chairman Brian McClellan said.


What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a medical process in which blood is cleansed of toxins the kidneys normally would flush out. It’s used when a person’s kidneys no longer function properly. This can be a result of congenital kidney disease, long-term diabetes, high blood pressure or other conditions.

Dialysis may be either temporary or permanent, depending on the person. If a dialysis patient is waiting on a kidney transplant, the procedure may be temporary. However, if the patient is not a good transplant candidate, or a transplant would not alleviate the condition, dialysis may be a life-long routine.


Jackson County commissioners are leaning toward the May primary for putting alcohol on the ballot rather than waiting until the general election next November.

County Attorney Jay Coward briefed Jackson County commissioners this week on the nuts and bolts of a referendum, one that will decide whether the sale of alcoholic beverages is legal throughout the county. If it passes, Jackson would be one of only three counties in WNC with countywide alcohol sales. Henderson County is also holding a referendum on countywide alcohol in May as well.

Four of the five commissioners told The Smoky Mountain News three weeks ago of their intent to hold a countywide alcohol vote, but had yet to discuss the issue in public at a commissioners meeting until this week.

Commissioners will eventually have to formally vote to put the issue on the ballot, directing the Jackson County Board of Elections to stage the election in conjunction with the May primary. Coward indicated that the necessary timeframe doesn’t require the board’s commitment for some time to come, until about February. At that point, commissioners must sort out which — or all — of various options they will allow voters to consider. Beer and wine only? Only in restaurants or to-go from gas stations and grocery stores, too? What about mixed drinks, or a liquor store?

Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam has indicated he’s interested in seeing voters decide on countywide beer and wine sales, plus decide on whether to open an ABC store in Cashiers. The only ABC store now in Jackson County is located in Sylva.

Asked about the genesis of a possible alcohol referendum, Debnam emphasized that “personally, I don’t care … I don’t drink.” But, Debnam said he strongly believes that people should be given a choice.


A new group has formed to counteract a recent landslide of opposition to steep-slope regulations in Macon County.

“We realized that there are a lot of people out there who don’t go to these meetings — and I count myself among them — and who aren’t real vocal, but who have strong feelings about these issues,” Kathy Tinsley, spokeswoman for MaconSense.org, said Tuesday.

The new organization has created a website with information about the issue, and launched a petition to encourage Macon County residents to express support for a steep-slope ordinance.

Tinsley said six to eight people organized MaconSense.org. She expects more in the county to join as word gets out. Tinsley’s brother is Al Slagle, a planning board member. Slagle chaired the steep slope subcommittee tasked by commissioners to write a recommendations for an ordinance, a project it spent two years on.

A news release this week issued by MaconSense.org noted the group also plans to organize petition drives, plan public events and run public-service advertisements.

The new group is not limiting itself to the slope development issue, according to Tinsley. It hopes to bring together citizens “of all walks of life and political persuasions to advocate for common sense solutions to important issues facing the county,” the news release stated.    

“Regular people have been pushed out of the process by all the heated rhetoric,” Tinsley said. “That’s a shame. We need our elected officials to move past partisan bickering and get back to serving the public interest. The only way that is going to happen is if citizens feel like they have a say in the direction of our county.”

MaconSense.org has a steep slope of its own to overcome the momentum built already by opponents of planning regulation. At the website www.propertyownersofamerica.org, Macon County residents are warned they could “lose the right to build on your own land” if regulations were passed; and that such regulations would add at least $8,000 to the cost of building.


Mission of MaconSense.org

“The Macon County Planning Board recently voted to table the slope ordinance. Many have asked how the planning board’s decision impacts our campaign to build public support for the ordinance? The simple answer is — it doesn’t. The problem still exists and the solution is still the same. Our task is to send a clear message that the people of Macon County support a slope ordinance. Period. That doesn’t change no matter what political procedures are employed.”

According to MaconSense.org, a slope ordinance would benefit the county by:

• Protecting property rights.

• Promoting economic development.

• Supporting local business.

• Reducing the risk of catastrophe.

• Preserving our valuable resources.

Source: MaconSense.org website.


“Finishing the conversation” has become something of a catchphrase lately in Macon County. It’s a really diplomatic way of saying that while the planning board should keep plugging away at construction guidelines, there’s no guarantee the building regulations they develop will do anything more than sit on a shelf and gather dust.

County Planner Derek Roland created a new twist to the now-well worn phrase, however, when asked whether he believes his beleaguered planning board can accomplish anything at all.

“This gives us a new starting point to continue that conversation,” Roland said in a recent interview.

After more than two years of developing a steep slope ordinance, the Macon County planning board decided to table the work. It salvaged a few of the more salient building rules in a set of construction guidelines, such as hillside excavation and compaction of fill dirt.

County commissioners last week approved the planning board’s change of course.

Before commissioners made their decision, however, Planning Board Member Lamar Sprinkle, a local surveyor, took advantage of the county commissioner’s public session to lob a few grenades at those he disagrees with on the planning board.

He described them as “extreme ideologists … who have their own agenda they want to put forward.”

“The planning board is irreconcilably divided at this time,” Sprinkle said, adding that in his opinion, commissioners should shoot down any attempt by the planning board to work on general construction guidelines.

“It would be really difficult for us to sit down and come up with standards for the county,” Sprinkle said.

Additionally, Sprinkle told commissioners, developing standards such as these should be the work of professionals in the construction field and not be left to amateurs on the planning board lacking the necessary expertise.

Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland has described the 13-member board as a hung jury unable to reach consensus on a possible steep-slope ordinance. Penland hopes by steering clear of the more controversial parts of a steep-slope ordinance — the very name, the state landslide maps that were used as a baseline, the steepness of slopes triggering regulations, whether Wildflower subdivision’s roads are being unfairly targeted as bad just because a couple fell off the mountain — he can steer the planning board through the more basic construction guidelines.

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, liaison to the planning board and creator of that popular phrase, “finishing the conversation,” told his fellow commissioners he supported altering the group’s direction.

“We need to allow them to finish the job,” Kuppers said in a new twist on the original.

Commissioner Ron Haven asked what timeframe the planning board would now be on, and Kuppers replied that he believes the board would still be able to report back to commissioners in September, as instructed.

Chairman Brian McClellan reiterated that point, saying, “We’re still looking for September recommendations.”

The planning board is set to meet again Thursday, Aug. 18, beginning at 5 p.m. in the meeting room at the county’s public health center.

Roland, asked to predict what could hang up the 13-member board this time, said he believes compaction will prove a big issue, and “that cuts and fills will certainly be something we’ll discuss.”

That, of course, pretty much covers the guts of the proposed general construction guidelines in Macon County.


Condensed general construction guidelines

• Fill material must be free of organic or other degradable materials and properly compacted before building.

• No excavated slope can be taller than 30 feet in vertical height.

• For cut slopes more than 8 feet and 30 feet in vertical height, the slopes can’t exceed 1.0 vertical to 1.5 horizontal.

• For fill slopes between 5 feet and 30 feet in vertical height, the slopes can’t exceed 1.0 vertical to 2.0 horizontal.

• A bench with a minimum width of 5 feet must be constructed at the toe of any fill slope greater than 5 feet in vertical height. Fills greater than 10 feet in vertical height must have a bench at the toe of the fill with a minimum width of 10 feet, and an additional 5 foot wide bench for each additional 5 feet in vertical height.

• The planning office can waive rules if justified by an engineer.


With its fast-food restaurants, box stores, gas stations and occasional backups of traffic, there’s not much that can be described as quaint about N.C. 107 in Sylva.

Except, perhaps, for Bryson’s Farm Supply, where Randy Hooper and wife, Debbie, sell such items as feed and seeds, hoes, bee-hive frames, and other rural must-haves to local farmers and gardeners.

Hooper, on this day — as always — characteristically attired in bib overalls, has worked at Bryson’s Farm Supply since the late 1970s. By then, he said, the highway was already four lanes. But Debbie remembers the road being just two lanes when helping her father build the store.

Today, this main business drag of N.C. 107 is five lanes. And, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation, it needs to be wider still to accommodate future traffic projections — a plan that in fact could lead to the state potentially paving right over this Jackson County landmark, as well as forcing many other “relocations” along the road.

The Hoopers have recently added a line of organic and naturally grown foods to their traditional feed and seed selection at Bryson’s Farm Supply. They are tapping into the burgeoning Jackson County segment of residents who frequent the farmers market, and who often drive more than an hour to Asheville to shop at whole-foods oriented grocery stores such as Earth Fare and Greenlife Grocery.

But their main clientele remains older and more traditional, and the traffic issues on N.C. 107 have created some problems for Bryson’s Farm Supply. While this might make big-city move-ins incredulous, the number of cars now using this highway is flat-out frightening to many of an older generation, Hooper said.

“What helped us out was about two or three years ago, a red light was put in,” Hooper said as he nodded toward the stoplight positioned on the busy highway directly in front of his store. “A lot of the older people were intimidated on this road.”

Jackson County resident Sara Hatton, busy shopping at Bryson’s Farm Supply, remembers when N.C. 107 was a two-lane road.

“When we got Wal-Mart in, that’s when it got really hectic,” Hatton said, adding that she does not, however, believe the transportation department needs to build a bypass to ease congestion as the agency also proposed.

Brother and sister Larry Crawford and Ruth Shuler, both avid members of the Jackson County Genealogical Society, remember further back than most — they can easily picture the days when there was just one small general store along this now busy stretch of highway.

“It was in Lovesfield,” Crawford said, and then explained that Lovesfield is after Love Hill. And that would be at the stop sign to Wal-Mart, which is across the highway from the Love Family Cemetery, which is behind Sonic Drive In — you always can count on genealogical folks to know their local place names, and history.

“The only (other) commercial development was the pole yard,” Shuler, who, like her brother, is intimately familiar with Jackson County’s roads from years of school bus driving.

The pole yard, she said, was located about where Cody’s Express Hot Spot is found at the intersection of N.C. 107 and Cope Creek Road. It was simply a place where poles — perhaps the phone company’s, Shuler isn’t sure — were cached.

Other than that, the area that now serves as the busiest section of Sylva was once simply a residential section of town, she said.

That’s hard to believe these days, given the hot debate about what best to do about N.C. 107.


Turkeys, I’ve learned, are curious animals. That curiosity was on full display for company this past weekend when Kirk Hardin the goat broker and his wife, Shannon, came over from Canton to pick up three sheep and a billy goat.

My friend and I reluctantly decided to sell our Katahdin sheep because we have too little pastureland. The ram, Leo, his betrothed, Sophie, and the couple’s offspring, Nikolai, represent a farming experiment gone awry.

Lesson: do not get into sheep unless you have pasture, about an acre for every three to five head. Otherwise, you’ll be feeding hay to them all year. And, unless you’ve got your own hayfield — doubtful, if you don’t have enough pasture to begin with — sheep being fed purchased hay is the equivalent of tossing money into a bottomless hole.

Despite this farming failure, I remain a stalwart fan of Katahdin sheep. I hope one day to build a large flock and tend them as a dutiful little shepherdess. I believe Katahdins are wonderfully suited for raising here in Western North Carolina, much more so than other kinds of sheep or meat goats … if, that is, you have adequate pastureland.

Kirk and Shannon showed just after lunch in a pickup truck with a livestock crate in the back. I’d been dubious when Kirk told my friend on the phone that he planned to lift Leo into the pickup. He and what army, I believe was my response to that.

Leo, you see, weighs at least 200 pounds, maybe even 250. He doesn’t like being touched, much less picked up, though I’ve certainly never tried to lift him. Two months ago or so, Leo took me out — lowered his big ram head and sent me rolling down the hill, head over heels — when I wasn’t quick enough delivering his food. (Lesson: never, ever, turn your back on a ram). That experience bruised both my body and ego. I’d become quite cautious in my subsequent dealings with Leo.

Kirk ambled into the barnyard, took one look at the huge ram glowering at him from inside a locked stall, and developed another plan.

He decided to bring the pickup truck around, back it into a bank, and lead Leo up the bank and into the livestock crate. I had my doubts, but Kirk is the professional goat broker, not me. Never mind that we were dealing primarily with sheep, not goats — both have four legs, after all, and Kirk had an air of confidence about him.

We first loaded Sophie, Nikolai and the billy goat, Ghirardelli. Kirk offered to buy Ghirardelli for a friend whose goat lasses need a good buck’s services. This saved the young lad from freezer camp. One requires but a single billy goat in one’s life, and that niche is currently filled here at Haven Hollow Farm in Sylva.

Kirk took the truck around and backed into the bank, which was 25 to 30 feet from the stall where Leo was now pacing agitatedly back and forth. Kirk and I went into the stall — why I went in, don’t ask me, it’s not like I was any actual help — and Kirk dropped a lead over Leo’s head.

I fully anticipated at this point in the story that Leo would destroy Kirk the professional goat broker. I could almost sense the ensuing story writing itself in my head, about how Leo exploded with rage and the broker ran for his life, or something like that.

Instead, the great sissy docilely trotted along with Kirk, who suddenly manifested into some oversized, mountain-twanging Haywood County version of Little Bo Peep leading her gentle lamb.

There was a bit of excitement close to the pickup, but it didn’t amount to much: Leo started launching himself through the air. What Leo thought this would accomplish, I can’t say. He’s never been big on providing explanations.

Kirk didn’t even blink. He just stepped aside so the great leaping beast wouldn’t come down on top of him, pointed him in the general direction of the pickup bed, and let Leo leap inside the crate.

Meanwhile, the turkeys were taking it all in.

We have three turkeys. They are common Broad-breasted whites. We’d ordered a heritage breed, but in a joint order with a friend, she somehow ended up with the heritage birds, and us with the whites. I don’t care — this was my first stab at turkeys, and I’ve been highly entertained, no matter how ubiquitous the breed we have.

I’d always read that turkeys are incredibly stupid. That’s simply not true — at least not these turkeys. Granted, when they were young, they did squish to death one of their brethren, taking the count from four to three. But chickens do that sometimes, too. And Sophie the ewe stepped on Nikolai when he was just a baby, luckily causing no visible lasting harm.

The turkeys love a good show. And seeing three sheep and a billy goat loaded into a truck by Kirk was what they consider a really good show. They got right up to the back of the pickup, making odd hinking noises at each other, watching his every move like so many biddies in a hair parlor commenting on the people walking past.

I thought the turkeys looked disappointed when Kirk and Shannon drove off. Life was again humdrum everyday fare in the barnyard; boring goats, a bunch of boring chickens, a boring guard dog named Sassy and a barn cat — b-o-r-i-n-g — named Jack. Turkeys, I’ve learned, yen for more entertainment than that.

But not me: I, for one, was thrilled to see Leo disappear down the road. He was a bit too much entertainment for my taste, not to mention the ever-increasing expense associated with feeding a ram his size. That served as a constant, annoying reminder that I hadn’t thought things through very well when it came to the sheep.

Lesson: turkeys are a lot cheaper than sheep to feed. And, if a bird lowers its head and runs into you, it’s doubtful that this turkey attack would hurt nearly as much as having a 200- to 250-pound ram nail you from behind.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Donald Tomas, the new president of Southwestern Community College since July 1, believes local institutions such as SCC will rely more and more on private donations as state funds continue drying up.

Private fundraising is already a fact of life for neighboring Western Carolina University and other schools in the University of North Carolina system. WCU, under former Chancellor John Bardo, raised more than $51 million in 2009 with its first comprehensive fundraising campaign in university history. New Chancellor David Belcher, who like Tomas took over July 1, is promising to lead the university through an even more successful fundraising campaign.

Tomas isn’t a stranger to raising private money to help fund public institutions. His last post was in south Texas, where he served as vice president of instruction at Weatherford College. He grew the campus from a single 2,400 square foot building with just five parking spaces — he personally parked on the street to save the spots for others — to 95,000 square feet, replete with 25 classrooms, a library and book store, during his 18-year career there.

“We were able to rally the community,” Tomas said.

But in Texas, they’ve been doing things a bit differently than here in North Carolina. Buildings and rooms weren’t named in honor of community do-gooders or public leaders who served as college boosters. Rather, naming rights were given to those who donated money, whether it was a private business or philanthropist. Tomas said he’s not above selling brick pavers engraved with donors’ names.

“You have to be creative,” Tomas said in his first interview with area news outlets after taking over as SCC’s president. “You have to cultivate these relationships, all the way along. After building relationships, if you have that need, you go back and say: ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and ask for a level of support.”

Tomas, 55, said he believes the communities served by SCC will be responsive to calls for funding help.

“The community is very supportive,” Tomas said. “Southwestern has a tremendous positive relationship in the region.”

Tomas believes Macon County, which has a new satellite campus, likely has the most potential for growth. He pointed to the new Macon classroom building, which is already at capacity shortly after opening its doors.

But that, Tomas said, is something that needs fleshing out with a better assessment after studying where growth is taking place.

“In six months from now, I could probably tell you ‘yes, here and here,’” Tomas said.

Still, it seems obvious the Jackson County campus is fairly landlocked, and a new building under way there will take care of its needs for the immediate future, Tomas said.

Tomas also wants to assess possibilities for SCC in Swain County, and plans to soon meet with tribal leaders with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.


‘High expectations’

SCC’s new president takes over after a short stint by Richard Collings, who resigned the post suddenly. Longtime SCC President Cecil Groves retired last summer. Collings suffered a stroke after coming to North Carolina to start his new job and was forced to delay his start date. Collings resigned after just six months, and an interim president had to take over for the second time in less than a year until Tomas was put in place.

Tomas said SCC has continued to serve the region even through the year of turmoil in leadership.

“It might have been a little bit of a holding pattern, but it wasn’t noticed,” Tomas said.

If there has been a leadership vacuum, Tomas said it could well be in areas such as growth.

He is interested in evaluating where, exactly, SCC is at, and where the communities it serves wants the college to proceed. A strategic plan for the college will get under way this fall.

Tomas added that he isn’t “a field of dreams-type person, ‘build it and they will come.’”

Community colleges, by nature, shouldn’t be seen as an isolated institution.

“You have to meet people on their own turf,” Tomas said.

Tomas plans a three-county, meet-and-greet tour next month

Tomas said a virtue of community colleges is their ability to pivot quickly and respond to needs in the community for training and workforce development. For example, SCC is providing GED classes at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino to make it easy for the employees there.

Tomas stressed the importance of students leaving SCC with an “employable exit.” He also hopes to work with WCU’s new chancellor to make the transition for students going beyond a two-year degree.

“Out students are gong to be Western students,” Tomas said. “I look forward to that relationship.

And, for that matter, the same goes for the new superintendant of Jackson County Schools, ushering in a new era with leadership change at the public school, community college and university level in Jackson County at the same time.

As did Chancellor Belcher in a public meeting a few weeks ago, SCC’s new president promised open, honest and visible leadership, and a highly visible role in the community.

“We try to maintain a fabric of openness,” Tomas said.

Tomas plans to be equally visible on campus. He likes to get out of his office and just walk around campus. People will know what he looks like, he promised.

“I have high expectations,” he said. “What comes along with that is accountability.”

At some point, you can expect to find Tomas teaching in the classroom. He believes doing so helps keep administrators grounded and tuned in to faculty and student concerns.


Robert C. Carpenter, a towering figure in Republican politics in Western North Carolina who served as state senator for eight terms, died Saturday. He was 87.

Familiarly called “Senator Bob” by constituents and political foes alike, the Macon County native had a knack for building bridges with his Democratic counterparts that transcended ideological differences.

A devout Catholic, Carpenter could not be budged politically on certain core conservative beliefs, such as abortion. But when it came to Carpenter’s political and personal passion — working on health issues, particularly in the mental-health arena — this hardcore conservative worked closely with anyone, regardless of party affiliation, who might share his desire to help.

One of Carpenter’s daughters had contracted La Crosse encephalitis as a young child, resulting in a lifetime of mental disabilities.

“He was a giant of a man who will not be replaced,” said state Sen. Jim Davis, who in November became the first Republican since Carpenter lost his seat in 2004 to represent the 50th District. “I was a better man for having known him.”

Davis met Carpenter in 1974 when he was seeking financing to set up his dental practice in Macon County. Carpenter was then with First Union.

“He became my friend when he loaned me the money I needed to open my dental practice,” Davis said jokingly. “I got to be his friend when I paid it all back.”

Chris Murray, chairman of the Macon County Republican Party, described Carpenter as the “quintessential public servant.”

“He was always great to give counsel and advice,” Murray said. “Bob was a charming gentleman.”

Carpenter was a bank executive by trade. He began his political life after retirement.


There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, about how a bunch of drunks overturned their boat one night in Lake Emory just outside of Franklin.

Macon County’s emergency services and law enforcement turned out en masse. They arrived to discover the drunks bobbing about holding onto the sides of their boat, desperately awaiting rescue. The cops studied the situation for a moment; then cupped their hands around their mouths and hollered out: “Put down your feet.” The drunks did as bidden, and walked unaided to the shore across silt-filled Lake Emory.

That’s an amusing tale — unless your home happens to be situated next to the 174-acre lake, as is the case for Shirley Ches and her husband, Jim.

The couple moved to their lakefront home in Franklin about 20 years ago. They were excited about living in the mountains and alongside water in an area they both loved. While they remain enamored with the beauty of these mountains and the region they call home, these days the couple has soured on the whole lakefront experience.

Shirley Ches, in particular, is frustrated by the silt and downed trees in Lake Emory. She is irritated by years of promises made by county and town leaders that something will be done, only for nothing to ever actually happen. Ches is tired of studies in Macon County that don’t lead to action; of talk that hasn’t led to results.

The silt buildup, Ches said during a guided walking tour along the lake of the couple’s slice of paradise, is the end result of storm damage that started with the blizzard of 1993 and continued with numerous tropical storms in the years that followed.

Before and after pictures tell the story visually. Back at the house, Ches has spread out photo albums on the dining room table for her version of show-and-tell. There are photos of Jim fishing, and of her grandchildren playing in the lake, pictorial reminders of all-around-fun-times in the mountains that people who retire to Western North Carolina dream about when they are living in hot and sandy Florida.

Then came those storms. Silt from development upstream, from the former town dump on Radio Hill nearby, from virtually everywhere that can be conceived, poured down into Lake Emory, Ches said.

SEE ALSO: To Duke’s chagrin, dredging may be in the cards for Emory

The lake is positioned a short distance below the convergence into the Little Tennessee River of the Cullasaja River, Cartoogechaye Creek and smaller tributaries.

Trees, too, were knocked down in these storms. The trees washed into the lake, helping to fill it with more debris and provide still more crevices for silt to build up against.

Ches’ photographs of her grandchildren playing in Lake Emory transition to ones featuring her son. He’s wading in mud, acres and acres of mud, with a chainsaw in hand, cutting trees downed by the storms. Sisyphus-like, really, in his efforts to help his parents reclaim their dream — one man cannot cleanup a lake, however, no matter how determined he might be.

The lake, it seems, is headed for a future as a shallow wetland at best, mudflat at worst, if years of accumulated sediment aren’t dredged by Duke Energy, which owns the lake and dam as part of its hydropower network.


A developer’s dream

Lake Emory doesn’t just represent an implosion of the dream Shirley and Jim Ches once had of the merry life they’d lead once residing on its shores. Lake Emory is one of the first of the many boom-and-bust housing developments that today litter WNC and scar the region’s mountains — dollar signs turned to dust, a ghost lake of sorts.

That said, Lake Emory does have its own beauty, sort of. There is something primordial about this shallow lake — the silt has formed into islands here and there. It’s sort of like watching the earth form. There are large expanses of wetlands, too. Birds, insects and wildlife use the lake, and locals do catch fish here, though it’s not exactly a Fontana Lake-experience. There are not going to be any national bass-fishing competitions anytime soon on Lake Emory, as any large bassboats launched in Lake Emory might run aground.

Like Fontana, and most of the lakes that dot WNC, Lake Emory is manmade.

In the 1920s, a group of residents formed the Lake Emory Company and started pushing for a lake in Macon County near Franklin. They wanted it for fishing, swimming and boating. They also wanted a power dam to generate electricity for the local community, plus a golf course and a 75-room motel to attract tourists, according to a history of the project compiled by Jamie Johnston, the former executive director of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, a locally based conservation group.

The lake, the group decided, would be stocked with a variety of game fish for sportsmen, and hunters could come and shoot the many ducks that surely would use the lake for nesting and resting on their migration routes to other place.

The lake was expected to attract thousands of visitors. Estimates of projected income varied from $750,000 to $1 million annually, according to news accounts at the time.

Lured by these promises, the Town of Franklin in 1925 created Lake Emory by funding a $300,000 bond to pay for a 35.5-foot tall, 463-feet long dam on the Little Tennessee River.

The town owned the dam; Lake Emory Company was left to market and develop the surrounding property. That part of the project never really got off the ground, however. There would be no motel, and no golf course — just a small hydroelectric dam that sucked up Franklin taxpayer dollars at an alarming rate.

The town eventually offloaded the dam to Northwest Carolina Utilities, only to see ownership return when the company failed to make a bond payment in the early 1930s.

In 1932, the town transferred title to Nantahala Power and Light Company, which later morphed into Duke Energy. Today, the two hydro generators at Porter Bend Dam on Lake Emory produce just more than one megawatt. This, according to Duke District Manager Fred Alexander, represents a mere 1 percent of the generating capacity of Duke hydroelectric projects in its Nantahala Area of southwestern North Carolina.


Reasons not to dredge

A hop, skip and a jump away in Haywood County, a similar situation developed over the years at Lake Junaluska: silt filled the manmade lake there, too. But unlike at Lake Emory, the question in Haywood County wasn’t whether to dredge, just about how to actually pay for dredging. Once that was solved, dredging promptly took place, and the lake was again a showpiece for those living along its shores. Dredging is now done on a routine schedule every few years.

That, however, isn’t the case in Macon County. Lake Emory, unlike Lake Junaluska, isn’t home to a group of well-heeled Methodists with united will and enough money to get the job done. Lake Emory is a place where everyday people such as Shirley and Jim Ches live in small, modest homes; outsiders, for the most part, without much political clout.

Last month, if there wasn’t already enough to hinder anything being done (and at least two of the town’s aldermen were then pushing for dredging), one of the region’s most respected environmentalists weighed in with his reasons not to dredge Lake Emory.

Macon County resident Bill McLarney, who oversees biomonitoring work for the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, strongly cautioned against digging into the muck that makes up Lake Emory. McLarney, during a noontime luncheon and unveiling of the group’s State of the Streams report at a League of Women Voters’ meeting, said he worried dredging Lake Emory would risk stirring up monsters of the deep — toxic pollutants that could be buried deep in the silt.

There were great amounts of questionable materials being discharged into Lake Emory in the 1960s from plants in neighboring Rabun County, Ga., McLarney said, in those years before federal regulations came into play to prevent toxic spewing.

Churn that stuff up, and you risk the overall health of the 13-mile stretch of the Little Tennessee River below Porter Bend Dam, he said.

“I really hadn’t thought about that before,” Franklin Alderman Bob Scott, formerly a proponent of dredging Lake Emory who was pushing Duke to get off its duff and do just that, said after hearing McLarney.

Scott left convinced a lot more study needs to take place before any silt gets disturbed, if it ever does.

Ches, too, was at that meeting. An avid Democrat, a frequent letter writer to local newspapers on a variety of left-leaning issues, she is frustrated by the reactions of what would normally constitute her natural allies — a liberal such as Scott, an environmentalist such as McLarney. Even the local sportsmen haven’t readily embraced her dream of a lake where they could more easily hunt and fish and play.

Who really can say that dredging wouldn’t actually help the Little Tennessee River? Ches argued. And, she added, while she cares, too, about those little creatures in the river just like McLarney does, she and her neighbors are the ones who have to actually live next to the lake.


When Dale McElroy plunked down $100,000 to expand Mica’s Restaurant & Pub in southern Jackson County last year, he was banking on the status quo staying the status quo: a dry county remaining dry.

McElroy, like other savvy business owners in the area, have used numerous loopholes in the state ABC law to legally sell alcoholic beverages in “dry” Jackson County. McElroy can legally sell alcohol as a semi-private club.

At Mica’s, patrons are knocking back plenty of beer, wine and even liquor. McElroy is counting on that continuing — it’s how he plans to pay for his new outdoor deck, fire pit and remodeled dining room.

McElroy also sells beer and wine from a small to-go shop adjacent to the restaurant. To keep it legal, he sells lifetime memberships for $1 and piggybacks on the golf course and country club to help qualify for the status as a private club.

It’s the beer and wine sales from that shop that help subsidize his restaurant.

But take away the corner on the market he currently enjoys, and suddenly his investment doesn’t look very rosy.

That’s the case, too, for Jacqueline and Joel Smilack, who spent what she described as “a lot” to build two, full-sized asphalt tennis courts. That transformed JJ’s Eatery along N.C. 107 in the Glenville community into a sports club, legally entitled to sell alcohol.

McElroy, for one, doesn’t mince words. If the sale of booze becomes legal for every business — not just the ones such as his and JJ’s that invested big bucks to earn the right to sell alcoholic beverages — then he’ll be forced to shut his doors. The upfront investment has been too great to suddenly have to compete with every Tom, Dick and Harry who owns a service station or restaurant in the Cashiers area being allowed in the game.

The way it works now is that each week, McElroy must call in his order to Sylva’s ABC store detailing the amounts and types of liquor he needs, wait until they call back and say it’s ready, then go pick up the filled order.

So, he must be happy that Jackson County Chairman Jack Debnam wants a vote, too, on opening an ABC store in Cashiers? Wouldn’t that be convenient?

Well, no, as a matter of fact, he’s not happy at the news.

“I’d rather spend $1,000 a week to go down to Sylva than $300 to go into Cashiers,” McElroy said.

In other words, he’s making money because of the exclusivity and inconvenience of the situation as it stands now. The referendum passes, “and I wouldn’t continue running this place,” McElroy said flatly.


It’s midday on a weekday, and the bar is hopping at Sapphire Brewing Company near Cashiers.

Jackson County, technically, is “dry,” with the sale of alcoholic beverages limited to the town limits of Sylva and Dillsboro. The truth, however, is a far different matter — businesses all over the county are selling beer, wine and mixed drinks, and they are doing so legally and by the letter of the state’s ABC law.

Nowhere is this relatively unrestricted flow of booze in an ostensibly “dry” area more evident than in the southern part of the county, “on the mountain” around the Cashiers area where droves of well-heeled retirees and seasonal residents flock each summer and fall.

“There are so many loopholes,” said Amber Powell, one of two bartenders needed this hot day at Sapphire Brewing Company to keep up with the brisk demand for cold, on-tap beer. “Honestly, the law’s not very fair — it should be all businesses, or none.”

Uniformity just might be on the horizon, if Jackson voters next year approve a referendum for the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages. Four of the county’s five commissioners say they will put the question to a public countywide vote, either in the May primary or the 2012 November general election.


A law of exceptions

For now, businesses outside of Sylva and Dillsboro wanting to take advantage of Jackson County’s big thirst have encountered few problems finding ways to capitalize on the numerous exceptions in North Carolina’s alcohol laws.

But working legally within the state’s ABC system can entail meeting some fairly odd requirements. Whether it’s building tennis courts to qualify as a sports club or proving historic entitlement, there’s dozens of loopholes — but they can be complicated to understand and expensive to implement.

Take one such exception — for a “tourism ABC establishment” — as an illustrative example of the apparent tailor-made nature of most of these right-to-sell booze exceptions. Restaurants or hotels within 1.5 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway are allowed to serve alcohol — a handy exception if you happen to be the Balsam Mountain Inn in the Balsam community of Jackson County, or a similarly situated establishment, but not much use otherwise.

Far more common, especially in Cashiers, is the golf-course exemption.

Sapphire Brewing Company has a public golf course, so under the law, anyone age 21 or older can stride right up to the bar and order a drink, the bartender explained.

“These are adults who want to sit and have a beer,” Powell said. “It’s not like these are underage kids.”

Donald Irvine, busy eating a BLT sandwich at the bar and washing it down with a cold brew, was one of the patrons there last week. He retired in 2005 and now travels regularly from his fulltime home in Tampa, Fla., to the second home he built in Cashiers. Irvine believes North Carolina’s ABC laws are a mishmash of confusion, and that Jackson County would be better off just passing countywide alcohol.

“I can just put up a tennis net and say, ‘I’m a sports club’ and sell alcohol,” he said in wonderment.


Selling memberships

Well, it’s not quite that easy, but it’s close — if you’ve got the cash to back the dream. In the Glenville community outside of Cashiers alongside N.C. 107, JJ’s Eatery qualifies as a sports club. Owners Jacqueline and Joel Smilack built two regulation-size tennis courts, and now they are running a bar and restaurant, BP gasoline station and a package store.

Never mind that JJ’s tennis courts are up a weedy, relatively unused-looking dirt road and out of sight — they are in fact used, they do in fact qualify the couple to legally sell alcoholic beverages, and the Smilacks are doing a brisk business indeed serving thirsty lake-goers and Glenville residents unwilling to hoof it off the mountain to buy beer.

To meet the state’s requirements for a sports club, the Smilacks charge $5 for a weekly membership or $50 for a year, with tennis court rentals extra at $15 an hour. Or, for the tennis lover in their midst, there’s a $75 annual membership option with unlimited court time.

Provide a name, address, date of birth and driver’s license number, sign on the line and you, too, can buy whatever you’d like to drink from JJ’s — the membership fee is automatically included in the prices of the alcoholic beverages you buy.

“That was the requirement from ABC to do what we do here,” Jacqueline Smilack said of the sports-club designation. “We don’t make the rules, we just have to abide by them.”

Heidi Taylor, who stopped into JJ’s last week to get a cool six-pack before heading out for a hot day on the lake, moved to Glenville just last year.

It was her first experience with a dry county, and at first she thought it meant exactly that. But she quickly learned the lay of the land.

“It is really not that much of a problem to buy alcohol,” Taylor said, easily ticking off half a dozen places where you can buy it, either to go or from a bar.

She personally made the $50 investment for an annual “membership” at JJ’s.

“It was nice. I didn’t have to drive all the way to Sylva,” Taylor said.

Still, Taylor, a Christian, doesn’t drink a lot herself. She kind of likes Jackson being a dry county with only limited places where you can get alcohol.

“I guess they didn’t want liquor stores on every corner,” Taylor said approvingly.

But in Cashiers, so-called clubs have proliferated so widely that to stay competitive Mica’s Restaurant & Pub offers lifetime membership at the bargain rate of just $1.

McElroy, in abidance with state regulations, has a stack of file drawers behind the counter reminiscent of the old card catalogs. The drawers are crammed with hundreds of membership cards, a visual testimony to the pent up demand for alcohol in this “dry” county.

McElroy sells beer and wine from a to-go shop, plus has a restaurant with a bar. His loophole? The establishment is affiliated with a country club golf course.

McElroy keeps his membership files handy should a state ABC officer pop in and ask to review them. Theoretically, ABC officers could walk into his bar and ask patrons to prove that they’re members. But no worries: If they don’t have their $1 lifetime membership card on them, a driver’s license will suffice as long as McElroy can go to his files and produce the records.

Other sports clubs in the area go the equestrian route to meet the requirement: providing equine boarding and training, plus on-site dining, lodging and meeting space and host horse trials and other events sanctioned or endorsed by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

Or, like JJ’s, they have two or more tennis courts. Or, short of tennis, an 18-hole golf course.

Those unable to pay for expensive equestrian facilities, tennis courts or golf courses still find ways to accommodate their thirsty clientele. Four restaurants in Cashiers and Glenville currently have active brown-bagging permits, the state’s ABC database of permit holders shows.


‘Spot permits’

The law ended up like it did — messy — because businesses in historically dry areas such as greater Jackson County were seeking the revenue boosts alcohol sales could bring.

“Trying to get a county to vote 20 years ago is a lot different than it is today,” said Mike Herring, administrator for the ABC Commission. “Businesses who needed permits for economic development knew if they tried to go the vote route, they might not have a positive result.”

That resulted in “spot permits” being written and shepherded through the General Assembly by state legislators who were responsive to constituent demands. How responsive? Put it this way — the ABC Commission relies on a 25-page report to break down, county by county, who can legally do what.

“Every county is different,” Herring said, describing the report as a roadmap “that has grown over the years.”

Longtime state Sen. Robert C. Carpenter of Franklin, who represented the state’s western most counties from 1988 to 2004, wasn’t a soft touch for businesses looking to sell alcoholic beverages. An unapologetically conservative Republican and devout Christian, Carpenter disapproved of the end-run, as he saw it, that businesses were taking around the state’s ABC law.

“They never came to me, because they knew where I stood,” the 87-year-old said, who died this weekend two days after being interviewed by The Smoky Mountain News for this story. “It needs to be reformed. I remember when I was first elected a bill came up in Bryson City (for a business to sell alcohol). I called up the senate minority leader and told him, ‘We don’t need more liquor sold.’ He took it on, and he killed it.”

Times change, politicians move on — in Carpenter’s wake, a slew of local bills would indeed pass that blew open the door to legal alcoholic beverage sales in “dry” areas.

Luckily for local ABC boards, however, the politics of alcohol are removed from the requirements of overseeing sales in a county. That’s just fine with Veronica Nicholas, who has served on the board for about a decade.

Sylva’s Board of Commissioners appoints the three-member ABC board, though the town splits revenue from the ABC store 50-50 with the county. The amount collected by the town could drop if, as Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jack Debnam proposes, the referendum includes an ABC store for Cashiers — and it passes.

Still, Nicholas said, she believes “any time to take anything to the voters, I think it is a good thing.”

Staff writer Becky Johnson contributed to this report.


Loopholes galore

Even in dry counties, country clubs, golf courses, inns, bars and even gas stations can use one of several exceptions in the state ABC laws to serve alcohol.

• Historic ABC establishment

• Special ABC area

• Tourism ABC establishment

• Tourism resort

• Recreation district

• Residential private club

• Interstate interchange economic development zones

• National historic district

• Permits based on existing permits

• Sports club


The likelihood of Macon County imposing development guidelines for houses and roads on steep mountainsides grew increasingly remote after the planning board, embroiled for months in a series of heated debates over the matter, tabled the proposed ordinance last week.

“We’re a hung jury, basically,” Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland, in a fish-or-cut-bait moment, told the 10 members of the 13-member board who attended last week’s meeting.

Penland attempted to salvage at least a portion of the work done over the past two years by the planning board’s steep-slope subcommittee. He convinced the planning board to drop work on the proposed steep-slope ordinance, and instead work on general construction standards. Penland said the planning board would return to the steep-slope ordinance at a later date, but did not indicate whether that would be in six months, six years or 60 years from now.

The construction standards would govern dirt-disturbing activities, such as road building and house-pad building, by dictating how steep cut-and-fill slopes can be or ensuring house pads are properly compacted before foundations get poured. Macon County has had a number of poorly designed and built roads that have simply washed away or fallen off mountainsides in recent years.

The construction standards would still go a long way toward improving building practices. They date back to the steep-slope subcommittee, intended as a mere baseline for developing a set of more comprehensive steep-slope rules. Now, they might represent the sum total of what the planning board members can find common ground on when it comes to the steep-slope debate.

After an hour-and-a-half discussion, the planning board unanimously agreed with Penland’s recommendation to table the ordinance and study general construction guidelines — with the exception of surveyor Lamar Sprinkle, a vocal opponent of any suggestion raised at the planning board meetings. He abstained from voting.

The construction standards, if adopted by the planning board and then by the Macon County Board of Commissioners, would become part of the already-existing soil erosion ordinance. The construction standards — unlike the steep-slope ordinance — don’t touch on controversial slope percentages or landslide-hazard maps.

Al Slagle, who served as chairman of the steep-slope subcommittee, endorsed Penland’s compromise suggestion but had his say about the matter first.

“What we came up with is squarely in the middle,” Slagle said of the subcommittee’s original recommendations. “It’s something that protects property rights, and the same time it’s efficient and as easy to use as possible — something that places the least possible burden on property owners.”

Susan Ervin, who like Slagle served on the subcommittee, also backed Penland’s compromise. She, too, defended the entire steep slope ordinance, defining it as “a very moderate proposal that limited the scope to the most critical aspects of slope development.”

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, liaison for the commission board to the planning board, endorsed Penland’s suggestion, saying he believes construction standards would help solve development nightmares in Macon County.

He pointed to two particular recent construction projects that utilized questionable development practices: Wildflower subdivision off U.S. 441 and Blossomtown Road, above Ruby Cinemas.

“Can these be solved by construction standards? Yes, I think they can,” Kuppers said, adding he’d take the matter up with the full board of commissioners in a meeting this week.

Sprinkle, however, issued a flat contradiction of the expert opinion of others who have surveyed the landslides and building issues in the 2,200-acre Wildflower subdivision, defending the development. He said people just weren’t mentioning all the good roads built there, but were concentrating on the ones that had actually fallen off the mountains.

“There are some problem places, but most of those roads are all right,” Sprinkle said.

His assertion was greeted with astonishment by other board members, including Slagle, who said he totally disagreed with Sprinkle.

“There are a tremendous number of those fill slopes that are failing,” Slagle said.


How did we get here from there?

By homing in on general construction standards instead of an overarching steep-sleep ordinance, Macon County Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland steered his rickety planning-board ship away from two points it was foundering on. One was how steep a slope had to be before it would trigger safety regulations. The other was how to incorporate the landslide hazard maps.

The state started mapping the probability of landslides in the state’s mountainous counties following the Peeks Creek disaster in Macon County in 2004, when five people were killed and 15 houses were destroyed. While experts agreed the Peeks Creek landslide was a natural occurrence triggered by excessive rainfall, the event laid bare a fundamental, and haunting, safety question for local governments: should people be discouraged from building in areas identified as hazardous?

Only Macon, Watauga and Buncombe counties had maps completed before the GOP-led General Assembly this year cut the project.


With the explosion of outdoor sports over the past few decades in Western North Carolina, perhaps it shouldn’t come as that big a surprise another outfitting store has opened in the region.

But this one is different, in at least two ways: The guys running Outdoor 76 truly use the equipment and clothes they sell; and the gear-oriented store is located in downtown Franklin, a place known more for its older, retired population than its hit-the-woods types.

But things have been changing in Macon County, too. Franklin has bonded during the past few years with hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail, even to the point of hosting a festival for them each year and winning an official “trail town” designation. And plenty of people here and in the neighboring communities — young, middle-aged and older — seem increasingly eager to experience the outdoor life.

That helps explain why Outdoor 76, co-owned by Rob Gasbarro and Cory McCall, has gone gangbusters since the store opened on Main Street 10 months ago.

“It’s really overwhelming, though in a good way,” said Gasbarro of the explosion in growth the outfitters are experiencing.

Outdoor 76 carries name brands such as Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Patagonia, Scarpa, Vasque, Keen, Western Mountaineering, Salomon, MSR and more. Additionally, the two men offer guided hikes and trips, plus carry an impressive array of camping, hiking and paddling equipment. They also rent equipment.

“It’s owned and operated by enthusiasts,” Gasbarro said. “We do this because we love to do it.”

And as if opening a new store wasn’t enough, both Gasbarro’s and McCall’s wives are expecting babies. Each will have their first children, seven weeks apart, in December and February, respectively.

In the meantime, they are putting together an outdoor festival to take place Oct. 8-9 in Macon County, featuring an outdoor triathlon, 5K race, a frisbee-team tournament, disc-golf competitions, plus clinics on flyfishing, paddle sports and more.


How it came about

Gasbarro’s and McCall’s business partnership came about in an unusual fashion: they became buddies through church. Gasbarro, 35, had moved to Western North Carolina from Tampa, Fla., for a job with an engineering company. McCall, 29, a Franklin native, was working in real estate.

When the economic doldrums hit, Gasbarro’s job felt “iffy,” and real estate sales went into the toilet. The two fellows knew they needed to find other ways to make livings.

“If we’re going to struggle, we decided we might as well struggle for ourselves instead of someone else,” Gasbarro said.

And the idea for an outfitter store, jointly owned by these two outdoor enthusiasts, seemed a natural. Gasbarro had an extensive paddling background, and McCall, a longtime runner, had played around in a lot of outdoor sports.

Though many people just didn’t initially get why they’d want to chance on opening one in downtown Franklin. But the two men did their homework: Franklin’s Main Street, Gasbarro said, has the highest traffic count of any municipality west of Asheville.

Then Gasbarro pulled out maps of the region from beneath the store counter — look, he explained excitedly, Franklin is the hub of virtually every outdoor experience one can enjoy in WNC. Kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, trail running — you name it, and you can experience it within a short drive of Franklin. And if that weren’t enough, the major highways essentially all flow through, or connect into, Macon County — U.S. 441 and U.S. 64 principally.

“We’re better positioned to tap the metropolitan areas than anyone else,” he said of Franklin. “Location, location, location.”

McCall, too, felt comfortable about opening the store in his hometown.

“Franklin needed this,” he said between helping a customer decide on what shoes were needed. “Franklin needed an avenue to fulfill the needs of people who are outdoor enthusiasts.”

Other outdoor shops carrying gear, clothing and supplies in the region include Mast General Store in Waynesville, Blackrock in Sylva and Three Eagles in Franklin.

But the closest shop to Outdoor 76, as an outfitter that also offers guided tours and rentals, is the Nantahala Outdoor Center, but that’s far enough away not to pose problems. In fact, Outdoor 76 has a great relationship with NOC, Gasbarro said.


Art is aesthetic; crafts are practical.

That’s the difference between the two, at least in theory. The distinction between arts and crafts becomes blurred, however, when you attend an event as tremendous as the annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands in Asheville.

I was smart enough to make the trip over to the big city a couple of weekends ago, despite not particularly relishing the prospects of an hour-long drive there and the ensuing battle that always follows for parking. But I set those drawbacks aside and went with a friend, and came away thrilled. I’ve been thinking about the show ever since.

There were indeed crafts being shown there that are mainly functional. These included a dizzying array of potters with kitchenware, carvers and their walking sticks, and textile artists who had turned out one-of-a-kind articles of clothing.

I enjoyed all of that very much indeed. The craftsmanship, the attention to detail — it was truly wonderful.

But what set me to ruminating were the craftspeople who transcended their crafts and created what undeniably constituted art. I’m not sure where that line shifts, which leaves me feeling a bit like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, in classifying what constituted obscenity, wrote “I shall not today attempt further to define what kinds of material I understand to be embraced … But I know it when I see it.”

I do remember reading something that impressed me very much when I was younger and that seems pertinent, though I can’t quote it accurately. The sentiment, however, is something like this: work on the basics of your craft, and leave it to others to determine whether it rises to the level of art. Which leads nicely into this perspective, by Pablo Picasso: “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”

All that said, I’m still at a loss to define art in comparison to what constitutes craft.

Before returning home that day from Asheville, I plunked down more money than I could comfortably afford for a piece by a ceramic artist who was showing her work at the craft fair. This for a figurine that, once seen, I knew I couldn’t easily live without. It is a piece that I’m totally comfortable describing as an original piece of art, though we all now know that I’m incapable of explaining what, exactly, I mean by that.

Here’s my little personal credo: I believe in living with fine art, great music and literature. I want original paintings on my walls and fine sculptures here and there in my home. I enjoy listening to classical music, I read the classics and I love good food.

(I also hate watermelon, listen to bluegrass, watch and enjoy perfectly wretched true-crime shows on television, and read British mysteries and very bad science-fiction fantasy novels — but that’s a discussion for another day).

This is a tough economy for artists, musicians and writers. There’s not a lot of extra money these days for items that many might think superfluous, such as paintings, sculptures, concerts, plays, books of poems and novels.

Sometimes, frankly, I feel that way, too. Reporters are not among the world’s best-paid people, surprisingly enough, and supporting the arts can be tough on one’s checkbook.

But I have no regrets about supporting the ceramic artist I met at the craft fair in Asheville, and for helping to underwrite her future work by paying a fair exchange for a piece that is truly lovely (in a sort of tortured-artist-kind of lovely way).

Because I smiled when I got the figurine home, unpacked it, and realized that it would stay with me. I find that truly amazing, the fact I can actually live with and enjoy something this great, a piece imagined inside someone’s head and transferred in a wondrous, inexplicable way through their hands.

Sculpture, books, music, paintings and other forms of art — truly, this constitutes the good life as I define it, and is what makes me feel rich.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


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