Holly Kays

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out frAsked what a typical day for the head guy at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park looks like, new Smokies superintendent Cassius Cash laughs.  

“Wow, let’s look at the calendar,” he says. 

Since starting the job in February, he’s kept pretty busy. As it turns out, when you’re the new superintendent of an 800-square-mile national park spanning two states, a lot of people want to meet with you. Staff want to hear from you. There’s a litany of issues to become familiar with, an endless inventory of park sites and experiences to log.

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coverIt’s 6:30 in the morning when 24 hours of travel ends with the plane’s landing in Bolivia, but even through the grogginess it’s not hard to see that we’ve arrived somewhere far, far away from Miami. Snow-crested mountains rise over the outstretched plateau. Drivers crowd the security exit, shouting “Taxi?! Taxi?!” At 13,323 feet above sea level, the air is thin and dry, with any activity more strenuous than a walk on flat ground leaving you gasping for breath.

SEE ALSO:
A timeline of Kory Wawanaca
• The joy of cooking

But the trek wasn’t over. From La Paz we were headed to a children’s home in Tacachia, a town so tiny it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps. Getting there would involve a day of altitude adjustment in La Paz, three hours in a Jeep traversing 15 miles of steep and skinny dirt roads and reconciliation with the fact that the village’s lack of running water would mean outhouses and no showers for the next four days.

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Carrie Blackburn Brown, who eventually founded Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home, graduated from Appalachian State University with degrees in dance and Spanish and a general desire to spend a few months abroad volunteering.

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fr bolivia cookingThat last full day in Tacachia, I didn’t have energy for much besides sinking into my wooden chair while waiting for the onslaught of elementary-aged kids to join us for pre-dinner playtime.

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fr celltowerA week after a contentious planning board meeting discussing the merits of a proposed new cell tower in Cashiers, the company has informed Jackson County that it will be pulling its application.

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jacksonQuestions about how well the Jackson County Permitting and Code Enforcement Department has been executing its responsibilities prompted commissioners to unanimously approve a fixed $15,350 audit contract last week with the national firm Benchmark Planning.

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fr schoollunchFree lunch is becoming a more common phenomenon around Western North Carolina as school systems start adopting a new federal program aiming to increase kids’ access to food in high-poverty areas.

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out frThere was no doubt about how the Smoky Mountains got their name as day dawned on the Friends of the Smokies’ planned hike to Hemphill Bald. Sky seemed to meet earth as the carpool headed up the mountain from Maggie Valley, fog so thick the road 20 feet ahead could have been imaginary. It didn’t look like the bald at the end of the 4.4-mile hike would offer much of a view that day. 

The gloomy weather didn’t drive away Patrick Murphy, however, who’d come over from Bryson City to try out his first Friends of the Smokies hike. The morning was “dismal,” Murphy said, but not without its high points — the first one to arrive at the trailhead, he found himself sharing the spot with two elk.

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sylvaFor the first time in seven years, Sylva residents will be able to watch Fourth of July festivities from downtown.

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cashiersA proposal to put in a new cell tower a half-mile from the Cashiers crossroads has sparked heated debate between long-time neighbors Mark Zachary and Rick Barrs, but the outcome of an upcoming hearing on the issue will affect more than just the two men.

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fr studenthousingAfter nearly four years of trying, a Charlotte-based development company has gotten the OK to build a high-end student housing complex in Cullowhee. 

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coverRecently recovered from rotator cuff surgery, Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher hasn’t popped a single prescription pain pill since the operation. Instead, he’s been using a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, over-the-counter meds that don’t pose the same risks of abuse and addiction as opioids. 

“Just this morning I was at the physical therapist,” he said in a May interview. “She said, ‘I cannot believe you didn’t take prescription meds.’ I said, ‘I didn’t need to.’”

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out frBreathing easy in the Smokies is a better bet than it’s been in decades. Ozone pollution is down 36 percent, and particle pollution has been cut in half. The mountain view on the haziest days now extends nearly four times as far as it did in 1998. Streams harmed by acid rain are starting to recover. 

All stats that are cause for celebration, said a group of air quality leaders gathered on Purchase Knob in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week.

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lw swainSwain County schools are a little bit healthier following the conclusion of a trial wellness program this spring.

livingwellThe Mountain Spirit Wellness building in Waynesville’s Frog Level area offers a pair of services that have the same goal — restoring comfort to hurting muscles and joints — but use different methods to get there. Masseuse Lynda Saffell and reflexologist Linda Neff took a few minutes to explain the benefits of their work and how they differ from each other.

fr hikerA wonderful writer. A fearless explorer. A fascinating person. An endless optimist.

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fr lambertAs results poured in from the Primary Election for an open chief’s seat, Patrick Lambert’s campaign came out a clear winner, taking 1,751 of 2,964 votes in the unofficial tally — 59.1 percent in a spread of five candidates.

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fr drexelA plan to turn the old Drexel furniture factory in Whittier into a Mecca of resources for small-time farmers and agricultural producers in Western North Carolina is likely dead in its tracks after a building assessment found it would take $1.7 million to get the building up to code.

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fr landslidemappingFour years after a state landslide mapping project for Jackson County was axed midstream, the commissioners are moving toward a vote to fund the work out of county coffers.

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out frIn a woodsy neighborhood up a winding mountain road from Franklin, late May is pretty quiet — at least from a human perspective. Many of the second-home owners who live there haven’t yet moved in for the summer, and with lots spanning as many as 40 acres, things are spread pretty far apart anyway. 

But the avian summer move-ins are there in force, and if you’re a bird, you’d probably say the forested neighborhood is anything but quiet. It’s full of tweets and chirps and chirrs, pretty sounds that actually mean things are a-stirring in the bird community.

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fr cherokeelawsuitA group of Cherokee people angry over Tribal Council’s decision last fall to give itself a 15 percent pay raise and back pay is planning to file a lawsuit against its members this month.

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fr jailFollowing discovery that a March suicide in the Jackson County Detention Center had occurred during an 85-minute gap in jailers’ rounds — the state minimum requirement is 30 minutes — the N.C. Department of Health and Human Resources took a second look at a November 2014 suicide that resulted in the death of Robbinsville resident Charles Moose, 36.

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fr wcuaerialA pair of Western Carolina University fraternity brothers are facing assault charges after student Zach Denson left an off-campus party this spring with a broken nose, concussion and spinal injury.

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law enforcementFour men from Buncombe and Henderson counties are facing a slew of Class 3 misdemeanor charges after officers with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission caught them fishing Lake Waterville using gill nets.

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fr sylvamerchantsImproving communication between the Main Street Association and downtown merchants was the goal of a survey sent out to merchants and property owners this winter, and the recently compiled results of that survey showed that communication itself is one of the biggest needs downtown.

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jacksonJackson County residents will avoid a tax hike for one more year, if commissioners choose to adopt the proposed budget for 2015-16.

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fr mccrorysylvaIf traffic seemed a bit slow through downtown Sylva on Friday (May 22), it probably had something to do with Gov. Pat McCrory’s afternoon stroll along Main Street that day.

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fr mccrorybelcherOf all the constructions on Western Carolina University’s campus, the distinctly non-glamorous Natural Sciences Building might have seemed like an odd place to host a visit from Gov. Pat McCrory. In the classroom where McCrory sat with a panel of university representatives and state administrators, a tile hung loosely from the ceiling and the hum of the HVAC system reverberated through the concrete walls, which weren’t quite expansive enough to comfortably contain the assembly of officials and media representatives gathered there.

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cashiersMark Jones has never voted for a tax increase before, but the Jackson County Commissioner joined the rest of the board in favor of instituting a fire tax for the Cashiers and Highlands areas of the county last week.

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fr cullowheeIt’s official: Cullowhee now has zoning standards.

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fr jacksonplanningJackson County Commissioners were upset to discover last week that no one’s been enforcing the county’s mountain and hillside development ordinance for more than two years.

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coverTwo short years ago, Fay Grant was living on the other side of the country, a professional music editor for film and television shows in Los Angeles’ bustling entertainment scene. It was a different world altogether from the sleepier mountain town of Waynesville, where she and her husband Ben now make their home. 

She doesn’t regret the move. 

Something was missing from life in L.A. She wanted to do something different, something that made a difference. So, Grant took a few months off for a road trip across the country, and that drive, she said, “led me to The Tote Project.”

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Commissioners in Jackson County are moving forward with a plan to scrap their policy of contracting legal services with a private attorney in favor of hiring a full-time staff attorney. At a recent work session, they gave County Manager Chuck Wooten the go-ahead to advertise the position and include more than $100,000 in salary, benefits and associated expenses in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-16.

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fr forbetterCalvin Mann can’t make it far across the campus of Haywood Pathways Center without bumping into a friend.

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fr pathwaysParticipation at the Haywood Pathways Center in Waynesville has been holding pretty steady ever since it opened in late 2014, with about 25 people living on campus, 80 percent of them male.

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out frWhen Michael Bradley first picked up a fly rod in 2011, he wasn’t looking for anything more than a relaxing pastime. He’d tried fly fishing once before, as an 11-year-old kid, but “didn’t do so good at it.” At age 20, he thought things might be different if he gave it another try. 

He was right. 

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fr geraldgreenThe business end of Jackson County Planner Gerald Green’s departure — who will be in charge of finding a replacement, what the timeline might be — was a necessary topic of discussion at last week’s county commissioner meeting, but commissioners prefaced the logistics with a unified lament over his leaving.

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fr firetaxA public hearing to get Cashiers’ take on a proposed fire tax for the area drew about 70 people to the Cashiers-Glenville Recreation Center. Judging by the 10 speakers who said their piece to the Jackson County Commissioners, one opinion is fairly unanimous among Cashiers taxpayers: the Cashiers Fire Department needs more revenue. 

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drugsA bigger number of Jackson County students could be subject to random drug testing if a proposed policy change being considered by the school board gets approved.

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out frThe Haywood Historic Farmers Market hopes to open its selection to an even larger portion of the population by exercising its new ability to accept food assistance money from the SNAP program — and use $14,000 worth of grants to make those dollars go further for SNAP users. 

“Everyone deserves the same access to healthy local food, regardless of their circumstances,” said Carol James, a president of the market board. “We are pleased to be able to provide this access to those who use SNAP. Not only does it allow them to buy quality products from their local farmer, it puts them in a setting where they have the opportunity to take advantage of the educational programs at the market.”

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fr sidsAfter a solid three-year run in Canton, Sid’s on Main is closing, leaving a huge vacancy in downtown.

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fr frackingA section of legislation giving the Mining and Energy Commission the authority to decide which local ordinances are OK and which are not when it comes to fracking could be struck down, if a state court sides with a lawsuit recently filed by Clean Water for North Carolina.

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schoolsLeaking roofs, technology needs and impending state cuts prompted Jackson County Schools to put out a hefty ask to the county at the beginning of its budget talks, but it’s looking like the school system will wind up with only about half of the original $4.8 million in new funding it asked for.

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cherokeeIt’s election season in Cherokee, and with the long-time chief Michell Hicks opting not to seek re-election, five candidates are vying for the tribe’s top office.

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fr tuscolaThings are back to normal at Tuscola High School after an emailed threat prompted a complete evacuation of the school April 30.

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out frFour years ago, Jennie Wyderko — then finishing up her undergrad at Virginia Tech — had barely even touched a mountain bike. 

Fast forward to 2015, and she’s one of two female officers for the Nantahala Area Southern Off Road Bicycle Association, co-organizer of a women-only skills clinic and weekly ride through the club and a year out from finishing a 2,000-mile mountain bike route along the Great Divide in the Rocky Mountains.

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fr cullowheeCullowhee residents crowded the basketball court at the Cullowhee Recreation Center last week for a chance to sound off during the last public hearing before Jackson County Commissioners take a final vote on whether to adopt the Cullowhee Community Planning Standards.

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Earlier this year, it looked like Monarch Ventures, a Charlotte-based company that’s been trying for years to build a high-density 500-bed student housing complex in Cullowhee, could be history.

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The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity will be absent from Western Carolina University’s roster of Greek life opportunities until 2020, following a February incident in which a PKA pledge claimed to be waterboarded by his fraternity brothers.

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fr cherokeecouncilWhen the Cherokee Tribal Council voted to give itself a hefty pay raise last fall — $10,000 extra a year plus tens of thousands in backpay for the years when it supposedly should have already been receiving those extra dollars — the decision aroused the ire of a staunch contingent of tribal members who deemed it illegal.

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