Holly Kays

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A decade after it first reached out to stakeholders for the project, the U.S. Forest Service has released its revised management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, signaling the start of the revision process’s final phase.

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For five of the past seven years, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has posted an all-time high number of annual visits, and 2021 showed the largest leap yet. The park recorded a whopping 14.1 million visits in 2021 — a 12.4 percent increase over the previous record of 12.5 million set in 2019.

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 A multifaceted rescue effort extricated a stranded hiker from the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

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Sun is shifting in and out of the clouds covering Cataloochee Ski Area on Friday, Jan. 14, as I catch a ride to the top of Easy Way with Greenville, South Carolina, resident William Oliver. It’s my first run of the day, but he’s been riding for a while now — and after the warm weather and closures that plagued eastern ski resorts in December, he’s enthusiastic about today’s snow report. 

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Since a Western Carolina University student took to national news this month to air her concerns about the school’s gender and racial diversity training for resident assistants, a discussion about inclusivity, tolerance and how to interact with people of differing worldviews has been swirling through the Catamount community. 

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A hiker stranded along the Art Loeb Trail during the weekend snowstorm is now home safe thanks to a  successful effort from Haywood County Search and Rescue’s Mountain Rescue Team.

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With already record-high bear populations continuing robust growth in Western North Carolina, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is proposing a controversial measure to control them: allowing bear hunting in three bear sanctuaries where it’s currently off-limits. 

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On May 25, 2020, the world watched as 46-year-old George Floyd died slowly beneath the knee of a Minnesota police officer — and it continued to watch as an aftermath erupted spanning the gamut from full-on riots to thoughtful discussions about how to make policing kinder and more effective. 

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Despite surging cases caused by the Omicron variant, Western Carolina University will start the spring semester as scheduled Jan. 10 with in-person classes and activities — though with “stringent” precautions in place, the university said.

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will seek to expand its trust lands by 3.088 acres following a unanimous vote from Tribal Council Dec. 9. 

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Despite an impassioned plea for immediate action from the tribe’s Natural Resource Department, the Cherokee Tribal Council voted unanimously last month to table a resolution that would temporarily prohibit hunting on a 138-acre property in Macon County. 

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The arrival of the extremely contagious Omicron variant in conjunction with holiday travel and gatherings has caused a spike in COVID-19 cases far eclipsing anything seen in the pandemic to date — but the variant’s apparently milder effects compared to previous COVID-19 strains could a limited impact.

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For Western North Carolina’s outdoor enthusiasts, a toast to 2021 means a toast to the impressive slate of conservation successes that took place on the region’s public lands this year. 

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As the Appalachian wilderness trail Benton MacKaye dreamed up in 1921 becomes busier and busier, a geographically scattered group of trail enthusiasts is building an alternative — the Great Eastern Trail , a 1,800-mile route stretching from Alabama to New York. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ last hope for stopping the Catawba Indian Nation from building a casino in North Carolina is dead following passage of a bill affirming the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision  to take 17 acres in Cleveland County into trust for the tribe. 

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The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees voted unanimously during its Dec. 3 meeting to recommend a schedule of fees for the upcoming academic year that includes an $86 increase to the school’s athletic training program fee — but only after granting a request from Student Government Association President Rebecca Hart, a member of the board, to commit to passing a resolution to retire the fee once it’s served its purpose. 

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The company the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians formed earlier this year to purchase Caesar’s Southern Indiana Casino hopes to branch out its business interests, receiving approval from Tribal Council Dec. 9 to invest up to $12 million in gaming-related technologies and pursue construction of a sports betting bar on the tribe’s Exit 407 property  in Sevier County. 

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Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, Tracy Swartout made some of her favorite childhood memories traveling the 469-mile ridge road known as the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since May, she’s been leading it as superintendent

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Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy will be permanently smoke-free following a majority vote from Tribal Council Dec. 9, codifying a policy that’s been in place since the Coronavirus Pandemic spurred a temporary ban on lighting up indoors. 

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Lewis Easton Cantwell, a Sylva resident facing charges related to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Building, was expected to strike a plea deal during a virtual court hearing last week but instead announced a change in representation, along with a request to continue the case into 2022. 

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Tribal Council voted Dec. 9 to support the Nikwasi Initiative’s  efforts to land $5 million in grant funds for a cultural corridor around the Nikwasi Mound in Franklin, but the precise details of the tribe’s involvement have yet to be determined. 

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The statewide burn ban enacted Nov. 29 was lifted for 67 counties as of noon Wednesday, Dec. 8, due to rainfall touching much of the state in the early part of the week.

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It was around 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 4, when Ken Brown’s phone started lighting up with photo texts depicting a massive sediment load dropping into the Oconaluftee River below Ela Dam, also known as the Bryson Hydroelectric Project. Within half an hour, he was standing on the riverbank. 

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Sylva is slated to receive a total of $880,000 in American Rescue Plan funds, but the town has not yet made any decision as to how it will spend the money. 

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A long-term care center, massive expansion to broadband access and direct payments to tribal members are some of the many uses the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians plans for the $117 million it will receive directly from the American Rescue Plan — with even more money likely to come from ARP-funded grants other agencies are in the process of awarding. 

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Too often at the Center for Domestic Peace in Jackson County, a staff member picks up the phone to encounter a client who is trapped in an abusive relationship and ready to seek emergency housing. But then they learn the closest domestic violence shelter is in Franklin, and they back out. 

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Open burning is banned in North Carolina until further notice as a wildfire rages at Pilot Mountain State Park near Winston-Salem. 

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Western Carolina University leaders are celebrating passage of a state budget bill that funds every item on the university’s legislative agenda, including raises for faculty and staff and $35.5 million to renovate Moore Building, the oldest building on WCU’s campus. 

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More than $3 million in the recently enacted state budget will help Sylva reopen Bryson Park, install long-discussed public bathrooms downtown and possibly assist with the expensive repairs the town faces on Allen Street. 

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Western North Carolina will see a new state park, rail trail and miles of backcountry paths following Gov. Roy Cooper’s Nov. 18 signature on the first state’s first comprehensive budget law since 2018.

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Western North Carolina will see a new state park, rail trail efforts and miles of backcountry paths following Gov. Roy Cooper’s Nov. 18 signature on the first state’s first comprehensive budget law since 2018. 

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A restless autumn wind ripples through the valley, passing over green fields, across turned-up garden plots and through tall rows of dried corn stalks. Their raspy skeletons rustle in the breeze, which exits the field to send a few glimmering strands of gossamer sailing over the gravel path that leads past Kituwah Mound. 

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The Cherokee Tribal Council voted unanimously this month to allocate $15 million to Kituwah LLC as an equity investment from the tribe. 

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Shandra Sims will serve as the new register of deeds for Jackson County after being sworn in Thursday, Nov. 18. Her appointment was approved unanimously by Jackson County Commissioners. 

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A bridge replacement project underway in the Pigeon River Gorge will temporarily close a section of Interstate 40, but once completed it will make the highway a safer thoroughfare not only for vehicles, but for wildlife as well. 

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it would withdraw its 2018 proposed red wolf management rule , which conservation groups decried as a “death sentence” for red wolves in the wild. 

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Nearly three years after a Sylva woman was found dead  in the Jackson County Detention Center, the county has agreed to pay $725,000 to settle the resulting wrongful death lawsuit. 

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If the proposed master plan is adopted, over the coming years the university will focus its development efforts on five districts described in the document. 

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At a board retreat this month, Western Carolina University trustees got their first look at a draft proposed 10-year master plan update that calls for a reimagined library, beefed-up athletic facilities, and overall improvements to campus organization and aesthetics. 

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Seth Alvo makes defying gravity look easy. Pushing off on his mountain bike, he gathers speed on a rolling portion of Berm Park’s double black diamond trail, careening around a curved berm until it joins a vertical wall. The bike lifts off the berm and, for just a moment, rolls perpendicular to the wooden boards before a solid landing again submits it to gravity’s rule. 

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In the space of two days last week, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced its biggest per capita distribution and approved a loan agreement for a $275 million expansion to the Valley River casino in Murphy. 

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Beating out two incumbent board members, Natalie Newman took the top spot in last week’s Sylva Board of Commissioners election

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As the September start date for Maranda Bradley’s long-planned bicycle ride along the Trail of Tears  approached, its carefully woven threads began to unravel, and Bradley’s nerves began to fray. 

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COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are continuing to fall to the lowest levels seen in months, but hospitals say that staffing shortages and increasingly acute presentations of non-COVID ailments are keeping them busy. 

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In a unanimous vote Oct. 11, Tribal Council approved a resolution that aims to drastically reduce the tribe’s carbon emissions over the coming years. 

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July 15 was a busy Thursday night at Bogart’s Restaurant  in Sylva. The dining room was full of people and conversation, the kitchen hopping. 

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The 2021-2025 Sylva Board of Commissioners will feature one new face, according to unofficial results from today’s municipal election.

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Combing through the dustiest tomes of park history, Great Smoky Mountains National Park researchers have since 2018 been working to elevate a plotline that so far has been relegated only to the smallest of small type — the history and contributions of African Americans within the park and in its outlying communities. 

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After extensive negotiation and revision, a bill aiming to steer North Carolina toward carbon neutrality by 2050 has been signed into law. 

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The housing crisis gripping the entire region hasn’t spared Sylva, and the town board hopes to partner with Jackson County to alleviate it. 

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