Holly Kays

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jacksonNearly two-thirds of Jackson County voters who visited the polls last week said yes to a referendum question asking to raise the county’s sales tax by one-fourth of a cent. Education leaders are rejoicing at the outcome. 

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A casino board member who came under fire for possible “conduct unbecoming” of a public official will keep her post, following conclusion of an investigation ordered by the Cherokee Tribal Council.

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out frAdam Bigelow bears down on the gas pedal of his biodiesel-fueled Jetta, urging it up the steep contours of the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of higher ground. It’s a gardener’s car, through-and-through, the dash covered with dried plant parts, the floorboards papered with garden-related fliers and catalogues. 

The only thing that’s missing is a live plant, and even that’s not too far-flung a reality. It wasn’t that long ago, Bigelow recalls, that he looked down from his seat to see a little pea plant growing up, apparently having received just the right amount of water from some mysterious source to take root in the car.

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fr ledfordThe widow of a former Vice Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians may be out of a home if Tribal Council decides to slash the portion of a will that left her the house.

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fr wcusciencebuildingWith the N.C. Connect bond passed, Western Carolina University is moving forward with plans to bring a $110 million natural sciences building from vision to reality.

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jacksonWhen Jackson County sent out bucketloads of mail this spring announcing new values for every property in its borders, Harris Regional Hospital got a piece of paper declaring that its campus was worth a little over $42.3 million — the tally rises to $48.9 million with all the auxiliary holdings included.

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out frThe sun had not quite set when Bradley Veeder fell asleep in his tent May 10, feeling “tired but happy” after a 17-mile day on the Appalachian Trail.

The 49-year-old Montana native was no stranger to trail life, having more than 20 years’ experience backpacking in places ranging from Wyoming to Oregon to Nepal, and he’d been putting in 15- to 20-mile days ever since starting his A.T. thru-hike April 30. Sound sleep was an important part of the recipe. 

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fr pisgahWhen John Cottingham, then working as — in his words — a “stuffy, corporate lawyer,” walked into the Pisgah District Ranger Office to drop off a donation, he was surprised to learn that there actually wasn’t a way for the Pisgah National Forest to accept donations toward projects.

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fr jaxTDATourism folks in Jackson County are feeling hopeful after hiring a new marketing firm to spread the word about the county’s hidden wonders.

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fr forestplanThe timeline for a draft forest management plan has been kicked back once more, with the document now expected sometime at the very end of 2016.

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fr campgroundCamping fees could increase in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park if a recently released proposal gains approval.

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fr cherokeeA request to change the way tribal members in the westernmost reaches of the Qualla Boundary are represented on Tribal Council led to a heated discussion in Cherokee this month. The legislation was ultimately tabled, but the issue could well return to the floor.

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fr EMSjacksonWhen a funding request for Emergency Management Services came in for more than double what Jackson County is paying now, commissioners were taken pretty far aback, asking lots of questions about the justification for the $821,000 leap and setting the issue aside for a few weeks to investigate the options.

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fr sccWhen the polls open June 7, Jackson County voters will have a choice to make — whether to OK a small sales tax increase to provide additional funding for Jackson County Public Schools and Southwestern Community College.

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black bearThe case of a 400-pound bear euthanized after a hiker in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was bitten in the leg appears to have been a wrongful conviction. DNA results delivered Monday (May 23) showed that the bear that bit 49-year-old Bradley Veeder, of Las Vegas, on May 10 and the one that park staff euthanized May 13 were two different animals.

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coverIt’s been three years since a vigorous debate about charging for backcountry camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ended with the park’s decision to charge backpackers a $4 fee, but for the fee’s most stalwart opponents, the issue isn’t yet in the rearview mirror. 

Southern Forest Watch, a group that formed expressly to fight the fee, filed suit against the National Park Service soon after the fee was approved in February 2013. The public had overwhelmingly decried the proposal, SFW said, arguing that the park hadn’t followed correct procedure when approving it and contending that the assertion that the existing backcountry system was inadequate, crowded and causing complaints — necessitating the fee — was unfounded.

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out frWhen life gets hectic, most people have a vacation spot where they go to unwind — perhaps a family cabin on the lake, a favorite campground or a sandy beach. 

David Burns, 73, finds that place somewhere in the depths of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

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coverAn air of excitement and expectation reigned over downtown Sylva last week as crews and stars alike rolled in to film streets transformed into the fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri. 

SEE ALSO: 
The long road to the big screen
• ‘Dirty Dancing,’ ‘Three Billboards,’ and economic ripples

Crowds gathered on street corners, craning their necks for a view during scenes filmed outdoors on Sylva’s Main Street or keeping a more laidback watch during indoor scenes, hoping for a glimpse of the Hollywood A-listers cast in the big-budget film, called “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

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fr longroadGetting a movie to come to town isn’t something that happens overnight.

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fr highhampton“Three Billboards” isn’t the only major filming project going on in Jackson County this month. Last week, ABC wrapped up a week of shooting for its remake of “Dirty Dancing,” turning the High Hampton Inn and Country Club into Kellerman’s Resort, circa 1963.

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black bearCampers at the Spence Field Appalachian Trail Shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spent a harrowing evening in the backcountry May 10, huddling together for protection as a big black bear roamed the site. Around 11:16 p.m. that evening, it had approached a tent occupied by 49-year-old Bradley Veeder, of Las Vegas, biting the man’s leg through the canvas, then repeatedly returning to the area to snuffle through the then-empty tents.

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fr cherokeeA massive load of debt left the shoulders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians last week following enactment of legislation to pay off $96 million in loans accrued for the new Cherokee Indian Hospital and the tribe’s wastewater treatment plant.

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out frThe sun is lowering toward a perfect spring evening as the crew from Fox Sports’ “Anglers & Appetites” pulls onto a gravel patch alongside the Tuckasegee River. 

“This is what spring is supposed to feel like,” says the show’s co-host Dave Zelski.

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sylvaSylva residents will likely see their tax rate skyrocket 42 percent this year, but town commissioners say that even the steep increase won’t let them do much beyond simply balance the budget.

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jacksonWith a drop in county value and increase in emergency response costs, Jackson County is looking at a draft budget built on a property tax rate of 37 cents per $100 of value — a 32 percent increase over the current 28-cent tax rate.

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cherokeeCherokee took another step along the road toward legalizing medicinal marijuana with a vote last week to start drafting legislation that would let the drug be produced and prescribed on the Qualla Boundary.

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fr belcherDavid Belcher may not have appeared at Western Carolina University’s commencement ceremonies last week, but the university’s chancellor was there in spirit after undergoing brain surgery May 4.

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A bomb threat was called into 911 during the 11 a.m. hour this morning, with a male voice claiming bombs had been planted at the Jackson County, Swain County and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians justice centers, Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten said.

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out frJoel Harrington has always been a fan of turtles. Of all animals, really — he is a veterinarian — but Harrington has had at least one pet turtle ever since he was a kid. And if the collection of Eastern box turtles covering his lawn on a recent sunny afternoon is any indication, the affinity hasn’t faded. 

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jacksonAmbulance service in Jackson County could more than double in cost to taxpayers if commissioners decide to fund the full $1.4 million budget requested by Harris Regional Hospital.

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jacksonThe interview process will soon begin in the search to replace Chuck Wooten, who will retire from his position as Jackson County manager on July 1. County commissioners are feeling good about the pool of applicants vying for the post. 

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fr shelterWhen a report estimating cost and space needs for a new animal shelter came back with a staggering price tag — the report estimated a cost of $5.4 to $6.6 million — Jackson County commissioners had to catch a breath and start rethinking their planned timeline of capital construction. 

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taxesSylva’s leaders have known for a year that taxes would have to go up in 2016, but it’s unlikely any of them expected to be discussing a budget featuring a 41.7 percent tax rate increase.

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fr harrahsBusy season is coming at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, and management there is working to get all hired up for summer. 

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out frJackson County is on its way to becoming the trout capital of North Carolina after county leaders unveiled a plan last week that’s been in the works since last summer. 

“Anything that we can do to encourage tourists to come to Jackson County we ought to try to do, and I think we already recognize that we have this remarkable resource in Jackson County — the public waterways. It’s already being utilized and is such a treasure in Jackson County,” said County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan, who spearheaded the effort with Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Spiro. “It just makes sense to try to do what we can to further enhance it and to promote it.”

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pets preacherIt was a chilly pre-spring day when Olivia Hickman ventured to the Waynesville Recreation Park, looking for nothing more than an hour or so of play with her 2-year-old son on the wooden jungle gym. But a dog lying on the outskirts of the area soon became the center of attention.

fr bearsAfter a federal judge ruled that the Cherokee Bear Zoo isn’t breaking the law with its treatment of the grizzly bears in its care, the two Cherokee women who had sued the bear zoo in the first place are appealing the decision.

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fr banishedCherokee’s Tribal Council was all business this month as members plowed through a list of 15 names proposed for banishment. There wasn’t much discussion, but there was uniformity of intent as councilmembers raised their hands, 15 times in a row, for 15 unanimous votes to forbid those named from ever stepping foot on tribal lands again.

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jacksonThe sleepy village of Forest Hills could look a good bit different over the coming years if a handful of development concepts under discussion come to fruition.

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fr belcherWestern Carolina University’s well-liked leader Chancellor David Belcher has been diagnosed with a small brain tumor, he announced last week.

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fr chalkSidewalk chalk was all anyone was talking about as campus woke up Thursday morning (April 21) at Western Carolina University. The chalk was everywhere, its biggest explosion around the fountain behind the A.K. Hinds University Center, colorful dust spelling out phrases running the gamut from  “Build that wall” and “concealed carry saves” to “Hillary for prison,” and “blue lives matter.”

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coverIt started with a poster. Or, more accurately, with a collection of posters in the window of Western Carolina University’s Department of Intercultural Affairs. February is African-American History Month, and the display aimed to draw attention to the issue of police brutality, especially as it relates to race. 

Some students took offense. In particular, a Facebook post by WCU student and campus EMS Chief Dalton Barrett went the Western North Carolina version of viral, drawing 81 shares and 58 comments.

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fr housingSylva’s leaders are applauding a plan to build a new apartment complex across the road from Harris Hospital as a step toward addressing the town’s long-standing shortage of housing that’s affordable to workers on the low end of the income scale.

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fr judacullaWhen Jerry Parker walked by Judaculla Rock on March 26, he saw that some newer markings covered the rock’s millennia-old Cherokee carvings. A symbol written in white spray paint blazed the rock’s center, black paint circled a pair of round rises near the bottom, and sets of initials covered the beams of the boardwalk surrounding the historic site.

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out atovernightTo get a taste of trail life on the A.T., I set out on Friday afternoon with a pack, a dog and a friend to find a shelter and some hikers and some firsthand trail experience.

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out frIt’s 4 p.m. on the Appalachian Trail, and while the sun will be awake for hours yet, “hiker midnight,” which strikes at 9 p.m., is drawing steadily nearer. A couple of hikers wander in from the trail, sighing as they slough their packs and plop down on the picnic table under the shelter roof, debating whether to press on toward the Walnut Mountain Shelter, 5 miles away, or stay here for the night.

A third hiker soon joins them. Nick Hyde, a New Zealander known on the trail as “Mountainear,” looks grateful for an excuse to shed his pack and rest his legs. He’s tired, he says, and very sore. It isn’t long before he, as well as the other two hikers — Khanh “Chicken Feet” Dung and Stan Walters — decide that this is as far as they’ll get tonight.

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sylvaAs Sylva’s leaders work toward a new budget for the new fiscal year, there’s one big question on everybody’s mind — how much will taxes increase?

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cherokeeA member of Cherokee’s Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise board is under investigation following a public uproar surrounding her alleged behavior at a Jennifer Nettles concert Feb. 6 at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

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fr blackbearDays after a judge ruled that conditions at Cherokee Bear Zoo, while “not ideal,” fall within federal regulations, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began to talk about legislation that would make the concrete, shadeless enclosures illegal under tribal law.

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