Holly Kays

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Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, has pulled a bill she introduced last month to de-annex a 3.5-acre property from the town of Maggie Valley following pushback from local leaders. 

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A new logo will soon chug onto the marketing landscape of Bryson City following the Swain County Tourism Development Authority and the Swain County Chamber of Commerce’s approval of a design meant to emphasize the town’s most unique aspect — the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. 

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fr hospitalThe campus of Haywood Regional Medical Center is full of cars coming and going, staff walking toward or returning from shifts and people in workout gear heading toward the Fitness Center. Staff members help an elderly woman in a wheelchair get in her vehicle after discharging her from care, and staff working with those still admitted move between stations. 

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coverIt’s a little after 7 p.m. when the first trolley shows up to Elkmont Campground. Green, red and yellow, the flashy Gatlinburg transit vehicle seems a bit out of place in the backwoods greenery of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but so, too, do the crowds of people that pour out of it.  

People bearing fold-up chairs, blankets and cameras. People with North Face and Patagonia strapped to their backs, and people toting oversized purses and tote bags. Children, teenagers, parents, retirees. People who are always in and out of the National Parks, and people who have probably never set foot in one in their lives.

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Consumers will start seeing some extras added to their subtotals as a result of a state law adding sales tax to a variety of items that had previously not been taxed, or were taxed at a lower level. Among them are mobile and manufactured homes, electric bills and “service contracts,” which is basically a catch-all entailing labor costs for everything from car repairs to plumbing. 

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fr casinoTwo months after a management shake-up in which the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise removed construction manager Sneed, Robertson and Associates from the casino construction project in Murphy, the project is on time and on budget, according to TCGE chairman Ray Rose. 

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fr macon daysA group of past Macon County Commissioners spent an hour reminiscing about their triumphs and reflecting on lessons learned in front of an audience that included two Election Day hopefuls last week. The lunchtime program was the third in a series from the Macon County League of Women Voters examining the county’s growth from the perspective of those who served it during key moments. 

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Franklin residents will be paying a bit more on their property taxes next year following a unanimous decision by the Franklin Board of Alderman to increase the rate by 2 cents per $100. Currently, the rate is set at 25 cents, but the town had been thinking about raising it for a while. 

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out frA black bear — and possibly one of its cubs — is dead after a run of bird seed raids resulted in a confrontation with a Maggie Valley homeowner’s 12-gauge. 

“Everyone has a right to protect their property, and it was clear to me this individual felt threatened and it was either his life or the bear’s life,” said Sgt. Andrew Helton of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. 

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Business license fees will disappear in North Carolina following the recent passage of the Omnibus Tax Law Changes. Currently, towns and cities use any of a number of schemes for calculating how much a business must pay for the privilege of doing business in municipal limits. The majority of legislators agreed that this patchwork of regulations was too inconsistent, led to exorbitant taxes and needed to be addressed.  

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fr pigeonfundIt’s been more than a month since seven of the Pigeon River Fund Board’s nine members learned that a dictum from Raleigh was booting them off midterm, but the restructured board is still raising eyebrows and ire. Typically, the board recommends replacements to fill vacancies when a member’s three-year term ends in August, and the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources approves them. This go-around, however, that didn’t happen. 

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fr teachersSen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, faced a group of 50 Macon County teachers and staff last Tuesday in the library of South Macon Elementary School, and it was not a happy crowd. 

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out frRhododendrons are opening deep pink blooms along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and new spring foliage blends into a bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. At the Graveyard Fields overlook this Friday morning, chirping birds and the occasional passing car are the only sounds. “Idyllic” is the word that comes to mind, but this peaceful scene is far from the norm for this pull-off near mile marker 418. 

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It’s only eight lines long, but a de-annexation bill Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, has filed with the General Assembly’s Government Committee is drawing ire from some and cheers from others. The bill would remove a 3.4-acre property owned by Joe Maniscalco, 77, from the town limits of Maggie Valley. 

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In its quest to cut the fat ahead of the looming county revaluation, Macon County is turning to its retirement policies. Commissioners recently voted unanimously on a pair of personnel policy changes that will tighten up post-retirement health benefits for county employees. 

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Economy of scale tends to lean toward effectiveness of action, and that’s a fact that three environmental advocacy organizations in Western North Carolina plan to take advantage of over the coming year. By January 2015, the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance, Western North Carolina Alliance and the Environmental Conservation Association, known as ECO, hope to have merged into one organization with a new name and a familiar purpose.    

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fr alligatorA young alligator is on its way to a new life after the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission discovered it being sold illegally through a Craigslist ad in Clyde. After confiscating the reptile, the NCWRC had to find somewhere to put it while they sought out a more permanent abode. 

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fr frackingNatural gas drilling is one step closer to becoming reality after the North Carolina General Assembly delivered a newly ratified bill to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk on Friday, May 30.

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out frTo the untrained eye, the tree looks like just another evergreen, just another species thrown into the mix of natural diversity along the Blue Ridge Parkway. But the American larch tree growing opposite the pull-off for Courthouse Valley Overlook fails on both counts: though it’s in the pine family, it is not an evergreen, and it is not a native. 

“This just blew me out of the water a little bit,” said Dan Pittillo, the retired Western Carolina University botany professor who found the tree. “I didn’t expect it.”

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fr prisonPlans are moving forward to convert the old state prison in Hazelwood to a resource center for the hurting, homeless and recently incarcerated. The trio of Christian ministries teaming up to make that happen are already thinking about how they’re going to raise the estimated $300,000 they’ll need to get the facilities up to snuff, but they’re waiting on an official contract to kick their fundraising efforts into high gear.  

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fr authorpastorFor George Thompson, the struggle to understand how a supposedly good God could be so unfair began with his birth. He came into the world just a week after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, a tragedy in which 14,000 Jews were killed and another 42,000 deported to concentration camps.

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fr nonprofitFrom animal shelters to free clinics to food banks, nonprofit organizations of all stripes make a yearly knock on county commissioners doors, hoping to be included in the upcoming budget. But as the recession marches on, those knocks are becoming more frequent — and more costly — for Jackson County commissioners. 

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As this year’s budget talks kicked off, Macon County Schools presented its petition for a $500,000 funding increase to pay for teacher raises and insurance increases, but County Manager Derek Roland’s proposed budget doesn’t include any of those extra dollars. He’s asking commissioners to fund the school system at $7.3 million, the same amount as last year. 

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out bikeshopBryson City is about to get a second bike shop with the grand opening of Tsali Cycles on May 23. Local cyclists Rob Acton, Chris Royce and Brad Gerard are teaming up to head the business.

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out frWhen the Campus Conservation Nationals Competition wrapped up this spring, Western Carolina University came out near the top of a nationwide field of 109 schools. Schools didn’t receive specific rankings, but WCU made the top 10 with a 13.7 percent reduction in its residential halls’ energy use over the three-week competition period. 

“A common adage in the world of energy conservation is: Human energy change is low-hanging fruit, but the fruit grows back, so as we get new students in, we have to continue to improve our programs,” said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. 

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fr shootingrangeSouthwestern Community College is gearing up for some soil testing following a meeting with Robin Proctor, environmental chemist with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, on Tuesday. SCC had taken the initiative to call the meeting as plans to improve its shooting range brought up the fact that an estimated 60 tons of lead shot have accumulated in the range’s clay berm in the 30 years it’s been in use. 

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School vouchers are back on the table for the 2014-15 school year following a ruling in the North Carolina Supreme Court last week. In March, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued a preliminary injunction against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, preventing the voucher program from going into effect until the court could hear the case and issue a final ruling.

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REACH of Macon County won’t find out for another month or so whether its application for a $909,000 grant toward a new building gets approved, but the shelter for victims of domestic abuse is optimistic about the outcome. Already, REACH is working to raise the $303,000 it would need to unlock the grant, and the organization is knocking on the doors of county government for help. 

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coverFire, smoke, and efforts to make more of both fill the event pavilion at Haywood County Fair Grounds on a chilly May morning that feels more like early March. The Dutch oven class gathers around a fire in the right corner of the open-walled building, the blacksmiths get ready for their afternoon class in the far end and a cotton ball flames placidly atop the green metal case that Doug Knight is using to hold flint rocks for his fire-starting class. Class is in full swing, but nobody is paying the burning cotton any mind. They’re all too busy trying to ignite nests of frayed rope and char cloth with hard-won sparks from flint and steel.

It’s harder than it looks. 

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out frTake a walk in mid-May, and you probably won’t get far before finding somebody bent over a garden bed, weeding. Eric Romaniszyn and Christine O’Brien were doing just that on a warm Thursday afternoon, but they weren’t in a garden — they were on a stream bank. Specifically, they were on the bank alongside Richland Creek at Vance Street Park in Waynesville. 

“We try to take every little piece out,” Romaniszyn said, yanking a clump of Japanese knotweed roots out of the dirt and stowing them in the trash bag by his side.

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It was a pretty normal Wednesday morning was for most students at Tuscola High School last week, but as the school day went on word leaked out that one second-period biology class had involved threats, a call to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and the arrest of 16-year-old sophomore Joseph “Joey” Jacobs. 

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Kingdom Care Ministries, a faith-based recovery home for women that had been looking to locate in the village of Forest Hills, is searching for another place to settle. In mid-March, the organization had applied for a conditional use permit for the drug recovery home but has now withdrawn that application. 

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A single primary wasn’t enough to clear out the crowded field of candidates for the sheriff’s seat in Jackson County. Though Deputy Sheriff Chip Hall carried 42 percent of the vote in a field of six Democratic candidates, the three Republican candidates finished virtually neck and neck. 

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coverA soda bottling operation. An original children’s book. A new music album. A mural downtown. Pallets and pallets of Mason jars, and fresh jam to fill them. 

They’re all good things, but they all require money to become reality. And when you’re talking arts and niche business start-ups, money can be a rare commodity. More and more, artists and entrepreneurs in Western North Carolina have been turning to a recently emerged source for sponsoring dreams — crowdfunding. 

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fr horsesWhen summer school starts up at South Macon Elementary this year, a pair of horses will be standing in a round pen outside, waiting for their first playmates. The equines will be helping Macon TRACS, a nonprofit dedicated to providing horse therapy to people with special needs, try out a pilot program bringing horses to the schools.

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out frThe grassy field is empty and the playground vacant as the sun sheds evening beams across the grounds of Cowee School. But when Susan Ervin looks at the unoccupied asphalt track and pavilion bare of coolers and tablecloths, she sees the busy community scene she’s hoping to experience on the long-awaited May 13. 

It’s the day that will kick off the new Cowee Farmers Market, a goal Ervin and a core group of eight others have been working toward for months. In the empty field of the decommissioned school-turned-community-center, she sees vendors setting up displays of fresh produce, crafts, preserves, meats and plants. She sees a local band playing in the pavilion, tip jar open. She sees children playing on the swing set, teenagers tossing a football around in the field — just people having fun. 

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A $1.1 million donation from residents Art and Angela Williams of the Old Edwards Inn will net the town of Highlands a retractable roof for its new swimming pool, a new floor and bleachers for the civic center gym and a jumpstart toward a revitalized recreation program. And, possibly, a half-cent property tax increase to fund it.

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Jackson County employees could be seeing a little extra in their paychecks next year if commissioners approve County Manager Chuck Wooten’s recommendation for the upcoming budget. Wooten’s budget proposal will include a 1.5 percent cost of living increase and 20 additional hours of bonus leave. 

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More than three months after the State Bureau of Investigation started looking into $50,000 worth of embezzlement from the Macon County Board of Elections, a return to normalcy is in sight for the elections office. Kim Bishop, the county elections director who was placed on paid investigative leave when the investigation launched, has submitted her resignation, and the county board has sent the state board its recommendation for her replacement.

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It’s been over a year since North Carolina began the rollout of a new computer program called NC FAST, for North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology. The system was supposed to make it easier to process applications for social services like Food and Nutrition Services, Work First and Medicaid, but it’s not smooth sailing yet.

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out frWhen I finally roll up Pavilion Road for my casting lesson, I’m nearly half an hour late. A wrong turn had set me back, but Mac Brown seems pretty unperturbed. He’s standing in the field uphill from the Swain County Pool, directing a bright orange fly line in swirls and waves that look alive against the green lawn. 

“This isn’t any accident,” he says as the line lands without a kink. “I can do this a thousand out of a thousand times. Why? Because I’ve practiced it so much.”

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It’s been three decades since the shooting range now operated by Southwestern Community College first opened, and the college is hoping for some money to address issues that have been mounting since then.

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coverGive a museum director an open opportunity to tout his facility’s newest this, unique that and state-of-the-art these, and no one could blame him for taking it.   

But talking with Bo Taylor wasn’t like that. Just named director in November 2013, Taylor’s museum tour started with a walk through the archives. The shelves, motorized to move depending on whether one wants to access aged historical books, newer research, microfilms in a variety of languages or the portrait photographs of past and present Cherokee elders, hold plenty of fascinating items. But they’re not the kind of flashy objects that make for catchy photographs or headlines.

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Rocky Peebler’s wearing waders and a white T-shirt as he kneels on the shore of the Oconaluftee River. His boots are dripping from a recent foray into the river, and he’s picking through the critters wriggling across the surface of the net he and his classmates have just finished dragging through the water. It might not look like it, but Rocky is at school. 

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coverThe woods are quiet on a cool Saturday morning in late March. There’s no wind swaying the still-bare trees or the rhododendrons clustered along streambeds. In this, one of the most remote trails of the Shining Rock Wilderness of Pisgah National Forest, the only sound comes from the occasional squirrel plowing through the bed of fallen leaves or bird sounding its call through the woods. 

But then a soft buzz begins to float through the air. It pauses briefly, replaced by the sound of voices. A group of three is clustered around a fallen log, probably 2 or 3 feet in diameter, that’s lying across the faint path of the East Fork Trail. They analyze its position on the mountainside, its angle of contact with another trunk below the trail and the severity of the slope. Finally, trail crew volunteers Scotty Bowen and Richard Evans start up again with the crosscut saw, and the buzzing resumes.

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Nine months ago, a federal sex abuse case against Harland Squirrel, of Cherokee, ended in dismissal after the jury failed to reach a verdict. But the case hasn’t gone away. In May, Squirrel will face the charges again in tribal court. 

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fr franklinbridgeThe bridge carrying eastbound Main Street traffic across the Little Tennessee River in Franklin will be close to 90 years old by the time its newly planned replacement is up and running at the end of 2017. The N.C. Department of Transportation will take care of costs for the $2.1-million project — almost. 

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fr jacksonjusticeThe verdict is in, and Jackson County Justice Center is a little too small. To be exact, it’s 35,807 square feet too small. 

At least according to the results of a needs assessment by Heery International, the same company that designed and built the Haywood County courthouse in the early 2000s. 

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fr outdoorrecMountains and rivers shape the landscape of Western North Carolina, but when it comes to recreation programming, counties and municipalities tend to focus on facilities and league sports. Both the town of Waynesville and Jackson County, however, are working to look beyond the status quo to point people toward the beauty in their own backyards. 

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out frAs stand after stand of towering hemlocks falls to the appetite of an insect smaller than a grain of rice, foresters and wildlife managers alike are scrambling for an answer to the hemlock wooly adelgid.

The invasive pest is still chomping steadily through Appalachian forests, threatening to forever alter the ecological landscape of the mountains.

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