Quintin Ellison

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A one-of-a-kind database that encompasses virtually every aspect of life in Western North Carolina, from ecology to economics, is now available to decision makers, business leaders and the public. 

The Mountain Resources Commission, a group formed in 2009 to study environmental and economic issues facing WNC, recently unveiled the vitality index. 


fr nocoalWestern North Carolina for now has dodged concerns that it was getting short shrift in a legal settlement intended to compensate the region for air pollution blowing in from dirty coal plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority in neighboring states.


A split decision by Franklin aldermen to build a new $1.25 million ABC store at the site of a Super Walmart at the edge of town drew criticism and pleas this week that the plan be reconsidered.

“We cannot afford what you are proposing,” said Ron Winecoff, an insurance agent in Franklin, at a Monday meeting. “It is not the Taj Mahal, and we do not have to market it that way. It is another store, plain and simple.”


out frIf you fall from a ledge rock-climbing, break a leg backpacking in the wilderness or twist your shoulder paddling a remote river, hope like hell that Robin Pope will happen by.


op quintinI slept downstairs on a futon last night, trying to escape some of the intense heat that, chimney-like, turned the upstairs of the cabin I live in into a furnace. Even so I lay in bed sweating and dozing fitfully.

Heat like this demands adjustments. Sleeping downstairs instead of upstairs. And taking care of all outside chores in the morning — it is simply too hot in the afternoon.


 fr childcareA couple in Macon County is trying to raise $2 million to open a childcare center that would serve 120 children.


Don’t expect business as usual at the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce as a new director takes over for the first time in more than 20 years.

The business organization became embroiled in controversy last year amid questions about whether the agency was effectively promoting the region and spending tourism tax dollars wisely. Shortly thereafter, the chamber’s longtime director, Sue Bumgarner, announced her retirement.


The Sylva town board has lost what was arguably its most progressive member with the resignation of Stacy Knotts, who is following her professor husband Gibbs Knotts to the College of Charleston in South Carolina.


Western mountain counties will have a new representative on the N.C. Department of Transportation board with the departure of long-time board member Conrad Burrell, who has stepped down from the powerful post after more than 11 years.


The tiny town of Fontana Dam is getting to keep its post office, but what’s not clear yet is whether the post office will be manned or not.

Fontana Dam was included 10 months ago in a list of 3,700 money-losing post offices slated for closure. The U.S. Postal Service is headed for $14 billion in losses this year. The agency recently opted not to close the post offices amid public outcry. Instead, the postal service is cutting hours and some services.


fr elkThree elk were shot dead last month just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Mount Sterling area of Haywood County, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is asking for the public’s help in finding the poacher or poachers involved.


 op quintinFor many years I was a dedicated runner. These days I’m much more likely to choose to walk, both for exercise and pleasure.

I enjoyed running, particularly trail running. There was a sense of freedom and power about running through the woods that I sometimes remember with longing. But you miss a lot when you run. There are all these goals involved: Improve your time, or run a certain distance, or something along those lines. By comparison walking seems pressure free. There are no particular goals, or at least I don’t set goals for walking. I tend to amble along enjoying what there is to see. Henry David Thoreau put it best when he noted “it is a great art to saunter.” It is indeed.


This is a special time of the year for beekeepers in Western North Carolina. It is the time they prepare for the sourwood honey flow.

Beekeepers in this area collect two types of honey from their charges: a spring wildflower mix made up of nectar sources such as locust, blackberry, poplar, apple trees and more, and then the summer’s sourwood.

Sourwood comes from the sourwood tree, or Oxydendrum arboreum. This tree, in my opinion, is underutilized in landscapes. During the summer it has a lovely white bloom, followed in the autumn by flaming brick red or scarlet leaves, making it a very choice ornamental indeed. Besides, what could be better than planting a native tree that helps feed our honeybees?


fr highlandsRepaving of the steep, windy, two-lane road from Franklin to Highlands has many merchants worried about whether this heavily tourism-dependant town will find itself choked off financially.


fr cullowheebridgeChris Pressley, a third-generation owner of the 65-year-old Cullowhee Automotive Service, has been on edge since learning about plans for a new bridge in the Cullowhee community.


On the heels of a vote that now allows alcoholic beverages to be sold countywide, Jackson County is considering opening two new ABC stores: one in Cashiers and the other along the highway leading to Cherokee in the Qualla community.

County commissioners indicated at a meeting this week they’d likely form a committee to determine whether opening either of the ABC stores was financially feasible.


fr steeplejacksAs a third generation steeplejack, Tony Stratton is used to a view from the top. As one of a handful of people in the nation still specializing in repairing church steeples the old-fashioned way, Stratton travels the country rappelling from the towering spires while repairing and restoring them.


An effort to save those colorful specialty license plates has stalled in the N.C. Senate, which seems reluctant to take a bill up that would spare the popular plates.

Supporters of the specialty plates have rallied to save them from the chopping block. Lawmakers last year passed a bill that would gut the iconic plates, stripping them of their full color images such as the black bear, the scenic


Faced by a rising tide of complaints about barking dogs, Jackson County commissioners indicated this week that they would consider passing an ordinance that would muzzle the offenders.

“I’ve had negative experiences with barking dogs,” said Commissioner Doug Cody. “I can sympathize with people who have an issue with dogs. I think we need to take a hard look at it.”


Richard Baird, a plant pathologist from Mississippi State University, was hard at work one day last week examining mushrooms in a small laboratory at the Highlands Biological Station.

Baird is trying to determine which fungus might help Fraser firs grow more vigorously if it attaches to the roots, a symbiotic association called mycorrhiza. This is part of a new effort to reintroduce the adelgid-decimated tree into the Clingmans Dome area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The seedling Fraser firs simply aren’t competing well currently with the lush understory of vegetation that’s there, and Baird’s task is to try to give the young trees the necessary boost to survive.

One other possible real-world application, Baird said, is that his work to help grow more stalwart Fraser firs also could help Christmas tree farmers do the same.

“This station really provides us the opportunity to do research in things we wouldn’t be able to do if it wasn’t here,” Baird said.

Tucked away just inside the town of Highlands, world-class research such as that conducted by Baird is taking place everyday at the Highlands Biological Station. More than a hundred students a year also study and work here, and visitors from far and wide come to visit the station’s 12 acres of native gardens and the natural history museum.


Amateur roots

It may sound self evident, but biological stations are located and established in areas that are biologically interesting, said station director Jim Costa, who teaches in Western Carolina University’s department of biology.

“And Highlands, biologically, rivals any of the temperate regions of the world,” Costa said. “Because of that it’s attracted biological explorers for centuries. It’s such a remarkable place ecologically.”

A group of avid amateur naturalists living in Highlands had the idea for a museum in the 1920s.

“It started as a little museum in a one-room addition to the library,” Costa said.

Then, there was the decision to add a laboratory, and then the Highlands nature aficionados decided to ask some notable scientists to consider basing their work in Highlands. From those humble beginnings, the current biological station eventually emerged. The station moved into its current quarters in 1941, and the idea shortly emerged, too, to establish a botanical garden.

“The research and teaching snowballed over the years, and there was more and more of a presence here of faculty from the UNC schools,” Costa said.

For the first 50 years of the 85-year-old institution, the Highlands Biological Station was an independent nonprofit. But eventually, in 1976, it evolved into a state enterprise officially affiliated with the UNC system. Today, more than half of the annual $500,000 budget comes from state dollars.

The Highlands Biological Station is 23 acres in size. There are eight employees and four summer interns, and dormitory space to sleep 38.


Immersion learning

The Highlands Biological Station is best known for salamander research, plus botanical and fungal research, according to Costa.

“This region is renowned for its diversity of certain salamander groups, rivaled only by the rain forests for diversity,” he said.

In the salamander world, this region is known for the Lungless Salamander. This is a group of salamanders that breathe through the skin, having evolved without lungs. This means these salamanders need very moist, very healthy ecological conditions, Costa said, and Highlands is perfectly suited in those ways.

“People come from all over the world to study them,” he said. “It’s a huge and diverse family.”

Students are also coming to the Highlands Biological Station.

“The philosophy of education here is immersion,” Costa said. “These are full immersion courses. All day, everyday and into the weekend the students live these courses with the instructors.”

Costa said that’s very different from what takes place in a regular university setting. There, he said, students are unable to fully focus on one class as they can at the biological station.

Each year, 100 to 120 students participate in these immersion classes. The biological station also serves as a field trip destination for other university students in addition to the regular class schedule.


Intersecting with the public

Sonya Carpenter, administrative director of the Highlands Biological Station foundation, is tasked with helping the rubber meet the road: get the research out of the research lab and into the hands and minds of everyday folks.

“We’re the in-between for the researchers and the community, and we do that through programming,” Carpenter said.

One of the latest efforts has been the “Backyard Naturalists,” an after-school program designed to inspire a lifelong appreciation in children of the natural world through science, art and technology. 

Carpenter said that with kids so focused on digital media these days, the program dovetailed technology and nature: kids learned to take photographs of wildlife plus worked together to develop a wiki, a website where they could freely add content and edit what was placed on the site. The kids took eight weeks of lessons, one afternoon per week, which were structured to promote a better appreciation and understanding of the natural world by nurturing creativity and independent observation skills.

The plan is to expand the program out of Highlands into other school systems this coming year.

There are also regular programs for the public conducted at the Highlands Biological Station, Carpenter said, so that regular people can learn from the scientists at work there.

“We’re trying to educate in a fun and interesting way,” she said.


Highlands Botanical Garden

This year the Highlands Botanical Garden is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The 12-acre garden at the Highlands Biological Station was established in 1962 as a refuge and demonstration garden for the diverse flora of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Nearly 500 species of mosses, ferns, wildflowers, shrubs and trees flourish in natural forest, wetlands and old-growth plant communities connected by a series of trails and boardwalks. There are also demonstration gardens displaying collections of native Azaleas, plants of the Cherokee, mosses and liverworts, wildflowers, butterfly pollinated and rock outcrop species.

The garden is free and open to the public year-round from sunrise to sunset.


Some time back I wrote that at a future date I’d print seed-starting dates for the remainder of the growing year. I’ve had a couple people ask about that, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to fulfill that promise.

I put together this calendar while farming for a living. Gardening is an inexact science, but I found that as a general rule these dates worked out more often than not. Having a list or calendar at least provides a reminder and guide to get things in that otherwise might be forgotten.

One important note: if you live at elevations higher than 3,000 to 4,000 feet then you might want to add two or so weeks to these suggested planting dates.



• Plant leek transplants.

• Direct seed okra.

• Direct seed basil, can plant later as well to have with tomatoes.

• Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, radish, podding radish.

• Direct seed summer squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin.

• Transplant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers as weather permits.

• Direct seed beans.

• Direct seed winter squash, spaghetti and butternut (don’t hurry, remember these are for storage).

• Under row cover, grow succession plantings of summer ‘lettuce’ mix: suggest, mizuna, kale, collards, tatsoi, red giant mustard, arugula. Use as cut-and-come again, harvest immature for raw salads. Replant short row every two weeks or so for summer use.

• Plant sweet potato slips.

• Plant chard, if haven’t already, also Malabar spinach, dill.


Early to mid June

• Start Brussels sprouts for fall transplants in shade or in shaded greenhouse.

• Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, podding radish, summer lettuce mix.

• Plant more sweet corn, can keep planting up to July 4 and will make. Also, true for cucumbers, soybeans, summer squash.


End June to early July

• Sow in greenhouse or other shaded spot, broccoli and cabbage for fall planting.


Mid July

• Direct seed rutabaga and beets in garden.

•  Start fall lettuces for transplants.

• Transplant Brussels sprouts when ready to garden.


Late July to early August

• Transplant broccoli and cabbage when ready to garden.


Early to mid August

• Direct seed kale, collards.


Mid August to Sept. 1

• Direct seed turnips for roots, turnips for tops, rape, mustards.


Late August

• Direct seed black Spanish radish, daikon, Chinese cabbage, scallions, mizuna, tatsoi, beet (for tops), chard, spinach, arugula.

• Seed more lettuce for transplants, start in cool place.



•  Direct seed regular radishes, carrots, transplant first round lettuces to garden.



• Plant mache, claytonia, minutina. Replant tatsoi, mizuna, etc. for cut-and-come again. Transplant lettuces to garden under row cover.



• Plant garlic bulbs. Keep planting Asian greens as spaces open.


December - January

• Plant Asian greens. Carrots. Spinach. Let-tuce transplants.


Second week January

• First round cabbage, broccoli


Last week January

• Second round cabbage, broccoli (can continue planting in greenhouse through Febru-ary as needed).

• Peppers (can continue into February as needed, helps germination to start on a heating mat. Must be transplanted into continually bigger containers in greenhouse).

• Artichokes.


First week February

• Leeks.

• Head lettuces such as Buttercrunch, Tom Thumb.

• Chives, thyme, other herbs (continue planting through February, March as needed).


Second or third week February

• Parsley.

In garden toward end of February, first week March weather permitting. Be prepared to cover transplants when temps threaten to drop below 20 degrees.

• Transplant lettuce, broccoli and cabbage into garden.

• Direct seed leaf lettuce, snow peas, English peas, carrots, boc choi, onion sets, spinach, radishes, beets.


First week March

• Start tomatoes in greenhouse or house (must be transplanted into continually bigger containers).

• Start eggplant (in moist paper towels tucked into ventilated plastic sandwich bag in warm place in house, when germinated plant as usual in greenhouse or house).


Second week March

• Plant potatoes in garden (these are for new potatoes).

• Direct seed kohlrabi.



• Succession plant beets, onion sets (for green onions), radishes, podding radish.

• Direct seed cilantro, pole or bush beans, first planting of soybeans for edamame, sweet corn when soil warms (old-timers planted early corn when the dogwood blooms).

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


A motorcycle rally initially planned to take over the streets of downtown Franklin in August has been given the boot, albeit a gentle one, and now will instead have to set up camp in a large field on the outskirts of town.

Fears that 4,000 bikers would cause too much disruption downtown prompted town leaders to nix Main Street as a venue for the rally. Although the rally was recruited by the town’s tourism authority in hopes of give downtown merchants an economic boost, the drawbacks — including a prolonged street closure of Main Street — ultimately seemed unworkable to the town board.

The new location in a field along Highlands Road will still bring business into downtown without the negative side effects, town leaders hope.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said. “We’re anxious to have the participants come to town, but obviously this is a new endeavor for us, and so we’ve settled on a location in town but not downtown. We’re starting out conservatively.”

Franklin’s motorcycle rally will rumble into town Aug. 17 through 19.

The rally hit a major roadblock in April when town leaders balked at shutting down a portion of Main Street for up to four days at the height of the tourist season.

The rally organizer, Scott Cochran of Georgia, had asked the town to shut down Main Street from Riverview to Harrison Avenue from the night of Thursday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 19. Plus he requested the option of shutting down even more of the main thoroughfare in the throes of the rally if larger crowds dictated doing so.

Franklin has 3,600 residents — compared to an estimated 4,000 motorcycle riders that are expected to flood into town for the rally. Among the concerns: a bandstand would have been placed directly in front of a funeral home.

Though the town never officially said ‘no,’ leaders likewise never officially sanctioned the idea of having the rally downtown.

Cochran did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Summer Woodard, who serves as the town’s staff person to the Franklin Tourism Development Authority, which recruited the rally, said that after the downtown site was nixed the rally’s organizers eyed a large field on U.S. 441 used for large festivals, such as annual gem shows.

That didn’t work, either, because of scheduling conflicts, she said. But a site in a field on Highlands Road just inside the town’s limits has worked out. It will cost promoters a total of $1,500 to rent the site, money that Woodard said would come from the $15,000 already given to Cochran to promote the rally from the town’s tourism agency.

“No more money will be given,” Woodard said.

Alderman Bob Scott, a vocal critic of how the rally has been handled or not handled to date, still isn’t happy about what’s taking place even with the change in venue. He said he has lingering questions about safety, crowd control and health that aren’t being addressed.

“I still don’t believe there’s any planning,” he said. “But I’m beginning to believe I’m just beating a dead horse to death. Who knows, it may be the most successful thing there’s ever been in Franklin, but I have my doubts.”

Merchants in Franklin generally seem supportive of the rally, though they can be forgiven if there’s lingering confusion over where exactly the event will take place. Most were unclear exactly where the rally will now be held. Downtown merchants, once told of the Highlands Road location by a reporter, said they hope the motorcyclists still make it into their stores.

“It won’t be the same business that we might have had, but that’s alright,” said Betty Sapp of Rosebud Cottage on Main Street, which features items for the home. “They might still come downtown.”

Joan Robertson of Macon Furniture Mart on Main Street believes the rally will be good for Franklin.

“I think motorcyclists get a bad rap. I know some fine upstanding individuals who ride motorcycles,” she said. “I hope they come downtown and check us out.”

Robertson said she doesn’t expect to see a lot of furniture sold during a motorcycle rally, but she said that the exposure could help the town in the future.

“One day they might be back to Franklin to buy a cabin — then they’d know we have a furniture store,” Robertson said.

Michael Stewart of Jamison Jewelers doesn’t think the motorcycle rally will do that much for the pockets of merchants whether it’s held downtown or not.

“Typically when we have something downtown there’s not much business going on,” Stewart said. “They’re not here to shop. They are here to do whatever the festivities are.”

In contrast, Maryann Ingram, who does massages at A Rainbow of Healing Hands on Highlands Road directly across from where the rally will take place, sees plenty of potential clients out of all those motorcyclists.

“Hopefully it’ll bring me some business with them sitting on their butts for as long as they do,” she said. “I know a lot of people are afraid of them but it’s no big deal. Anything to bring people into town.”

Thomas Corbin of Mountain Top Coins on Highlands Road wasn’t as certain the rally would prove a good thing.

“Things can get out of hand,” Corbin said. “If they’ll come in and spend money in town and not destroy it I don’t have a problem with it. But you’re going to have more bikers than town residents.”


When it comes to sweepstakes cafes Macon County has hit a jackpot of sorts, with at least 11 of the electronic gambling joints clustered along U.S. 441 between the Georgia state line and Franklin.

The operations appear for all intents and purposes like pseudo small-scale gambling parlors, where players buy play time at video terminals for a chance at cash winnings. The concentration along the main highway from Georgia seems aimed at capturing players from a state where some of these types of games are illegal. Billboards on the approach from Georgia advertise pots of gold and lucky 777’s awaiting over the state line.

Now county commissioners in Macon want state lawmakers to let them regulate the electronic gambling operations and, in the process, give the county a slice of the winnings.

Towns and cities have been imposing hefty business license fees on the lucrative sweepstakes operations since their advent. But unlike towns and cities, counties currently can’t charge the sweepstakes cafes a licensing fee.

Further fueling a free-for-all, Macon County has no land-use regulations to limit where or how the businesses set up, leaving county leaders high and dry when it comes to say-so over the proliferation of sweepstakes cafes.

The sweepstakes games cropped up in the wake of a state ban on other forms of video gambling. The sweepstakes operators claim their games aren’t gambling — technically players buy “air time” to play sweepstakes — but Macon commissioners beg to differ.

“It is gambling,” Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale said flatly. Given that, “I think there should be some types of regulations. Any gambling I’ve known has been either illegal or regulated.”

Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten agreed some oversight would be nice.

“You don’t even know how many there are, they just pop up all around,” Wooten said. “We’d like to have some way to be able to control them and issue a privilege license just like towns do.”

Beale seemed optimistic that lawmakers would be sympathetic to counties’ wishes to regulate and charge the gambling operations.

Macon County officials plan to meet with their Henderson County counterparts and state representatives to discuss the sweepstakes issue when they travel May 28 to Raleigh for a legislative conference, Beale said. Henderson County got the ball rolling recently by sending a letter to the General Assembly asking lawmakers to consider either a bill that would give counties the authority to charge for business permits and regulate the sweepstakes parlors.

“One of the concerns here is about age limits,” Henderson County Manager Steve Wyeth said. “Do you want teenagers in there gambling? Also, it seems you should be able to regulate the hours of operation.”

Wyeth said Henderson County does have zoning in place, unlike Macon.

“This does allow you to dictate where these businesses go but you still can’t prohibit them,” he said.

Towns across Western North Carolina have been able to impose steep business license fees on the sweepstakes cafes and are making money off these lucrative enterprises operating within their city limits.

Franklin now charges $2,600 per internet café establishment and an additional $1,000 per machine. The town increased its fee from a flat $2,600 after realizing the operations make more than enough to ante up a little more.

Maggie Valley and Canton currently both demand $2,500 for the first four machines and charge $750 for each subsequent machine. Waynesville is looking to charge the same amounts, probably starting July 1.

Sweepstakes owners recently asked Maggie Valley to relax its tough restrictions, and the item will be considered next month by that town’s planning board. Maggie Valley requires 1,000 square feet per machine.


Holding pattern

State lawmakers attempted in 2010 to close the video gambling loophole that allowed sweepstakes and ban this new incarnation as well. But the law ended up in court. A divided state Court of Appeals in March struck down North Carolina’s ban on video sweepstakes games, ruling that the state law was too broad and interfered with the right to free speech. The split decision meant the court case moved to the state Supreme Court. Arguments are scheduled to be heard in September.

Since that Court of Appeals ruling, sweepstakes cafes have mushroomed across Western North Carolina. The state Attorney General’s office has told law enforcement not to shutdown the sweepstakes cafes until a legal decision is rendered.

N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said that he does not expect the issue to be taken up during this short session of the General Assembly. Legislative leaders, Davis said, want to see what the Supreme Court decides before tackling the issue.

“But I do think some sort of regulating authority is appropriate,” Davis said.

N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, shepherded in the original legislation that has since been struck down by the Court of Appeals. Like Davis, Rapp said lawmakers’ intentions are to wait and see what the Supreme Court actually decides.

“I’m very hopeful they will uphold the ban,” Rapp said. If not, “we’ll exercise the nuclear option and ban all sweepstakes. This will take away all those options of trying to cherrypick various games.”

Rapp said that he and other lawmakers have tried to avoid banning all sweepstakes because that also will impact other industries such as Coca Cola’s bottlecaps games and McDonald’s Monopoly. The law, if crafted, will be modeled on one already in place in South Carolina, Rapp said.

“Dealing with this industry has been very challenging — I’ll leave it at that,” Rapp said.


Two decrepit trailers hauled in and dumped down on an empty lot in the middle of Cullowhee’s old business district are creating a furor in that community.

“It’s the slums of Cullowhee,” Cindy Jarman said between serving customers at the Cullowhee Café, 64-year-old mainstay run by Jarman’s family. “Those are 80-foot eyesores.”

It’s also as provided a case in point for Cullowhee advocates who say the area needs land-use regulations.

The trailers are parked along old Cullowhee Road not far from Western Carolina University and directly across from the venerable Cullowhee Café.

The owner of the trailers, Bill Kabord, operates a trailer park nearby. He did not return messages seeking comment.

Jarman’s sister, Kathy Millsaps, said the trailers are particularly disheartening because so many efforts have been undertaken recently to revitalize and improve Cullowhee. There’s even a group now, the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), dedicated to that very mission.

“Cullowhee is trying to clean up,” Millsaps said. “And I think there does need to be rules so that something like this doesn’t take place, particularly in an area like Cullowhee that is trying to grow and improve.”

CuRvE meets at Cullowhee Café though it has no direct affiliation with the family. The group has planted flowers, done various landscaping projects and collected roadside trash in an effort to beautify the area.

In addition to two dilapidated trailers parked in a lot across the road, Kabord hauled another newer-looking mobile home in and set it up three feet from the Cullowhee Café property line. That one is there to stay — it was recently underpinned — but Millsaps said she understands the worst looking ones are pulled in for repairs, and then they might be removed.

Millsaps’ father, Arnold Ashe, plans to plant fast-growing Leyland Cypress trees to try and block the restaurant’s view of the trailer that is there for keeps.

The fact that the two worst looking trailers might eventually be removed still doesn’t appease many people in the community. They have been loud, vocal and pointed regarding their discontent with the situation.

“I’m pretty furious about those junky old trailers being brought into Old Cullowhee,” Cullowhee resident Claire Eye said. “I have no issues with quality mobile homes, but these are real eyesores, and to put them right there in the heart of Old Cullowhee Road is distressing. At the same time that the community and WCU is working to revitalize Old Cullowhee, this sort of move feels like a slap in the face.”

Eye said she believes the trailers absolutely do make a case for zoning, though she has doubts that land-use planning in the community actually will ever take place.

“I believe zoning is a Herculean task that we’re not likely to win, but it’s worth fighting for,” Eye said.

A group of Cullowhee residents and business owners are at work now on that very issue. Since Cullowhee is not incorporated, any land-use regulations would need the OK of county commissioners. They met for the first time earlier this month with Jackson County Planner Gerald Green to discuss the possibility of community-based planning.

Preston Jacobsen of Cullowhee said he’s very unhappy about the trailers being parked in almost the dead center of old Cullowhee.

“I think it could hurt the image of Cullowhee,” Jacobsen said, then added that “this is indeed a perfect case and point for a planning board. As a landowner I’m hesitant, but as a citizen of Cullowhee and Jackson County I think it is needed.”

Rick Bennett, owner of Cullowhee Real Estate, said that like Jacobsen, a part of him balks at being told what he can and cannot do with the property that he owns.

“On the other hand I try not to devalue anyone else’s property. (The trailers) do show me that for other property owners, there does need to be some restrictions,” Bennett said. “Other property owners have worked to make their properties attractive.”

Bennett also worried about the impact of the trailers on potential Cullowhee-area investors.

“Those trailers would not give them a good warm and fuzzy feeling,” the real estate agent said, adding that what’s in essence the community’s commercial district needs guidelines and a certain measure of uniformity.

Bennett noted that the old trailers have been hauled in and plopped down in what is essentially Cullowhee’s downtown.

“Would the town of Sylva allow this to happen to their merchants on Main Street? It’s to everyone’s common good to keep up the value,” he said.


A grand and engaging vision for Western Carolina University’s Millennial campus as a place where academics, research, private industry and college life intersect has stalled almost since its inception seven years ago, but there might finally be signs of movement.

The $46 million Health and Human Sciences building slated to open in the fall has sparked interest from private developers who are exploring the idea of building a medical complex that would house doctor’s offices or health clinics. Indeed, that was the hoped-for affect of new health care teaching facility — to become the epicenter of a health care consortium where students and professors study and teach alongside private health care providers, medical device companies and specialized clinics.

WCU Chancellor David Belcher said that as the economy improves he believes development plans for the campus will move forward.

“By virtue of this facility I think that we are setting ourselves up as a hub for rural public health,” the chancellor said. “And what I want is medical services for our region.”

However, the economic climate to date has suppressed such growth, he said, because in turn “it’s a matter of them being able to court people willing to lease the space.”

Seven years ago, using $2.87 million in state bond money, WCU bought 344 acres of land across N.C. 107 from the main campus. The idea was to build the Millennial Campus, a showcase of how academics, research, private business and housing could be combined to enhance education. But so far, the campus is home to just the $46 million, 160,000-square-foot Health and Human Sciences building, set to open for classes this fall.

It will bring under one roof 11 programs from the College of Health and Human Sciences ranging from physical therapy to nursing, serving about 1,200 students, including 300 graduate students.

A new College of Education and Allied Professions building was next on the list but has been sidelined because of funding shortfalls in the state budget.

“We’ll need to re-examine and affirm that building or not — it has been four or five years since the decision was made,” Belcher said.

The chancellor said that he is certain that as the economy rebounds there inevitably will be growth taking place in the Cullowhee area. He said the university, for its part, would be forced to deal internally with such planning issues as transportation, sidewalks and the development of infrastructure that includes water, sewer and roads.

“And will there be residential halls there? Dining halls? It takes a lot of advance planning,” Belcher said of the future Millennial Campus.

Cullowhee poised for growth

Millennial Campus isn’t the only area likely to see growth in Cullowhee. The commercial districts around campus could attract new businesses to located following the recent passage of countywide alcohol sales.

Even without those two elements Cullowhee is already the fastest-growing township in Jackson County. The community grew 47 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census.

The prospect of unbridled growth has some in the Cullowhee community calling for the county to start some sort of land-use planning process. Meetings are being held in Cullowhee under the auspices of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), a community group dedicated to revitalizing and beautifying Cullowhee.

“My hope is that the people of the Cullowhee community will come together and develop a plan for the future of Cullowhee that takes advantage of the natural resources and attributes of the area,” said Mary Jean Herzog, the chair of CuRvE.

Herzog sent a letter to county commissioners asking they consider instituting planning efforts and that they make the revitalization of old Cullowhee a priority.

“As Cullowhee continues to grow, CuRvE is concerned about the lack of planning that has a negative impact on ‘Old Cullowhee,’” Herzog wrote in the letter. “If you walk along Old Cullowhee Road, you can see how this uncontrolled development looks. There are attractive, new houses on the river and on the opposite side of Old Cullowhee Road that add to the beauty of the area … But there are significant sections of disrepair and deterioration that drag down these efforts to beautify and revitalize.”

CuRvE has not heard back from county leaders, but Jackson County Planner Gerald Green is now working with members of that group and other Cullowhee residents at commissioners’ request. The group’s members are studying community-based zoning as a possibility for the area, though it would require gathering the signatures of one-third of the property owners who would be in the planning district. The signatures are a county requirement before commissioners will consider instituting community-based zoning.

Per state law, the designated zoning area would have to be at least 640 acres and be made up of at least 10 separate tracts of land.

Robin Lang, a business owner in Cullowhee and member of CuRvE, said she believes “now is the time to act” when it comes to planning Cullowhee’s future..

“I think the alcohol referendum is waking a lot of people up,” Lang said. “You have to manage growth or it’s going to be a mess. We’ve got to be smart and savvy about it.”

Lang is an advocate for a planning board or council, similar in scope to one now operating in Cashiers, to oversee Cullowhee.

Cashiers in 2003 was divided into two districts, a “village central” and a general commercial zone. In addition, Jackson County commissioners created a five-member Cashiers Area Community Planning Council to review amendments to the zoning plan and to make recommendations to the county planning board. The council also votes on requests for conditional uses and variances in Cashiers.

Like the CuRvE members, Belcher, too, believes growth in the Cullowhee community will present challenges in coming days.

“I don’t want to see it destroyed,” he said. “Our collective challenge is how we as a region and as a community deal with economic development.”


Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe is refusing to grant permits for businesses wanting to sell alcoholic beverages despite voters overwhelmingly approving countywide alcohol sales when the issue appeared on the ballot earlier this month.

With Jackson County no longer dry, more than a dozen businesses have jumped on the booze bandwagon, from grocery stores to gas stations to restaurants, hoping to add alcohol to their coolers and menus. But so far, Ashe has balked at signing off on the needed permits.

In response, county commissioners are considering whether to strip Ashe of the authority and appoint someone else to oversee the permits instead.

“This caught all of us by surprise,” Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said of the board of commissioners. “I guess Sheriff Ashe has his opinion about whether Jackson County ought to sell alcoholic beverages, and it didn’t really matter what the wishes of the people were.”

Voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages May 8 by nearly 60 percent. Since then 13 businesses in Jackson County have started the application process. County commissioners must appoint someone to oversee and approve those applications.

Last week commissioners voted to have Ashe handle what’s known as the local government opinion part of the process — essentially a formality in which a local official says whether they approve of the applicant and of their particular location.

Ashe, however, has taken his authority to a new and unexpected level. The sheriff turned down Catamount Travel Center convenience store in Whittier, for example, citing its proximity to Cherokee, which is dry. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted a resounding “no” to the sale of alcoholic beverages in a ballot measure of its own in April. Ashe apparently did not see fit for a gas station just over the line in Jackson County to start hawking beer and wine on Cherokee’s doorstep.

“Cherokee Indian Reservation as a sovereign nation recently voted down alcohol sales on the Qualla Boundary, which was a strong message from that community that it was not wanted or needed,” Ashe wrote in a letter last week to Catamount Travel Center regarding the reasons for disapproval.

Additionally, the sheriff wrote that 1.7 million people annually travel by this location going to the reservation, and that letting the Catamount Travel Center sell alcohol would create “traffic problems and an overwhelming amount of motor vehicle accidents.”

Ashe asked the county commissioners for a budget increase to hire eight new deputies following the passage of countywide alcohol sales, claiming that establishments selling alcohol would place additional demands on his patrol units. Commissioners are taking a wait-and-see approach, however, to determine whether the need is in fact there.

Ashe also rejected Catamount Travel Center’s request to sell alcohol at its Cullowhee location near Western Carolina University. In that case, he said the business was “located within 50 feet of educational institution properties in which 80 percent of the student population being potential customers are underage thus bringing on the problems of underage consumption and alcohol-related crimes involving persons underage.”

The sheriff said that “with a 10,000 student population this agency has already experienced a significant increase in underage drinking, alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related sex offenses at fraternities and even alcohol-related deaths … with my experience of 30 years in law enforcement, this would not be a suitable location for alcohol sales.”

Ashe also turned down Bob’s Mini Mart, located in a strip mall on campus known as the “catwalk,” for essentially the same reasons. Owner Bob Hooper said that the sheriff claimed the business was within 50 feet of the university. Hooper said that it is not.

Most other college campuses in the state, if not the country, have stores and bars selling alcohol all around them, yet drinking is not substantially different among students at WCU where it is less accessible, according to a study by the Healthy Campus initiative on alcohol and drug use among students in 2007.

Whether Ashe would apply his reasoning to blacklist any and all gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants wanting to serve alcohol in the greater Cullowhee area is unknown. Ashe did not return a phone message seeking comment for this article.

Nor is he returning messages left by Debnam either. Debnam called looking for some answers about what’s going on.

Debnam said that while the full board of county commissioners must make the decision, he for one is leaning toward picking someone else to handle the local application procedure. Commissioner Doug Cody said the same thing.

“We don’t have to have him do it,” Cody said. “There’s other options out there if this is going to be a problem for him.”

Ashe’s refusal to approve the applications is delaying the process but not stopping it. That’s because local business owners have the right to appeal the decision directly to the N.C. ABC Commission, which many of them are doing.

Hooper wasted no time bypassing Ashe and going straight to Raleigh. After getting his letter of denial from Ashe on Thursday, he was on the road to Raleigh the next morning to appeal to the N.C. ABC Commission. ABC agents plan to hear the appeal within a mandated 21-day period, he said.

“We’re going to get it, but it’s going to be a little slower,” Hooper said of his permit to sell.

Dwight Winchester, owner of the two Catamount Travel Centers, also drove to Raleigh on Friday, challenging Ashe’s denial of permits for both his Cherokee and Cullowhee locations. He received permission to start selling beer in his establishment outside Cherokee. He’s still blocked for now on the Cullowhee one, but he’s optimistic the ABC Commission will reverse that decision, too.

“He’s doing this to everyone in Cullowhee,” Winchester said of Ashe’s decision to deny him the permits.

Winchester said the state plans to investigate for itself whether his convenience store in Cullowhee is an appropriate location to sell beer and wine despite Ashe’s claims.

“What he wrote is factually incorrect. That’s what pissed me off with the sheriff,” Winchester said.

Ashe also claimed that allowing Catamount Travel Center in Cullowhee to sell alcohol would impede emergency responders at the Cullowhee Fire Department, that the fire department itself has protested against this location selling alcoholic beverages and that this would increase the probability of more alcohol-related accidents at the main intersection of the university.

Agnes Stevens, spokeswoman for the state ABC Commission, said it’s standard procedure for the state to do its own research if an applicant objects to having their permit denied at the local level.

“While local governments have a voice, the commission has the final say,” Stevens said.

Other business owners are gearing up to sell alcohol but aren’t yet ready equipment-wise, so the delay hasn’t impacted their bottom lines.

Jim Nichols, who owns an Exxon service station and a BP service station in Cashiers, said space is tight at the Exxon and that readying the store for beer coolers is going to require some expansion. He believes being able to offer beer to customers will help his businesses.

“If I had a nickel or dime for every customer who walked through that door looking for beer, wine or wine coolers, I’d have a lot of dough now,” Nichols said. “When we say we don’t have it, their faces show bewilderment — because this is a resort town.”

Jeannette Evans, owner of Mad Batter Bakery & Café, believes the availability of alcoholic beverages will help all of Cullowhee, not just her restaurant.

“I think of it as a chance to expand the vitality of the area and to expand the energy at night,” she said. “People like to sit down and have a glass of wine or a beer. I do think it’s part of dining out in the evening.”


Who wants to sell booze?

Here’s who has applied in Jackson County to begin selling alcoholic beverages.

• Catamount Travel Center, Cullowhee

• Bob’s Mini Mart, Cullowhee

• Sazon, Cullowhee

• The Package Store, Cullowhee

• Mad Batter, Cullowhee

• Rolling Stone Burrito, Cullowhee

• Caney Fork General Store, Tuckasegee

• Tamburini’s Restaurant, Cashiers

• Cornucopia Cellars, Cashiers

• Cashiers’ Farmers Market, Cashiers

• The Orchard, Cashiers

• Ingles grocery, Cashiers

• Catamount Travel Center, Cherokee

Exactly how many businesses have had their permits denied isn’t known. Sheriff Jimmy Ashe has not responded to requests that public records on this matter be released.


Testing canola varieties for biofuel. Growing truffles. Finding hemlocks and Fraser firs that can survive the scourge of the adelgid. Determining best practices for organic heirloom tomato production.

A walk through the fields of the Mountain Research Station will find dozens of projects in process as researchers experiment and push the limits of what the land can produce. The research station, with a more than 100-year history of figuring out new and better ways of farming, is in the midst of redefining itself while staying true to its traditional agricultural roots.

The Mountain Research Station is run by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and is one of 18 such test farms in the state. This one is the westernmost in North Carolina.

“We are becoming more diverse,” said Kaleb Rathbone, the superintendent of the Mountain Research Station. “It’s important that we are cutting edge. We need to be ahead of the game.”

Rathbone, however, is quick to add that the 410-acre station isn’t moving away from conducting conventional farming research.

“We’re not doing less of the beef cattle and tobacco — we’re actually doing more there, too,” he said.

But these days it’s the alternative, organic, new-age and exotic farming going on there that is capturing the public’s imagination. That work and the ensuing gee-whiz factor helps ensure that the Mountain Research Station, which faced the possibility of closure just a few years ago, is likely to continue for the next 100 years.

Ultimately the point of the Mountain Research Station is to improve farmers’ bottom line in an increasingly more difficult farming environment.

SEE ALSO: Does this grow here? The answer holds key to farming future

Whether it is better tomato yields per acre, less crop loss from blights, growing organic which fetches higher prices than conventional, breeding calves with better traits so they in turn fetch more at the market, or moving toward more lucrative niche crops so local farmers don’t have to compete in the cut-throat world of large-scale commercial, corporate farming — all of this is aimed at helping farmers be able to keep farming.

The Mountain Research Station underpins the agricultural trends of the region, from tobacco to Christmas trees. That Cadillac of Christmas trees, the Fraser Fir, was developed here for farmers, and is now one of the region’s most lucrative crops.The test farm presents farmers with common-sense solutions to real-world problems.


Broccoli and truffles

On any given day, the test farm is dotted with researchers checking on their crops and test plots. On this day last week the weather was particularly warm and sunny and Emily Bernstein and her crew were lathering on the sunscreen. They had 4,000 to 5,000 broccoli plants to get into the ground, a task made easier with the help of a tractor and transplantor being operated by horticulture supervisor Chris Leek and another station worker.

The crew is taking part in a five-year effort to develop broccoli varieties suitable for the East Coast. Most of the broccoli was developed for climates and conditions out West.

What this means, as most any local gardener could explain, is that broccoli bolts when it turns consistently warm. As a result the broccoli-growing season here is truncated to spring and fall growing only and farmers can’t cash in on this potentially lucrative cash crop.

Bernstein said the project started last year with a broad screening of 40 to 50 varieties. More screening is being done this year. A dozen of the most promising varieties will be picked for further testing.

“Will this grow here and can it take the heat?” Bernstein said in a succinct explanation of the research being conducted.

Broccoli will be grown five times from now until July. Once plants are mature, the crew will move through the plantings with a scorecard. They will rate the bead size of the broccoli head, the shape of the dome (an ice cream cone shape is preferred), uniformity and color.

Bernstein is also the research specialist on another Mountain Research Station project — an attempt to find out if Black Perigord Truffles can successfully be grown in WNC. That, for now at least, is a less labor-intensive project than the broccoli. The crew planted Filbert, or American hazelnut, trees three years ago, she said. The roots of the trees were inoculated with truffle spore and the soil was heavily limed to make the soil pH more alkaline. Everyone now is simply waiting the necessary five to seven years to see if truffles do indeed grow. If they do, WNC could find itself with a very lucrative cash crop indeed, courtesy of the Mountain Research Station.


A stable research situation

It’s still early in the day but Ben Smith, an entomologist, is hard at work with three colleagues in a small office at the Mountain Research Station last week. Smith’s job seems daunting: develop Fraser firs and Eastern and Carolina hemlocks that can survive the adelgid attack, an insect infestation that has nearly wiped out hemlock forests. Meanwhile, its near cousin the balsam woolly adelgid has caused the Fraser fir to become a threatened species.  

Smith and his colleagues are taking a two-pronged approach. They are looking for resistant trees — you know they aren’t resistant, he noted wryly, if they’ve been killed by the adelgid. They are then breeding those trees to develop a resistant hybrid strain. The Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests is providing funding.

What’s taking place here is extremely similar to work done by the American Chestnut Foundation. That tree, once the mighty giant of our eastern forests, was a vital part of the forest ecology, a key food source for wildlife and an essential component of the human economy. In the early 1900s, a lethal blight, accidentally imported from Asia, spread rapidly through the American chestnut population.

Work started some 30 years ago to develop a blight-resistant tree, by cross-breeding a sliver of the immune Chinese chestnut with the American version. It’s now been accomplished, and forests are slowly being planted with the new American Chestnut.

Research like this takes a long time. Decades are likely to pass before a solution is found. And that’s why the Mountain Research Station is so critical — it serves as a dependable testing situation, Smith said.

“We would be in a very different position if the station weren’t here,” he said. “One thing that is extremely important in breeding is the long term. The earliest we could see results would be in seven to 10 years, it could be as long as 50 years. It’s important to have stable ownership of the land you have the trees on, or you can lose the test. The fact that we know this is going to remain available to us is really important.”

Robert Jetton, a fellow researcher, underscores Smith’s point: “Having a stable facility like the research station is the key,” he said.


Almost closed down

Just a few years ago the future of the Mountain Research Station hung in jeopardy.

In 2008 the Haywood County test farm was one of seven in the state recommended for closure because of a failure to meet profit and performance guidelines. That previous summer a bill in the legislature also proposed closure, but failed to win traction.

Former Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, and other mountain legislators fought successfully to keep the research station open.

“We have a very unique situation. It’s quite different from the rest of the state,” Queen said of the reason he believes Western North Carolina needs its own research station. “We have a diversified agricultural sector with small producers. In the eastern part of the state they have huge farms.”

Queen said farmers turned out in droves to support the Mountain Research Station, adding fuel to the fire as the fight went on to save the facility. That level of support didn’t surprise Queen.

“I expected the farmers to support it, because for instance if you are a tomato farmer in this area, you are a tomato farmer because of the Mountain Research Station,” Queen said.

Queen pointed out that the station has done work developing the varieties of tomatoes grown here, how to grow them in WNC and how to protect them from various diseases. And the same thing is true, he said, for countless other farming enterprises: Christmas trees, beef cattle, blueberries, tobacco and more.

Bill Skelton, director of Haywood County’s N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, echoed Queen’s sentiment that the Mountain Research Station is vital to area farmers. He said the bull program, for example, has brought wholesale improvements to the quality of WNC’s beef cattle population. Each year the research station brings in 50 to 60 bulls and conducts performance trials. Researchers test for weight gain and growth, diseases, breeding soundness and other qualities. They even use ultrasound to gauge the quality of the ribeye a bull’s packing. The bulls are then sold to local cattlemen — who have made a safe bet that the quality of next year’s calves will carry the desired genetic traits of their father, and in turn will fetch higher prices at market. This has been going on for more than 30 years.

“The herd quality in WNC has tremendously improved because of that,” Skelton said, adding that the same thing is true of tobacco production and other crops.

“They put those questions in the ground and see if they can’t find the answers,” he said.


Planning is name of the game

As Rathbone talks he drives a large pickup truck along the roads of the Mountain Research Farm. A Fines Creek boy raised on a farm, he started working here when he turned 16.

“It’s pretty much home,” he said. And, in fact, Rathbone now lives in a house located on the research facility.

Rathbone became director a couple years ago, replacing Bill Teague, who had been there for some 30 years.

What’s immediately obvious, and what Rathbone pointed out, is how densely used the acreage here is: it seems that practically ever inch of space is home to some sort of research project.

Planning for each new 12-month cycle starts in December of the previous year. There are 35 research projects this year being conducted by 15 project leaders.

The Mountain Research Center itself employees 10 fulltime workers and four or five temporary workers during the summer. The workers take care of the day-to-day operations and are joined on the test farm by researchers and their crews.

Rathbone is optimistic about the facility’s future.

“We’ve got great community support, and because of the work that we do and the impact we have on the producer it brings value to the community. We’ve got a strong future ahead of us,” he said.

That said, Rathbone noted that it’s difficult to put a dollar value on the work done at Mountain Research Station. The loss of the station, he said, would be hugely significant to agricultural interests in WNC.

“It’s the cost of lost opportunity if you don’t have a facility to do the necessary research,” Rathbone said.



A storied history

In an era when agriculture was king, the Mountain Research Station was founded 1908 to help farmers improve their bottom lines. It was located at that time in the Swanannoa Valley in Buncombe County, and was one of the earliest stations of the 18 in North Carolina eventually established.

The station initially conducted soil surveys and tests; commercial fertilizer was tested and rates and production use was researched. Testing and the development of corn, wheat, apples, vegetables, small grains, forages and other crop varieties were also areas of early research.  

In 1942, however, the U.S. Army selected the site in Swannanoa to build a hospital for soldiers wounded during World War II. Some of the land was sold and buildings were removed. So in 1944 the station was moved to its present site at Waynesville in Haywood County. Barns and buildings were built, land prepared for research, dairy cattle and poultry were transferred to Waynesville and crop research began again.

1950’s: The primary focus of livestock research efforts was directed towards work with dairy cattle and poultry, which at that period were very important parts of the agricultural industry in the mountain regions of North Carolina. Research efforts in crops were directed primarily to the crops that were most important to the economy of the area at that time. These were burley tobacco, corn and forage crops. A 12-acre apple orchard was established for the purpose of evaluating new varieties of apples and also to study pesticide use and management. This work was phased out in later years.

1960’s: Work with dairy cattle and poultry continued during the 1960’s, but the agricultural economy of the area was changing as poultry production moved to other areas of the state. The poultry work and dairy work were phased out.

1970’s: Burley tobacco continued to be the main cash crop in the mountains and research efforts were continued and increased in this area. Trellised tomatoes made an appearance. Efforts were also made to determine the feasibility of new cash crops that might be successfully grown in the area, including sunflowers and sugar beets. It was discovered that the Fraser, which is native to the high mountains of North Carolina, was the prime species for Christmas tree use and could be successfully cultivated and marketed for this purpose. The first experimental Christmas tree plots for Fraser Firs in North Carolina were established at the Mountain Research Station.

1980’s: The station continued efforts to diversify its research program. Livestock research dominated the station with the addition of a Performance Bull Test program that began in 1980. Blueberry varieties for mountain climates and soils were developed as well as raspberry varieties that could tolerate cold climates.

1990’s: Station facilities, fields and infrastructure were renovated or updated. Sheep and goat research was conducted. Conservation tillage, non-native grasses, small ruminant forages and grazing trials were researched extensively. Eight Burley tobacco varieties were developed and released during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

2000’s: Leaf lettuce, slaw cabbage, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, specialty crops (peppers, gourds, sunflowers) pumpkins, organics and bread wheat were all part of the station’s research program and trials to farmers find new crop alternatives. A cow/calf research herd was established. The herd is used to demonstrate and research management variables on calf production and carcass data. Extensive goat diet and nutrition, production, and grazing trials were continued.


Every small town needs a street festival, and what better excuse for one could there be than goats?

This past weekend a friend and I went to the Spindale Goat Festival, where all things dairy goat took center stage. The festival is now in its third year and attracts thousands, including a multitude of dairy goats and their owners.

The festival had its start as sort of a joke, Shirley McKenzie, association manager for the American Dairy Goat Association, told me.

Spindale, you might not realize, is the home of the American Dairy Goat Association. That was apparently a question asked on the game show Jeopardy one time. I’m told the contestant actually answered the question correctly.

“Someone said, ‘We ought to have a goat parade,’” McKenzie explained.

From a tiny acorn grows the mighty oak … and three years later, the goat parade has morphed into a complete festival. There is music, food and entertainment, carnival rides for kids and lots of goat-themed booths and yes, regular festival-type booths, too.

But let’s back the story up a little and answer that question now burning inside of you: And how exactly did Spindale become home to the American Dairy Goat Association?

McKenzie said that the association was organized in 1904 to collect, record and preserve the pedigrees of dairy goats and to provide genetic, management and related services to dairy goat breeders.

The first office was located in Elyria, Ohio. In 1959, the secretary-treasurer was one Robert W. Soens. A time came when his health required that he move to a milder climate. Soens chose to move to Bostic, N.C., and the American Dairy Goat Association moved with him. As the association’s goat registry grew, it required more space, and so an office was acquired in Spindale in 1963. Today, the group has eight fulltime employees and an annual budget of about $1.3 million.

According to a fact sheet, the American Dairy Goat Association is now third in total dairy animals registered annually in the U.S., following the Holstein and Jersey cow organizations. The group has more than 14,000 members and annually registers more than 37,000 animals. Since it started, the American Dairy Goat Association has registered or recorded more than a million animals.

A few more gee-wiz facts: the American Dairy Goat Association sanctions more than 1,100 shows annually throughout the U.S., with each show routinely averaging more than 1,500 entries. In other words, this is big-time organization in the agricultural arena.

It seems that for many years, however, the American Dairy Goat Association kept a fairly low profile in Spindale. That’s all changed with the advent of the goat festival.

“The goat festival has kind of put us and them on the map,” Spindale Mayor Mickey Bland told me in between greeting festival-goers in his small town. “And I’ve certainly learned a lot about goats.”

Bland asked me if I realized how many different varieties of dairy goats there are. I knew there were several, but it turns out that the American Dairy Goat Association recognizes eight: Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable, Toggenburg and Nigerian Dwarf.

“This has been entertaining,” Bland said of the three-year old festival.

And it has been an economic boon of sorts for Spindale, which has suffered hard economic times with the collapse of the textile industry.

Frankly many of the folks attending the festival probably couldn’t give a hoot about goats. But goats were ever present anyway, from booths selling goat soap to the goat shows that were taking place. More than 200 goats were participating in the shows, and there were two judges each working separate contestant rings.

Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler made the trip from Atlanta to enjoy the shows. The couple currently lives in a condominium in the big city.

“We love goats,” Leitman told me. “But our homeowners’ association would have a fit if we got them.”

Leitman and Heisler dream one day of owning a small farm complete, of course, with goats.

They learned about the Spindale Goat Festival via Facebook. They’d gotten in on Friday and enjoyed the goat parade, which included a “billy dancing” group of belly dancers and goats.

“It was fabulous,” Leitman said. “Now that is quality entertainment.”

So this time next year when you’re looking for something a bit offbeat to do, I suggest that you consider taking in the Spindale Goat Festival.

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


Jackson County looks set to approve a budget that keeps the tax rate the second lowest in the state at 28 cents per $100 valuation.

The proposed budget would see Jackson County add a human resources director, plus a one-time bonus of $650 for those county employees making less than $40,000 a year.

“There was no raise last year,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said. “This would be the first increase in two years.”

Some highlights from the budget are:

• The $11.3 million construction cost for a new performing arts center and gymnasium at Smoky Mountain High School, and a locker room at Blue Ridge School is included. The county will take out a loan for the project and use sales tax specifically earmarked by the state for school construction to cover the annual payments. The county’s contribution to schools’ operating budget won’t change.

n Southwestern Community College will get an additional $149,960 to help cover the operating costs of the school’s new Burrell Building. For now, commissioners would not committe to $580,000 in matching funds to build a quad or commons area and add a restaurant on campus. Commissioners met with the SCC Board of Trustees earlier this week in ongoing discussions about the project, and they still have time to add the money to the budget.

• The Jackson County Public Library would receive increased funding at 3.4 percent but that’s less than what was asked for. The library had asked to create a new position so that person could be trained by an existing employee to assume their duties on retirement. Wooten said he felt library management could reallocate existing funds for that purpose.

• A new human resources director would oversee 375 full-time employees. Wooten said a professional is needed to ensure that polices are up to date and that departments are adequately trained in personnel administration. “Our most valuable asset is the employees who work for and represent the citizens of Jackson County,” Wooten noted.

A public hearing on the budget has been set for 1:30 p.m. on June 4 in the county commission boardroom.


When it comes to staying well fed, the Macon County commissioners are leading the pack. From finger food and pizzas to fortify them during regular meetings to huge sit-down dinner spreads with fellow boards in the county, commissioners in Macon County have eaten $9,651.80 worth of food in two-and-a-half years.

This type of eating by public officials used to be more common in Western North Carolina. But most other commission boards have gone on a Spartan diet as the economic times have worsened and fiscal austerity have become county watchwords.

“We do it as little as possible,” Swain County Manager Kevin King said, adding that on occasion during the yearly board retreat the Swain County Board of Commissioners might order in a pizza.

The same is true in Haywood and Jackson counties, too. Neither board brings in food for regular night meetings as does the Macon County Board of Commissioners.

“We might have a bottle of water,” Haywood County Manager Marty Stamey said. “And we don’t do a lot of luncheons. If we’re having a really long work session we might have some small sandwiches. But we don’t do a large meal spread.”

The Macon County Board of Commissioners has one night meeting a month. Board Clerk Mike Decker said the county brings in chicken tenders, sub sandwiches or pizza for those meetings.

Commissioners also meet with other boards on a regular basis for eating meetings, from their counterparts with the town of Franklin to the county’s own planning board. So far this year Macon County commissioners met at Fat Buddies restaurant in Franklin three times and picked up the check: once with the school board, once with the planning board and once with the boards from the two towns in Macon County, Highlands and Franklin. The towns and the county take turns picking up the meal tab; this latest time it was Macon County’s turn.

The price tag for meals so far this year by Macon County? Try $1,367,78 and counting.

“We’ve got to keep our girlish figures,” Commissioner Ronnie Beale said with a laugh. “Is this the best thing you’ve got to write? If so, you go right ahead.”

Beale and other commissioners defended their eating ways, particularly the joint eating meetings with other boards.

“When you have everybody there it is a lot of people eating, but it’s worth it,” Beale said. “It’s been productive and puts you face to face. Besides, without a meal you probably wouldn’t get them there.”

Commissioner Ron Haven said he’d never thought about the amount of eating being done in Macon County.

“I’d look at anything there is to save money. I know it sounds high, and I’m surprised to hear that, but I haven’t priced it to see. I haven’t looked at it so I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything,” Haven said.

Like Haven, Commissioner Jimmy Tate said he was surprised to hear such a high dollar number for the board’s menu bills.

“I’m curious now that you’ve put a bug in my ear,” he said, adding that he planned to talk to County Manager Jack Horton about the bill.

Chairman Kevin Corbin, who has been on the board for about a year, said he believes that eating meetings are a good method of developing rapport with another board’s members. He particularly cited the recent joint meeting held with the planning board at Fat Buddies.

“We need the ability to sit and talk with them a bit other than in a meeting setting,” Corbin said. “There was the most need for that with the planning board because it’s been contentious.”


Jackson County commissioners butted heads with local activists at a meeting this week, refusing to lend their philosophical support to a movement over whether corporate power should be reined in.

A local offshoot of the Occupy movement called on commissioners to pass a resolution of support for their cause — namely to reduce corporate influence and power and instead make government beholden to the common man. But, commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines not to sign on.

The group has been taking their message on the road, visiting town and county boards, as part of the nationwide Move to Amend movement. Their goal, along with other chapters across the nation, is to spark a groundswell of support that could ultimately prompt Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, prompting fear that politicians will become even more indebted to corporate money.

Locally, town boards in Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City approved Move to Amend’s resolution. The group has asked to come before the boards in Dillsboro, Sylva and in Macon and Swain counties and hopes to do so soon.

While Move to Amend has seen unanimous support from leaders of other boards they appeared before, they weren’t so lucky in Jackson County this week, the home county for many of the activists.

Commissioner Joe Cowan made a motion that Jackson County approve the amendment submitted by the group. Rising to his feet, Cowan rendered a somewhat impassioned speech against the original Supreme Court decision.

“It basically said money can have a voice,” Cowan said. “And that corporations are people. And I don’t agree with either of those propositions … somebody is buying influence and we don’t know who that is.”

Cowan, a Democrat, said that he did not believe this was a Democrat versus Republican issue, though that’s exactly how the debate promptly framed itself. The resolution failed by a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Doug Cody said that he wouldn’t vote for a resolution that singled out corporations unless it also included such groups as political action committees, labor unions, lobbyists — and even the Canary Coalition for that matter, the group headed by Avram Friedman, a member of Move to Amend.

“I will not be a party to something or of legislation that calls for the discrimination of any people or group,” Cody said, adding that he found such an idea “despicable.”

“If someone will come back with a resolution that asks for barring all lobbyist and PACs, I’ll sign it,” he said.

Commissioner Charles Elders said that he agreed with Cody. Chairman Jack Debnam simply described himself as “tired of being browbeat” by the Move to Amend folks over the issue. The group has been vocal in their quest to get face time with the commissioners, raising a ruckus when the county initially would not put them on.

Friedman thanked commissioners for placing the issue on the agenda though he described himself as disappointed by the resulting vote.

“This is truly a nonpartisan issue,” Friedman said, adding that the resolution would cover other groups such as the ones described by Cody. Friedman also made the point that as a 501(c)3 nonprofit the Canary Coalition can’t make political donations anyway.

Another Move to Amend group member, Lucy Christopher, also described herself as disappointed and said that she hoped discussion over the issue would continue.

“I hope that we can sit down around a table and talk,” said Christopher, who lives in Jackson County.

That, frankly, seems unlikely to happen, however.


A request by Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe for eight additional deputies now that the sale of alcoholic beverages has been approve countywide isn’t gaining much traction among the men who hold the purse strings.

“I’m going to have to be shown a reason why he needs eight more people,” County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam said. “I don’t understand his reasoning.”

The other four commissioners, while not necessarily flatly disallowing the request, expressed similar sentiments about the proof being in the pudding.

Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages during the May 8 primary. Before, the county was dry, with alcohol sold only in the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro.

In a letter to commissioners, Ashe said that countywide alcohol sales would “greatly increase the numbers of calls that my deputies respond to. With only five deputies per shift now they are already spread thin with the number of calls that we respond to.”

Ashe noted that without additional deputies “it will be extremely difficult to provide the best safety possible to our citizens of Jackson County.”

Eight additional deputies, he said, would allow him to add two deputies per shift. The sheriff said that he could then put two officers rather than only one, as is the case now, in the Cashiers, Glenville and Sapphire area.

“This is a large area for only one deputy to cover,” Ashe said. “If an extreme situation occurs and requires backup, the amount of time for another officer to respond could be detrimental to the safety of the officer as well as others involved.”

Ashe did not return a phone message requesting comment.

Commissioner Mark Jones, who represents the southern portion of Jackson County, agreed with Ashe that there is likely to be more need for deputies over time. Jones said he believes there will be development pressures because of the countywide sale of alcohol in three communities of Jackson County: Cashiers, Cullowhee and the U.S. 441 Gateway area leading to Cherokee.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be an increase of law enforcement,” Jones said.

Commissioner Joe Cowan agreed that the time might come when Ashe needs additional deputies, but he emphasized that he’s reluctant to press forward with staff additions until the need is obvious and apparent.

“We need to find out what kind of impact, if any, it will have on his deputies,” Cowan said. “But I’ll certainly keep an open mind — because if you need ‘em, you need ‘em.”

It’s going to take quite some convincing, however, to get commissioners Doug Cody and Charles Elders to agree to spring for eight additional deputies in these fiscally tough times.

“I think Sheriff Ashe has staked out his position on it, but we haven’t staked out our position yet,” Cody said. “Eight deputies is a little farfetched in my opinion.”

Elders said that he wants to watch and see how the sale of alcoholic beverages plays out, in terms of whether crime actually increases or not and whether the burden on the sheriff’s department also increases accordingly.

“At the present time, the answer is ‘no,’” Elders said about the eight-deputy request by the sheriff. “But if it is really proven, that he needs them as this progresses, then OK.”

Chairman Debnam said he doesn’t believe the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages will change much in Jackson County when it comes to crime and law enforcement.

“I think people drink anyway,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any issues that haven’t already been there. If anything, there will probably be less people actually driving and drinking.”

State law mandates that the commissioners must set aside at least five percent of the gross receipts from the sale of alcohol at an ABC store for law enforcement. It does allow the county the option of contracting with the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency instead of handling those duties locally.


While arguments over the state budget are likely to dominate everything in Raleigh as the General Assembly convenes for the next six weeks, there are certain bills and aspects of the budget making their way through the chambers that are of special interest to this region.

Annexation, automobile inspections and certain local bills will be considered during this short session. But the budget is definitely the gorilla in the room, the three lawmakers — Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill; Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva; and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin — from this region unanimously agreed.

“That’s the major point of why you even have the short session,” Rapp said of the budget.

Aspects of the state’s financial plan as written by GOP House budget writers will be unveiled for the first time this week, Rapp said, which will undoubtedly set the stage for fierce debate between the two parties.

Education is likely to emerge as the hot-button issue in regards to the budget. Schools are losing federal stimulus money and are looking at steep budget cuts if things stay as they are. Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed increasing the education budget by $785 million using new sales tax revenue. But while Republicans have indicated they want to find more money for schools, that might be difficult in these fiscally austere times and with their promises of adhering to a fiscally austere budget path and stout opposition to a sales tax hike.

“This has major implications in education,” Rapp said. “There’s the possibility of losing more teachers and school employees — this is the frontline battle that will grab headlines (this) week.”

In regards to various bills that are moving through the General Assembly, Davis said the one on annexation is capturing a lot of attention.

“This is particularly aimed at some municipalities that have involuntarily annexed people in outlying areas. In some cases the people haven’t received services for 12 years,” Davis said.

The State senate last week approved two bills that were written in response to a judge who disallowed annexation rules passed in 2011, Rapp said.

One bill would kill certain annexations that have already taken place and the other gives people the ability to stop a municipality from annexing their land into the town limits against their will.

“That one says that if you want to annex an area you have to have a referendum and a plurality of people must say they want to have this happen,” Davis said.

One GOP-backed proposal that Davis supported did not make the cut. Under the proposal, new-car owners wouldn’t have to get safety inspections until the cars were more than three years old.

Davis said he favored the idea because the safety inspection of new cars seems unnecessary. The proposal went down in flames, however, under a barrage of phone calls and lobbying by garage owners who make money off the inspections.

Fracking, a method of extracting natural gas hydraulically, is another hot-button issue identified by area lawmakers. There are several bills that will be introduced promoting fracking that are expected to pass. If they do, North Carolina would form an oil and gas board to oversee the procedure. Conservationists oppose fracking as posing an unnecessary risk to the environment.

Davis also pointed to voter identification as another bill to keep an eye on. This is a holdover from the 2011 session. The bill would require that voters show photo identification at the polls before they could vote. Democrats have fought the bill as a voter-rights violation.

On a more local level, several bills are being introduced that are of special interest to this region.

In yet another step in a tangled tale, Haire is introducing a bill that would allow Jackson County to delay the implementation of legislation passed last year seeking an additional 3 tax on overnight lodging.

The county inadvertently triggered a mandate governing county tourism entities when it sought the room tax increase, requiring it to form a single tourism development authority. Jackson County has had two tourism agencies — one representing the Cashiers area and one for Jackson County as a whole — that oversee room tax money collected by the lodging industry. Whether to merge the two into a single countywide entity has been a source of debate. In the meantime, the county learned recently that its current structure is out of compliance with state law.

Haire said that his bill would give Jackson County until Jan. 1 to make that change, giving county leaders the opportunity to best decide what structure the single countywide tourism agency should take.

Davis, for his part, is overseeing legislation that would finalize an agreement between Graham and Swain counties over Fontana Dam money.

Swain and Graham counties have finally agreed on where to draw the county line signifying their portions of the Fontana Dam and hydropower generators. The dam straddles the two counties. How much of the dam lies in each county determines how much they each get in property tax money from the Tennessee Valley Authority for the dam, its hydropower equipment and generators. This bill nails down the dividing line as an old monument marking the center of the river on the dam that surveyors discovered.

Rapp is introducing a bill that would restore funding to the N.C. Center for the Advancement for Teaching. The center would receive $3 million in recurring funds beginning July 1 from the Department of Public Instruction under the bill.

The N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching went from a state-funded budget of $6.1 million to $3.1 million last year.

The 25-year institution is credited with helping the state to retain teachers by inspiring them through professional development. In Cullowhee, 22 fulltime positions and 11 hourly-contracted positions were eliminated because of the budget cut.

The short session is expected to conclude July 4.

“The rumor down here was if you wanted to make plans for the Fourth of July you could do so,” Haire said.


It took more than a decade, a lot of detective work and a protracted legal case to clear the way for a new portion of the Bartram Trail in Macon County now under construction.

The Bartram Trail Society maintains a 100-mile memorial trail in Western North Carolina in honor of the naturalist William Bartram, who traveled through the region in 1775 on a botanical mission to collect exotic, new-fangled plants from the New World for the English crown.

A large section of the trail in Macon County is stymied either by private land or the Little Tennessee River. Hikers trying to do the entire Bartram Trail have to come out of the woods and hoof it along the highway through Franklin from the Fishhawk Mountains section to the Nantahala section, or they must find a canoe or kayak and boat down the river.

Some 10 to 15 years ago, Burt Kornegay, then president of the Bartram Trail Society, began an effort to cut down on the amount of highway hiking. The Bartram Trail Society wanted to reroute a portion of the Bartram Trail in the Otto community, specifically from its Buckeye Branch exodus in the Tessentee Creek area to Hickory Knoll Road.

“This would knock out several miles of road hiking,” Kornegay said. “We were trying to reduce that.”

Kornegay saw a for-sale sign on one piece of property where the society wanted to reroute the trail. He and his wife went out on a limb, he said, and bought the piece of property for about $17,000 in expectation that the society would buy it from them, which it ultimately did.

“But then, there was still a little weird piece of private land,” Kornegay said. “For some reason, it had just been sort of a lost piece of land and had sat there for all this time, for over 100 years.”

Unsorting the story of that “weird” piece of land — a critical link to get the trail rerouted — became the task of Highlands lawyer Richard Melvin, who donated his time to helping the Bartram Society on the matter.

Deciphering boundary lines and surveys of old tracts are never easy.

“In the old titles, you’ll often find overlap with descriptions to this rock and that tree,” Melvin said. “We had to find out where it lies.”

But, there was a rather unusual hurdle for this particular tract: figuring out who the heck owned it.

“We finally found out the last owner was Nimrod Jarrett,” Melvin said.

Nimrod Simpson Jarrett was a major landowner across Western North Carolina, owning thousands of acres. Jarrett also farmed, traded ginseng, and owned mica and talc mines. He owned slaves and served as a colonel in the Macon County militia. Jarrett lived in the Nantahala community where Appletree campground is today.

In September 1871, Jarrett set off for Franklin from Nantahala on a business trip and was robbed and killed. A man named Balias Henderson was found guilty of the crime and was subsequently hanged in May 1873.

Melvin said he couldn’t determine that there were any heirs to the piece of property in the Hickory Knoll area of Macon County that Jarrett had owned. Melvin said that Jarrett had had children, but that those children had moved west or otherwise left the county and abandoned this particular piece of property. Perhaps he had so much land, the executor of his will couldn’t keep track of it all, and this piece was simply lost in the shuffle. But for whatever reason, the title was still in his name — 150 years after his untimely murder.

The land is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land on all sides but one.

Melvin filed a quitclaim deed on the land on behalf of the Bartram Trail Society. The group, after the seven required years passed, gained legal title after no one came forward to contest the claim.

Walter Wingfield, current president of the Bartram Trail Society, said the land was then sold to the U.S. Forest Service for its appraised value.

The Bartram Trail Society does not build trails on private land because of liability issues, which is why it sold the property to the forest service. Some of the money from that sale will be used to help build the new 3.8-mile section of the Bartram Trail.

The new property is very steep and rugged, Wingfield said, meaning that private contractors with trail-building equipment will be required, not just volunteer labor. A grant is also being sought to help pay for the new trail.

As for the robbery and subsequent murder of Jarrett that led to this legal quagmire?

“I think the murderer got 50 cents and a pocket watch out of it,” Wingfield said.


Recordings made some seven decades ago of nearly 60 men and women who lived in what became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon will be made publicly available online.

In 1939, a young graduate student by the name of Joseph Sargent Hall traveled through the region’s coves and hollows with an audio recorder powered off his pick-up truck battery, capturing tales of bear hunts, lessons on herbal remedies and authentic mountain tunes. He spent eight months recording the experiences of older residents and the music of young aspiring musicians. Of the 60 interviews, 17 were from Swain County and 16 were from Haywood County.

One of the mountaineers recorded by Hall was the famous Steve Woody of Cataloochee Valley, who was 86 at the time.

“That’s not me; that’s my grandfather,” Steve Woody the younger said with a laugh. “I can remember him.”

Woody owns a tape rendition of the 1939 recording Hall made of his grandfather. It is a story about a bear hunt, Woody said, and there’s also a photograph in the family album of the actual interview taking place, too.

Woody thinks it’s terrific that the old recordings soon will be made easily available.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I think people need to know the history of these mountains.”

When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created, hundreds of people living in remote Appalachian settlements were forced to move. Hall’s recordings were made just as this was happening, capturing a moment in time and way of life that was coming to an end. Woody’s grandfather was the last person to move out of Cataloochee Valley after the park was created.

The City University of New York will host the non-commercial website where the recordings will be made publicly accessible. A release date hasn’t been set — the project’s members are trying to ensure that living descendants of those recorded are given notice first that the recordings are being made public.

Michael Montgomery, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of South Carolina and a member of the project team, said that the digitized recordings are being made from tape recordings that were, in turn, made in the 1980s from the original recordings.

“They are actually quite clear for recordings made more than 70 years ago,” Montgomery said, adding that the original discs are held in safekeeping in the Library of Congress.

Copies of the recordings are currently available for people to listen to if, that is, they are willing to drive several hours into Tennessee to the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.


A chronicler of the people

Using Civilian Conservation Corps camps for home base, Hall ventured throughout the area to record. For this work, Hall used two recorders, one that produced aluminum discs and was operated by cables hooked to a pick-up truck battery and another that made acetate discs and ran on a portable battery pack.

Montgomery said that Hall became close friends with many of the men working in the CCC camps and returned to visit them for many years after the first recordings were made. Hall died in 1992.

Luke Hyde of Bryson City, who had family members who once lived where the park was subsequently created, said he believes it will be helpful to families such as his and for park history buffs in general to have the recordings easily available via a website. In addition to the recordings, searchable texts also will be online.

“I like the general concept,” Hyde said, adding that he is well familiar with the important work done by Hall to record the people of the Smokies.

“He was fascinated by a lot of things, and he listened to people,” Hyde said. “He was one of the chroniclers of the mountain people.”

Montgomery said Hall’s interest in making this set of recordings was to record dialect. That meant he didn’t care so much what people said as long as they said something — so what’s on the recordings are such things as “women talking about herbal remedies and fellows talking about bear hunting,” Montgomery said.

Hall himself wrote about his work that, “the topics of the recordings were anything the informant wished to talk about. Men talked about their farm, their crops, their cattle, and hunting. Women liked to tell recipes or talk about their interest in weaving and quilting and the like.”

Hall also recorded the music of the day. Young musicians played country and swing and other tunes they were hearing on the radio.

“Joseph Hall recorded anything people wanted to play,” Montgomery said.

In 2010, the Great Smoky Mountains Association released “Old Time Smoky Mountain Music,” a CD with 34 of the musical selections recorded by Hall.

Montgomery said that one of Hall’s most admirable traits was his determination to stay in the background and not overshadow the men and women that he was recording.

“He thought that was the best way to counter stereotypes. He wanted mountain people to use their own voices,” Montgomery said. “His approach really was to avoid general statements and to let mountain people speak for themselves.”

Not everyone is certain the release of the recordings is a good idea.

Harley Caldwell, 75, was the last person born in Cataloochee Valley before the park was formed. He’s concerned about the privacy rights of the people who were recorded, about whether they realized that one day their stories and tales would be released publicly.

Caldwell, in fact, is involved in a similar project to Montgomery’s. The Cataloochee Oral History Project teamed with Western Carolina University to record and videotape 33 living descendents from Cataloochee. A DVD is set for release in early 2013.

“It’s a bigger project than I wanted to tackle, but I tackled it anyway,” Caldwell said.

WCU provided the equipment and is editing the interviews and preparing the DVD. Caldwell facilitated the project by rounding up the Cataloochee descendents. Caldwell said, perhaps echoing what Hall also found, that he was most surprised by “the willingness of people to talk about their past.”

One of those men interviewed was age 99, Caldwell said, adding that the man remembered historic events as if they’d occurred yesterday.

“It was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve done a lot of exciting things,” Caldwell said of the oral history project.

One thing Caldwell and his team were careful to do was obtain signed releases from those interviewed — and he worries that, in contrast, Hall’s subjects were never cautioned that one day their voices would be heard again.


Speakers recorded by Joseph S. Hall in 1939:

Haywood County:

• Mack Caldwell, 53, Mount Sterling.

• Mack Hannah, 81, Little Cataloochee.

• Mrs. Mack (Fannie) Hannah, 73, Little Cataloochee.

• Millard Hill, 27, Saunook.

• Mark Mehaffey, Maggie.

• Bill Moore, 21, Saunook.

• Howard Moore, Saunook.

• Manuel Moore, Saunook.

• Mrs. George Palmer, 65, Cataloochee.

• Will Palmer, Cataloochee.

• Mrs. Will Palmer, 69, Cataloochee.

• Herbert Stephenson, 25, Saunook.

• Eugene Sutton, 43, Cataloochee Creek.

• Jake Sutton, 63, Cataloochee.

• Jim Sutton, 70, Cataloochee.

• Steve Woody, 86, Cataloochee.

Swain County:

• Mrs. Bill Brown, Towstring Creek.

• Dan Cable, 73, Cable Branch, Proctor.  

• Aden Carver, 91, Bradley Fork, Smokemont.

• Mark Cathey, 54, Deep Creek.

• D. F. Conner, 84, Oconaluftee.

• Bert Crisp, 47, Towstring Creek.

• Zeb Crisp, 64, Hazel Creek.

• Grover Gilley, Bryson City.

• Gladys Hoyle.

• Frank Lambert, 40, Towstring Creek,  Smokemont.

• Grady Mathis, 50, Smokemont.

• Al Morris, 67, Kirklands Creek.

• Rebecca Queen, 70, Cherokee.

• Docia Styles, 66, Indian Creek.

• Zilphie Sutton, 70, Chestnut Branch.

• Jake Welch, 79, Ryan Branch, Hazel Creek.

• Fate Wiggins, 79, Deep Creek.

• Mary Wiggins, Deep Creek.


WCU’s Hunter Library releases online oral history collection

A series of oral interviews with the people of Western North Carolina are now available online through Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.

“Stories of Mountain Folk” is the first all-sound collection released by Hunter Library. The collection’s interviews cover traditions, events and life stories of regional individuals including gardeners, herbalists, farmers, musicians, artists and writers. The archive is searchable by name, place and topic.

The interviews were produced by Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by the sisters Amy Ammons Garza, an Appalachian storyteller, and Doreyl Ammons Cain, a visual artist, with the mission of preserving local memory. In September 2008, Catch the Spirit of Appalachia began “Stories of Mountain Folk” as a half-hour radio show.

Catch the Spirit of Appalachia teamed up with Hunter Library to preserve the recorded material. The online archive holds approximately half of the roughly 200 existing radio programs, with Hunter Library staff continuing to upload the backlog.

“The university has provided expertise to preserve the content, which is very different from academic creation of new intellectual content. This content was created in the community, and the library is providing a service in preserving the material,” said Anna Fariello, an associate professor in Hunter Library’s Digital Programs.

For her part, Garza is thrilled with the arrangement.

“I cannot tell you how my heart leapt when this agreement was signed,” she said. “Saving the voices of the mountain folk has been a longtime goal of Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, for listening to the mountain folk as they tell their own personal stories evokes evidence of an unmistakable wisdom and sense of place.”

The collection can be found at www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcollections/storiesofmountainfolk.


A 60-unit affordable housing complex has been proposed in Franklin, but will depend on securing competitive state tax credits for low-income housing to come to fruition.

The project has been proposed by Fitch Development, a group out of Charlotte that specializes in low-income housing projects throughout the state. However, the financial feasibility of the projects hinge on state and federal tax credits. There is only a limited pool of tax credits available, and they can be quite competitive.

There were 26 low-income housing projects that applied for the tax credits from the mountain region in the last round awarded by the state — but there were only enough tax credits to go around for about six.

There is no guarantee the project proposed in Franklin will make the cut. The status of the application will be decided in August.

Pacing the way for the project should the tax credits come through, Franklin town aldermen recently approved a special use permit for the complex, but not before some future neighbors of the complex said they were worried about the potential impact.

“I’m real concerned about the situation,” Thaddass Green of Franklin told town leaders. Green was concerned about traffic, adding that it already “sounds like a racetrack” on Roller Mill Road where the complex would be built.

Green also said that he is worried about his personal safety if an affordable housing complex was nearby.

Patty and Vance Wall’s property is adjacent to the four-and-a-half acre tract where the housing would go in.

“You can see from our deck where this would be,” said Vance Wall.

He said a 60-unit complex as proposed would “really change life for us. It’s going to impact us majorly because this would no longer be just a residential, single-family dwelling area. It’s going to change the whole area.”

Like Green, Patty Wall expressed concerns about the two-lane road being able to handle more traffic.

“I just don’t know if this road can handle the amount of traffic this would bring,” she said, adding that Roller Mill Road is already dangerous enough as it is.

Hollis Fitch, president of the development company, said residents would be screened via credit and criminal background checks. Additionally, he said, internet-based cameras with views of the public areas in the housing complex would be installed. The program records up to 72 hours of camera footage, and Franklin police officers would be able to tap into the recordings through the Internet, he said.

“We’ve found that to be a very good deterrent and a very good way to stop any type of problems that might happen,” Fitch said.

Fitch also said that before building permits could be issued a required traffic study would be conducted.

“I’ve listened to the neighbors and it seems there might be a traffic issue on Roller Mill Road,” Fitch said in acknowledgement, adding that the company would take whatever safety measures were recommended by the state Department of Transportation. He said that could mean adding a three-way stop or a traffic light.

Roller Mill Road is an access into Westgate Terrace, a Franklin shopping center in the western part of town. Fitch said that one of the requirements for state funding was being within a half-mile of both a grocery store and drugstore, both of which are located in Westgate, hence the selection of this particular site.

The development would consist of three buildings with six entrances plus a community building and management office, a playground, “tot lot,” and sitting areas.

“That’s going to be a lot of good folks who are going to have a good place to live at a price they can afford, and good, clean, suitable housing close into town at a good location,” said Mayor Joe Collins, addressing the concerned neighbors. “Maybe there will be some mighty good folks who will move in there, and that might ease some of the sting.”

Alderman Sissy Pattillo emphasized that there is a current lack of affordable housing in Franklin for young professionals, though she also expressed concerns about future traffic impacts to Roller Mill Road.

“We’ve cut through there and you really take your life in your hands,” Pattillo said about Roller Mill Road.


Franklin leaders declined last week to offer a formal apology to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for using weed killer on an ancient Indian mound.

“I don’t think we did anything destructive,” said Franklin Alderman Sissy Pattillo. “And I have a problem with the chief or whoever saying we did something disrespectful. That just bothers me.”

Principal Chief Michell Hicks earlier this month said he was “appalled” by Franklin’s use of a weed killer to denude the mound. Hicks called on the town to formally apologize for what he termed a culturally insensitive action and one that demonstrated a marked lack of respect for the Cherokee people.

Alderman Bob Scott was the lone town leader who wanted to issue an apology. He had drafted a letter to the chief expressing regret for what had taken place, and said that perhaps the dustup could serve as a means of opening new dialog between Franklin and the tribe. His call to send the letter received a lukewarm response from fellow town board members, however. The other aldermen pointed out that they had never been formally asked by the tribe to apologize, but instead the demand for an apology had come only through the media.

“I’ve got a question,” Alderman Farrell Jamison said to Scott at a Franklin town meeting last week. “Was there actually a letter or are we just listening to media stuff? Do you have a copy of a letter?”

“I do not,” Scott responded.

Pattillo made the point that the town didn’t just dump weed killer on the mound out of malicious intent. Franklin leaders have said they were merely trying to cut back on weekly mowing maintenance of the 6,000-square-foot mound, which is located on town property. After the grass was killed off, the town intended to replant it with a low-growing native grass variety that wouldn’t need mowing.

Nikwasi Indian Mound is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain, Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

Pattillo defended the town’s stewardship of the mound. She said that the town’s ownership dates to 1946 when then-owner Roy Carpenter was offered $3,000 to sell the mound for commercial interests. Someone wanted to doze the mound down and develop the property.

“School children, people in town, people out of town and people out of the county sent in their pennies and money and it was bought for $1,500 dollars and given to the town of Franklin,” Pattillo said.

Mayor Joe Collins had earlier told The Smoky Mountain News that Town Manager Sam Greenwood had exceeded his authority in ordering the weed killer to be applied.

“But decisions were made and that’s where we are at right now,” Collins said. “It didn’t jump out at me as being an affront or an indignity to the mound and certainly not to the Eastern Band. I hope it’s not an issue of strong sentiment to the tribe in particular — I’m over there on a regular basis and I’ve not picked up on it.”

Collins noted that the mound does belong to Franklin and that he was satisfied that the town has been a good steward of it.

“It really is our decision to make because it is under our ownership,” said Collins, whose mother was an enrolled member of the Eastern Band.

The mayor said that he for one would welcome working with the tribe on issues concerning Nikwasi Mound, perhaps in connection with a town hope to one day acquire some of the land around the mound. There has been some discussion about creating a park there. The town also has plans to install an informational kiosk at the mound to inform visitors about the historical significance of the ancient site.

Scott said one good thing about the weed-killer incident is that “it has brought the issue of the mound into the public eye.”

Scott’s motion to send the letter expressing regret failed for lack of a second. Alderman Billy Mashburn then made his own motion — that no apology be considered by the board, and that the town attorney be instructed to look into an ordinance that would ban all foot traffic from the mound unless there was prior town board approval.

“And I think at this point we need to dissolve the mound committee,” Mashburn added, explaining that he believes decisions about the mound need to be made by the town board.

The mound committee was made up of town leaders and residents who discussed issues about Nikwasi Mound. Scott and Collins both served on the committee.

Scott, a bit testily, asked “Would you be more comfortable with the mound committee if I weren’t on it? I’ll just step down.”

No one replied to Scott.

Collins noted that there was no reason to vote on a motion noting that no apology would be considered since there wouldn’t be an apology issued anyway.

The board then dissolved the mound committee, voted to have the attorney research the needed legalese for banning foot traffic and to plant eco-grass on the denuded mound.


The advent of alcohol in Cullowhee is fueling efforts to implement some kind of land-use plan to guide growth in the community around Western Carolina University.

Some speculate that development could be fast and furious in Cullowhee in the wake of last week’s vote that paved the way for bars and convenience stores to peddle booze in the once dry reaches of Jackson County.

“There’s going to be tremendous growth, and Cullowhee is already the fastest-growing township in Jackson County,” said Vincent Gendusa, a recent graduate of Western Carolina University. “That growth needs to be thought out. But, it’s going to be very hard to keep up.”

Cullowhee grew 47 percent between the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2010 U.S. Census. Those numbers, coupled with the results of the alcohol referendum, led Gendusa and other concerned Cullowhee residents to gather this week to discuss the possibility of community-based planning.

“We must be pragmatic and incremental,” County Planner Gerald Green cautioned the group. “I want our effort to be the right way and the correct way and to have the support of the community.”

Cullowhee is not its own town, and in the absence of a county ordinance regulating commercial development, Cullowhee has no way of ensuring commercial growth is in keeping with its character.

Jackson County has precedent, however, for enacting spot land-use plans for specific areas of the county, namely in Cashiers and the U.S. 441 Gateway area.

Green cited the Cashiers plan, created in 2003, as a possible model for Cullowhee.

Community-based planning was accepted in Cashiers, Green said, because there was a “well-formed commercial area with people who were interested in protecting property values.”

Doing the same in Cullowhee will mean gathering the signatures of one-third of the property owners who would be in the planning district. The designated zoning area would have to be at least 640 acres and be made up of at least 10 separate tracts of land. Most of the meeting held this week centered on deciding in a rough fashion which parts of the Cullowhee community ought to be considered.

Jim Calderbank, a Cullowhee property owner who lives in Waynesville, suggested the group consider for inclusion old Cullowhee, Forest Hills and some residential areas that might want to be included.

The group ultimately agreed that any plan would start with WCU, with its 540-acre land mass.

“Use the university as the core and go out in tentacles,” said Roy Osborn, another Cullowhee resident and member of a homegrown Cullowhee revitalization group.

Ultimately, it was decided that Green, with help from Osborn, would rough out a potential designated area.

After the meeting, farmer and Cullowhee resident Curt Collins said that he believes the sell of alcoholic beverages will mean more good for the community than bad.

“I think that it will increase the economic vitality and increase the need for greater community participation in Cullowhee — and I think those are both good things,” Collins said, adding that it will be hard to stay ahead of the growth now that alcohol has been voted in.

“It is going to be slow,” Collins said of the prospect of instituting community-based zoning. “We may have businesses who take advantage of that and outpace us.”

On one hand, the new ability to sell alcohol could fuel local, independent-type restaurants — on the other, it could bring the proliferation of chain restaurants, said Mary Jean Herzog. The chair of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), a community group dedicated to revitalizing and beautifying Cullowhee, said the potential for businesses to sell. She hopes zoning can be implemented ahead of the curve.

“This could be the most beautiful college town in the country,” Herzog said, citing the great natural beauty of the area.


Taking the political pulse

Jack Debnam, chairman of the county commissioners and a Cullowhee resident, doesn’t believe growth in Cullowhee will explode as a result of the referendum vote, at least not immediately.

“I think we’ll have some places selling beer,” he said in an interview. “But as far as bars, there’s no one there — who would support them in the off-season? I don’t see a big spurt happening.”

That said, Debnam also believes that the county and community does need to get a handle on growth in Cullowhee in the form of community-based planning or something similar.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to look at, whether it’s a business district or if Cullowhee decides to incorporate,” Debnam said.

Vicki Greene, an incoming county commissioner, said she believes this is a critical time for the Cullowhee community. While she believes there may be “a short timeframe for folks to get ready,” movement on the issue is promising.

“The community is taking the lead,” she said. “And in the long term, that is the most effective way of instituting planning efforts.”

Greene, who attended last week’s meeting, won the Democratic primary for commissioner and given the lack of opposition for the seat in the general November election is poised to become a commissioner in December. None of the current commissioners attended the meeting.

But, it appears county commissioners would be willing to consider a land-use plan for Cullowhee if that’s what people there want.

Commissioner Doug Cody said he think there will be “a natural evolution of this thing as it goes on.”

Cody said the important thing is that the Cullowhee community is in the driver’s seat during the process.

“At some point and time, people will want planning. And we’re all for letting people decide — we’re not for ramming anything down anyone’s throat,” Cody said.

The sale of alcoholic beverages, he said, “will help the Cullowhee revitalization effort. I think five years down the road we’ll look back and see this as a very good thing for the county.”

For his part, Commissioner Charles Elders said that he hasn’t yet given thought to whether some form of growth controls are needed in Cullowhee, though he does believe it will become a topic of discussion for commissioners.

Joe Cowan, who did not run for re-election, said that the zoning plan for Cashiers has worked well, and that it is possible something similar could be done for Cullowhee.

Commissioner Mark Jones did not return phone messages requesting comment.


Cashiers: a precedent for community land-use planning

A spot land-use plan was passed in 2003 to govern commercial development in Cashiers, making Jackson one of the first, and still to this day one of the only, counties in WNC to have land-use planning outside town limits.

Cashiers has two districts: a “village central” and a general commercial zone. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners created the five-member Cashiers Area Community Planning Council, which is tasked with reviewing and overseeing development guidelines in concert with the county planning board. The council also votes on requests for conditional uses and variances in Cashiers.

The plan set growth regulations, such as building set backs, lighting and sign standards. The only type of development that was banned outright was cell phone towers in the Village Center district.


When Annie’s Naturally Bakery closed down last November, among those mourning the loss of the beloved coffee, bakery and gathering place in Sylva was Annie’s faithful Charles King.

Without a new owner, the fate of the long-time Main Street institution seemed uncertain.

“Annie’s closing left a void that needed to be filled,” King said. So eventually, fans of the bakery and café decided to take matters into their own hands.

King can now count himself among a group of local investors who helped reopen Annie’s under the new name of Mainstreet Bakery and Café. King, who retired from working in the banking industry, knew a good bet when he saw it.

He’s one of 10 people who live in Jackson, including a couple with seasonal homes here, who have invested money into getting Mainstreet Bakery and Café open. The bakery opened its doors two weeks ago.

“At the end of the day it’s about the people. And this is an investment in the community as well,” King said over a grilled cheese sandwich this week during a late lunch at the Mainstreet Bakery.

The bakery is now under the ownership and management of two former Annie’s employees, Heather and Chad Kindy. Heather was the retail manager of the store, and Chad did a local wholesale bakery delivery route.

“I’ve known Heather and Chad for six years,” King said. “And I know they are hard workers and that they are willing to put in what’s needed to succeed.”

Heather and Chad said there’s been a learning curve to going from employees to owners, however.

“We’ve definitely learned a lot real fast,” 30-year-old Chad said. “About the flow of the kitchen and what people really want.”

The bakery features pastries, bagels, simple breakfast sandwiches and lunches made up of homemade soups, salads and sandwiches.

Everyone who invested in Mainstreet Bakery and Café were loyal regulars — people the Kindys already knew and who loved the place, Chad said.

The decision to buy was made abruptly, with no prior discussion, the day before Annie’s closed.

“We sat down at the house and Chad and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” 29-year-old Heather said. “We didn’t even have to say what we were talking about — we knew.”

One of their first moves was to seek out Frank Lockwood, a professor of entrepreneurship at Western Carolina University, for advice. Lockwood had been one of Chad’s professors.

With Lockwood’s help, they crunched the numbers and put together a full-fledged business plan. They realized they didn’t have the money to get up and running on their own, however.

That’s when the idea for “locavesting” was hatched, the concept of pulling a group of local people together who have both the money and desire to invest in the community. There is something of a national movement in locavesting, with the bible of the movement being Amy Cortese’s book Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It.

Though other businesses in the region have certainly benefited from local investor dollars, Mainstreet Bakery and Café appears to be the first full-fledged attempt to put locavesting into action.

“We didn’t do a pubic announcement that we were looking for investors,” Heather said. “We had a group of advisors and we contacted people through that. Those people wanted to get us up and going.”

Being an investor doesn’t give those involved the right to have a say in the day-to-day operations of Main Street Bakery and Café.

“It’s not like they are buying a stake in the business and have that say in the daily business,” Heather said. “But Chad and I are very open to suggestions.”

Chad said the couple is already seeing areas to tweak at Mainstreet Bakery and Cafe. They want to do more vegan things, for instance, plus they’d like to add a line of diabetic-friendly items.

For now, the Sylva community is just glad to have its bakery back.

Linda Smalley ventured in with sons Cooper, who got a bagel, and Henry, who selected a cinnamon roll, on their way to Kung Fu practice.

“I love to have a bakery on Main Street,” Smalley said. “The (boys) love coming in to some place like this.”


David Burnette and his wife Diane do things the old way.

“One thing just led to another,” David said of the couple’s self-sufficient lifestyle.

On this day, while David shows a visitor around the couple’s Haywood County homestead, Diane thins out sorghum seedlings in preparation for planting hundreds of the tiny plants this week. All told the couple will tend about an acre of sorghum, made up of different varieties and with different maturity dates. They’ll harvest the sorghum in the fall and make over a hundred gallons of molasses to sell and give away.

David said he’s always had an interest in old timey ways and things. That interest is in full evidence at their home on Dutch Cove Road outside of Canton. There are dozens of plows that David has saved from being turned into metal scrap, plus various cultivators and horse-drawn sleds. These aren’t just on the farm for appearance sake, however.

The Burnettes use workhorses to do much of their plowing and cultivating. They also raise chickens and pigs, one of their sons raises Boer meat goats on the homestead, plus they operate a sawmill and sometimes log land using the team of horses.

David remembered that his father always kept a horse or a pony. But his first experience in working animals wasn’t with horses. Instead it came when David used a bit of broken harness to make a collar for a goat. David soon had that goat pulling a Radio Flyer wagon around the farm. That beginning with the goat led into a lifelong fascination with working horses.

“I like to fool with them,” David said. “To me there’s a lot of satisfaction not to be dependent on anybody’s oil, foreign or domestic.”

David uses the horses to plow and cultivate on the farm. He was getting ready to use them in the next day or so to cultivate his potatoes. Throughout the year he’ll mow hay with the horses, too. David and Diane are popular figures at the Cradle of Forestry, where each spring they participate in a living history event, “Old Time Plowing and Folkways.” The couple in April plowed the Cradle of Forestry’s vegetable garden for the benefit of visitors. Many who watch have never seen horses work like this before, David said.

“A lot of people don’t know where their food comes from,” David said. “There was one lady, who was 30 to 40 years old, who’d never seen a horse before. People are disconnected.”


Making a start

When he was 12 years old or so, David and a friend built a log cabin together, and that interest in building and making things led David into taking machinery at Asheville Buncombe Technical College. He later took classes such as welding at Haywood Community College. He learned basic blacksmithing from a fellow that lived in the area.

“I wanted to be able to do it all,” David said.

Today David teaches hand-wrought metal in the professional crafts program at Haywood Community College.

David took a keen interest in his father’s farm as he grew older, which is the same land where he and Diane live today. David as a young man started cutting hay and working the property. After he and Diane married, David bought a colt, a draft-horse mix, and started working with her on the farm. He and Diane were growing tobacco then and found they needed more horsepower, however. They bought the colt’s half sister and paired the two as a team, marking the beginning of David’s ongoing venture into working horses. Diane, as well as David, works the horses.


Staying connected to the land

Soon the couple bought a team of Belgian colts and broke them to working, too.

David said it took him two or three teams, however, to find ones that truly suited him. The horses temperaments have to match up with the owner, he explained. You might have one team that likes to work fast, another more slowly — it takes time to find exactly the right ones, he said.

“They have different attitudes,” David said. “You have to get horses that are suited to you, that matches your personality.”

You also have to try to pair your team as closely as possible, though he noted “you’ll never get a perfectly matched team.”

David tries to match his team in terms of temperament and height and build. Unlike some folks, he doesn’t worry much about color. That’s just aesthetics, and that doesn’t really count for much when you’re really working them in the field.

David said there seems to be a lot of fairly new interest among people wanting to learn about working horses.

“There seems to be a resurgence of people getting into it,” David said, adding that this has meant it’s becoming easier and easier to find equipment for horse-drawn teams. Even new equipment is being invented these days, he said, as more and more folks get involved.

“I think this is as good a time as it has ever been to get into it and practice it,” David said.

David believes that people wanting to work with horses would be well advised not to also keep tractors on hand, though he does. That way, the horses are always being worked and the person working them doesn’t have an excuse to go crank up an engine-powered machine in place of the horses. David does use tractors, and with his background in machinery and welding he’s able to keep all his machines up and running.

“Horses like to work,” David said. “A tractor will just sit under the shed and be there a week later.”


Sylva has a new town manager. Paige Roberson, 25, was promoted last week by the town board to the top leadership position.

Roberson has clearly impressed the town after stepping in to a part-time job as the director of the Downtown Sylva Association last summer.

Mayor Maurice Moody said that he believes Roberson will do an outstanding job for the town.

“I think she’s very well qualified — she’s a smart young lady,” Moody said. “The entire board is satisfied with this selection.”

Roberson, who last year graduated from Western Carolina University’s master in public affairs program, grew up in Sylva. Her mother was a long-time elementary teacher at Cullowhee Valley. Her father inherited the family’s hardware store, Roberson’s Supply, which was started by her grandfather. The family closed the store upon learning Lowe’s was coming to town. It had already been struggling since Walmart had opened, and the family decided surviving in Lowe’s shadow would be near impossible.

Roberson has a fierce appreciation for small businesses. Helping the business community of Sylva is going to be one of her passions.

Roberson hopes to bring a long-range approach to all of the town’s affairs. Lately, the town has been managed from year to year, without enough attention to where it is headed.

“We need to take a long-term approach to everything — projects, budgeting, ordinances,” Roberson said, identifying that as the town’s biggest challenge. “You have to plan with foresight. I think part of that comes from living here as long as I have. I think I am able to see the long term. ”

Moody said Roberson’s ties to Sylva “give her a leg up.” That, however, was not the deciding factor in her selection, he said.

“She does have a relationship with the community, but I think qualifications are more important than being local, though being a local individual does help.”

For her part, Roberson described herself as excited to be serving her hometown, although she admits she never thought when pursuing a career in public policy she would find herself at the head of her own hometown.

“I’m eager to do it,” she said, adding that she doesn’t feel apprehension about her lack of experience because the town has other veteran department heads.

The former town manager, Adrienne Isenhower, was forced to resign in September of last year after just a couple of years on the job. The town had brought in an interim town manager, Mike Morgan, who had recently retired from a long tenure as the town manager of Weaverville. Morgan was able to step in quickly to the role, but was commuting from Weaverville and was not interested in the job on a permanent basis.

Roberson will attend county and city manager training for eight months through the N.C. School of Government, one week a month, starting in September. During that time Morgan will continue as a consultant to the town to help bridge the gap.

Before taking a fulltime position with Sylva, Roberson worked in the Jackson County Planning Department.

Roberson went to undergraduate school at N.C. State, where she majored in economics. She planned to go to law school, with the intention of going into public policy. But during college, she interned three summers for N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, in the General Assembly in Raleigh, and decided not to go to law school but instead get her masters in public affairs. She went through the two-year masters program in public policy and public affairs at WCU.

Her final semester, she was involved in the Cashiers comprehensive community planning project as an intern for the Jackson County planning department. In a case of opportune timing, she graduated just as the town was looking for a part-time director for the Downtown Sylva Association. The DSA had just been brought under the auspices of the town, and she was given a part-time job with the county planning department and worked for both the town and county.

In short order, however, the town promoted her to the role of assistant to the town manager and made her fulltime, before eventually selecting her as its new manager.

Roberson, in addition to her town manager’s duties, will continue in dual roles as Main Street director and head of economic development for the town.

“As a manager I hope to be proactive, fair, and consistent,” Roberson said. “By doing this and keeping the future in mind I will be able to serve Sylva effectively. I’m honored to be hired for this position. I love this community. I feel that my community knowledge and experiences being raised here will give me a good starting point.”


John Bardo, the former chancellor for Western Carolina University, has gotten a job. He will take over as the new chancellor for Wichita State University in Kansas in July.

Bardo retired last summer from Western Carolina University after 16 years in the post. He has spent the past year doing research based in the Raleigh-area, although he has remained on WCU’s payroll thanks to a generous state policy for retired university chancellors.

He has been making $280,000 — his full chancellor’s salary still paid by WCU — to conduct research. The policy expects chancellors to commit to a year of teaching after enjoying their year of paid research. Bardo had said he indeed intended to return to teach at WCU.

Now he will not be doing so, but he will not be required to repay the salary he has gotten under the state policy, according to UNC board of governors’ policy.

The policy was actually changed recently, making it less generous than it had been. But Bardo is entitled to the earlier, more generous version that was in force when he was hired

“That earlier policy did not require the repayment of research leave if a departing chancellor elected to take a job elsewhere before returning to the classroom,” spokeswoman Joni Worthington wrote in an email.

The policy that allowed Bardo the year for research leave was revised in 2010 by the UNC Board of Governors. Board members decided the policy, the one Bardo falls under, was overly generous and did not hold outgoing chancellors and presidents accountable for the money they were earning.

The new policy allows chancellors and presidents who are returning to the classroom six months pay at levels that are in-line with other faculty rather than their old chancellor’s salary. It also specifies certain work requirements be met and stipulates that before-and-after reviews be conducted of any research done.

“Under the revised policy, which applies to individuals who were hired into their administrative position on or after January 8, 2010, the UNC president is authorized, at his or her discretion, to require repayment of compensation paid during the leave period in the event that a chancellor does not assume a faculty position as anticipated” Worthington wrote.

Bardo did not respond to an email request for an interview about whether he intended to repay the money. In addition to the large salary being paid by WCU, Bardo this year also received a fringe-benefits package that included retirement and health insurance.

Bardo in March told The Smoky Mountain News that his research looks at the relationships between higher education, the economy and community development. The theme is a familiar one that he often addressed and promoted during his time as WCU’s chancellor. He noted that he was building a  “live database” so that he can add variables as they become available, allowing him to extend the analysis.

WCU’s former chancellor said that he was working on a book-length manuscript that would make specific recommendations on two fronts: Ways that states might re-structure their higher education institutions to align them more with changing external conditions; and how these recommendations affect internal university operations.

The move to Witchita marks a homecoming of sorts for Bardo. Bardo started his career at Wichita State. From 1976 to 1977 he was graduate coordinator of the master of urban studies program, and from 1978 to 1983 he was chair of Wichita State’s department of sociology and social work. He has family in the Wichita area.

In a Wichita State news release, Bardo was quoted as saying he was excited about his new job.

“Wichita State is a wonderful university with great potential,” Bardo said. “Wichita is a tremendous community and we’re delighted to be back.”


The idea of a restaurant and a commons area where students could meet and eat sounds like a good one to Angie Stanley, a student in Southwestern Community College’s medical respiratory program.

“That really would be nice,” the Sylva resident said. “A lot of people have to leave campus to eat lunch.”

When Stanley packs her lunch, which she often does when there won’t be time to leave campus between classes, she’s forced to eat in a classroom somewhere. That’s because there’s few gathering places for students to congregate.

SCC leaders want to change that by building a central quad, typical of most university campuses, but less so for community colleges. A quad is in the works as part of the new $8 million Burrell Building under construction. It will house a new bookstore plus additional academic and administrative space. It is scheduled to open in August.

But to fully flush out the concept of the quad, SCC hopes to add a commons area to the plan that could serve as a gathering point.

Campus leaders have asked Jackson County commissioners for $580,000 to build a commons area, along with an on-campus restaurant, said SCC President Donald Tomas.

“This would be an extension of the Burrell building, right in the center of campus,” Tomas said.

That sounded good to electrical engineering major Kenny Pleskach.

“I bring my own lunch probably 95 percent of the time, but yeah it would be a cool thing to have a place to eat your lunch,” Pleskatch said, adding that he currently hangs out in one of several gazebos sprinkled about campus.

Money for a quad, but not a commons area and restaurant, is included in the $8 million cost of the Burrell building.

Janet Burnette, a vice president at the college, said the college would lease out the restaurant space to a restaurant entity such as Subway or something similar.

Student questionnaires and surveys have consistently shown food service — or lack thereof — is their top concern on campus, said Delos Monteith, SCC’s institutional research and planning officer.

“We did 10 focus groups and asked students if they could change one thing about SCC what would that be. Overwhelmingly they said food service,” Monteith said.

A commons area combined with the quad would also give the university a central gathering space it currently lacks, Tomas said.

Burnette said if the school does not get the money requested from commissioners it would do “a very scaled back version” of the plan. Drawings and schematics for a full version are being compiled now.

The $580,000 from commissioners would be paired with $580,000 from the state to build the enclosed commons area and restaurant, as well as a few other building items around campus, Tomas said.

County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said that he wished commissioners had known about the capital building needs a bit earlier in the county budget process.

Tomas said that hadn’t occurred because the school had not known until recently that it would have access to state dollars for such a project.

“This spring the state gave us some flexibility on this one-time deal,” Tomas said. “The timing seems right if the monies are there — this project would enhance the campus tremendously.”

The total $1.16 million project would include other construction items as well.

• Renovate another building located in the quad area, the Founders Building, which is the oldest building on campus.

• Add 10 hair stations to the cosmetology department located in the Founders Building.

“It needs some upgrading,” Tomas said of the early 1960s-era building.

SCC received $304,500 in capital funds this year from Jackson County and is asking for a total of $677,000 for the next fiscal year — with the $580,000 earmarked for the special projects.


In the two years since the Dillsboro Dam was torn down, the Tuckasegee River has become home to a growing number of aquatic species, from mussels to insects to fish, as natural river habitat has been restored.

“We’re certainly glad that it’s gone,” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Mark Cantrell said last week. “The response was immediate.”

Duke Energy demolished the 12-foot high, 310-foot long dam in February 2010 as environmental mitigation for several other larger dams it operates in the region. Jackson County battled for seven years to keep the dam. It wanted to make the dam a centerpiece of a new public park and promenade, complete with walking paths, benches, fishing areas and river access. Plus, the county argued the dam was historically important to the community.

Duke, however, succeeded in removing the small and ancient dam as compensation for using the Tuck in its lucrative hydropower operations, which net the utility millions annually.

Duke’s contention that the river would be better off environmentally without the Dillsboro dam does seem to have come true, according to Cantrell.

“What we’re seeing now is the rebirth of that section of river and a confirmation of the decision to remove it. There’s no question about it — if you are an angler, boater, fish or bug, the Tuckasegee River is better with the Dillsboro Dam removed,” he said.

Jackson County trout fisherman Craig Green said that he supported the removal of the dam and has been happy to see the river return to its natural free-flowing state.

“Recovery is a strange word — it wasn’t that things were bad, but clearly the dam removal has enhanced the flow for the fish to move back and forth,” said Green, who is a past president of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River.

A tourist attraction

Cantrell described the physical shape of the former river as coming back in “a really impressive” manner.

The dam had turned a nearly mile-long stretch of the river behind it into a slow-moving backwater. The backwater was 310 feet wide — the same width as the dam — but the natural river bed is just 50 or so feet wide.

To Mark Singleton, a paddler in Sylva, the removal of the dam “was like unwrapping a big old Christmas present.” He couldn’t wait to see what the river’s natural contour would be like once it returned to its true form.

With the dam gone, boaters discovered a natural rock ledge below the surface where the dam used to be. The ledge doesn’t deter experienced kayakers, he said, but it is a bit too challenging for beginning boaters to use, so most bypass that section.

“It doesn’t get paddled a lot,” said Singleton, the director of American Whitewater, a national paddling and river advocacy group based in Sylva.

As part of the mitigation, Duke Energy was required to build a public river access just upstream from the former dam site. On one side of the river, there is a parking area, restrooms and a boat put-in. On the other side is a more primitive parking lot used mainly by fishermen.

James Jackson, owner of Tuckasegee Outfitters, said the removal of the dam and the subsequent growth in visitors coming to raft has been measureable. He estimated yearly business growth of 10 to 15 percent in terms of visitation.

“I think it is one of the larger tourist attractions in Jackson County,” Jackson said of rafting on the Tuckasegee.

The recovery to date

By removing Dillsboro Dam, river species that had vacated the mile-long backwater behind the dam have now returned.

“One of a dam’s great impacts on a river is changing the area behind it from a free-flowing river to a reservoir, typically unsuitable habitat for most native stream species,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said the dam acted as a barrier for a number of fish species, some that needed to go upriver to spawn. The sluggish water previously held behind the dam also acted as a barrier to certain fish, he said.

Twice a year in 2008, 2010 and 2011, biologists such as Cantrell monitored fish and other aquatic life, providing a before-and-after picture of how dam removal affected the river, especially at the site of the former backwater.

A species considered foremost during dam removal discussions was the Appalachian elktoe, a federally endangered mussel found only in Western North Carolina and a sliver of East Tennessee. The elktoe did not exist in the pooled-up backwater behind the dam, but monitoring has now found more than 140 elktoe mussels in the stretch, a sign the previously bisected population will reconnect, strengthening its long-term viability.

Before removal, the reservoir area was home to a diminished variety of macroinvertebrates. These insects, crayfish, and other animals without backbones form much of the life in a stream ecosystem. Just more than a year after the removal, macroinvertebrate diversity had increased, on par with sites upstream and downstream of the reservoir site. Among macroinvertebrates, biologists often pay special attention to mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, which tend to be sensitive to water quality and are indicators of stream health.

Following removal, the diversity of these three insect groups increased dramatically in the former reservoir area — from a monitoring low of only two types in October 2008 to a high of 40 in May 2011. Using macroinvertebrate numbers and diversity as a measure of stream health, their return lifted this stretch of river from a “poor” quality rating in 2008 to a “good” ranking in May 2011.

“It all seems to be right on track,” Cantrell said.

As expected, fish diversity has responded somewhat more slowly to the dam removal, though biologists have noted the fish community is shifting to one typical of a Western North Carolina river, and the number of fish species dependent on flowing water is increasing. Additionally, in May 2011, biologists found an olive darter, a species of conservation concern for state and federal biologists, upstream of the dam site for the first time. The discovery could mean the fish took advantage of the dam’s removal to expand its range into upstream habitat.

Biologists also made an encouraging discovery downstream of the dam site. For several days in 2008 and 2009, biologists scoured the river downstream of the dam searching for mussels. They uncovered 1,137 Appalachian elktoes, which were all systematically tagged and moved upstream, away from potential harm from the demolition.

“Regarding the health and well-being of the Tuckasegee River, removing Dillsboro Dam has been a success,” said Hugh Barwick, Duke Energy biologist who managed the dam removal and biological monitoring. “The removal was a positive step in improving aquatic life in the Tuckasegee River in the vicinity of the former dam and reservoir.”


With our average last frost date of May 10 or so it’s time to start planting the main garden. Corn and beans can go in, and over the next few weeks, so can summer staples such as tomatoes, squash and okra.

I would not rush to plant these latter plants — wait until the soil is good and warm. The tomatoes will sit and sulk otherwise, plus you’ll get poor germination of seeds planted too early.

One item that is plentiful in my garden now but will soon be a sweet spring memory is lettuce. As soon as the weather consistently grows warm lettuce will grow bitter and then bolt. There are things you can do to tide yourself over until cooler, lettuce-growing weather arrives again, however:

• You can place shade cloth over the lettuce bed, keep the lettuce cut back to prevent bolting and water two or three times a day. Field studies have shown that it’s not just heat that causes bolting — cumulative light levels and low moisture contribute as well.

This seems as good a place as any to define what I mean by bolting. This is simply a natural process of a plant going to bloom in an effort to produce seed to propagate itself. Lettuce, and spinach for that matter, is notorious for prematurely bolting. Lettuce has compounds that cause that distinctive and unpleasant bitter taste via substances called sesquiterpene lactones. The bitterness becomes increasingly pronounced during the growing season. You can minimize the taste by washing the lettuce in warm water.

• You can plant a lettuce selected for slow bolting qualities. My favorite is a loose leaf aptly named Slobolt. Some gardeners enjoy a French Batavian called Sierra, also genetically selected for being slow to bolt. You can find these varieties easily through various seed catalogue companies.

• You can plant a hot-weather “lettuce” mix. When I was a market gardener, I grew a mix that sold like gangbusters once the main lettuce crops had bolted. These I grew as cut-and-come-again crops. I’d seed heavily and then use scissors to shear the plants when they reached several inches in height. The plants would re-grow and I’d repeat the process. You might consider placing an insect barrier over the beds as well; this will eliminate the need to spray. What I mean by an insect barrier is that you use a manufactured lightweight fabric, also available from numerous seed catalogue companies, over your crops. Insect barrier is light enough that it can rest directly on the plants, but if you prefer you can use metal hoops to keep them up and off of them. I use 11-guage lengths of wire available from the fencing section of local feed and seed stores and cut them into four-foot hoops.

My beds were about 30-inches wide and seeded with a generous hand as noted already. The 30-inch width worked well because I could easily straddle the beds and harvest.

The mixes you can plant vary widely. I generally used baby collards, arugula, baby chard, baby kale and beet greens. I’d replant a new bed every three weeks or so trying to keep ahead of the competition from weeds. Other people also have grown kommatsuna (an Asian green), vitamin green, Tokyo bekana, cutting celery and tetragonia.

Do not make the mistake I made one year and seed them all together. My thought was to mix in the field so I would not have to mix later, but this didn’t work well because the plants grow at wildly different rates. Arugula, for instance, grows very fast indeed whereas the beets grow more slowly. It’s nice to keep them separate so you can harvest according to the growth rate of a given plant.

One nifty idea that I read online in a gardening forum which I might get around to doing this year: A fellow who was selling a variation of this mix (which can be cooked or eaten raw) grew his on salad “tables” made of rows of side-by-side hay bales with three inches of mushroom compost piled on top. The tables are weed free and, over time, compost themselves and can be used to regenerate the garden. He noted that it’s important to use hay bales that are bound with synthetic twine to keep them from breaking apart prematurely. For those of us without a lot of space, or who don’t want to engage in a losing battle with weeds, this sounds like a terrific way to grow plenty of green stuff.

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


The Macon County Planning Board has been given one simple task: review the subdivision ordinance with the intention of making it more user friendly.

The directive came in a relatively brief get together and make-pretty joint meeting with the Macon County Board of Commissioners, held over barbecue dinners at Fat Buddies restaurant in Franklin. The pleasantries exchanged were a far cry from the controversies that have embroiled the planning board for the past year or so.

Macon County’s subdivision ordinance already has been reviewed four times previously. The planning board will start the review process of the subdivision ordinance May 17, and at that same meeting will elect a chairman and vice chairman. Lewis Penland has served as chairman for four years.

“I’m debating back and forth about it. I’m still undecided,” Penland said Monday about whether he will seek the chairman’s post again. “But there’s part of me that’s stubborn and stupid and that wants to do it again.”

Penland also said that several of his fellow planning board members have asked him to remain on as chairman.

Penland, a professional golf-course developer, has been a lightening rod for criticism as the pro-planning and anti-planning factions in Macon County have warred over the past couple of years. Penland is an unabashed supporter of some form of steep-slope regulations and a proponent of construction guidelines for developers. Neither of those Penland-led initiatives have passed muster with the conservative-dominated Macon County Board of Commissioners, however.

The steep slope ordinance seems now to be dead in the water, and not a peep about construction guidelines were heard during the joint meeting. The construction guidelines would have set very basic requirements for developers on such things as hillside excavation and compaction of fill dirt. The guidelines went to commissioners for consideration some nine months ago and haven’t been heard from since.

Instead, commissioners are opting to go back and review its existing ordinance.

None of that tension and backroom drama was in evidence at last week’s meeting. Instead, everyone seemed eager for now to put a happy, smiley face on planning in Macon County.

“We’ve had some controversies in the past,” said Kevin Corbin, Republican chairman of the commission board. “If I have a task as chair of this board it is to move things forward. Planning isn’t just rules and regulations — planning is about planning.”

Democrat Ronnie Beale agreed, saying “we need to move ahead.”

Beale did emphasize that while he supports the review of the subdivision ordinance he wants it fixed and not destroyed.

“The key, the challenge, is to have effective regulations but not gut it,” said Beale, who is a builder by trade.

Republican Jimmy Tate, the new liaison for commissioners to the planning board, said he hopes “everyone will set the needs of Macon County above personal feelings.”

Tate was on the planning board until being appointed about three months ago to the board of commissioners.

Larry Stenger, a nine-year member of the planning board and the current vice chairman, told commissioners it is up to them to set the tone and the course for the planning board.

“If the county commissioners don’t have the vision then the planning board doesn’t have any direction,” Stenger said.

To that end, the planning board was instructed by commissioners to provide recommendations on changes to the subdivision ordinance for interim County Attorney Chester Jones to review. Jones said that he is willing to meet with the planning board as necessary to facilitate the review process.

After the planning board completes tweaking the subdivision ordinance, commissioners said that they’d assign a new task. No deadline was set for the completion of the review.

The planning board will review a list of issues that include:

• Clarifying the language and amounts on surety bonding. If developers want to sell lots before completing subdivisions they are required to put up a monetary bond, intended as a safeguard in case developers walk away and leave unstable, partially graded slopes behind that need fixing.

• Road design standards. A general cleanup of definitions plus consider meat and potatoes issues such as road-turning radius when switchbacks are involved, required road widths, pullouts and general compaction standards.

• Whether to allow the technical review of subdivisions to be handled by county staff instead of the planning board, in large part to expedite the process.

• Clarifying the language about access roads into subdivisions when they cross other people’s property.


A move by the town of Franklin to spray the ancient Nikwasi Indian Mound with weed killer is not sitting well with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks last week described himself as “appalled” and called on the town to formally apologize for what he termed a culturally insensitive action and one that demonstrated a marked lack of respect for the Cherokee people.

“I’m going to make an issue out of it. I am not a happy camper. I’m not happy at all,” Hicks said in an interview. “I think this is really disrespectful to the tribe.”

Hicks said he plans to talk to both town and county leaders in Macon County.

For its part, Franklin leaders said they were merely trying to cut back on weekly mowing maintenance of the mound, which is located on town property. After the grass was killed off, the town intended to replant it with a low-growing native grass variety that wouldn’t need mowing.

“If they were tired of taking care of it or something, they could have approached us for help. We would have sent over our own mowing crew,” Hicks responded.

Nikwasi Indian Mound is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain, Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

Last month, the town sprayed the 6,000-square-foot mound with an herbicide to kill the grass with the intent of replanting with “eco-grass,” a grass that grows much slower and shorter than regular grass. It had taken a town crew of four workers about half a day once each week during the spring, summer and fall to take care of Nikwasi Mound.

Town Manager Sam Greenwood said he’d made the decision to use the weed killer independently of the town board or of the town’s mound committee. Greenwood said replanting had not taken place yet because “we’re still waiting on the herbicide to break down so we can made sure there’s nothing residual.”

Greenwood said he felt the decision was in the best interest of the town, the mound, and that it was respectful of the tribe.

“This way we can put in a permanent ground cover and keep the town crews off the mound,” he said in explanation.

The future eco-grass won’t require mowing.

“I think they had good intentions, but they went about it wrong,” said Tom Belt, a Cherokee scholar who teaches at Western Carolina University. “It is like deciding you would like to make a change to an alter in a church and not consulting the clergyman or congregation. It would have been appropriate for the people doing that, the caretakers in Franklin, to consult with someone first, to talk with them about what would be the appropriate thing to do.”

The mound is not just a historical marker or symbol to the Cherokee, Belt said, “but has a deeper meaning. A spiritual meaning. And I know the Cherokee people would work with anybody to conserve it.”

Franklin town Alderman Bob Scott was accused in a town memo as having triggered subsequent media coverage of the now denuded mound. He in fact did not do that. Scott said, however, that he didn’t comprehend how some in town had thought the action of spraying herbicide on Nikwasi Indian Mound would pass unnoticed.

“You can’t hide a 500-year-old mound in the middle of town that’s turning brown,” he noted accurately.

Scott, who is a member of the town’s mound committee, said that his understanding was that the town would “let the grass grow up naturally on the mound until we decided what to do. We were trying to do it right so that it would be OK with everybody. We were in no hurry.”

Mayor Joe Collins stopped short of saying the town would issue an apology to Cherokee. He did express regret that the spraying had taken place and said that Greenwood “had overstepped his authority.”

That said, Collins noted that running mowers up and down the mound also isn’t a good caretaking solution. The new grass, he said, “will allow for less tromping around on it.”

Collins is in a particularly sticky situation. He and Hicks both noted his family ties to Cherokee — Collins’ mother was an enrolled member; the mayor is what’s called a first descendent.

“Cherokee is me,” Collins said. “We certainly want to be in accord with the Eastern Band, which is our neighbors and, in some ways, our family.”

Collins said this situation might prove an opportunity to engage in a conversation with the tribe about the mound.

There have been some discussions in Franklin about turning the area into a park of sorts.

“We have been a faithful steward of Nikwasi Indian Mound,” Collins said. “We are acutely aware of its significance. We have protected that mound for generations and will continue to do so.”


Tee Coker and his company recently learned firsthand something they probably already suspected about creating brands and taglines for towns. Forget about pleasing everyone: it can be an insurmountable challenge to please anyone at all when it comes to developing exactly the right slogan for a community.

“It turned out a tagline wasn’t something Highlands either wanted or needed,” Coker said, perhaps reminded about Coca-Cola and its legendary public-relations disaster with “new Coke.”

Coker and his marketing consultant company, Arnette, Muldrow & Associates, were trying to convince Highlands’ leaders that the town had an upgraded image and needed a new slogan to match. Coker’s masterpiece — “Simply Stunning” — was destined for the same dustbin of history as new Coke, however.

Coker didn’t take the rejection personally, it should be noted. That’s just part of the job when your profession is developing taglines or slogans.

“It’s fun to do this for the most part,” Coker said. “But, it’s certainly challenging.”

Coker said that each community the company works with has its own personalities involved and various motivations at play for developing taglines. That can make reaching consensus difficult.

In Western North Carolina, quite a few communities have adopted a brand and slogan. Maggie Valley is “Can you come out and play?” Franklin is “Discover us.” Macon County is “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life.”

The challenge is coming up with a slogan or motto that highlights a community’s assets and creates an identity to distinguish it from other places. That can be difficult because everyone here, more or less, plays off our mountain locale.

In Haywood County, the tourism agency uses “See yourself in the Smokies.” Neighboring Cherokee is “Meet me in the Smokies.”

In local communities, the task of picking taglines has been taken up by marketing professionals, town officials, residents and wide assortments of tourism-oriented committees.


Community pride

In Western North Carolina, logos and slogans reflect the heritage, history and image of the region’s towns.

Big cities use big dollars to brand and create taglines. New York is “The city that never sleeps.” Chicago is the “Windy City.” Virginia is for lovers. Las Vegas is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Austin is “Keep Austin weird.”

But, branding and taglines are not just for the big cities of the world. When any city, county or state adopts a tagline, slogan or motto, it’s pitching that destination as a place to visit, live or work.

“We wanted something understated and unique to Highlands,” said Ron Shaffner, design committee chairman for the Highlands Small Town Main Street Program. “‘Simply Stunning’ sounded like something that relates to weddings or diamonds — and that’s not Highlands. We felt ‘Simply Stunning’ might become ‘Simply Cliché’ after 10 years or so.”

Arnette, Muldrow & Associates led a series of roundtables in Highlands during two days in February. While the “Simply Stunning” slogan is a no-go, the design committee has pretty much settled on a suitably understated logo: an image of a tree simply baring the town’s name, “Highlands, North Carolina.”

“It turns out Highlands doesn’t really have to market itself aggressively so it isn’t that shocking that they don’t want a tagline. Highlands is a special case in many ways — there’s not really any other analogous communities in the Southeast,” Coker said.

The logo is simple and small enough to fit on a lapel pin or to go on letterheads or even on the sides of town vehicles.

The town might use its elevation — 4,118 feet — in branding efforts too, he said. The Highlands Chamber of Commerce already capitalizes on that claim to fame as the basis for its distinguishing slogan “Above it all.”


A changing community

“The tough thing about it is trying to make a tagline that is all things to all people,” said Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.

Cherokee, as much as any community in WNC, is in transition. For decades the Cherokee Indian Reservation marketed itself as a family destination for cultural events. That’s still true, but now you also have Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and such specialty niches as trout fishing on the Oconaluftee River.

Pegg said a good slogan must reflect the myriad nature of the offerings in a community such as Cherokee but not be so generic as to be useless.

“And there’s probably not another place you can go from the National Park to all the glitz and glamour of what will be at Harrah’s,” Pegg said, referring to the casino expansion and the new casino entrance under construction. Known as the rotunda, the new entrance that will feature shining five-story trees made of colored glass, with a 75-foot waterfall cascading down the middle and a 140-foot screen wrapping around the walls where choreographed light and surround-sound shows will be projected.

Pegg said committees and marketing professionals helped develop Cherokee’s taglines, including the currently in use “Meet me in the Smokies.”

“If it’s something we can do we try to do it internally, but we’ll certainly bring in groups to help, too,” Pegg said.


Heeding demographics

Until recently, neighboring Swain County like Cherokee played off of its position next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For several years, Bryson City used “base camp for adventure.” After reviewing visitor demographics, the town opted to change course, however.

Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, said that it turned out the most important decision maker when it comes to trips to Swain County is actually 40-year-old women. The “base camp for adventure” was deemed too extreme to attract a wide cross section of visitors, particularly that imaginary 40-year-old woman.

“We do get a lot of younger folks, but we didn’t want to scare off that other demographic by saying we’re too extreme,” Wilmot said, saying she didn’t think most 40-year-old women were looking for freestyle kayaking events or to mountain bike at Tsali Recreation Area, two well known Swain County-based sports possibilities.

“We wanted to think about that armchair adventurer, too,” Wilmot said, saying the tourism agency wanted to include gentler outdoor adventuring such as walking up Deep Creek to see the waterfalls.

In the end, the tagline chosen was open ended: “My Bryson City is …. (you fill in the blank).” The message, and the photo accompanying it, changes according to the publication viewers being targeted — “My Bryson City is dazzling” might accompany an advertisement highlighting autumn color. “My Bryson City is the Dragon” could accompany a photo of a motorcyclist targeting a riding audience.

“It is an easily manipulated yet consistent message,” Wilmot said, adding that an advertising firm helped develop Bryson City’s changing tagline.

“We were all sort of thinking the same things, and we knocked ideas around in a creative meeting then took a couple ideas to the board,” she said.

Bryson City is also an example of how difficult it can be to rid yourself of an old tagline you might have outgrown. For years the town went by “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon,” and in fact, there’s still a sign on old U.S. 19 coming into town boasting this fact. Brad Walker, a former town mayor who’s long been involved in the hotel business in WNC, said that particular tagline of “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” was developed by the tourism agency in Swain County some 10 or 15 years ago.

“We were trying to figure out what the town is. And we decided the biggest thing we are is that we are in the Smokies, and we are the opposite of Gatlinburg,” Walker said.

So “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” really meant not Gatlinburg, Walker said.

Asheville, formerly “Altitude affects attitude,” has also undergone a change that reflects the city’s transition and newest image as a center of all-things-hip. Asheville is now “Any way you like it.”

Taglines and identities can be funny things. Some communities — in this case, Bryson City once again — can be downright protective of them. Bryson City recently took issue to the wording on a public art piece being installed on Main Street in Waynesville.

Donations are helping erect a replica of a historic arch that once spanned Waynesville’s main street, proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

That wording was too long for the artistic replica, however, so instead it will bear the words “Gateway to the Smokies.”

Not long after news stories ran about the arch, Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway received a phone call from Bryson City Town Manager Lee Callicutt regarding the wording on the arch. It was a slogan that Bryson City has used on its seal and police department badges for decades.

Callicutt had been directed to pass the concern of the Town of Bryson City onto Waynesville. The concern was duly noted but nothing came out of it.


Deciding around the table

Advertising agencies and companies can spend a fortune writing the right tagline. Small towns don’t have that kind of money. So sometimes they simply borrow.

Macon County’s current tagline, “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life” is a tweaked version of one a small business there was using, said Linda Harbuck, longtime executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Committees are used in Macon County to decide on taglines, saving on dollars and tapping local talent when it comes to defining the exact image to project. Harbuck said that community has had a number of different taglines during the years. The longest running one was “gem capitol of the world,” a play off of the large number of gem mining operations in Macon County. Macon County also has used “Mountain treasures, simple pleasures.”

“We don’t have any scientific ways of coming up with them,” Harbuck said. “A lot of things have just come from us sitting around the table talking.”

That’s been true in Maggie Valley, too, said Teresa Smith, executive director of the chamber of commerce there.

“We’ve used several recently,” she said. “We are trying to play off the park and being in the great outdoors.”

Maggie Valley uses a marketing committee to come up with choices. During the past several years, the town has used “Maggie’s calling.” Last year, they used “Far enough away yet close enough to play.” This year, it was tweaked to “Can you come out and play?”

Smith said it is indeed difficult to come up with taglines that make all those involved happy. Maggie Valley tourism leaders hold several meetings a year to do just that, usually working around a theme to help define the image Maggie Valley wants to project.

Jackson County recently has scaled down its slogan to focus on a single image it wants to project: mountains. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce recently has been just using “N.C. Mountains.” It has also used “Mountain lovers love Jackson County” during the past few years, and previously used “A change of altitude,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the chamber of commerce.


Brand vs. tagline

Betty Huskins, a longtime marketing expert with Ridgetop Associates, makes a clear distinction between brands and taglines. A brand, Huskins said, “is who you are in other people’s minds. A lot of people feel they’ve developed a brand when they’ve gotten a slogan or tagline, but you can’t just choose that.”

You can’t, in other words, choose the perception people have of you simply by picking a catchy slogan.

Huskins said ideally in marketing “you have to see who you are and build what you want to be.”

Huskins said the best taglines, as she was taught and still believes, should be no more than three words (think Highlands’ “Above it all.”)

A tagline, she said, should ultimately define “who you are and what you do.”

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, said a tagline has to generate an emotional response.

“You may think it is wonderful, but if people don’t respond to it, it doesn’t do much good,” she said. “If you have a really good slogan they know where you are talking about. It needs to appeal to people on an emotional level.”

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is currently using “See yourself in the Smokies.” The previously used tagline, “where the sun rises on the Smokies,” is still used too on logos, Collins said.

A few years ago, Haywood County made the tagline switch to “See yourself in the Smokies” on advertising to try to get prospective visitors to picture themselves doing such activities as skiing or hiking.

“We did it to get people to put themselves in that photo and imagine doing those activities,” Collins said. “It’s just another format of using the Smokies and to evoke that emotional response.”

Like Huskins, Collins makes a distinction between branding and taglines. Haywood County’s brand, she said, “is our natural scenic beauty.” The slogan is to try to get people to come and participate in that great scenic beauty in Haywood County.


Current slogans:

Bryson City: My Bryson City is ___

Canton: Where the mountains kiss the sky

Cashiers: Nature’s design for enjoyment

Cherokee: Meet me in the Smokies

Franklin: Discover us

Haywood County: See yourself in the Smokies

Highlands: Above it all

Maggie Valley: Can you come out and play?

Macon County: Enjoy the beauty, discover the life


Facebook-submitted slogans, courtesy of our readers



The recent acquisition of 720 acres of land in the Plott Balsams has helped set the table for the first major park to be created along the Blue Ridge Parkway in six decades.

The land, owned by former Congressman Charles Taylor, was recently taken over by the national group The Conservation Fund. That same group has a two-year option for 2,226 more acres but will need to raise some $5.7 million to make the purchase.

The pieces of property help make up Maggie Valley’s watershed. Neil Carpenter, head of the sanitary district for the town, said the recent purchase was a relief. He’s worked at preserving the land from development for the past eight years.

“Development was a possibility,” Carpenter said. “The economy slowing down bought us some time. If the economy had kept booming, I think it would have sold for development. We’re ecstatic it’s protected now.”

The town pulls its water from Campbell Creek. There are 10,000 users on Maggie Valley’s water system, Carpenter said.

The property is extremely rugged but could still have been developed, Carpenter said. Under Haywood County regulations, one house could have been built per each half acre available.

“That was a big threat,” Carpenter said, adding that development could have required the town to engage in “difficult and costly water treatment” down the road.

“And once that quality of a stream is compromised, you virtually never get back to that original quality,” he added.

The land, which connects to 2,415 acres adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway that have already been purchased, run along the 6,000-foot high crest of the Plott Balsams near Sylva and Waynesville. They lie to the west and east of the 6,200-foot high Waterrock Knob, a major scenic destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“The goal is to take all these conserved lands and make a park out of them,” Carpenter said. “And to make a wildlife corridor.”

The towering Plott Balsams are ecologically significant. Elk from Cataloochee have shown up there, plus the land is home to the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel and populations of native brook trout.


What the future holds

In the 1950s, three other parks were established along the Blue Ridge Parkway: the 3,512-acre Moses Cone Park near Blowing Rock, the 4,264-acre Julian Price Park that is adjacent to the Moses Cone Park, and the 1,141-acre Linville Falls Park.

Each of these parks was created via financial gifts from individual families. And, the mold appears unbroken in this case, too — the property being acquired today along the parkway has, so far, been paid for with money from Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, who have been important philanthropists in the environmental arena for years. Federal funding is being sought to help pay for the remaining available parcels. Meetings already have taken place with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr about the possibility for federal funding efforts.

Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said the recent acquisition is key to helping protect the views for visitors.

“I think that’s a very important piece for the protection of our viewsheds,” Francis said, pointing out that this is in line with Haywood County’s proactive stance in this area.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority and Maggie Valley Lodging Association recently earmarked $19,500 to clear a portion of the county’s 73 vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The money was used to hire three workers, or fallers, in February to begin scaling back the overgrown trees.

“This will further help protect these views,” Francis said, adding that the Plott Balsams holds “a rich array of resources.”

Francis said a future park along the Blue Ridge Parkway is not inconceivable and that it is within the agency’s scope to manage such an entity if formed. The 469-mile parkway currently has 15 different recreation areas.

“If all the arrangements can be worked out, we could manage a park,” Francis said. “That’s always a big ‘if’ however.”

Francis, who has been involved in the meetings about securing the remaining tracts of land, said he’s been impressed by the commitment of the parties involved to protect the Plott Balsams.


This being a Sunday, the day on which I generally take care of household chores that have gone unheeded during the hurly-burly and rushed pace of the workweek, I was dusting the combination living room and kitchen in the cabin where I live. It seemed to me every surface was covered not so much with dust as with a motley collection of dime-store eyeglasses. I must have moved a dozen to swab surfaces with my dust cloth.

A need for eyeglasses is a new development in my life. So new there is no single place in the cabin for me to deposit them, meaning they are dropped willy-nilly about when the immediate pressing requirement for them is done.

I noticed about half a year ago that I was getting more headaches than usual on press days at work. These are headache-inducing days at the best of times, making it difficult to distinguish the regular headache of getting a newspaper out the door from the headache of dwindling eyesight — a headache by any name still being a headache, as it were.

On press days, however, and almost overnight it seemed, the print size of the dummy pages seemed to have been reduced. I squinted accordingly and by the end of each workday I found myself with rip-roaring headaches to nurse. I finally distinguished these new headaches from regular layout-day headaches by the sheer frequency and viciousness with which they occurred.

I resisted eyeglasses until the weekly dose of pain overcame my vanity and I trotted down to the nearest drugstore. Looking around to ensure that no one I knew was also in the store, I stood in front of the eyeglass section with the magnification chart that assists aging men and women self-fit themselves in glasses. This chart helped me determine I needed 1.5- to 2-magnification. Now I own a variety of glasses in various shapes and colors. The only commonality among them is that they each were cheaply purchased and I can never find a pair when I need them.

My surprise at needing reading glasses was surpassed by my shock at turning gray. In theory I knew that these things would happen, that I would age and that parts of me increasingly would change or malfunction, but frankly each shift or mechanical failure comes as a surprise.

I found my first gray hair in my early 20s while looking in the mirror in the bathroom of the veterinary clinic where I worked for a couple summers. I immediately plucked it out. Now if I plucked out my gray hairs I would shortly be bald — I’d do better to pull out the ones that remain brown.


I was recently reading a magazine about writing, Poets & Writers, and one of the authors was writing about finding space for inspiration. He quoted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on creativity. Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. The magazine writer noted that Csikszentmihalyi lays out the five stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration.

Equally interesting to me is that Csikszentmihalyi also identifies four obstacles to creativity: psychic exhaustion, easy distraction, inability to protect/channel creative energy and not knowing what to do with that energy.

Being a professional writer means that I write whether I feel creative or not. In many ways that’s a good thing — necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I’ve often discovered that meeting a deadline forces me out of the creative doldrums. Sometimes, however, I’m just out of the groove. I’d equate that feeling to Csikszentmihalyi’s psychic exhaustion.

Other writers are generally sympathetic to the creative doldrums. I’ve heard fellow newspaper writers, too, walk into the newsroom and complain that they just can’t seem to write on that particular day. Problem is, once everyone has grunted understandingly, the newspaper still has to get out the door. So you dig deep and force it out no matter how unappetizing the final product seems to be. As I also read recently, you can’t fix a blank page. If a writer can just get something out there’s always room to pretty it up before the big performance.

So why am I sharing all of this writerly angst? Well, sometimes I just have to fake it until I make it. I suspect psychic exhaustion, my new favorite catchphrase, is currently at play.  

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


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