Holly Kays

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out natgeofrScott McCleskey didn’t really know what he was saying yes to when he boarded the plane to Alaska, pack of gear in hand, to take his place on the National Geographic Channel show “Ultimate Survival Alaska.”

All he knew was that he’d done a Skype interview for the slot, later fielded a call telling him to keep his hair long and eventually been given the nod to compete on the show — provided he could be up north within two weeks.

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fr wheellocksSylva’s parking rules now have a stronger set of teeth with the passage of an ordinance allowing officers to put wheel locks, also called parking boots, on cars whose owners have accrued unpaid town parking tickets. 

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fr wcuWestern Carolina University’s slated to get a brand new building on Centennial Drive in place of the one destroyed by fire in November 2013, which was home to businesses such as Rolling Stone Burrito, Subway and Mad Batter Bakery and Café.

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Caesar’s Entertainment Operating Company, a subsidiary of the same company that manages Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort, announced Jan. 15 that it would be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

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fr cullowheeplanningIt’s been one-and-a-half years since the Jackson County Commissioners first OK’d a committee to look into doing some zoning in Cullowhee, and while Cullowhee is still without development standards, a proposal is on its way to commissioners’ desks. 

Approval could come as early as Jan. 29, though it could also drag out a good deal longer. 

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fr nonamepubNo Name Sports Pub is no longer a music joint, at least not until a dispute between the bar and its neighbors reaches resolution. Owner Gregg Fuller says No Name saw its last regular act on Saturday (Jan. 17), and though it will still honor local band Porch 40’s Jan. 29 booking, that’s going to be it for a while. 

“Stopping live music here at No Name is a drastic step,” Fuller said. “A lot of people are unhappy about it. But right now I have to take drastic steps. My ability to defend myself has been taken way. I’m guilty until proven innocent.”

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fr riverbendIt’s been 32 years since Benfield Industries in Hazelwood burned to the ground, 25 since the Environmental Protection Agency designated it as a Superfund site and 13 since cleanup on the site finished. 

But the work’s not done, according to the most recent EPA monitoring. The agency is hoping that its latest remediation plan for the former chemical distribution company site will take care of creosote contamination in Hazelwood once and for all. 

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out frKadie Anderson was packing up camp after a night in the backcountry with her two Australian shepherds when the peace of an autumn forest waking up from a nighttime rain was decisively broken. 

“A pack of hunting dogs came into the camp and attacked my dogs, almost killed my dogs, bit me a couple of times while I was trying to protect them,” recalled Anderson, an Ohio resident who at the time was camping in the Snowbird Wilderness Area in Nantahala National Forest.

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Monarch Ventures, a Charlotte-based student housing company, has been trying to locate a posh 500-bed student housing complex in Cullowhee for nearly four years. But, despite the fact that they’ve got a deed and land-use permit in hand, the county’s heard nothing but radio silence from the company since June. 

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Same-sex marriage may be legal in the state of North Carolina, but it’s not on the Qualla Boundary, according to a resolution recently passed by Cherokee Tribal Council. 

Though tribal code already defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the newly adopted resolution further specifies that the “licensing and solemnizing” of same-sex marriage cannot happen on tribal land.

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Cherokee will institute a two-week fishing season closure each March beginning in 2016 after operating under a year-round season since 2011. 

“We decided to open it up to year-round just to provide more fishing opportunities during March when the state fishing waters were closed, but we decided to go back to a compromise with a two-week closure in March to allow our operations to catch up for the opening day and allow a new level of excitement for the opener, knowing the waters haven’t been fished for two weeks,” explained Mike Lavoie, fisheries and wildlife program manager for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

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Applause broke out as Jackson County Commissioners concluded a unanimous vote last week passing a resolution opposing hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — in their first regular meeting since a new board was sworn in. 

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fr frackingThey’ve plowed through the feedback, and now the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission has in hand a revised version of rules to govern oil and gas development in North Carolina, all ready for the new legislative session.

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out frRain was beginning to set in on a fog-ridden day on the slopes when Annie Dephouse gave her 5-year-old charge, Phillip Meacham, the heads up that it would soon be time to head indoors. 

“We can do two or three more,” Dephouse said as the ski lift swung on its way up to Cataloochee Ski Area’s easiest slope. 

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fr possumdrop2Just like they have for the last two decades, residents of Clay County and beyond gathered in Brasstown to ring in the New Year with the annual Possum Drop. But unlike the last two decades, they had to do so without the aid of a live possum. 

“We ended up using a pot of possum stew,” said Clay Logan, event organizer and owner of Clay’s Corner store. “We made it here at the store. We got a little private room in the back [where] we cook some.”

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fr pathwaysDinnertime came a little late at Haywood Pathways Center Sunday night (Jan. 4), but for all the right reasons. It was the inaugural night for The Open Door’s Hazelwood kitchen, the final piece in turning the dream behind the Pathways Center into reality. 

“It might be a few minutes before we get to the pork chops,” said Jeremy Parton, Haywood Pathways’ newly hired kitchen and shelter director. “They might be a little cold, but that’s going to be OK, because there’s not going to be another night like this.”

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Jackson County got plenty of response back when its new board of commissioners put out the word that they were taking applications for the county attorney position. 

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Public transit in Macon County is slated to get a boost as Jackson and Macon counties work out an agreement to share a position between the two of them.

Jackson’s mobility coordinator position — a job that basically entails marketing the transportation system, helping new customers and meeting with collaborating agencies — is funded through a federal grant, but it’s turning out to be hard to fill as a 40-hour-per-week job for Jackson County alone. 

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fr cullowheeA final public hearing to solicit public input on a draft set of standards to guide development in Cullowhee will take place on Jan. 13

After that, the draft standards will go to the planning board and then to the Jackson County Commissioners. 

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out frWhen Jim Brendle put together the first Smoky Mountain Relay in 2009, it was a pretty small affair. With only 48 runners representing six teams, the 200-plus-mile foot race didn’t draw a lot of attention.  A lot has changed since then. 

“It’s grown to where this year if we don’t have 50 teams, I’m going to be really upset,” Brendle said.

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Alcohol-related traffic accidents are on the rise in Jackson County, with rates outstripping those of both North Carolina as a whole and Western North Carolina in particular, according to Jackson’s 2014 State of the County Health Report. 

The report, an interim update to the county’s community health assessment, compares health trends in the county to those in the state and region. 

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out frIt was still a couple weeks till Christmas, but Santa Claus already had his boots shined and suit cleaned in preparation for the second most important day of the year — his annual practice run at Chimney Rock State Park. 

“Getting to practice here at Chimney Rock, I find the first chimneys I have to go down [on Christmas Eve] are a lot smoother,” explained Claus, who during his off-duty months works as a climbing guide with Fox Mountain Guides under the name Travis Weil. 

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Plans to memorialize a Cherokee gravesite found earlier this year in the midst of construction for a new baseball tournament complex in Macon County now have some hard costs attached to them, and the county has requested funding from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to make them happen. 

 “It was well received,” Commissioner Ronnie Beale said of the request, which he brought to the foundation’s director, Annette Clapsaddle, earlier this month.

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fr cherokeejusticeIt’s not every day that the scent of barbecue meatballs wafts through the open doors of a jail filled with smiling people wearing slacks, sport coats and blouses. But it’s also not every day that a sovereign nation finishes building its first-ever justice facility. 

“This is not just about a building,” said Principle Chief Michell Hicks as he prepared to cut the ribbon on the $26-million building in a ceremony that had nearly all of the building’s 175 parking spaces full. “It’s not just about having a place to put our stuff. We’re going to change who we are as a people.” 

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fr freshstartThe future was looking increasingly frightening to 54-year-old Anita as she got to the end of her six-year prison sentence. 

All along, she had assumed that she’d be able to live with her mother while she got back on her feet, but a couple months before Anita’s sentence ended, her mother changed her mind. Anita had nowhere to go.

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Though Cherokee Tribal Council meetings are broadcast live online and through tribal television — as well as recorded on DVDs — council retains the right to exclude non-Cherokee people from its chamber. 

During its Dec. 11 meeting, it did just that, requesting that police officers escort a reporter from The Smoky Mountain News — me — off the premises.  

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fr tribalcouncilEditor’s note: Cherokee Tribal Police would not allow Smoky Mountain News Staff Writer Holly Kays entry into the Cherokee Tribal Council chambers to report on this meeting, which took place on Dec. 11. This story was written after watching a DVD recording of the meeting.

It’s been two months since Cherokee Tribal Council members voted to increase their salaries by $10,800 — and receive backpay for the years when the raises supposedly should have gone into effect — but that hasn’t been enough time for the public reaction to the increases, which many believe to be illegal, to cool down. 

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out frHiking the Appalachian Trail had been in the back of Andy Smith’s mind for a while, ever since a coworker at Cherokee Hospital, where he was chief of physical therapy, told Smith about his 1989 thru hike. As 2014 dawned, Smith was 15 years retired and approaching his 65th birthday. He got to thinking that maybe it was time to try a thru hike. 

“I really didn’t have a solid reason,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like a long-term goal that I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s something that’s been of interest, so I decided to do it.”

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fr maconwildernessA roomful of hunters and hikers turned out at last week’s Macon County Commissioners meeting. It was the first meeting after Franklin Mayor Bob Scott went public with a plea for the county to reconsider a resolution it passed in July against any additional wilderness designations in Macon County.

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fr wildernessOut of the gate, the U.S. Forest Service’s first stab at listing potential wilderness areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests met with criticism following its release in late November. 

Whether concerned about which areas were on the list, which weren’t or the timing of the release, nearly everybody had something negative to say about the wilderness inventory. 

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fr jaxtowersCell phone towers will now be allowed on Jackson County ridgetops — at least according a draft ordinance that’s on its way to commissioners after meeting planning board approval last week. 

The final vote on the draft ordinance was unanimous, but the votes and discussion leading up to that final show of hands — especially the ridgetop-oriented part of the discussion — were not.

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A noise ordinance could be in Macon County’s future as the planning board starts in on writing a set of draft rules this week. 

The board’s been taking comment and researching similar ordinances in nearby counties since September, and last week County Planner Matt Mason came to the county commissioners’ meeting to get their thoughts on the issue.

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Macon County’s tying up the loose ends on a property revaluation that will likely cause tax hikes for some and breaks for others, and the county’s tax director gave commissioners a heads up that they’ll probably be getting some phone calls over the next few months. 

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out greenwayThe Little Tennessee Greenway will offer users a bit more space to enjoy the outdoors following Dick and Melissa Jones’ gift of a .66-acre piece of property adjacent to the greenway. 

“The greenway is a  tremendous asset out our community,” said Derek Roland, Macon County manger. “Usage of it continues to grow, and I’m sure in the future we will enter into discussion to see how best that property can add to the enhancement of the greenway.”

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out frThere’s plenty of tradition and symbolism that goes along with the holiday season, but for birders no tradition is more part of the holiday than the annual Christmas Bird Count. 

The count is just what it sounds like: Every year around Christmastime, birding groups around the country get together for a full day outside to count as many bird species as possible in a circle that’s 15 miles wide. Local groups can set their own date, but they have to fall within about 10 days of Christmas Day. This year, bird counts are happening between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. 

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fr cherokeeThere wasn’t much discussion in the chamber Oct. 14 when Cherokee Tribal Council passed its budget for 2014-15. But as news of backpay and a $10,000 raise for council members spread through the reservation, things heated up.

“You’ve opened a door by doing it, and I’m going to question and I’m going to stay on top of this and I’m going to refresh our memories and I’m going to keep the public refreshed,” Teresa McCoy, councilmember from Big Cove, told council during its Oct. 21 meeting. “They’re going to hear about it until they get sick of hearing what council’s doing. You need to go back and read your oath of office.”

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fr libraryThose who frequent downtown Franklin may have noticed an odd-looking birdhouse taking up residence outside town hall in recent months, but the white structure isn’t a habitation for birds — it’s for books.  

“They’re sort of large birdhouse-style kiosks where books can be available to people wherever they are,” explained Karen Wallace, librarian at Macon County Public Library. “Our library is not in our downtown, and we thought it would be nice to make some reading available on Main Street in downtown Franklin.”

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coverLisa Leatherman wasn’t trying to prove a point when she joined Nantahala Power and Light in 1987, the company’s third-ever female meter reader. She wasn’t trying to make a statement by moving up through the ranks as a powerhouse operator, engineer, vegetation management worker, relicensing agent or, as of January 2013, district manager for Duke Energy. 

“I didn’t accept the job wanting to blaze some trail because I was a woman,” she said. “It was a job to do. I’ve generally always approached any job like that. I try to do it my absolute best.”

out frThe sicklefin redhorse is a sneaky kind of fish. It wasn’t discovered as a species until 1992, and even with its existence known, the fish is difficult to tag and track, avoiding radio detection at the bottom of deep river pools. But will the bottom-feeding suckerfish also be able to avoid getting listed as a threatened or endangered species? 

Mike LaVoie, biologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is hoping to answer that question with a negative. The sicklefin has been a candidate for listing since the early 2000s — candidate species are those for whom listing is recommended but funds aren’t available to follow through — but it’s likely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a decision by the end of 2015.  Listing can help vulnerable species make a comeback, but it can also make things more difficult for people who use the river.

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If you ask the average person what kinds of packaging can go in the recycling bin, you’ll probably get a list full of plastic bottles, steel cans and aluminum, but paper cartons don’t usually make that off-the-cuff list.

A group of industry representatives calling itself the Carton Council of North America is hoping to change that. 

“We really do have a vision that those packages are recyclable, and we want to be sure that there is that capability in communities across the country,” said Derric Brown, sustainability director at Evergreen Packaging in Canton. 

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fr greaseThe new wastewater treatment facility in Franklin cost the town more than $5 million to build, but within months of its summer 2013 opening, superintendent Wayne Price noticed a problem. 

“Within six months of putting that into operation, we had fats build up on the walls,” Price said. “It was already getting 2 inches, 3 or 4 inches of fat all around, and there’s no way for us to treat it. We had to do something.”

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coverThere’s nothing Adam Bigelow likes better than a full tank of gas in the summertime with an open road ahead. After all, the drive from Sylva to Cashiers, where he works three days a week, is a beautiful, twisting mountain route that’s great for someone who wants to put their steering skills to the test. 

But Bigelow’s feel-good mood comes more from the contents of his tank than the places it’s getting him. He’s been driving a car powered by veggie oil for years, and he’s got nothing but good things to say about it. 

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out frThings have gone well for the Smokies elk, and they’ve risen from reintroduction experiment to established population. But meanwhile, they’ve outgrown Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spilling over into private lands to find pasture on agricultural fields not intended as gifts to the elk. A land protection project by The Conservation Fund seeks to provide some more suitable places for the elk to go. 

“The reason the elk have come out of the park is there are now more elk than there is habitat to sustain them, so the [N.C.] Wildlife [Resources] Commission is going to need to work to create some habitat that both elk and people will enjoy,” said Bill Holman, state director of The Conservation Fund. 

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Construction on the Parker Meadows sports complex is moving forward, but with some alterations to the original plan following the July discovery of a Cherokee gravesite in the midst of the future ballfields. At the Macon County commissioners’ November meeting, County Planner Matt Mason presented some sketches of what a memorial to the gravesite might look like. 

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For the past four years, Jackson County Neighbors in Need has been footing the bill to put people lacking winter shelter up in motel rooms for the night, but the group is on the lookout for the perfect facility to serve as a central shelter before the winter gets much deeper. 

“We haven’t been able to get into a shelter facility of our own which we are very much hoping to do because it’s very expensive to lodge people in a motel,” said Veronica Nicholas, co-chair of the Neighbors in Need shelter committee. 

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fr homelessmaconThings have been moving quickly for New Hope Center in Franklin. Just a few months ago, the homeless shelter was merely a vague idea in the back of Lowell Monteith’s mind, an awareness that there was a need for some way to help the homeless of Macon County. He’d first witnessed the need during his time at Lifespring Community Church, where he and his wife used to run a soup kitchen. 

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fr rolandA surprise agenda item at this month’s Macon County Commissioner’s meeting put a smile on County Manager Derek Roland’s face. Just shy of his one-year anniversary on the job, the 29-year-old county manager was given a contract for his position. 

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fr golfSequoyah National Golf Club has come out in the red every year since it first opened in 2009, but the Cherokee golf course’s new general manager Kenny Cashwell, of Sequoia Golf Management, thinks that’s a norm that can be reversed. 

“Absolutely,” he said of the club’s potential to turn a profit. “We anticipate being close year one. It’s very possible we may get there.”

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The search for missing 17-year-old Alec Lansing came to a tragic end when searchers found the teen’s body in Nantahala National Forest Nov. 22, not far from the campsite where he left his group. 

An autopsy revealed that Lansing had a broken hip and had died of hypothermia. Because moss from a nearby tree leaning over a small stream was also found on his body, investigators believe he scaled the tree, fell into the shallow stream and broke his hip, which rendered him immobile. 

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out blackrockAfter nearly 20 years of existence, Blackrock Outdoor Company has a new owner. Kelly Custer, who also owns Sylva’s Sheds Hunting Supply, purchased the store from owners Holly Hooper and Heather Ferguson after an August fire in downtown Sylva caused extensive damage to the store and its inventory. 

Custer doesn’t necessarily see the fire’s effects as a liability, however. 

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