Holly Kays

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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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fr hccHaywood Community College is entering phase two of a process it started last spring when trustees decided it was time to clean up the college’s mission statement and come up with some focused goals for the future. 

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fr flyfishingThe path to a new fly fishing museum in Cherokee has been cleared of a final hurdle after the Cherokee Tribal Council last week upheld a contract to lease the old Tee Pee Restaurant building to the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. The Cherokee Business Committee had signed the lease earlier this spring, agreeing to let the chamber of commerce use the building for $1 per year for 25 years.

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The search for a new town manager is on in Franklin after Warren Cabe submitted his resignation at the town board’s April meeting. His old job as emergency services director for Macon County came open again, and Cabe applied. He’s already accepted the position and will leave his post as town manager on May 2. 

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It’s been three months since Macon County officials unearthed $50,000 worth of embezzlement, but a return to normalcy is just beginning to crack the horizon at the Macon County Board of Elections. Hours after sending a petition requesting that the state board remove the elections director suspected of stealing the money, the board got the OK from county commissioners for the funds it now needs to get through the rest of the fiscal year. 

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The Swain County commissioners race has attracted a deep bench of Democratic candidates — nine contenders vying for the four commissioner seats and two more for commissioner chairman.

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out frWestern North Carolina is covered with more than 1,500 square miles of national forest, and residents often measure their assets in terms of towering hardwoods, flocks of turkeys and mountain streams.

National forest land belongs to everybody, but “everybody” includes a pretty diverse group of hikers, bird watchers, hunters, mountain bikers, horseback riders, fishermen, paddlers, environmentalists, loggers and so on — all with different ideas and priorities. As the U.S. Forest Service works toward a new guiding management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, it’s a challenge to find a strategy that “everybody” can agree on. 

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An ordinance designed to keep student housing from taking over the village of Forest Hills is creating an obstacle for a drug recovery program looking to start up there. Mia Boyce, director of the Christian nonprofit Kingdom Care, began her efforts to set up a home there for women in recovery in October. She had been working with her daughter-in-law’s parents, who own the 11-bedroom home, to move her Asheville-based ministry to Forest Hills, so she sought the village council’s blessing. 

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Fundraising for a $1.3-million shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse is underway in Macon County, with REACH of Macon County hoping to move to a new building by September 2015. 

“This has been a dream from the beginning,” said Jennifer Turner-Lynn, prevention coordinator and incoming assistant director for REACH. “We’ve always wanted to build the shelter here, and we feel the time is right.”

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fr cherokeemuseumThe Museum of the Cherokee Indian has been having some trouble with its exhibit light and sound system lately, but that’s not too much of a surprise. After all, that electrical system has run constantly since its installation in 1998. But a $250,000 grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, with an equal match from the tribe, will give the exhibits a fresh start worth $500,000.

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coverDespite the automated security system that speaks up every time a door is opened and the whiteboard grid tracking points for the shelter’s behavior management program, “institutional” is the last word that comes to mind when you enter Hawthorn Heights in Bryson City. Midday sunshine brightens the dining room’s white tile floors and family-style wooden table and chairs, and a few rooms over, couches circle a fireplace and television stand crammed with movies and Wii games. A large porch juts out from the stone building, the perfect place to play cards or read a book on a warm afternoon. 

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out frWarmer weather is on its way, but along with the sunny afternoons comes the return of ozone season. A bad forecast can cancel high elevations hiking trips and outdoor playdates, but North Carolina has been seeing a decrease in those high-risk days. In fact, summer 2013 was the lowest season on record, following a downward trend in ozone that’s held steady since 1999.

“In the environmental arena, you don’t always see those kinds of results, so it’s very rewarding for those of us who have worked on these issues to see those results,” said Bill Eaker, environmental planner for the Land of Sky Regional Council. “But we still have a lot to do.”

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Plenty of green is popping up in Bryson City, but it’s not all due to the growing season. Green wayfinding signs now scattered throughout town point to landmarks ranging from the Road to Nowhere to the Swain County Courthouse. It’s the culmination of a year-long project to make in-town navigation easier and streets more attractive. 

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The federal sequester came back to haunt Macon County last month when commissioners voted to spend $13,000 to keep the county’s housing assistance program up and running. Commissioners had given Macon Program for Progress $12,000 at the beginning of the fiscal year to make up for the 30 percent reduction in administrative funds that the federal sequester caused. 

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fr evergreenEvergreen Packaging paper mill in Canton is embarking on a $50 million natural gas conversion of its coal-fired boilers to comply with new federal air pollution limits.

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out frIt’s been nearly eight years since Amy “Willow” Allen passed through Western North Carolina as a tired-and-hungry AT through-hiker. But her journey didn’t end at the summit of Mount Katahdin. 

“It isn’t something you leave behind,” she said. “Once you become part of that community, it is part of who you are.”

SEE ALSO: Celebrate the Appalachian Trail season

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With the May election primary drawing nearer and the ring chock-full of hats contending for the Jackson County sheriff seat, candidates are getting down to the nitty-gritty of how they’d handle the job. 

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fr lowimpactdevFour years ago, Haywood Community College launched the first low-impact development program in North Carolina, a new degree to train students in sustainable development and design.

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coverIt’s a chilly day on the Tuckasegee River. Air temperature is in the mid-40s, and the water isn’t much warmer. 

Eric Johnson struggles to stand upright, bracing his paddle on the river bottom as a chain of four fellow college students leans on him to traverse the Dillsboro Drop rapid.

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Franklin could soon get its first taste of microbrew beer. An offer to lease the old town hall building and turn it into a brewery is currently on the table.

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Jackson County sheriff candidate Curtis Lambert no longer has a job with the Sylva Police Department, but he says his firing last week isn’t throwing cold water on his campaign. 

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Three months after lies on a search warrant and a fabricated drug dog alert prompted a federal judge to throw out a Cherokee drug trafficking case, it appears that the officers involved are still at their jobs, with no change in status or salary. The case involved officers and detectives from Swain, Jackson and Graham counties, as well as from the Cherokee Indian Police Department.  

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fr sylvaparkingOver the past half-century, traffic patterns in downtown Sylva have prompted a repeated cycle of complaint, remedy and return to the status quo. Now, the town is at the crest of another wave of request for change. The Sylva Board of Commissioners is considering looking into a request from some local businesses that they restore Main Street to a two-way traffic pattern. 

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fr librarieswFor most people, the word “jail” stirs up mental images of vertical bars and stark concrete walls, not of rows of books or orange-clad inmates studiously reading them. But bars have, for the most part, turned to Plexiglas and metal doors, and thanks to the collaborative research of librarians and criminal justice faculty at Western Carolina University, an initiative to expand book collections in Western North Carolina jails is gathering steam. 

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fr deerFrom clothing to art to clan names, deer are everywhere in Cherokee culture. But for the past couple of centuries, they’ve been virtually absent from Cherokee land — until now. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is in the initial stages of an effort to reintroduce an important environmental and cultural resource to Western North Carolina. 

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In front of a crowded courtroom Tuesday, the Macon County Board of Elections voted unanimously to dismiss a challenge protesting Commissioner Ron Haven’s legitimacy as a candidate.

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With the bottomed-out real estate market still stagnant, some property owners are having trouble seeing the point of paying property taxes.

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A big one got away in Cherokee earlier this year when the case against a drug dealer was thrown out by a federal judge who found Cherokee police officers had lied in a search warrant.

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After a morning of arguments from both sides of the school voucher debate, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ordered the state to refrain from accepting voucher applications, selecting recipients, awarding money or implementing any other part of its program to provide private school scholarships to low-income students until the full case has been heard.

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out frNot just anybody can keep up with Jim Pader. Last year alone, he hiked 534 miles and has logged 738.4 miles in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 2001. Besides that, he works out for at least one hour per day and attends yoga class religiously. And just six months after completing a record-setting hike up Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States, he’s gearing up for a one-day out-and-back to the Grand Canyon. 

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fr foodGreen space and gardens dominate much of the Western North Carolina landscape, but what determines whether people here actually eat the fruits and veggies that abound? That’s what April Tallant, health professor at WCU, hopes to find out as she crunches the numbers from her latest research project. 

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Electric car owners will soon have the option of charging their vehicles in downtown Waynesville.

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fr policecarsEquipment replacement schedules were some of the first line items on the chopping block for local governments when the economy tanked.

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coverMacon County commissioners decided in a split vote this month to spend $3 million building a tournament-scale baseball and softball recreation complex.

“It’s been two years of pretty steady work, but it’s well worth it,” said Seth Adams, Macon County Parks and Recreation director. “I’m tickled to death that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

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coverTake an evening walk through the woods this time of year, and odds are you’ll hear the grumpy quacking of a male wood frog, showing off for the ladies. The sound promises the return of warm days and growing gardens, even as icy temperatures fill the forecast. 

For Jessica Duke, this harbinger of a new season coincides with the end of an old. The Western Carolina University graduate student is wrapping up a year of study on behalf of local amphibian species like the wood frog, and what she’s found offers encouragement for animals that are up against some hard times.  

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As the State Bureau of Investigations continues to probe embezzlement allegations in Macon County, the county is calling in the experts to help it pinpoint any internal policy failures that may have contributed to the alleged seven-month-long, $50,000 fraud at the Board of Elections. County Manager Derek Roland hopes to bring in State Auditor Beth Wood to examine the county’s paperwork and offer any recommendations for policy changes.  

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Just shy of a decade after county offices moved into a brand-spankin’ new Haywood County Justice Center, Jackson County is considering its own courthouse overhaul — and it’s using the Haywood project as a model. Jackson pulled in Heery International, the same company that designed and built the Haywood courthouse, to do a preliminary needs assessment, and now commissioners are waiting on the results to come back before planning the next step. 

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fr foodcoopA group of Jackson County locavores is hoping to bring the Ramp-Berry Community Market Co-op, a store that will sell all things local, to fruition before the year ends. 

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Sheriff Robert Holland is looking to ramp-up his department’s crackdown on drug dealers in Macon County, requesting that the county commissioners multiply his allocation for undercover drug buys from $1,000 to $20,000 in its upcoming budget. 

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With campaign season barely off the ground, the Jackson County sheriff’s race has already drawn a hefty list of candidates — and of issues.

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fr olsonWhen Becky Olson first began making house calls, she was barely old enough to walk. She spent her childhood following behind her physician father’s coattails when he made house calls and shadowing her mother, a nurse, through various clinics and classrooms. She saw, too, the bounty that poured into their home from patients who just couldn’t pay her father for his services — at least in monetary terms. 

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out fr1For every degree of cold or inconvenience, wintry weather adds two of beauty. Members of Waynesville’s Lens Luggers photography club kept their cameras at the ready as below freezing temperatures and above-normal snowfall transformed Western North Carolina into a winter wonderland. We hope you’ll enjoy some of their favorite images and the stories of how they came to be. 

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County leaders in Western North Carolina breathed a collective sigh of relief after the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law Feb. 7. The bill includes a one-year extension of the PILT program, which stands for payment in lieu of taxes.

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A compromise has been reached between Ghost Town in the Sky and state inspectors over a violation and fine stemming from a staged gunfight at the Maggie Valley amusement park.

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Robert Holland has been pushing to place a resource officer in every school for years — long before the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy catapulted cops in schools to the top of county funding debates, and even before assuming the sheriff’s badge in 2002, when he served as a deputy and juvenile detective.

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fr declinetosignUsually, you’d expect a school system to jump at the chance to give its teachers a raise, but superintendents statewide are now rolling up their sleeves for an unpleasant task: figuring out a process to determine the top 25 percent of teachers in their district and offering those people a pay increase. 

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out frThere’s nothing abnormal about the pair of armchairs in Jim and Baraba Mills’ living room, or about the television — the old tube kind — and wooden entertainment center that they face. Typical, too, is the hodgepodge of DVDs and VHS tapes filling the shelves and the pictures of kids and grandkids covering the top. 

But even a cursory glance reveals Jim’s true passion. A trio of mounted trout — one rainbow and two brown — hang on the wall above the TV, and a fly-tying station crammed with every color and weight of thread imaginable stands in front of the ceiling-high shelf filled with old glass medicine bottles from Jim’s days as a pharmacist with the U.S. Public Health Service. Fly rods, either sheathed in protective cardboard tubes or laying out to dry on a jerry-rigged rack of cardboard boxes, fill every corner of the room, and a stool sits in front of the pair of thread spools that Jim is using to create the wrappings on his most recent angling project. It’s more than a living room: it’s a fly rod shop of the most unique variety. 

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