Quintin Ellison

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Western Carolina University’s next chancellor is David Belcher, a classically trained pianist who is currently a top administrator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Belcher, 53, will start his appointment July 1. His base salary will be $275,000. Belcher was one of three candidates recommended to UNC system President Tom Ross by the university’s 16-member selection committee. The UNC board of governors last week signed off on Ross’ pick of Belcher, a Barnwell, S.C., native.

The names of the competing candidates were not disclosed.

“David Belcher brings to the task more than two decades of academic and leadership experience at highly respected public universities,” Ross said in a nomination speech streamed live via video from Chapel Hill to WCU. “At each step along the way, he has proven himself to be an energetic and effective leader who encourages strategic thinking, promotes collaboration and inclusiveness, and makes student success a university-wide responsibility.”

ALSO: Belcher brings unique skills to new post as WCU chancellor

Ross said he was convinced Belcher has “the right mix of experience, skills and passion” needed in WCU’s next chancellor.


New chancellor faces challenges

Belcher will replace John Bardo, who, with nearly 16-years as WCU’s chancellor, put a distinctive personal stamp on the university and the surrounding community.

Bardo leaves an “enduring and permanent legacy,” said Steve Warren, chairman of the WCU board of trustees.

Enrollment at WCU went from 6,500 to 9,400 during Bardo’s tenure; buildings  —14 — were built or renovated. These include five new residence halls, a dining hall, a campus recreation center, the Fine and Performing Arts Center and a high-tech Center for Applied Technology.

Additionally, however, Belcher inherits a university facing at least $8.6 million in budget cuts from the state, probably more; and a possible leadership vacuum as six or so of the university’s top administrators — provost and finance chief, among others — have left or retired. Even WCU’s marching band director, Bob Buckner, is leaving after this year.

Joan MacNeill, a member of WCU’s board of trustees, said all three candidates submitted for Ross’ consideration would have been excellent choices to fill the university’s top post.

“We had an impressive group to choose from,” she said.


An opportunity for the arts?

Brad Ulrich, a trumpet professor at WCU, wasn’t much interested in attending the chancellor-naming ceremony last week. He was busy, and there didn’t seem much point to his being there. Then Ulrich heard a rumor: the new chancellor was a classically trained musician. And, a top-drawer one, at that — Belcher went to the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, one of the finest institutions of its kind in the U.S.

“With this kind of leadership, the arts could really explode in this area,” Ulrich said, who is helping lead a push to turn WCU into the first ‘All-Steinway School’ in the University of North Carolina system.

Institutions with this designation use only pianos designed by Steinway & Sons, and such an effort requires WCU to replace 50 or so pianos in the school of music. Since Belcher is a pianist, Ulrich said he hoped and expected the new chancellor would appreciate efforts to bring what many consider the finest-crafted pianos in the world to Cullowhee.

Like Ulrich, Will Peebles, director of the school of music, and Bruce Frazier, who teaches commercial and electronic music, expressed optimism that the arts at WCU and in the community might receive even stronger support. Both men watched the video stream from Chapel Hill after, like Ulrich, learning a musician would become their new boss.

“I’m very excited about the possibility of having someone who is sensitive to the arts, and of the very important role it plays in the community,” Frazier said afterwards, adding he was even more excited about what Belcher’s appointment might mean for WCU’s music students.

And, within minutes of the announcement, word had indeed spread through the music department, and the students seemed suitably impressed by the news.

“I didn’t really know if it would go more toward (supporting) the football program,” said Nicole Segers, a tenor saxophone player from Lexington.

Segers explained she had been concerned that UNC administrative leaders, and the university’s board of trustees, would search for a chancellor with skills to specifically build WCU’s football program, which hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2005.

“I think it is good news,” added Ethan Dyer, a baritone saxophone player from Gastonia, of Belcher’s background in the arts. “Even though Bardo really supported the marching band, the music department seemed overshadowed.”

For his part, however, Belcher said he is a chancellor for “everybody,” and not just a spokesman for the arts.

He emphasized the importance of supporting the football team at WCU, because, he said, that’s a large part of the college experience for students and the community.


The last time David Belcher played publicly was about a year or so ago, when he paired with cellist Melita Hunsinger of the Arkansas Symphony orchestra in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19.

When a pianist accompanies a soloist, a delicate give and take must occur. Listening, adjusting, assisting and leading — all this, and more, must happen for the performances to succeed, and for beautiful music to result.

Those same skills — listening, adjusting, assisting and leading — are evidenced in Belcher’s leadership style. The 53-year-old classically trained musician will become chancellor of Western Carolina University beginning July 1.

Belcher described himself as a consensus builder, a leader who makes decisions only after first seeking the wisdom and opinions of those working with him.

“My M.O. is a consultative approach,” said Belcher, adding that he’s not shy, however, about making unpopular decisions independently if that’s what is needed in a given situation.

Those collaborative skills are likely to be put to the test as soon as he takes over. The university is facing gargantuan budget cuts because of trickledown from a $2.4 billion state shortfall, making for difficult choices about which programs — and people — stay, which go.

The budget difficulties have provoked inner dissension on campus among faculty and staff. Some members of the faculty haven’t been silent about their dissatisfaction with what they’ve described as heavy-handed, administrative-driven decision-making.

Belcher said economic hard times “will force us to make some really hard choices. We’re going to have to continue to make strategic choices about what we will, and will not, do.”

The incoming chancellor said he wants to develop “a shared vision” with faculty, staff, students and the community about WCU’s future.


Kathy Calabrese, who makes herbal-medicine products such as lip balms, sprays and salves using herbs she grows at her Whittier home or gets from local farmers, is glad to see winter go — not so much the passing of winter weather, though that was rough enough this year, but because those long months of squeaking by financially are coming to an end.

“I’ve been more or less living off credit cards,” Calabrese said, only partly in jest. Additionally, the start of the season is fun, she said, and serves as an opportunity to see other local farmers and the familiar faces of regular customers.

“It’s really exciting,” Calabrese said.

Most vendors get a jumpstart into spring by participating in local growers’ festivals, such as one this month in Jackson County — the Appalachian Grower’s Fair — and one next month in Waynesville — Whole Bloomin’ Thing Festival in the Frog Level District.

“The festival has become an excellent outlet for the local growers,” said Jim Pierce, an organizer of the Whole Bloomin’ Thing. “They look forward to getting their business kick started this time of year.”

The festival, which has maintained a true local flavor despite burgeoning growth, connects growers with the community. And that in turn leads to sustained support the rest of the year, Pierce said.

After the spring festival season wanes and before the fall festival season kicks-in, most of these make-a-living-off-the-farm folks can be found anchoring local farmers markets.

Robyn Cammer of Frog Holler Organiks in Haywood County, like Calabrese, is also happy to see winter go.

“There’s 90 days to pay the bills for the year,” Cammer said of the mad rush that marks the lives of most farmers when spring arrives.

Frog Holler Organiks has found its niche primarily by making and selling biodynamic garden soil, a blend of what Cammer describes as “hyper humus-rich growing mediums” containing a “full mineral and nutrient spectrum.” The farm also offers fresh vegetables, berries, eggs and more, but the most important financial leg on this farm’s stool is the garden soil sold by the scoop.

Cammer and other small farmers in Western North Carolina are juggling work with marketing, plus finding the necessary time to actually sell the products they produce. Like Calabrese, Mernie Wortham, who has Falcon Hill Farm in Jackson County, is set to work both festivals as a vendor. She sells products developed directly from her farm, including soaps, shampoo bars, and fiber products such as knitted items and yarn from her sheep and llamas.

“It’s very good to get back out there and be in the community,” said Wortham, who also sells through the Jackson County Farmers Market in Sylva.

Wortham, like other farm vendors in the region, are impressed with the sustained interested in local foods and other locally produced items they are seeing and experiencing.

“It is growing, and continues to grow, and we’d love to see it grow even faster and quicker and bigger,” Wortham said.


Get your garden off to a good start with spring growers festivals

Two local grower’s fairs are on the horizon, the Appalachian Growers Fair in Sylva, and the Whole Blooming’ Thing Festival in Waynesville. The festivals are wildly popular home gardeners looking for vegetable and herb starts, annuals and perennials. Savvy plant buyers have learned to come early with stack of cash in hand and wagons to haul their potted finds — and to set aside plenty of time the rest of the weekend to get their new plants in the ground.

Appalachian Growers Fair

Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Monteith Park in Dillsboro. A chance to buy plants and seeds and other agriculture-related items as a fundraiser for Full Spectrum Farms, which is a service organization dedicated to providing a full spectrum of life’s opportunities for persons with autism.

828.293.2521 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Whole Bloomin’ Thing

Saturday, May 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Frog Level district in Waynesville. More than 50 local growers, area artisans and a variety of nature-related professionals will be there, selling locally-grown garden starter plants, flowers, crafts and other beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day. 828.734.5819.


Farmers markets begin rolling out the green carpet

It’s that time of the year, and farmers markets across the region have — or soon will — open for the season.

• The Haywood’s Historic Farmers’ Market will open on Saturday, April 16, the earliest opening date in its history. Growers have been busy getting spring crops ready to sell, as well as vegetable and herb starts and perennials for gardeners. This will be the market’s third full season of offering locally grown produce, farm-fresh eggs, baked goods, cheese, preserves, local meat, fresh North Carolina seafood and heritage crafts.

Haywood’s Historic Farmers’ Market is held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday at the HART Theater parking lot Pigeon Street (U.S. 276) in Waynesville. www.waynesvillefarmersmarket.com.

• The Jackson County Farmers Market opened last weekend at its usual location at Bridge Park in downtown Sylva, held Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon. In addition to plants, seeds and greens, honey, breads, sweets and locally made crafts, this year’s market sees an expansion into local meats. 828.631.3033.

Stay tuned to the calendar section of The Smoky Mountain News for farmers market listings as more markets, from Cherokee to Cashiers to Canton, begin to open for the season.


Maybe I’m just self-absorbed, but I swear that when I’m interested in something, it often seems as if the whole world suddenly has become interested in the very same thing.

Given this, it didn’t seem terribly odd that the husband of a former newspaper colleague of mine has developed an intense passion for sheep, as have I. Steve Tabor and I crossed paths at Cagle’s Animal Auction in Waynesville this past weekend. He was there to sell some goat kids; I was there to pick up some replacement hens after losing eight or nine fine layers to a supposed guard dog.

The guard dog, a 150-pound or so Anatolian/Great Pyrenees cross with an adorable personality but a propensity to play dead with chickens (he plays, they get dead), has found a new home in Barbers Orchard in Haywood County with two children and two adults to dote upon him, and where nary a chicken can be found.

Before the chicken and goat parts of the auction, Steve and I fell into a lengthy conversation about the myriad virtues of sheep.

Not just any sheep, however — Katahdin sheep, an American breeding original. Steve, whose farm straddles the Macon-Swain county lines (I worked years ago with his wife, Teresa, at The Franklin Press), has extensive experience raising Boer meat goats. The ease and hardiness of Katahdins have made a convert of him, however, and he’s increasingly phasing out Boer goats in favor of sheep.

Katahdins, Steve told me, have proven almost unbelievably self-reliant. The ewes will go up on the mountain in January and February and drop a perfectly formed, healthy lamb or two, with no trouble and little fuss, wandering back one fine day with little lamb(s) in tow. Unlike his Boers, Katahdins are proving resistant to parasites and they rarely need their hooves trimmed.  I’ll add they have excellent heat tolerance; the tails don’t need docking and, best of all in these days of low wool prices and widespread lack of general sheep shearing know-how, Katahdins are hair sheep — they never need shearing. Additionally, Katahdins require minimal, or no, shelter.

A fellow in Maine developed the Katahdin breed. In accounts of his work posted on Katahdin Hair Sheep International’s website and the animal science department at Oklahoma State University’s website, the man Steve and I can thank for these wonderful sheep is the late Michael Piel, an amateur geneticist and livestock enthusiast.

Initially, Piel wanted to raise sheep to graze power lines, but developed more expansive ideas about using them for land management. In 1956-1957, he saw photographs in a National Geographic magazine of West African hair sheep, and had some imported to Maine (there’s where the heat tolerance most likely came from — West Africa, that is, not Maine).  

Piel began playing with crosses, using a variety of breed combinations. He selected for hair coat, meat-type conformation, fertility and flocking instinct. Piel picked out the best ewes and named them after Mount Katahdin in Maine. For years, he continued tinkering with his breeding program, improving the size, among other things, by using some sheep from Whales.

A Vermont couple named Paul and Margaret Jepson get an important mention in the story of Katahdins. The Jepsons bought some sheep from Piel in the mid-1970s, adding St. Croix hair sheep into the mix.

As the years passed, Katahdins enjoyed increasing popularity, and are now frequently spotted here in Western North Carolina.

I’m helping tend a few Katahdins in Sylva with dreams of finding some pastureland soon to expand the flock. In my experience (which is limited) and Steve’s (rely on him more on this subject, as his knowledge of Katahdins is more extensive), this breed of sheep is simply terrific on our mountain pastures.

The recommendation I’ve seen, by the way, is three-to-five head per acre. But, if you are willing to feed, you probably could push that recommendation some — though once you feed, if this is a for-profit enterprise, you’re going to start flipping income into outgo pretty quickly.

I give mine a bit of feed, even this time of year, because this serves as an enticement and makes them easier to handle. Because the pasture here is poor, I’m still putting down hay each day. Steve, who has a better setup for sheep, isn’t forced to feed hay now that his pastures have greened up. I think he said he uses a small amount of feed simply to ensure some control.

I also put out a mineral block for the sheep. A note of caution: Make sure, if you have goats, the sheep can’t get to goat-specific minerals — sheep accumulate copper in their livers, which can be toxic for them. On the other hand, if you feed goats sheep-specific minerals only, you set them up, in turn, for possible copper deficiencies.

All aflame now for Katahdins after reading this far, and you want to join in noticing them as you motor about the countryside? Look for sheep that appear kind of patchy, at least this time of year, because the Katahdins are shedding excess hair following the winter.

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Bringing regular train service back to Dillsboro greatly depends on whether Jackson County commissioners come up with dollars to help restore a steam engine and bring it here from Maine, Kim Albritton, vice president and general manager of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, said this week.

The railway has reduced the amount of money it’s seeking from Jackson County taxpayers from more than $800,000 down to $95,176 in cash and $322,000 in the form of a loan.

Albritton stopped short this week of flatly calling a thumb’s down from the county a deal breaker, instead characterizing such a commission vote as making “it more difficult” for the company to proceed.

The railway recently bought an old steam engine — which is currently in Maine — and wants to put it in service along with its diesel-powered engines.

If the county will help with that goal, the train in exchange will run 110 to 120 days of service each year out of Dillsboro. This, railway owner Al Harper has said, would create 15 to 20 new jobs in Jackson County, and bring in least 20,000 visitors annually to the tourism-dependent town.

Until 2008, Dillsboro served as the headquarters of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, an excursion railroad catering to tourists. About 60,000 people a year rode the train, and Dillsboro boomed — until the train pulled out. It moved its headquarters and main depot to Bryson City and quit running excursions to Dillsboro, which languished as result.

More business in the form of train-riding tourists returned last year when the Great Smoky Mountains Railway began limited, seasonal trips out of Dillsboro again.

Interim County Manager Chuck Wooten, who received the new funding request from Great Smoky Mountains Railway in late March, said the $95,176 grant would be used to restore and paint the steam locomotive and exterior of first-class coaches. Wooten said he intends to consider this grant in the upcoming fiscal-year county budget, which commissioners have final say over.

The $322,000 revolving loan would pay for moving the newly purchased train from Maine to North Carolina. The county’s economic development arm manages the revolving loan fund. It would be up to county commissioners whether to approve the loan request. Wooten said he doubted this would take place until sometime later this month.


Private land in Dillsboro might spare the historic Monteith House site from becoming home to a turntable for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, part of a plan to return regular train service to this tourism-dependent town.

Kim Albritton, the railway’s vice president and general manager, confirmed railroad representatives will talk with private landowners about the possibility of using their land for a turntable instead of Monteith Park as originally proposed. That has not taken place yet, she said.

Without a turntable, engines must travel in reverse, pushing the train’s cars instead of pulling them, when making the return trip back to Bryson City after an excursion to Dillsboro.

Previous discussions had involved putting the turntable in front of the barn near the Monteith House. The old farmstead house faces the proposed turntable site just a few hundred yards away. It would change — if not stop — plans to renovate and turn the house into an Appalachian Women’s Museum. The museum would honor and recognize the contributions of Appalachian women to this region.

Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald emphasized that town leaders had considered using the town-owned, historic Monteith Park as “a last resort” only.

That falls in line with stipulations from the state, which in 2004 gave Dillsboro $250,000 to help fund the park. State rules mandate the town must “explain in detail which sites have been evaluated and where they are located and why Monteith Park is the only alternative” for a train turntable, according to an email dated Feb. 24 received by the town from LuAnn Bryan, a consultant for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

If the requirement to use “all practical alternatives” is met and no other site is viable, the town does have the state’s OK to let the train use Monteith Community Park, according to the email.

The turntable would then be built on about three-quarters of an acre. In return, the town would offer up two acres, known as the Vanderwoude property, for recreational development, according to town documents. The town would be required to replace the lost parkland.

Dillsboro resident Emma Wertenberger, who is heading up efforts to turn Monteith House into a museum, said she and other committee members haven’t given up on the idea.

“We still hope to have a home at the Monteith homestead,” she said.


This isn’t the easiest time to be a real estate agent in Jackson and Macon counties, not with the crippled housing market and a customer base that is, in most cases, hard pressed to find the dollars to buy new homes.

Nowhere is it tougher than the upscale communities of Cashiers and Highlands, a market catering to second- and third-home owners. Here, where houses just a few years ago routinely sold in the millions, the bottom has fallen out.

Terry Potts isn’t complaining. But, as the owner of four separate real estate offices in Highlands alone, Potts perhaps is experiencing even greater pain than most agents.

“In most cases, property has been selling for about half the tax value,” Potts said of the market in Highlands, adding that what has sold are, generally, bank foreclosures.

“I think that’s why they put it off,” Potts said. “And I do think the values are going to drop a good bit — if they truly use values of (properties) that have sold.”

“It” would be the property revaluations, now scheduled to take place in both Jackson and Macon counties in 2013. Countywide appraisals were last conducted in Jackson in 2008 and Macon in 2007, at practically the peak of the housing boom in Western North Carolina.

Macon County commissioners decided to postpone its revaluation from 2011 to 2013; and Jackson County recently opted to push its back one-year from 2012 to 2013. State law mandates revaluation takes place at least every eight years; both counties had been on four-year cycles.

The issue?


‘True’ market value

In both counties, the tax assessors predicted difficulties with calculating true market value when little property has sold. Bobby McMahan, Jackson County’s tax assessor, recently told commissioners one township with 4,000 parcels had just three property sales in three years — hardly enough to establish a baseline.

McMahan wanted commissioners to delay Jackson County’s revaluation until 2015. This would have meant, however, that taxpayers would continue paying taxes for several additional years on what are now hyper-assessed properties. Some residents, particularly those living in southern Jackson County, cried foul — and not just over the possibility of shouldering an unfairly large tax burden, but about the overall level of services the Cashiers area receives back.

“The emotional irritation is that there is a miniscule percentage coming back to southern Jackson County and these townships,” said Phillip Rogers, who lives near Cashiers in the Hamburg Township.

“I’m personally contributing property taxes on two houses … I don’t mind paying the taxes as much as I mind not getting a return on services,” Rogers said.

But even if property values are lowered, it’s unlikely to provide residents such as Rogers tax relief, as he knows. In light of falling property values, Jackson and Macon counties would have to raise the tax rate if they want to bring in the same amount of money.

“That’s true,” agreed interim Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten of the options facing local leaders. “In order to be revenue neutral there would have to be an increase.”

Wooten estimated that staying revenue neutral in Jackson County would require a tax-rate increase of the current 28 cents per $100 valuation to the mid-30s.

The largest drop in property values, not surprisingly, is expected in the Glenville and Cashiers area — the same areas where they had risen so rapidly over the first part of the decade.

Norman West, a longtime real-estate agent, primarily works in Cullowhee, the fastest growing part of the county population-wise, according to the 2010 Census.

Even so, things aren’t good, West said, “but we tend to be a little more insulated than some other communities” because of Western Carolina University.

West said what Jackson County has yet to truly contend with is the crash of high-end developments — granted, many lots in such developments already have been through foreclosure, but he believes there are many more to come. The fallout from the Great Recession isn’t over.

“These are uncharted waters,” West said.


Things that roll downhill

Jack Debnam, a real-estate agent who serves as chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, acknowledged local leaders have been placed in an unenviable position.

To offset the lower property values when revaluation starts in 2013, they will either have to raise taxes or cut county services.

Commissioners might face that dilemma sooner than 2013, however. The county already faces a budget shortfall. Wooten has asked each department to cut 5 percent from their budgets in the coming fiscal year.

There is every likelihood state leaders will shift portions of the $2.4 billion budget deficit they are facing downhill to local governments. After that, there’s nowhere downhill to go — again, local leaders are left to slash services or raise taxes.

“We just don’t know where the state’s going to put us,” Debnam said.

In Macon County, Bob Holt, a Franklin resident and real-estate instructor for Southwestern Community College, said during the first quarter of this year, sale prices were running at 63 percent of the assessed value. He expects to see values drop after this evaluation.

Richard Lightner, Macon County’s tax assessor, said his office could ask commissioners to delay the revaluation again, up to 2015, but that he doesn’t plan to do that.

“I think we need to adjust to where reality is right now,” Lightner said. “The whole premise of doing a revaluation is to equalize the market values.”

Lightner said the lower- and median-priced homes are generally stable — it’s the high end, speculative markets that are down.

While some counties bring in a specialized appraisal firm to conduct the revaluation, others do it in-house with their own staff. Macon County has done theirs in-house in the past, but Jackson is contemplating bringing the reval in-house for the first time.

Lightner said Jackson is likely to “have a difficult time” if it does. Macon is well along in the revaluation process — some 30 percent of property values are done. Jackson is just starting.

Additionally, Macon has experience doing revaluations in-house; Jackson County does not.

“They’re starting from scratch right now,” Lightner said. “I wouldn’t want to do one like that.”

If Jackson commissioners insist on sticking to its target of 2013, Lightner said he expects Jackson County tax-office staff will be unable to make as many on-site evaluations as Macon County, and instead will be forced to rely more on computer-generated assessments.


At least three internal reorganizations in just five years have spurred a growing number of faculty members at Western Carolina University to call for changes to what they describe as top-down, heavy-handed decision making.

Anger and frustration with the university’s administration, coupled with anticipation of Draconian budget cutbacks by the General Assembly, resulted in a highly charged meeting of WCU’s Faculty Senate last week.

A group of professors called on their colleagues in the Faculty Senate to halt a reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions, but some members were hesitant to pick sides in what could be nothing more than an internal departmental squabble. Still unresolved, the issue is back on the agenda again in a follow-up meeting this Wednesday.

After more than two hours of debate — with a vote of 14 against, 11 for and two abstentions — the Faculty Senate last week rejected a resolution brought by nine of their colleagues in the College of Education and Allied Professions. The resolution would have signaled solidarity with, and support for, the faculty raising objections.

The uproar comes after Professor Jacqueline Jacobs, a tenured faculty member in the College of Education and Allied Professions, resigned on grounds that university administration failed to consider information from faculty when reorganizing the department, and targeted certain professors for layoffs.

The controversy has erupted in the run up to an announcement planned this Friday for who will replace long-time Chancellor John Bardo, who leaves his post July 1 after 15 years as WCU’s top leader. Bardo did not attend the Faculty Senate meeting. He has said most of his time is absorbed working on budget issues in Raleigh. The university is facing cuts of at least $8.6 million, and perhaps much higher.


Resolution fails; issue still unresolved

Professors Mary Jean Herzog, Casey Hurley and Meagan Karvonen presented the resolution asking Faculty Senate to endorse a proposal tabling the reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions for a year. WCU’s administration had instructed university leadership to prioritize and look for budget cuts.

That resulted in the reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions from five to three departments, and the doctoral program — one of only two at WCU, and the university flagship with 40 some graduate students — would be left without qualified leadership, the faculty members claim.

Three tenure-track professors faced the possibility of being laid off, but two have since seen their contracts renewed.

In a rebuttal piece published last week in The Smoky Mountain News, interim Provost Linda Seested-Stanford countered charges that the reorganization was pursued without faculty guidance or help. She assured readers there was “no intrigue, no smokescreen and no deep, dark secret in the reorganization,” adding the newspaper’s reporting of the blowup was “good stuff for a spy novel.”

Though less pointed in her criticisms when speaking to the Faculty Senate, Seested-Stanford described Herzog’s take on the situation as “exaggerated,” and downplayed assertions that faculty were denied roles in university decision-making.

Seested-Stanford assured the Faculty Senate that Perry Schoon, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions, had kept her well informed. Additionally, she said, the task force helping develop the reorganization was, in her mind, representative of the faculty at large in the College of Education and Allied Professions. There are about 87 faculty members in that college.

Psychology Professor David McCord, a department head in the College of Education and Allied Professions, leaped to Dean Schoon’s defense, as well.

“The accusation there is no faculty involvement here burns me,” McCord said, adding that his colleagues’ accusations were “inaccurate” and “absurd.”

McCord said he believed Schoon’s selection of members on the task force was the only means available to ensure the formation of a group capable of objectivity, one that could “step back and take a big-picture view … and work with others” while hard choices were being made.

“He wanted each department to be represented by a credible advocate,” McCord said, adding that the reorganization plan represents a better solution than other possible options. The psychology professor did not detail what those options might have been.


‘Culture and climate’ in question

There was some indication a few Faculty Senate members might have voted against the resolution simply because they felt endorsing the demand was outside their purview. The Faculty Senate is an advisory group.

“Let’s focus on the policy issues, and not get involved in management,” said Leroy Kauffman, a professor in accounting and financing and a department head. Kauffman added he believed there were “valid issues” being raised about faculty participation.

Cheryl Waters-Tormey, a professor in the geology department, said she was concerned about endorsing a resolution without knowing how many of the 87 faculty members in the College of Education and Allied Professions actually felt this way.

Karvonen, one of the professors seeking the Faculty Senate’s backing, said “the culture and climate” prevented some in the college from feeling as if they could safely speak out.

Waters-Tormey suggested drafting a new resolution that expressed the Faculty Senate’s support for consensus building, but without picking sides in this particular dispute. English Professor Catherine Carter responded she believed such a resolution, or one that endorsed the concept of transparency, “is like saying we are for clean air and water — it is meaningless.”

Another resolution is in the wings, however, and this one is crafted by the Senate Planning Team, a committee made up of Faculty Senate members and self-described conduit from the university’s general faculty. It will undoubtedly prompt more debate at this week’s meeting.

The new resolution asks that:

• “A task force be created to study university reorganization issues and develop a clear, coherent, and effective university reorganization policy and process that protects the integrity of WCU’s academic mission and provides for meaningful faculty, staff, and student voice;

• Leadership from the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate, the Student Government Association and the Council of Deans propose the composition and means of election/selection of the taskforce members as well as a timeline for taskforce objectives;

• And each of those bodies must approve the composition of, membership selection methods for, and timeline for the taskforce by May 15;

• And we request that future restructuring does not take place without consulting the faculty on this restructuring committee.”


What is the Faculty Senate?

The Faculty Senate has 28 members, and serves as the main policy-recommending group for the general faculty. It is the link between faculty and administration on matters, advising the chancellor on the conduct of university affairs. Additionally, according to the group’s website, it functions to “serve as a collegial forum for the airing of faculty concerns.”


A new chancellor for Western Carolina University will be announced this Friday during the N.C. Board of Governor’s meeting in Chapel Hill, with live streaming of the event to be viewed on campus in Cullowhee.

The announcement by UNC system President Tom Ross is set to take place from 10:30 to 11 a.m. His announcement will be streamed for viewing at Blue Ridge Conference Room.

A chancellor-selection committee recently submitted top candidates’ names to Ross, who gets the final pick. Those names of finalists were not made public.

Longtime Chancellor John Bardo, 62, announced in October he planned to retire July 1. He has spent more than 15 years as WCU’s top leader.

Bardo said he is leaving because WCU has lost or will lose four to six key leadership positions within two years, signaling the arrival of a new guard. He said he believed a younger chancellor was needed to shepherd in this next phase for the university, and that his age might diminish the caliber of hires WCU could expect in filling the vacant, or soon-to-vacant, positions. These include the provost (second-in-command) and the university’s vice chancellor of administration and finance.

Bardo has far exceeded the career span of most university chancellors. The average tenure for a University of North Carolina chancellor is four-and-a-half years; nationally, the average is seven years.

Bardo plans to take a year of research leave before joining the WCU faculty. Current plans call for him to join the faculty in the College of Education and Allied Professions, WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said in an email to The Smoky Mountain News last week in response to questions about Bardo’s future role:

“His specific assignment is to be determined and will be based upon where he can be of the most service to the university and upon the outcome of his research,” Studenc said.

The salary range for a chancellor is $236,979 to $379,180, plus use of a 7,000-square-foot house (currently being given a nearly $300,000 facelift) including utilities, grounds keeping and a housekeeper. The chancellor also is given free use of a car. Bardo’s base salary is $280,000.


At least three internal reorganizations in just five years have spurred a growing number of faculty members at Western Carolina University to call for changes to what they describe as top-down, heavy-handed decision making.

Anger and frustration with the university’s administration, coupled with anticipation of Draconian budget cutbacks by the General Assembly, resulted in a highly charged meeting on Wednesday of WCU’s Faculty Senate. The issue is on the agenda again in a follow-up meeting set for April 6.

The controversy at WCU has erupted even as UNC system President Tom Ross considers candidates to replace Chancellor John Bardo, who leaves his post July 1 after 15 years as WCU’s top leader. Bardo did not attend the Faculty Senate meeting. He has said most of his time is absorbed working on budget issues in Raleigh. The university is facing cuts of at least $8.6 million, and perhaps much higher.

After more than two hours of debate — with a vote of 14 against, 11 for and 2 abstentions — the Faculty Senate on Wednesday rejected a resolution brought by nine of their colleagues in the College of Education and Allied Professions. The resolution contained a proposed amendment expressing Faculty Senate’s solidarity with, and support for, the faculty raising objections.

The resolution comes after Professor Jacqueline Jacobs, a tenured faculty member in the College of Education and Allied Professions, opted to resign from the university on grounds that university administration failed to include faculty members in decisions concerning reorganization.

Resolution fails; issue sill unresolved

Professors Mary Jean Herzog, Casey Hurley and Meagan Karvonen presented the resolution asking Faculty Senate to endorse a proposal to table for a year the reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions. The college is set to shrink from five to three departments, and the doctoral program — one of only two at WCU, and the university flagship with 40 some candidates — has, the faculty members claim, been left without qualified leadership.

In a rebuttal piece published last week in The Smoky Mountain News, interim Provost Linda Seested-Stanford countered Jacob’s charges that the reorganization was decided without faculty guidance or help. She assured readers there was “no intrigue, no smokescreen and no deep, dark secret in the reorganization,” adding the newspaper’s rendering of the blowup was “good stuff for a spy novel.”

Though less pointed in her criticisms when facing the Faculty Senate, Seested-Stanford described Herzog’s take on the situation as “exaggerated,” and downplayed the professor’s and her fellow faculty’s assertions that they were denied roles in university decision-making.

Seested-Stanford assured the Faculty Senate that Perry Schoon, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions, had kept her well informed. Additionally, she said, the task force helping develop the reorganization was, in her mind, representative of the faculty at large in the College of Education and Allied Professions. There are about 87 faculty members in that college.

Psychology Professor David McCord, a department head in the College of Education and Allied Professions, leaped to Schoon’s defense, as well.

“The accusation there is no faculty involvement here burns me,” McCord said, adding that his colleagues’ accusations were “inaccurate” and “absurd.”

McCord said he believed Schoon’s selection of members on the task force was the only means available to ensure the formation of a group capable of objectivity, one that could “step back and take a big-picture view … and work with others” while hard choices were being made.

“He wanted each department to be represented by a credible advocate,” McCord said, adding that the reorganization plan represents a better solution than other possible options. The psychology professor did not detail what those options might have been.

‘Culture and climate’ in question

There was some indication a few Faculty Senate members might have voted against the resolution simply because they felt endorsing the demand was outside their purview. The Faculty Senate is an advisory group.

“Let’s focus on the policy issues, and not get involved in management,” said Leroy Kauffman, a professor in accounting and financing and a department head. Kauffman added he believed there were “valid issues” being raised about faculty participation.

Cheryl Waters-Tormey, a professor in the geology department, said she was concerned about endorsing a resolution without knowing how many people in the College of Education and Allied Professions were supportive.

Karvonen said “the culture and climate” prevented some in the college from feeling able to speak out.

Waters-Tormey suggested drafting a new resolution that expressed the Faculty Senate’s support for consensus building. English Professor Catherine Carter responded she believed such a resolution, or one that endorsed the concept of transparency, “is like saying we are for clean air and water — it is meaningless.”

Another resolution is in the wings, however, and this one is crafted by the Senate Planning Team (the self-described conduit from the general faculty to Faculty Senate). It will undoubtedly prompt more debate next week.

This resolution asks that:

• “A task force be created to study university reorganization issues and develop a clear, coherent, and effective university reorganization policy and process that protects the integrity of WCU’s academic mission and provides for meaningful faculty, staff, and student voice;

• Leadership from the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate, the Student Government Association and the Council of Deans propose the composition and means of election/selection of the task force members as well as a timeline for taskforce objectives; • And each of those bodies must approve the composition of, membership selection methods for, and timeline for the task force by May 15;

• And we request that future restructuring does not take place without consulting the faculty on this restructuring committee.”


Friends of mine in the Jackson County farming community have launched a joint CSA, which is short for Community Sustained Agriculture, under the name Living Earth Farm Shares CSA.

Ron and Cathy Arps, Stephen Beltram and Becca Nestler, Laird and Penny O’Neill, and John Beckman teamed up over the winter, envisioned this venture, and are now making it happen. They’ve sold about 20 shares so far to folks in the local community who want organically grown vegetables, Ron told me while dropping off a pack of lettuce seed last week at the office here in Sylva.

The Arps pioneered the CSA concept in this corner of Western North Carolina. They’ve run a successful one for more than a decade, serving a small and select (and lucky) group of people in the Sylva area. A couple of years ago, William Shelton started another CSA down in the Whittier community, and we have at least two more in Jackson County, one by Vera Guise (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and the other by Curt Collins (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

What’s a CSA, you ask? They vary in exact details, but essentially a CSA is simply a buy-in to the farm by customers. In the case of Living Earth Farm Shares CSA, you pay (or split with another family) $500 “per share,” plus give back four hours of farm work. In return, the farmers hand you a box of vegetables each week from May 1 through Sept. 14.

Steven and Becca will be selling shares in meat, too: chickens, pigs and Thanksgiving turkeys.

Ron was frank in our discussion about the challenges of a joint venture such as this — there’s not a clashing of personalities or anything like that, but a variety of timing issues to resolve. Vegetables have to be grown out and harvested on a more-or-less predictable schedule. Since farming is inherently unpredictable, that can create some interesting dilemmas.   

I steered clear of the CSA concept when I farmed for a living because of that very difficulty. I instead sold through farmers markets, or occasionally to a few customers who liked to buy directly at the farm. That’s easier because if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it — no broken promises, no disappointed customers, no explaining that you simply didn’t get the beets planted in time because of the weather.

CSAs, particularly on this scale (Living Earth Farm Shares CSA is offering up to 72 shares), requires intensive planning, scheduling and communicating amongst the growers involved. I imagine, however, that there is much joy in return. You have the ability to share failures and successes, as well.

If you are interested in a subscription, email Ron at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. William can be reached through www.sheltonfamilyfarm.com.


This seems like an excellent opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about farming, local farms and farming practices. I don’t know why I feel compelled to venture here, because I’ll surely regret it. Every time I’ve written a version of what follows, it’s as if I took a stick and poked it into one of my beehives. But, being a slow learner, here I go again:  

A CSA (or vendor at a farmers market) isn’t necessarily organic — ask the grower(s) involved what methods they use. This is demonstrated in the two CSAs listed above: Living Earth Farm Shares CSA is selling vegetables grown without the use of synthetic chemicals; William uses chemicals.

This does not make William bad and Living Earth Farm Shares CSA good — in fact, William is one of the most responsible growers I know, and he’s very upfront about his farming practices. I’d eat (and have, in fact) the vegetables William grows any day over those grown by some ostensibly “organic” farmers — the world is made up of good people (such as the people listed in this column) and some others who, unfortunately, are liars and cheats.

Dirt under one’s fingernails from farming does not make a person inherently trustworthy. Ask about growing practices and visit the farms you patronize. The honest farmers will welcome your questions, and respect you for taking time to visit their farms. William and the folks who launched Living Earth Farm Shares CSA can be counted on for honesty, openness and transparency in their growing methods. You should look for those same qualities each time you go to the farmers markets, or buy directly from a farmer.

A quick word, too, about the word “organic.” Technically, if you make above a certain amount ($5,000, I believe), a farmer can’t call herself “organic” unless she is certified — so when I called Living Earth Farm Shares CSA organic, that was my word, not theirs. I have no idea what words they are using, because I didn’t ask. Any others seem so forced and bulky — “naturally grown” isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t really mean anything, either.

“Without the use of synthetic chemicals” is a favorite of mine, but it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it?

You can thank big business for co-opting the word organic and taking it out of the hands of, well, small organic farmers. Soon as there was money in it, “organic” became a brand instead of a method. That’s a load of bull, in my book, and I believe farmers (the organic ones, anyway) ought to push back and reclaim their word. What’s the worst that can happen? A lawsuit? Phooey — none of the organic farmers I know make enough money to be worth suing, frankly.

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


A group wanting to build a Hospice house in Macon County to serve the terminally ill in the westernmost counties says it will continue those efforts despite a recent thumb’s down from the state.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said “no” to Hospice House Foundation of WNC’s request to build a six-bed hospice inpatient facility. New medical facilities — from hospitals to outpatient surgery centers — require state approval to move forward. The system supposedly prevents too much competition from undermining the financial viability of health care institutions.

But the closest comparable facility is two counties away in Haywood, where a six-bed Hospice house is under construction. The next closest is in Buncombe.

While there are no other hospice houses nearby, Angel Medical Center perceives such a facility as a competitor, claiming there is not enough demand to justify a stand-alone hospice and instead has plans to provide a hospice-like set-up within the hospital itself.

The hospice group has pledge to keep moving forward, however.

“Nothing has changed as far as our mission is concerned in providing this much needed facility for our hospice patients and their families in this part of Western North Carolina,” Michele Alderson, president of Hospice House Foundation, said via email to The Smoky Mountain News. “We are continuing in our fundraising.”

Chris Comeaux, president of Four Seasons Compassion for Life, a nonprofit Hospice group that has worked with the Macon County-based Hospice House Foundation on the project, said last week all options are being studied. Comeaux and Alderson have pointed out the state doesn’t always award a Certificate of Need on first application.

The state’s letter turning down the application noted an appeal could be filed with the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. Comeaux declined to outline specific strategy by the Hospice group, citing the legal proceedings.

Four Seasons, based in Henderson County, took over Highlands Hospice and Palliative Care from Highlands-Cashiers Hospital last year.

This triggered a less-than-happy reaction by Angel Medical Center in Franklin and ensuing controversy last year. The hospital administration cited conflict-of-interest concerns and severed ties with local Hospice volunteers who wanted to build the respite house. The hospital forced out five of its volunteers who also served on the hospice foundation, and demanded all of its 40 or so other volunteers sign confidentiality statements and conflict-of-interest disclosures.

Volunteers are the base of Hospice, which provides support for terminally ill patients and their families. Some caregivers sit with patients while family members run errands; others prepare meals or serve in various administrative roles for the organization.

Federal law requires that volunteers provide at least five percent of patient-care hours for institutions such as Angel Medical Center to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

Angel Medical Center CEO Tim Hubbs has been direct about his beliefs that Four Seasons is a competitor in the local medical marketplace. Originally, plans called for Angel Medical Center and the Hospice House Foundation to build the house together, but the hospital pulled out of the project. To continue with its dream of a Hospice house, the foundation had to find another licensed operator to oversee the facility — and Four Seasons stepped up to fill that role.

Angel CEO Tim Hubbs said the hospital “believes the state made a good decision” in not giving the foundation a Certificate of Need.

He said the reasons provided by the state for disapproving the application were consistent with the concerns of Angel Medical Center. The state asserted Hospice House Foundation did not demonstrate adequate need, or the ability to raise the money needed to build the house.

“Plus we knew that many people that supported the Hospice House thought the house would provide residential and respite care for those patients without a caregiver, but the application filed did not include any residential beds and did not project any respite days of care,” Hubbs said.

He said Angel Medical Center has identified two additional patient rooms within the hospital and earmarked them “for enhancement” to meet the needs of hospice patients. The hospital, Hubbs said, will convert two adjacent rooms to help out caregivers and family members of the hospice patients.


A group working to beautify and solidify the concept of community in Cullowhee wants to build a riverfront park, tying in to state Department of Transportation plans to replace a bridge over the Tuckasegee River on Old Cullowhee Road in 2013.

The park would be multi-use, and include picnic tables, public beach access to the river, and a boat launch, said Taylor Bennett, who serves on a River Park subcommittee for CuRvE, a Cullowhee revitalization group.

“They’re very receptive to suggestions, and they’d love to work with us,” Bennett said of recent discussion with transportation officials.

He added there are concerns about who would pay for building the park and who would provide ongoing maintenance. Discussions are also taking place between CuRvE and Duke Energy, which has a dam in the area. Duke’s land holdings on the shore around the dam are being eyed for inclusion in the park.

The park update came last weekend during a public meeting of CuRvE at the Cullowhee Café. About 15 people attended, including Jack Debnam, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and a Cullowhee property owner.

Data from the 2010 U.S. Census showed Cullowhee is now the largest township in Jackson County — even larger than Sylva — which could bolster local efforts to revitalize the once-bustling community, Debnam said.

In the 1970s, some 40 businesses operated successfully in the community, which now has just a handful open. Cullowhee saw its vigor drained when a new highway passage to Western Carolina University was built, siphoning motorists away from what’s now dubbed by some as “old” Cullowhee.

“We consider this ‘downtown’ Cullowhee,” CuRvE member Chris Blake said. “We want to see this ‘old’ Cullowhee removed.”

Debnam, after noting that Cullowhee is now the fastest-growing and largest township in the county, said “Cullowhee is now a force to be reckoned with, as far as population goes.”

That growth hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, before WCU Chancellor John Bardo announced he’d retire July 1, nearby incorporated Forest Hills agreed to consider annexing university land. This would be used to further Bardo’s vision of a town center for WCU, which it currently lacks.

The chancellor developed and spearheaded the possibility of developing 35 acres on WCU’s main campus. Key to the Town Center moving forward is whether the Village of Forest Hills also moves forward, namely by agreeing to annex land where the Town Center would go.

Cullowhee is not currently incorporated as a town. As a result, stores and restaurants can’t sell beer, wine or liquor drinks. That has proved a major stumbling block in attracting commercial ventures typically associated with a college town. If Forest Hills annexed land around the university, however, it could make alcohol sales legal, in turn paving the way for development of the Town Center.

The effort seems to have lost momentum with both Bardo’s impending retirement and the university’s budget woes. WCU could lose as much as $8.6 million in the wake of a state budget deficit totaling about $2.3 billion. Though the creation of a Town Center is not directly connected to those money issues, attention of campus administration has been riveted on dealing with the cuts.

Blake, co-chair of CuRvE, told The Smoky Mountain News that the group has intensified its focus on the original goal of revitalizing Cullowhee. What happens in regard to WCU and Forest Hills, if anything, he said, would be dealt with and considered as the situation developed — if it develops.

In the meantime, the possibility of building a riverfront park remains a viable possibility, group members said.

“This could make this area a destination for the region and beyond,” said Mary Jean Herzog, the other co-chair of CuRvE.

Tentative plans call for a sidewalk from WCU to the park area, and for the installation of street lighting.

Debnam urged group members to think about where their efforts fit into a greenways master plan for the county. Jackson County is working on acquiring right-of-way for a greenway that would follow the Tuckasegee River, connecting Cullowhee, Forest Hills, Webster, Sylva and Dillsboro.

He also pushed for the group to actively solicit the participation of other Cullowhee landowners in CuRvE, something group members said they would follow-up on.


Sylva Commissioner Danny Allen announced he will resign from the town board, but has yet to say when, leaving the rest of the town board in limbo on how — and even whether — it will fill his position.

Allen still has three years left on his term. Typically, the remaining town board members would appoint someone to fill the vacancy. But Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower said Sylva might simply leave the position vacant until November’s elections. This would set up the potential for a 2-2 voting split on the board in the meantime, with Mayor Maurice Moody holding the tiebreaker vote.

Also interesting? If Allen follows through (and he hasn’t publicly stated why he wants off the board, much less given a date of exactly when), then Sylva would boast a town council in which three out of five members were appointed rather than elected — if they moved forward with replacing Allen themselves.

Allen won re-election in November 2009 after a two-year hiatus from the board. Harold Hensley lost that election, but was appointed to the board to replace Sarah Graham, who resigned after moving out of the town limits. Chris Matheson also was appointed to the board to replace Moody as a commissioner after Moody vacated his seat to become mayor.


A liberal Asheville city council member announced this week he’d run as an Independent in 2012 against U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, potentially eroding Shuler’s Democratic base and making for a tough re-election bid for the three-term congressman.

A former editor for the Asheville-based newspaper Mountain Xpress, Cecil Bothwell acknowledged he has an uphill battle gaining sufficient name recognition outside of Buncombe County to unseat the former NFL quarterback.

“I guess I’ll wear out some shoe leather,” said Bothwell, 60, who turned down a potential opportunity to serve as the chairman of the Buncombe County Democratic Party to tackle Shuler.

Shuler won re-election by more than 20,000 votes in November against Republican Jeff Miller of Hendersonville, who started out his campaign with considerably stronger name recognition than Bothwell.

First, to even get on the ballot as an Independent, Bothwell must by Jan. 1, 2012, garner enough voter signatures to equal 4 percent of the total number of registered voters in the 15-county congressional district — about 20,000 signatures. Then, to win, he must battle an experienced candidate with the ability to raise plenty of money to fund his re-election efforts against Shuler, who’s war chest will easily top $1 million by the time campaign season starts.

But, no matter how unlikely his actual chances of success, Bothwell’s bid is nonetheless important: as a third-party candidate, Bothwell will have the ability to help drive the political debate, plus his entry indicates a possible fracturing of the Democratic base.

Shuler got in hot water with many Democrats when he voted against health care reform. In the May primary last year, Democratic voters punished Shuler for his conservative leanings at the polls, allowing a relatively unknown candidate from Hendersonville to pull down nearly 40 percent of the primary vote and even carry Buncombe County, the most liberal county in the region.

If Bothwell pulls a piece of the Democratic pie away during the general election, and if the GOP mounts a meaningful challenge, Shuler really could be facing a challenge getting re-elected, said Chris Cooper, who teaches political science at Western Carolina University and helps oversee a blog on North Carolina politics.

“Surely he doesn’t think he’s going to win,” Cooper said of Bothwell. “And to me, that’s the really interesting question about why he’s running … clearly the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is not happy with Heath Shuler.”

That’s clear because Bothwell, by most any standard, could be described as a liberal Democrat’s Democrat. Asked about his political connections west of Buncombe County, he mentioned anti-death penalty and anti-war advocates, plus interaction with the Canary Coalition, an environmental coalition that is based in Sylva.

He said he believes Shuler is vulnerable; that the congressman is “to the right” of mainstream Democrat Party politics.

“I think people who are Blue Dogs should feel free to switch parties,” Bothwell said.

Shuler has donned the mantle of a fiscally conservative Democrat, represented in Congress by the Blue Dog Coalition that he now helps lead.

Bothwell believes his message will resonate beyond disenchanted members of the Democratic Party. Libertarians and some Republicans likely will find parts of his platform attractive, such as a push for no-more-drug-war and opposition to the Patriot Act, he said.

A WCU/Smoky Mountain News poll in Jackson County before the 2010 November election revealed Shuler’s election successes are attributable to his appeal to a cross-section of voters on both sides of the aisle. Shuler pulled only a general approval rating of 46 percent, with 39 percent unfavorable and the remaining 15 percent undecided. What was striking about the poll is that Republicans gave Shuler just as high an approval rating as Democrats.

Shuler not only locked down the votes of conservative Democrats who would otherwise be quick to desert a more liberal candidate, he captured part of the Republican vote. At the time, Cooper pointed out Shuler also grabbed the liberal Democratic vote simply because they felt they had nowhere else to turn.

Until, that is, now — Bothwell’s entry into the race, no matter how unlikely his chances of pulling off an upset, give unhappy liberal Democrats an option to publicly air any displeasures with Shuler.

There are indications the congressman might well be reacting already to this possible erosion from the extreme left of his base, Cooper said. In a vote that struck many political observers as somewhat incongruous, Shuler voted against a recent resolution to eliminate funding for National Public Radio.

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives, would eliminate federal funding for NPR and prohibit local stations from using federal funding for content. Shuler cited a need for rural areas such as Western North Carolina to have access to news and information, as provided by NPR.

As for why Bothwell’s running? Bothwell said he wants to improve children’s welfare, saying “I really think we need to retool our support for children in a meaningful way;” he wants to eliminate “corporate personhood,” or treating a company like it’s a person; stop trying to “police the world;” include a public option in health care; and renegotiate global deals to help ensure environmental protections.

Efforts to reach Shuler before press time were unsuccessful.c


Samantha “Sam” Gampel, a sophomore at Western Carolina University, wants to write novels and earn her living as a professional writer.

So in Gampel’s book, there’s nothing quite like rubbing shoulders with real working-for-a-living writers such as the ones headlining this year’s literary festival at the university. This is learning in action for students such as Gampel, and the festival, she said, hugely enriches her experience of attending school in Cullowhee.

“I think it is amazing to get all of these writers to come here,” Gampel said. “And it really opens your eyes to some you hadn’t heard of before.”

WCU’s literary festival runs April 3-7. The Visiting Writers Series has 13 authors featured this year, providing an opportunity to combine hands-on learning with classroom teachings that excite not only students such as Gampel, but professors at WCU, too.

ALSO: A meeting of the minds: Bringing together readers and writers

“It’s invaluable,” said Deidre Elliot, an associate professor in the university’s English Department and director of the professional writing program.

That’s because professors can assign readings by authors, then — tah-dah — students can meet and talk to the authors firsthand. They can ask questions, and learn directly about both the craft of writing and how some writers successfully make livings practicing their craft.

“It is totally enjoyable (for a student) to see the real person who was in a textbook,” Elliot said.

Catherine Carter, a fellow associate professor of Elliot’s at WCU and director of English education, said there are a variety of ways she and other faculty incorporate the festival into teaching students.

“The most usual are that we assign students to read some of the authors’ works and discuss them in class, and encourage — or, on a few occasions, beg, bribe or threaten — students to come to readings,” Carter said. “This is good not only because there’s something kind of cool about authors who are still alive and who are right there in the flesh … but because the etiquette of reading itself is worth teaching.”

The etiquette being such niceties, Carter said, as refraining from texting or playing games on cell phones while the authors read.

Carter also likes to encourage local teachers to bring students from the area high schools.  “We had a class down from Summit (charter school in Cashiers) last year, and that was really nice,” she said.

In fact, WCU will reserve local classes and their teachers some seats at the readings, particularly those held during the day, to encourage participation in the festival.

Mary Adams, a WCU associate professor who oversees the literary festival, said whenever book orders for classes are due, she pins fellow professors down on which attending festival authors’ books they’ll teach.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying to find a theme that works,” she said.

This year, for example, an English class is focused on the figure of the vampire in literature and popular culture — poetry, fiction, nonfiction, television, film and the Internet. One of the books being read is Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian,” a tale of three generations of historians on the track of the original Dracula. Kostova’s book was the fastest-selling debut novel in American publishing history, and the author is set to speak Sunday, April 3.

Meeting and hearing the authors they read in class, Adams said, “makes a huge difference” for students, “and it is very moving to the authors.”

This is a big reason why the literary festival, which has a fairly small budget, is able to attract well-known writers, she said. The authors can depend on the university to pack in interested and engaged audiences.


Organizers said this week that getting the Nantahala Gorge into this century when it comes to telecommunication capabilities is absolutely critical to successfully hosting the kayaking world championship in 2013.

The problem? There’s seems no easy answer to what’s for computer users a Bermuda Triangle of silence: seven or so miles of no broadband capability. Cell phones are equally useless in the steep-walled gorge where reception is unavailable.

Ten thousand visitors a day are predicted to descend into the gorge from 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.

“We’re waiting on a miracle,” said Juliet Kastorff, owner of Endless Rivers Adventures, a whitewater rafting company in the Nantahala Gorge, of the possibilities of broadband capabilities throughout the area.

Short of that miracle, there also have been discussions with U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to see if he can help apply, well, pressure on the powers-that-be to bring in broadband.

“Getting broadband access throughout the gorge is a huge priority,” said Sutton Bacon president and CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the region’s largest whitewater and outdoor outfitter.

Another priority is work on a water feature in the Nantahala. These championships are freestyle, which Bacon explained is similar to kayakers doing tricks and stunts akin to a snowboarders’ showoff on a halfpipe. There is a play feature currently on the Nantahala River, “The Wave,” that is situated near NOC. That has been simply the work of river guides and others hand-stacking rocks, which tend to be washed out in storms, Bacon said.

Firms have been hired to stabilize “The Wave” and “make it a world-championship feature,” he said, adding that the new trick area would not look much different from what’s available now, and would continue to be at the level of “Nantahala-style paddlers.”

McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group of Denver, with the help of local company Heron Associates, will develop the river feature. McLaughlin re-engineered the Ocoee River for the 1996 Olympics, and has extensive experience working with the U.S. Forest Service, Bacon said.

The committee overseeing the world championships has submitted a $200,000 request to Golden Leaf Foundation for money; Nantahala Outdoor Center has contributed $100,000; the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad has chipped in $25,000; the Swain County Tourism Development Authority $70,000; and Duke Energy, $5,000. Smoky Mountain Host will contribute cash, plus in-kind work, according to organizers.

Business, tourism and economic development leaders hoping to capitalize on these events met Thursday (March 24) in Stecoah to continue planning for them and to discuss marketing plans.


With the coming of spring the pungent ramp is about to strut center-stage once more.

For either the novitiate or the aficionado, there are ample opportunities over the next month to sample this Southern Appalachian delicacy — no fewer than three spring festivals in the immediate area feature ramps, a plant that at one time ranked among the lowliest members of the leek family.

This attention accorded the ramp is relatively newfound, though one must note for the purposes of accuracy that Waynesville’s venerable ramp festival has been around for many a year — featuring a ramp eating contest where grown men face off across a fodling table to see who can stuff the most of the eye-watering bulbs in their mouth.

SEE ALSO: Ramp recipes

But once upon a time, and not so long ago, eating lots of ramps was considered offense — and offensive — enough for children to be sent home in disgrace from school. The reaction was swift and uncompromising, akin to what could be expected if said children had been sprayed by skunks and then attempted to pass unnoticed — not sniffed out, as it were — in class. Eating too many ramps, you see, can cause one to emanate odors that, in these more sensitive olfactory times of yester-yore, was considered simply too much for delicate classmates and teachers to endure.

You ask, pre-ramp festival visitation, what should be considered eating “too many” ramps? That would constitute a pile, or perhaps a bushel and a peck: Never, ever fear sampling a mere few ramps.

Besides, even if you do eat a pile (there are ramp-eating contests, after all) and return home smelling of this native delight, these days that’s considered oh-so-cutting edge. Eating the odiferous ramp is practically the pinnacle of culinary fashion — restaurants in New York City, no less, now prominently feature ramps on menus.

The popularity of ramps has grown so much, in fact, that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2002 banned collection. Picking plants and taking them from a national park is generally considered poaching. But an exemption had been made for ramps in the Smokies “because of the traditional practices by Native Americans and European settlers,” Smokies spokeswoman Nancy Gray said.

The tribe protested and lobbied the park to reconsider and allow native people to continue ramp harvests, but to no avail. Gray said there was no legal authority to bend poaching rules for ramps collected by Cherokee people.

There are still public lands where one can legally dig ramps.

For personal use, people can harvest up to five pounds of ramps free on the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Mike Wilkins, district ranger for the Nantahala National Forest, said the maximum commercial use is limited to 500 pounds, with no more than 50 percent of the bulbs harvest in a 1-foot by 1-foot area. Fees are charged for commercial harvests.

“Personnel use is (harvest) anywhere,” Wilkins said. “We rotate the areas for commercial harvest.”


Ramp festivals

• Mountain trout and wild ramps are featured at the annual Rainbow and Ramps festival on Saturday, March 26, at 9 a.m. at the Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds. Hosted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Entertainment, music, Civil War reinactors and food featuring ramps. A $10 lunch will be served starting at noon, consisting of rainbow trout or fried chicken, ramps, pinto beans, fried potatoes, cornbread, dessert and a beverage.

• Waynesville Ramp Festival, May 1, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. American Legion Field, Waynesville.

• Robbinsville Ramp Festival, May 1, noon until the food is gone, downtown Robbinsville.


There have been times in my life I could rightly have been described as competitive. When I was in music, and later, as a young reporter, I took myself very, very seriously. I wanted first chair or no chair when I was a musician; The New York Times, I was sure, would be my ultimate landing place as a news writer. It was simply a matter of time.

Well, I ended up with no chair when it comes to a black-and-white summing up of my musical career — I departed that path for writing years ago. As for The New York Times, it seems unlikely editors will come knocking on my door. And, if they did, I’d probably just laugh — I like what I’m doing fine: being a little fish in a little pond suits me well.

You see, as I’ve grown older, my competitive spirit has waned. These days I find myself sincerely wishing others in the news business well, even when they are technically “competitors.”

There’s a feeling of being in it together — or, perhaps, it’s a shared feeling of going down the tubes together as an industry. I am more bully on newspapers’ future than many, particularly my friend Giles Morris at tuckreader.com, who a few months ago boldly asserted print was dead. That came as surprising news to those of us still busy printing stories in traditional, hold-in-your-hands newspapers, you can be sure — “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” as my all-time favorite humorist Mark Twain said so famously after hearing the New York Journal had printed his obituary.

In general, I like reporters and editors and people who put together newspapers (or, these days, we must include news websites). They are usually smart, funny, passionate people. I don’t want to sound overly sentimental, so I hasten to add that those same people also are usually neurotic, annoying and often arrogant. Since I resemble many of those characteristics, not unnaturally I find even the most puffed-up news people rather endearing.

So — not to insinuate they are puffed-up because these two are not — I was delighted to see carolinapublicpress.com, in the hands of two former Asheville Citizen-Times colleagues, enter the fray.

Angie Newsome and Kathleen Davis launched the news website earlier this month. Carolinapublicpress.com promises to cover the state’s 17 westernmost counties with “in-depth, investigative and independent reporting.” I don’t doubt they are sincere about that last part, but the territory outlined seems ambitious.

And unlikely, given that even the Citizen-Times has retreated over the years to only an occasional venturing west of Asheville.

But I wish Angie and Kathleen the best of luck trying to cover 17 counties — the more reporters out here the merrier, I believe. There are a million-and-one stories to tell, and we’re lucky at The Smoky Mountain News and at the other news organizations in the west to catch even a small percentage of those meriting coverage.

(I hope Angie and Kathleen will not do what, during my tenure at the Citizen-Times, we used to hear upper management dub “regionalizing.” This is daily newspaper-bullshit for publishing an article that’s really about Buncombe County, but with passing mentions of Swain or Jackson counties or other places outside of Asheville in order to “regionalize” it. Much cheaper and far easier on the bottom line, you see, than paying real reporters to work in actual bureaus covering real stories in the western counties.

Here I go, digressing into a rant again. You’d think I’d know how to stay on point better).

What’s most interesting about carolinapublicpress.com is that it’s set up as a nonprofit. Some newspaper experts believe nonprofit news organizations such as carolinapublicpress.com will prove the industry’s future. I hope not, because I’m inordinately fond of for-profit, real newspapers. I am interested in seeing, however, whether Angie and Kathleen can make carolinapublicpress.com and this new financial model work. And, I’ll be curious to note whether they really cover 17 counties as advertised.

A few coverage tips for my old friends, who best I remember never worked the far-western area: Cherokee, the Indian reservation, is not the same as Cherokee County, though confusingly for newcomers there are tribal lands in Cherokee County; oh, and people there do not like to hear funny references to Eric Robert Rudolph. He was actually from Florida and moved to WNC and they are very sensitive about that fact; the Skeener community in Franklin is pronounced that way but spelled Skeenah, and don’t even try to say Cartoogechaye until you’ve practiced a lot first. People in Cherokee know your grandmother was Cherokee, wasn’t everybody’s? That’s not a good warm-up line, in other words. Whichever spelling of Tuckasegee/Tuckaseigee you pick, someone (probably my friend Lynn Hotaling at The Sylva Herald, who wrote an entire column one time on this very subject) will claim it is wrong; “Smoky” isn’t spelled with an “e” unless you are the famous bear or the elementary school (officials have a long excuse for why they misspelled the school’s name, don’t ask).  

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


Not to say they told you so, but the truth is … they did.

Construction of a wider bridge to span the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County was abruptly postponed this month after Indian burials were discovered. This frankly seemed to surprise only the state Department of Transportation, which had disregarded arguments made by nearby residents and former landowners that it keep bulldozers and such out of the archaeologically rich area.

Keep the project scaled down, the opponents argued. Even though a wider bridge has been planned for more than a decade, initially the state said it would build a new bridge in the same footprint as the old one, leaving the archaeological site untouched. Plans were altered in 2007, however, resulting not only in a much larger footprint, but also shifting the bridge over to sit on top of the site.

Cherrie Moses, whose family owned the land for 120 years, has been a vocal advocate for protecting the archaeological site in a field along the banks of the river. Moses has a long history of tussling over the issue with the state.

“It is an expansive area, which covers many acres near the Tuckasegee River. If work is done almost anywhere in our valley you’re very likely to discover most anything, including burials,” Moses said.

The DOT was supposed to go out to bid on the work in August but has delayed it until March 2012 to allow more time for an archeaological excavation of the site before building over the top of it.

“Protecting the important historical findings we have uncovered during the course of this excavation is vital to preserving the cultural resources of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and local citizens, as well as all citizens of North Carolina,” said Matt Wilkerson, an archaeologist for the transportation department. “We are prepared to take whatever measure is necessary to proceed with the utmost caution.”

The site was recommended for excavation based on previous archaeological discoveries in the area, although they found more than they bargained for. During the course of the excavation, crews found evidence of burials and at least two prehistoric houses, indicated by distinct patterns of post holes that show the outline of where walls stood.

The excavation was halted last fall because of these discoveries, as well as the onset of cold temperatures. The state said it plans to resume excavation of the site in the next few weeks.

Moses also expressed concern about where unearthed artifacts will go.

“It was my mother’s dream that any artifacts and burials be turned over to the Cherokee Museum including those items which were removed in the 1960s without any written permission from my mother or father. These unique treasures, no matter how small, should remain here within these mountains. They should not be taken to the State Repository where they will never be viewed by anyone from our area,” Moses said.

The $4.2 million will widen the bridge from 20 feet to 50 feet with three lanes, shoulders and a sidewalk to reduce maintenance costs, improve safety and reduce congestion.


At the outset of the state budget crisis, Chancellor John Bardo and Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees maintained the process of cutting $8.6 million would be transparent.

Faculty and staff, they said, would see their opinions truly matter as the university tries to maintain academic integrity in the face of deep financial cuts.

That promise of organic, grassroots problem solving didn’t hold true when it came to the College of Education and Allied Professions, according to Jacqueline Jacobs. The tenured professor submitted a letter of resignation two weeks ago. She will finish out the academic year.

Jacobs said Dean Perry Schoon, who has been at WCU since 2009, used the crisis as a smokescreen to reorganize the College of Education and Allied Professions as he saw fit, absent meaningful oversight or opinion outside a select few.

“The continued actions by Dr. Schoon, as dean of the college … and the support for him to behave as he has, create such a negative work environment for me and constitute such a total disregard for faculty voice that I find I cannot continue at WCU,” Jacobs wrote in her March 7 resignation letter.

Recommendations by Schoon that certain faculty not be reappointed is being reviewed — at Bardo’s request — by the university’s assistant provost, legal counsel and the chair of WCU’s Faculty Senate. The Faculty Senate serves as faculty’s “voice” for advising the chancellor and provost (second in command behind the chancellor) on the conduct of university affairs.

SEE ALSO: Hunt for new WCU chancellor in the homestretch

For his part, Schoon maintains reorganizing the College of Education and Allied Professions will save $250,000 in administrative and overhead costs, and preserve four faculty positions. Saving money in the tumbledown of a $2.4-billion state shortfall is indeed critical — WCU has eliminated 10 positions university-wide already; up to 15 more will be cut by July.

“During the unpleasant task of identifying spending reductions, we have kept in mind the chancellor’s directive to do all we can to protect the academic core,” Schoon said. “The college’s faculty were involved in this process, and their input has been essential in identifying and recommending programs and resources that are most critical to our core mission.”

That’s only part of the story, and not particularly accurate, according to Jacobs. The nonpublic part, at least until now, is that the reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions was forced on faculty and staff, some of whom are afraid to speak out for fear of job repercussions, Jacobs said.

And about that involvement of faculty Schoon refers to?

“It is true that there were faculty involved, but they were appointed by the dean as a task force reporting to him and as the Leadership Council which reports only to him,” Jacobs said. “That is, faculty in these groups were not elected by the faculty to represent them.”

Here’s why this internal debate at WCU should matter to anyone outside academia: The College of Education and Allied Professions is where most of the K-12 teachers, principals and superintendents who serve Western North Carolina receive their training. What happens here, in other words, counts in the region’s classrooms, and will matter to the children in WNC for decades to come. WCU is also the only university in this region that provides a doctoral program for educational leaders.


Reorganizing, or a power play?  

There are three issues: Schoon’s recommendation that three tenure-track professors not be reappointed; the reorganization of the College of Education and Allied Professions, which reduces the number of departmental-level units from five to three; and questions about Schoon’s handling of the doctoral program. About 40 people are seeking that advanced degree.

First, the tenure-track issue. To get tenure, a faculty member must jump through certain hoops at different times for a number of years. Tenure means job protection and ensures the possibility of promotion.

The three faculty members recommended for job elimination by Schoon were in their third- to fifth-year of the tenure track process, meaning they have invested a lot into WCU. And, for its part, the university has invested much in them.

Normally, tenure track professors are invited by mid-February to remain on board with the university for the next year. The controversy erupted after interim Provost Linda Seestedt-Stanford asked the Faculty Senate for an extension to act on tenure track faculty reappointments.

The provost indicated to the Faculty Senate more time was needed in light of the budget situation — it was still not known how much money the university would have to cut — and reorganization efforts then under way.

The Faculty Senate, thinking it was a university-wide request that a multitude of deans had sought, capitulated, albeit reluctantly.

“The Senate voted to support the provost’s request on the grounds that this condition, while upsetting, may be the best chance we have to save as many faculty jobs as possible,” Erin McNelis, chair of the Faculty Senate, wrote in a faculty-wide letter sent Feb. 8.

The problem? This would, the Faculty Senate noted, remove the built-in “system of checks and balances in the collegial review process. However, the case remained that the decisions had been made by the deans, facing a tight timeline and with the best knowledge of the budget situation they possessed.”

Additionally, these were real people whose jobs and lives were on the line, and who would be placed, the Faculty Senate letter stated, “in limbo” by the acquiescence of the very group ostensibly serving as their voice.

“I was gravely disappointed that the faculty (senate) would capitulate to bad management on the part of the deans, but understood that they felt they were protecting faculty jobs,” Jacobs wrote. “When it turned out to be only three, third- to fifth-year faculty … in one department (ours), I was appalled.”

So was the Faculty Senate, which rushed to send a second letter in an attempt to clarify members’ position.

“Your Faculty Senate leadership has recently become aware that there is a great deal of angst among some faculty regarding the recent 3rd – 5th year non-reappointment recommendations for reasons of institutional needs and resources.  … the senate planning team determined that they did not have adequate knowledge of the processes or procedures surrounding these decisions and determined that a more thorough investigation is in order before further response.”

As it turned out, the provost disregarded at least part of Schoon’s recommendation, opting to reappoint two of the three faculty members in danger of losing their jobs.

That third faculty member is still waiting to hear whether she has employment. Since this person, Jacobs wrote, is the only faculty member in the College of Education and Allied Professions’ doctoral program with doctoral-level training in higher education administration, “‘institutional need’ is clearly not a consideration.”

Why the emphasis on institutional need and resources? Because that’s a specified reason, as laid out in WCU’s faculty handbook, allowing the university not to reappoint faculty members — that is, if they don’t fill said institutional need or resource.

Jacobs characterized the still possible non-reappointment of this third faculty member in the College of Education as “beyond belief.” She added in her letter, the “return of my salary, through my retirement, eliminates any effort to claim ‘budget’ as the reason for non-reappointment … based on ‘institutional needs and resources.’”

McNelis told The Smoky Mountain News this week that Bardo asked that the “processes tied to those reappointment decisions” be looked into.

“In doing so, we’ve looked into the college’s program prioritization, program review, budget and potential restructuring, as they relate to recommendations for reappointment,” the chair of the Faculty Senate said.

McNelis did not say when the results of that review would be made public.


‘Failure of leadership’

Secondly, the issue of reorganization.

Schoon said he took no joy in having to make these tough choices.

“Both the need to reduce the budget and to make organizational changes to achieve greater efficiency led to very difficult decisions, some of which we know regrettably affect people’s lives and families,” Schoon told The Smoky Mountain News.

Jacobs, at least, isn’t buying it.

“I want the record to show that my decision is predicated on what I believe to be the failure of leadership in this college and university as evidenced by how our college has been informed of Dr. Schoon’s reorganization plan, as opposed to being integral in the discussion of reorganizing it,” she wrote.

Schoon disputes the allegation that faculty members were excluded. In fact, he said faculty members were given “extensive input” into reorganization and prioritizing programs. A faculty task force was specifically created to guide the process, and input was sought from a leadership council that included the department heads of each of the five departments in the college.

Schoon said a proposal for reorganization was provided to the college in early February. “The college faculty then had the opportunity to provide input to their department heads, who discussed the aggregated information and provided it to the dean. In addition, several programs requested direct meetings with the dean and subsequent discussions were held,” Schoon said.

And lastly, the issue of the College of Education and Allied Professions’ doctoral program, which critics say is now bereft of faculty oversight. This, if true, leaves the university’s flagship doctoral program adrift.

“Doctoral students are overseen by the director of the doctoral program,” Schoon said in response. “The assignment of that directorship may change in the reorganization but it will remain with a faculty member.”

Jacobs, however, said the professors for graduate students have been split across three departments. She maintains the program’s faculty should be kept together in the same unit to ensure quality programming for students.



The Players

• Interim Provost Linda Seestedt-Stanford, who came to WCU in July 2007 and is founding dean of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. She is serving as interim provost and senior vice chancellor. Filling that position permanently has been postponed until a new chancellor is hired. She asked for more time from the Faculty Senate to delay making a decision on faculty reappointments, triggering the ensuing controversy.

• Dean Perry Schoon of the College of Education and Allied Professions, who became the dean in June 2009. Critics say Schoon used a power vacuum at the university — a retiring chancellor, interim provost and $8.6 million in budget cuts — to reorganize the college he oversees to suit himself, not the needs of WCU and the students.

• Erin McNelis, the current chair of the WCU Faculty Senate. McNelis, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, has been on the WCU faculty since 2002. She’s charged with helping to sort out whether Schoon’s actions on certain faculty reappointments were within university guidelines.

• Jacqueline Jacobs, a respected tenured professor in WCU’s Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations who quit in protest this month over a re-organization and attempted non-reappointment of three other faculty members in the College of Education and Allied Professions.

• Chancellor John Bardo, who after 15 years in the top slot at WCU steps down July 1. Has his pending retirement created a leadership void at a university struggling to deal with $8.6 million in budget cuts? Bardo says no — he described himself recently in a board of trustees’ meeting as a lame duck, but asserted, “this duck still has legs.”


The first cow ushered into the WNC Regional Livestock Center in Canton weighed 850 well-proportioned pounds. Despite being two-months pregnant, she danced lithely about the livestock arena, easily sidestepping the green, long plastic paddle a handler occasionally dabbed in her direction.

“Get your hands up in the air and let ‘er rip,” the auctioneer said excitedly to a crowd of hundreds, so many that people were lined along the walls two and three deep, and even spilled out into the hallways. This was a ballcaps-and-boots-kind of crowd, mainly men, though there were some women and, despite this being a school day, even a few kids. So many people showed up, the state Highway Patrol turned out, too, directing the long lines of traffic coming off Interstate 40.

The cow, an attractive blonde, fetched $750.

And so went the first sale at the first major cattle market in Western North Carolina since a livestock auction in Asheville closed seven years ago. It required the push of local farmers, and money from willing donors, to make the WNC Regional Livestock Center a reality — more than $3 million from various organizations, businesses and producers financed the building that houses the market.

“We came together three or four years ago to start organizing for a new market,” said Bruce Peterson of WNC Communities, a collaborative regional group that works on quality-of-life projects such as the new regional livestock center. “We didn’t need to take all this money out of state.”

That’s what Alden Childers of Swain County would have done if this regional livestock center hadn’t opened. He and friend Clarence Wiggins, also of Bryson City, would have hauled the cattle they brought to Canton this day — including a bull they picked up along the way in Jackson County — to Tennessee perhaps, or maybe even down into Georgia.

Michael Vanhook wanted to bring a few head over from Macon County to sell, but didn’t get them rounded up in time. Instead, he and Jerry Sutton of Franklin just watched the show, like so many here this day.

Vanhook, who stays busy raising and selling cattle after retiring from Franklin High School, says a new market this close to home helps those in the cattle business.

That’s because hauling cattle costs gas money, time and stresses the animals, said Boyce Deitz, a regional aid for Congressman Heath Shuler (and Shuler’s former Swain County football coach).

His boss was on hand to meet and greet and take in the show, but Deitz was all business — and his business this fine Monday was selling the four heifers and a steer he’d hauled over the Balsams from his pastures in Jackson County. That’s obviously a lot closer than taking the animals all the way to Tennessee, he noted.

“It would’ve taken me about two hours,” Deitz said. “If you unloaded right then and came back, it was a day’s journey and a tank of fuel.”

Lucas Tipton doesn’t expect to save time driving his cattle to Canton, though he’s happy the market opened. He lives in Burnsville, and with about 100 head, he keeps busy driving to buy and sell at a variety of cattle markets. Tipton will frequent Canton on Mondays for this weekly market, and be in Chesnee, S.C. on Tuesdays, and all the way up in Abingdon, Va., on Friday and Saturdays.

That’s what a lot of cattle farmers do, though most in this region on a smaller scale than Tipton. Sell at the market, and then buy some more to grow out. Sell those, and buy some more.

A red calf trots into the show arena. Tipton doesn’t much care for red calves.

“I just like black ones,” he said in explanation. “They seem to do a little better for us, and bring a little more per pound.”

That’s what this market opening is about — farmers being able to make money by raising cattle. Tipton approved the method of sale being used in Canton: “that’s the right way,” he said, apparently thinking of some markets that use other methods. Beef cattle in Canton are being sold by the pound —  cows, on the other hand, are given a pregnancy test, “aged” and sold by the head.


It’s not a bad job, really. There’s a nice house, more than 7,000-square-feet, that’s currently undergoing a nearly $300,000 facelift. You don’t have to pay for utilities, grounds keeping or for a housekeeper. Then there’s the salary, ranging from $236,979 to $379,180. Oh, and free use of a car.

So perhaps it’s not that surprising a whole lot of people apparently want to become Western Carolina University’s next chancellor. Longtime leader John Bardo exits the scene in fewer than four months. He’ll leave July 1 after more than 15 years on the job.

Steve Warren, WCU’s board of trustees’ president, indicated the search is progressing well and is in the homestretch. He said the 16 members of the search committee (which he also chairs) believe they will have Bardo’s replacement hired when the position officially opens. A search firm started with a pool of 22 candidates; the committee has since winnowed that to an unspecified number.

The committee has been tightlipped about exactly who they are talking to about the job, but Warren said during a recent trustees’ meeting that the candidates are of extremely high caliber.

“In terms of the quality of the candidates we have reviewed, they are just outstanding,” Warren said, then added, “everyone wants to play for a winning team.”

The chancellor-to-be has to meet some towering expectations, including interpreting what the board of trustees mean by “the importance of a successful athletics program” (the football team went 2-9 this fall, with the last winning season in 2005); the unique culture of Western North Carolina; the relationship between WCU and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; WCU’s “passionate dedication” to teaching and learning; and so on, according to a job description.

What’s absent from that shopping list is mention of the difficulty any chancellor is going to face given the anticipated cutback in state dollars. The university is preparing for $8.6 million being slashed, tumbledown from a state facing a more than $2 billion shortfall.

Bardo has been dealing with much of that financial fallout now. The university is cutting 10 positions this spring and another 15 come July 1.

“I’d rather deal with it myself than to leave it for the next person,” said Bardo, who told the university’s board of trustees this month that the two most difficult parts of his job are telling parents when a child has died, and informing faculty or staff they no longer have jobs.

Bardo makes a base salary of $280,000.


Books are one of the greatest delights of my life. I don’t need many excuses to buy new ones, frankly, but when I do feel the situation is spinning out of control (my third trip in a week, say, to the Friends of the Library bookstore in Sylva), my book-buying ways are justified as “building a research library.”

While I openly admit to self-deception on this score, there is a strong argument to be made for owning a good selection of reference books. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it doesn’t replace owning books — the information nicely supplements them.

Last week, while ostensibly on assignment interrogating Ryan Sherby of the Southwestern Development Commission for a couple of transportation-related news articles, our conversation soon wandered off into much more interesting territory: vegetable gardening.

Sherby, who lives in the Alarka community in Swain County, has turned the earth and prepared the soil for a Very Big Garden this year. I farmed for a time in Bryson City before moving to Sylva, so it seemed entirely natural to segue from road building (b-o-r-i-n-g) to discussions about much more vital issues, such as planting dates, vegetable varieties and so on (endlessly riveting). I’ve promised to unearth my seed-starting calendar and email it to him.

Ryan’s and my discussion led me into a consideration of the books I rely on as a vegetable gardener. These books are as well used as my favorite hoe, and as important to my growth as nitrogen is for the growth of plants.

That said, here’s a few of my favorites:

• Four-Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman: A Maine organic farmer who has led the charge for growing yearlong. His books — there’s others, all of them worth owning — form the basis of my approach to gardening, which I’d sum up with the truism, feed the soil and not the plant. Coleman’s other books are: The New Organic Grower and The Winter Harvest Handbook.

• The New Seed Starter’s Handbook, Nancy Bubel: Everything you need to know for growing your own transplants, and more. This is an excellent go-to reference that should be on every gardener’s bookshelf. I learned a lot from this book about the importance of soil temperature when it comes to germination rates. In fact, Bubel’s book inspired me to purchase a soil thermometer, which if I could locate said thermometer would, I’m sure, prove very useful and interesting.

• Root Cellaring, Mike and Nancy Bubel: As the title indicates, this book is about building and using a root cellar. That’s handy, but also tucked inside is a terrific little growing section on vegetables that keep particularly well in the root cellar.

• The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, Edward C. Smith: the subtitle is “Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions,” which has a breathless irritating quality that is repeated in places throughout the book. But if you can overlook the over-hyping of his method — which is simply using wide rows, organic techniques and so on, sound gardening methods but not exactly revolutionary — this is a fine guide. Like so many of the good vegetable gardening books, this is geared for the northern part of the nation, so you have to tweak information for the Southeast. I loaned my copy out and haven’t seen it since, a reminder to me not to make loans, only gifts.

• The Essential Earthman, and anything else written by Henry Mitchell. This book is adopted from Mitchell’s “Earthman” column in the Washington Post. He died in 1993, but not before penning some of the most delightful, witty words every written in America on gardening. Many of his columns are on flowers and not vegetables, but that’s a petty point. Flowers are plants, too, are they not? And some flowers are even edible. Anyhow, buy and read Mitchell. You won’t be sorry.

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


The economy be damned — the burgeoning restaurant scene in Sylva continues to boom, with four eating establishments in this town of just more than 2,400 people expanding, changing hands or soon opening their doors.

“A hard economic time is really the best time to start a business,” said Bernadette Peters, a marketing specialist out of the Atlanta area who’s backing that statement with the re-launch and re-invention of City Lights Café.

Peters and the other restaurant owners have different ideas about how best to thrive in these challenging times: a focus on trendy foods in one restaurant, down-home comfort foods in another. But these restaurateurs have traits in common, too. Out-of-the-box thinking, for one, and a business eye for the many young professionals and older baby boomers now calling Jackson County home.

Recently released 2010 census data shows Jackson County experienced a 21-percent growth rate over the past decade, a population expansion from 33,273 in 2000 to 40,271 today, anchored by the presence of Western Carolina University. Nowhere is that growth more evident than in Sylva and its increasingly lively downtown scene.


Soul Infusion

This restaurant first opened in 2001, and is located in a farmhouse just off busy N.C. 107. Haley Milner and Tori Walters have purchased Soul Infusion Tea House and Bistro on N.C. 107 from Jason and Karin Kimenker. Milner was with Annie’s Naturally Bakery for six years, and has extensive experience working in a variety of Georgia restaurants.

“I’ve always liked Soul Infusion a lot,” Milner said, “and Karin and Jason are good friends. I always wanted to run a restaurant, and the opportunity came up.”

The good soups, wraps and other fare at Soul Infusion that helped build the restaurant’s steady clientele will continue, but a few changes are coming, too: Walters’ family has made a tomato-based barbecue for years that will be featured at the restaurant, plus the couple soon hopes to feature a chalkboard menu ranging from seafood to vegetarian specialties. Also on tap, an outdoor covered stage for local bands.

A celebration/grand opening of Soul Infusion takes place April 9, beginning at 11 a.m.


Breakfast Café

John Bubacz of Signature Brew Coffee Company, later this month will open a breakfast/lunch café in a small, one-story building across Main Street from the coffee shop.

Bubacz has a history of opening popular eating/coffee-house establishments in Jackson County. This will be at least his fifth, though in a way it’s simply the reinvention of the Underground, Bubacz’s former place on Mill Street (locally called Backstreet) that segued into Signature Brew Coffee Company on Main Street. What didn’t make the address change were the wraps, burritos, sandwiches, salads, juices and smoothies that were once the mainstay at the Underground. That’s where the Breakfast Café comes in — customers will be able to pick up their favorites there, made from local and organic ingredients, from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. The new café will be in a former ice-cream shop.


City Lights

Peters worked at Bryson City's Cork and Bean (a wine bar and coffee house) a couple of years ago in Swain County. Now she’s in Sylva, intent on bringing City Lights Café back to life.

At one time, Joyce Moore, founder of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Café, ran both establishments successfully on East Jackson Street. She got out of the café business, and retired a year ago from the bookstore after selling it to Chris Wilcox. Moore still owns the two-story building, and in conversations with her, Peters said she soon realized her vision of the café was the same as Moore’s for the original City Lights Cafe.

“I love to create things where community comes together,” Peters said. “This space is perfect. I’m going back to the roots of (City Lights), and marrying the great concepts that Spring Street had.”

Spring Street Café, owned and operated by Emily Elders, closed last fall after about a year in business. Spring Street featured higher-end dining than Peters envisioned — she’s focused on healthy, tasty and quick.

She’s also in the market for employees. Qualifications are simple: “People who like people and like being around food.”   

Plans are to open April 4.


Half Past

In the most innovative category we have Half Past, “home cooking to go … on the go.” Set to open, the owners hope, by the end of this month on N.C. 107 directly across the highway from Soul Infusion. Ernie Sipler has years of experience working as a chef for hotels in the Poconos. He and his wife Joan have lived in the Caney Fork community for 11 years.

Here’s how Half Past will work: You are driving home on N.C. 107 after a grueling, unappreciated day of labor at the newspaper. You’re much too tired to cook, but upon leaving that morning, had chirpily announced you’d be in charge of dinner. What to do? Stop at Half Past, where there will be a full array of food such as beef pot roast with roasted vegetables, chicken parmesan, soups, side dishes, salads, pasta dishes, and baked goods. No indoor seating, this is you-take-it-home catering.

“There seems to be a call for it in this area,” Sipler said, adding the couple has been forced to cover-up the phone number on the store sign because of a barrage of requests they can’t yet fill.


A $138,000 fountain, the crowning jewel in a larger, $2.3 million construction project, is being built at Western Carolina University. This is just one of five big-ticket undertakings now under way on campus during this time of state-mandated budget cuts.

In the College of Education and Allied Professions (Killian room 218) there’s a new $5,752.30 table for meetings, and chairs that cost $6,142.50. They replaced what were described as perfectly adequate furniture. Not to mention four treadmill workstations ordered in 2009 for the same WCU college, for several thousand dollars each.

University officials defend the purchases and construction projects. They point the finger instead at state guidelines mandating exactly how money can be spent.

The university is faced with $8.6 million in cuts because of a trickledown state shortfall. In response, WCU this month announced it was cutting 10 positions. Fifteen additional positions are anticipated for elimination by July 1.

Campus leaders met this week (March 16) with the western legislative delegation — members of the General Assembly representing WNC — to argue their case for continued state support. Chancellor John Bardo said he would ask legislators to minimize budget cuts, not to take more than they must, to give universities maximum flexibility to minimize damage, and for WCU to be allowed to retain tuition money from a proposed 6.5-percent increase.


Just filling in holes

Bardo, in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News, defended construction projects under way on the campus; the dean of the College of Education did the same for expenses incurred under his watch.

“I can’t move money from capital expense to pay salaries,” said Bardo, who retires from WCU this summer. “I guess I could stop the construction and leave a hole. But I still couldn’t use the money.”

That ensuing hole would be the fountain, part of WCU’s move to create a new pedestrian walkway and gathering area between several major buildings in the center of campus.

Bardo said he was aware of complaints, that the building goes on, almost unabated it seems, even while real people are left packing their bags and saying goodbye. This hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I went through all of it at the open meeting (on campus),” the chancellor said. “People don’t want to hear, and I understand. But this is the way the state has set it up.”


Creating a healthy workplace, that’s all

Dean Perry Schoon said, via email, the tables and chairs are “part of a long-term plan that involved updating an existing room into a smart classroom/conference area for graduate coursework, and converting an existing office space into classroom space.”

There was more, along the same lines, but here’s the bottom line: Schoon said, as did Bardo, “the funds used for this purchase are non-recurring dollars and thus cannot be used for faculty salaries.”

The treadmills, the dean said, tapped “non-instructional funding.” They were setup in both the Killian and Reid Gymnasium buildings (the College of Education encompasses space in both buildings).

“The workstations are being used in research studies on health conducted by our faculty in concert with graduate students,” Schoon said. “In addition, all faculty and staff in those buildings have access to the rooms where the workstations reside and are thus able to work in a healthier environment rather than being static all day at their desks …”

It remains unclear why the WCU employees couldn’t use equipment already available in Reid. Or even get some exercise by simply walking next door to use equipment available at the new $16.7 million Campus Recreation Center.


Eve Boatright isn’t prepared to openly criticize motorists speeding past her bookshop along U.S. 23/441 south of Franklin. The British transplant has a keen sense of humor, and recognizes those criticized could, in turn, question her ability to drive on the right side of the road — literally.

Boatright, however, does believe the traffic flow along U.S. 441 seems too fast for such a heavily used traffic corridor.

“When you are right on it like this, you see people don’t slow even when it’s raining,” said Boatright, who represents the second half of the store’s name, Millie and Eve’s Used Book Store. “But, location wise, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

She means it. When the bookstore was forced by rising rent to change locations this month, the two business partners sought and found another storefront a couple miles closer to Franklin on U.S. 23/441. They didn’t want to kiss goodbye to the incredible amount of pass-by traffic, and subsequent drop-ins, this highway provides.

U.S. 23/441 is locally known as the Georgia Road. It’s so dubbed because the five-lane highway connects North Carolina and Georgia. This 10-mile or so stretch of road has experienced explosive growth since representatives from the two states met at the connecting line in the mid 1990s for a highway-ribbon cutting. That growth, and the corresponding increase in traffic, doesn’t pass un-remarked in a proposed comprehensive transportation plan for Macon County.

“While congestion is not yet an issue, mobility is compromised by the numerous driveway cuts, unsignalized left turns and density of traffic signals,” the proposed plan notes. “A look at this stretch of US 23/441 as a whole reveals 73 crashes took place from June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2010.  The majority of these were ‘rear end’ or ‘left turn’ accident types.”

When the committee putting together the plan asked residents their opinions, “respondents expressed the problems along U.S. 23-441 using the following terminology: bottleneck, too many red lights, too many access roads, congested, unsafe, too many people trying to turn, too many lanes, it sets people up for accidents, not easy to maneuver, consider a median, middle turn lane is too dangerous, extremely dangerous, terrible, stop and go, crazy, disaster, gridlock, and ingress and egress are tragedies waiting to happen.”

“It’s a horror,” said Eric Hendrix, a Macon County resident who operates Eric’s Fresh Fish Market in Sylva, and who plans next month to open a second fish market in Franklin. “U.S. 441 South is what Sylva does not want N.C. 107 to become.”

Jackson County residents are embroiled in a debate about how or whether to “fix” N.C. 107 from Sylva to Western Carolina University. One option the state proposed was to build a bypass around the problem, prompting opponents to rally for “smart” roads versus new ones.

A bypass solution around U.S. 441 certainly isn’t on the horizon for Macon County. Instead, the proposed traffic plan suggests redesigning this section of road to a boulevard concept by removing the center turn lane and adding a median. Instead of making left-turns across lanes of oncoming traffic, motorists would make U-turns at stoplights to access businesses on the other side of the road.

Additionally, the transportation committee said there is local support for the plan, called a “super-street” design. The traffic pattern is currently all the rage since N.C. State University released a major study showing super-streets result in dual reductions of travel time and accidents.

The town of Waynesville has endorsed a similar redesign of its busiest thoroughfare, Russ Avenue, as a boulevard concept. Smart road advocates in Sylva want to see similar treatment of N.C. 107.

MaAron Cabe of The Gallery of Gems and Minerals along U.S. 23/441 did his own traffic count once, part of an effort to get a stoplight installed at a nearby intersection following a bad wreck. He tallied 20,000 cars a day.

Cabe didn’t get the stoplight. But he remains adamant that safety improvements near the store are badly needed. A popular movie theater is nearby, and there are several wrecks a year, he said.

The corridor is also home to many restaurants, Lowe’s Home Improvement, The UPS Store, the Fun Factory, the Macon County Fairgrounds, the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts. And, via spur roads, K-Mart, Southwestern Community College the Macon County Public Library and more.  

Ryan Sherby, a transportation planner with the Southwestern Development Commission, a regional agency for the state’s seven westernmost counties, said he hopes people take time to comment on the proposal.

“It helps the committee to hear from the public,” Sherby said. “Everything we’ve heard so far has been on Needmore Road, and we’d like for people to look at the county as a whole.”

Needmore Road, a reference to a 3.3-mile gravel portion of road in Macon and Swain counties that the state has proposed paving and widening, isn’t actually contained in the plan. It’s too far along in the process. But, as is the case in Jackson County with the proposed bypass around N.C. 107, Needmore Road in Macon County has dominated most discussions here when it comes to transportation.

Sherby said the timetable calls for the committee to review the comments, and then to hammer-out a final version of the plan. It could be in front of county commissioners for consideration as soon as the June or July meetings, he said.


Want to weigh in?

Comment will be taken from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 24 at Franklin’s town hall.

The suggested Comprehensive Transportation Plan tackles many road issues in Macon County. An adopted plan will give Macon County a leg-up on getting road projects prioritized with the N.C. Department of Transportation, which awards extra points (10 to be exact) when considering suggested improvements.

View the plan at: www.regiona.org/Macon_CTP.htm


Sylva leaders, asked to list their top road-building priorities, did not include a controversial bypass proposed by the state Department of Transportation.

Instead, town commissioners opted for less drastic measures to improve N.C. 107, a congested traffic corridor for Sylva. They want the state to make smaller fixes before building five-to-six miles of virgin pavement.

“I see it as a city street,” Mayor Maurice Moody said of N.C. 107, “not as a thoroughfare.”

On this issue, at least, the mayor wasn’t singing solo — Sylva town leaders, in a rare moment of harmony, agreed a bypass or major widening of N.C. 107 isn’t a priority.

This marks the second time in just weeks that a board in Jackson County has shied from the state’s proposed bypass, which is currently in the early planning phases.

The county planning board, in a recent list of its own, simply called for a redesign of N.C. 107, and — if a connector/bypass is actually built — for it to follow the existing Cane Creek and Blanton Branch corridor. Not, in other words, a new road cut as envisioned by transportation officials.

Sylva’s list still needs adoption — the discussions took place during a transportation workshop setup by the Southwestern Development Commission, and no voting took place.

All this listing of lists has purpose.

The rankings ultimately will figure into a very big, important master list for this 10-county region of the state transportation department. The Top 25 of exactly where and when roads here get funded, then built or fixed, is what’s at stake.

Equally important, and ultimately maybe more so, town commissioners also opted to form a committee to try to develop a “local solution” to N.C. 107. Ryan Sherby, who oversees transportation issues for the regional Southwestern Development Commission, asked who will participate, said all stakeholders haven’t been identified. At the table for sure, though, will be representation from the town and the transportation department, he said.


Sylva transportation priorities

• U.S. 23 Business/West Main Street: Widen and improve from Mill and Main split to the intersection of N.C. 107/Business 23 at Rite Aid.

• N.C. 107 from Business 23 to N.C. 116: Upgrades and improvements. The board wants to create a N.C. 107 corridor plan.

• U.S. 74 and Business 23: Construction of a westward-bound ramp onto U.S. 74.

• Cope Creek Road from N.C. 107 to U.S. 74: Upgrade to 10-foot lanes consistent with improvements already made.

• N.C. 116/U.S. 441 intersection and Ashe Settlement, from N.C. 107 to N.C. 116: Widen Ashe Settlement and replace intersection of N.C. 116/U.S. 441 with an interchange.

• Business 23/Asheville Highway: Road improvements from N.C. 107 to Hospital Road.

• Skyland Drive from Business 23 to Steeple Road: Upgrades, widening and sidewalks.


We spend winter anticipating spring. But, when warmer weather arrives, we often rob ourselves of enjoyment in the rush to complete tasks. We think of what needs to be done but hasn’t been. We see what’s undone instead of contemplating how much has been accomplished.

Most of us, particularly those who farm or homestead or who simply love to garden and be outside, have long lists of things we want to do. We compiled these tasks in our heads, or perhaps even on paper, during the winter. We watched the snowfall outside and yearned inside for warmer weather to arrive, begging mentally for the cold to pass so that we could work in the sunshine again.

Spring is the season of doing. Tilling. Seed starting. Transplanting. Mulching. Dividing and moving perennials. Building pens to safely contain newborn lambs and kids, preparing brood boxes for the chicks that will soon arrive by mail, culling old hens and young roosters. Planting new flowerbeds, reviving older ones. Building beds in the garden. Buying and planting seed potatoes and onion sets.

Now that spring is really here and I’m checking off one-by-one these listed tasks, I’m warning myself: don’t waste this. Don’t waste the beauty, or pass unseeing through this brief, precious span of life. Slow down and enjoy what spring brings — beginnings, of course, such as the arrival of Nickolai, the lamb, and Dandelion, the new kid. More babies are on the way, more joy to come.

But spring brings sorrow, too. And I tell myself to allow for grief. Because time should be given to mourning the losses, which come as inevitably as new life arrives. Death is simply part and parcel of the great rebirth that takes place in spring; an amazing cycling that is truly cosmic and wondrous.

So I grieve for three kids who died. They were born prematurely. The kids’ mother, bereft and not understanding her loss, cried aloud for them day after day in the barnyard. Feel that, I urge myself. Spring is about joy, but it’s about sorrow, too.

Difficult choices loom with each kid born. Which should be kept, which not. An important part of good husbandry, I must continually remind myself, is to keep only the number of animals that the land can support. Overcrowding brings disease and general ill health. In trying to keep every animal we fall in love with, we can be very cruel in the name of this love. There are limits. I continue to learn my limits, and the limits of land that I work.

Spring, too, is time for examining the honeybee hives. This is when beekeepers learn the fate of their charges, when the tops come off the bee boxes and assessments of the overall health of beeyards take place. As a beekeeper you hope, each time a colony is examined, for evidence of a strong queen. This means eggs being laid and new bees born. Sometimes, however, a colony has died. Sometimes, all your colonies of honeybees have died. Then one must decide — start over, or give up?

I know a beekeeper who lost 30 or 40 colonies of bees some years ago, when mites first made their way into this region. He lost his entire beeyard, which had been built not only by him, but also by his father, and perhaps even his father’s father. Years and years of work, gone. Heartbroken, the man swore off beekeeping.

That, however, apparently wasn’t his decision to make. Sometime later, on a late spring day, a swarm of bees took up residence in an abandoned hive on his property. He was hooked in again, and today tends as many bee colonies as ever. This time around, though, the beekeeper is older and wiser to the ways of the world. He understands life and death go hand-in-hand. This beekeeper isn’t cynical, because a cynical man would never keep bees — it’s too dicey a proposition, and the odds are simply too great for cynics. Only optimists can survive beekeeping.

This beekeeper, however, knows that one fine spring day he could raise the hive lids and find all his honeybees have died again. He’s evolved into an optimistic realist, you see, like all good farmers and gardeners do if they farm and garden long enough. And if they slow down, feel deeply what happens and really consider what they see.

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


Work to bring broadband to all of North Carolina — including adding missing sections of fiber in the mountains — is well under way, leaders with a state nonprofit group said.

Construction on an important link from Enka to Sylva that will run through Haywood County is targeted for completion by early May, Tommy Jacobson, vice president of MCMN’s network infrastructure initiatives, told about 50 regional business and political leaders during a conference held at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.  

North Carolina has received $255 million in federal recovery grants to extend broadband in the state, via MCMN (Making Connections in North Carolina).

The new fiber will help groups such as BalsamWest FiberNET in Sylva and other telecoms by providing them with additional capacity and making them more efficient. BalsamWest is a private entity that is jointly owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Macon County-based Drake Enterprises. It worked independently to build a broadband infrastructure to serve Western North Carolina, putting in 300 miles of fiberoptic cable.

“Bandwidth demand will never go down,” Phil Drake of Drake Enterprises said of BalsamWest’s ability to use extra broadband capacity.

The missing piece now being laid in Haywood County has been described as critical to that county’s economic wellbeing by elected and business leaders: MedWest, a collective of hospitals in Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties, has estimated such a connection would save MedWest alone at least half a million dollars.

Additionally, construction on an 18-mile stretch of fiber cable in Graham County, which will tie back into BalsamWest, is slated to start this summer. Jacobson said his group is working to get clearance to build through the Nantahala National Forest.

He dubbed the process “challenging,” dryly describing the U.S. Forest Service “as an interesting agency to work with.”

“Little can be done out here without public-private partnerships,” said Cecil Groves, CEO of BalsamWest and the former president of Southwestern Community College.

Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCMN, agreed. He said the group used BalsamWest and Blue Ridge EMC (serving the state’s westernmost counties and north Georgia) as a model for expanding service to rural areas across North Carolina.

“That model was crafted here,” Freddoso said, “by a region that met its own need.


Mountain Projects might take control of the REACH village in Sylva, ensuring the low-income housing would remain available to area residents in need, especially victims of domestic violence.

This does not mean, however, that REACH of Jackson County, an anti-domestic violence agency, will have shed its well-publicized financial woes. The nine-unit village, built in 2001 for $1.1 million through federal and state loans, precipitated a money crisis for REACH because the nonprofit couldn’t meet loan payments.

Even if Mountain Projects saves the village from foreclosure, REACH must come up with between $100,000 and $150,000 to keep operating for several more months until state grants come through (the financial heartbeat of many do-good agencies such as REACH).

North Carolina has taken to doling out grants about four months into each fiscal year, and as a result, agencies that desire solvency have learned to sock-away money. REACH has none in the piggybank. The agency has missed payroll a couple times, and had the water cut off to the village for nonpayment of bills, among other problems.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners this week agreed to send a letter on Mountain Project’s behalf asking for a community service block grant for $600,000.

Mountain Projects is a nonprofit that administers programs to benefit the needy and elderly in Haywood and Jackson counties. Patsy Dowling, executive director, said the federal loan agency and REACH asked Mountain Projects to take over the village. Initially, Mountain Projects balked at assuming a loan of $840,074, but with a plan in the works to seek grant money, the agency said OK. The remaining balance of the loan will be paid by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency.

“We are very happy that the county commissioners agreed to partner with Mountain Projects to apply for funds to allow Mountain Projects to take over the village,” said Kim Roberts-Fer, executive director of REACH. “Our financial situation does not allow us to continue to maintain the village for the several months it will take for this process to be completed. We will be contacting (the note holders) to discuss possible ways to allow Mountain Projects to take over the project sooner. If no options are available within a few months, REACH will be unable to continue paying to maintain the property.”


Macon County is losing an incredible amount of experience this year with the impending retirements of two employees.

Between them, Wilma Anderson — assistant to the county manager/human-resources director and Evelyn Southard — finance director — have more than 60 years in local government.

“You don’t replace that,” Brian McClellan, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, said flatly.

Still, county government must grind on, and Manager Jack Horton is busy trying to find Anderson’s replacement before she departs later this month.

Actually, it will take two people to do what Anderson did. Horton plans to split her duties by hiring an HR director and a deputy clerk to the board. Southard doesn’t plan to retire until October.

“Wilma makes it look easy, but it isn’t easy,” Horton said. “She has had a very complex job.”

Anderson, after serving almost 36 years, is ready for a change.

“When I think about leaving here, the thing I think about the most is what these people mean to me,” Anderson said. “I love the people part of it.”

Anderson served through countless commission boards and multiple county managers. McClellan said it truly takes a special individual to have the ability to work with such a varied cast of characters.

“She’s one in a million,” he said, then quoted Charles de Gaulle: “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”

“None of us are indispensable,” McClellan said, “but Wilma is about as close as it gets. The same goes for Evelyn.”

Southard spent about 35 years in state and local government. Some of that time was at Western Carolina University, then at Southwestern Community College, and as finance director in Edgecombe County, where she retired in 1998 before returning to the Macon County finance office.

“I love what I do,” Southard said, adding that if she gets bored with her second retirement, she might try part-time or volunteer work this go-around.

“You have to be strong — you have to be able to say ‘no,’ and you have to care about the product of your work,” the veteran government worker said of what makes for a good finance director.

Southard’s office has repeatedly been recognized, both through audits and by the state, for the quality of its work.


Retirement party

A retirement party for longtime county employee Wilma Anderson will be held March 29 from 2-4 p.m. in the Southwestern Community Center annex behind the administration building. Enter the building through the third floor.


In a we-were-really-just-kidding-around reversal, Jackson County commissioners this week decided to delay their previous decision to delay property revaluation.

A draft resolution to push back the countywide appraisal from next year to 2016 was thoughtfully included by county staff in commissioners’ and media’s agenda packets, but was ignored as commissioners by collective consensus shied away.

Commissioner Mark Jones, a Democrat who lives in the Cashiers area, acknowledged he’d gotten plenty of emails and phone calls from constituents on the subject. The market value of high-priced lots and homes are destined to fall in a countywide revaluation. Delaying the reval means the county can continue taxing high-end properties on a book value that is no longer realistic. But going forward with it would shift property tax burden to median-priced properties.

Chairman Jack Debnam, a real-estate agent in real life, said his change of heart was from a conviction the county needed to see the results of revaluations under way in Haywood and Henderson counties before making such a decision.

Tax Assessor Bobby McMahan had recommended the delay. During a prior board meeting, McMahan cited the extreme downturn of the real-estate market and the difficulty of accurately determining market value.

The purpose of a revaluation is to determine fair market value for tax reasons.


Urban areas grew at a torrid pace over the past decade — so get ready, legislators in the mountains and on the coast, because your already large districts are about to expand.

Why? Because, as Christopher Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University explained, even though there are very few rules about exactly how voting lines are drawn, there are two guiding principles.

First, lines cannot be drawn with race as the predominant factor; and secondly, there should be approximately the same number of people in each district.

Since urban areas grew faster than rural ones, that must be represented when lines are redrawn, said Cooper, who oversees a university-sponsored blog focused on North Carolina politics.

The state, as a whole, grew more than 18 percent. Much of that population surge occurred in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, and in those counties abutting them. Northwest North Carolina also experienced strong growth. These places are entitled to more representation in Raleigh beginning in 2012, while rural counties in WNC will get less.

“Since we hold constant the number of representatives in Raleigh, then those additional seats (for urban areas) have to come from somewhere,” Cooper said.

Voting districts in the mountains will expand to take in larger geographic areas, freeing up legislative seats for faster-growing urban areas.

Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, serves on the House Redistricting Committee. He said it’s too early to know exactly how mountain and coastal districts will expand, but the shifts must take place. Western North Carolina is bounded by three states, so expansions must flow eastward: Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina are unlikely to look favorably on a land and population grab.

That, Rapp said, will setup an eastward district-redrawing cascade of sorts. The veteran legislator emphasized that he doesn’t expect mountain dwellers to experience nearly the redistricting changes eastern North Carolinians can anticipate. Some counties on and near the coast saw population declines.

WCU Professor Cooper said residents in the state’s westernmost counties aren’t likely to look on changes favorably.

“Folks in the west have long felt that their voices are not heard in Raleigh and any change in the number of representatives we receive will only further erode trust in state government,” he said. “This is not only a North Carolina phenomenon — the farther you get from the capital, the lower the information about state politics and the less trust people have in their state government.”

Jim Davis, R-Franklin, a newly elected member of the N.C. Senate, isn’t particularly worried, though his analysis of the 2010 census data indicates the 50th District he represents will grow larger, despite already spanning parts of eight counties.

“It will have to expand quite a bit,” Davis said.

The Franklin orthodontist said he doesn’t view a larger district as a hindrance. Additionally, Davis described the state’s eastern legislative delegation as “kindred spirits” to those who represent the west. Much of North Carolina is rural, Davis said, and that creates commonalities transcending simple geography.

U.S. congressional districts, too, must reflect the population shift in North Carolina. But, in that those districts are so large already, changes are unlikely to seem as profound. Andrew Whalen, senior advisor for U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, said prior to the census-data release he expected the congressman might pick up a few counties to the east.

Redistricting, required by federal law every 10 years when updated census data is released, comes as Republicans have grabbed control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Previous redistricting in North Carolina proved acrimonious, with Republicans accusing then-in-power Democrats of drawing the lines to their political advantage, or gerrymandering districts.

District maps were redrawn three times in as many years from 2001 to 2003 because of Republican-filed lawsuits; primary elections were delayed twice as a result, in 2002 and 2004.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the Senate Redistricting Committee’s chairman, says the GOP will draw districts correctly and fairly. Redistricting meetings get under way next week.


Time to redraw

The General Assembly is required to redraw voting districts for North Carolina after every census. Once adopted, a valid redistricting plan cannot be changed during that decade.

The 170 legislative districts for the N.C. Senate and House, and the 13 U.S. congressional districts, must be exactly or nearly equal in population — ensuring equal representation under the principle of one person, one vote. As the population grows, voting districts likewise must include more people.

Each representative in the N.C. House will represent about 79,500 people; state Senators about 191,000 people. Each congressional district must have 733,500 people. The redrawn districts take effect starting in 2012.

Macon County isn’t exactly asking for a recount, but officials here do want to know why the county’s 2010 census numbers fell well short of what they expected — call it more of a pointed request that federal census workers review their data.

After all, Macon might well be the Western North Carolina county that put the most concentrated effort into accurately counting every single resident. County Manager Jack Horton and Planner Derek Roland held census information meetings, such as speaking in front of the League of Women Voters prior to the census, on how important getting an accurate count would prove in the next decade when it comes to Macon County’s financial wellbeing.

The two men explained the U.S. Census determines the amount of money the community might get to support hospitals, job-training centers, schools and more. It directly affects the county’s cut of sale tax revenue. For the town of Franklin, population dictates how much it gets from the state for building sidewalks.

And, they emphasized at that luncheon, the data would help determine elected representation at both the state and federal level. To that end, in an effort to ensure an accurate number, Macon County formed a Complete Count Committee made up of local officials and residents.


So what happened?

Horton said he was taken aback last week when the U.S. government released the numbers. Here’s what they showed: Macon County, once touted as one of North Carolina’s fastest-growing counties, simply isn’t that anymore, if the 2010 U.S. census numbers are correct. Macon County lagged behind growth rates posted by neighboring Jackson and Clay counties (noting that when you are as small as Clay County, which went from 8,775 people to 10,587, the percentages are heightened by significantly smaller numbers of people moving in than would be true for larger communities).

Here’s the hard numbers: Macon County grew over the last decade by about 14 percent, with 33,922 people living there. Jackson County had an almost 22 percent growth during that same period, Clay County nearly 21 percent. That increase on either side of the Macon County’s borders frankly strikes Horton as strange — what happened to the growth rate in Macon County, which just a decade ago was chugging along at a 27-percent increase?

Some of that growth-rate decline might just be attributable to the “hidden” residents of Macon County, said longtime county manager and Franklin native Sam Greenwood, who after retiring from county government promptly went back into public service as the town’s manager.

Maybe even more residents are hiding, or not exactly hiding, but more and more Macon County residents perhaps technically live out of state yet are spending ample time in Macon County. Enough time, certainly, to burden a public-service system that receives state and federal funding for far fewer souls, as recorded by U.S. Census counters.

Greenwood, tired of anecdotal evidence and strong suspicions on this very subject, about four years ago encouraged a Western Carolina University student interning with Macon County to review the data. The student, using tax records, electrical hookups and such, found that local government was really providing services to just more than 59,000 residents. About 35,500 of those were fulltime (a higher number, you’ll note, than the just released census number, even discarding any part-time and seasonal residency, as the federal government does).

Brian McClellan, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, said the census showed his county clearly needs to diversify its economic base. Macon County was too reliant, he said, on the home building and real estate sector. Additionally, with discretionary income taking a hit in a sour economic climate, the jobs spurred by tourism that might have attracted newcomers also decreased.

“Jackson County has a university with all the attendant jobs that entails,” said McClellan, a financial advisor in Highlands for Edward Jones. “Even in a difficult economic period, it’s just not hit as hard as other parts of the economy. That university is certainly a very good thing for them, and they have a bigger hospital — people don’t quit getting sick in a poor economy.”


For upwardly mobile professionals who are looking for an outdoor lifestyle, scenic mountain beauty and the company of like-minded individuals, Jackson County has proven the perfect fit.

Just-released 2010 census data shows Jackson County emerging over the last decade as the fastest-growing county among the state’s 18 westernmost counties. The county grew from 33,273 people in 2000 to 40,271 last year, an increase of 21 percent.

It doesn’t take a demographer’s skills to pinpoint where that growth came from, not with the bottom falling out of Western North Carolina’s construction and real-estate sector: the anchor of the county’s economic base has been Western Carolina University. Supporting roles are played by numerous governmental institutions that serve the whole region but have their headquarters in Jackson —  such as Southwestern Community College, the N.C. Center for Advancement of Teaching, Southwestern Development Commission, the N.C. Department of Transportation and Smoky Mountain Mental Health.


Who fueled the growth?

Teresa Killian Tate, 35, who works in WCU’s office of public relations, is one of the faces of this growing-ever-more-professional Jackson County. She was a police-beat reporter for the Spartanburg Herald Journal in South Carolina when the bug to move to WNC hit.

The Asheville native started coming to the far western counties to take advantage of the Nantahala River. Then she took up mountain biking and was soon riding the trails in Tsali Recreation Area.

“I started thinking, ‘Gosh, some people actually live here — how does that happen?’” Tate said.

Then she heard WCU Chancellor John Bardo’s message that he wanted the children of the mountains to have jobs in the mountains and be able to stay and work in this region. “I was so moved,” Tate said. “It inspired me to want to be a part of this community.”

Others, like Tate, were equally intentional in their selection of Jackson County. Or, to be more accurate, in their selection of WNC — more often than not, Jackson County simply has the jobs available that this career-minded, educated population seems to be searching for. Once here, however, the burgeoning downtown scene in Sylva has kept them entertained, and Asheville is just a hop, skip and a jump away for those needing a taste of big-city life.

Thirty-year-old Taylor Bennett, who lives in Cullowhee and owns a building company, Riverwood Custom Creation, is a 2003 WCU graduate who discovered he wanted to make his home in Jackson County.

The Greensboro native, who received a degree that had a concentration in outdoor leadership, helped a friend start a Dillsboro river company. He shifted to building, and eventually started his own company, which has found a comfortable Jackson County niche in areas such as building “green” and in energy retrofitting. Times have gotten tougher, but for now, Bennett is holding his own in the rough economic climate.

“This is somewhere I’d love to stay,” said Bennett, whose wife also attended WCU.

Bennett touted the growing contingent of “young professionals,” and an increasingly vibrant downtown scene in Sylva, as reasons he loves calling Jackson County home.

These days, Sylva boasts plenty of bars, but also trendy restaurants, and perks such as a bakery, brewery and farmers market.

“Our goal was to get back to the mountains, though not necessarily Jackson County,” said Rose Bauguess, 35, on her move here.

Bauguess is from Clay County, her husband, Greg, from Wilkes County. The couple has two children. She telecommutes for a Raleigh environmental consulting firm; he works at WCU as director of development.

Rose Bauguess has been impressed by the development of Sylva from what she remembers as a child — more “happening,” perhaps, than her hometown of Hayesville, but not exactly what most people would consider hip — to today’s modish downtown.

Another newcomer who helped propel Jackson to the region’s fastest growing county over the past decade is Elizabeth Gillespie, 50, who picked WNC as the place she wanted to live after spending time here seasonally, then ferreted out a job and new career to help enable that dream. Gillespie is highly educated. She brings extensive previous professional experience to the table, including nine years as the vice president and production manager for Granny Gear Productions, a sports marketing and events company. She proved the perfect fit, in turn, as a public communication specialist for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, where kindergarten through high-school teachers from across the state take advantage of cross-disciplinary classes.

“I love being in a town that is this closely connected to a university,” said Gillespie.


A study in contrasts

Neighboring Macon County, which relied almost exclusively on home building and real estate to underpin its economy, by comparison saw growth slow drastically. Macon County grew from 29,964 people in 2000 to 33,922 last year, an increase of just more than 13 percent — half the growth rate posted in 2000 for the previous decade, when Jackson County’s neighbor was booming at a 26-percent rate.

“We had a lot of our eggs in one basket, and unfortunately, that was a basket that got dropped,” said Brian McClellan, a financial advisor in Highlands with a doctorate degree from Clemson University who serves as chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners.

Bigger is not always better, but when it comes to census data, larger matters: federal and state funding is often directly tied to the population count.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the growth in the county and the fact that our population has now moved beyond 40,000,” said interim County Manager Chuck Wooten, who also lives in Jackson County because of a job with WCU. Wooten in January retired after 30 years as the top finance officer there.  

“The university may very well be one of the factors for growth since the Cullowhee township is now our largest township,” Wooten said. “I’m going to ask (Planner) Gerald Green to dig into the census numbers so we can understand where the growth in the county took place.”

What could the census data mean for Jackson County? Wooten said he hopes to soon understand the unexpected growth and ensuing effects better, but for now: “Obviously, I would anticipate that with the additional growth would come some additional revenues like increased sales tax, etc.,” he said. “But, it could also generate more demands for services so net gain may not be significant.”

Mark Jamison, a resident of Webster, fears Jackson County might lose its identity because of the growth.

“If communities don’t define who they want to be, they let other people and other forces define them and try to catch that wave and ride it wherever it takes them,” Jamison said. “We don’t want to turn our county into nothing but gated developments or a university town.”


A few weeks ago, as part of a magazine assignment, I visited Sow True Seed in Asheville.

Carol Koury and Peter Wakiewicz, cofounders of the two-year-old company, took time from their busy schedule — and I do mean busy, this is the time of year that makes or breaks a seed company — to give me a tour of the business and chat for a while.

Sow True Seed is located in a small, undistinguished building on Church Street near downtown Asheville. The company specializes in untreated, non-hybrid, open-pollinated seed.

In plain language, this is what that means: you, too, can save seed after growing plants using Koury and Wakiewicz’s seed. Hybrid seed, in contrast to open-pollinated, does not grow true: the next generation of plants grown from hybrid seed might be wonderful, it might be terrible. There is only one certainty when you save seed from plants that were grown from hybrid seed — variability.

Why? Because the parents of hybrid varieties are from distinct lines that have been combined for very specific reasons. Perhaps plant breeders have discovered this particular combination, say type A and type B, produces progeny with three favorable characteristics. We’ll designate this hybrid result as being type C. Type C is resistant to disease, it’s productive and it tastes reasonably good.

Here’s the problem. If you buy a pack of type C, grow the plants out, and then save the seed, you will not get type C when you grow them out the ensuing year — type C only occurs as the first generation result of crossing type A and type B.

Instead, you’ll get something we’ll call type X. There is no predicting what qualities type X will exhibit. As emphasized a few paragraphs ago, type X might be the best-tasting vegetable you’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking your pearly whites into. Or, more likely, type X tastes terrible, or perhaps it is prone to certain diseases and produces poorly.

Hybrid seed isn’t inherently evil; open-pollinated seed isn’t inherently good. They both serve certain purposes. Hybrids can give farmers an edge when it comes to productivity, or shipping (some are bred to be tougher in transport). Open-pollinated varieties do have a reputation for tasting better than hybrids. But, in reality, any loss of taste is simply a variable and is not, by definition, what makes a hybrid — breeders emphasized the selection of certain other traits, perhaps, over that of good taste.

Super sweet corn, for instance, is a classic example of selective breeding. Many people prefer the taste of really sweet corn. Not me, but this is America and people should be able to eat sugary, icky corn-candy if they want to, shouldn’t they? Give thanks to hybrids, then.

Genetically modified seed, which people sometimes confuse with hybrid seed, is an entirely different matter. I won’t go so far as to assert GMOs are actually evil, but the verdict is still out in my opinion — and on the companies producing them. GMOs are varieties that scientists have genetically tinkered with. My personal opinion is there are entirely too many unknowns regarding GMOs, our health and the overall wellbeing of our world. That, however, is a subject for another day.

Be all this as it may, seed saving is fun. And, if you are even the slightest bit interested in sustainability and self-reliance, it’s a must-have skill. Which brings me back to Sow True Seed, and the potential importance of this company to gardeners and farmers here in the Southeast.

First, plants adapt to conditions over time. Garlic is famous for this — you start with a variety that thrives (I’m personally having good success with Russian Red), and after a few years of saving and replanting cloves, your garlic actually adapts to the specific conditions of your garden. It improves in size and quality. Other vegetables aren’t as obvious, but adaptability still occurs over time, just much more subtly. Sow True Seed is selecting from plants that do well here. If the company does this season after season, eventually it will create and own a bank of seed specifically geared to perform well in this region. That has not happened before — many of us order from companies located in Maine, California or other far-flung places. The seed we get might be great, but it isn’t specifically adapted to our growing conditions.

Second, Sow True Seed is working on preserving older varieties. The company doesn’t have a lot of these yet, but flipping through the catalogue reveals greasy beans, sorghum, creasy greens and some older tomato varieties. Here’s hoping local gardeners and farmers provide the company additional tried-and-true favorites — the more people who cultivate these garden treasures, the better chance they stand of surviving.

Third, Sow True Seed is local. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other seed company of this size anywhere in the region (meaning WNC and the piedmont, north Georgia, east Tennessee, upstate South Carolina). I’m a little hesitant to over-hype buying local, because it has turned into such a buzzword and my tendency (probably a genetic trait specifically adapted to the conditions I was grown in) is contrarian. But I happen to truly believe that buying from small, local companies is critical to this region’s sustainability.

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


The election for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners might have wrapped up last fall, but the war of words didn’t end then.

Last month, newly elected Chairman Jack Debnam wrote to unseated Commissioner Tom Massie’s employer, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, complaining that Massie had possibly abused his position and power while a commissioner. Massie is the mountain field representative for the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which is within that state department.

Richard Rogers, executive director of the Trust Fund, said Monday his agency “did not take any action” regarding Debnam’s complaint about Massie “because the complaint was not associated (with) a CWMTF project and CWMTF has no regulatory authority regarding development or land disturbance.”

Debnam wrote state authorities at the apparent behest of developer and trailer park owner Wayne Smith of Jackson County. Smith complained of being harassed by state authorities because of Massie.

The developer contributed at least $650 and provided billboard space to Debnam’s campaign, according to records on file at the Jackson County Board of Elections.

The N.C. Division of Land Resources determined Smith opened a 4.5-acre mining operation without the required state permit at the intersection of Skyland Drive and Parris Branch, records show. A notice of violation was issued Nov. 2, which happened to fall on the same day as the election.

Smith has been repeatedly cited by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources for sediment control violations, most recently in 2005, when he was assessed a $37,500 penalty, according to records.

Debnam, who ran as an independent but received GOP backing and financial support, declined to discuss the e-mail he wrote on Smith’s behalf.

Massie also declined an opportunity to comment. A Democrat, he lost his commission seat in November.

“A resident of Jackson County contacted me after the first of the year about an issue that he feels may be an abuse of an appointed position on the Mountain Resources Commission,” Debnam e-mailed Coleen Sullins on Feb. 2, the apparent start of the ensuing e-mail battle.

The N.C. Mountain Resources Commission is tasked with making recommendations at the local, state and federal level on how to best protect this region’s natural resources. Massie was appointed to the board by then state Speaker of the House Joe Hackney, a Democrat, in December 2009; Massie’s term on the board continues through Aug. 31, 2013.

Sullins, who works for the state Division of Water Quality, forwarded the e-mail to Jim Simons, who is the director of the N.C. Division of Land Resources, and Richard Rogers, executive director of the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. For his part, Debnam included two county employees on the email: Planner Gerald Green and Land Development Administrator Tony Elders. Those men are tasked with working with local developers such as Smith on behalf of the county.

“It appears that Mr. Tom Massie has let his personal opinions and contacts come into play whenever Mr. Wayne Smith or one of his companies becomes involved in any grading projects in Jackson County,” Debnam wrote. “Mr. Massie seems to exert this pressure thru Mr. Gray Hauser with NC-DENR and Linda Cable, former planning director for Jackson County. Mr. Hauser and his department have been repeatedly contacted by Mr. Massie over the past several years to inspect one of Mr. Smith’s projects, to the point of embarrassment to the Jackson County Planning and Erosion Control inspectors. … No one in Jackson County government thinks that Mr. Smith is in violation of that (mining) act or any other ordinances. It is at the point that Mr. Smith has contacted me in my position as chairman of the Jackson County Commissioners to ask for assistance in resolving this matter.”

Massie, not surprisingly, wasn’t happy to learn about the email.

“I look forward to your apology,” he wrote Debnam not long afterwards.

“Jack,” Massie also wrote, “after giving your e-mail additional consideration, I am extremely disappointed that you chose to lend your name and elected position to give added weight to these reputed allegations without making any attempt to check to see if they were factual or to call me personally and ask if I were involved. These allegations are extremely hurtful to all the parties accused and cast dispersions about each individual’s integrity and motivations. I strongly resent this attempt to impugn my character and integrity!

“Forwarding these mistruths to legislators and division supervisors are temporarily harmful to my professional reputation, but the truth will prevail when the facts are investigated. Those same facts will be harmful to your integrity. I am appalled that you did not even invest the time to try to substantiate these outlandish charges. The allegations about me are dangerously close to defamation of character. I would not have thought you capable of such distortion. … You will find that you, in your position as chair of the board of commissioners, have been used to further a personal grudge against me and other innocent parties.”


Some local thrift shop operators in Jackson County or crying foul over a nonprofit accepting donations in Sylva despite not having a store in the county.

Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina has a trailer (as in the second half of the word tractor-trailer) parked alongside N.C. 107 near Wal-Mart. The nearest Goodwill stores, however, are located in neighboring Macon and Haywood counties, with the one in Waynesville opening just last month.

Ina Claire “Sam” Bryant, a board member for Jackson County Habitat for Humanity, doesn’t deny that Goodwill does good work. That said, Bryant firmly believes the huge nonprofit needs to recognize it’s severely damaging the abilities of smaller good-work agencies to help county residents more directly.

“I think it is outrageous,” Bryant said. “My concern, as a citizen of Jackson County, is that whatever is collected in this county should benefit Jackson County — because our people need these collections and the donations. And the need is growing.”

Because Habitat for Humanity doesn’t accept clothing, it isn’t being as profoundly impacted as some nonprofits in Jackson County that rely on thrift-store money to operate, she said.

Goodwill is one of the world’s largest nonprofit providers of education, training and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.

Goodwill Industries set up its Sylva donations trailer in 2009. Jaymie Eichorn, who handles marketing and communications in this region out of Winston-Salem for the nonprofit, said she understands the concerns of some in Jackson County, but added she doesn’t believe the entire problem rests with her agency. Not, she said, given the national downward spiral of the economy.

“Our donations are down, too,” Eichorn said.

Janet Mason, finance director for REACH, said the anti-domestic violence agency is experiencing more than simply a downturn in donations resulting from difficult economic hard times and a harsh winter season. Mason said the Jackson County nonprofit saw an immediate decline in donations when Goodwill moved in.

She attributed the donation drain to two issues: local residents not realizing that when they give to Goodwill the donations don’t directly benefit Jackson County residents, and the convenience and ideal location of Goodwill’s trailer setup. REACH thrift store moved from a near-downtown spot to a smaller store and along a fairly obscure part of Skyland Drive to save on rent.  

REACH of Jackson County’s financial problems are so dire the agency is facing the possibility of shutting down. This is a larger problem than anything Goodwill can possibly be blamed for, Mason acknowledged. But since the larger nonprofit came in, she said, the agency’s thrift store is barely breaking even. And, when you are just hoping to cover payroll and find enough pennies for the phone bill, Goodwill and its donation drain aren’t exactly helping the situation.

“I can’t sell it if I don’t have anything to sell,” said Mason, who in a cost-saving move recently took over management of the thrift store in addition to overseeing the agency’s budget.

REACH in 2001 opened a transitional village for women to the tune of $1.1 million, using a federal loan and a state loan. The agency overreached in its ability to pay for that dream of helping abused women find temporary homes, jobs and other help. Today, the village is in foreclosure proceedings. The problems don’t stop there: because of how the state handles grant money — not starting payments until about four months into the beginning of each fiscal year — REACH must find money before July (an estimated $100,000 to $150,000) to ride out that financial drought.  

Eichorn said Goodwill uses a trailer-donation setup elsewhere, not just in Sylva. It is an excellent method for the nonprofit to gauge whether a community has the interest and ability to support a store, she said.

“We’d love to have one there,” Eichorn said, though there are no plans for one at this point.

The donation center employs two Jackson County residents, Eichorn said.


Once upon a time and not particularly very long ago, trail running in Western North Carolina was a fringe sport at best.

Hitting the trails instead of roads served as a refuge for longtime runners who couldn’t bear to give up their morning jogs but whose knees and joints simply couldn’t take the pounding anymore of feet-on-pavement. For other road-racing runners, trail running was a nice, scenic method of getting in some strengthening exercises. But in the main, serious runners primarily steered clear of focusing on trail running, afraid that while running off-road would indeed make them stronger, it might also make them slower.

No more. These days, trail running has burgeoned into WNC’s outdoor sport de jour. Some runners do nothing now but run on trails, avoiding road running altogether. Others, such as Brad Dodson of Haywood County, continue to enjoy both pavement and trails — Dodson, in fact, is currently training for one of the world’s premier road races, the Boston Marathon, set for April 15. He finds trail running complements his road racing.

ALSO: A mountain Assault: Black Rock Trail Race to aid Community Table

Dodson, 43, said he finds it much easier to run for three hours on trails than to put in, say, 20 miles on pavement.

“Running on pavement is really hard on your body, especially as you get older,” the former college track runner said.

Not to mention, Dodson added, the sheer meditative quality of running in the woods.

“All my life I’ve been looking at a clock and worrying about time while running,” he said. “Trail running is less about the time, more about just being out there — and it’s about enjoying being in the woods.”


A new business niche for region

Even the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the area’s biggest and oldest river-raft company, is getting into the act of trail running. NOC is working now on improving a series of trails behind the business’ main headquarters in the Nantahala Gorge in Swain County, with the plan of hosting a series of trail races in the future. Additionally, walk (or run) into the outfitters’ store and you’ll discover a recently added complete line of trail-running gear — from trail-running specific shoes to handheld water bottles.

“We got many requests to add those, from a lot of customers who wanted trail-running items,” said Lauren Dieterich, a trail runner herself and a member of NOC’s marketing department.

The outfitting company also has teamed with nearby Fontana Village to hold back-to-back trail runs Oct. 29-30, “to give people a whole weekend of trail running,” said Charles Conner, the company’s marketing department director.

The demand for trail races is definitely growing, Conner said, which is what prompted NOC to focus on improving the trails nearby the center and to team with Fontana Village. By improving its system of trails, NOC will be able to hold a race and offer perks runners enjoy after a hard slog in the woods — showers, maybe a live band playing music and more.

Conner said there are about five or six miles of trail available to NOC now, and that the trails can be connected into loops. Plus a few more miles of trails might be added on as well.

In May, the trail-running community will converge on NOC via the 2011 Smoky Mountain Relay, a running event that starts in North Mills River and ends at NOC in Wesser. This is the second year NOC has been a relay sponsor.

Runners will cover 205 miles of trails, forest service and rural roads. Teams of 12 runners each will cover the course in 36 sections, with each runner completing three sections of 2.5- to 10-miles each.


Great Smoky Mountains Railway this week promised to return to Dillsboro in a big way, on this condition: Jackson County must come up with $817,176.

“We need to explore how we can work together and get that train here, and market it together,” railroad owner Alan Harper told county commissioners.

Taxpayers’ dollars would:

• Pay for moving a train set from Maine ($322,000 in the form of a grant).

• Restore and paint the locomotive and exterior coaches ($95,176, also a grant).

• Install a turntable in Dillsboro’s Monteith Park ($250,000 in the form of a loan).

• $150,000 in annual tourism advertising funds (in the form of a matching grant).

Until 2008, Dillsboro served as the headquarters of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, an excursion railroad catering to tourists. About 60,000 people a year rode the train, and Dillsboro boomed — until the train moved its administrative office and main depot to Bryson City. Dillsboro languished in the wake of that decision. Last year, and even more this year, Great Smoky Mountains Railway did begin limited, seasonal excursions out of Dillsboro again.

Now this news — 110 to 120 days of train service each year, 15 to 20 new jobs created in Jackson County, low estimates of at least 20,000 visitors to the tourism-dependent town, and the possibility of turning Monteith Park into a train destination in its own right, too. Harper said he has a steam engine that doesn’t work, and he’d be willing to possibly park it at Monteith. And, another sweetener — an unused metal bridge the town could use to span the creek in Monteith Park. All that for just more than $800,000, Harper said.

County commissioners clearly were not surprised by the request or presentation (the details were included in a pre-assembled packet for commissioners and reporters. Plus, Harper said he’d been discussing the deal with Dillsboro town leaders “individually,” and the possibility of a turntable had been bubbling about the town of just more than 200 residents for the past few weeks).

A turntable would do just what it says — serve as a means of turning the train around. Town leaders, Harper said, have indicated they believe Monteith Park would work for that purpose.

The train excursions would, he said, be first class using a steam engine. Commissioner Charles Elders asked when they would start if this deal is struck, and Harper said possibly by mid-summer. Commissioners took no action, with Chairman Jack Debnam telling Harper the county looks forward to working with the railroad.


A halfway house to help women who have been released from jail after serving time for minor offenses or other “life challenges” is opening in Sylva.

The transitional housing, called Clean Slate, will serve women from Jackson, Haywood, Swain and Macon counties, plus the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The group hopes at some point to open a second halfway house in Franklin.

Timing on the Sylva house’s opening comes as REACH, the anti-domestic violence coalition in Jackson County, has been forced to let its transitional housing for women go into foreclosure, raising questions about the funding for — and the financial sustainability of — Clean Slate.

Organizer Alice Mason said unlike the funding secured to pay for the REACH village, however, Clean Slate is the result of individual donations and money given by a variety of faith-based organizations. The REACH village, by contrast, is a $1.1 million project paid for through federal and state loans, which the agency has been unable to pay.

Last week, the Clean Slate coalition (11 people on this day) gathered at the house in Sylva to develop bylaws, discuss liability insurance and take care of other opening details. The group is now screening applicants for the house, a two-floor, multi-bedroom structure which, when fully fixed up, could shelter up to 11 women.

“This could really help fill a need in the community,” coalition member Kristy Case said of the project.

Case, as housing coordinator for the southern region of Smoky Mountain Center, knows firsthand the difficulties of finding shelter and transitional housing for women and others in need. Smoky Mountain Center is the state agency tasked with helping those with mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse issues in North Carolina’s 15 westernmost counties.

Even individuals without the stigmas of having served jail time are struggling in this poor economy to find jobs and housing, Case said, much less women with criminal records or other issues Clean Slate plans to help.

The overarching hope of Clean Slate is to reduce recidivism (habitual relapse into criminal behavior) and addictive behavior.

Women accepted into Clean Slate will pay rent, coalition member Terri Sanger emphasized. The women will be encouraged, and helped, to find jobs. Additionally, Southwestern Community College’s campus is located fairly close to the house (the coalition asked that the location not be identified for safety reasons).

Like Case, Sanger became involved because she saw a direct tie to the work she does: Sanger is the More at Four director for Smart Start Region A Partnership for Children.

“Most of these women have children, and I’m concerned about those children,” Sanger said.

Children will not live at the house, but parenting skills will be taught to mothers there who need assistance. Other classes, too, will be offered, Mason said, and women who participate in Clean Slate will be required to commit to a program designed to “help them accomplish their dreams and goals and to become a contributing member of their community.”

The Rev. Mason, deacon of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Cullowhee, became interested in creating transitional housing for women who have served time after she began work as a chaplain in Jackson County’s jail.

“Many of the women, after their discharge, had to return back to the same destructive environment they had come from,” Mason wrote in a story she penned about the genesis of Clean Slate. “Others wanted desperately to begin new lives, to find employment and a peaceful place to live. After their release, always with no discharge planning, and usually with no warning, some called on me for advice and help in finding a place to live.”

Frustrated by her inability to fully help these women who seemed so sincere in their desires to live different lives than before, Mason began work to build a coalition and open Clean Slate.


Want to be involved?

Clean Slate is currently in search of a house mother to oversee the house at night. There is no pay, but rent will be free and eventually a stipend might be offered. Additionally, a multitude of volunteer opportunities are available, such as helping with tutoring, entertainment or general support in areas in which you are trained and proficient. Possibilities are: teaching computer skills, keeping a budget, checkbook and credit card management, preparing a resume, cooking, crafts and so on.

Help is also needed to transport women to and from self-improvement classes, Al-Anon and AA meetings, doctors and dentists. Work groups will be formed, too, to help with fundraising and marketing, and more.

Contact the Rev. Alice Mason at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This little slice of Western North Carolina just landed the big one when it comes to competitive fly-fishing.

The 2011 U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship will be held this spring from May 19 to 22 in Cherokee. In addition to fishing in tribal waters, about 60 of the nation’s top fly-fishing experts will test their angling skills along nearby stretches of water: the Tuckasegee River below Western Carolina University, the upper and lower sections of the Nantahala River, and a to-be-determined area lake.

This marks the first time the competition has been held in the Southeast.

“It’s a really big deal,” said an unabashedly excited sounding Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “This events puts fishing in and around Cherokee on a national stage. It puts us up with the big boys.”

Not to mention the corresponding upward spending bump expected at area hotels, restaurants and shops. Hundreds of spectators from the U.S. and from other countries are expected to attend.

The anglers will be tested in a variety of water — low, high, fast, slow.

“We’re putting them in places where we know there’s great fishing, but they have to be skilled,” Pegg said. “And these guys are the best.”

If, for instance, a raft full of tourists paddles through, or a kayaker drifts by, the competition on the lower Nantahala, so be it, Pegg said. That’s fishing, and so goes on many days the experience of fishing that particular stretch of water.

The tournament organizers and hosts are the N.C. Fly Fishing Team, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fish and Wildlife Management Department and the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, with River’s Edge Outfitters in Cherokee a supporter of the effort.

Cherokee is well known as a trout fishing destination, due in part to the stellar stocking of creeks and rivers by its own tribal hatchery. Robert Blankenship, director of the Cherokee fish hatchery and stocking operation, said putting Cherokee on the map as the best fishing destination in the Southeast has been their goal.

They raise and stock 400,000 trout, including trophy-sized, in 30 miles of stream. Compare that to the state of North Carolina, which puts 800,000 trout on 1,000 miles of stream.

“We are putting half that into only 30 miles,” Blankenship said.

Cherokee has gotten a great response from designating a 2.2-mile stretch of the Oconaluftee as catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only waters, a move that has lured new fishermen to the area.

Blankenship agreed it was quite a coup to land the tournament.

“It’s normally held in Vale, Colorado, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or somewhere out West,” Blankenship said.

Fishermen watching the nationals might decide to book their next fly-fishing trips here instead, further enforcing the region’s growing reputation.

“It will be good for Cherokee and the surrounding area and the local economy,” Blankenship said.

Another factor that puts WNC on the national fly-fishing map: fishermen from the western counties regularly dominate spots on the N.C. Fly Fishing team, and a couple of them usually go on to claim spots on the U.S. team each year. The tournament held here will determine who gets a spot on that coveted national team this year, said Paul Bourcq of Franklin, vice president of the N.C. Fly Fishing Team of Franklin. Those who make Team USA have a shot at the world team.

Bourcq is one of the big reasons the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship is coming to WNC. He’s hosting the Southeastern Regional Qualifier for anglers this weekend (Feb. 19-20) with venues on the lower Nantahala, upper Nantahala and Queens Creek Lake in northwestern Macon County. Bourcq said this qualifier would serve to help polish organizational skills the sponsors need to pull off a great national championship competition.

Fly-fishing has long been a hotly competitive and avidly followed sport in Europe, and it enjoys a level of popularity there comparable to that of bass fishing in this nation.

“This will help make the Southeast a destination for fly fishing,” Bourcq said, who added that an angler is only as good as the water he fishes, and in WNC some of the best fly-fishing in the nation can be enjoyed.


Get involved

If you can read a ruler and measure a fish, then you have exactly the skills necessary to be a judge in the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship, scheduled for May 19-22 in Cherokee.

Organizer Paul Bourcq needs judges, and lots of them — 60, to be exact, and he has only 20 signed up. This, he said, would be an excellent service project, perhaps for Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. Grownups are welcome, too, of course. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or through www.ncflyfishingteam.com.


After high school, I moved downstate to attend music school. I lived for a number of years in Greensboro and then Winston-Salem. While a resident of these two cities I fully enjoyed the wide range of cultural perks urban life brings. Museums, dance performances, poetry readings, concerts in the park, opera, independent films and musicals — on any given weekend, the only choice was what to choose.

I initially felt bereft of high culture and haute couture when I returned to Western North Carolina. There was fantastic bluegrass, of course, which I adore; and clogging, which I love to watch. Many of the nation’s greatest basket makers, potters and craftspeople are here, too.

As for the rest, I accepted leaving those experiences behind as the price one pays for living in the Southern Appalachians. No more great classical music. No more pretty boys warbling happily together in university glee clubs. And no more funky, odd performance art to discover in strange little out-of-the-way places where one could enjoy that fantastic combination of good drink and dinner, coupled with entertainment.

I was, of course, wrong, as you might already have discovered. It requires some detective work to find the performers — and sometimes quite a bit of driving to get to them — but we are truly blessed in this region: not only with great natural beauty, but also with a vast reservoir of creative and talented people.

Last weekend, a friend and I ate dinner at Mad Batter restaurant in Cullowhee. Jeannette Evans, the owner, sets up fun dinner-and-event nights, and this one — both food-wise and entertainment-wise — was truly special. I couldn’t have found anything I’d have enjoyed better, anywhere, not even in a great big city.

Kjelsty Hanson and her husband, Glenn Kastrinos, who together make up Whimzik, put together a unique mask-and-music performance. The word “unique” is often overused, but in this case, I mean it: I’ve never heard or seen anything quite like Whimzik.

Glenn teaches recreational therapy at Western Carolina University. He played guitar and flute, plus sang (not all at the same time, I hasten to add, he’s not a one-man band). Kjelsty (think “chelsty,” I do) played a bhodran Celtic drum, moving her hand inside — sort of like a French horn player does — to change tones. Additionally, Kjelsty danced to Glenn’s music, wearing a variety of masks and costumes she’s made. I was most struck by her animal masks. Quick, birdlike movements accompanied her bird masks; slow, pensive movements were paired with turtle masks. The effects were unusual, beautiful and captivating.  

Another mesmerized audience member, Chris Blake, an English professor at WCU who sat at the next table enjoying an evening out with his wife, asked the couple to talk about the origins of their art. And make no bones about it — Kjelsty and Glenn are creating a living, fluid art form.

Kjelsty explained she had seen and been influenced by the theatrical European ensemble Mummenschanz when she was a little girl. The memory of the group, and its use of costumes and masks to create a dialogue with the audience, stuck.

Fast forward to adulthood: Kjelsty studied indigenous art in Costa Rica, she majored in ceramic sculpture, she attended an art camp in Sitka, Alaska, and learned to make theatrical masks from mask artist Beverly Mann.

She met and married Glenn. They lived together in New Zealand for four years, performing at folk festivals together. Glenn’s mother was a classical pianist; he was trained to play classical guitar. Glenn later became entranced by ragtime guitar, and he ventured to Ireland in the 1970s, learning Irish flute and whistles while there. Glenn also started competing in — and winning — Irish music competitions.  

Put Kjelsty and Glenn together and all of their varied musical and art experiences and you get … Dorian, their young son. You also get Whimzik.

Look for an opportunity to see these two perform. I promise it will be a wonderful, unusual experience. And I suspect they’ll serve as a reminder to you, as they did me, to keep on the watch in WNC for those opportunities to enjoy fantastic art, dance and music. Because those artists, dancers and musicians are indeed here, waiting to entertain and enthrall us all. And sometimes they come in one tidy package, as is the case with Whimzik.

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


Jackson County commissioners have been asked to select their Top Six road priorities to pass along to the state Department of Transportation — a decision that could help decide whether a controversial, five-mile bypass around Sylva is ever built.

The commissioners’ input will help shape an even bigger to-do list: a Top 25 for the entire 10-county region of DOT’s Division 14. The projects on that list, in turn, eventually must vie for funding statewide.

The list compiled by the county’s board of commissioners is likely to figure heavily in whether the bypass (once dubbed the Southern Loop, now called a “connector” by the transportation department) moves forward. The bypass would be a new major highway bisecting Jackson County, with the intention of diverting traffic from N.C. 107.

Jackson County’s planning board recently compiled their Top Six projects. That recommendation was done to help guide commissioners in making their own selection.

All that sounds very tentative and preliminary. But, in fact, a 10-year work program compiled last year by the transportation department shows right-of-way acquisition on the bypass is scheduled for fiscal year 2016; construction would start in fiscal year 2018. The existence of actual startup dates for the project (if approved) are likely to underscore opponents’ beliefs that the transportation department has “fast-tracked” the new highway over widespread public wishes to the contrary.

Funding already has been secured, too, for an environmental study of the proposed bypass’ path, Julia Merchant, transportation department spokeswoman, confirmed last week.

“(But) the environmental planning has been placed on hold as the department waits to see the outcomes of the feasibility study to improve N.C. 107 and receive the county’s list of transportation priorities to determine how the county would like to move forward,” Merchant wrote in an email to The Smoky Mountain News.

Commissioners are expected to work on the list for the next couple of months. The regional ranking must be completed by summer, said Ryan Sherby, who oversees transportation for the state agency Southwestern Development Commission.

“The county commissioners represent the citizens of this county,” said Susan Leveille, a member of the Smart Roads Alliance, an activist group in Jackson County. “It matters a lot that they make decisions based on what the citizens want and what is in the best interest of the citizens in the future.”

Leveille questioned the potential cost of a bypass.

“It is our hope that (commissioners) will put other DOT projects ahead of this bypass that the citizen and experts say will not cure the ills on N.C. 107, and will cost so much in money and natural resources,” Leveille said.


Jackson County planning board Top Six highway recommendations:

• Redesign N.C. 107 in Sylva to improve traffic flow

• Add a west bound on-ramp at exit 85 on U.S. 74

• Improve Cashiers crossroads intersection, possibly with a roundabout

• Redesign U.S. 23 business from town to the hospital

• Install new interchange at U.S. 441 and N.C. 116

• Build N.C. 107 connector (Southern Loop), specifically on the existing Cane Creek/Blanton Branch corridor

Source: Southwestern Development Commission


New protocols for the unlikely event that one of Duke Energy’s dams shows a sign of weakness could speed evacuation of residents downstream.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wants power companies such as Duke Energy to cut the amount of time between workers suspecting a problem with a dam and the evacuation of anyone who might be at risk, a job carried out by local emergency responders.

An analysis completed this past year indicates “we’re in pretty good shape” on detecting dam-integrity issues, said Brad Keaton, chief dam safety engineer for Charlotte-based Duke Energy, during an annual meeting of regional emergency response workers and Duke employees. Sixty-five attended last week’s meeting, held at Western Carolina University.

Verification of a problem is where Duke can shave some additional time off, Keaton said.

An on-call technician will be dispatched, as always, to evaluate the situation firsthand. Duke is adding technology — in this case, on-site cameras — so that a dam failure can be declared more quickly.

Anyone working on the dams for the company is empowered to make the call without going through the chain of command, no matter how low on the corporate ladder their job might be, the engineer said. This is not the case with most agencies, including Fontana Dam in Swain and Graham counties, a federal Tennessee Valley Authority project.

“In the very unlikely event of a dam failure our responsibility in hydro (as in hydroelectric dams) is for the safety of downstream residents,” said Carol S. Goolsby, vice president of Duke’s hydro and renewables generation. “We were questioned (by federal authorities) about whether this responsibility is really and truly at the lowest level of workers in the company … they are well-trained, they’re very experienced, they live here, and they know the structures.”

These workers, Goolsby added, recognize any changes occurring to a dam because “they know what they are used to seeing.”

Keaton said Duke Energy recognizes there is a certain risk involved in empowering its employees — an unnecessary evacuation is unlikely to be easily overlooked in a community — but “this is a risk we are willing to take.”

Additionally, Keaton told those at the meeting that a siren will be added to at least one Western North Carolina dam: the dam on Nantahala Lake at the confluence of Queens Creek and the Nantahala River in northwestern Macon County. A cluster of houses lies directly below the remote location, and a siren would warn the residents there more quickly if there were any danger.

Duke Energy has 12 dams in the Nantahala Area, the 1,729-square-mile part of Western North Carolina once served by Nantahala Power and Light. Nantahala Power and Light never experienced a dam failure; Duke Energy also has not had a dam failure since its beginnings in 1904 as a hydroelectric generating company, according to Fred Alexander, district manager for Duke.

The company and area emergency managers meet every year, he said, to ensure coordination and to know one another personally.


The financial situation facing REACH of Jackson County is so bleak the nonprofit is facing the possibility of shutting down, leaving women and children who live in abusive relationships nowhere locally to turn for help.

The nation’s economic downturn, coupled with what seems to have been terrible business decisions by the agency itself, have threatened to end the 32-year history of REACH.

The nonprofit in November 2001 opened a $1.1-million transitional-housing complex for victims trying to escape abuse. The “village,” as it’s dubbed, is now in foreclosure. Associated costs continue to bleed dollars although REACH is no longer making loan payments.

A couple of caveats: First, the current executive director of REACH, and the board members who oversee the agency, were not the ones making the decisions that helped land this anti-domestic abuse group in such dire straits.

Secondly, who can in good conscience flatly assert the prior board’s desire to build the village was a bad one? The federal government and state government approved the concept, local leaders joined in the general celebration when ribbon-cutting time came, newspapers across the region published articles and editorials that were supportive and full of acclaim; not one reporter, including this one, ever attempted to crunch the numbers themselves.

And, indeed, maybe the blame lies with nobody, but instead is the inevitable result of an impersonal crashing economy. Hard times certainly brought down bigger prey than this one small nonprofit group: whole housing developments went under. Banks went under. During the last election, Democratic control of the state and nation went under. Now, REACH, too, might go under.

The facts are these: If the people of Jackson County want the anti-domestic violence agency to continue operations, three things must happen. Wallets must open, volunteers must step forward, and the agency must successfully and completely reinvent itself.


Hunkering down

There is a certain bunker-mentality feel when you visit the administrative offices of REACH of Jackson County these days. Executive Director Kim Roberts-Fer and the agency’s finance director, Janice Mason, are consumed with counting pennies. The two women’s workdays, and even some of their off-work hours, are spent discussing and mulling over how to best spend what they do have.

No money hasn’t meant no need: During fiscal year 2009-10, REACH of Jackson County received more than 400 crisis-line calls, provided emergency shelter for 37 women and 48 children, and was involved in 269 counseling sessions.

No matter what happens to the nonprofit agency, Jackson County won’t be getting out of the domestic violence caretaking business, said Bob Cochran, director of the county’s Department of Social Services.

“If REACH weren’t there,” he said, “we would have to look at other ways to provide these services as a county and as a community.”

There are a few counties in North Carolina where local government does directly provide such services. Cochran really hopes it doesn’t come to that, however. He wants REACH to survive. Cochran said he intends to provide the agency’s workers with whatever support he can, including speaking on the nonprofit’s behalf to county leaders.

“REACH is just critical,” he said.


‘The numbers didn’t work … from Day One’

Shortly after she and her husband left Maine two years ago and Roberts-Fer started her new job in Jackson County, she had a terrible realization, one of those ‘Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into’ moments.

“The agency was in financial trouble the day I came in,” Roberts-Fer said.  

REACH didn’t have enough money to make payments on the loans they’d taken out. The nine-apartment village, no matter how skillfully operated and managed, would never actually generate the funds to pay those loans, much less keep pace with general repairs and upkeep. The only income to offset the expenses was rent from the tenants, and “even if fully rented, it does not pay the mortgages and expenses,” the agency’s executive director said. “The numbers didn’t work, and they didn’t work from Day One. We told them (the note holders), to go ahead and foreclose. Take it.”


The vision

The village is a complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and a community center. There is a playground and commons area. As envisioned, the village apartments would serve domestic-abuse victims from Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay and Cherokee counties, along with those from the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

A decade later, however, and the dream is dead. The two note holders, the N.C. Housing Finance and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are well into the foreclosure proceedings.

Adding to the problems: Insurance payments on the agency’s emergency shelter went sky-high after Bonnie Woodring, who was seeking protection from an abusive husband, was gunned down by John Raymond “Woody” Woodring in September 2006. He shot her inside the shelter after muscling his way in. Woodring later killed himself.

Additional security measures at the shelter were added in the wake of the shooting, another expense for REACH. It was critical that the agency reassure other domestic-violence victims they would find safe haven at the emergency shelter. Roberts-Fer said the shooting cast a long shadow over REACH: financially and emotionally, and that the legacy continues today.

There have been additional money woes: Water to tenants has been cut off at least once because REACH failed to pay the bill. The agency’s payroll was missed twice. Health insurance coverage lapsed for a time. Everyone kept working anyway, and eventually the agency’s employees did get paid — at least they did until about half of them were laid off as part of cost-savings measures. Today, there are seven fulltime REACH employees and two part-time workers. Additional staff reductions are likely, Roberts-Fer said.

Another, unidentified local nonprofit is weighing whether to continue offering low-income housing at the village, located just off N.C. 107 near Wal-Mart, but REACH wants shed of its role in the project. And as quickly as possible: Just keeping up with maintenance is proving too large a financial drain on the cash-strapped nonprofit. Selling it proved impossible because the village was worth less when appraised than what REACH owed on it, Roberts-Fer said.

As quickly as a new emergency shelter is ready, the agency plans to abandon the village lock, stock and barrel. The tenants in the village, she said, have been warned. Boxes of items are stacking up on the steps, waiting to be moved to the new location.


Bigger problems still loom

“Even then, though, we are going to be in trouble financially,” Roberts-Fer said.

The agency’s thrift shop is barely breaking even. Donations are down, and buyers don’t seem much interested in what items the REACH thrift shop does have to offer, she said.

Grants and other funding streams are drying up as North Carolina grapples with a shortfall numbering in the billions. And even more critical: A somewhat obtuse administrative detail on the state’s part, which is choking REACH’s finances, and is reportedly causing other nonprofits in North Carolina trouble, too.

The state once paid grant money upfront, apparently recognizing that the wiggle room for most small nonprofit agencies is marginal at best. No more — these days, payments don’t begin until about four months into the fiscal year, creating a cash-flow crunch.

“Last year, the only thing that got us through was a particular grant that gave us a little room to survive,” Roberts-Fer said.

That’s not how the situation is shaping up for fiscal year 2011-12, which starts July 1.

“Worst case, we won’t be able to function,” she said bluntly.

Why? There is no cash reserve. Zero. Nothing. Nada.

Banks, understandably, haven’t been eager to extend a line of credit to REACH. They’ve been turned down twice, even though one of the board members is an experienced banker. His bank, in fact, said no thanks.

Here’s the solution, perhaps the only means of saving REACH of Jackson County: A fairy godmother, or a slew of community donors, come up with a cash reserve for the agency of between $100,000-$150,000. This would give REACH the money needed to ride out the state’s Scrooge-like methods of doling out funds. Additionally, this three-month reserve fund would provide REACH the money needed in the future. The budget, Roberts-Fer said, would be stabilized.

“The board has already agreed we’d only use the money as cash flow against receivables,” she said.

Additionally, REACH is streamlining operations. Only essential, core services are being offered: the REACH crisis line, for example, the emergency shelter and legal advocacy.

“We’re determined that this will not be the last year for REACH,” Roberts-Fer said.


Jackson County commissioners have been asked to select their top six road priorities for consideration by the state Department of Transportation, a decision that could help decide whether a controversial bypass around Sylva is ever built.

Division 14, a 10-county region of the transportation department, plans to use the information to help it decide which projects should be included a bigger to-do list: A top 25 for the entire division. These projects, in turn, eventually must vie for funding statewide.

The list compiled by the county’s board of commissioner is likely to figure heavily in whether the Southern Loop moves forward. The Southern Loop would be a new major highway that would bisect Jackson County, with the intention of diverting traffic from N.C. 107.

Opponents to the Southern Loop have questioned the need and scope of the project, and whether the transportation department has “fast-tracked” the new highway over public wishes to the contrary.

Funding already has been secured for an environmental study, Julia Merchant, transportation department spokeswoman, confirmed today (Friday).

“(But) the environmental planning has been placed on hold as the department waits to see the outcomes of the feasibility study to improve N.C. 107 and receive the county's list of transportation priorities to determine how the county would like to move forward,” Merchant wrote in an email to The Smoky Mountain News.

Asked how important commissioners’ decision would figure, she replied:

“In terms of the state DOT’s ranking system, the priorities set by a county or region certainly send a message and may give a project more points. However, each project is weighed and ranked on the value it would add to the transportation system, and the priorities set locally and regionally are just one factor in that decision process. Basically, there’s no rule saying the state will automatically pick up a region’s top priorities. That said, local and regional input is still very important to the state’s prioritization process, and that’s why we have numerous channels for gathering such input.

“Conversely, a project could theoretically end up on our Work Program even if a local or regional authority does not include a project on its list of priorities. However, it would be very unusual that a project would meet criteria to qualify as a priority on DOT’s list if it wasn’t also supported locally and regionally.”

For more on this issue, read next Wednesday’s print and online edition of The Smoky Mountain News.


The rest of the economy might have suffered, but a couple of snowy winters are adding up to big bucks and good times for North Carolina’s ski industry.

Last year, the total economic impact of this segment of the state’s economic pie amounted to $146 million. That number is courtesy of the N.C. Ski Areas Association, which crunched and computed the figures for the 2009-2010 season and recently released its findings.

That good news doesn’t come as a surprise for ski industry workers such as Brittany Heatherly of Skis and Tees in Maggie Valley, who said the store was running out of rental equipment by 10 a.m. each day during the Christmas break.

“It’s been awesome,” Heatherly said. “Everybody is making a lot of money, and having fun. There have been a lot of people because it has been such good weather.”

(Clarification to readers: “Good weather” to the skiing industry would be the snow and cold many people have a difficult time dealing with.)

Heatherly, an avid snowboarder, said skiers and other winter-weather lovers didn’t let road conditions prevent them from getting to the slopes at resorts such as Cataloochee in Haywood County. Folks used four-wheel drive vehicles or put chains on their car tires.

N.C. Ski Areas Association defines “economic value” as the total value to the economy from the existence of ski areas. Winter value, employment value, capital improvements and economic multipliers were considered. The study looked from November to March as the “ski season” when compiling this report.

North Carolina has six ski areas: Cataloochee Ski Area, Sapphire Valley Ski Area, Ski Beech, Appalachian Ski Mountain, Wolf Ridge Ski Resort and Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.

Collectively, these ski areas provided 96 year-round jobs and 1,557 seasonal jobs during last year’s ski season. The industry generated over $32 million in gross revenue from ski area operations, including lift tickets, lessons, equipment rental, retail stores and food and beverages.

David Huskins, who heads the regional tourism group Smoky Mountain Host that is headquartered outside Franklin, said the rockslide and subsequent closure of Interstate 40 in the Pigeon Gorge section of Haywood County “obviously … impacted our region’s ski economy.”

“But, generally, reports are that it was offset by the continued natural snowfall through December-March 2010,” he added. “Good news for our region.”


Money breakdown on individuals at ski areas

(Per person spending, and percent of total)

Lift tickets/tubing/ice skating: $44.78; 33.5%

Ski/snowboard lessons: $5.75; 4.8%

Equipment rental/demo at ski area: $13.81; 10.7%

Equipment rental/demo at other N.C. locations: $1.97; 1.4%

Food/beverage/restaurants on mountain/base: $16.88; 13.2%

Food/beverage/restaurants in other N.C. cities: $14.22; 9.8%

Lodging accommodations (nightly rate): $18.88;14.4%

Shopping/gifts/souvenirs/retail stores: $9.04; 6.6%

Entertainment/activities: $3.85; 3.0%

Local transportation/rental car: $1.54; 1.6%

Other spending: $0.98; 0.9%

Total per person spending: $131.70  

Source: N.C. Ski Areas Association


09-10 statistics at N.C. ski areas

Total Visits: 671,554

Total Revenue: $32,526,608

Year-Round Employees: 96

Seasonal Employees: 1,557

Capital Expenditures: $3,341,237

Source: N.C. Ski Areas Association


One of the nicest things about Franklin is the town’s greenway along the Little Tennessee River.

The greenway has become a uniting feature in Macon County. Work started on the project in the late 1990s, and seeing it through to completion required the partnership and labor of many. As a result of all this hard work, today there are five miles or so of trail, bridges over the river, shelters, playgrounds and more. The greenway is something folks from many different walks of life enjoy, and on any given day, you’ll find old people, young people, runners, walkers and picnickers.

I have jogged on Franklin’s greenway. I’ve gone bird watching along it. I’ve paddled a kayak up and down the river by way of the beautiful and convenient put-in that’s been built. I’ve sat many a time by the Little Tennessee and eaten lunch under one of the greenway shelters. These shelters are my preferred dining halls whenever I’m working on a Macon County-based news article.

I do regret the greenway wasn’t available when I lived and worked full-time in Macon County. Before it was built, accessing the river in Franklin was a mucky, muddy affair. The only people who usually bothered were a few stalwart fishermen and the town’s winos. They (the winos, though maybe the fishermen, too) nipped and napped under the bridges.

Having designated greenways in such a nature-abundant region as Western North Carolina seems nonsensical, perhaps. A waste of taxpayer dollars and a waste of land that might be better put to use in more practical ways — for jobs, or for homes, or for other similar utilitarian-type uses that aren’t so, well, airy-fairy and urban-sounding.

I admit to feeling a bit that way at one time.

These days, however, thanks to the Little Tennessee River Greenway in Franklin, I embrace the whole concept of greenways. The more the merrier, including one I hope in Jackson County, where I’m living now.

During a recent work session held by commissioners, the greenway folks in Jackson County warned that it could take years to pull the project here together. Right-of-way issues seem to present the biggest, time-delaying obstacle.

So, if you own land along the Tuckasegee where Jackson County wants to build its greenway (there’s apparently 10 or 12 of you, most of whom have shown a willingness to participate), please hurry up and sign the papers: for me, and for you.

For you because my understanding is a greenway will enhance the value of your property. I’m certainly envious — not so much about any increase in land values you’ll enjoy, but because of the enjoyment you’ll get from access to county-maintained trails built near your homes. There they will be whenever you feel the urge to run, to walk, or to easily and safely get down to the river for fishing and boating and picnicking — what could be better, for me and for you?

If, as a property owner or general resident of Jackson County, you still harbor doubts, take a short drive over Cowee Mountain and stroll along the greenway in Franklin. I believe, like me, you’ll become an instant convert.

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


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