When Macon County Manager Sam Greenwood retires at the end of this year, he’ll take with him more than three decades of governmental experience and an encyclopedic understanding of the county’s political scene.
Even before filing opens March 1, four candidates have emerged to challenge Principal Chief Michell Hicks for the top leadership position of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
A fledgling effort now under way could lead to the cleanup of junked cars lining the banks of the Tuckasegee River.
With Wal-Mart’s future in Franklin in limbo, business owners near the existing big-box store continue to worry they’ll lose the economic engine that drives their bottom lines.
A push to move the Swain County Chamber of Commerce into a vacant bank building is meeting resistance from some lodging owners because of a proposed room tax increase.
It’s no small task moving a library.
Hugh Gibby knows a little something about honeybees. He’s kept them for 63 of his 78 years, following in the footsteps of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
With the Africanized honeybee now established in Florida, experts say it is only a matter of time before the so-called “killer bee” is introduced into this state.
Tourism leaders in Swain County want county commissioners to withdraw state legislation requesting a 1 percent increase in the room tax to allow time for study.
Franklin’s elected leaders will review how much it would cost to replace the siding on a town-owned building in downtown before deciding whether to relocate administration offices there.
Haywood County’s new solid waste director intends for the county to dump the dubious distinction of being the only one in Western North Carolina not recycling glass.
Stephen King, who came to Haywood County in February after holding previous solid waste-related jobs in Wake, Guilford and Macon counties, isn’t prepared to say when a glass recycling program would be available, only that it’s a priority.
“We’re working toward it,” he said. “But we need to find what will work best for the residents of Haywood County.”
King said the county’s recycling facility isn’t set up to handle glass, and that developing an efficient and cost-effective program will take time and require additional funds.
A solution can’t come too soon for Joe Vescovi, who moved to Haywood County from New York about the same time King took over as solid waste director. Vescovi said he was surprised and disappointed to discover that his new home county was trashing an opportunity to help the environment.
“I think things that can be recycled should be,” he said.
Unlike in Haywood County, residents in most WNC counties sort various recyclables such as glass, newspaper and plastic themselves. That’s worked well in places such as Macon County, which is recycling about 20 percent of its total waste stream.
“That means every five years we gain a year of landfill life,” said Chris Stahl, head of Macon’s solid waste program. “The cell (landfill area) we are in is about a 15-year cell. We’ll gain three years over those 15 years by diverting that waste.”
Macon County ranks fourth among the state’s counties for the pounds per person the county recovers in recyclables, collecting about 346 pounds for each resident living there.
Swain is sixth with 273 pounds per person, Jackson 21st with 149 pounds per person, and Haywood 26th with 139 pounds per person, according to the latest state rating figures available, released in May 2006.
Like some other statistics for the western counties, the region’s second homeowners and part-time residents are probably skewing the numbers. Many of those residents recycle their waste while living here part-time but aren’t included in county population figures. Therefore, the pounds per resident averages are inflated.
In Haywood County, the system – and the space allotted for that system – doesn’t easily allow for individuals to sort recyclables themselves.
Currently, a Haywood County resident brings their recyclables – excluding glass, which goes directly in the garbage — in a single bag to a convenience center.
The bag is ferried to the county’s recycling center, and is dumped on the concrete floor where the bag is broken apart. The contents are then loaded on a conveyor belt that feeds a bailing machine.
Under this system, any glass placed in the bag would break and mix in with other recyclables. That would lower the price received for what is now a commodity — the county sells its recyclables to help sustain the program, King said.
Why not simply set up areas at the convenience centers for separation to take place there, as other counties do? The 10 convenience centers in Haywood County are smaller than their counterparts elsewhere and there isn’t room for sorting bins, King said.
King, who once ran Macon County’s recycling operations, plans to evaluate the county’s convenience centers and see if bins could be squeezed in at some of the more centrally located ones.
Haywood County residents Fred Henline and wife Corena said they’d be among those participating in a glass recycling program if the county develops one.
“We already recycle everything else,” Henline said. “If we could, we would.”
King is also exploring an out-of-the-box option: Hiring a company to set up a processing facility that would allow Haywood County to mix its glass with concrete and make items such as stepping stones.
In addition to glass, King also plans to start recycling programs for rechargeable batteries and computers. He said any success would be dependent on Haywood County residents’ buying-in to recycling.
Go to scoopscott.squarespace.com on the Internet and you enter the world of Macon County resident Bob Scott.
Jo Glover joined the Waynesville Recreation Center after moving to Haywood County from Alabama in December. She likes the recreation center’s atmosphere — no music blaring, windows around the indoor track, a fitness class in the morning that fits into her schedule.
Lucretia Stargell, the new director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, said her goals include building membership and finding additional ways to market the area to prospective visitors.
The possibility that a 40-acre island in the Little Tennessee River might be developed has sparked outrage among conservationists and calls for preservation from those living nearby.
Service providers: As housing costs escalate, regional hospitality businesses look for ways to cushion the blow for the working class
When the well heeled are in need of a pampered retreat in Western North Carolina, they often look toward the Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands.
When Ghost Town in the Sky recently held auditions to fill its entertainment needs, about 40 potential cowboys competed for 10 available slots.
Seven people have plunked down the necessary $500 filing fee required to campaign for principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Southwestern Community College officials anticipate holding classes this fall at a new satellite campus in Macon County, more than a half-year later than originally planned.
When it comes right down to it, the good will of private landowners is often what stands between saving Indian mounds and losing these pieces of ancient history.
As a child growing up in Oklahoma, Tom Belt often heard that there were reasons a group of Cherokee had remained in the East when others were forcibly marched west.
Each weekend, Carol Austin figures out what meals her family is going to eat during the upcoming workweek. She shops for groceries and fills her vehicle’s gasoline tank before Monday morning.
Local governments balking at controlling development on steep mountainsides would be forced into action if the General Assembly passes a state bill introduced earlier this month.
Not that many years ago, anglers and boaters wanting to gain access to the Tuckasegee River in Swain County essentially had to bushwhack their way to the water.
Members of a heritage task force in Macon County want town and county leaders to form a commission with regulatory powers to protect historical districts and landmarks.
Some residents on the Cherokee Indian Reservation are calling for a referendum vote on whether Wal-Mart Stores should be allowed to build there.
As county planner in Macon County, Stacey Guffey knows a little bit about controversy and soliciting public opinion.
Bob Cordier likes a challenge.
So, when the 25-year veteran of the amusement park industry decided he was bored with building houses and was ready to get back into the business, Ghost Town in the Sky seemed a natural fit.
After they opened Joey’s Pancake House in 1966, Brenda O’Keefe and her late husband would calculate how much pancake batter they’d need based on the number of cars they saw at local hotels on their way to work.
Brenda and Joey O’Keefe ended up mixing a lot of batter. As they drove U.S. 19 through Maggie Valley, most mornings along the town’s main drag revealed full parking lots and no-vacancy signs. Year after year, families flocked in to visit Ghost Town in the Sky. Business owners here were living the good life, sharing in the economic success of the western theme park’s four-decade reign as one of the Southeast’s top family destinations.
“It was incredible,” O’Keefe said. “I can remember, on great big days, when there were 10,000 people at Ghost Town. And, even on average days, there were about 5,000.”
Thanks to a strong local following and stellar reputation as an eatery, Joey’s Pancake House remained a hopping enterprise. But that’s at odds with what many in Maggie Valley experienced. Business owners watched the balloon deflate as Ghost Town declined, then burst when the theme park closed permanently in 2003.
“The economy dropped 50 to 60 percent, and nothing has brought that back,” O’Keefe said. “That was the impact.”
The interim years
Down the road at Maggie Mountaineer Crafts, visitors can find homemade fudge, hand-painted saws and stuffed black bears. This is a craft and gift shop that has stayed true to its 50-year-old roots, a place serving up slices of whimsical Appalachia to satisfy the cravings of many who visit Maggie Valley.
In a plush office filled with collectible historical items at the back of the store, owner Brad Pendley sorts through Ghost Town memorabilia. His father, Austin Pendley, once served as general manager for the theme park.
Pendley doesn’t underestimate the importance of Ghost Town’s reopening, but he also believes the town made a comeback after the theme park closed.
“Ghost Town won’t make or break Maggie because we’ve already done without it,” he said. “But if Ghost Town does do well, it’s really going to help us out.”
After the theme park closed, the town launched into a rocky metamorphosis, painfully — and sometimes divisively — transforming itself from tourist destination to resort community.
Second-home owners moved in at an ever-greater pace, vacationers took advantage of the many cabins for rent and the well heeled settled in at Maggie Valley Country Club, which undertook costly renovations and added upscale condominiums. It’s now known as the Maggie Valley Club.
“We had to regroup after Ghost Town left,” Pendley said. “Maggie really came back with a renewed spirit, that we could make it without Ghost Town. Now Ghost Town has been hyped up so much that if it doesn’t succeed, it’ll hurt us more than if it had never come.”
Pendley and others, however, believe that a successful Ghost Town could fill one big hole marring the fabric of a newly rebuilt Maggie Valley – the theme park can serve as the missing family attraction and get parents, grandparents and kids to visit here again.
“That’s been the biggest complaint,” Pendley said: ‘“What can our children do?’”
Manager Joyce Patel of the 21-room Scottish Inn agreed. During her 15 years at the hotel, located along U.S. 19, she’s seen occupancy remain stable on weekends but decline during the week. That happened because families quit coming to Maggie Valley, she said.
“There’s not much to do around here for the kids,” Patel said. “We’re hoping the parents and kids come back this year.”
Multigenerational travel is the buzz in tourism circles, and the prospect that Maggie Valley could soon enjoy the sight of cars packed with parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, or better yet, grandparents, parents and children, clearly delights Lynn Collins.
Now executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, Collins is no stranger to the economic magic of a successful theme park. She once worked at Ghost Town in marketing and public relations. Collins hopes that the renewal of Ghost Town will help Maggie Valley succeed in becoming a complete, year-round destination.
“We don’t have many gaps,” she said.
As winter sports become more popular in Western North Carolina, Maggie Valley has positioned itself to benefit with the addition of snow tubing and a snowmobile park to its traditional mainstay, Cataloochee Ski Resort.
Nature-based tourism is also important to Maggie Valley’s economic base, Collins said, with hikers and waterfall-lookers now joined by throngs of people eager to see elk, recently reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The chamber leader also pointed to the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds and Wheels Through Time Museum, which has exhibits of motorcycles and motorcycle memorabilia, as underpinning the post-Ghost Town Maggie Valley.
Add Ghost Town to that mix, Collins said, and the once bleak economic future of Maggie Valley suddenly looks bright indeed.
Saving Ghost Town
At least four possible buyers for Ghost Town surfaced in the years after the park closed. Finally, in late 2005, three investors announced they were buying the park and 250 acres.
Al Harper, owner of American Heritage Railways, which operates the Bryson City-headquartered Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, teamed up with Hank Woodburn, owner of nine amusement attractions in four states, and Pete Hairston, an independent venture capitalist. The men formed two corporations to oversee the deal: American Heritage Entertainment and Ghost Town Partners.
A long-range plan to make Cherokee a friendlier place to walk, visit and shop moved forward last week with the dedication of a quarter-mile section of a proposed three-mile greenway.
Want to build anything you want in a downtown location that receives a ton of visitors each summer? Then Bryson City, with its total lack of rules governing development, is just the place for you.
Susan Ervin has served on Macon County’s Planning Board for so long she can’t actually remember how many years it’s been.
After Ann McDuff was struck and killed while riding her bicycle in February 2003, her husband, Larry, spearheaded a money-raising effort to build a shelter in her memory along the Appalachian Trail.
County commissioners, planners and planning board members from the state’s seven westernmost counties will meet this month in a first-of-its-kind attempt to discuss land management on a regional level.
Unlike most town and county governments in Western North Carolina, Franklin’s elected leaders had the foresight more than five decades ago to pass zoning regulations.
Bryson City’s tourism leaders have long touted this Swain County town as the Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Great Smoky Mountains, and a book now available in stores nationwide helps undergird their claim.
Slope and ridgetop development, protecting waterways, and farmland and open-space preservation emerged as the top land-management concerns of those responsible for implementing regional planning.
A countywide moratorium on floodplain and watershed development in Macon gained some momentum following the town of Franklin’s decision to formally express concern over a proposed RV community.
Instead of the stick, Macon County might try carrots as this fast-growing area tries to control its booming construction industry.
The developer of a proposed upscale RV community alongside Cartoogechaye Creek in Macon County says a moratorium on floodplain and watershed development hasn’t nixed or changed his plans.
A 40-acre island in the Little Tennessee River will be protected from development if the owner can successfully hammer out an agreement with conservation groups.
“We’ve been in dialogue with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and some other conservation organizations,” said James VanderWoude, a Franklin-based developer who owns the island. “We’re actively exploring conservation options.”
If retirees Fred Plesner and Ray Behr are any indication of how voters in Macon County are reacting to a vote on $64 million in bonds, Macon County’s leaders could find that November is a cold month indeed.
After visiting the Town of Waynesville’s recreation center, Michelle Green left marveling at the range and quality of activities the facility provides Haywood County residents.
Swimming, racquetball, basketball courts, an indoor walking track and more — there’s simply not a public facility like it available in Green’s home county of Macon.
In 25 years of teaching kindergarten, Cathryn Sills of Franklin read a lot of books to her young students. In the process, she learned a lot about what children like to read and what they don’t like to read.
The wonderful thing about keeping bees is there are always surprises. Just when you think you’ve learned what there is to know in one area of beekeeping or another the bees do something entirely unexpected and delightful.
I was reminded of this a few days back when we pulled off the spring honey for processing. We were later than usual with this task — the bees are now well into making the summer’s sourwood honey — but other duties had intervened until suddenly and inexplicably it was July.
Persuading Father Tien Duong to tell his story was a hard sell. It had all the right ingredients: a Catholic priest who grew up in the hardship of Communist Vietnam and who escaped to the U.S. in a dangerously crowded fishing boat clinging only to his faith.
When Jason Cutler moved to Jackson County from Michigan eight months ago, he was shocked to discover he couldn’t buy beer or wine outside of Sylva’s town limits.
Seventy-year old Ronnie Evans, a retired engineer with UNC-TV who lives in Franklin, seems an unlikely homicide investigator.
Franklin could face a state penalty for spraying weed killer on an ancient Cherokee mound site because the town workers who did it weren’t properly licensed to use the herbicide.
The state could fine the town as much as $2,000, according to Pat Jones, pesticide deputy with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Or, the state could simply issue a warning and not fine the town. Jones said the case is still under review. He was uncertain when a decision would be made.
The Franklin Board of Aldermen censured Mayor Joe Collins this week for making a personal apology to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after the town sprayed Nikwasi Indian Mound with weed killer.