Holly Kays

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Two years after tribal members voted down a similar referendum, the Tribal Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is seeking to place a trio of questions aimed at legalizing off-casino alcohol sales on an upcoming ballot.

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A group of 14 tribal members that includes two sitting Tribal Council members and a former principal chief has entered a resolution aiming to reverse a Dec. 17 vote to purchase the gaming operation at Caesars Southern Indiana Casino for $250 million. 

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The COVID-19 death count in Jackson County nearly doubled over the holiday season, increasing from 10 as of Nov. 25 to 18 as of Jan. 4. One of the lives lost was that of 66-year-old Darrell Woodard, a fixture in the community who led the Savannah Fire Department as chief for 36 years. 

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There’s been a lot of focus lately on all the ways that the last 12 months have been hard and frightening and challenging, but believe it or not, 2020 has had its share of bright spots, too. Here are 10 of the most inspiring, beautiful and joy-filled moments from this year’s outdoors news. 

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Ceasars Entertainment and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians today released a formal announcement regarding the sale of operations at Caesars Southern Indiana in Elizabeth, Indiana.

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Maranda Bradley knows exactly what her 2015 self would say if she knew what the 2020 version was up to now. 

“‘You’re crazy. You’re in a wheelchair. You can’t even hold your bowels.’ That’s what I would say at this point,” said Bradley.

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When the Cherokee Tribal Council waded through its final hours of discussion — and, ultimately, a vote — on the $280 million decision to move forward with the Indiana casino purchase, few tribal members saw them do it. 

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As the Jan. 6 hearing that will determine the project’s fate draws nearer, opposition is mounting to a plan that would bring 726 new residential units and 159,000 square feet of commercial space to the Cashiers crossroads. 

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Tribal Council decided by a razor-thin margin last week to pursue a $280 million deal to purchase the gaming operation at Caesars Southern Indiana Casino, which would mark the tribe’s first foray into the commercial gaming industry. During the same meeting, Council voted to set up a new LLC to oversee the venture. 

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It was the fall of 2019, and Bill Zimmerman had just hopped in a truck with other members of the Haywood County Wilderness Search and Rescue Team in response to one of the 21 deployments the crew handled that year. 

“Somebody goes, ‘We don’t even have a gas card. We don’t even have money to put into the truck to get up to the mountain,’” Zimmerman recalled. 

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The Town of Sylva joined the Village of Forest Hills last week in formerly supporting a request from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to substitute former Principal Chief Walter S. Jackson for former President Andrew Jackson as Jackson County’s namesake. 

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The cost of attendance at Western Carolina University will increase by $152 in the 2021-2022 school year for on-campus, in-state undergraduates, if a proposed schedule of fees and rates adopted by the WCU Board of Trustees this month meets approval from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. 

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Tribal Council voted 10-1 today to table a resolution that would have allowed the tribe to move forward with a $290 million agreement to purchase the gaming operation at Caesar’s Southern Indiana Casino.

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A total of 37 people at Morningstar Assisted Living in Sylva have tested positive for COVID-19, making the facility the fourth in Jackson County currently experiencing an outbreak.

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The 2020-2021 budget Jackson County passed in June was a slimmed-down plan adopted in reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis — but commissioners approved it with the understanding that some dollars could be added back in later depending on how finances looked come January.

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A Whittier man is dead due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a 911 call that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department responded to around 2 p.m. Dec. 10.

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The Graham County Clerk of Superior Court’s office will be closed through Friday, Dec. 18, due to COVID-19 exposure.

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The beloved Greening Up The Mountains Festival will once again be absent from its traditional date of the last Saturday in April — but the Sylva Board of Commissioners has pledged that the event will take place in 2021.

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For Ash Rovecamp, keeping honeybees has never been about honey.

“I don’t really consider myself a beekeeper,” he said. “I’m a bee feeder. I hardly even go into my hives, have hardly even gotten honey for myself.”

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It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Sylva resident Ben Guiney was spending the morning decorating the Christmas tree with his wife and daughter, pondering the possibility of a mountain bike ride to take advantage of the unseasonably warm day. 

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While the issue has not yet come before county commissioners, the Village of Forest Hills has passed a resolution supporting a request from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to substitute former Principal Chief Walter S. Jackson as the county’s namesake. Other towns in Jackson County are considering similar resolutions. 

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In a closely divided vote following an at-times tense discussion Thursday, Dec. 3, the Cherokee Tribal Council removed Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Chairman Jim Owle from his post. 

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After a yearlong delay, the effort to bring sports betting to Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos is finally moving forward following Gov. Roy Cooper’s approval of a proposed amendment to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ gaming compact. Tribal Council approved the amended compact by unanimous vote on Thursday, Dec. 3, a move that those present in the chamber greeted with enthusiastic applause.

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The Jackson County Board of Commissioners said goodbye to outgoing Commissioners Ron Mau and Mickey Luker on Tuesday, Dec. 1, the body’s last meeting before the swearing-in or new representatives.

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Two people have died related to a COVID-19 outbreak at Maggie Valley Nursing Home and Rehabilitation, bringing Haywood County’s total COVID-19 death toll to 42.

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After Jackson County voters narrowly approved a Nov. 4 referendum to bring an indoor pool to Cullowhee, the lanes are expected to welcome their first swimmers by Christmas 2023. 

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A 150-foot section of Allen Street in Sylva has been closed since April as the town board decides what to do about an ever-worsening slope failure that is now threatening the road in two separate places. 

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Four people at Hermitage Assisted Living and Memory Care in Sylva have tested positive for COVID-19, constituting a new outbreak.

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During the month of November thus far, three people diagnosed with COVID-19 have died in Jackson County, bringing the county’s total to 10 deaths since the pandemic began.

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Public lands in Western North Carolina are set to get a chunk of the $950 billion approved for deferred maintenance projects with the Aug. 4 ratification of the Great American Outdoors Act. The National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service both released project lists last week. 

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An Alabama man is dead following a fall from an overlook in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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Blythe Winchester has known since a young age that she wanted to be a doctor. She remembers “doctoring” her dolls as a child in Cherokee’s Wolfetown community, using the empty needleless syringes her father would bring home from his job as a social worker. The little girl would inject the toys with Coca-Cola, staining their plush bodies brown. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is hoping to close a deal to buy Caesars Southern Indiana Casino, with Tribal Council on Nov. 12 giving Principal Chief Richard Sneed the go-ahead to incur the costs necessary to pursue the purchase, to the tune of approximately $10.5 million. 

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The face of Cashiers could change significantly if a proposed 55.52-acre development is approved. Planned as a mixed-use development in the northeast corner of the N.C. 107 and U.S. 64 intersection, it would add 726 residential units and 158,557 square feet of commercial space right at the crossroads. 

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A recount of votes cast in the race for the District 4 seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has confirmed that Mark Jones won the seat against his opponent Mark Letson with a slim majority of just seven votes. 

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As a writer focusing on the outdoors, some of my favorite people to work with are the ones who power the area’s many environment-oriented nonprofits. Generally speaking, they’re passionate about their purpose and excited to involve as many people as possible in achieving it. 

The Pisgah National Forest plans to conduct prescribed burns in multiple areas of the forest this week.

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The few remaining leaves hanging in the trees shine like stained glass as the morning sun rises high enough to outrun the slopes above Trillium Gap Trailhead in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The abnormally warm November day is perfect for hiking, the play of sunlight on autumn leaves and the sweeping views glimpsed through mostly bare branches commanding complete attention. It’s easy to forget the ground beneath your boots, feet moving forward automatically as eyes focus up and around, only occasionally flickering downward. 

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Patrick Cochran and Blair Smoker have lived in the Atlanta area their whole lives, but they’ve long believed that Sylva would someday be their home. 

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A longtime leader in the Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad is facing criminal charges and a civil suit claiming he used lies and deception to position his construction company for a $2 million job building a new rescue station. 

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Following canvass Friday, Nov. 13, Democrat Mark Jones is still ahead in the race for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ District 4 seat — but barely. 

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The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree will visit Asheville today, making its appearance 3 to 6 p.m. at the Asheville Outlets on Brevard Road.

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Environmental groups are decrying the Trump Administration’s execution of the Great American Outdoors Act and the Dingell Act, which permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The acts were hailed as major bipartisan victories providing sorely needed funding for maintenance and conservation of public lands, with Trump signing both into law.

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In the wake of COVID-19, 2020 has been a banner year for the outdoor recreation economy, and throughout the month of October the third annual Outdoor Economy Conference focused its lens on making the most of this moment. 

“What we have to do as an industry, and as an outdoor economy, as a region, is to not lose that — don’t miss that opportunity,” said conference organizer Noah Wilson, director of sector development for Mountain BizWorks. “That was that was definitely an intentional theme of the conference.”

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The first phase of a development effort worth tens of millions of dollars is expected to open in 2022 following the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Nov. 10 groundbreaking at the 200-acre site it purchased along Interstate 40 in Tennessee last year. 

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Election Day results showed Democrat Mark Jones edging Republican Mark Letson by a slim nine-vote margin in the race for the District 4 seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, but Jones’ victory is far from assured.

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The 18th chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was a lot of things — a World War II veteran, a dedicated father and stepfather, a leader in tribal politics — and if county commissioners OK a proposal from Tribal Council, “namesake of Jackson County” could soon be added to Walter S. Jackson’s list of accomplishments. 

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Election Day results showed Democrat Mark Jones edging Republican Mark Letson by a slim nine-vote margin in the race for the District 4 seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, but Jones’ victory is far from assured.

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Two employees at Skyland Care Center in Sylva have tested positive for COVID-19, meeting the N.C. Division of Public Health’s definition of an outbreak in a long-term care setting.

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When President Richard Nixon ‘s signature on the Clean Air Act of 1970 prompted North Carolina to create its Division of Air Quality, air quality was bad in Western North Carolina. 

“Back in the ‘80s or the ‘90s, once summer hit your mountains would disappear,” recalled Jim Renfro, longtime air quality specialist for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, during an interview earlier this year. “You’re outside in the valley looking up, and you couldn’t see the mountains through the haze.”

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