Quintin Ellison

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

I am learning to move at the speed each task demands. This is a lesson the barnyard teaches. It is a good lesson for me to remember out of the barnyard, too.

The animals — seven goats, two sheep, 30 or so chickens, a couple of massive guard dogs and Jack the cat — sense when I’m in a hurry. My need to have been at work 15 minutes ago is instantly communicated when I arrive to feed and milk. The more I rush and bustle about, the more uncooperative and stupid they become.

The sheep, a young ram and his intended mate, are the worst offenders. Lately they’ve been confined in a paddock. This requires carrying food and buckets of water down a steep hill twice each day. The inconvenience is preferable to allowing them with the other animals. Then the sheep rush the gate at feeding time, and the days I’m short on minutes they generally succeed in knocking the buckets out of my hands.

If I do manage to get through the gate unmolested, the ewe and ram still usually eat the goats’ food. The ewe is adept at bumping her head against the underside of the feeding troughs. This causes them to unhook and dump. The goats are too hoity-toity to eat food that has touched dirt. Not the sheep, however. Down the pair’s great greedy throats it goes.

The ram poses additional problems because of his ardor for one of the goats. She is a particularly winsome thing. Light colored except for a dark stripe down her back, dainty on her hooves, with a fetching, come-hither way of twitching her tail. When not confined, the ram follows his chosen love about with a creepy, lascivious gleam in his eyes.

Though I cannot deny she has pleasing physical attributes, he was not brought to the barnyard to develop a case of I’m Romeo, please-be-my-Juliet for a goat – he is, after all, a ram. I find the ewe a pest, but she seems good looking enough to me, as far as sheep go.

But, I digress. On days I rush, even with the sheep secured, chaos reigns. Sometimes it’s the five-month-old, more than 90-pound puppy that is the culprit. Forgetting he’s supposed to guard his flock, not menace it, Tuck will snatch up a chicken in his huge drooly mouth. He looks confused and shattered when screamed at, as if he can’t believe anyone could be so cruel as to shout at an innocent pup. The poor chicken emerges from his vast jaws like some loathsome creature of the deep, feathers slicked down, strings of saliva trailing behind, wild eyed and staggered by the shock.

At other times, Brownie the wether has been to blame for my barnyard angst. A wether is a male goat that is less than he once was — neutered, cut, fixed. Not allowed to propagate because, frankly, he doesn’t bring all that much to the table. Brownie, just recently, was given a purpose in life. To serve as the male companion of a billy goat, who, at the exorbitant cost needed to acquire his regal services, probably would be well advised to bring a whole lot to the table, and quickly.  

Until designated the billy goat’s particular friend, Brownie existed on this earth to annoy me. His level of resistance seemed directly correlated to the amount of time I had available to fool with him. The more hurried I was, the fleeter of foot he became. Sometimes it seemed as if he flew about the barnyard on winged hooves, suddenly and inexplicably transformed into Pegasus.

I have learned to hesitate before going into the barnyard. To gather myself, no matter how hurried I feel, no matter how late I am. Someone wise once told me farmyard animals love routine. That’s true. They also respond to calmness. When I slow my movements, everything gets done quickly. When I hurry, the barnyard falls apart. There was a book written some years ago about learning everything you need to know in kindergarten. It is taking me much longer than that. And I require a barnyard.

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


More than 100 people attended last week’s public hearing on a state Department of Transportation proposal to pave and widen a 3.3-mile section of road that cuts through the Needmore Game Lands and parallels the Little Tennessee River.

The crowd included environmentalists, hunters and fishermen, residents of the Needmore community and several reporters. There were about 15 representatives of the transportation department, plus regulatory officials from other agencies.

The comments were as varied as the people attending: endorsements of the transportation department’s proposal to widen the gravel one-lane road to two lanes at a cost of $13.1 million, and questions about the overall need for such a large-scale project in an environmentally sensitive setting. About 25 people spoke publicly.

Swain County resident John Herrin spoke in support, citing economic benefits to the two counties involved, Macon and Swain.

“You are looking at an improvement that will bring a substantial value to the counties,” he said. “Both of them.”

Others, including Mike Clampitt of Toot Hollow Road in Bryson City, pointed to rescue workers’ possible need for an alternative route to N.C. 28 during emergencies as the reason they supported the transportation department’s proposal. N.C. 28 parallels Needmore Road, but on the opposite side of the Little Tennessee River. N.C. 28 is a paved, two-lane highway.

Swain County Commissioner David Monteith also talked about possible emergency-response needs, plus described an overall faith in the state’s Department of Transportation ability to make the best decision for all involved.

“I’ll support anything DOT thinks they need. They are the experts,” Monteith said.

Others, however, weren’t persuaded, or as trusting.

“This is a resource that is not replaceable,” Macon County resident Richard Kennedy said in opposition to the project.

Kennedy, a motorcycle rider himself, warned that an improved Needmore Road would attract scads of motorcyclists, and that “people will get hurt on it.”

Western North Carolina in recent years has become something of a Mecca for motorcyclists, particularly a stretch of highway along U.S. 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon in neighboring Graham County.

Cheryl Taylor, who lives along a paved section of Needmore Road, warned her fellow fourth, fifth and so on generations of Swain County-rooted residents (several cited their antecedents prior to speaking; Taylor, as it happens, is fifth generation) that “we can’t get this back” if the area is damaged.

She characterized the transportation department’s plan as “drastic” and “invasive.”

“I don’t want to see it changed,” said Taylor, who was part of a massive campaign to save the 4,400-acre Needmore tract from development about eight or so years ago. The effort, involving a coalition of groups and individuals who are often at odds, saw $19 million raised in the form of private donations and grants. Duke Power, which owned the land, had intended to sell it off for development.

Along with many of the speakers, Taylor did endorse some improvement measures. She spoke in favor of paving and widening.

Ron Allen, who lives on Wagon Wheel Drive in Swain County, like Taylor spoke in favor of a middle way — do some improvements, but compromise and not go to the lengths proposed by the transportation department.

“Significant improvements can be had for less,” Allen said.

Bill Crawford, who lives in Macon County and is a member of WNC Alliance, said the environmental group is opposed to the plan proposed by the transportation department. Other environmental groups also have come out against the plan.

There is still no word on whether the transportation department will honor a request by the Macon County Board of Commissioners. Those county leaders want a public hearing held in Macon. The one last week was held in Swain County. The crowd seemed representative of both counties when a hold-up-your-hand count was requested.


State and federal environmental agencies for more than a decade have questioned the need to make substantial improvements to Needmore Road. They’ve also repeatedly raised concerns about the possibility of serious environmental damage and worries about public reaction, documents on file at the state Department of Transportation show.

“As I had mentioned earlier, I am concerned with the controversy surrounding this project,” Tim W. Savidge, who worked in the transportation department’s environmental unit, warned District Engineer Joel Setzer in a letter dated Sept. 2, 1997. Setzer now serves this region as the transportation department’s top leader and decision maker.

In a required transportation department checklist, the district engineer — who surfaces in the documents then and today as a driving force behind the project — indicated at about this same time that he did not believe construction work to the road would be controversial.

Savidge’s warning, however, proved prescient.

In the past few weeks, environmental advocates and more mainstream voices — longtime residents living near the community, among others — have spoken out against the transportation department proposal to pave and widen Needmore Road to two lanes. The state wants to take the road to more than 30 feet across to accommodate lanes plus shoulders.

If done at the level currently endorsed, construction would require cutting out and removing Anakeesta-type rock, often dubbed “hot rock” because of the possibility it can leach acid when exposed by construction.

The documents reveal that even transportation department officials who favored extensive work to Needmore Road have questioned what is now being proposed. One internal memorandum baldly stated that it wasn’t feasible: from an economic standpoint or an environmental one.

The proposal to “improve” this 3.3-mile stretch of gravel road in Macon and Swain counties sparked concerns because it runs through the protected 4,400-acre Needmore Game Lands. Also, the project comes with a steep price tag during a time of economic constraints: $13.1 million.


Considered ‘most significant’ biologically in WNC

The state Wildlife Resources Commission started managing the Needmore tract about eight years ago after a coalition of hunters, environmentalists and residents rescued the land from development. This required the loosely bound group to raise $19 million to pay Duke Power for the property, which was done through a combination of funding sources, such as private donations and grants. The transportation department also chipped in money toward the rescue.

On April 16, 1998, the Wildlife Resources Commission noted in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the overall importance of the area:

“This reach of the Little Tennessee River, from a biological diversity perspective, is perhaps the most significant habitat in Western North Carolina,” Mark S. Davis, mountain region coordinator, wrote. “The (wildlife commission) is concerned about potential project impacts to three federally listed aquatic species … as well as other state listed aquatic species.

“In addition, the Little Tennessee River from the Georgia/North Carolina state line downstream to Fontana Reservoir is classified as critical habitat for the spotfin chub. This area also supports an excellent smallmouth bass population as well as other game and non-game fish species and provides habitat for several wildlife species such as river otter, wood ducks and herons.”

Davis said paving Needmore Road could help reduce sedimentation into the river. Area environmentalists also have endorsed this view, though they oppose the scale of construction proposed by transportation department officials.


‘Hot rock’ issue

Early on, the transportation department vigorously argued against exposing “hot rock.” A memorandum dated July 26, 1999, in which engineers advocated for widening the road toward the river rather than cutting into the bank on the uphill side, spelled out exactly why they considered the current proposal a bad idea.

“According to the geotechnical unit, the rock formations along Needmore Road are of the type known to produce acidic runoff when exposed to weathering,” District Engineer C.R. Styles wrote.

“The cost associated with treating and disposing of 26,000 cubic yards of this ‘hot rock’ would be over $1 million. Also of great concern, are the adverse effects the exposed rock cut could pose to the environment. In order to minimize the potential effects, the rock cut and adjacent ditch line would have to be treated to neutralize the acid. The costs associated with these treatments would be approximately $10,000 initially, and $5,000 per year for the next five to 10 years.

“The total estimated cost to construct this 1,000-foot section of Needmore Road by widening away from the river is well in excess of a million dollars (app. $1.3 million). By comparison, the average cost to construct secondary roads in this area is $200,000 per mile. Therefore, from an economic standpoint, this design isn’t feasible. Also, from an environmental standpoint, this design could have a detrimental effect on the Little Tennessee River ecosystem for many years to come,” Styles wrote.

However, after other regulatory agencies ruled out the possibility of encroaching toward the Little Tennessee River, the transportation department embraced the idea they’d once so vigorously opposed.

The change in position is particularly evident in this Oct. 14, 2008, transportation-department memorandum, written following a meeting where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raised concerns about ‘hot rock.’

“NCDOT responded that the acidic levels of the rock on this project were very low. With the levels present, runoff from them would not be considered a ‘hot runoff.’ Leaching from freshly exposed surfaces are not likely to pose a long-term problem because the surfaces oxidize very quickly. Any runoff from the surfaces could easily be neutralized by lining ditches with limestone or spraying a limestone slurry on the exposed rock faces.”

For years, regulatory officials working in other agencies have expressed doubts about the need to widen Needmore Road.

A July 22, 2000, memorandum sums up the concerns:

“The general consensus from the agencies is that the need for the project is weak. The environmental impacts outweigh any benefit from improving the road other than paving in place. The very low traffic volumes do not suggest that this road needs to be improved at all. NCDOT will have to produce a stronger need for the project and alternatives that fit that need in order for the agencies to reach concurrence.”


Making the proposal palatable

Despite these concerns, the project proposal survived. And, in the last few years, the transportation department deliberately tweaked the language it used when discussing Needmore Road. Setzer led the charge.

“Per your request, I have reviewed the Dec. 7, 2001, document and have the following comments and suggestions,” Setzer wrote in a Feb. 4, 2002, email to Karen Capps, who works in the project development branch of the department.

“I agree that one of the needs of the project is to help reduce sedimentation, but it is really a secondary benefit of the project and should be included further down. I suggest beginning this segment with purpose (not need). The purpose of this project is to enhance the quality of travel for the current users of the road. The need is to provide a safe and well-maintained road that protects/and or improves the natural resources.”

And, in another email, Setzer wrote: “The more I think about it, the more concerned I am about the primary purpose and need being stated as to reduce sedimentation. I am very concerned that if concurrence is reached under that stated purpose, the agencies will use it against DOT to argue for paving as it is.”

Capps responded, “Joel, you have a very good point. Let me see if I can rearrange that statement some. I’m sure there are other issues that will try to surface, but my plan is to stick to purpose and need and get past this point …”  

Setzer also attempted to fine-tune the number of people who could potentially benefit.

“I also recommend changing the designation of the road from ‘local rural route between Franklin, N.C. to Bryson City, N.C.’ to ‘local rural route between Macon County and western Swain County and Graham County,” Setzer wrote to Capps.


Defending the project

Questions about why Needmore Road needed such extensive work also seemed to have been raised internally within the transportation department.

In a memorandum to Carl Young, project engineer for the planning and environmental branch, Setzer wrote:

“At our meeting, you asked for justification for widening Needmore Road prior to paving instead of paving the existing cross section …

“The motivations and thoughts behind these policies and minimum standards are safety issues, maintenance issues, and liability issues. The department of transportation is obligated to improving roads to a safe and serviceable level. Paving Needmore Road to lesser than minimum standards will create hazards to the traveling public as well as the natural environment. It will also increase future maintenance costs.”

As late as April of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Office expressed doubts.

“In summary, EPA continues to have substantial environmental concerns regarding the recommended alternative as well as the other paving options. There is insufficient traffic volume on this rural roadway to substantiate the potential long-term adverse environmental impacts to the Little Tennessee River, the Tellico Valley Historic District and the Needmore tract.”


The chairman of a board overseeing the water needs of just more than 100 residents in the Whittier community said people there will keep receiving the service, and that state concerns about the group’s operations are being addressed.

Whittier Sanitary District at this point contracts out sewer services to the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority. It still directly oversees the community’s water supply.

The Department of State Treasurer, in a Sept. 8 letter, warned the district “has serious financial problems which the governing board must address immediately.”

State concerns included: No budget has been adopted, the district operated at a net loss with actual expenses exceeding budgeted expenses, board members were reportedly receiving utility services free of charge as a perk, an audit hadn’t been performed as required by state law and the financial officer wasn’t bonded as the law stipulated.

Mitchell Jenkins, chairman of the three-member board, said the Whittier Sewer District does now have a budget, and that it will be adopted at next month’s meeting. Members are “not now” receiving free utilities, and the group was late getting an auditor because they were shopping around for someone affordable, he said.

Water customers, who pay $17.50 monthly to residential water service and $20 monthly for a business, don’t need to worry, the board chairman said, describing Whittier Sanitary District as “a good working system.”

Jackson County Manager Kenneth Westmoreland said he was aware of the state letter to the Whittier Sanitary District, but described the county’s role as “nebulous.”

Whittier is located in both Jackson and Swain counties. The sanitary district’s three-member board has oversight. Board members are elected, but two resigned in the past year.

Jackson County commissioners appointed John Boaze, one of those members, recently to fill one of the vacancies. He has been a sharp critic of how things are — or are not — being managed.

“I’m just hoping we can start complying with the laws of North Carolina,” Boaze said, adding that board members planned to go through the letter “point by point” during its Oct. 7 meeting.

“We need a reliable water system in this area,” he said. “That’s my main concern.”

There are also potential problems looming for the sewer-system side of the enterprise. Just 14 customers have signed on to receive sewer services through the Whittier Sewer District, managed by Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority. But, the system was intended to become self-sustaining, and shows few signs as yet of achieving that goal.

“Whittier Sewer District has not been very aggressive about soliciting customers,” Westmoreland said.


A timetable is still being hammered out on when Forest Hills leaders will receive a formal proposal from Western Carolina University on annexing land for a commercial development.

WCU wants to develop 35 acres of its main campus into a “town center,” which would be leased to restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and the like, as well as condos and a few university offices. Forest Hills has been asked to annex the land into its town limits.

Forest Hills Mayor Jim Wallace indicated last month that town aldermen were expecting to receive information from WCU soon on how the town could best accommodate a mixed-use land plan.

Tom McClure, director of the office of partnership development for the WCU Millennial Initiative, said there are some “internal discussions” taking place, and that it could be a matter of weeks before the necessary documents are ready for review.

McClure said he has prepared a draft, but that it is not yet ready for review. McClure said a 20-year or more development agreement is key. A “planned-unit development” would eliminate the need for each new business involved to get individual approval from the town.

Chancellor John Bardo has said WCU will ask town leaders to adopt wholesale the university’s design for a town center.

WCU’s desire to create a commercial hub and vibrant college town hinges on its tiny neighbor. Cullowhee is not currently incorporated as a town, and as a result, stores and restaurants can’t sell beer, wine or liquor drinks. That has proved a major stumbling block in attracting commercial ventures typically associated with college towns.

The Village of Forest Hills consists of fewer than 400 residents. Most are current or retired faculty and staff of the university. The town incorporated in 1997, mainly to prevent an influx of students from taking over the community.

Clark Corwin, a council member for Forest Hills, said he would like to see his town receive extensive feedback from residents before any decisions are made. This includes, he said, whether to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold.

He said Southwestern Development Commission, a state regional planning and development organization, offers a tidy process through the Mountain Landscapes Initiative that might work well for Forest Hills. A toolbox has been developed offering best practices and guidelines for sustainable growth.

“I think everyone is of a mind to have a public forum, but I want something more than just a public hearing,” Corwin said.


I remember my outrage bubbling up as she spoke.

“Mrs. Langley,” my fellow first-grade classmate and yellow-bellied, snitch-of-a-former friend said to our teacher. “Tink had her eyes open during the prayer.”

A few words of explanation are necessary. My nickname is Tink. This was 1971, in Mississippi.

Segregation was over. I remember, however, black children sat at desks in one part of the classroom. White children grouped in another part. No one told us to do this. We just did.

Black and white children didn’t hold hands when picking buddies. A buddy was required for passing through the corridors to the cafeteria or auditorium.

Black and white children didn’t play together at recess. This meant we didn’t use the swing set at the same time. Or clamber together on the jungle gym.

Black and white children spoke only when necessary. And I don’t remember there ever being a situation that made speaking seem necessary.

I can’t explain why things were like this. It was Mississippi. Way down south in the land of cotton. Race relations weren’t good.

In prayer only did we become one. Black and white, we all gathered in a circle each morning. We held hands, dutifully shut our eyes, and listened while Mrs. Langley recited the day’s prayer.

My eyes were open, that’s true. Regardless of her other sins, that little snake-in-the-grass didn’t speak with a forked tongue.

Thirty-eight years later I remember the feeling of shame. The looks on the faces of the other children, black and white, united for once outside of prayer. United in disapproval of me.

I didn’t fail to shut my eyes as a political statement — too young for that. I was a daydreamer. I’d gotten lost in thought. And didn’t shut my eyes during the prayer as apparently mandated by God, at least for all 5-year-olds living then in Mississippi.

What immediately struck me, but obviously escaped Mrs. Langley, is the tattletale’s eyes must have been open if she knew mine weren’t closed.

Mrs. Langley picked up the yardstick. Ordered me to hold out my hand. And lightly smacked my palm.

The use of a yardstick probably wouldn’t be tolerated these days. But Mrs. Langley’s method of control worked. We children quaked at the sight, even the thought, of that yardstick.

I remember the popping sound. And the sting that followed. The tears that squirted out and streamed down my face.

Which is a really longwinded introduction into what I’m about to do. That is, rat out my liberal friends. Turn about is fair play, they say.

I keep seeing all of you in Wal-Mart.

Peculiarly enough, most frequently we meet in the ice-cream aisle. Where you blush, glance around wild-eyed, and babble excuses.

“I’m just here to get ice.” And, “I haven’t been here in at least six weeks — I came to pick up some toilet paper.”

Not to name names, Steven, but they sell ice elsewhere. Including at locally owned stores. Which I’ve heard you rail at others about supporting.

Not to name names, Ellen, but it hasn’t been six weeks. I saw you in Wal-Mart two weeks earlier. I ducked, without speaking, down another aisle.

It isn’t just Steven and Ellen. It’s all of you. I’ve seen dozens of former customers of mine from the farmers markets. From those days when I was a simple farmer, wielding a hoe instead of a pen … OK, wielding a keyboard … regardless of what I’m wielding, answer me this.

What are you doing in Wal-Mart?

I thought Wal-Mart was off-limits. It’s the corporate entity that most represents what green, oh-so-Barack Obama types oppose. Wal-Mart kills downtowns. It doesn’t pay its employees a living wage. It harms local businesses. Remember?

But Steven needs 10 bags of ice to cool down meat and runs to Wal-Mart. Ellen needs toilet paper and runs to Wal-Mart. My former customers forgot to pick up peppers, or greens, or winter squash last Saturday at the farmers market, and all run to Wal-Mart.

Shame, I say. Shame. Shame. Shame.

In case you were wondering, I was at Wal-Mart to buy cat food. Because there is simply nowhere else in Sylva where I can buy cat food. Or ice cream, for that matter. It is simply amazing how other stores in the area fail to stock ice cream.

But not ice, Steven. Or toilet paper, Ellen. Those are items you surely could have found.


Dorothy and Steve Poole are among the few who live along a 3.3-mile stretch of Needmore Road the state Department of Transportation wants to widen and pave.

“I agree with the people who want to keep it beautiful,” Dorothy Poole said. “But the road has safety issues.”

Her husband, speaking at an information session held in Franklin last week, told the 30 or so people there that he, his wife and their neighbors simply want the same consideration other parts of the Macon-Swain gravel road received.

Care. Pavement. Safe shoulders. Pullouts, if needed.

Others at the session, sponsored by Western North Carolina Alliance, a regional environmental group headquartered in Asheville, argued the state’s plan is too extensive. The transportation department engineers targeted the most expensive option, they said, because these are men who like building roads. So they failed to adequately study other options.

If built as proposed, the gravel section of Needmore Road would be widened to a minimum of 18 feet, with up to another 14 feet for shoulders.


What’s at stake

Needmore Road runs through the protected 4,400-acre Needmore Game Lands. A coalition of environmentalists, hunters, local residents and others saved the tract from development some eight years ago after raising $19 million to buy the land from Duke Power.

The transportation department held a public hearing in Swain County on the paving proposal this week. Macon County commissioners have requested a second public hearing be held in their county.

The state has said the project would cost $6.5 million; the Little Tennessee Watershed Association says it understands the cost would be much higher, and is citing $17.5 million as the actual potential cost. Still others have said it would run to $13.1 million.

“I think they are playing a little fast and loose with the language,” Bill McLarney, the biomonitoring director of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, said of the transportation department’s proposal to go with the most extensive option.

“(It) would be disastrous,” McLarney said.

McLarney and other speakers said they want more study on the possible use of a soil binder, an alternative surfacing method that might reduce erosion without the high impacts of paving.

McLarney added, however, that there hasn’t been enough information provided for anyone to focus on a definitive answer at this juncture.

The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River, a Franklin based organization that works with property owners and others to protect upper Little Tennessee and Hiwasee River valleys, has joined the Little Tennessee Watershed Association’s opposition to extensive work on Needmore Road. The land trust played an instrumental role in helping to protect the Needmore tract.


What should be done?

The transportation department is proposing to pave and widen Needmore Road to two lanes. “Preferred Alternative E” would mean the road would be a minimum of 18-feet wide, and additional work would take place on the road’s shoulders. Completing this would require cutting through acidic rock. Here are other alternatives listed in the transportation department’s environmental assessment of the project:

• Alternative A, do nothing.

• Alternative B, upgrade drainage, replace drainage pipes, do grading improvements. Consider a soil binder/alternative surfacing method, to reduce erosion and dust by methods other than paving.

• Alternative C, pave existing road. Although the existing road generally varies from 14 to 19 feet wide, the maximum pavement width would be no wider than 18 feet.

• Alternative D, upgrade the road to a two-lane paved facility with 9-foot lanes for a minimum roadway width of 18 feet, plus 4- to 7-foot shoulders. When encountering acidic rock, shoulders would be sacrificed to reduce footprint of road.

• Alternative E, upgrade the road to a two-lane paved facility with 9-foot lanes for a minimum roadway width of 18 feet, plus shoulders. This would encroach into acidic rock.


Count it up

The transportation department has pointed to traffic counts and safety issues as the primary reasons for paving Needmore Road. These numbers represent average daily traffic volume over the course of the year with typical traffic conditions.

Needmore Road, just north of Tellico Road intersection

2003: 260

2005: 250

2007: 220

2009: 320

For comparison, traffic counts on Old River Road in Swain County, also a two-lane gravel road used heavily by local residents.

Old River Road, SR 1336

2002: 270

2004: 340

2006: 320

2008: 340

Another two-lane gravel road in the region, the road leading to Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sees slightly lower daily traffic counts, shown here as a daily average in summer months.

2006: 262

2008: 249

2010: 249

Source: Southwestern Development Commission and National Park Service.


One town commissioner, the town manager and two business owners will help pick Sylva’s next police chief.

The panel, agreed on last week at a board meeting, replaces one originally conceived by Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower that sparked dissent among the town’s five commissioners. She proposed using herself, two Western Carolina University employees, and the town of Maggie Valley’s police chief to select a replacement for Jeff Jamison, who steps down Oct. 1.

But Commissioners Harold Hensley, Danny Allen and Ray Lewis objected to the use of outsiders. They said there was ample wisdom on the town board to help guide the selection. The town’s leaders include two former police officers, Allen and Lewis, and a former district attorney, Christina Matheson. The board agreed to this panel makeup previously.

Allen and Lewis missed last week’s meeting. No explanation for their absence was offered.

Matheson volunteered to serve on the panel, and nominated Marion Jones of Jones Country Store. Hensley nominated R.O. Vance of Vance Hardware and Appliance Repair. The nominations of all three, Matheson, Jones and Vance, passed unanimously, 3-0.

While hiring choices and day-to-day management of town affairs usually fall to the manager, a town ordinance stating commissioners shall select the police chief further confused the issue.

Sylva hired its first manager eight years ago, but this represents the first time the manager has wielded hiring power for the police chief. Before, town board members selected the police chief.


Richard Collings suffered a stroke the night he arrived in Western North Carolina to take over as president of Southwestern Community College.

What followed, as Collings described it, was “kind of a weird interlude” into his new job.

There had been no indication of potential health problems. Collings, a tall, lanky, fit-looking man, walks and bikes regularly for exercise. A doctor who checked him out a short time before the incident assured him he was in good overall health.

That first night back in WNC, however, he began feeling disoriented. His wife, Marilyn, suggested the possibility of a stroke. Collings was taken to a hospital for treatment.

He lived. He suffered minimal damage. He clearly believes himself fortunate. But one senses about him a lingering bemusement that he, Collings — a man who’d just been informed his blood-pressure reading was that of a teenager — could, without warning, be felled.

As it happened, the stroke wasn’t connected to blood pressure. A blood clot was to blame.


Getting on with things

Collings, 63, was cleared to start his new position Aug. 23. This followed two months or so in occupational and physical therapy. His right leg still feels a little weak. One hand is a bit numb. That describes the situation. Collings said he’s eager to get on with the job.

The task he faces is somewhat delicate: don’t be the man who messes things up.

SCC achieved national recognition, twice, under the leadership of the previous president, Dr. Cecil Groves. The college hasn’t been shy about trumpeting its Top 10 rankings by Washington Monthly, a monthly nonprofit magazine. On highway billboards, media releases, wherever and whenever potential students, faculty and staff — the simple passerby — can be reminded of SCC’s stellar rankings, they are reminded.

There’s little question that SCC, led by Groves and his predecessor, Barry Russell, emerged during the past two decades or so as one of the most important institutions in the far-western end of the state.

This, in part, is because unlike most of North Carolina’s community colleges, SCC serves more than one county. The two-year college’s service area is made up of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, plus the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Michell Hicks, the tribe’s principal chief, is among the school’s most notable graduates.

This year, SCC has 2,650 curriculum students. There are 202 full-time employees and 477 part-time ones. Students can choose from 74 programs; 19 of those are available online.

SCC plays a critical role in training people to work in the service industry, and as medical experts, law-enforcement officers, outdoor guides, even hairdressers. Name anything connected with earning a livelihood here in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, and former SCC students are probably involved.


New president styled “open minded”

Collings previously served as vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University. Between then and taking the SCC job, he was president for six years at Wayne State College in Nebraska.

Bill Path, president of Northeast Community College in nearby Norfolk, Neb., said he wasn’t surprised when he learned Collings wanted to give up his post at the head of a four-year school to lead a community college. Path knew Collings’ children and grandchildren were still in this area, “and he was open-minded.”

“A lot of times, four-year colleges look down on two-year colleges. I never saw any hint of that, or hesitation on his part,” Path said.

During Collings’ stint at Wayne State College, the two men did something unusual. The Nebraska State College System would later use accolades such as “history making” and “unique.”

Collings and Path collaborated on a joint campus, an unusual partnership between a two-year and four-year school.

There was political opposition to begin with, Collings said. Some university leaders opposed the project, afraid perhaps of the competition, or being forced to undertake similar tasks themselves. The men also had to find more than $14 million, done largely through grants and private fundraising.

Construction is almost finished on a new joint campus in South Sioux City, Neb. Students will be able to take freshman and sophomore courses from Northeast, and junior and senior or graduate courses from Wayne State College — all in the same place, in their town, close to their own homes. The two men invented, at least for Nebraska, the educational equivalent of one-stop shopping.


A man with a mission

Collings might have embraced innovation in Nebraska. But don’t expect huge changes at SCC. This is an individual who strongly believes in defining, and adhering, to a mission.

He speaks of  “tweaking” things at the community college. Of getting involved in the multiple communities the college serves, and finding out what else residents need and want. But Collings also talks of the philosophy of continuous improvement.

“You either move forward or you fall back,” he said.

The former university administrator is not a fan of community colleges that emulate their bigger brothers and offer bachelor’s degrees, an education concept particularly embraced of late in the state of Florida. Collings doesn’t covet university sports teams. He doesn’t wish he could offer students dorm space on campus. Don’t, in other words, expect “mission creep” under Collings’ watch at SCC.

“Community colleges fill an important niche. There are things we can’t do,” he said. “We are not trying to be a university, or a four-year school. We have a different mission.”

Collings said he’s not made wholesale changes to the staff and faculty. Because, he said, this isn’t a rescue operation.

Kate Welch, a former Swain County teacher and 13-year member of SCC’s Board of Trustees, said Collings seemed a square peg for a square hole.

“I didn’t hear before, or since, any negative things about him. Everything that was said was very, very positive,” Welch said, adding that, during the interview process, Collings impressed her with his sincerity.

The similarities of his educational path and those of students who attend SCC also struck her favorably. The Louisville, Ky., native worked his way through school, usually doing some form of manual labor to pay his tuition.

“It made me think he could relate to our students,” she said. “Some work two, three jobs, and have childcare issues. And that he would be part of our community, and fit right in.”

Collings has a one-year contract. The trustees can choose to renew that contract, or not. He will be paid $140,000.


Meet SCC’s new president

WHAT: Welcome reception for Richard Collings

WHERE: Balsam Center Lobby of the Jackson Campus.

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 30.

TIME: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Two veteran officers, Sheriff Robert Holland and George Lynch, are vying to fill Macon County’s top law-enforcement post.

The campaigns of both men have been remarkable. More for what isn’t happening rather than what has taken place. Both Holland, the incumbent, and Lynch, a former U.S. Forest Service law-enforcement officer, said they are intent on running clean, mudslinging-free campaigns.

And, to date, they have.

Holland, 43, a Republican, is in his second four-year term as sheriff. He joined the Macon County Sheriff’s Department in 1991. And made a steady climb to sheriff: animal-control officer, part-time detention officer, part-time deputy, fulltime deputy, investigator in the juvenile office, supervisor of that office, investigations unit.

Holland, not surprisingly, is running a campaign based on his experience.

“I’ve got eight years as sheriff,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of programs going that have been a success.”

Holland said since being elected sheriff, he has placed a major emphasis on combating illegal drugs and the crimes associated with them.

“I’ve really encouraged community involvement,” he said. “People in the community know their neighbor better than we do.”

The Democrat party’s candidate, Lynch, 62, like Holland, has emphasized his experience in law enforcement. He has a military background that includes one year as a military policeman for the National Guard. Fourteen years were spent as a federal officer for the Forest Service, where Lynch investigated, prepared and shepherded through trial more than 200 cases.

Lynch hinted at two areas where his administration would differ from Holland’s. One is more visible patrols in remote areas.

Lynch said he believes the primary duty of a patrol officer is the “protection of life and property,” not traffic control, though he would still want deputies to put the brakes on reckless drivers and drunken drivers.

“Officers need to be seen day and night from the city limits to the most remote areas of the county,” he said, “checking on the security of private property, businesses, churches, schools, homes, nonresidential houses and developments.”

Because of the geographic distance of Highlands and Nantahala from Franklin, Lynch said he wants fulltime deputies assigned to both communities.

He said he does not like “sensational drug busts” in which “buyers and dealers are allowed to continue to buy, sell and ruin lives until one can charge large numbers at once for publicity purposes.”

Lynch said he would strongly consider entering drug taskforce agreements with other agencies rather than use the go-it-alone approach “now in place.”


Mary Rock wants to become the first female sheriff in Jackson County, but gaining that title against two-term incumbent and Democrat Jimmy Ashe won’t be easy.

Part of Rock’s tactic is that she is running unaffiliated rather than under the banner of a political party. She is a registered Democrat, however.

“I did not feel that I would have as much time for folks to get to know me if I ran as a Democrat,” Rock, 43, said of the difficulty she would have had winning the primary against Ashe back in May. “But the biggest reason is that I’m not seeking the job to be either a Democrat or Republican — I want to serve all people.”

Rock, a U.S. Army veteran, served in the military police for two years, and spent an additional five years in the reserve. She then completed her basic law enforcement training at Southwestern Community College. Afterwards, she began a double major at Western Carolina University in social work and criminal justice. Rock works as a professional bail bondsman, a job she’s held for 12 years.

“I’m an officer of the courts,” Rock said. “I take people into custody.”

If elected, she said she’ll place more emphasis on manning the substations at the farthest ends of the county, arrest drug dealers, work closely with social workers who are investigating elder and child abuse, cooperate and work with other agencies, tackle property theft, and operate with “a moral compass.”

“I feel (Ashe) has abused his power,” Rock said, in reference to revelations that Ashe used state and federal money from narcotics seizures to operate an informal fund for youth sports.

Additionally, the sheriff used $20,000 from the fund to pay for a carpet in the sheriff’s office and $400 to list himself on a national “who’s who” list. Ashe also, while off duty, road a Harley Davidson motorcycle that had been seized from a drug dealer.

State authorities deemed the sheriff’s use of the money on sports was not illegal, but the lack of oversight violated a general statute. Jackson County in response changed how it administers the narcotics fund.

Ashe, 51, is unapologetic about steering money toward helping the young people of his county.

“That’s putting back what the drug dealers have taken away,” he said, adding that his tenure in office has been “above board and transparent.”

Ashe said his opponent is mudslinging. He pointed to his experience, and the work done against crime since he’s been sheriff, as being the real issues.

Ashe has been in law enforcement for 29 years. He started in 1981 as a dispatcher and jailer, working his way up to the top post. Stops along the way include work as a detective and as chief deputy.

“Law enforcement has been my life and career for more than half my life,” Ashe said. “I think it was my destiny to be where I am — serving the public.”

In response to Rock’s plan to man the substations, Ashe said he keeps deputies active on the roads in the farthest parts of the county. He said he doesn’t want them out-of-sight behind a desk.

Ashe also pointed to anti-drug programs he’s instituted, an inmate work program, and other initiatives as reasons he should be reelected sheriff.


An accountant tasked by a Superior Court judge with taking control of Moody Funeral Home in Sylva said she couldn’t fulfill the order because of a state-licensing issue, and questions about who is on the property lease.

In a Sept. 13 court filing, Sheila Gahagan, court-appointed receiver for Wings Aviation Inc., listed in the filing as “doing business as” Moody Funeral Home, also asked the court to consider the possibility that there have been efforts to “hinder, delay and defraud creditors.”

Reginald Moody Jr., identified by Gahagan as president of Wings Aviation/Moody Funeral Home, said in response Tuesday: “Wings was foreclosed on and ceased doing business October 2007. And, from that date forward, Moody Services has operated the funeral home. The whole thing is in the North Carolina Court of Appeals right now.”

Gahagan was appointed receiver in December 2009. Neither she nor Moody could be reached for comment Tuesday before presstime.

“In the time since my appointment, I have struggled to locate and review documents, to trace financial transactions, as well as identify and interview those who have helpful information,” Gahagan wrote in the filing.

The accountant told the judge that she has asked the North Carolina Funeral Service Board to revoke or suspend Moody Funeral Home’s license because of failure to comply with the licensing laws. The state laws, Gahagan said, require a funeral home to only operate under the name listed on the application, and stipulate a new application for any change in ownership.

Gahagan said the license filed for Moody Funeral Home this year was under a sole proprietorship owned by Moody; previously, the filing has been under Wings Aviation.

Additionally, Gahagan said, “There are questions of Coward, Hicks and Siler (law firm) and Jay Coward’s involvement in the transfer of Wings assets to Mr. Moody and his father, Mr. Moody Sr. and the purpose of those transfers.”


Call Highlands home and you live in Macon County, right?

Not necessarily.

Some town of Highlands residents have discovered they actually live in neighboring Jackson County — which can make matters confusing, all the way from the voting booth to which county responds to a 911 call.

“Those folks could actually get a Highlands fire truck, Macon County ambulance and a Jackson County deputy,” said Warren Cabe, director of Macon County Emergency Services.

And with a general election just around the corner, election directors in both Macon and Jackson counties are starting to sort out which Highlands residents vote in what county.

“It is just confusing for everybody,” said Kim Bishop, director of the board of elections for Macon County. “For us, Jackson County, and all of the residents who are involved.”

The list that has been compiled shows 113 possible Jackson County voters living in the town of Highlands. But the number will probably prove much smaller when it is scrutinized address by address, said Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, Bishop’s counterpart in Jackson County.

That is because it is often just the end of a road, or part of a road, that creeps over the line into Jackson County. A whole road might be questionable, but in reality, only a few residents on that road usually actually live on the Jackson side.

Prior examinations have shown about 25 people or so are residents of both Highlands and Jackson County.

Ultimately, however, only a few of those identified before the last general election even showed at the polls to cast their vote, Bishop said. Many of the people who live in Highlands, an upscale resort town, are seasonal residents who do not vote in North Carolina anyway.

During general elections, those Highlands residents living within Jackson County’s borders drive to nearby Cashiers to vote and also pay Jackson County taxes. During odd-numbered years, when a town election is held, these same residents vote in those elections in Highlands. This means these dual residents pay town taxes to Highlands and county taxes to Jackson.

The oddity was discovered in about 2001, Lovedahl-Lehman said, when mapping techniques and 911 technologies became more advanced. Address pinpointing became commonplace, and continues being refined, meaning more people might one day discover they live in a different county than they thought.

Over at the Macon County 911 and emergency services office, Cabe is crystal clear about what happens when an emergency unfolds at a residence that might or might not actually be within his county.

“We treat those people just like Macon County folks,” he said.

Emergency responders go to these houses without quibble or question.

Jackson County, Cabe said, kicks in some money every year to help support the fire department for serving its Highlands-based citizens. However, law enforcement — to respond to an official call — must have jurisdiction. So Jackson County deputies, not those from Macon County, must handle legal matters when they arise.

Macon County is no stranger to the difficulties blurry boundary lines can cause, and not just with neighboring counties, but the state of Georgia.

Luckily, the county’s emergency services and law enforcement offices have established close working ties with Jackson County officials and with their counterparts in Georgia.

As an example, residents of both Sky Valley (in Georgia) and Scaly Mountain (in North Carolina) jointly man Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue. The people in that area are building a new fire station, which will also serve as a community building.

The Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain fire and rescue volunteers are dispatched independently by 911 offices located in both Macon County and Rabun County, Ga., Cabe said. The looking-after-your-neighbor concept extends even further.

The town of Sky Valley, population about 250, and Macon County, population just more than 33,000, are currently at work on a mutual-aid agreement. This is being drafted in the event a Sky Valley police officer traveling through nearby North Carolina sees an accident. N.C. 106, or Georgia State Route 246, zigzags across the state line five times.

“If they run up on something, they’ll be able to stop and help the people legally,” Cabe said. “They want to help.”

Sky Valley’s five officers are trained to the first-responder level. This is a national designation, so it encompasses all states.

In the event there is a question about which county — Macon or Rabun, Ga. — should send an ambulance, both always elect to send one. This means on occasion, two ambulances respond to emergencies along the state line.

“We have great mutual-aid agreements,” Cabe said.

Routers are used to siphon 911 calls to the proper designation. There is a router in Sylva, with a backup all the way in Durham, to sort out which Highlands phone calls go where. The same is true for the Nantahala community, which borders Cherokee County, though the router, in that case, is set up in nearby Andrews.


An environmental group dedicated to protecting the Little Tennessee River has come out against a state proposal to widen and pave Needmore Road from one to two lanes.

The Little Tennessee Watershed Association did not dismiss out-of-hand the state Department of Transportation’s proposal to make improvements to the road. The Franklin-based group, however, stated that it would not support a proposal calling for such extensive work.

Needmore Road is currently a rough, one-lane gravel road paralleling N.C. 28 on the opposite bank of the river in Macon and Swain counties. The road runs through the protected Needmore Game Lands. A broad coalition of environmentalists, hunters, local residents and others saved the 4,400-acre tract from development some six years ago after raising $19 million to buy the land from Duke Power.

The Little Tennessee Watershed Association stated it “is in favor of a solution for Needmore Road that deals with safety and environmental problems that currently exist there, and wishes to participate with the DOT and the community in defining alternatives which will address both sets of problems while serving local transportation needs and contributing to the realization of the goals for which the Needmore Game Lands was created.”

The transportation department has set a Sept. 21 question-and-answer session, followed by a 7 p.m. public hearing, on the proposal. If built as proposed, 3.3 miles of Needmore Road would be widened to a minimum of 18 feet. Additionally, construction work would take place on the roadway’s shoulders.

The state has said the project would cost $6.5 million; the environmental group says it understands the cost would be much higher, and is citing $17.5 million as the actual potential cost.


Group’s opposition outlined

The Little Tennessee Watershed Association said the project was untenable because:

• “DOT states that the intent of the improvement is to ‘avoid or minimize adverse impacts’ to this outstanding stretch of river and rich game lands. Increased thru traffic and the consequences of major road construction through acidic rock will adversely impact the Needmore Game Lands and will alter the character of this recreational area which comprises and integral part of our local heritage.”

• “It is not consistent with the intent of the $17.5 million of public funds, including $7.5 million of DOT funds, invested to secure the Needmore Game Lands for recreational use and protection of local heritage.”

• “There are more immediate and pressing infrastructure and road-repair needs that should be addressed with such a large expenditure of public dollars.”

The environmental group’s position seems in line with statements previously made by Cheryl Taylor, leader of Mountain Neighbors for Needmore Preservation, to The Smoky Mountain News.

Taylor, a Swain County native and Needmore resident, said she believes Needmore Road “needs to see some improvements, but if they’d pave it just as it was, I’d be happy.”


Protecting the river

“There are impacts from that stretch of the river that come off of the Needmore Road,” said aquatic biologist Bill McLarney, who is the biomonitoring director of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association.

McLarney has studied the upper watershed of the river for more than two decades. His work resulted in a state governor’s award in 1994 for water conversationist of the year, among other accolades.

The sedimentation is not just caused by rainfall, but even by wind, said McLarney, who sometimes uses snorkeling gear to examine the river.

“It is like somebody had put a thin layer of dust over the rocks,” he said of the bank’s appearance that is nearest Needmore Road.

Aquatic life there also has been adversely impacted.

“I have always been of the opinion [that] paving the Needmore Road would be a plus for the value of the river,” McLarney said.

But, the aquatic biologist said, he simply can’t support the option currently favored by the transportation department. Such work would increase traffic and detract from the recreational value, and diminish the importance of what took place when groups that have sometimes seemed at odds worked together.

“It would not have happened if local people … had not wanted to have it happen,” he said.”

One of the major players in that effort, the Land Trust of the Little Tennessee, has opted to stay out of this particular battle, at least for now. Sharon Taylor, land protection director for the group, said the land trust has not taken a position for or against the state’s proposal.

The land trust works with property owners and others to protect the “waters, forests, farms and heritage” of the upper Little Tennessee and Hiwasee River valleys.


Want to get involved?

WHAT: Presentation on Needmore Road paving proposal sponsored by WNC Alliance Environmental Group.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16

WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Franklin, Sierra Lane.


Learn more:

WHAT: Question-and-answer session, followed by public hearing sponsored by N.C. Department of Transportation.

WHEN: Q&A from 4:30-6:30 p.m.; public hearing starting at 7 p.m., Sept. 21.

WHERE: Southwestern Community College in Swain County, known locally as the old Almond School, off U.S. 74, 5.5 miles west of Bryson City.


With the ginseng season just getting under way, federal and state law enforcement officers again are turning to cutting-edge technology in their efforts to root-out poachers.

Dye, coded chips and DNA markers are now widely used to deter and detect poachers in 13 states, including North Carolina, and at least two other countries. The use of markers was pioneered by Sylva resident Jim Corbin, a plant protection specialist for the state Department of Agriculture.

“We know it works as a deterrent,” he said. “In one study, it was 98-percent effective in keeping poachers out of the system.”

Twenty-five poachers were identified and then watched. Of that group, just one actively continued to dig ginseng illegally, Corbin said. He attributed that decrease to increased efforts to mark plants and prosecute offenders.

Ginseng has long been sought in Asia, where the root has for centuries enjoyed a reputation as a heal-all elixir and aphrodisiac. So much so, Asian ginseng has been wiped out of existence in China, increasing collecting pressures on its kissing cousin, American ginseng. The market for ginseng also has exploded recently in the U.S.

“Its popularity has moved from traditional uses to use as a modern herbal medicine,” said Nancy Gray of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “And poaching continues to be a huge issue for us in this park.”

It is illegal to collect ginseng from the Smokies. It can, however, legally be harvested from private lands — permission is required to harvest off private lands that are not one’s own — and permits to collect on most national forest lands are available.

Strict prohibition hasn’t stopped poachers from helping themselves to the declining ginseng population in the Smokies, though.

Since 1992, more than 11,000 roots illegally gathered have been seized by law enforcement and returned to the Smokies, Gray said.

“But we know that’s only a small percentage of what we think has actually been taken from this park,” she said, adding that the illegal activity is now taking place during the summer months, not just during the traditional mountain “sanging” time in the fall.

Red berries appear in the fall. These can help to more easily identify the nondescript, five-leaved plant. But many poachers are adept at spotting the herb even without the distinctive berry cluster, and start illegally collecting it almost as soon as the ginseng emerges from the ground. They are also harvesting the plant at younger and younger stages.

Some dealers, recognizing that the ginseng roots they are being sold sometimes have been harvested illegally, do return roots to the Smokies for replanting, Gray said.

The dye marker used in the Smokies is bright, University of Tennessee orange, and the roots bearing the dye are ruined for commercial use. The calcium-based dye is environmentally safe. Just enough dirt is scraped away to expose the ginseng root and the dye is applied.

Markers with information identifying where the plant was growing are also sometimes inserted into roots.

Ginseng grows very slowly.

“It takes about seven years for the plant to reproduce,” Gray said. “So even if we do replant, it takes a long time for it to recover.”

In addition to using the markers, rangers have been aggressively prosecuting captured poachers. There were three convictions in 2008 and two convictions in 2009.

Wild ginseng fetches a higher price than that cultivated commercially. Scott Persons, coauthor of Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and other Woodland Medicinals, helped develop most of the cultivation methods now widely used today.

Persons has been growing ginseng at Tuckasegee Valley Ginseng in Jackson County for three decades.

It can be cultivated in a way that simulates wild conditions, he said. This could help relieve some of the poaching pressures on the coveted herb.

“If you have a great place for ginseng, stick it in the ground and let it grow naturally, it will look natural,” Persons said.

Persons has cultivated ginseng for 30 years, but over time, word of his high-dollar crop spread and his ginseng plot became the target of poachers.

He installed hidden cameras, marked his roots, got new dogs and relied on the watchful eyes of neighbors to alert him to trespassers. But even then, poachers would come onto his property in broad daylight.

Those with large operations may resort to motion detector cameras with night-vision capabilities, live-streaming video, motion-triggered alarms and even a hired man to patrol the perimeter, Persons said.

“If you have a lot of ginseng growing, you can afford to have security measures to protect your crop, but it is a limiting factor,” said Persons.

Poaching got so aggravating that Persons says he has drastically scale back his ginseng cultivation. Because of the struggling economy, Corbin is worried that poachers will be hitting the woods this fall in force. That pressure might further intensify if prices, as early numbers indicate, go even higher.

A pound of wild ginseng is currently fetching about $110. There are approximately 50 roots to a pound, Corbin said.


Get started

The Swain and Jackson County Extension Service is taking orders for ginseng seed. The cost is $10 per ounce and $150 per pound. Payment must accompany orders. Interested buyers can bring their checks by the Swain or Jackson County Extension Service offices or mail to P.O. Box 2329, Bryson City, N.C., 28713. Orders must be placed by Sept. 16. 828.488.3848 or 828.586.4009 for information.


After six felons in North Carolina ran for sheriff during the May primaries, legislators decided it was time to close that particular legal loophole.

This November, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would put a stop to convicted felons being able to hold a county’s top law enforcement post. State representatives this summer unanimously signed on to that amendment, forged in the state Senate. A majority of voters must now vote “yes” Nov. 2 for the constitution to actually be changed.

“I don’t believe any sheriff should have any criminal record — whether felony or misdemeanor,” Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland said this week. “No criminal background, at all.”

Currently, once they’ve served their court-ordered punishments and their citizenship rights have been returned, convicted felons can legally run for office, though they cannot carry a firearm. None of the primary candidates who ran for office were actually elected sheriff.

Still, the situation served to underscore the issue’s importance, said Eddie Caldwell of the N.C. Sheriff’s Association.

“It became a little less academic and a little more practical,” Caldwell said.

A bill pushed last year by the association did not pass because of procedural problems. Namely, there was concern that legislators would try to piggyback pet projects on the bill.

This time, however, state leaders agreed not to do that, which facilitated passage of the proposed constitutional change, Caldwell said.


Sylva Commissioner Christina Matheson surfaced as peacemaker last week for a town board that, among other matters, has shown signs of fracturing over the best method of hiring a new police chief.

Commissioner Harold Hensley bucked up at a meeting in August after learning about Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower’s plan to use outside help in deciding who would replace Police Chief Jeff Jamison, who retires Oct. 1. Isenhower had informed the board she intended to form a panel made up of herself, two Western Carolina University employees, and the town of Maggie Valley’s police chief.

At that meeting, commissioners Danny Allen and Ray Lewis echoed Hensley’s reluctance to allow Isenhower the full hiring power the town’s charter apparently stipulates. Often, town boards hire their manager, and the manager is in charge of hiring all other positions.

But no one seems entirely sure what the correct legal procedure is for Sylva because a town ordinance has confused the issue. The ordinance states commissioners shall select the police chief.

Hensley, Lewis and Allen emerged as a voting and speaking-in-one-voice bloc after Hensley was appointed in July to fill a board vacancy. This changed the constitution of the board. The minority is now the majority, and Commissioner Stacey Knotts has become the odd woman out after voting “no” to Hensley’s appointment.

Allen, who nominated Hensley for the board seat, upped tensions by sending a letter to The Sylva Herald demanding Isenhower and Mayor Maurice Moody consider resigning if they didn’t “work with us not against us.”

This, after commissioners’ summoned Isenhower behind closed doors for a time following last month’s dustup.

Against this backdrop of internecine warfare, Matheson attempted to throw oil on the water, at times even leaning back in her chair to directly negotiate with Hensley in a semi-private but still legally public manner.

Hensley sits on the other side of the mayor, as do Allen and Lewis, in a tidy but accidental alignment of what actually takes place in the boardroom. So the negotiations were literally, if not figuratively, going on behind Moody’s back.

“My suggestion is, to avoid confusion … we need to get a resolution of our charter, first,” Matheson said.

Matheson, a former assistant district attorney, outlined the following: Respect the autonomy of the manager, but have a board member present when candidates for high-level town positions are interviewed. In the vacancy for police chief, for instance, the number of applicants would be reduced to three by the manager, with the assistance of this special commissioner.

“Narrow the field to the extent the manager could (then) make the decision,” Matheson said.

“I think that’s a wonderful proposal,” Hensley said, as Lewis and Allen nodded in agreement.

Knotts, however, temporarily stymied the prospect of board unity by demanding a larger panel be formed.

“I don’t think one board member should be weeding all the applications down to three,” she said.

Hensley responded the size of the panel didn’t matter to him. He did warn that if too many board members got involved, the necessity of abiding by the state’s open-meetings law would come into play.

Ultimately, commissioners agreed one of them would volunteer for the panel, as originally proposed by Matheson. Additionally, at Hensley’s suggestion and with Knott’s agreement, a local businessperson who is also a town citizen will serve as a third body on the panel. Nominations for this post will be considered at the next meeting.

Isenhower, 27, was hired as town manager in March 2009 by a 3-2 vote of the board. Knotts voted for her, Hensley and Lewis against her. Allen wasn’t yet on the town board. The vote followed the board’s firing of former Town Manager Jay Denton in a controversial and split vote.


Getting around on your own two feet in Sylva would be safer and easier if an ambitious, $4.5-million pedestrian plan becomes reality.

The plan — really, a wish list that would help keep the town moving now and in the future — is headed for review by the state Department of Transportation after being presented to civic leaders last week. The 20-year blueprint for getting from here to there safely calls for more sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic lights and a picnic area.

The state review is expected to take one to two months.

“I think this is the time to make the right choices for what we want in this community,” said John Bubacz, owner of Signature Brew Coffee Company, between tending to customers at the popular West Main Street establishment. “If we build more roads, we are going to only have more cars. If we make Sylva pedestrian-friendly, we’ll have families and out-of-town visitors walking to see what the town offers.”


What’s there, what’s not

Compared to many towns, Sylva is in fairly decent shape, said the plan’s primary architect, Don Kostelec. The town used a $20,000 Transportation Department grant to hire the Asheville-based consultant, the senior transportation planner for Transpo Group. Kostelec partnered with a local steering committee made up of town officials, the county’s greenways coordinator and others.

The sidewalks in downtown are wide, Kostelec said, and there are already some crosswalks in place. Additionally, the missing link of a sidewalk between Sylva and its neighbor, Dillsboro, is in the works, and a new bridge now connects downtown with a town park and playground, which were once cut off by Scott’s Creek.

But long-term, Kostelec said, the goal of the plan is to transform Sylva into truly “a great, walkable downtown.”

The plan will take time, money and patience to realize. Many of the recommendations fall under long-term goals that could take up to 20 years to build.

“Where I’m stuck is, where do we start pursuing funding for some of these projects?” said town Commissioner Stacey Knotts of the overall plan.

Kostelec suggested the town seek grants to help pay for the projects.

“Having an adopted policy kind of puts you in line, as I understand it,” Mayor Maurice Moody said.

Some business owners, however, want to remain focused on parking issues before that happens.

“It’s pretty important that we get more parking along Main Street,” said Ben Seay, the owner of My Place restaurant, who is better known for his ownership of Uncle Bill’s Flea Market, located between Sylva and Bryson City. “That’s the bigger problem. We need parking.”

The plan doesn’t ignore parking altogether. It acknowledges there are issues with typical parking lot designs in that the “primary carriageway for vehicles in the parking lot happens to coincide with where the greatest numbers of pedestrians cross: directly in front of the main entrance.”

For the most part, however, the plan is focused on what happens to people once they get out of their cars.


Sylva pedestrian plan

To make the costs more palatable, the plan is broken down into bite-sized pieces. Here are some of the recommendations.

Short-terms goals, 5 to 7 years, $289,000:

• Along Grindstaff Road, adding a crosswalk at Mill Street and upgrading the railroad crossing for pedestrian access.

• Building a picnic area outside the Jackson County Administration Building.

• Build a sidewalk from Grindstaff Road to Jackson Plaza.  

• Along N.C. 107, include crosswalk and pedestrian signals on Wal-Mart side to connect existing sidewalks and upgrade with future sidewalks along the highway.

• On Main and Mill streets, fill sidewalk gaps and upgrade existing sidewalks, and make pedestrian access to the courthouse via Keener from Main Street.

Mid-term goals, 5 to 12 years, $617,000:

• At the U.S. 23 Business and Skyland Drive intersection, adding crosswalks, installing “countdown” pedestrian signals and upgrading curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Acts requirements.

• On Savannah Drive, from Keener to Cowee streets, improve the stairway to Mark Watson Park, fix problem areas on existing sidewalks.

Long-term goals, 20 years, $3.5 million:

• Sidewalks along U.S. 23 Business near the hospital.

• Sidewalks from N.C. 107 along the west side of Cope Creek Road.


Being the top leader of the Village of Forest Hills isn’t as serene as it once was.

Admittedly, Irene Hooper, the first mayor of this subdivision-turned-town, dealt with some thorny issues after the residential area near Western Carolina University voted to incorporate in 1997. Her job, mainly, was to ferry the town through the mechanics of keeping student housing out. The 350 to 400 people living in the Village of Forest Hills were clear on not wanting students taking over their community.

“We have a lovely area here,” Hooper said at the time. “Or, we did, let’s put it that way. Mailboxes are being torn down, beer bottles are thrown around, cars are racing, parties are going on and dogs are barking.”

The newly sworn town board’s first act after the referendum to incorporate passed? Adopting a building moratorium on everything but single-family, site-built, residential houses with at least 2,000 feet of heated space. The board was confident there weren’t many students who could afford that kind of housing, given the average home in the Village of Forest Hills at that time was just 1,843 square feet in size.

Thirteen years later, the town’s current top leader is also grappling with growth issues. But that’s about where the similarity begins and ends. Mayor Jim Wallace has to help decide: Should the Village of Forest Hills embrace what it once so clearly rejected? Should the town actually agree to annex university land into its town limits, and perhaps even change its name to Cullowhee?

Decision-making time is nigh. Wallace said he believes the town’s board members will vote “yes” for annexation. That is, if WCU, in the next couple of weeks, brings to the town a document containing what the mayor anticipates — a method outlining exactly how the town could best accommodate the mixed-use land plan necessary for the Village of Forest Hills to move forward with the annexation.

See also: How would being a town help Cullowhee?


Growing thoughtfully?

There isn’t much to be seen in the one square mile that makes up the Village of Forest Hills. Tidy houses, an inn, an informally designed and painted sign posted along N.C. 107 with the town’s name set against a backdrop of trees and some mountains.

That about sums things up, except to note that residents are taxed one penny, the town has hired zero employees to work in its non-existent town hall, and the board’s meetings are held down the road at the county’s recreation center. Oh, and the town hires off-duty deputies to patrol on weekend evenings during the school year to help keep things under control, plus oversee general street maintenance. That includes fixing potholes.

Dawn Gilchrist-Young, a resident of the Village of Forest Hills who serves on the town’s planning board, said she doesn’t fear higher taxes if the annexation takes place.

“My primary reason for moving to Forest Hills was its promise of protection from thoughtless growth, but I think this would be thoughtful growth,” she wrote in an email. “As one of our council members has said, this will allow us a say in what happens around Forest Hills. It would seem a great deal is about to happen just a mile or so below us at the university.”

Justin Menickelli, an associate professor for WCU in the department of health, physical education and recreation, also lives in the Village of Forest Hills. He, like neighbor Gilchrist-Young, favors annexation as a means of controlling the growth that now seems inevitable. Inside town limits, ordinances can control the nature, scale and aesthetics of development.

“I think it is a great idea,” Menickelli said. “I know there are people who are against it, worried about corporate-type chains coming in. I just don’t think that will happen (on a large scale) — maybe a grocery, or a couple of restaurants.”

Gilchrist-Young also touched on the possibility of chain restaurants and businesses in Cullowhee. Unlike Menickelli, she fears the town center WCU Chancellor John Bardo wants to build — essentially, a new commercial district now lacking in the community — will be homogeneous, and without local flavor or character.

“WCU’s population is more a Zaxby’s/Target/Abercrombie population than they are farmers market and outdoor café population, so the planners and businesses will make decisions reflective of that, I’m afraid,” she said.

That is organic farmer Curt Collins’ fears, as well. He is in his third year of farming, running Avant Garden in Cullowhee. But Collins, though fervent and unapologetic in his support for local businesses over large, corporate ones, picked his words carefully.

“This is not ‘me versus the university,’” Collins said. “Ultimately, what the university desires is the end goal that all of us desire — the betterment of this area.”

On Saturday, a ‘Cullowhee Happening’ cultural event will take place at Avant Garden from 3 to 10 p.m. Collins also sees the event as a natural setting for people to discuss plans and share ideas about the future of their community.


What the future might hold

Town center, as conceived and promoted by Bardo, would primarily be a 35-acre commercial hub abutting N.C. 107. It would extend from the Fine and Performing Arts Center to the Ramsey Center. Sites would be leased to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and perhaps a specialty-style grocery store.

Bardo has promoted mixed-use development. So there might be condominiums as well as shops. University-type structures would be held to a minimum. WCU wants board members of the Village of Forest Hills to adopt the town-center plan in its entirety, a wholesale approval of the development plans that would be good for 20 years, so that individual businesses wouldn’t need to seek approval by the town.

“Some things I like about this, some I don’t,” said Bill Supinski, a senior English major at WCU who was sitting outside the Mad Batter restaurant one day last week. “It would be nice to be able to buy alcohol, but that’s not really necessary. Sylva is just 5 miles away.”

Supinski said he was attracted to WCU because it’s the antitheses of his hometown, Raleigh.

“I didn’t want to live like that anymore. If you want those kinds of places (corporate businesses, chain restaurants), you should move there,” he said.

Adam Bigelow, a senior in environmental science, said he wants Cullowhee to become a town “without corporations” that is a model of local sustainability.


Downstate, another town and university partnership

WCU, in not having an incorporated town to help provide that college-town feel, is in an unusual situation. But it isn’t unheard of for a university and a town to join in promoting mutual business interests. Take Elon and Elon University, for example.

Elon, founded in 1889, developed in concert with the university. Though they are two independent entities, the town exists because of the university, said Eric Townsend, director of Elon University’s news bureau.

“The town makes its own decisions,” he said. “That said, part of our strategic plan is to help bring in more private businesses.”

Currently, the town consists of some restaurants, a few boutiques and some retail establishments. It could be more vibrant, Townsend said.

“There’s a series of guidelines we’d like to see happen over the next 10 years,” he said.

The town’s leaders want the same as university leaders, said Elon Manager Mike Dula, whose daughter is Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower.

Elon and Elon University always have worked closely together, meeting the university’s needs for water and sewer, coordinating police forces, and other joint projects. But the 10-year plan is a high mark in that relationship. For the first time, the two are looking to jointly redevelop and revitalize the small downtown area.

To that end, a committee has been formed that is made up of a consultant, two aldermen, the town’s planner, the university’s vice president for business affairs, and the vice president’s assistant.

“This is to see how we to try to move forward from here,” Dula said.


‘100-percent negotiable’

Back home in the Village of Forest Hills, Mayor Wallace positively bristles over insinuations that WCU leaders are calling the shots when it comes to possible annexation by the town. That simply isn’t true, he said, the town board remains firmly in charge.

“The chancellor has assured us, it is 100-percent negotiable,” Wallace said. “And people have preconceived ideas about what the university will do. They think it will just be an ugly mess — that’s not true.”

What’s also not true, the mayor added, is any possibility that the Village of Forest Hills will get into the business of involuntary annexation — of anyone, anywhere, anytime. That includes along old N.C. 107, or Old Cullowhee Road, which has seen the group, Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor, form for the purposes of rebuilding what, at one time, represented the main corridor into the university.

Cullowhee boosters believe incorporation is key to the successful redevelopment of Old Cullowee. This, unlike the university’s proposal, will mean private property owners will have to sign on to the idea.

“We will not force annexation,” Wallace said. “When old 107 is ready, they can petition us.”

Mary Jean Herzog, a WCU professor in the department of educational leadership and foundations, is careful to separate the work of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor from the university.

“This is a community organization, not a university one,” she said. “We’re really just a group of people who got together because of a mutual interest.”

That is, to beautify and invigorate Old Cullowhee Road. There, now, are a few businesses, including restaurants, a tattoo parlor, body shop, an auto-repair shop. After discussing what it would take to revitalize the area — river walkways, streetlamps, a river park, sidewalks connecting students to businesses — members of the group realized they wouldn’t be able to tap sources of money, such as grants, without real-town status.

Efforts in the 1970s to incorporate had failed. But there have been no real attempts made since then, Herzog said.

“I would like for Cullowhee to be a town as nice as Sylva, or Weaverville. … Growth is going to come. Do we want to be in charge of our destiny, or wait for unbridled growth and development?” she said.

Village of Forest Hills resident Menickelli believes the potential for growth on Old Cullowhee Road is tremendous and supports the idea of his town underpinning the revitalization effort.

“I just want to applaud the efforts of the (revitalization) group,” he said. “Old Cullowhee needs to be cleaned up.”

Meanwhile, former Mayor Hooper worries about growth of the Village of Forest Hills. But she worries more about that growth being left unchecked and unplanned.

“I hope we won’t lose our identity as the little village,” Hooper said. “But I think it will probably be a good thing in the long run. For all of Western North Carolina, and particularly, WCU.”


Festival celebrates Cullowhee

Cullowhee Happening, a cultural event and festival, will be held from 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Avant Garden.
Three bands will perform. This is a fundraiser for the Cullowhee Revitalization Effort, a group dedicated to rebuilding Old Cullowhee. See this week’s Outdoors section for information on a paddling race held on the Cullowhee section of the Tuck in conjunction with the event.


I felt sure this morning the thermometer was telling lies. It read 48 degrees, but the chill in the air felt positively Siberian. Woodstove weather. Harvest weather. Count the hay bales, fill the root cellar, oh my golly we’d better get ready-for-winter weather.

I, no doubt, was overreacting. But there are signs the seasons are turning. Autumn once again knocks at the door. The leaves on the very tops of the sourwoods have a reddish hue. Birds seem a little more frenzied at the feeders. I have redeveloped a hunger for hot soups, stews and casseroles, whole-wheat bread slathered with butter and honey, pinto beans accompanied by slices of cornbread, cobbler drowned in vanilla ice-cream.

Loving to eat good food topped by a dollop of vanity is what drove me, finally, out of the warmth and into the chill for an early morning run. As usual these days, I headed down Ashe Loop to nearby Fairview Road in Sylva.

Recently I read somewhere that good runners associate, mediocre ones disassociate. In other words, good runners think about running when they run. They focus. They concentrate. The run is all.

I, on the other hand, disassociate. I think about stories that should already have been written but are not; phone calls I had intended to make but didn’t; items needing immediate attention that I’ve instead ignored.

As I understand it, one of the tenets of Zen Buddhism is mindfulness: living in the moment. Meditation helps one learn to live in the moment. So does focusing on doing the task at hand as well as possible. Washing dishes? Wash dishes, then, think about nothing else. Concentrate on each plate, cup, bowl, fork. Peeling potatoes? Peel them with attention. Carefully. Mindfully.

I like that concept. I like it a lot. Running, however, is often painful. I find it easier for now to focus on anything but the fact that my legs hurt, my breathing is labored, and that if I had kept running for the past few years I wouldn’t be in such distress now, starting over again.

This morning, rather than ruminate, I tried a new diversionary tactic. I chose to admire instead the tidiness of the homes in my new neighborhood. It is remarkable how well kept most of them are. Lawns neatly trimmed, fences taut and maintained, flowers deadheaded. The horses in the fields looked brushed, as did — unlikely as this surely is — several cows chewing on their cuds as I passed.

I wonder why some people take pride in their homes and property, and others not? A few miles away, in another neighborhood where I sometimes run, many of the homes are rundown, uncared for, unloved. There is trash in the yards. The grass is rarely cut.

It can’t be simply herd mentality, can it? My neighbor is a slob, so I’ll be one, too; my neighbor’s hedge is trimmed, so I’ll trim mine. Nor can income levels explain away the differences. I’ve known plenty of poor people who were neat, and plenty of financially secure people who were not.

A few weeks ago on Fairview Road, I saw five or six men getting a field of hay harvested. While one drove the tractor, the other men worked together loading the bales into a pickup truck.

I run slowly, and passed by on both my way out and my way back. This provided ample opportunities to observe them closely. The men worked without much conversation, as if they’d done this together many times before. There were no wasted movements, though a couple of the men took the time to call out hellos the first time I passed.

Each clearly had an assigned, understood and accepted role. One man drove the truck. Another stood in the truck’s bed and straightened each bale as the others pitched them up. I wondered, were these men part of a family who are used to getting the hay in together, who unite in the fields each year to prepare for winter as families in this region once routinely united?

One of my favorite writers on agrarian topics, British author H.J. Massingham, wrote that if a thing looks right, it is right.

Those men looked right, working there in the field together. The houses along this road look right: tended, cared for and loved. My running and being here, too, feels more and more right.

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


Auctioneer Mike Cagle’s patter mingles with the crows of roosters, quacking of ducks and chatter of the crowd.

“These homer pigeons are as fat as little butterballs. $2 a bird? They will never be no cheaper. How ‘bout $1.60 … $1.70 … $1.65?”

Welcome to the weekly animal auction at Cagle’s Family Auctions in Haywood County. Signs on the walls warn against making deals outside the official auction area. Mounds of horse tack and mounted stuffed animal heads, killed in long-ago hunts, add to the general ambiance. Inside, the air is heavy with the stench of animals. The floors are dirt. Seating consists of castoff rocking chairs, folding seats and the occasional crate.

No matter, the 60 or so folks gathered — a crowd of ball caps, blue jeans, steel-toed boots and rubber boots — were having a fine time. They know how rare it is these days to find a livestock exchange. And Cagle’s Family Auctions is the real deal. So authentic I thought maybe I’d stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. That is, if Rockwell had been portraying unvarnished, mountain-style southern Appalachia.

“I love it,” Cagle said unreservedly about the animal auction he started in 2000. There is also a Saturday night tailgate auction, and periodic estate-liquidation auctions.

If you want it sold, this is the man to sell it.

For now, Cagle is operating the sole animal auction in Western North Carolina. He’ll soon have a bit of company. Work on a building to house a regional livestock auction has gotten under way in Canton. That auction is primarily aimed at helping the area’s struggling cattle farmers. They lost their main market after a livestock auction in Asheville closed down about six years ago. Pigs, goats and sheep will be auctioned in Canton, too.

Back to Cagle’s Family Auctions: a blue-point rabbit is pulled from a wire cage and put on the table standing center stage in front of the auctioneer’s booth. “Buck or doe?” someone asks. The rabbit is unceremoniously flipped over and scrutinized. “Buck,” one man replies. Sold, then, for $6 … “Nope, nope,” the seller interjects from the back of the crowd.

“How much you need?” Cagle queries. “About $40,” the seller replies. The $6 bidder shakes her head. That’s high dollars for a rabbit, even one this pretty. The rabbit goes back in the seller’s crate. It represents a rare instance of a no-deal at an auction where people are primed to buy.

Larry Verdon is a Cagle Family Auctions regular. He was buying rabbits. Verdon wanted to please his grandchildren when they visit his home in Haywood County. He also shelled out a few dollars for an exceptionally loud duck, and closely watched the poultry as the crates holding them passed him by on their way to the table. Verdon advised me to always examine the animals before buying them. Don’t buy a pig in a poke, as it were.

Verdon recently lost 10 hens to hawks. He wants to replenish the flock.

“I can’t grow ‘em out for what I can buy them for here,” Verdon said. “For me, it’s economics.”

And, the auction is fun.

Verdon readily admitted to liking the show, the atmosphere and the old-time community flavor of Cagle’s Family Auctions. Of being part of a group that know what color eggs Araucanas lay, and spending a few hours with people who can distinguish between pullets and hens, and cockerels and roosters.

I like it, too. The auction is good, cheap entertainment. I promised myself to get to Cagle’s earlier next time. A visit first to the Haywood County Fair meant I was too late for the tool and large livestock parts of the auction. In the summer, the auction action starts Saturdays at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. later in the year.

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

Take Exit 98 off U.S. 23/74, bearing left on Hyatt Creek Road. Drive seven-tenths of a mile, the auction is well marked on the left side of the road. The auction is held in the barn.


A state proposal to widen and pave a gravel road that runs alongside the Little Tennessee River and near the protected 4,400-acre Needmore Tract is being greeted with caution by conservationists.

“It is a very important stretch of river,” said Stacey Guffey, chairman of the board overseeing the Little Tennessee Watershed Association. “As a group, I’d say we’re not opposed to improvements that would help river quality. But, if something is going to be done, we want to see it have as little impact as possible.”

A portion of Needmore Road is a rough, one-lane gravel road that parallels N.C. 28 in Macon and Swain counties but on the opposite side of the river. The state Department of Transportation is proposing to pave and widen 3.3 miles of Needmore Road from one lane to two lanes. The new road would have a minimum width of 18 feet. Additionally, work would take place on the shoulders of the roadway.

“I think Needmore Road needs to see some improvement, but if they’d pave it just as it was, I’d be happy,” said Cheryl Taylor, a resident of the Needmore community and leader of the group Mountain Neighbors for Needmore Preservation.

Taylor said she and members of her group are concerned about the scope of the transportation department’s proposal.

“(The Needmore Tract) is a place to go to enjoy the area and outdoor recreation,” she said, adding that those qualities need to be protected.

The project is estimated to cost $6.5 million and would target the section from Byrd Road in Macon County to existing pavement in Swain County. Work on three of the four sections making up the project would get under way in 2012. The final — and most difficult section from an engineering standpoint — is slated for 2015.

“This alternative will improve the entire facility to conform to NCDOT Division 14 Secondary Road Standards,” states a meeting notice issued by the transportation department. “The proposed alignment calls for widening the roadway away from the Little Tennessee River.”

Joel Setzer, DOT division engineer for a 10-county region that includes Macon and Swain, said the paving proposal dates back to about 1997. Justification for the road upgrade is based on the number of houses served and traffic counts. Though there aren’t many houses along that stretch of road, Setzer said the traffic counts are high “as compared to other gravel roads.”

The purpose of the project is as follows:

• To improve the quality of travel for local residents who currently use the road.

• Reduce sedimentation from Needmore Road into the Little Tennessee River.

• Avoid or minimize adverse impacts to the existing high-quality natural resources.

The transportation department has worked on environmental assessments of the project, Setzer said, and has plans to deal with the Anakeesta-type rock found in the area. These rocks contain high levels of iron-sulfide and can create acidic runoff.

About 4,400 acres along the Little Tennessee River known as the Needmore Tract was saved from development and turned into a state game land overseen by the N.C. Wildlife Commission six years ago. Needmore Road, in places, borders the protected tract.

Nantahala Power and Light bought the property in the 1930s with the intent of damming up the Little Tennessee River for hydroelectric generation. The power company never built the dam. Instead, the bottomland was leased to farmers. Local residents used the remainder for hiking, camping and hunting.

Duke Power in 1999 took over Nantahala Power and Light and decided to sell the land for development. Public outcry led to a massive, five-year campaign to save the tract. Local residents, conservationists and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee worked together to raise $19 million in state grants and private donations to pay Duke. The Needmore Tract was then placed under state protection as the Needmore Game Land.  

Aklea Althoff, who operates an office in Franklin for the environmental group Western North Carolina Alliance, echoed calls for restraint when it comes to tinkering with Needmore Road.

“We know that some improvements need to be made because of the sedimentation problem from the gravel road,” she said. “But it needs to be as minimal as possible because of this pristine ecosystem.”


Want to get involved?

WHAT: Presentation on Needmore Road paving proposal sponsored by WNC Alliance environmental group.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16.

WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Franklin, Sierra Lane.

Learn More:

WHAT: Question-and-answer session, followed by public hearing sponsored by N.C. Department of Transportation.

WHEN: Q&A from 4:30-6:30 p.m.; public hearing starts at 7 p.m., September 21.

WHERE: Southwestern Community College in Swain County, known locally as the old Almond School, off U.S. 74, 5.5 miles west of Bryson City.


A long-range plan to create a museum highlighting the role and contribution of Appalachian women might be in limbo.

The Dillsboro town board last month informed representatives of the Appalachian Women’s Museum — which wants to renovate and turn the historic Monteith farmstead into the museum — that they were tabling, for six months, a request to sell or lease part of the property.

“That leaves us up in the air as far as securing funding for the project,” said Emma Wertenberger, president of the museum board. “We are considering options. We would like the partnership, but if it doesn’t work out, there will still be an Appalachian Women’s Museum somewhere.”

Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald said he knows the museum group is disappointed by the town board’s decision, but that it might well resurface before the six-month stipulation has passed.

“They are looking at it still,” Fitzgerald said of his board. “They just don’t want it to keep coming up every meeting and taking up time.”

Additionally, the town board’s members are simply acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars by carefully reviewing any possible legal ramifications of such a deal, he said. The group is eying 1.4 acres that comprise the core farmstead out of a total 16-acre tract.

The delay, in the short term at least, will hinder attempts to secure certain grants, Wertenberger said. The group says gaining title to the property is critical to secure funding to restore the historic farmhouse, which would house the museum.

The town of Dillsboro bought the Monteith farmstead in 2003. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places five years later.


The blue-plate special fundraiser is a tradition in Sylva. On the last Wednesday of each month, Jackson County residents sit down to lunches served on battered wooden tables at the soup kitchen and eat food donated by local restaurants. The money they give in return helps keep The Community Table afloat.

The need is great. Since the economy soured, the mainly volunteer staff has been dishing out an average of 100 to 120 meals a night, up from 25 to 40. And that’s not just a strain on the budget. The Community Table can only seat 30 people at a time at each of the four dinners served each week. Additionally, a food pantry is operated out of the small building the nonprofit calls home.

“They are crowded, and this is a light day for them,” said Jean Ellen Forrister, a blue-plate regular who was at the soup kitchen last week. “Sometimes people are standing in line.”

Though the answer is just a few blocks away, the fix won’t be simple. Town of Sylva commissioners agreed the soup kitchen could move into the former Golden Age center, which was vacated after the county built a new senior center late last year. But up to $90,000 might be required to renovate the old building and render it usable. Walk-in coolers, stoves and other kitchen equipment must be bought. That could cost an additional $30,000 if purchased new, $20,000 used.

Amy Grimes, executive director of The Community Table, and the soup kitchen’s other paid staffer, Kevin Hughes, have been roughing-out cost estimates. They are trying to figure exactly how much they’ll need to move The Community Table, and where that money will come from.

First Steps

Grimes this month made the rounds nonprofit directors of local organizations all make when seeking dollars: first to the town board, then to the county board. Town leaders said they were strapped for money. They asked that the use of former Golden Age building be considered their contribution. Additionally, the town’s maintenance workers will help The Community Table fix up the building, if time away from regular duties can be found.

“I wish we had money, that we could write a check for you guys,” Sylva Commissioner Stacy Knotts told Grimes.

Grimes appealed to county commissioners for a contribution of $50,000 toward the work. They asked Grimes to provide a list of exactly what’s needed and the estimated costs. They promised to consider her request then.

County Commissioner Tom Massie said he didn’t mind spending county tax dollars to renovate a building owned by the town, given that The Community Table would use the building.

“It is serving Jackson County residents,” Massie said. “The majority of the clientele are residents of Jackson County whether they reside in the town of Sylva or not.”

Grimes said she has asked the town for a five-year lease on the building with an option to renew. That, if granted, should allay any concerns about the county’s participation, she said.

Fundraising starts next month

“They really need the space, and it’s a good location with lots of parking,” said Sara Hatton, a Jackson County resident who also ate lunch at The Community Table’s blue-plate special last week.

Both Hatton and Forrister expressed confidence that people in the community will donate the dollars needed to move The Community Table to the former Golden Age center, fix-up the building and furnish the kitchen.

“I’m always just amazed at the willingness of people to come forward here and help,” Hatton said. “The response to the library has just been phenomenal.”

When official fundraising started for the new Jackson County Public Library complex in May 2008, the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library had $140,000 in hand. The group, which is spearheading the fundraising drive, has since raised more than $1.7 million. This total represents a combination of grants, matching funds and private donations, said Mary Otto Selzer, co-chair of the capital campaign.

The shaky economy has forced many in Jackson County to seek help from the soup kitchen for the first time. Grimes said some construction workers, unable to find jobs, are relying on The Community Table for meals. So are a number of working people whose wages aren’t enough to make ends meet, or whose house have been cut.

Grimes said an annual survey revealed that many of those coming to the soup kitchen have been college educated. This represents a significant change from surveys taken in previous years.

Estimating when The Community Table will make the move is almost impossible at this point, Grimes said.

“First quarter of next year?” she said. “That’s probably too soon. The building is so old. We’re just really not sure what it is going to take.”

Want to help?

The first major fundraising event in support of The Community Table’s move to a bigger location will be held Sept. 15 at Bogart’s Restaurant in Sylva from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Harris Medical Park is sponsoring the event. WRGC 680 AM will be live on location for part of the day, and local well-known people are expected to stand on the roof until allowed down for “ransom” dollars.


Court testimony could start this week in the case of a Florida man who gunned down state Trooper Shawn Blanton more than two years ago in what should have been a routine traffic stop.

Blanton was killed June 17, 2008, after pulling over a pickup truck driven by Edwardo Wong on Interstate 40 near Canton. Wong, who does not deny killing Blanton, is charged with first-degree murder. He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

A camera mounted in Blanton’s patrol car showed images of Wong; a microphone worn by the trooper captured audio of Wong telling Blanton he had a gun, and recorded the sound of three shots. After his arrest by Haywood County Sheriff’s deputies, 316 grams of marijuana and 57 tablets of ecstasy were found in Wong’s truck. Blanton’s service weapon and two other handguns also were discovered.

The trial was moved from Haywood to Catawba County because of pretrial publicity tainting the local jury pool. Blanton’s death, followed by the death of his prematurely born son, Tye, fueled wall-to-wall news coverage in the wake of the shooting.

Twelve jurors were seated by court’s end on Monday, but three alternates had yet to be chosen. The trial’s start-time hinged on the completion of jury selection. Once it actually gets going, Defense Attorney Mark Melrose estimated the trial would last eight to 10 weeks, though he hoped for just six weeks.

“We thought it would take two to three weeks for jury selection, and that’s pretty much what it took,” said Melrose, who lives in Waynesville.

Melrose said jury selection is the most tedious, time-consuming part of trials such as this one.

“You are meeting all these strangers, and trying to learn who and what their views are,” he said. “It is very stilted.”

Many of the questions were geared toward uncovering potential jurors’ feelings about the death penalty. Melrose said he and co-defense attorney Randal Seago worked toward identifying and removing jury candidates who were strongly biased against Wong’s side. If the prosecution does the same — that is, not seating jurors with strong biases against their side — then ultimately you have as fair a trial situation as possible, Melrose said.

Once testimony begins, “it just becomes a question of presentation,” the attorney said. “We have been dealing with these witnesses and the evidence for two years.”

District Attorney Mike Bonfoey declined to comment on the proceedings.


Four donated modular units should help ease a space crunch at the Public Safety Training Center in Macon County, but the fix could be short-lived.

The training center, run by Southwestern Community College, might soon become one of a handful of sites in the country where federal law enforcement officers can get high-level training.

While thousands cycle through every year for basic police, fire and rescue training, demand may be stiffest for a handful of coveted slots in a four-month academy for federal park rangers.

Men and women seeking seasonal, or temporary, law enforcement jobs with the National Park Service train there now. But the college hopes to offer more federal training next year — by increasing the number of academies it holds and adding training for fulltime federal law enforcement officers.

The National Park Service would be the primary beneficiary. Some other federal agencies also could use men and women commissioned through the training center.

“There’s a lot of potential with this federal accreditation,” said Curtis Dowdle, director of the training center. “But we would have to meet a number of policies and regulations, such as instructors who hold certain credentials, equipment requirements, enough square-feet-per-student requirements.

“Record keeping is probably the biggest part — we’d have to house the records on the students forever, and that’s a big space issue,” Dowdle said.

Right now, all training for fulltime federal law enforcement officers takes place at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, headquartered in Glynco, Ga. Dowdle said the federal government estimates having a select number of sites across the nation offer the classes could save taxpayers more than $40,000 per government employee.

Space problems

Macon County Schools donated the modular units to SCC, and county commissioners last week agreed to spend $17,500 from the county’s contingency fund to pay to move them. They were previously used by two of the county’s schools for additional classroom space. Macon County has been building new schools and no longer needs them.

“It services the whole region, even the nation,” Ronnie Beale, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, said of the center.

Steve Stinnett, chief ranger for the Blue Ridge Parkway, agreed that the training center plays an important role.

“The center has been very helpful to us,” said Stinnett. “They’ve really made it available.”

In addition to having access to a pool of qualified applicants when hiring, Stinnett said the National Park Service receives a professional boost because rangers working on the Parkway or in the Smokies are sometimes tapped to teach at the training center.

“People who teach something tend to do it better,” he said.

In addition to classrooms, a computer lab and more, the center has a driver-training course, shooting range and a 4,100-square-foot, three-story building used to train fire and rescue workers.

Each modular unit will provide an additional 864 square feet of space to the training center.

Simulators for emergency medical service workers will be set up in one unit. A use-of-force simulator for law enforcement officers will be housed in another, as will exercise equipment. One unit will add general classroom space.

But it’s doubtful the four units will provide adequate room for long. In addition to seeking the federal accreditation required to train fulltime federal law enforcement officers, Dowdle and SCC are considering other expansions.

‘Growing smart’

Two, 30-member academies for training the seasonal federal workers are currently offered. The academy starting in January has a waiting list; 15 men and women already have signed up for the second academy, which isn’t until August of next year. SCC, in response to the demand, is considering holding three academies each year.

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center officials did not respond by press time to an interview request.

“If we grow, we want to grow smart,” Dowdle said, emphasizing the community college’s need to weigh each expansion carefully.

An academy lasts four months. If another one is held, SCC — which under state law cannot operate student housing — will need to find more places for the students to live. The students now rent directly from people in the community.

“We must find more housing, unless we have an investor come forward who wants to put something up,” Dowdle said.

A state-of-the-art firing range is also being considered. This would be an outdoor range similar to one used by the federal government in Glynco. A bullet trap system would collect the lead, protecting both people and the environment. The firing range currently used by SCC is behind the water-treatment plant in Sylva. It has no trap system and just 10 lanes. That’s a problem when the community college is trying to train 30 cadets at a time, Dowdle said.


I admit to being slightly irked when I initially thought about writing this column. It has been about a year since Jeff Seiler retired as the director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service for Swain and Jackson counties, and more than three months since a panel interviewed applicants to replace him.

I know this because the extension service was unwise enough to let me serve on that panel.

Lest anyone think less of these state employees for including a news reporter in such an important decision (or on any decision, for that matter), let me offer in their defense the following explanation. This all took place while I was earning my keep as a full-time farmer’s market gardener, not as a newspaperwoman. Thus, in the eyes of the state’s finest, my disreputable and seedy journalistic self was cloaked in robes of agrarian trustworthiness and dirt-under-the-fingernails wisdom.  

Whatever. Three months is too long a stretch between candidate interviews and the state actually selecting a director.

The situation is unfair to the extension staff in Swain and Jackson. It is unfair to the farmers and hobbyist gardeners who rely on their expertise. It is probably most unfair, however, to Heather Gordon, the 4-H agent who has so ably served as interim director.

Not that I asked Gordon what she thought, because she is not, in my experience, given to unseemly and employment-endangering bursts of opinion. I knew she would simply give me a smile and proffer a publicly acceptable response, something along the lines of “I’m happy to serve in any capacity.” For all I know, Gordon actually might enjoy bossing around people she’ll have to work alongside again soon, simply as a colleague.

Sure doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

Even given my rightful impatience with the delay, however, I’m forced to acknowledge that filling this particular job poses unusual difficulties. In this case, the extension service’s pick must serve a multitude of masters. The director will work with two county managers and two sets of county commissioners. Additionally, they will oversee a staff stretched thin by service to residents living in two counties. Ever driven from Little Canada to Needmore in a day? How about from Balsam to Big Cove? Swain and Jackson combined represent a huge chunk of land.

Dan Smith, director of the extension service’s West District — that’s the state’s 17 westernmost counties and the Cherokee Indian Reservation — told me state budget woes for a time delayed almost all extension hiring. That’s not the case now. In Macon County, longtime horticulturist Alan Durden was recently tapped to fill that county’s top extension position. Durden, however, was a non-controversial hire, one virtually guaranteed to please Macon farmers and politicians alike.

Smith would only say when lightly pressed (this isn’t exactly Watergate I’m investigating, after all, and Smith seems a nice-enough guy) that he believes the state will fill the position soon, he knows the hire is a priority and everyone involved is eager to see things resolved.

It’s probably important to note why this issue merits attention.

There aren’t many farmers left in Swain and Jackson counties, and not much farmland, either. All the groceries we can consume are available at supermarkets. The state and the nation have huge economic problems, and one could argue the extension service simply isn’t a priority.

I think that’s shortsighted. For one thing, a nation’s ability to produce food is vital to national security. Michael Pollan, writing in The New York Times Magazine, made the case succinctly: “When a nation loses the ability to substantially feed itself, it is not only at the mercy of global commodity markets but of other governments as well.”

The extension service was formed, and continues to serve, as a vital link between farmers and research. Without extension agents, what happens in the laboratory probably wouldn’t trickle down to those really needing the information — the farmers growing our food. Additionally, the best agents help set local food agendas in the communities they serve.

A few years ago, two agents — Sarah McClellan-Welch, who is on the reservation, and Christine Bredenkamp, the horticulturist for Swain and Jackson counties — formed a bee club in response to the honeybee decline and people’s interest in their plight. These same agents were instrumental in starting farmers markets in Cherokee, Sylva and Bryson City. Renee Cassidy, another extension employee who has since left the agency, helped set up a food-voucher program at the Swain County Farmers Market.

These folks deserve our backing and support. The agents in Swain and Jackson counties also deserve a leader who will help them help us — and the sooner that happens, the better.

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


The historic significance of the Cowee Valley corridor received a national boost this month following the designation of N.C. 28 as part of the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway.

“We had to make our case for the project, document the project and show its scenic and cultural importance,” said Ryan Sherby, who works for the Southwestern Commission, a group charged by the state with spearheading regional planning and administration.

The N.C. Board of Transportation voted this month to extend the byway designation by 20 miles. Jeff Lackey, state coordinator for the Scenic Byways program, dubbed N.C. 28 “a natural fit” because of the environmental and geographical qualities of the area it runs through.

The corridor passes by historic West’s Mill Village and through the ancient village of Cowee, once the principal commercial and diplomatic center of the Cherokee Indians. West’s Mill was the site of a gristmill built by a family of that name. Stores, schools, churches and barns were built in the 19th and early 20th century near the mill. Many of those buildings remain today.

The new segment of this scenic byway will get official state signs and be included in the Scenic Byways Guide, which provides information on all 55 such byways in the state. The promotion as a scenic highway could help fuel additional tourism in the area.

Indian Lakes Scenic Byway starts at the far tip of Fontana Lake. It snakes around the lake, through Stecoah and ends at the Nantahala Gorge. It now continues along N.C. 28, paralleling the Little Tennessee River and ending in downtown Franklin.

Sharon Taylor, deputy director of the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, a Franklin-based conservation group that focuses on the Upper Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River valleys, said the designation is more than just a nice appellation — it helps underscore the importance of the area, and the work being undertaken to preserve its heritage.

“There is real significance,” Taylor said. “There is just so much going on.”

Most recently, community members attended a public workshop to discuss the future of Cowee School. The school will close in two years and be replaced by Iotla Valley Elementary School. County leaders and the Cowee Community Development Organization will review a report on suggestions gathered at the workshop. The Cowee organization is a particularly active community group, and has been instrumental in such initiatives as helping to gain the Scenic Byway designation.

In practical terms, being dubbed a scenic byway doesn’t limit any development except for new outdoor advertising, such as billboards, which can’t be placed within 660 feet of the nearest edge of the highway’s right of way, said Julia Merchant, a spokeswoman for the transportation department.

State law specifically states there is no required modification in local land-use regulations or restrictions, or in commercial or agricultural activities, future highway work, development, or road maintenance or improvements.

For more information, access the state’s Website at www.ncdot.gov/travel/scenic.


Attorneys in the state’s seven westernmost counties sent a message to the governor this week that they don’t want a temporary fill-in as judge before the November election.

The retirement of longtime District Court Judge Danny Davis would typically trigger an appointment. But with a contested election for the judge’s seat just three months away, members of the N.C. Bar Association didn’t recommend anyone for the post.

Fifty-five of the 242 bar association members gathered Monday night at the Swain County Administration Building to vote on potential nominees. None of the lawyers, however, submitted their names as potential candidates, said Elizabeth Brigham, a Bryson City-based lawyer who serves as the bar’s current president.

Rather than using secret written ballots to select their top three candidates for Gov. Bev Perdue to review, bar members instead voted by a show of hands to accept a motion they make no recommendation.

“We really didn’t see any point in filling the vacancy for such a short amount of time,” Brigham said. “It didn’t make any sense.”

Davis, who served as judge for 26 years, stepped down July 31. Steve Ellis and Roy Wijewickrama, both Waynesville residents, are vying to fill the post in the nonpartisan race.

Perdue has the final say-so on whether there will be an interim judge named. Even if bar members had recommended candidates, the governor could have selected someone else not on their list. The timing is tight, however. It seems unlikely that Perdue could — even if she wanted to — find a lawyer willing to shut down their legal practice for the short time the post would remain unfilled.

Neither Ellis nor Wijewickrama wanted a nominee. They had both asked fellow bar members to leave the seat vacant until the November elections.

Brigham plans to send the results of the bar vote to Perdue this week. If the governor, as expected, doesn’t name a stand-in, Davis will continue to fill the vacancy as needed in the capacity of “emergency” judge.


Finding a new police chief for Sylva might take more time than anticipated after some of the town’s board members balked at using outside help.

In early August, Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower notified commissioners via email she intended to enlist “three other people … on the police chief selection,” with interviews starting the following week. Town leaders last week questioned her approach and instead decided to discuss the matter further at their next meeting Sept. 2.

Jeff Jamison, who became police chief in November 1997, retires Oct. 1. State law gives hiring choices and day-to-day management of town affairs to the manager. Sylva hired its first manager eight years ago. This represents the first time the town’s top employee has wielded such power. Before, town board members selected the police chief.

The new method means that commissioners aren’t included in the decision unless the manager asks for participation, according Frayda S. Bluestein, who serves in the School of Government for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Town Attorney Eric Ridenour asked Bluestein to review the matter earlier this month.

Isenhower wrote in her email to the town board that she has asked Scott Sutton, Maggie Valley’s police chief; Vickey Wade, director of governmental affairs at Western Carolina University; and Chris Cooper, director of WCU’s Master of Public Affairs program, to help her with the selection.

“I don’t think we should have an outside panel tell us who we should hire as police chief for Sylva,” Commissioner Ray Lewis said during last week’s meeting.

Commissioner Harold Hensley questioned why board members were excluded from the selection process while people from elsewhere were being solicited to weigh in on the issue. Isenhower said she had formed the panel to help make it clear that politics were playing no part in her selection.

Commissioner Christina Matheson, though acknowledging she and the other board members might have been at fault for not requesting specific details, chastised Isenhower for failing to provide more information beforehand. She termed the situation a “communication glitch.”

“It caught me off guard,” Commissioner Danny Allen said in agreement.

Stacy Knotts was the lone commissioner to express unqualified approval for Isenhower’s plan, saying she didn’t believe board members should take any part in the hiring process. Mayor Maurice Moody, too, cautioned against board-member involvement.

But Hensley suggested that with two former police officers — Lewis and Allen — and a one-time assistant district attorney — Matheson — serving as commissioners, sufficient expert help probably could be found closer to home.


Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.