Caitlin Bowling

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After two years of lawsuits and two mediations, Swain and Graham counties have finally agreed on where to draw the county line signifying their portions of the Fontana Dam.

Fontana Dam straddles the two counties. How much of the dam lies in each county determines how much they each get in property tax money from the Tennessee Valley Authority for the dam, its hydropower equipment and generators.

Previously, the two counties split the money 50-50. However, Graham County successfully argued in 2010 that it deserved more of the money since more of the dam lies on its side of the county line. Graham then sued Swain County for taxes going back decades that TVA had paid to Swain but rightfully belonged to Graham, estimated at $15 million. Swain filed a countersuit. Leaders from the two counties used mediation to eventually find a dividing line that suited them both.

Historically, the center of the Little Tennessee River was the boundary line between counties. But the river was covered up by Fontana Lake when the dam was built, and finding that center line now has proved elusive.

In a quest for resolution, surveyors were sent out to take a look at the area and discovered an old monument marking the center of the river on the dam, giving Swain County a watertight argument for where the county split should lie.

“We did not compromise beyond that marker. That marker establishes the exact center,” said Swain County Manager Kevin King.

Unfortunately for Swain County, however, it will recoup some, but not all, the tax money it has lost to Graham. With the new, or rather old, marker as the agreed on dividing line, Swain County will gain back about three-fourths of the funding it lost last year.

Under the disputed formula, Swain County lost more than $200,000 a year from its budget — a devastating blow that might have forced the county to raise taxes or increase fees. King estimated that the county will get back about $150,000 of that.

“We are better now than we were six months ago, but we’re worst now than we were two years ago,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon.

Commissioners in both counties have signed a joint agreement that they will forward on to the General Assembly for approval. The state legislature’s rubberstamp is a mere formality however since the counties are in agreeance.

“We’re hoping that everything is going to work out and (want to) re-establish the relationship we’ve had with Graham County,” said Commissioner David Monteith. “We need to work together on everything.”

Overall, the county commissioners were happy that an accord was reached and will avoid the county having to either hike taxes or make major budget cuts.

“We were looking at different ways to fill the gaps in the budget,” King said. “We’d have to come up with that revenue somehow.”


The Lowe’s interchange in Haywood County will finally get re-structured but not for a couple more years.

N.C. Department of Transportation plans to start reconstructing the exit onto N.C. 209 and leading to Paragon Parkway and Hospital Drive in summer 2014.

“The geometry of the exit right now is extremely confusing, and it’s tight,” said Brian Burch, a construction engineer with DOT.

Prep work has already begun on the estimated $24-million project. The Lowe’s side of the interchange won’t change much — the work is focused on the side of Taco Bell and Shoney’s.

DOT will purchase about five homes and 10 businesses that currently stand in the way of its construction. Of the total project cost, the department will spend about $9 million alone to purchase the right of way. Among them are the Burger King, Taco Bell, the Shell station, Shoney’s and David’s Home Entertainment.

“The intersection is confusing; there is no question,” said David Sutton, owner of David’s Home Entertainment. “I don’t want to have to relocate … (but) it needs to be done.”

Sutton did not know how much he would get from DOT for his business and land.

Once work begins, it will be another two to three years before its completed because the crew must work in phases to ensure that people have access to remaining businesses and can pass through the area with relative ease. DOT must also be conscious of students traveling to and from Tuscola High School each day, Burch said. It’s also the major interchange near MedWest-Haywood hospital and numerous doctor’s practices, the county’s Department of Social Services, and the entrance to Lake Junaluska.

“There is always the concern of access,” Burch said. “How is my routine going to be impacted?”

But, no matter how well thought-out the plan is, there will inevitably be delays.

“People have to be patient,” Burch said.

The exit has been on DOT’s to-do list for years because of its odd configuration, congestion and proneness to accidents. Some call the interchange “malfunction junction.”

The four-lane highway was built in the 1960s, blazing the first four-lane road to Waynesville. Roads were built differently then from today, said Reuben Moore, an DOT operations engineer.

“Things like that are not the way we are doing it when we do it today,” Moore said, citing the confusing manner in which exit and adjoining intersections were laid out.


Changes to the Interchange

While certain portions of the exit and its surrounding interchanges will remain the same, several key changes will make its more user friendly.

1: The main part of the project is a new on-ramp heading toward Waynesville. It will be longer, giving vehicles more time to gain speed before merging.

2: The access road to Taco Bell and the on-ramp heading toward Waynesville are too close together now and will be moved farther apart. With the current configuration, it can be difficult to tell which is the access road and which is the on-ramp for the highway.

3: Paragon Parkway will be realigned — moved over to sit on top of where Shoney’s is now. It will be aligned in an intersection with the on-ramp heading toward Waynesville.

4: Crabtree Road, which runs underneath U.S. 74, will be widened. A new train trestle will be installed to accommodate the wider road that passes under it.


Most things in life start out small — acorns grow into oak trees, babies are reared into adulthood, small patches of green spread until they eventually cover the mountains each spring.

The latter is the focus of Jackson County’s annual festival Greening Up the Mountains, an event that has seen a lot of growth itself.

What started as a small Earth Day event has now grown to the largest festival in Jackson County. Attendance at the former mostly locals event has swelled to 10,000 to 12,000 each year during its 15-year existence.

“It’s kind of neat that it started as a little Earth Day parade in downtown Sylva,” said Emily Elders, an event coordinator. “It’s grown exponentially every year.”

The Greening Up the Mountains festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 28 on Main and Mill Streets in historic downtown Sylva. The Downtown Sylva Association organizes the event, which celebrates the local economy, sustainability and traditional heritage crafts.

More than 200 vendors from all over the county — nonprofits, for-profits and others groups — will set up along the two streets, handing out pamphlets of information and peddling their handmade wares.  

“It’s a really good time to shop for incredible unique Mother’s Day or Fathers Day (gifts),” Elders said.

Even though the festival only lasts one day, the event offers for businesses and groups in Jackson County chance for greater exposure that last for years.

As a business owner, Matthew Turlington said the festival is a chance to broaden his customer base.

“You hope that it brings your standard customers and new customers,” said Turlington, owner of Penumbra Gallery and Studio.

The event draws new potential clients and more emails for their list-serves. This year, the downtown association will survey vendors and local businesses to get a concrete idea of how the local economy benefits from the festival.

“For me, that is the best part. The impact lasts,” Elders said. “It’s really been a lot of economic benefit, not just for the downtown.”

It’s also an opportunity for visitors to experience the best things about Jackson County all at once. As a Jackson County resident, Turlington said his favorite aspect of the festival is its incorporation of Appalachian history, from clogging to singing, and the young performance groups.

“I have always enjoyed the local young talent,” Turlington said.

Two music stages will feature Jackson County bands and heritage dancers. Between bands, multicultural dancers, such as Mexican Folkloric Dancers, Cherokee traditional dancers, the Liberty Baptist Men’s Choir and the Eternity Dance troupe, will perform.

“(The bands are) a pretty good mix this year too,” Elders said.

The traditional bluegrass and Americana bands will be on hand as well as folk and jam bands.

A third stage will be set up specifically for children’s enjoyment, along with the annual Youth Talent Show. Children’s activities include storytelling, face painting, an inflatable slide, the recycled materials Superhero Costume Contest and volunteer projects. This year’s event will also include a 5K run.


Schedule of events

Greening Up the Mountains starts at 10 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. on April 28 on Main and Mill Streets in historic downtown Sylva.

The Smoky Mountain Stage in the Suntrust Parking Lot

• 10-11 a.m.: Tennessee Jed An Asheville-based bluegrass band with a bit of a rock feel.

• 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Marshall Ballew A Sylva native and folk/Americana musician.

• 12:30-1:30 p.m.: Sugar Barnes & Dave Magill A duo with an old-fashioned blues sound.

• 1:45-2:45 p.m.: Moolah Temple Men’s Auxiliary A mix of electronic, lo-fi and choral music.

• 3-4 p.m.: Dan River Drifters A fast-paced bluegrass band based in Sylva.

Tuckaseigee Stage at Bridge Park Pavilion

• 10-10:45 a.m.: The Suite C:  An acoustic folk/indie band from Alabama.

• 11-11:45 a.m.: John-Luke Carter A singer-songwriter from Sylva.

• Noon-12:45 p.m.: PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) A Cullowhee-based reggae/jam band.

• 1-1:45 p.m.: Total War A Sylva-based indie/rock group.

• 2-2:45 p.m.: The Freight Hoppers A popular Bryson City-based old-time string band.

• 3-4 p.m.: Noonday Sun.

Triple Threat Kids’ Stage in Poteet Park

• 10-11:30 a.m.: Mountain Youth Talent Show

• 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Triple Threat Performing Arts

• 12:45-1:15 p.m.: Junior Appalachian Musicians

• 1:30-2 p.m.: Sylva Children’s Theater

• 2:15-2:45 p.m.: Lions Gate Kung Fu Academy

• 3-3:30 p.m.: Burning Ones (The Father’s House of Prayer)

• 3:30-4 p.m.: White Dragon Martial Arts


As Tommy Yon carried his kayak up the side of a waterfall in Tennessee, he tried not to over-think the 100-foot drop that awaited him.

“I didn’t want to hesitate and psych myself out,” said Yon, who lives along the Nantahala River in Swain County.

Bald River Falls is not a commonplace run for kayakers. But, something in Yon told him that he could make it, that he needed to try it.

“I guess I was just feeling it that day,” Yon said.

To the non-paddling spectator, Yon’s daredevil stunts might seem like a leap of faith, more of a free fall with a kayak around his waist. But in an instant, he sized up which ledges to aim for, which rocks to avoid. He calculated the likely thrust of the boat and where it would hit as it pummeled down the falls into the roaring, churning froth below.

With three people running safety at the bottom of the falls in case something went awry, Yon climbed into his boat. Butterflies collected in his stomach, and he prayed to God that his intuition and calculations were correct. And, they were. Yon floated down the 100-foot waterfall as if it was a mere 20-footer. Everything was in slow motion, Yon said.

The day had started as a laid-back and relaxing kayaking trip with friends. But, when Yon drove along Tellico River Road, he stopped the car without warning halfway across a bridge overlooking Bald River Falls. Yon saw the line and knew what to do — how he could safely navigate the precipitous drop of a 100-foot waterfall. And, his intuition and knowledge served him well that day.

With about 20 years of experience under his belt, Yon, a professional freestyle kayaker, has cultivated a mixture of instinct, physics and practice that allows him to dare such feats.

The 27-year-old Nantahala native grew up along the river, helping his mom and dad at their boiled peanut stand that sat about mile away from the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Everyday, or nearly everyday, Yon would sneak away from the stand along U.S. 19 and watch groups of people take to the water.

Although kayaking does not define who Yon is, his love of all things water-related is undeniably a major part of his life. Yon has been on the water since he was 7 years old.

“That is all I wanted to do is be in the water,” said Yon, who works as a rafting guiding and soon as a kayaking instructor at Nantahala Outdoor Center.

“It makes me so excited to see someone almost touching base with something,” Yon said, adding that he loves giving people a few words of advice or little nudge that helps them conquer a move.

Yon is a first-rate paddler of all manners, from steep-ass creek paddling to swift down-river slalom. But his forte — one that happens to be in the limelight right now — is freestyle paddling. In freestyle paddling, kayakers perform tricks for a certain period of time and are scored based on difficulty and variety.

“Freestyle, to me, is like a different form of walking or dancing or skating or doing anything, but you’re on water,” Yon said.  “I feel more balanced an controlled on water than I do on my own two feet. I’m a klutz when it comes to land.”

Yon is an ideal example of an outlier, as defined by author Malcolm Gladwell. He has put in his 10,000-plus hours and like any successful person, takes his passion for something to a whole new level.

About age 7 or 8, Yon’s dad bought him a ducky, an inflatable kayak of sorts, and then, he slowly accrued enough gear to get his first kayak.

Yon said he practiced everyday unless he had gotten himself good and worn out.

“I maybe missed one day a week, two days a week. Maybe,” Yon said.

Yon soon began learning rolls, where you intentionally capsize the kayak and then return to the upright position, and then doing enders, where the front of the kayak is plunged into the water and the boat stands up vertically.

“From then forward, I went full forward into kayaking and never looked back,” Yon said.

Although practice makes perfect, Yon said he spends more time on land thinking about the physics of a trick — a McNasty or Donkey Flip or Phoenix Monkey — before he takes to the water to try it.

“I spend more time out of the boat than in the boat thinking about it,” Yon said.

For him, it’s about being able to visualize himself mastering a move, using his mind’s eye to watch how the position of his paddle affects his trajectory. Yon talks about kayaking the way a chess master might discuss his strategies. He puts a large amount of forethought into the combination of tricks he performs at competitions.

“I need to be thinking about when I do a move here where I am gonna land and what move is possible over there,” Yon said.

Although his plans may change once he gets on the water, Yon is never unprepared.

“I have done everything in kayaking as I possibly could because I have wanted it. I have wanted it for myself,” Yon said. “This is the lifestyle that I chose, and I love it.”

Of all the tricks he has performed and the places he has traveled, Yon said the crowning moment of his kayaking career was attaining pro-status several years ago.

“Being able to do all the trick of all the people that I followed who were my heroes,” Yon said. “I am paddling better than I have ever dreamed of paddling. I am happy.”

Yon is a member of Team Pyranha and competes in freestyle kayaking competitions around the U.S. And, unlike other sports, like hockey or football, the competition remains friendly.

“We are out there to encourage people,” Yon said.

If someone lands a complicated trick or combination, everyone is cheering him or her on, Yon said. In freestyle competitions, each kayaker racks up points based on a few set tricks that the judges expect to see, how they combine tricks into a continuous move and on other maneuvers that they toss into the mix.


Freestyle paddlers to turn up the heat in NOC Shootout this weekend

About 60 kayakers are expected to compete in this year’s Nantahala Outdoor Center Freestyle Shootout from April 20-22 in the Nantahala Gorge near Bryson City.

The Shootout will be a trial run, although on a much smaller scale, of world freestyle paddling championships being held on the Nantahala in September of 2012 and again in 2013.

“The Freestyle Shootout is always a highly competitive event, and we look forward to athletes turning up the heat this year as they ramp up their training for the Worlds,” said Zuzana Vanha, event coordinator with the Nantahala Outdoors Center.

The  NOC Freestyle Shootout will be the first official freestyle event to be held at the newly enhanced Nantahala Wave, designed for the upcoming World Cup in 2012 and World Championship in 2013.

The Wave is manmade contraption below the surface that changes the contour of the river bottom and kicks up waves and holes for kayakers to do tricks on.

Paddlers have been toying with the contraption to get the best wave results. A final model isn’t yet settled on.

“This event will give athletes an opportunity to give feedback about the (Wave) and express their opinions about what they would like to see as the Nantahala Gorge Organizing Committee prepares for the final round of fine-tuning,” Vanha said.

The NOC is expecting several hundred spectators during the course of the weekend, Vanha said.

Athletes get two 45-second runs to do their tricks, but the number of rounds will depend on athlete participation. The top winners from Saturday’s round will go on to the finals Sunday.

Freestyle paddling competition begins at 11 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Other event highlights include:

• Paddler Feedback Session at 6 p.m., April 20, at Slow Joe’s Café. An opportunity for athletes to make their opinion heard as the Nantahala Gorge Organizing Committee prepares for the final round of fine-tuning on the Nantahala 2013 Wave.

• Chris Gratmans, of TerraVida Threads, will discuss the psychology of paddling at 7 p.m., April 20, at Slow Joe’s Café.

• The Science of Hydraulic Engineering beside The Wave at 2 p.m. April 21.

• Stand up Paddleboard Head-to-Head Race at 6 p.m., April 21, at the near Slow Joe’s Café. Competitors will negotiate a slalom course on their way down stream.

• Dagger Dash Attainment Race at 2:30 p.m., April 22.

Slow Joe’s Café will offer live music each night starting at 8 p.m.

The weekend will also feature Demo Days, the NOC’s annual spring vendor fair and gear demo event. Guests can choose from more than 60 boats and test-paddle them for free on the Nantahala throughout the weekend. Manufacturer representatives will be on hand to answer questions about the gear, and the Outfitter’s Store will be offering deals on kayaks and accessories.


The last of six people accused of playing a role in the murders of two Swain County residents back in 2008 has been put away.

Mark Goolsby of Sylva plead guilty to nine counts of accessory after the fact to various charges, including second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and attempted first-degree murder. Goolsby received a seven- to ten-year sentence but was credited for time he has already spent in jail awaiting trial. This means that he has a minimum of about three years and three months before he can be paroled.

“I believe the plea accurately reflects what happened as far as his involvement,” said James Moore, assistant district attorney for the case.

Goolsby was one of two Sylva men who in some way participated in the murders of Scott Wiggins and Heath Compton. Goolsby and his friend Dean Mangold were in the Walmart parking lot in Sylva one day when they ran into two strangers from Atlanta who were looking for more drugs two-days in to a partying-spree at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel. The two area boys followed them back to their hotel room at Harrah’s where they proceeded to smoke weed and take the illegal drug ecstasy.

Later, the group left the hotel room, planning to rob Wiggins and Compton, whom they believed dealt drugs. Goolsby stayed in the vehicle and did not actively participate in the robbery and murders, according to testimony of others in the case.

Goolsby testified last month against co-defendant Tiffany Marion, who was then found guilty of a myriad of charges and sentenced to more than two consecutive life sentences without the opportunity for parole. He was also prepared to testify against Mangold, who opted to plead guilty and make a deal with prosecutors rather than stand trial.

“He (Goolsby) did that without any kind of plea deal,” Moore said. “I take that as meaning something.”

Of the six defendants, three pleaded guilty; the fourth committed suicide in jail; and the fifth was found guilty following a jury trial last month.

The only related case left is the trial of Anita Vestal, a jailer in Swain County who helped the ringleader in the murders, Jeffrey Miles, escaped from the Swain County jail in 2009. As of Tuesday morning, no trial date had been set for Vestal. It is also unclear whether she will stand trial or try to make a plea deal.


About two dozen people gathered outside the tribal council house broke into song with the words “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God,” after the final results of Cherokee alcohol vote were tabulated last week.

The Cherokee Reservation will remain dry, keeping in place the historic ban on alcohol sales, following Thursday’s vote on the issue. Enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sent a strong message with about 60 percent voting “no” to alcohol sales.

“It sent a clear message that we are not going to be affected by those few who would benefit” from the sale of alcohol, said Amy Walker, an enrolled member from Birdtown.

Opponents of the referendum said that easier access to alcohol would lead to increased rates of alcoholism, drunken driving and domestic violence.

“If we made $100 in revenue from alcohol, it would cost us $10,000 to treat the problem,” said Peggy Hill of the Yellow Hill community.

A few of those gathered wore T-shirts that read, “We have come too far to die by our own hand.”

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort is the only establishment in Cherokee where alcohol is sold. Cherokee residents instead have to drive 20 minutes or more into Sylva or Bryson City to get a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine.

That could change later this year, however, as voters in Jackson County are having an alcohol election of their own in the May primary. If Jackson County voters approve countywide alcohol sales, it would become available literally a stone’s throw from the reservation.

Jeff Arneach, who was leaving the polls last Thursday, voted to allow alcohol sales on the reservation partially because he had read that drunken driving is more common in areas that are dry. If alcohol can be purchased in Cherokee, the incidents of drinking and driving might decline, Arneach theorized.

Proponents had also said that alcohol sales were necessary for the tourism industry. Businesses have lost customers because visitors can’t get wine or beer in Cherokee, even on the menu in restaurants, supporters of the referendum said.

For some enrolled members who live in other states, the vote was important enough to them to travel back to the reservation to vote in the election.

Larry Maney, a 70-year-old enrolled member who lives in Tennessee, drove more than two hours to have his say.

“I’ve seen a lot of harm — broken homes, marriages, a lot of abuse in families,” Maney said. “It just doesn’t make sense” to approve the referendum, he said.

Earlier Thursday, before the vote results rolled in, students from Cherokee High School presented the results of their own vote to Cherokee leaders. During that vote, an even larger percentage of students — 66 percent — voted down the measure, said Missy Crowe, an enrolled member whose son attends the high school.

Crowe was one of at least 40 Cherokee who filed an injunction three days before the election trying to derail the vote. The injunction said tribal council, the election board, the ABC Commission and Chief Michell Hicks violated tribal law by holding the vote. The Eastern Band held a referendum vote in 2009 to allow the sale of alcohol in its casino. The law states that the tribe could not hold another alcohol vote until 2014, according to the injunction request.

A judge later denied the request, saying that an injunction is an extraordinary remedy. The enrolled members had not sought out other avenue in which to air their grievances, such as filing a formal protest with the election board, the judge’s decision reads.


Sovereign say

As part of the referendum, each community had the option of voting alcohol sales up or down. The flexibility meant any of the six communities in Cherokee could separately opt out even if the majority elsewhere on the reservation had approved alcohol sales.

However, the option is moot at this point since the reservation will remain dry.

Birdtown was the only community where a majority of voters approved any form of alcohol. They narrowly voted in favor of opening an ABC store — the final total was 308 for and 306 against. But, like other communities, they voted against alcohol sales in restaurants, groceries or convenience stores.

The vote was close in Yellowhill and Birdtown, communities closer to the center of town, with the anti-alcohol sentiments winning by only a narrow margin.

Meanwhile, one of the reservation’s more traditional communities of Big Cove answered an emphatic ‘no,’ with more than 75 percent of voters striking down the referendum.

“I think there was a lot of emotion involved” in people’s decision, said Don Rose, a retired business executive and former vice chair of the tribal ABC board. Rose spearheaded a committee who promoted the referendum.

Rose said alcohol sales could have garnered millions of dollars in revenue for the tribe and the economy on the reservation.

“I am not terribly surprised” that people voted against the sale of alcohol in restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores, however, Rose said.

Of those who voted, 1,640 enrolled members voted down the sale of beer or wine in grocery and convenience stores — compared to the almost 1,500 who voted down the other two questions. Critics of the referendum disparaged the words grocery and convenience stores, asking if someone could put a can of beans on a shelf and call it a grocery store. People did not want beer joints cropping up all over the reservation.

In the election, 2,517 people cast a ballot. Voter turnout among local members of the tribe is difficult to determine, however. All enrolled members no matter where they live are eligible to vote in tribal elections, but have to travel to Cherokee to cast a ballot.  There are a total of 6,715 eligible voters in the tribe, making total voter turnout around 30 percent — but the turnout was likely much higher than that among local enrolled members as enrolled members who live elsewhere in the state or country may have opted not to make the trip to Cherokee to vote, bringing down the total voter turnout.

Now that the vote has taken place, the tribe cannot hold another referendum vote on alcohol for at least five years.


Vote results

There were three separate questions on the ballot related to different types of beer, wine and liquor sales:

• 60 percent voted against an ABC store where the public could purchase liquor.

• 61 percent voted against the sale of beer, wine or mixed drinks in restaurants.

• 66 percent voted against the sale of beer or wine in grocery and convenience stores.

Although the anti-alcohol movement handily won this time around, supporters of alcohol sales have gained a little ground during the past two decades. In 1992, a ballot measure to allow reservation-wide alcohol sales was defeated by a wider margin of 72 percent in a vote of 1,532 to 601.


Maggie Valley has emerged victorious in an ongoing tug-of-war with Jackson County over who can rightfully lay claim to tourists en route to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.

The N.C. Department of Transportation rejected a request from Jackson County leaders that a new highway sign direct Cherokee-bound travelers past their own doorstep instead of through Maggie. Instead the current sign, which takes motorists through Maggie Valley via U.S. 19, will remain the lone highway marker pointing the way to Cherokee for tourists coming off Interstate 40.

Cherokee leaders had sided with Jackson County and joined the push for a second sign that would direct visitors to take the four-lane Smoky Mountain expressway instead of the curvy two-lane road over Soco Gap. More than 3.5 million visitors a year come to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort, and hundreds of thousands of additional tourists come to Cherokee as a cultural destination or jumping off point for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Maggie Valley leaders were happy to hear that DOT decided to maintain the status quo.

“It was certainly good news,” said Maggie Mayor Ron DeSimone. “It didn’t seem there was any compelling reason to change it.”

The route through Maggie is shorter mileage-wise, but a study by the DOT showed that travel time was essentially the same — about 35 minutes — no matter which road was taken. The study also looked at safety and found that the risk of a motorist getting into an accident on U.S. 19 compared to U.S. 74 was negligible. The Maggie route follows a narrow, two-lane winding road over Soco Gap. The crash rate — which in simple terms is the ratio of wrecks to the total number of vehicles — is 10 percent higher for the Maggie route than for U.S. 74.

“I am glad that they did come to the decision that they did,” said Maggie Alderman Phil Aldridge.

Leaders in Haywood County and in Maggie sent letters to the DOT asking them to deny Jackson County’s request, saying that the sign simply took from one and gave to another. The sign would take business and visitors away from an already struggling Maggie Valley, opponents of the new sign said.

“It definitely would have had an impact,” DeSimone said.

DOT, however, also denied Haywood County leaders’ apparent tongue-in-cheek request that it install a sign along U.S. 441 in Dillsboro that would inform travelers from the Atlanta area that they could reach Cherokee by going up and around through Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Dillsboro to Cherokee via U.S. 441 is 14 miles and takes some 20 minutes. Dillsboro to Cherokee via Waynesville and Maggie Valley is 45 miles and takes about an hour.

Jackson County leaders took the news about no-new-directional sign on U.S. 74 in diplomatic fashion.

“I’m not surprised with the final decision,” Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten said. “It seems our request did not fit within their policies.”

Jackson County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam said the county would not argue with the DOT regarding its decision.

“We’re OK with it,” Debnam said. “I just don’t think we’re going to qualify for a sign, and that’s just one of the battles you don’t pick. You’ve just got to let it go sometimes.”

The cost of a new sign had been estimated at about $100,000 minimum — and perhaps double that depending on how much information it attempted to convey about the two dueling routes.

In a letter sent to everyone involved earlier this month, DOT Division Engineer Joel Setzer noted that the agency’s focus “was to look primarily at traffic safety, travel time and travel distance” along U.S. 74 and U.S. 19 when considering the request. Other factors considered were traffic crashes, routing by mapping services and average winter weather conditions along both routes.

DOT tried to craft a highway sign that would include both routes, listing things such as mileage, drive time and road conditions for each. But, that proved problematic.

“NCDOT recognized that the request (for a second sign) was reasonable and made sense but struggled with how a sign or series of signs could effectively communicate to high speed traffic that this choice was available,” the letter stated.

This difficulty, the DOT letter continued, “is the very reason that it is against policy.”

“To a motorist unfamiliar with the area, seeing two choices for one destination would cause confusion, which could create a dangerous situation in a high speed highway environment,” the letter stated.

The DOT also noted that the current sign meets state rules on sign placement because the U.S. 19 route is 11 miles shorter than traveling U.S. 74 to Cherokee.

The agency, in rejecting Haywood County leaders’ request for a sign in Dillsboro rerouting Cherokee traffic their way, said what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: the route proposed is longer and therefore violated state policies for road signs.


Like a game of musical chairs, three Republican candidates for county commissioners are circling Haywood County and hoping they can secure one of the two places on the November election ballot.

Only two of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners seats are up for re-election this year. Two candidates from each party will advance to the general election in November.

Since three Republicans declared their candidacy, voters will have to narrow that number to two during the primary.

Among local, state and federal elections, jobs and the economy still seem to be voters’ main concern. And, the Haywood commissioners election is no different.

“We are borrowing a lot of money,” said Denny King, one of the Republican commissioner candidates. “I will not vote to raise taxes; I will not vote to go deeper into debt.”

The county has not been conservative enough with its money. For example, it should not be paying for the maintenance and upkeep on the MARC building, which is rented by elderly-focused nonprofits for $1 a year, King said. That same perk isn’t being offered to any of the other institutions that do good work in the county, he said.

“I wouldn’t expect us as a county to rent a church for $1 a year,” King said.

King also stated that he believes property owners are paying too much in taxes.

“I will support reducing the size of the burden that property owners pay,” King said.

Candidate Tracy Coward said residents are not getting enough bang for their buck when it comes to county spending. The county’s overall budget is about $65 million.

“I just don’t see where we are getting our money’s worth,” Coward said.

“In a lot of cases, they have done a good job in saving money and cutting down on expenditures, but I think there is a lot more that could be done,” Coward continued.

The current Board of Commissioners has expressed support for state legislation that would allow counties to consolidate redundant services within DSS and the health department.

Incumbent Kevin Ensley touted achievements that the board has accomplished during his current term. In particular, he noted that the board has saved money by privatizing the county landfill and maintained the tax rate despite having to make difficult job cuts.

“We have been able to make the cuts that we needed to without raising taxes,” Ensley said.

Ensley is currently the only Republican member of the five-person board.

Constituents have talked to candidates about their concerns going into this year’s election — and a main anxiety is jobs.

Coward said he can provide a “fresh set of eyes” to such concerns and will vote for what he thinks is best for the county and its people.

Young people continue to leave Haywood County because there are not enough available jobs, Coward said, and the county should work harder to help create more employment opportunities.

One way to create jobs, Ensley said, is through water and sewer projects — something he is a big proponent of. Up-to-date water and sewer systems are a must-have amenity for many businesses if they are looking at moving to a particular area. By building new and updating old systems, the county can create construction jobs and hopefully attract new businesses that will hire county residents, Ensley said.


Haywood Commissioner Republican primary: choose two

Tracy Coward, 55, Waynesville

Background: Coward is a maintenance technician at Continental and a former adjunct professor at Haywood Community College. Coward has never run for political office before.

Why are you running: “We need business experience on the board, but it seems like sometimes these folks have their own interests in mind. I was wanting to give the little man some representation.”

L. Kevin Ensley, 50, Waynesville

Background: Ensley has served on the Board of County Commissioners for eight years. He is surveyor by profession.

Why are you running: “I feel like I have provided some leadership in making sure we practice some budget austerity, which we have. I wanted to continue providing that leadership.”

Denny King, 52, Canton

Background: King is currently an engineer at BorgWarner in Asheville. He ran for county commissioner unsuccessfully one time before. This election season, King filed to run but later had second thoughts and tried to get his name taken off the ballot. “I really don’t want to comment on that. I am running to win.”

Why are you running: “I had a lot of encouragement to run, and many people in our county want a voice. They believe I will listen to their thoughts and concern.”


The Cherokee Reservation will remain dry, keeping in place the historic ban on alcohol sales, following Thursday’s election on the issue.

Enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sent a strong message with about 60 percent voting “no” to alcohol sales. There were three separate questions on the ballot related to different types of beer, wine and liquor sales.

• 60 percent voted against an ABC store where the public could purchase liquor

• 61 percent voted against the sale of beer, wine or mixed drinks in restaurants.

• 66 percent voted against the sale of beer or wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort is the only establishment in Cherokee where alcohol is sold. Cherokee residents have to drive 20 minutes or more into Sylva or Bryson City to get a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine.

That could change later this year, however, as voters in Jackson County are having an alcohol election of their own in the May primary. If Jackson County voters approved countywide alcohol sales, it would become available literally a stone’s throw from the reservation.

Each community had the option of voting alcohol sales up or down. The flexibility meant that if the majority of voters approved alcohol sales on the reservation, any of the six communities in Cherokee could decide separately whether to keep alcohol out.

This two-part litmus test of sorts means one community couldn’t push through selling alcohol in their own neck of the woods if the idea of alcohol sales in general failed to garner the support of the majority.

However, the option is moot at this point since the reservation will remain dry.

Birdtown was the only community where a majority of voters approved any form of alcohol. They narrowly voted in favor of opening an ABC store but like other communities voted against alcohol sales in restaurants, gas stations or convenience stores.

Opponents of the referendum said that alcohol would only lead to more instances of drunken driving, alcoholism, child neglect and domestic violence. Proponents had said that alcohol sales were necessary for the tourism industry. Business owners have lost customers because they can’t obtain a glass of wine or beer in Cherokee, supporters of the referendum said.

In the election, 2,517 people cast a ballot. Voter turnout among local members of the tribe is difficult to determine, however. All enrolled members no matter where they live are eligible to vote in tribal elections but have to travel to Cherokee to cast a ballot.  There are a total of 6,715 eligible voters in the tribe, making total voter turn-out around 30 percent — but the turnout was likely much higher than that among local enrolled members while enrolled members who live elsewhere in the state or country may have opted not to make the trip to Cherokee to vote, bringing down the total voter turn-out.  

See The Smoky Mountain News print edition Wednesday for a full analysis and break down of results.


Coffee lovers and addicts have a new place in Waynesville to get their fix.

Main Street Perks opened on Main Street about three weeks ago, filling a large, vacant hole in the downtown façade with goodies, caffeine, a wall of booths and a couple of café tables and chairs. The coffee shop is owned by the perky and outgoing Melisa Williams, a Florida native who moved to Waynesville in 2007.

Williams buys her coffee from Smoky Mountain Roasters in Waynesville and Bean Works in Asheville. Her goodies — muffins, bagels, cream cones and more — come from local baker Kandy Medford.

Main Street Perks also offers ice cream, malts and traditional, thick, need-a-spoon-to-eat shakes. While coffee and ice cream don’t really go hand-in-hand, Williams said the decision to offer the treat came down to one thing: “I like ice cream,” she said, laughing with her whole person.

It’s hardly Waynesville’s only coffee shop. There’s Smoky Mountain Café a block down the street, and Blue Ridge Books a block up the street. There’s Panacea Coffee Roasters a stone’s throw away in Frog Level. Plus, the new City Bakery with coffee offerings of its own opened up next door to Williams the same week as her own grand opening.

But she says people are slowly discovering the new coffee stop.

“I’m happy,” Williams said. “It’s been progressively picking up everyday here.”

This first month or two of operating is crucial for any business, figuring out whether it can build and maintain a customer base — something that other Main Street storeowners understand.

“I am getting a lot of support from the merchants,” Williams said.

Other Main Street business owners have already become familiar faces at Waynesville’s newest coffee shop.

“It’s great to see the camaraderie between merchants,” said Buffy Phillips, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association. “They are delighted to have those places.”

Williams had hoped to open a few weeks sooner to avoid clashing with the much-anticipated opening of City Bakery, which sits next door. But, renovations to turn the former retail space into a coffee shop took longer and cost more than expected.

“There was a lot that needed to be updated,” Williams said.

Eventually, Williams hopes to add more seating. But, first, she is focused on finish the building renovations and promoting her business.

“I know that she has some wonderful ideas that she hasn’t been able to make happen yet,” Phillips said.

Main Street Perks will host an official opening party from 6:30-9 p.m. on April 13. The event will include live music — something that Williams hopes to offer regularly. Jeanne Nabor will perform on April 13.

Anyone with a demo CD is free to drop it off at the coffee shop, Williams said.


The creative arts building at Haywood Community College has hit a few more snags on its way to completion — much to the chagrin of county commissioners.

The college will once again tap into its contingency fund to correct miscalculations resulting from either a lack of communication or a design faux pas. The project is still within its original budget, however.

The total project cost was estimated at about $10.2 million. A contingency fund was built into the price tag to cover unexpected costs that crop up during the course of construction, half of which has now been spent to fix several snags.

The commissioners agreed to allocate a little more than $25,000 to widen a doorway, reinforce an outside deck and construct a retaining wall as well as pay for a couple of minor miscellaneous items.

Rectifying the size of a doorway will consume about one-third of the money. The entry was too small to fit an absorption chiller, a piece of machinery that will allow the building to use solar energy to power its air conditioning.

“The architect has admitted an error,” said Bill Dechant, director of campus development. “When it is a (building) designer error, the architect or the designer is responsible for that item.”

However, the county will have to foot the bill for now. Possible reimbursement is not negotiated until the end of a project. While the architect will likely repay the college some amount, it is not known how much money HCC will receive or even what mistakes the architect will claim.

“It’s hard to say” how much, if any, money the college will recoup, Dechant said.

The architect has been forthcoming in admitting errors, Dechant added.

Unfortunately, the sizing mistake was not caught until after the doorframe had already been installed.

“I don’t understand how they would have missed that,” Commissioner Mike Sorrells said at a county meeting last week, when the college came before commissioners asking for a budget adjustment on the project to tap contingency funds.

Although the widened doorframe is the priciest error, the board seemed most concerned about an inaccurate topographical survey that mapped how water drained around the building and where it should pave sidewalks. The contractor identified discrepancies between the survey and the land’s actual conditions, and a new survey needed to be conducted — a $2,000 cost.

HCC had hired the original surveyor, but when discrepancies were found, it did not ask the company to redo its survey for free or refund the money. The contractor’s on-hand surveyor reviewed the land at cost.

Commissioners agreed that the original surveyor should have returned and reevaluated the property at no cost.

“If the survey was wrong, you need to get the surveyor out there and correct it. That’s what I would do,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley, a surveyor by profession. “And, I wouldn’t charge anybody for doing that.”

When Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger made a motion to approve the added funds, none of the other commissioners immediately offered to second the motion.

“I am not hearing any explanation as to why someone else has not attempted to get someone else to pay for these things. And, I think that is what we want to here,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick, after an awkward moment of silence.

Considering the scope of the project, Dechant said the total amount of change orders thus far is below average. Of the total project cost of $10.2 million, the construction contract is $8.6 million.

“In terms of an $8.6 million building, the amount of change orders on this project have been extremely low so far,” Dechant said. “I think overall I have been pleased with the amount of problems that we have had on this job.”

In the end, the county board voted to release the money.


Change orders take II

These were not the first design issues that have arisen during the already controversial project.

In January, Dechant went before the Haywood County Board of Commissioners seeking approval to use more than $262,000 in contingency funds. Most of it went to a water pump needed to provide adequate water pressure for the building’s sprinkler system.

Architects from the Raleigh-based Innovative Design erred when studying the water pressure earlier in the planning process. They tested the pressure in the main water lines running through campus a few hundred feet below the building site. As water flows up the hill to the new building, it loses pressure — a fact the architect did not factor into his plans, Dechant said at a previous commissioners meeting.

Last year, the commissioners and college administrators battled for months about the scope of the creative arts building project, before settling on a plan.

The new facility will house studio and classroom space for students studying the creative arts, such as pottery and woodwork.

“I know there was a lot of discussion about the building, and ‘Why this? Why that?’ And, I know my opinion, and I am sure the rest of the board’s opinion is too, is ‘How much more?’” Sorrells said.

Money to pay for the new building is coming from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters more than four years ago to fund improvements to Haywood Community College’s campus.


The new owner of Ghost Town in the Sky tied up the final loose ends related to her purchase of the bankrupt amusement park last week.

Alaska Presley officially took title to the rides and buildings on the grounds of the once-popular amusement park for $500,000, bringing the total cost of buying Ghost Town out of foreclosure to $2 million. She purchased the actual land in mid-February for $1.5 million.

The list of equipment and buildings in the sale includes Ghost Town’s rides, the A-frame souvenir shop and ticket booth at the bottom of the mountain and the structures that make up the mock Wild West town.

The inventory indicates that most of Ghost Town’s rides — such as a vintage WWII-era carousel, the kiddie coaster and Sky Fighter — are more than 40 years old and have dwelled inside the amusement park’s gates since its heyday. Despite their age, Presley previously stated that she will refurbish and restore the rides if possible.

Ghost Town has been closed for two years after going into bankruptcy, but Presley plans to reopen the park that once brought 400,000 visitors and prosperity to Maggie Valley. But, before it can even think about opening, “there is so much more to be done,” Presley said.

Presley has gotten electrical power restored to a portion of the park, including the old Wild West town, which is the main focus of Presley’s revitalization efforts right now and the portion that she hopes to open before the end of the tourist season this year.

Haywood EMC, the electrical power company that serves Ghost Town, turned off the power after being stiffed an unknown amount of money by the former owners. The company previously told Presley that it would restore electrical services to the mountain if she shelled out $30,000 up front given the track record of the past owners.

Presley has also figured out a new plan to solve ongoing woes with the park’s water system. Ghost Town is on the public water supply of Maggie Valley Sanitary District, but has battled with aging pipes and system to get the water up to the mountaintop theme park. Presley now plans to build two wells to provide water to the amusement park rather than trying to pump water up the mountain.

“It will be so much more economical,” Presley said.


The race for a congressman to represent the mountains in Washington is crowded with candidates, making the political waters murky for the everyday voter.

In an attempt to differentiate the 11 candidates — eight Republicans and three Democrats — more than 100 potential voters attended a public forum last week at Haywood Community College to hear their views on a variety of subjects. The candidates hope to claim the seat currently held by Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler, who is not seeking re-election.

“I was very interested in the Democrats that were running, but I wanted to hear from every candidate,” said Rhonda Schandevel.

Schandevel, 47, said she was surprised to hear so many of the candidates indicate some willingness to compromise.

“We do this everyday of our lives,” she said. “That is what makes our relationships successful or not successful.”

Despite the nearly two hours of candidate discussions, Schandevel is still undecided on who she will vote for. And, she is not the only one.

More than 40 percent of registered Republican voters still don’t know whom they will vote for in the crowded congressional primary race, according to an independent poll by the Atlanta-based Rosetta Stone Communications. The poll was released April 5.

Other attendees already had one or two candidates in mind but still showed up to hear what there was to hear.

“I wanted to see the difference between the candidates,” said Pat Bennett, a 63-year-old Republican.

Bennett said his top two picks currently are Republican candidates Jeff Hunt and Mark Meadows.

Shondra Grant, 42, said she was fairly confident before the forum that she will cast her vote for Meadows.

“I had a pretty good idea but tonight solidified it,” Grant said.

One woman was pleasantly surprised to find herself leaning more toward a relatively unknown Democratic candidate, Tom Hill.

“(Tom Hill) stole the show. He was factual, and he was knowledgeable,” said Sylvia Blakeslee, 59.



Hayden Rogers, 41, Brasstown

Background: Rogers, a Blue Dog Democrat, is a native of Robbinsville, where he played high school football. He went on to major in political science at Princeton University. Rogers, who now lives near Murphy with his wife and daughters, has spent the past five years commuting to Washington, D.C., where he served as Congressman Heath Shuler’s chief of staff. Prior to joining Shuler’s campaign, he owned his own wholesale nursery and landscaping business.

He is running because: “My experience with Heath and the enjoyment and pleasure we have gotten from working for the people of Western North Carolina. That is what I would like to continue to do.”

His key issues: The U.S. needs to rebuild its infrastructure, from broadband to roads to modern water and sewer systems — a task that will also help the economy by creating jobs. However, the government must offer some form of encouragement or incentives if it expects private companies to make such upgrades, Rogers said.

“If we want to stay competitive in this world, it is imperative that we also invest in the things that will also keep our businesses successful and foster an atmosphere that they can grow in,” Rogers said.

Rogers also said he would fight against unfair trade agreements that take jobs from the U.S. and have led to the “unabashed wholesale” of the country.

Cecil Bothwell, 61, Asheville

Background: Bothwell has lived in Buncombe County for more than 30 years and is the former managing editor for the Mountain Xpress, an alternative weekly newspaper in Asheville. He has owned and operated Brave Ulysses Books, a small publishing company, since 2000. Bothwell, a liberal Democrat, is currently serving on the Asheville City Council.

He is running because: “I believe that this district needs to have a representative who votes with the president.” He believes that “we need government to do things for all of us together that we can’t do alone.”

His key issues: Bothwell said he supports the stimulus bill and Obama’s health care bill, two items that conservative Democrat Heath Shuler voted against.

“I represent the democratic wing of the Democratic party,” Bothwell said.

To jumpstart the economy, Bothwell said the country must start work on “shovel-ready projects,” such as rebuilding the state’s bridges and installing high-speed broadband.

“That is the way that we dug our way out of the Great Depression, other recessions,” Bothwell said. “There are jobs ready to be done — that need to be done.”

Green Energy projects will also create jobs as well as promote a healthy environment and less dependence on fossil fuels.


Thomas Hill, 74, Zirconia

Background: Hill grew up in a farming family in East Flat Rock. He went to Wake Forest University and later went on to receive his Ph.D. in physics from UNC-Chapel Hill. Although Hill has no political experience, he worked in the aerospace field at the U.S. Department of Defense as well as at several other government agencies. He is retired and has three children.

He is running because: “I am the only moderate and centrist candidate.” Hill added that he is not like other candidates who are simply full of hot air. “I am a scientist, not a politician.”

His key issues: War, the housing crunch and “dead beat corporations” are the three reasons the economy is still sour, Hill said.

“Our economy is not going to recover until we stop these unwinnable wars,” he said. Instead of war, the federal government should focus on collecting taxes from large corporations who Hill says are evading paying income taxes.

“We don’t need to raise taxes. We need to collect taxes that are rightfully owed” Hill said, later adding that federal taxes should help fund education.

“The federal government is going to have to subsidize education because states don’t have the money,” Hill said.



Mark Meadows, 52, Cashiers

Background: Meadows is a conservative and Christian. After growing up an Army brat and moving from place to place, he moved to North Carolina from Florida about 30 years ago and eventually opened a restaurant formerly called Aunt D’s Place in Highlands. He later became a real estate developer in Jackson County. He is married with two college-aged children. He has no previous experience in a political office.

He is running because: “We’ve gotten to a place where we have relied on the government far too much to provide our needs. What we need to make sure is we stand up for life, liberty and less government.”

His key issues: The federal government needs to “get out of the way” and cut regulations that prevent private businesses from growing and creating jobs, Meadows said. “Government can’t solve the problem.”

The federal government can limit itself by looking into disbanding the Department of Education, for example.

“We need to eliminate the Department of Education,” Meadows said. “Take $69 billion, and bring it down to the state level, and help fund education on a local level.”

Government should also cut back on social programs that aid the poor or unemployed.

“As a Christian nation, we obviously need to have compassion for our fellow man,” Meadows said. “Does it need to be a government handout? No.”


Jeff Hunt, 61, Brevard

Background: Hunt graduated from Wake Forest University in 1975 with a law degree and began working for Long, McClure, Parker and Hunt in Asheville. Since 1994, Hunt has served as district attorney of Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties. Hunt is married.

He is running because: “We are on an unsustainable path. I am running so there will be a country to leave to our children and grandchildren.”

His key issues: The government needs to slash federal spending if it hopes to reduce its current deficit.

“We borrow 40 cents on every dollar that we spend federally, and that’s got to stop,” Hunt said. “The country that you and I grew up in is not going to exist anymore unless we balance the budget.”

Part of cutting federal spending would include bringing education — its curriculum and costs — down to the state and local levels. And,  the federal government should not fund social programs, which have bloated it, Hunt said. Only private entities, such as charities, should take care of the impoverished. People should not expect the government to care for them from cradle to grave, Hunt said.


Ethan Wingfield, 26, Arden

Background: Wingfield, a native of Weaverville, attended Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College for two years before finishing his philosophy degree at Brown University. In 2003, he started his own technology firm, which was bought by another company four years later. His latest job was as a senior strategy consultant for Capital One. He has no previous political experience.

He is running because: “I am deeply concerned about the direction this country is going. We have got a bunch of leaders up in Washington — Barack Obama and Democrats in particular — who I believe are driving this country off of a cliff. We are headed towards debt and decline if we don’t change course quickly.”

His key issues: Most of the candidates said they did not care about Congress’ overall approval rating, just their own rating among their constituents. But, Wingfield said the gridlock among Congress is unacceptable and inhibits progress.

“I believe we have got to make progress balancing this budget, and if we continue to run off to the four corners of the room and refuse to talk with people who are of different opinions … we are never going to make progress on this issue,” Wingfield said.

Balancing the budget includes enacting corporate tax reforms that promote growth, such as simplifying tax codes and instituting a flat 20 percent income tax rate.

“I think what we need to do is lower the rate and get rid of the loopholes,” Wingfield said.


Vance Patterson, 61, Morganton

Background: Patterson is a native of Kansas City, Mo. He has lived in Burke County with his wife for 17 years and has four kids. Patterson has 37 years of business leadership experience and started 16 companies. The TEA party candidate ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in North Carolina’s 10th District in 2010.

He is running because: “My campaign is about jobs and prosperity now. The problem is that nobody knows what we have here in Western North Carolina — a lot of people don’t even know we are here.”

His key issues: As a “serial entrepreneur,” Patterson said one of his main focuses would be bringing jobs to Western North Carolina. Its political leaders should tout the benefits of opening a business in WNC and work to make improvements to infrastructure that will attract businesses, Patterson said.

“We need a serious aggressive business plan to take our district to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world to pull those jobs in,” Patterson said.

Patterson said that he believes God and government are entwined and should not be separated.

“I affirm God in government — that our government is charge with defending all believers but not all beliefs,” Patterson said.

If elected, Patterson said he would donate his entire congressional salary to charities in the 11th District.


Spence Campbell, 67, Hendersonville

Background: Campbell, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1966 and then began a career as a military intelligence officer. In 1992, he retired to his wife’s hometown of Hendersonville. There he has served on the boards of several nonprofits and worked for Ewbank & Ewbank Insurance and Real Estate. Campbell has no previous political experience.

He is running because: The Democrats have taken the country in the wrong direction, Campbell said. “We need to talk more about leadership and what the Democrats are trying to do to the country relative to what we all want to have done to this country.”

His key issues: Campbell said he has the 4C’s of leadership: competence, character, commitment and courage.

Government has a time and a place but the federal government should hold less power and the state should hold more. The federal government has taken on roles outside of what the founding fathers intended, including a prominent position in how kids are taught.

“I think they have stolen the communities’ responsibilities for education,” Campbell said. “Education is the way we imprint our values on our kids.”

And, although he does not personally believe abortion is justified in most cases, government should stay out of personal health decisions, Campbell said.

“I don’t think a government has a role in any of that,” he said. “I don’t think the government should be messing around our health.”


Chris Petrella, 45, Spindale

Background: Petrella, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., received a computer science degree through the U.S. Army and Almeda College, an unaccredited university. He owned his own company for four years but is currently working as a lobbyist for economic development in Western North Carolina. Petrella ran unsuccessfully for governor of Nevada in 2002.

He is running because: “We need to fix the problems here in the district. Unemployment rates are too high; we have too many hungry kids and not enough action here at home.”

His key issues: Petrella is a man of few words compared to his counterparts but briefly outlined his views on several issues — immigration, taxes and social security — at a forum last week.

The U.S. needs to militarize the border with Mexico to stop illegal immigration, Petrella said. “I am a big proponent of having a national ID card that could be used as voter ID,” he added.

The federal government also needs to reform its current tax code and to replace personal and corporate taxes with a national sales tax, or so-called “fair tax.” And, although the federal government should maintain social security, it should not play any other roles in helping the aging U.S. population.


Susan Harris, 55, Old Fort

Background: Harris was born in Downers Grove, Ill., the daughter of a military man. She and her husband moved to Old Fort in 1989 and have two children. Harris is a private accountant and owns her own firm. She previously ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2010.

She is running because: “I’m the only candidate with the skills, discipline and experience to hit the ground running. We don’t have time for learning curves or second-hand knowledge. We must move forward with fiscally prudent methods that have been in practice for centuries.”

Her key issues: Because of her experience as an accountant, Harris said she is well equipped to deal with the country’s most pressing problems — the budget and the economy.

“Bottom line, if we spend more than we make we will eventually go bankrupt,” she said. Harris said she is “disturbed over our federal governments lack of fiscal discipline.”

Americans must stop electing “media darlings” and the candidates with the most financial backing and vote for the candidate with financial expertise and first-hand knowledge of how budgets work.

“Experience and leadership are the most crucial attributes to clean up this economic mess and move forward responsibly,” Harris said.


Kenny West, 55, Hayesville

Background: West is originally from Georgia but moved to Hayesville 12 years ago with his wife and two children. He spent 15 years as a national sales trainer and regional sales director for PCA International Photo Corporation and the last four years as a supplemental specialist with Liberty National Life. West previously ran for Congress in 2010.

He is running because: “This district is suffering. We’ve got to get jobs back in the state. I’ve got a plan for that.”

His key issues: West said that one key to growing the economy is reducing regulation and taxes.

“We have to take some of the regulations and burdens off the oil industry,” he said. Drilling gives off the perception that the U.S. is taking action and ready for business.

West said he would rollback regulations to year 2005 and cut the capital gains and corporate taxes to 10 percent.  He is also for eliminating the death tax.

These changes would cause “a flurry of investment,” West said. “This country right now is the highest (corporate) tax country in the world,” West said, which inhibits business growth.

West said his years of hard-work experience set him apart from other candidates.

“I think I am the only candidate in this race who has actually worked for a living,” West said.


Opinions among members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians remain mixed leading up to a vote that could lift a historic ban on alcohol sales on the reservation or continue the longtime moratorium.

In the days leading up to the monumental vote, those polled on the street in Cherokee offered up the full range of views — along with those for and against it, some have yet to form an opinion or just don’t care — making it difficult to predict which side will prevail in the alcohol referendum. There are currently 6,717 enrolled members registered to vote.

Some businesses and churches are open about their dislike for a beverage that has caused so much heartache for families affected by alcoholism. Opponents have posted yard signs throughout the reservation telling people to vote “no to greed,” accusing supporters of putting economic tourism interests ahead of what’s best for local people.  

“I kind of totally agree with the signs they have out,” said Regina Rosario, a former tribal council member and Painttown resident. Alcohol has never done anyone any good, Rosario added as she shopped in Food Lion in Cherokee last week.

However, Rosario wagers that she is probably in the minority.

“I think it’s going to pass because of the younger generation,” Rosario said.

Supporters of the referendum have said that alcohol will lead to an increases in tourism, which will lead to an increase in casino patrons, and in turn increase income for enrolled members.

“I think the main part of it is money,” said Megan Stanford, an 18-year-old enrolled member from Painttown.

Stanford, who is against selling alcohol on the reservation, said that people should listen to their elders who have more life experience.

However, for supporters, a ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the freedom to choose as well as additional prosperity for Cherokee.

“I think it’s people’s personal choices,” said Adrianne Petrilli, an enrolled member as she sat with her husband in Tribal Grounds Coffee. “I’d just like to have the option.”

Proponents have said that people need to look at the bigger picture, which is more revenue for the tribe.

Plus, if people want alcohol, all they need to do is drive to Bryson City or Sylva to find it, supporters of the referendum have said.

“They are going to get it anyway,” Petrilli said.

But opponents have said the easier access will only lead to higher rates of drinking problems among enrolled members.

“I am voting ‘no,’” said Owens Walkingstick, a member of the Yellowhill community. “If it’s harder to get it, it will be less people getting it.”

Even if the referendum is voted down, the reservation may still find gas stations selling beer cropping up at its doorstep.

Jackson County is voting on a similar measure during the May primary, and if approved, places selling alcohol could settle along the border of the reservation, which lies partly in Jackson County.

A few opponents have said that that fact will not influence their vote, however.

“I would rather just let Jackson County handle that,” Walkingstick said.

A couple of enrolled members indicated that they plan to stay out of the argument and will likely not vote Thursday.

Charles Tchakeirides, a 28-year-old resident of Birdtown, said he is undecided about whether alcohol should be sold on the reservation.

“People are going to get it regardless,” Tchakeirides said. “I think a lot of young people will vote for it.”

Nadine Tramper was blasé about the matter, though she could save gas money if alcohol was available in Cherokee, she said.   

“It doesn’t bother me. I really don’t care,” said Tramper, of Big Cove.


Day of reckoning

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will head to the polls Thursday, April 12, to vote on whether the reservation should remain dry. They can approve all, none, or some of the following:

• To permit the sale of beer, wine and mixed-drinks drinks to consume on-premise in restaurants.

• To permit the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.

• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.

The vote will be decided on a community-by-community basis for each of Cherokee’s six townships. One community can open the door for alcohol sales while another can keep the ban.

However, the referendum must garner an overall majority of votes reservation-wide for any one community to enact alcohol sales.


The old Strand movie theater in downtown Waynesville is finally getting a new lease on life after two false starts in the past decade to revive the shuttered Main Street icon.

The building was bought in foreclosure last year by Rodney and Lorraine Conard, who have already begun renovations to transform it into a live performance venue.

“I have just always loved the building,” Rodney said, ever since he watched Flash Gordon travel to strange, fictional lands at the old movie theater as a boy.

Following a romanticized dream of owning his hometown theater is ultimately not what drove him and Lorraine to save the building, however. It was far more utilitarian: Rodney needed warehouse space for his thriving business buying and refurbishing used barcode readers, a niche business to say the least.

The economic downturn meant plenty of retailers were going out of business and unloading their inventory of barcode readers for cheap. And as a result, the business prospered.

Rodney is business partners with Lorraine’s brother, who initially started the venture.

“(The business) started literally in my brother’s closet,” Lorraine said.

It grew to fill part of the Conards’ basement and then the whole basement.

That is when they decided to start searching for somewhere to house all of the barcode readers.

Happenstance, divine intervention or a little of both led the Conards to The Strands’ doorstep. After looking for about a year, the Conards bought the building that formerly housed The Strand. The property was in foreclosure when the Conards bought it for $182,000, according to county land records.

It did not take long for them to decide to revive the theater aspect as well.

“We walked in and saw the stage was still there and everything,” Rodney said. Soon after — within three seconds, according to Lorraine — they realized that they needed to keep at least part of The Strand for its original artistic purpose.

Lorraine is a popular singer-songwriter based in Waynesville with a large and loyal following.

“This is the best of both worlds,” Rodney said. “We can save the building.”

Under the Conards ownership, the building will take on several different faces. It will act as a storage space for the inventory of bar-code readers, an office, retail shop and 80-seat performance venue.

When the couple bought the structure, it was barely more than that. The building had no electricity, no heat, no air and no plumbing.

“It was a shell of a building,” Rodney said.

Currently, the Main Street entrance is covered in plywood. The long, thin entrance hall that once featured a ticket booth and ramps leading down to the theater or up to the balcony will now become retail space. The Conards do not yet know what the retail space will house, or whether they will run a store themselves or lease it out.

And, people will now enter the theater from an alley door off Wall Street rather then Main Street. The entrance will have a “speakeasy feel,” Lorraine said.

The theater space will have 80 seats and keep its original stage and rounded walls. The remaining space will house the storage and office space.

Construction started in October, and Lorraine said they expect to finish the storage and office space by late summer or early fall. However, she is not sure when a store and the theater will open, but they plan to hold several fundraisers to help with their theater renovation efforts.

Lorraine has several ideas for events that the theater can offer, including a Thursday night music series and lunchtime speakers.

The Strand’s stage will prominently feature local and regional artists. And, Lorraine tossed out the idea of having local restaurants provide food if it hosts lunchtime events.

“Our whole goal with the theater is to pull together local businesses,” Lorraine said.

But, the community will ultimately dictate what shows the revamped Strand will host.

“What the theater becomes is totally dependent on the community,” Lorraine said.

The couple has even gone so far as to post a survey to its Facebook page, asking people what type of events and who specifically they would like to see.

“It is not a for-profit venture,” Lorraine said, adding that they simply want it to be self-sustaining and “contribute to the revitalization” of Waynesville’s downtown.

But, for the small theater to survive, people will need to come out and support it.

“Come out and be apart of downtown,” Lorraine said. “It takes a little effort on the individual’s part.”

Downtown business owners often hear that they should stay open later or host events, but then they don’t get the foot traffic or attendance required to make the events sustainable, Lorraine said.


An institution

The Strand opened on Main Street in the 1940s, an era before TVs were a mandatory household appliance and people flocked to movie theaters in droves. It operated as a movie theater until the late 1970s when it changed into a primarily performance venue for The Haywood Regional Arts Theater group.

Because it was so popular and stayed open for so long, The Strand became a beloved institution in Waynesville. Those residents who had the opportunity to visit it remember the theater fondly.

In 1993, however, HART moved into its own performing arts center on Pigeon Street, and The Strand was left empty.

On two separate occasions during the past decade, attempts were made to revive The Strand, but their dreams never came to fruition.

• In 2005, Joey Massie, whose family founded The Strand in the ‘40s, announced plans to transform the venue into a movie theater and pizza joint, but the idea never became a reality.

• In 2010, Richard Miller, a downtown Waynesville businessman and property owner, announced plans to turn The Strand into a combination movie theater, live performance venue, beer brewery, art gallery and restaurant. That concept never came to be either.


Lend a hand for The Strand

Lorraine and Rodney Conard will host a fundraiser to help with their renovations to the old Strand movie theater on Main Street in Waynesville on May 6 at the new Headwaters Brewing Company in Waynesville. Admission will cost $20 and include one Headwaters brew paired with a specially made chocolate from Chocolate MD in Sylva.

Check out


With tunes that rush quickly along and take unexpected twists and turns, Sylva-based The Dan River Drifters are anything but lazy and predictable, like their name might suggest.

The band’s high-energy and sometime improvisational approach to bluegrass makes them an exciting group in which to listen.

Although they are relatively new to the Western North Carolina music scene, the group’s beginnings go back to a couple of the members’ childhood.

Long-time friends Jesse Lapinski and Andrew Lawson began playing open mic nights together and took the name The Dan River Drifters almost three years ago while attending Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. The calm, paddler–friendly Dan River runs through Stokes County, where Lapinski and Lawson lived as kids.

Over time, as the two made friends with other area musicians, the group expanded. Originally a duo, the band more than doubled to a quintet, adding Adam Bigelow, Tim Sheehan and Jesse’s younger brother Zach Lapinski.

“It just kind of fell into place,” Jesse said.

Jesse performs with the mandolin and guitar, while Lawson plays guitar and harmonica. Zach and Sheehan, who still attend WCU, play guitar and the five-string banjo, respectively. The most recognizable name on the band’s roster is Sylva Renaissance man Bigelow, who plays bass for the Drifters. Bigelow is heavily involved in many Jackson County community efforts, particularly environmental conservation. All five contribute to the group vocally.

“We are all good friends,” Lawson said.

Although bluegrass seems like the natural choice for bands in Western North Carolina, Sheehan was the person who really drew them to playing the genre, said Jesse, who used to play in a punk rock band.

At WCU, Jesse studied music education with a focus on jazz, from which the group took its improvisational style.

“Every time we do play, you will hear something new,” Jesse said.

The solo ad-libs give each band member to showcase his pickin’ skills.

“To me, when people solo, it’s like they are telling a story,” Jesse said.

During their shows, the Drifters play traditional bluegrass songs but mix in a fresh, high-energy sound. About one-third of the Drifters’ repertoire is songs they personally penned. Their tunes, most of which are collaborative efforts by Jesse and Lawson, take on some traditional bluegrass themes — murder ballads, moonshine and outlaws.

While the highest point in their career thus far came last April when they opened for the nationally known and locally loved Freight Hoppers, the Drifters most memorable performance was at a wedding in Cashiers with an enthusiastic audience. The wedding party had traveled in from Boston, and the Drifters had been asked to provide the music. Lawson said it was one of their best audiences.

“They loved it,” Lawson said. “I guess it makes them feel like they are from the mountains.”

Since most of its members have graduated from WCU, scheduling band practices has become more challenging. But, it has also allowed the band to expand its reach beyond Cullowhee and Sylva. Now that half the group lives in Asheville, the Drifters regularly perform at The Altamont Brewing Company and other venues around the city.

The next step is a CD — something they can give to venues to help them book gigs or sell to fans.

“Maybe a demo CD will get somebody to open the door for us,” Lawson said.


Hear them live

The Dan River Drifters will play at 8 p.m., April 14, at the Tuckaseegee Tavern on Depot Street in Bryson City. Or, catch them the following weekend on April 28 at Greening Up the Mountains in Sylva. The show begins at 11:45 a.m.

For a list of more performances or to hear their song “Blinkin’ Lincoln,” check out Dan River Drifters on Facebook.


Several raceways were completely submerged in water, hundreds of thousands of trout laid dead on the ground, and the national trout hatchery in Cherokee lost nearly two-thirds of its stock. That was the picture of the hatchery in Cherokee not even one year ago when heavy rains sent a 10-foot wall of water washed over it.

“It was bad. It was real bad,” said Robert Blankenship, manager of the Cherokee fish hatchery and stocking program. “It was devastating to the staff.”

Now, after less than a year, the hatchery is well on its way to recovery. Blankenship estimates that the hatchery will once again be self-sustaining, hatching and raising all its own trout, by late May.

The hatchery plays a critical role in Cherokee’s reputation as prized fishing grounds. The sheer number and size of the trout stocked in Cherokee’s streams and rivers have led to a successful and viable fishing tourism industry — one the tribe was determined to uphold even in the wake of the natural disaster.

During the flood, the hatchery lost more than $160,000 worth of trout and 16 to 18 inches of silt sat at the bottom of each raceway — the long, narrow pools where the trout live. Employees spent the first couple of months collecting the dead trout, scrapping mud, rocks and logs from the raceways and sorting the surviving fish by type and size. Then, it was time to start rebuilding its trout supply. Since it takes a year to raise a mid-sized trout, or two years to raise a trophy trout, the natural disaster could have had long-term repercussions, affecting the number of trout being stocked in Cherokee waters for some time.

Luckily, however, a cooperative arrangement with other nationally certified hatcheries entitled the Cherokee hatchery to any surplus fish or fish eggs that the others might have. Hatchery workers traveled across the U.S. gathering them.

Had it not received aid from other national hatcheries, the hatchery in Cherokee would have spent at least two years trying to regain its composure rather than 10 months.

“We’ve had a lot of support and assistance,” Blankenship said.

Eleven national hatcheries in Georgia, Tennessee, Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia have been crucial to the recovery.

He estimated that the hatchery has received more than 1.5 million trout and fish eggs from the other hatcheries.

“That is a major part of us trying to rebuild,” Blankenship said. “The more we can get, the more we can put in the river, the more it’s going to help out our program.”

The hatchery must constantly be birthing baby trout to replace the larger fish that it tosses into the river every day to maintain Cherokee’s status in the fishing world.

The tribe’s stocks 30 miles of river and stream on the reservation with 400,000 fish per year.

“For years, people have loved to come to Cherokee for vacation and enjoying the streams and rivers is a major part of their fun,” said Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “The fishing here in Cherokee is some of the best east of the Mississippi and as more people come here to fish the better our hotels, restaurants and other retail shops will do.”

The hatchery currently has about 2 million eggs and baby trout incubating in its smaller indoor raceways and about 800,000 in its larger outdoor raceway. However, six of the usually full raceways sit empty, and the hatchery will not be self-sustaining until next month.

The hatchery is receiving about $100,000 from a federal government relief program and Bureau of Indian Affairs to help with its recovery. A portion of the money will help the hatchery help prevent such a disaster from occurring again by reinforcing already existing water barriers and adding more or larger piping to allow more water to drain away from hatchery lands.

The changes will help “but you will never be able to control Mother Nature,” Blankenship said.

Before Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel, one of the tribe’s main attractions was trout fishing. The Oconaluftee River has 2.2 miles of water specifically devoted to catch-and-release, fly fishing and hosts numerous tournaments throughout the year.

And now that it has nearly recovered, the hatchery hopes to bring fishing to the forefront once again by keeping the river open year-round and using an electronic system to keep track of and issue fishing permits. Previously, anglers had to receive a handwritten permit each visit — a time-consuming task.

“We are trying to rebuild fishing here in Cherokee,” Blankenship said. “That’s our goal — to make it one of the best family trout fishing destinations.”

This year, the Oconaluftee River will be open year-round for the first time. While it only closed for three weeks each year, the hope is that the prospect of quality, year-round fishing will attract visitors who will then spend money at Cherokee’s various businesses.

“People’s got to buy gas. They got to buy snacks. They’ve got to have a place to stay,” Blankenship said.



• Cherokee's Summer Kickoff Trout Fishing Tournament: April 27, 28, & 29

• Meet Me in the Smokies Fly Fishing Tournament: May 18, 19 & 20

• US Junior National Fly Fishing Championships: June 22, 23 & 24

• Cherokee's Mid Summer Trout Fishing Tournament: July 13, 14 & 15

• Cherokee's End of Summer Trout Fishing Tournament: September 7, 8 & 9

• Rumble in the Rhododendron Fly Fishing Tournament: November 2, 3 & 4

• How long is your trout?

ongoing - Bring your trout to the Cherokee Welcome Center and have it measured for the weekly contest which will run from Saturday to Sunday. You must present a hotel or camping receipt to qualify for this contest.

The Catch & Release water is excluded.

For more information on these events, visit


In one week, enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will choose to either lift a historic ban on alcohol or maintain its dry status in a vote that has traditionally sparked fervor on both sides.

On April 12, enrolled members will head to the polls for the first time in two decades to vote on legalizing alcohol sales. But in the run-up to the election, the debate has remained surprisingly non-contentious compared to previous years when the alcohol issue has arisen.


The proponents

While an anti-alcohol movement is still present on the reservation, compared to previous years, its omnipotent voice has been less prominent this time around — signaling a possible philosophical shift among enrolled members.

In the past, a large majority of enrolled members fell on the opposing side — overwhelmingly rejecting a similar measure by a 3-to-1 margin two decades ago and in other years stopping a vote before it could even take place.

Simply having the opportunity to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ denotes “a remarkable change in culture,” said Don Rose, a retired business executive and former vice chair of the tribal ABC board.

“It will probably pass,” Rose said. “The people who I talk to are by and large for it.”

However, Rose admitted that those staunchly opposed to the referendum would be less inclined to talk to him since he has openly advocated for a ‘yes’ vote.

From his point-of-view, it won’t lead to an increase in drinking, Rose said. People who want alcohol now will find it no matter what — which usually means driving in to Bryson City — a fact that referendum supporters say leads to more drunken driving.

“I think people see the logic,” Rose said. “Prohibition does not work.”

If people are allowed to buy alcohol in Cherokee, many local residents will opt to drink in the safety of their home, supporters have said.

For years, various leaders in Cherokee have championed the idea of making the reservation a year-round destination for vacationers. However, business owners have said that destination status is unattainable without alcohol, and they have lost customers because the reservation is dry.

“The realization (is) that if we are going to be able to compete … then we have to provide the amenities that they expect to see,” Rose said.

If visitors can order a beer or glass of wine with their dinners out, then they will be more likely to stay and spend their money in Cherokee — giving the reservation an economic boost.

Revenue from the alcohol sales could also help pay for substance abuse education and prevention as well as a rehabilitation center for addicts. Plans for a rehab center have long been discussed, but no blueprints have ever been drawn up.

Rose is a member of a “vote yes” campaign committee, mostly comprised of Cherokee business owners, who have organized to advocate for the referendum’s approval. The group has taken out ads in newspapers and traveled around the reservation talking to enrolled members.

A few days before the vote, the committee will hold a phone bank reminding people to vote and asking them to approve the referendum.

And, even if the referendum is struck down, alcohol could still find its way to the Cherokee’s doorstep. Jackson County is voting on a similar measure during the May primary. If approved, an ABC store or gas stations selling beer could open up along the border of the reservation anyway, which lies partly in Jackson County.


The opponents

Enrolled members have a long history of opposing the sale of alcohol on the reservation. Many cite religious convictions and a trend of alcoholism among the Cherokee as reasons to continue its dry spell.

“I am definitely against it,” said Greg Morgan, pastor at Rock Springs Baptist Church in Cherokee. “It takes people’s lives downhill.”

Morgan said he has enough experience working with families affected by alcoholism to know that it does more harm than good. Money needed for food goes to booze instead. It leads to increased rates of domestic violence and causes people to act abnormally, from drunken driving to public intoxication.

Easier access to alcohol will only translate to more problems rather than greater control over the substance, Morgan said.

“I don’t think that anybody can control alcohol,” Morgan said.

And, any possible economic benefits of selling alcohol on the reservation would be negated by the harm it would cause enrolled members, Morgan said. An individual’s life is worth more than any money earned from the sales, and Cherokee can prosper without alcohol to boost its bottom line.

“The sellers are trying to make it like Cherokee is not going to survive without alcohol,” Morgan said.

Morgan accused supporters of using the allure of bigger casino disbursements to convince some enrolled members, particularly the youth, to vote “yes.”

Tribal members receive a cut of casino profits. If alcohol leads to an increase in tourism, that will in turn benefit the casino, and the twice-annual per cap checks will go up, so the argument goes. But, that doesn’t hold water, Morgan said.

A similar claim was made in 2009 when a majority of the tribe voted to allow alcohol sales only on the premise of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. However, per cap checks have yet to show the increases that were promised, said members of the anti-alcohol movement.

Although he has not dedicated any more time to preaching about the dangers of alcohol since tribal council approved the referendum, Morgan said he will spend some time reviewing what the Bible states about the hard stuff with his parishioners this week leading up to the vote.

“In the Bible, it says we should not drink,” Morgan said.

Although one Bible story says Jesus turned water into wine, Morgan said that the fruit of the vine, as it is referred to in the story, was not fermented, meaning the drink was more like a grape juice rather than an intoxicating wine.

He and other opponents of the referendum, including other religious leaders, have already posted signs outside of their churches and businesses asking people to vote ‘no.’ Yard signs reading say “no to greed” are also placed around the reservation.

As for the vote in neighboring Jackson County in May, Morgan said that it is not his business.

“That’s their prerogative,” Morgan said.


The long history

Until the ballots are counted on April 12, it is difficult to predict how members of the Eastern Band will vote on the alcohol referendum — an issue with a long, controversial history.

Here’s a brief look back:

• In 1992, a ballot measure to allow reservation-wide alcohol sales was defeated 1,532 to 601.

• In 1996, gaming commission director Patrick Lambert, requested tribal council members to consider holding another vote. However, an overwhelming amount of opposition forced tribal leaders to renege, and the vote was never held.

• In 2006, a similar series of events occurred when the idea was floated to allow alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino but not anywhere else on the reservation. Tribal council shied away from the issue, and a vote was never held.

• In 2009, a petition drive landed the issue on the ballot. A surprising majority — 59 percent of those who voted — agreed to allow alcohol sales at the casino only. Opponents characterized it as the first step toward reservation-wide alcohol sales — a prediction that may or may not come to fruition next week.

• In late October last year, tribal council agreed to put reservation-wide alcohol sales to a vote of the people.

But, the Rev. Noah Crowe convinced tribal council members to modify the referendum’s wording to let each of the six communities in Cherokee vote on the issue for themselves, allowing one community to approve it but others not.


Three Republican candidates are attempting to set themselves apart in the hope of winning the May primary and going head-to-head with N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp for his seat in the state House.

After three uncontested elections, Rapp will now face opposition from one of three Republican candidates in the November election. The popular Democrat has represented the 118th District — covering Madison and Yancey counties as well as the Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley areas in Haywood County — for 10 years.

All three Republican candidates subscribe to the main party lines in a few respects: pro-life, anti-gay marriage and cutting down state regulations on businesses. However, each has different degrees of experience and has one or two distinct issues that they are passionate about.

• Michele Presnell, 60, has served as Yancey County Commissioner for two years and owns Serendipity Custom Frames in Burnsville. She is also the wife of former state senator Keith Presnell and mother of three grown children.

Because of her time as a commissioner and the knowledge she gained about state government as a state senator’s wife, Presnell said she is most qualified candidate.

“I think I am the only one who can beat him (Rapp),” Presnell said.

A key goal of Presnell is to pass legislation, requiring residents to present some form of identification when voting. The measure will cut down on voter fraud in the state, Presnell said. Rapp voted against a bill that would have compelled voters to bring identification to the polls.

Presnell also spoke in favor of Amendment One, which would insert a clause in the state constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. There is already a state law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but Presnell said it is not enough, and the constitution must be changed.

“The problem is: you get a judge out here who is very liberal, and he can decide that he doesn’t like that, and he can change it,” Presnell said. “If we change our constitution, that makes all the difference in the world right there.”

• Jesse Sigmon, 63, is a retired field officer with the Department of Revenue and now works part-time at Builders Express in Mars Hill, where he currently resides. He and his wife have five children. Sigmon ran unsuccessfully for state office in 1998 and again in 2000.

Because of his experience enforcing tax regulations with the Department of Revenue, Sigmon said he is passionate about maintaining the state’s current tax levels. Increased taxes are turning the U.S. into a welfare state and “eroding our work ethic,” Sigmon said.

Sigmon listed his time in the construction business, working with small business and his knowledge of state tax regulations as key items that set him apart from his competition

“I know the tax code like I know my grandchild’s face,” he said.

Sigmon said Presnell’s limited experience as a county commissioner and Ben Keilman’s youth give him a leg up in the race.

During a Haywood County Republican Party event last week, Sigmon emphasized that the country was built on Judeo-Christian principles — something that state and federal leaders need to remember when making decisions.

“We’re a Christian nation, always have been, but our founding fathers recognized that we had to have religious tolerance for all religions, but we can’t swap ours for Mohamed,” Sigmon said. “Nations who don’t maintain a cultural heritage do not survive … ours is Judeo-Christian religion. Everybody else we tolerate.”

“You don’t think like Asians or Orientals or Mohamed. You think like a Western Civilization person, don’t you? All your friends do and we accept the other religions,” Sigmon said, echoing a theme that has become a standard talking point for him on the campaign trail.

• Ben Keilman, 23, is a Canton resident and Pisgah graduate. He recently graduated with a political science degree from the UNC- Chapel Hill, where he was active in College Republicans. Keilman currently works for his father at Asheville Cabinets.

Although he is the least experienced of the three candidates, Keilman said he is not the least qualified and should not be counted out because of his age.

“Teddy Roosevelt, if you recall, was 23 years old when he got elected to the Michigan state House of Representatives. He was actually the most active member, writing more bills — more conservative bills — than any other,” Keilman said.

Legislation that Keilman would like to work on if elected would allow North Carolinians to opt out of “Obamacare” and No Child Left Behind. States have the right to challenge such mandates, he said.

“The constitution is supposed to restrain the federal government through separation of powers and through the doctrine of enumerated rights,” Keilman said.

Rather than focus on his lack of professional political experience, Keilman commented that he has no experience as a corporation crony and is too young to be in the pocket of big business. And, when people talk about making the world better for their children, Keilman pointed out that he is one of those kids.

“If you want someone who is going to make sure that the (future) is good for your children, vote for me because I have to live with it for the next 70 or 80 years. This is my life,” he said.

Keilman said he is the most committed to the race and is out among the communities talking with constituents — two factors that he said would also help in the general election against Rapp.

“I am the one with the organization. I am the one with the ideas and the planning,” Keilman said. “I have the energy to actually get on the ground with my boots.”


Do I vote in this race?

Haywood County voters in Canton, Clyde, Bethel, Cruso, Fines Creek and Crabtree vote in this race. Most voters in the Ivy Hills precinct do, too, but part of Ivy Hills lies in another House district so your best bet is to call the Haywood County Board of Elections and ask them to check your address. As a rule of thumb, Maggie Valley proper and Jonathan Creek are in this House district but the Dellwood area is not.

You also vote in this race if you live anywhere in Madison or Yancey counties.


A sushi restaurant in Waynesville lost a protracted legal battle last month after accusing a neighboring nail salon of driving away its diners.

Saki Sushi claimed fumes from Tweety Nails hurt its bottom-line. Litigation dating back two years culminated in a nearly two-week jury trial in March, ultimately exonerating the nail parlor as the sushi joint could not prove that the smell negatively impacted the restaurant — or even that the nail salon was the origin of the smell.

“It’s a relief. It’s indescribable,” said Steve Nguyen, husband of Tweety, who owns Tweety’s Nails.

The two businesses leased storefronts next door to each other in the K-Mart strip mall on Russ Avenue.

Janet Green, owner of Saki Sushi, which had been there first, claimed “noxious odors and chemicals” began emanating from the nail salon shortly after it opened in fall 2009.

The court-filed complaint by Saki Sushi claimed that the smell interfered with Green’s ability to enjoy the property, among other charges, and sued the salon for as much as $60,000. The restaurant also sued its’ landlord.

But, Nguyen said he believes the lawsuit was retaliation. He and his wife at one time expressed an interest in buying Saki Sushi from Green.

Nguyen said that there is no smell in the building now that Saki Sushi has moved to a location on Howell Street.

On at least a couple of occasions, Green called the police about the smell, and on more than several occasions, she asked employees from the nearby Radio Shack to come into her restaurant and tell her if they smelled anything.

During the trial, at least one witness stated that he noticed a strong acrylic-like odor while in the restaurant. Another witness said her coworker couldn’t eat at Saki Sushi with her because he was sensitive to the smell.

However, the witnesses did not know when the smell started and could not definitely connect the stench to Tweety’s Nails.

One witness testified that the odor was considerably less noticeable and possibly different from the fetor wafting from Saki Sushi. Although Green consulted others about the smell, including the Waynesville police, “Mrs. Green admitted that she never even complained to Tweety about the smell,” said Mark Melrose, attorney for Tweety’s Nails.

All sides attempted to settle the issue through mediation but gave up on resolving their differences early last year. The case finally landed in court last week.

After hearing the evidence presented in the case, Judge Mark E. Powell dismissed all of Saki Sushi’s claims, except for its nuisance claim against the nail salon. Within 20 minutes, the jury returned with its verdict, Melrose said. The jury found no validity to the claim and did not award Saki Sushi any damages.

When considering a nuisance claim, Melrose said a jury must also decide if the business benefits the community.

“Every little thing that bothers you is not a lawsuit,” Melrose said.

For example, it would be extremely difficult to claim legally that the paper mill in Canton is a nuisance because is a crucial part of the town’s economy.

“If you ask people in Canton, they say it smells like jobs,” Melrose said.

Although the case is finally settled, Tweety’s Nails plans to sue Saki Sushi for the more than two years worth of court and attorney fees.


Visitors to Haywood County will have a fuller view of its mountain beauty this year after a locally funded project left some of the Blue Ridge Parkway vistas a bit barer.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority and Maggie Valley Lodging Association earmarked $19,500 to clear a portion of the county’s 73 vistas along the parkway. This is the first year that the tourism agency has taken it upon itself to help preserve the panoramic overlooks that permeate Haywood County.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of our treasures, our jewels,” said Susan Knapko, a member of the tourism board. “Grab you kids, your husband, a picnic, and come look at this.”

The TDA hired three workers, or fallers, in February to begin scaling back the overgrown trees enshrouding some of the county’s most popular and majestic views.

“This is our backyard right here,” said Joanne Martin of the Maggie Valley Lodging Association. “We felt it was a very wise investment.”

The association often directs visitors — a number of whom are motorcycle enthusiasts — to the parkway and its breathtaking views. Without the fallers, trees would shield those views.

While overlooks were a hallmark of the parkway when it was constructed, views have been obscured in the intervening the decades. The parkway hasn’t have enough money to properly clearing them every year, prompting action by the Haywood County tourism agency to take matters into its own hands.

Haywood County is home to more 6,000-foot peaks than anywhere else on the Eastern seaboard. Its section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is likewise the highest elevation stretch of the 469-mile scenic journey from Shenandoah in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains.

As of April 2, the trio had cleared 23 vistas in Haywood County and hoped to clear at least a few more by the end of the week, when their contract with the county expires and their work for the Blue Ridge Parkway starts.

“It’s really a good investment by the community helping us keep our views cleared,” said Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. “People come to the parkway over and over, and they notice the difference.”

Francis added that he hears complaints about the overgrown trees that crop up and inhibit visitors’ ability to enjoy particular sights.

“As the parkway has gotten older and the trees have gotten taller, it has been a challenge to keep up with maintaining those views,” Francis said. “The plant material grows up too fast.”

The parkway has launched a campaign of its own to clear overlooks on a more regular schedule.

“Every three years is not what we would prefer. It’s what we can afford,” Francis said.

The three fallers will join the parkway’s payroll next Monday and continue clearing vistas throughout Western North Carolina until late September.

The Haywood County TDA money “allowed us to get a head start,” said Chris Ulrey, one of the fallers.

The Blue Ridge Parkway also contracts seven other people to clear some of the roads more than 100 vistas in North Carolina. The contract is $235,000.


A light touch

Clearing clutter from the vistas’ views is not as simple as it may sound. Workers must be deliberate in which trees to cut down and consider the wildlife that lives in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The fallers must first survey each vista and see which trees they should cut and which they should prune. They descend the steep slopes down from the overlooks and use chain saws to either trim limbs or hew a tree. If possible, the workers get the tree to fall downhill. The trees then become home to some forest critters and deposit nutrients in the ground as they decay.

While workers used to clear all the trees blocking people’s view, fallers now leave a tree or two here and there for the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, an animal found only in the Southern Appalachians. The squirrel travels by gliding from tree to tree so workers now leave some still standing to preserve the species’ habitat.

Although the workers will conclude their stint for Haywood County Friday, some earmarked funds remain unused. It is unknown how much of the $19,500 was spent, said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA. But, the leftover money will allow the TDA to rehire the three fallers to trim and cut down trees for a few weeks in October before the weather typically becomes too harsh, she said.

The TDA board debated whether it would be a good idea to keep the fallers working into October, a high point in the tourist season. However, members decided that visitors would likely enjoy seeing a picturesque view open up before them as the workers lop down trees.

“It is so exciting to actually watch these guys go down the mountain sides with chain saws,” Knapko said. “The crew themselves have been so thrilled.”

The tourism board plans to continue the vista project after this year. At a recent meeting, board members discussed finding donors to sponsor the work and possibly allocating a set amount of tourism dollars to the project each year.


Things weren’t looking good. After five days of searching and zero clues, a massive search for a missing man in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was at a critical juncture.

“Let’s try to make another hard push for this guy today,” Joe Ponds, a supervisory park ranger, told a group of about 60 search-and-rescuers gathered near a makeshift command center last Thursday morning, March 22.

Searchers were upbeat that today would be the day — the day they would get a break in the search, that they would find their guy or at the very least, a sign that he was still out there.

Marching orders were clear. Check all natural or manmade shelters. Talk to anyone and everyone they saw. Keep their eyes peeled for any leads — such as a reported sighting or a Camel Crush cigarette butt, the brand Derek Lueking smoked.

Following the daily pep talk, nearly three dozen searchers split into 14 teams to begin the sixth day of combing through the densely forested national park where Lueking, 24, of Louisville, Tenn., disappeared that previous Saturday morning.

Hope was still alive that Lueking would be found. The unseasonably warm weather has given him a better chance at survival than typically afforded lost hikers this time of year.

SEE ALSO: Motives of missing man remain a mystery

But, one cannot ignore the fact that by day six, most lost hikers would have already been found. Searchers believed Lueking was ill prepared for an extended trip into the woods, taking nothing more than a daypack with him.

At this point, about 90 percent of missing hiker cases have resolved themselves — either the search team finds the person or they emerge from the woods on their own, said Bob Miller, a spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

There is no set number of days, however, when search crews decide it’s time to pull the plug. As long as there are leads, the park rangers would keep at it.

The search employed both human and dog trackers. The human trackers look for broken branches, footprints or any other signs that indicate that someone had recently traveled through the area.

The rangers gave the dog trackers a whiff of Lueking’s clothing at the start of every day to ingrain them with his scent, which the canines attempted to ferret out in the woods.

But ultimately, the search would be called off the next day, with Lueking still missing.

“It is very disheartening for the searchers to work so hard for so long to find a missing individual without success,” said Dale Ditmanson, superintendent at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As of Friday afternoon, March 23, searchers had not found a single clue, beyond Lueking’s vehicle, that it could conclusively tie to the missing man.

“Without clues, you are just kind of searching in the woods,” said Molly Schroer, a spokeswoman for the park.


Going off-trail

Contrary to searches dramatized on television, rangers don’t walk side-by-side in a chain calling the missing person’s name. They have a deliberate road map for how and where they will look.

In most cases, people lost in the woods stay on the trail. It is only a matter of time before park rangers catch up to them, or they find their way to a trailhead.

During the Lueking search, teams hiked about 55 miles of trails that radiate from Newfound Gap, including parts of the Appalachian Trail. Once they checked all the obvious places, the search moved off-trail — making it trickier and more difficult.

Finding a person in a wilderness of half a million acres, steep slopes, thick ravines and rugged rock outcrops is like trying to find a needle in haystack.

The searchers look for “places where it would be appealing to get off-trail,” Miller said. When they see one of those alluring spots, the hikers walk “until it becomes really unpleasant” or rather, reach an area where no human could safely traverse.

As they travel each unmarked route, the rangers denote it on a GIS-based map so the other teams don’t waste time surveying the same area. The maps of where they have been and where they still need to go allow the teams to systematically search the dense forest and ensure that they are doing their best to locate a missing person.

And, rain or shine, the manhunt continues until all the clues dry up. But, even after an official search concludes, rangers will still keep an eye out.

“You never really give up,” Miller said. “People are pretty resourceful.”

SEE ALSO: Macon familiar with missing hiker searches

When a search is in full swing, the search teams convene every morning at 8 a.m. sharp to review a game plan for the day. Operations are coordinated from makeshift command post set-up at the trailhead where the person was last seen — in this case, the Newfound Gap parking lot on U.S. 441.

In addition to personnel from the national park, searchers from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherokee Tribal EMS and the North Carolina and South Carolina search and rescue dog associations, among others, joined the hunt for Lueking. The North Carolina and Tennessee highway patrols offered helicopter services for several days at no cost to the national park service.

Every day, rangers survey maps to see what areas they have covered and which they haven’t. Tasks are numbered in order of importance and slowly whittled down during the day and in some cases, added to as searchers uncover possible clues.

“Each day, you look at the intelligence and the personal information that the family and others might provide on his behavior,” Miller said.

What land is traversed is just as important to the search as what areas are not. Some parts of the national park are too unpleasant for anyone to hike and get eliminated as a possible route of the missing person.

“You are not searching 90 percent of the land in this situation,” Miller said.

Still, the remaining thousands of acres of wilderness are daunting enough. Given the terrain, a voice hollering for help carries a quarter-mile at best. If the missing person is unconscious, hurt or unable to call for help, it takes a lot of instinct and some luck to stagger upon someone in the vast Smokies.

Each new day gives park rangers an opportunity to follow up on leads that they did not get to the previous day because they had other duties to fulfill. On occasion, rangers will report back a fresh lead or dog hit, when a canine latches on to a scent.

Leaders at the command center will decide if a lead is strong enough to be investigated immediately. In those cases, a group of unassigned rangers will “hot foot” it out to the site of the clue and follow it until it leads to another clue or goes cold, Miller said.

During the Lueking search, a helicopter spotted a tarp near Deep Creek, and a team was quickly dispatched to check it out. But, the equipment looked as if it had been in place for a long time, and there were no signs linking it to Lueking.

If a clue is found, searchers must then put themselves into the lost individual’s boots.

“Where would I go?” Miller said. “A lot of it goes down to looking at the terrain.”

An elderly man is most likely going to travel downhill, taking the path of least resistance, rather battle his way through brush and thicket uphill, the route a younger hiker would likely choose.

“A 14-year-old boy is more likely to bushwhack straight up hill rather than a 60-year-old man,” Miller said.

During the Thursday morning briefing, each speaker emphasized two things — their gratitude to all the searchers and safety first.

“The very first priority in this search is the safety of your searchers,” Miller said.

Everyone was encouraged to partner with someone whom he or she would be responsible for keeping tabs on during the day.

After a full day of hiking without results, the teams return to home base, in this case Newfound Gap, between 5:30 and 6 p.m. The search parties, tired and ragged, are debriefed while the day’s events are still fresh in their minds.

“The result of one day’s activities is the foundation of the next day’s search plans,” Miller said.


One of many searches

The national park conducts anywhere from 80 to 100 searches each year — most of which end happily.

It is unknown how much money was spent searching for Lueking, but $25,000 to $50,000 is not uncommon, Miller said. A three-day, 300-person search for a South Florida boy nearly a decade ago cost $300,000.

Each national park has money set aside for such operations. However, once the cost exceeds $500 per searcher, the park kicks its future costs up the chain to its regional office in Atlanta. For particularly expensive and extensive searches, the Atlanta office will pass costs to a contingency fund dedicated especially for search and rescue operations that can be tapped by any of the U.S. national parks.

The search for Lueking is larger than the average search conducted by the park. A search of this scale only comes around once every three years or so, Miller said.

About 45 national park employees played a part in the Lueking search, along with roughly 15 volunteers. Most of the volunteers spent their time passing out flyers and talking to hikers emerging from or entering trailheads. Volunteers do not usually have the experience required to hike off-trail, which is unmarked, heavily thicketed and sometimes treacherous.

Nearly a decade ago, a 6-year-old boy from South Florida was walking to Clingmans Dome with his family. When he walked off, his family initially assumed that the child was answering the call of nature. But, when he did not return soon after, the park rangers issued an alert and quickly began looking high and low for him.

During the three-day search, some sheriff deputies from South Florida came up to North Carolina to help. Although all the men were strong and fit, they did not last more than an hour on the trails before returning to the command center. Hiking takes a different kind of strength that the deputies did not have had.

“You can’t just take anybody who comes in off the street,” Miller said.

Turns out the young boy had hiked more than 10 miles on the nearby Appalachian Trail before wandering off trail. He was found three days later eating blueberries and drinking water from a stream.


It’s probably not the view sightseers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were expecting last week when they pulled into the park’s most popular overlook at Newfound Gap, a 5,000-foot mountain pass traversed by the main road through the park.

Instead of the standard photo-op of sweeping vistas and endless ridgelines, visitors were greeted by a blue minivan, decorated with “Find Derek” signs, pictures of a missing son and his teddy bear sporting a plaid and red bowtie.

The family of Derek Joseph Lueking spent their days last week pressing flyers with his photo into the hands of anyone who would take them. They were there all night sometimes, too, looking out at the mountains for the glimmer of a small campfire that just might belong to Lueking. In particular, they pleaded with anyone setting out on the trails to be on the lookout.

“We tackle the hikers,” said Tim Lueking, Derek’s father.

Every hiker is another set of eyes — another person looking for his missing son, Tim said. Some of the hikers emerging from the trailheads caused them to do a double take, for a half second thinking, wishing, it could be Lueking.

Lueking, a 24-year-old from Louisville, Tenn., isn’t your typical lost hiker. Most search and rescue missions are launched after a hiker fails to come home after a day in the woods or doesn’t show up at the appointed hour after a camping trip.

But, Lueking went missing before he ever set foot in the park. His family grew worried when he didn’t show up for work and stopped returning their phone calls.

“They had been trying to find him. He had not been acting in a normal way,” said Molly Schroer, a spokeswoman for the park.

SEE ALSO: Macon familiar with missing hiker searches

Two days passed before his parents discovered he was staying at a hotel in Cherokee. Concerned, they set out for Cherokee in hopes of finding him, but they arrived too late.

He had checked out at 4 a.m. the morning of Saturday, March 17. He was last seen on the hotel surveillance cameras with a daypack.

On the drive back toward Tennessee, his family spied his white Ford Escape in the Newfound Gap parking lot and convinced rangers to launch a search immediately.

Park rangers questioned park visitors and hikers in the area about Lueking to no avail. And, the search teams traversed more than 50 miles of trail radiating from Newfound Gap during the first two days before moving the search off-trail.


Needle in a haystack

The most “disturbing” thing about Lueking’s disappearance is that no one they talked to Saturday had seen him, said Bob Miller, a spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

“There was a ton of people in the park that day. It was a nice day,” Miller said. “Does it mean he got off the trail right away? Maybe.”

Had he been on the trails, someone, somewhere would have seen him. But, off-trail is another story. Once off-trail, only the most experienced outdoorsmen can successfully navigate the Smokies’ half-million acres of wilderness, steep terrain and dense forests. Lueking, by all accounts, was not in this category.

Going off-trail not only increased Lueking’s chance of getting lost or injured but decreased his chance of being found.

Rangers are not sure what gear Lueking had with him beyond the generic term “daypack.”

“It’s whatever you put in it,” Miller said.

SEE ALSO: Anatomy of a Smokies search

What the park does know is what Lueking did not have on him — a tent, sleeping bag, his wallet, cash and other newly purchased backcountry gear found in his vehicle at in the parking lot at Newfound Gap.

Lueking would sometimes go on day hikes but rarely went out for several days at a time and was not adequately prepared for such an endeavor when he left the Newfound Gap parking lot Saturday morning.

“We would have felt better if he had bought all this gear and brought it with him,” Miller said. “In this case, he made preparations, but he didn’t follow through.”

If that weren’t puzzling enough, Lueking also left a message in his car that read: Don’t try to follow me. The ambiguous note still left park leaders wondering what Lueking was thinking when he wandered into the forest.

“He could have been going just to clear his mind. He could have been going with an intention to harm himself,” Schroer said.

The family told park rangers that the date of his disappearance fell around the one-year anniversary mark of the death of his grandfather whom he had been very close to — and one possible reason why he went missing.


Real-life wilderness reality show?

Lueking was also a fan of ‘Man v. Wild.’ In each show, host Bear Gryllis is dropped into the wilderness with limited resources and forced to survive on the land while finding his way back to civilization. It has been postulated that Lueking may have been in search of a similar experience.

“It opens up one more scenario,” Miller said. “If somebody’s trying to avoid you, they could do it.”

While most rangers dedicated to the search effort spent their days combing the trails, one of the rangers assigned to the search, Caitlin Worth, spent most of her time with the family, keeping their spirits up.

“Stay up beat; stay positive; keep talking to people,” Worth said Thursday of her advice to the Lueking family. “Stay positive until we tell you a reason not to be.”

One of the worst things for the family members to do is hang their hats on each tidbit of information, be it positive or negative.

“Don’t get on that roller coaster of the up and down,” Worth said.

Park rangers kept the Luekings informed of their actions — where they looked, what they found.

“They are looking hard. We really appreciate their efforts,” Tim said.

However, as time wears on, it’s difficult not to grow increasingly more concerned.

“As it gets longer, you get a little more worried,” Tim said.

After park leaders decided to scale back the search Friday afternoon, the Lueking family, with help from more than 25 civilian volunteers, continued looking for two more days.

“It just doesn’t seem to be the case that he is not in the park,” Tim said Thursday. “We still think he’s here.”

Lueking is still missing.

He is 5-foot 11-inches tall and 220 pounds with short brown hair and a short beard. He has the Japanese symbols for ‘life’ tattooed on the left side of his chest and was last seen wearing black track pants, white tennis shoes and a shirt. Lueking was possibly carrying a Realtree camouflage rain gear suit.


Another day, another search

While the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was in the throws of a massive search for a missing man thought to have disappeared into the backcountry last week, news that a second person might be missing in the park had rangers carrying out two searches simultaneously.

The second man was not a hiker nor outdoorsman but was suspected of possibly being in the park after his car was left at a parking area for two days.

Michael Giovanni Cocchini, 23, of Nashville, had been staying in Gatlinburg and was last seen by friends at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 18, at the Walmart in Sevierville. His car was first noticed by rangers at a parking area near the park visitor center outside Gatlinburg that same day. No long-distance hiking trails leave from the parking lot, and Cocchini is not known to be a hiker and had no gear for hiking or overnight camping.

So when his car was still in the same spot two days later, rangers initiated a search. He is 6 feet tall, weighs 160 pounds, and has short black hair and a scruffy beard. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt and gray or silver tennis shoes with blue stripes. Although he was reportedly sighted in Gatlinburg, it is still unknown if he did in fact walk or hitchhike back to Gatlinburg.


After nearly six months of searching nationwide, Waynesville found a new town manager close to home from the town of Black Mountain.

Marcia “Marcy” Onieal recently inked a contract with town leaders to become Waynesville’s new town manager, the first female to hold the job.

“I hope that I will be a good fit with the community,” said Onieal, who listed her past experience in local government and her familiarity with mountain culture as strengths that she brings to the position.

She beat out more than 60 other applicants in a lengthy and comprehensive search to replace Lee Galloway, an admired and respected town manager who has led the town for the past 17 years.

Onieal had been the town manager of Black Mountain — a town very similar to Waynesville — since 2008.

Black Mountain and Waynesville are both quaint towns with progressive feels, sporting vibrant and picturesque downtowns. Both have a healthy tourist trade, without being strictly “tourist-towns.” Black Mountain’s population is 7,800 year-round residents compared to Waynesville’s 9,900. Both are also home to a large community of retirees.

“I like the small town character,” Onieal said.

Onieal said she was attracted to Waynesville because it is a progressive and well-managed town.

“I am so pleased to be coming into an organization that has been so well managed,” she said. “Not every town has a vision, and this town does.”

The Waynesville’s location will also allow her to indulge in some of her favorite activities.

“I love to hike and ski,” Onieal said. And “I’ve always been into art in some way.”

Onieal and her husband James Lamm, an architect and engineer, live on a small farm in Madison County where they care for three rescue horses. When Onieal became town manager of Black Mountain, she was not required to live within the town limits so she decided to rent a condo there and keep her farm.

However, the couple now plans to sell the farm, find the horses a new home and settle down in Waynesville.

As of yet, she has not had much time to see Waynesville’s sights since most of her time in town has been spend house hunting. However, that will quickly change when she assumes her new roles.

Onieal resigned as the town manager of Black Mountain in December, following a change in the make-up of the town board there in last fall’s election.

Although the search process spanned nearly six months and required applicants to undergo intense review, the time between Onieal signing the contract last week and her start date is fleeting. Her first day is March 29.

Onieal will earn $102,000 initially. In October, she will receive a 5 percent raise — bringing her annual salary to $107,100. Thereafter, Onieal will obtain raises equal to those of other town employees. Current town manager Lee Galloway earns $114,091 a year.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen took time Wednesday after announcing her appointment to praise and congratulate Onieal.

“She will be an asset in the community,” said Mayor Gavin Brown.

The newest Waynesville alderwoman, Julia Freeman, agreed, saying she is confident that Onieal will do a great job.

“We look forward to your new ideas,” Freeman said.

Onieal will replace Lee Galloway, who has served as town manager for about 17 years.

“It’s a joy to walk in behind someone who has done such a great job,” Onieal said. “I am looking forward to every single day I walk through the door.”

During Wednesday’s announcement, town leaders thanked Galloway for his many years of service.

“We were very fortunate. Lee (Galloway) has been outstanding as everyone knows,” said Alderman LeRoy Roberson.

Although he is anxious to begin his retirement, Galloway will continue to work for the town until the end of June.

“I don’t feel like I will be left hanging,” Onieal said. “I am grateful that Lee will be around.”

During the next few months, he will help finish next year’s budget and start passing on some his vast institutional knowledge to Onieal.

“My first weeks on the job will be a whole lot of listening, learning and meeting people,” Onieal said. “I have a natural interest the history of the town itself.”

Once she settles into her new position as town manager, Onieal said one of her main focuses will be economic development. And, although the goal is to bring new businesses to town, Onieal said the integrity of the town’s appearance should not be sacrificed for the sake of progress.

And, although he will no longer work for the town, Galloway does not plan on becoming a stranger.

Galloway said he is excited to retire and plans to take six months off to relax and enjoy retirement. He also plans to be an active volunteer, possibly working on trail maintenance, or with Habitat for Humanity or the Red Cross.

“Personally, I’d like to learn more about photography and read more,” Galloway said.

Eventually, he plans to work part-time as an interim town manager for destinations that are in between managers. But, Galloway said he will continue to live in Waynesville.

“Why would I go somewhere else?” Galloway said. “It’s a great community so I’ll be around.”


Onieal’s resume

A Tennessee native, Marcy Onieal moved to Asheville at age 13 when her father, a vice president at American Enka Corporation, was transferred there. Onieal has lived in Western North Carolina ever since.

A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate, Onieal earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration. She was a Morehead and National Merit scholar. Upon graduation in 1992, Onieal became assistant town manager in Wilson, N.C. She left that position in 1999 to become a partner at Design Group Associates, a family-owned design and consulting firm.

She is also heavily involved in civic and volunteer organizations, including the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Girl Scouts of WNC, the Black Mountain Emergency Homeless Shelter, Rotary International and Buncombe County Rape Crisis Center, among others.


Gov. Bev Perdue and leaders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have headed back to their respective sides of the negotiating tables to tweak the landmark agreement that would permit table games, real cards and live dealers at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.

The agreement would give the state a cut of gaming revenue in exchange for a promise of exclusivity, namely a pledge that the state wouldn’t allow any other casinos in the immediate region. The agreement is now being tweaked in hopes of satisfying legislators in the General Assembly who have yet to sign off on the deal since it was inked by the tribe and Perdue last November.

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been working diligently with the governor and the General Assembly on a new compact that will allow for live dealers at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino,” said Chief Michell Hicks in a statement. “We hope to have the new compact approved soon and be ready to take this important issue in front of the North Carolina General Assembly in the upcoming short session.”

It is still unclear exactly what portions of the compact the tribe and Perdue are hoping to renegotiate. Republican leaders in the General Assembly and Perdue had previously disagreed on whether the revenue the state collects from the tribe should go into a dedicated fund for education, as Perdue wanted, or into the general budget, which Republican legislators wanted.

The deal struck between the tribe and Perdue was the product of years of lobbying and negotiating. The clock is now ticking to get it finalized given Perdue’s announcement that she will not be seeking another term.

The tribe and governor’s office seem confident an agreement will be reached soon and the deal will get the necessarly rubber stamp from the General Assembly.

“We’ve got 10 months and an entire legislative session yet to go,” said Mark Johnson, a press officer for Perdue, in an email.

It is unclear whether the tribe would have to start back over at Square One if a new governor came into office before the agreement is finalized by the General Assembly.

Techincally, the compact already signed between the governor and the tribe is good for 30 years. Even if the General Assembly doesn’t approve it this year, it could still do so next year, or the next year, without the agreement going back to the new governor’s desk for approval.

But, a new governor could gum up the works if he wanted to, by vetoing it after the General Assmebly passes — making getting it passed before Perdue leaves office the safest bet for the tribe.

Hicks has spent his eight years in office working toward a deal, which would mean hundreds of new jobs, thousands of new tourists and millions dollars more flowing through Western North Carolina.

“If approved, this will bring more than 400 jobs to the boundary and help to create additional revenue for the casino, which will result in a positive impact not only for the Eastern Band but also for the state of North Carolina,” Hicks said.

Meanwhile, casino management is getting its ducks in a row so it will be ready to roll out live dealers if and when the General Assembly gives its blessing.

“We are looking at the many, many things that would have to happen if that is passed,” said Brooks Robinson, general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee. “We aren’t pulling too many triggers on it but we are monitoring the situation.”

The Eastern Band and Perdue initially signed a compact in late November. They had hoped the General Assembly would vote on the issue before it took its winter recess. But, Republican leaders rebuked the idea, saying they did not have adequate time to review the agreement before the break.

According to the November version of the compact, Cherokee will give the state 4 percent of gross revenue off new table games for the first five years, 5 percent for the next five, 6 percent for the next five, 7 percent for the next five and 8 percent for the final 10 years of the 30-year gaming compact.

Perdue wants the money to be placed in a trust fund and funneled directly to public education in K-12 classrooms across the state based on student population. GOP party leadership, however, wants the money to go directly into the state’s general fund with no special strings attached.

In return, the tribe would be allowed add live gaming and receive exclusive gaming territory west of I-26 in Asheville. The tribe wanted a larger swath of exclusive territory, but the state would not yield.

The tribe has reaped about $226 million a year off the casino recently. Half funds tribal government — from education to housing to health care — while half goes to tribe members in the form of per capita payments.

— Staff writer Becky Johnson contributed to this story


Ghost Town in the Sky owner Alaska Presley has recruited singer and longtime friend Stella Parton to help her draw tourists to Maggie Valley.

Presley spoke to the town’s Board of Aldermen last week about the idea of hosting at least a couple of concert events this year in the parking lot of Ghost Town, an amusement park that was once kept the pace of the valley’s economic heartbeat. The park was closed for two years after going into bankruptcy. However, Presley has purchased the property and promised to restore it to its former glory.

Parton, sister of the famed Dolly Parton, was on hand to introduce herself to the new town leaders and speak a bit more about the possible event.

Although it is too late in the year to plan a Memorial Day event, Parton said she wants to host concert events, tentatively titled Pickin’ in the Parking Lot, around July 4th and Labor Day Weekend.

“It will be almost like a weekend festival,” Parton said.

Friday would feature bluegrass bands; Saturday would showcase country singers, including Parton herself; and Sunday would be reserved for gospel music. Each day would spotlight “local flavor as well as a headliner.”

Parton, who has roots in Haywood County, told the town aldermen and those in attendance that she is not an investor but simply someone who wants to help Presley and help the valley.

“We are going to bring people into the valley,” Presley said. “Ghost Town will go. I have no doubt.”

Presley also stated that she was grateful for the advice and kind words she has received from Maggie Valley residents since she purchased Ghost Town.

“This is the first time in so many years that I’ve seen the valley come together,” Presley said.

And, despite a couple snags in her plans, Presley is still confident that parts of Ghost Town will be open and running smoothly come summer. Topping the to-do list is getting the rides up and running, including a chairlift that takes tourists from the valley floor to the mountaintop theme park. If and when Ghost Town opens this year, the chair lift will be the sole mode of transportation up the mountain.

“The chair lift won’t take very much (to repair),” Presley said, estimating that it will cost about $30,000 to “perfect it.”

Although she originally thought that incline railway could be repaired by summer, Presley did not officially own the amusement park until the end of last month, which kept her from starting repairs earlier. When state inspectors came to tour Ghost Town a couple weeks ago, they advised Presley to hold off on the incline repairs until the end of tourism season this year, saying it would likely not be fully functional until late in the season.

By forgoing the incline repairs, Presley can focus more time on other important obstacles — such powering the mountain and fixing the water system.

After being stiffed an unknown amount of money by the previous owners, the electrical power company that serves Ghost Town said it would not restore electrical services to the mountain unless Presley shells out $30,000 before Aug. 1. And, after paying $20,000 for a new water pump to push the essential liquid up the steep mountain slopes, the municipal water district told Presley that her best opinion might be to dig wells, which could provide aqua to the amusement park.

On the sunny side, Presley is currently on the look out for someone to construct a zipline, one of several attractions she hopes to open this year.


When a two-day partying and gambling binge left five Atlantans broke and out of drugs, a mission to replenish their stash and an off-kilter moral compass triggered a deadly and chaotic sequence of events — one that culminated in a home invasion and the execution-style murder of two Swain County residents.

A rash decision to leave Atlanta in the middle of the night to hit Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, eventually running out of money to get back home, a chance meeting in a Walmart parking lot with local boys — had the deck been stacked differently leading up to the ill-concocted robbery, the chips may not have fallen like they did.

Since the murders three years ago, exactly what played out on that fateful night has been a mystery, known only to detectives, the young Atlanta thugs and the two murder victims, Scott Wiggins, 33, and Heath Compton, 34.

That changed this month, when one of the suspects was brought to trial in Swain County, offering the first public dissection of the fatal course of events.

Of the six suspects charged in the murders, three had pleaded guilty. Another committed suicide in jail. The last two had held out, denying their involvement and claiming to be mere bystanders.

One of those, Tiffany Marion, 29, was on trial for three weeks, ending with a guilty verdict Monday. (see related article.)

The following account is a combination of testimony that played out in court in recent weeks. The story begins with two friends, Tiffany Marion and Jada McCutcheon, on their porch in Atlanta just before climbing in a van for a joy ride with friends.

Both Marion and McCutcheon, who was 19 at the time, met attending the Everest Institute in Georgia for massage therapy.

While smoking cigarettes outside McCutcheon’s apartment one night, her then-fiancée Jason Johnson pulled up in a gold mini-van and the two girls hopped in. Marion was introduced for the first time to Jeffrey Miles, who would later become the chief perpetrator and triggerman in the murders.

McCutcheon called Miles ‘papa’ because he cared for her. She said she would do anything he told her to.

After cruising around the Atlanta-area smoking weed and taking ecstasy, Miles suggested that they go to a casino, Marion said.

It was well after midnight when McCutcheon, her boyfriend Johnson, Miles and the recently introduced Marion, and a fifth guy known as Freak set out on the more than 150-mile trip to North Carolina — a drive that Miles apparently had made many times before.

During her testimony, Marion said she agreed to go to a casino but did not know that the group was referencing Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Cherokee.

“I thought it would be fun,” Marion said. “They never mentioned what casino or where.”

The decision was rash judging by what Marion brought on the trip — nothing but a small Coach purse. Before leaving Georgia, the group had not made plans to stay in North Carolina overnight.

Marion and Miles entered Harrah’s Casino just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to a time-stamped security tape. Marion was sporting a white shirt, white skirt and once inside the casino, donned Miles’ black jacket. Miles was similarly dressed in a white t-shirt, white basketball shorts and a black and red baseball cap. The video showed the two sitting at a Blackjack table.

SEE ALSO: Murder victims' family faces daily struggle to cope

Although Marion said she did not know how much Miles won, it was in the thousands because he gave her a $1,000 chip, which she promptly cashed in.

“He said it was mine. ‘This is yours to keep,’” Marion said.

Miles’ winnings totaled about $2,700, according to the casino’s records. A female worker at the casino approached Miles and spoke to him as if she recognized him, Marion said. She told Miles that he had played enough to earn a three-night stay in one of rooms in Harrah’s Hotel — room 942.

By this time, the rest of the group — McCutcheon, Johnson and Freak who were not old enough to enter the casino — had rented a room across the road at the Days Inn where they stayed that night. Marion and Miles took advantage of the free hotel room offered at Harrah’s. Miles repeatedly returned to the casino to gamble. And, at one point, he lost what money he had won and asked Marion for the $1,000 he had given her.

Marion had stated in a previous interview with law enforcement officials that Miles and she were never intimate. However, on the stand, Marion said that she and Miles had sex in the room two or three times Tuesday and Tuesday night.

At some point the next day, Johnson, McCutcheon and Freak all packed into the complimentary room Miles had at Harrah’s, where the “chilled,” watched TV, took ecstasy and smoked marijuana.

By Thursday, their second day in Cherokee, the money and drugs started to run out. That day, “the guys were in and out,” McCutcheon said.

Some time Thursday, Johnson and Miles drove to Walmart in Sylva and scouted the parking lot, eventually encountering two local boys, Mark Goolsby and Dean Mangold. Exactly what Johnson and Miles told them isn’t clear, but there was some talk of drugs, and later that night Mangold would eventually lead them to Wiggins’ house where the hit went down.

When Miles and Johnson showed back up at Harrah’s, the two white boys were with them and joined the party. Marion and McCutcheon said they had never seen the two boys before and did not even know their names until after the crime took place. McCutcheon simply referred to them as “the white boys” most of the time.

“They seemed like they were cool, whatever,” McCutcheon said.

Goolsby and Mangold hung out in the hotel room with the five Atlantans, partaking in the ecstasy and marijuana.


Ill-conceived robbery

While in the hotel room, the group talked about “hitting a lick,” which means “to go to somebody’s house and take their shit,” McCutcheon said.

One of the white boys told them about a good house to rob, she said. It was about 20 minutes away, heading out of Cherokee and into rural Swain County, down a windy country lane and then a gravel road where Wiggins’ house was set in the woods.

That is when everyone, the two white boys and the Atlanta crew with the exception of the boy known as Freak, piled into the van and left the hotel for Wiggins’ home.

Taking direction from one of the white boys, Miles stopped the van in a wooded area a short distance from the house but well screened from anyone who might be inside. It was a well thought-out move, as the house was equipped with a closed-circuit security camera, a live feed trained on the driveway.

Miles grabbed and loaded a sawed off shotgun from the van, and Johnson had an unloaded gun that McCutcheon said looked like a machine gun. They then huddled around the van and planned out how the robbery would go down, exactly who would do what once they got inside, before heading up the hill to the house with their guns and empty black duffel bags in hand.


Grab and go

McCutcheon, Johnson, Miles and Mangold walk up to the house while Marion and Goolsby stayed in the van. However, Mangold stopped before they reached the house, McCutcheon said. Either Johnson or Miles kicked in the front door to the house. Then, pointing their guns at Wiggins and Compton, the invaders corralled them in an office-type room. Compton was shoved into a recliner-like chair, and Wiggins was told to lay face down on the floor.

“We don’t want no problems,” McCutcheon said, recalling the victims’ words.

McCutcheon said her job was then to collect anything valuable. She began grabbing items and putting them into the black duffel bags that they had brought with them. While in the other room, McCutcheon said, she heard what she thought was a shot and returned to the room where her accomplices were holding Compton and Wiggins, only to find Compton still seated in the chair with a bullet hole in his forehead.

“He (Miles) felt like he had to do it,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon once again began gathering valuables from throughout the house, including guns, ammunition, a flat screen TV and cash, and tossing them into the bed of Wiggins’ white Ford truck in the driveway, which they also planned to steal.

It is somewhat unclear how long after Compton’s death Timothy Waldroup, who knew the victims, stumbled upon the scene. Waldroup, a drug addict, reportedly told his sister that he was going to Wiggins’ house to buy crystal meth. However, he soon found himself held captive as well. At some point, he was ushered into the bathroom and told to get in the tub.

While Miles watched over Wiggins and Waldroup, Johnson decided to sit in a black Ford truck in the driveway and make sure no one else disturbed them.

At some point, McCutcheon was outside packing the white truck with stolen goods, and she heard another shot. McCutcheon went back into and saw Wiggins with “a big ass, fucking hole in the back of his head,” she said.

Then, Miles handed her the sawed off shotgun that had killed both Compton and Wiggins and told her to watch Waldroup who was sitting in the tub while he finished up. Miles grabbed a silver pistol from the house, McCutcheon said, and when he returned from packing the truck, he shot at Waldroup three or four times as he remained in the tub.

Miles told McCutcheon to cover the house in flammable cleaning supplies so they could torch the house, she said. As she did so, Waldroup stumbled from the bathroom and fell into the aquarium in the living room. He pleaded with them not the burn Wiggins’ home, McCutcheon said.

At some point during the crime, the two local “white boys” Mangold and Goolsby ran away on foot. Marion walked up to the house, found Johnson sitting in the black truck and told him to hurry up, that the white boys had run off and they should all get out of there. Marion said she then went back to wait in the van.

Eventually, a calm McCutcheon returned to the van alone and told Marion that they needed to meet Miles and Johnson back at Harrah’s. Miles jacked the white truck with all the stolen goods and headed to the hotel. Johnson, meanwhile, drove away in the black truck but soon ditched it on the side of the road, perhaps due to mechanical problems.

That left Johnson on foot, not far from the scene of a deadly robbery, a black man from Atlanta in the nearly all-white countryside of Swain County.

He walked from house-to-house, knocking on neighbors’ doors asking to us the phone. One of the residents called the sheriff’s office to report the suspicious character and a deputy soon cruised by. He found Johnson walking down the road — but unaware of the crime that had just been committed, the deputy gave him a courtesy lift back to Cherokee.

When McCutcheon and Marion get back to Harrah’s, they pulled up alongside Miles. Marion jumped into the stolen truck he’s driving to ride back to Atlanta with him.

McCutcheon refused to leave without her fiancée Johnson, who had yet to make it back. McCutcheon went back up to the Harrah’s hotel room to wait, where Freak had stayed that night, and fell asleep. When she awoke, she found Johnson waiting in the lobby of Harrah’s. By 11 a.m. or earlier, the remaining three had left for home.

It wasn’t until 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning that the crime was discovered. One of Wiggins’ neighbors had spied Waldroup in a ditch along the road, slowly bleeding to death. Waldroup had managed to stagger from the living room to the road the night before, but hadn’t made it far before collapsing. Police arrived at the scene and soon realized that Wiggins and Compton were murdered.


Man hunt

At first blush, the case seemed cold. A robbery and murder with no leads. Except one: the out-of-towner who was given a lift to Harrah’s in Cherokee by a deputy in the early hours of the morning.  Shannon Ashe, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, was assigned to follow-up the lead.

Unfortunately for law enforcement officials, the maids had already cleaned the hotel room that the suspects stayed in — room 942. And, there was little to no evidence to be collected.

“With it being cleaned and everything, it looked pristine,” Ashe said. “There was nothing unusual found within Room 942.”

Luckily, the casino has state-of-the-art surveillance, and investigators quickly pieced together descriptions of their suspects.

Two days after the murders, police found the gold Honda van at an apartment complex in Decatur, Ga. Johnson was inside, but they knew he couldn’t have acted alone.

The next day investigators found Marion and McCutcheon in the living room of her apartment with a light tan Chihuahua in their lap that had belonged to the murdered Wiggins and Compton.

Also in the apartment were black trash bags of stolen goods from the robbery, including a Radio Shack scanner with Wiggins’ name written on the front, prescription pill bottles in either Wiggins’ or Compton’s name and a Visa card belonging to Wiggins.

Officials separated the two suspects and began asking questions, while others searched the bags that sat on the living room floor.

After about 45 minutes, they received information that fellow suspect Jeffrey Miles was only three miles away at a Wendy’s. They quickly concluded their search of the apartment, arrested Marion and McCutcheon, and left to apprehend Miles.


A long road to justice

It’s been three and a half years, but the prosecution and victims’ families have received little respite. The arrest of the players, a jailbreak, a trial, two suicides and three guilty pleas have punctuated the years.

• Waldroup survived despite being shot multiple times, and he quickly became the star witness for the prosecution. But, before the case came to trial, he died of a drug overdose, an apparent suicide, while being held in jail on unrelated charges.

• Miles briefly escaped from jail in Swain County thanks to an inside job. He befriended and wooed a female jailer, Anita Vestal, who helped him escape in March 2009. Swain County residents were on high alert keeping an eye out for the escaped murderer. The two made it all the way to California but were eventually caught after a month or so.

In late 2010, Miles pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping, attempted first-degree arson and escape. He received two consecutive life sentences followed by a minimum of 189 months.

• Mangold, one of the “white boys,” pleaded guilty to attempted murder, three counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. Mangold received a minimum of 12 years and 7 months.

• His compatriot Goolsby will be tried later this year and faces the following charges: two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, first-degree burglary, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and 9 counts of accessory after the fact.

• Johnson and McCutcheon were supposed to get married the Monday after they were arrested. But, instead, Johnson eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and attempted first-degree arson. He was given two consecutive life sentences and a minimum of 189 additional months.

• McCutcheon hanged herself in 2009 while awaiting trial in prison.

“Every time I close my eyes, I see two freaking dead people that somebody shot,” McCutcheon said.


To hear Diane Wiggins tell it, her little brother Scott Wiggins and little sister Christie Jones were spoiled, got away with everything and always caused trouble.

“It’s like they were always into something. I never got away with anything. You two got away with everything, especially Scott,” Diane said, sitting outside a Swain County courtroom with her sister last week.

The trip down memory lane was bittersweet. As they recalled good times from their childhood, they were haunted by the reality of what was playing out behind closed doors of the jury room. Wiggins was murdered, execution style, in a home invasion by thugs from Atlanta three years ago. As the two sisters reminisced, they were waiting for jurors to conclude a three-week trial and return with a verdict for one of the seven defendants allegedly involved in the robbery and shooting. They targeted his home because they believed he sold drugs.

When Scott was young, he threw rocks at his grandpa’s rooster, which retaliated by spurring him below the eye. But, he didn’t learn his lesson and ended up in the hospital after chucking rocks at a hornet’s nest.

Being 20 years his senior, Diane took on a more motherly role. She took her brother to basketball camp and took both her siblings to Disney World.

“I think I was more like a mother, “ Diane said. “I sent him to camp, and I did those sort of things with him.”

But, as he grew older, the relationship evolved into friendship. Diane even helped him build his house. In 1996, Scott built a home on the rural John Henderson Road on property that his father had given him. He asked Diane, who ran a cabinet business at the time, to build the cabinets for his new home and constantly called her for answers and advice.

“He about drove me nuts,” Diane said.

Christie Jones and Scott were only a few years apart and had the typical sibling love-hate relationship. But, when they weren’t fighting, they were thick as thieves. Jones described him as “funny,” “mischievous” and “adventurous.”

SEE ALSO: One night, two murders, three years ago: the untold story

She recalled the times they would cart around the house in their miniature, battery-operated toy cars, one right after the other. And, despite the age difference, their mother used to dress both Jones and Scott alike whenever they were supposed to have their pictures taken.

“We used to be treated like twins,” Jones said. “If one got something, the other got something,” even not so good things like the chicken pox.

Both were still young when their father, Dave Wiggins Jr., served as Swain County Sheriff.

“They grew up in the back of the sheriff’s car,” Diane said.

Scott played basketball and football for Swain County High School before graduating in 1991. He loved NASCAR races, Jimmy Buffett, camping and horseback riding. Scott also had, what some would consider, a rather strange love — vacuum cleaners. In fact, he loved it so much that as a child that his family bought him a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.

Although he wasn’t big on hunting, Scott collected guns, in addition to Native American baskets. In college, he studied criminal justice and radiology.

Scott held down several and varied jobs through out his life. At one point, he worked at Harris Regional Hospital and his father’s company, Wiggins Oil Co. While still working for his father, he began working in the excavation business and flipping houses.

He lived in his personalized home with Heath Compton, 34. The two were in a long-term relationship, said Compton’s mother Linda, Mcburney. However, Compton was planning to move back to Virginia Beach to live with his family.

Similar to Scott, Compton was also outgoing, Diane said. He came to Western North Carolina to work as a whitewater rafting guide and teach skiing and snowboarding lessons at Cataloochee resort. Like Scott, Compton also loved animals. Collectively, they had a couple of Chihuahuas and a number of Labradors. They also shared a love of water. He and Scott would hang out on Fontana Lake in Compton’s houseboat.

Diane chuckled recalling one of Compton’s favorite pastimes — sitting on the couch, snuggled under a blanket, watching the Lifetime Movie Network.

“Scott would get so mad at him” because they usually had other plans, Diane said.


Then everything changed

Jones was on her lunch break from work when she first heard that something might be amiss. A neighbor had picked up correspondence on the police scanner, and her husband Eric wanted to know if he should pick her up from work. Figuring that it was nothing, she declined his offer but called her daddy, the former county sheriff.

He was the one to relay the news — intruders had busted into Scott’s house, stolen items and murdered him and Compton. Jones was in shock, not able to comprehend how or why it happened.

Only adding to the heartache was that fact that she would have to be the one to tell her big sister, Diane, who was working at Lowe’s when she received the call.

“I about passed out,” Diane said, adding that she couldn’t drive she was fraught with emotion.

SEE ALSO: Woman convicted in Swain County Murders

Even now, she will find herself suddenly breaking down while driving, and she cringes anytime she sees a murder on the news, knowing what those families are going through.

“We are scarred,” Diane said, adding she sometimes wakes in the middle of the night.

When Scott was murdered, nearly everything changed — and not just emotionally for the Wiggins family. His dad was forced to shut down the oil business because there was no one to drive the truck and deliver the product to customers. And, Scott’s house was rented. Though, Diane said she considered living there herself.

“I sort of wanted to move in it,” Diane said. “I just feel like I am closer to him there.”


The three-week trial of Tiffany Marion for her role in the 2008 murders of two Swain County men ended with a guilty verdict this week, despite Marion’s claims of being a bystander along for the ride.

Marion, 28 of Decatur, Ga., was found guilty Monday of two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree burglary. She received to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, followed by another 278 months.

There were allegedly six involved in the murder — a foursome from Atlanta and two local boys who led them to the house of Scott Wiggins and Heath Compton. Three defendants pleaded guilty; a fourth committed suicide in jail. The final suspect, Mark Goolsby of Sylva, will be tried later this year.

SEE ALSO: One night, two murders, three years ago: the untold story

During the trial, Marion testified that she did not know her friends were planning to rob and murder Wiggins and Compton and that she had remained outside in the van during the crime.

Marion’s story was corroborated by the other suspects, who testified that Marion stayed outside during the crime. Prosecutors didn’t attempt to dispute her claim, but successfully argued that her involvement nonetheless rose to the level of first-degree murder.

Marion said she didn’t realize plans for a robbery were in the works when she and her friends left their hotel room at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and headed out for Wiggins’ home. Marion said she thought they were merely going to buy drugs.

Marion claims she was lying under the covers when one of the local “white boys” hanging out with them announced that he wanted to smoke more marijuana and knew where they could buy some. When she saw her friend Jada McCutcheon leaving, she grabbed her stuff and headed to the van with them.

“I wanted to smoke with them,” Marion said. “I didn’t want to be left out.”

Marion sat in the passenger seat and listened to the music that played loudly over the radio as Jeffrey Miles, who was later deemed the triggerman in the murders, drove.

“I was real mellow, real laidback, zoned out,” Marion said.

The van came to a stop and several passengers hopped out. Within a couple of minutes, Marion said, she realized that she was the only one left in the van except for Goolsby.

“I pretty much couldn’t see anything. It was dark,” Marion said.

Marion stayed in or near the van chain-smoking cigarettes. And, “I don’t remember anyone talking about crime,” Marion said.

In McCutcheon’s various retellings of the night, she always said that Marion stayed by the van. However, McCutcheon said, “I am pretty sure everybody knew” about the robbery.

SEE ALSO: Murder victims' family faces daily struggle to cope

Marion has maintained that she never saw any guns during the trip to North Carolina, did not hear Miles load the shotgun outside the van and never heard any shots while she sat in the van.

She did not know how long the others were gone, but Marion said it was hours, during which she smoked and slept.

“It felt like I was in the van for a while,” Marion said. “It felt like hours.”

Suddenly out of the darkness, the other local boy who had gone up to the house, Dean Mangold, came running toward the van, yelling and breaking the deadly silence.

“It sounded like he said, they were shooting. ‘Get out of the car,’” Marion said.

Marion testified that she thought Mangold was hallucinating as a result of the ecstasy they’d been taking, and she did not hear any gunshots. When Mangold and Goolsby asked her to run away with them, Marion said she decided to stay with the van because she did not trust the two strangers and was afraid they might rape her.

After the boys left, Marion once again fell asleep in the van. She awoke and decided to stumble toward what seemed to be the lights of a house, hoping to find McCutcheon. As Marion approached Wiggins’ house, she told her friends that the white boys had run off and urged them to hurry up.

“You all need to come on and come on now,” Marion recalled telling them.

Marion returned to the van and later returned to Georgia where she continued to hang out with the group.

She was arrested several days later in an apartment filled with stolen goods from Wiggins’ home, even his dog. But, she claimed she never knew murders had taken place that night.


Rather than spending months crossing Haywood County’s choice eateries off their list of places to go, culinary enthusiasts can get a taste of each all at once at an annual gala at The Gateway Club.

The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce will host its 8th Annual Mélange of the Mountains on March 26 at The Gateway Club on Church Street in Waynesville. Attendees will be able to sample food and drink from the menus of area restaurants.

“The refinement of the culinary arts in our region is why cuisine in Western North Carolina is current and delicious,” said Michael Fahey, president of the Western North Carolina Culinary Association and head judge of this year’s competition, in a news release. “Mélange of the Mountains gives the talented chefs of Waynesville a great venue to share their creations.”

The participating restaurants are a mixture of newbies and old pros like Nico’s Café in Waynesville.

“We do well at it,” said Charlene Smith, an employee at Nico’s. “It’s also fun.”

The competition can be pretty fierce with some heavy hitters signing up to present their best dishes. Other eateries participating include Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the Waynesville Inn, Anthony Wayne’s, Frog Level Brewing Company and Sunburst Trout Company.

“I think (the competition is) very, very good,” Charlene Smith, an employee at Nico’s Café. “I think everyone brings their A-game.”

Co-worker Courtney Pottenger agreed, adding that the contest is “stressful” but “fun.”

Nico’s Café has competed every year and has placed in at least one category each year. There are several categories that each restaurant can compete in: meat, salad, seafood, soup, vegetarian, dessert and people’s choice. The most coveted prize is the Award for Culinary Excellence, which is given to the restaurant with the highest scoring dish.

“We (Waynesville) have very good food for a small town,” Smith said, calling it “5-star quality food.”

The event also promotes creativity. Nico’s Café crafts unique dishes, which it later features on its menu. Last year, the café created the Courtney salad, a strawberry and candied pecan salad that garnered a podium ranking in the salad category.

Although Mélange is on their minds throughout the year, Smith said that Nico’s owner Michele Pipitone usually spends a day deciding what recipes give the café the best chance at bringing home a first place title.

Neither Nico’s Café nor Sid’s on Main, a new restaurant in Canton, knew exactly what dishes they would showcase at this year’s Mélange in the Mountains.

Sid’s on Main owner Sid Truesdale said this year will be more about people trying and enjoying his restaurant’s food rather than winning accolades.

“Hopefully if they do (like the food), they’ll come see us,” Truesdale said.


Go have a taste for yourself

The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce will host its eighth Annual Mélange of the Mountains from 5:30–8:30 p.m., March 26, at The Gateway Club.

Tickets are $35 for chamber members and $40 for non-members. The chamber will also have VIP upgraded tickets available for $60, which includes early entry into the competition to view the Chefs in action. Tickets are limited.

Visit, call 828.456.3021 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for additional information and to purchase your tickets today.


After more than a year of will they or won't they, Waynesville's ABC Board will soon decide whether to open a second liquor store in the Super Walmart complex.

"Right now, we still don't have everything approved," said Earl Clark, chair of Waynesville's ABC board. But, "It's a whole lot closer than we were a year ago."

The board is contemplating a second location behind Hardee's along the entrance drive to Super Walmart off South Main Street. The area is considered a prime locale that will allow the town to capture a larger share of customers, whether it's residents or visitors.

The South Main Street plot "would be very ideal," Clark said.

While Canton and Maggie Valley have liquor stores as well, the convenience factor of a store beside Walmart makes it likely people would stop in for their liquor purchases while they are shopping in Waynesville even if they live in other parts of the county.

The ABC board has not purchased the land. A property option has expired.

However, the ABC board still has a few details to figure out. The board is working on a site layout that would work within Waynesville's development rules. One concern is providing adequate parking to match the size of the new store, Clark said.

Waynesville currently has one ABC store on Walnut Street, which dates to 1967. The building is small and can only hold so much inventory. It is also located in a strip mall that's somewhat off the beaten path from main commercial areas.

Clark said the current location is too small for the amount of business it does. Last year, the Waynesville store sold more than $2.1 million in alcohol.

The ABC board operates autonomously from other town entities, but Waynesville does receive a portion of the profits earned from alcohol sales each year.

Waynesville receives an average of $100,000, said Town Manager Lee Galloway.

Although the new store is expected to increase revenues, the town won't see a slice of that for years to come. The additional income will go toward buying the land, building the store and covering additional salaries and overhead.

The total cost of the new store is expected to hover around $1 million but could reach closer to $1.25 million when everything is said and done, Clark said. The property will cost about $500,000 and the remaining amount will cover the cost of construction and the initial stocking for the 5,000-square-foot store.

Just stocking the store alone, a cost that is borne upfront before sales start coming in, will likely cost between $150,000 and $175,000, Clark said.

"We are still counting our pennies," he said. "We want to build something nice."

If the ABC board gives the additional store the green light, then it would operate both locations for at least a couple of years. However, if the board does not see a benefit from keeping both open, it will shut down the smaller, older store in favor of the more prime South Main Street locale.

Meanwhile, Maggie Valley has struggled to make running two ABC stores pay off financially. Maggie Valley opened its second ABC store in 2009 on Dellwood Road. The town annexed a satellite tract a mile beyond the town limits for its new store, strategically situated close to Waynesville's doorstep in hopes of pulling some customers who previously traveled to Waynesville's liquor store.

In 2009 when Maggie's new store opened, revenue at Waynesville's ABC profits dove. While Maggie's ABC revenue grew, Waynesville's dropped by a comparable amount.

But, Maggie Valley's second store has yet to pay off. Sales are barely robust enough to cover overhead at two locations, and the cost of building the new store has not yet been paid off.

The Maggie Valley stores lost nearly $24,000 last year and a little more than $38,000 the year prior.

Profits for the Waynesville ABC store

2011: $146,876

2010: $156,568

2009: $263,229

2008: $252,652

2007: $237,587

Where the money goes

Surplus profits from ABC stores go back into town coffers. Waynesville's ABC profits took a hit the year Maggie Valley opened a second store on Waynesville's doorstep, siphoning off customers.

A portion of the proceeds are earmarked for local law enforcement and an alcohol education but the majority is simply added to the town's disposable revenue.


When a person was found dead in a hotel room recently, six students in Haywood Community College's criminal justice association were put on the case.

They studied fiber samples, scoured for finger prints and analyzed what was amiss in the belongings strewn about the room. Luckily, the individual was a mannequin, and the students were merely showing off their CSI skills at a regional competition.

The six HCC students are all members of Lambda Alpha Epsilon, the student chapter of the American Criminal Justice Association. And, all are competing this week in the organization's national tournament in Cincinnati, which includes crime scene investigation, criminal law, corrections, juvenile justice and organizational theory and administration. This is the college's first year as members of the criminal justice fraternity.

"I am really proud of how small we are and how many people we're sending," said Amy Thompson, an HCC student and member of Lambda Alpha Epsilon.

All the tests are written, with the exception of the crime scene investigation where students must gather evidence, treating each scene as if a crime had occurred and write a report of their conclusions.

During a Southeast regional competition this past October, the team participated in similar tests on a smaller scale. That time, the crime scene the students processed, replete with a "dead" mannequin, was not a case of foul play but instead turned out to be an accidental death.

"That was really tricky for them," said Cassie Walls, the team's advisor and a criminal justice instructor at HCC. "We have to approach it as if crime did occur."

In October, the team took home the first place trophy in crime scene investigating and criminal justice as well as second place and third place accolades.

"I've found that my students — even if they don't study — they have a good understanding (of the material)," Walls said .

Both Walls and Thompson hope to bring home a trophy or two or three from the national competition. And, if anyone can help do it, it's Thompson who loves the tediousness of such tests and competes in each of the academic categories.

Thompson's ambition is a bit intimidating; the 21-year-old works 40 hours a week and is a double major. The pre-med and opera student wants to become a forensic pathologist and work as a coroner for the FBI or CIA.

"I like solving the mystery, but I don't like being an investigator," Thompson said.


For musicians, it's the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For football players, it's the Super Bowl championship rings. For Natalie Smith, having her signature coffee blends featured at The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., is the greatest accolade.

"I was extremely flattered, and I was elated — all of the good things. Grateful that I can represent my tribe," said Smith, owner of Tribal Grounds in Cherokee and a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.

In December last year, the museum approached Smith out of the blue about their idea to transform a high-end gift shop in the lobby into an espresso and coffee bar. Smith sent samples of her coffee to the museum and soon learned that Tribal Grounds had been chosen to be the sole provider for the new Mitsitam Espresso Coffee Bar in the Museum of the American Indian.

Mitsitam means, "Let's eat" in the native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples and is also the name of the museum's restaurant.

Like so many titleholders, Smith's road to glory started years earlier.

When Smith returned to Cherokee from Arizona in the early 2000s, she noticed something missing — a casual meeting place, not just for visitors but for locals as well. There was already an in-and-out coffee joint but nowhere for people to sit and stay for a while.

"I saw a need for a community space," Smith said.

In 2004, she opened Tribal Grounds. During the first couple of years, Smith purchased pre-roasted coffee beans that could simply be ground and brewed. An artist by trade, Smith took a bean roasting class and began roasting and concocting her own blends in 2006.

Fast forward about a year later, and the coffee shop had the first of its new specialty javas.

"You have to try different blends. It's like a cookie recipe or any baking recipe," Smith said.

Currently, Tribal Grounds has six or seven signature blends, each created by merging different varieties of coffee beans at different degrees and for different lengths of time. And, the available mixtures are always changing as Smith crafts new recipes.

Each specialized mix has a name of cultural significance. For example, the espresso blend is named Rattlesnake Mountain after the mountain that overlooks all of Cherokee.

Rattlesnake Mountain is said to be a special place where the medicine man Ogv Unitsi killed the poisonous serpent Uktena and received a magical crystal that had been set in the snake's forehead. The gem, which blazed like a star, made Ogv the most powerful medicine man of his time.

The most important part of the coffee-making process for Smith, however, is not how long she roasts the beans or how much of each variety she adds to the mix, but where she gets her coffee beans from. Smith purchases the beans used in her cups of joe from fair-trade companies in South American or Africa that employ mostly indigenous people rather than large-scale, commercial plantations.

"I think it's the best quality, that it has integrity," Smith said.

Plus, it gives greater meaning to her business.

"I am an indigenous person buying coffee from indigenous people selling coffee to indigenous people," Smith said.

Smith does her own research of coffee bean growers but also relies on various organizations to certify the product she purchases as fair trade.

"I am not continuing the cycle of exploitation," Smith said. "It is very important to me."

Smith traveled to the Museum of the American Indian in February to train the staff there on how to brew her coffee and assemble her other specialty beverages.

"I am very impressed by their approach and their enthusiasm," she said.

And once there, the indigenous connection for Smith grew stronger.

Smith said she was elated to meet some of the Ethiopian members of the museum's café staff and tell them that some of her beans are grown in their native land.


Tiffany Marion remained stoic as witnesses recounted their version of events and attempted to recall more than three-year-old conversations surrounding the 2008 murder of two Swain County residents.

It wasn't until an audio recording of a police interview with her friend Jada McCutcheon was played that Marion began to sob. McCutcheon hanged herself in 2009 while awaiting trail in the Haywood County jail.

McCutcheon, then 19, had a tiny, child-like voice to match her diminutive, less than 5-foot frame.

"That was not our intention, but that is what ended up happening," McCutcheon said during a interview with law enforcement officials just days after two Swain County men were found murdered in their home. McCutcheon and Marion were two of six people charged in connection to the double homicide.

It seemed that just days after the crime, McCutcheon's conscience began wearing on her and hindering her ability to sleep.

"Every time I close my eyes, I see two freaking dead people that somebody shot," McCutcheon said.

Marion, who was 25 at the time of the crime, is currently on trial in Swain County.

Her indictment includes a slew of charges: two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of first-degree burglary, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and 18 counts of accessory after the fact.

Marion is the first of two suspects to stand trial in connect with the Swain County murders. Mark Goolsby, of Sylva, will face a jury at a later date. His charges are identical to Marion's. However, he only faces nine counts of accessory after the fact.

Marion's trial is in its third week, and more than 400 pieces of evidence have been presented showing what investigators collected at the crime scene and at the residences where the suspects were found.

Though no DNA evidence connects Marion to the inside of Wiggin's home, prosecutors pointed out that no DNA evidence matching Jeffrey Miles, Jason Johnson or Dean Mangold was found in the residence — yet each pleaded guilty to various charges.

Marion's fingerprints were found on a stolen white Ford truck owned by Scott Wiggins.

The defense has argued that Marion was at most an accessory because she was present at one of the getaway vehicles, a gold Honda Odyssey, while the crime was taking place.

Based on McCutcheon's interviews, the defense argued that Marion could have been so out-of-her-mind on drugs that she did not know what was transpiring. And if that were the case, Marion might not have known about the robbery and murders until her arrest days later.

During one of McCutcheon's interviews, she asserted that no one discussed the events of Aug. 8, 2008 once they had occurred.

"Nobody talks about it," said McCutcheon, who also stated that Marion seemed messed up on drugs.

When an investigator informally interviewed Marion at the apartment where she and McCutcheon were found, Marion asked if the boys had robbed the casino and if that was why the police came knocking.

Among the other evidence is a less than 30-minute audio-recorded interview with McCutcheon telling her version of what happened on Aug. 8.

Throughout each of the at least three interviews between law enforcement officials and McCutcheon, the teenager repeatedly stated that Marion had remained by the group's van during the murders and robbery. McCutcheon indicated that Marion might have been too messed up to know what was happening.

During their trip, the group smoked weed and took ecstasy. The ecstasy tablets were mixed with cocaine, methamphetamines or heroin.

The foursome drove up to Cherokee on Aug. 5, where at least two of them — Marion and Miles — gambled at the casino. After winning about $2,700 that day, Miles rented a room in Harrah's hotel where they stayed for a couple days. At some point on Aug. 7, Miles and Johnson traveled to a nearby Walmart. There they met Goolsby and Mangold, of Sylva, who returned to Harrah's with them.

Later that night, Goolsby and Mangold told the out-of-towners about a good place to "hit a 'lick" or rob. The group, taking directions from "the white boys" as McCutcheon often referred to them, drove to a dirt drive near John Henderson Road and parked. Following some discussion, McCutcheon said, she, Miles and Johnson approached the house where Wiggins and Heath Compton lived during the early hours of Aug. 8. And, as Miles and Johnson held the two Swain County residents at gunpoint in an office-type room, McCutcheon ransacked the house, gathering up anything of value.

During the robbery, Miles killed both Wiggins and Compton, McCutcheon said. Miles also shot local Timothy Waldroup twice after he had stumbled upon the scene, she stated during an interview with investigators. Despite this, Waldroup survived the incident. However, he died of a drug overdose before he could testify in court.

Later in the day on Aug. 8, the Georgians drove back to Decatur where police arrested them just a few days later.


On Aug. 8, 2008, officers from the Swain County Sheriff's Office and agents with the State Bureau of Investigation responded to a double homicide at 211 John Henderson Road in Bryson City.

In the early hours of that morning, intruders had entered the house where David Scott Wiggins, 33, and Michael Heath Compton, 34, lived. The invaders stole items from the house and shot both men.


Swain County is a close-knit Western North Carolina county with low crime rates and less than one homicide a year. The county has nearly 14,000 residents spread over its scenic, wooded lands.


After a few days of investigation, law enforcement officials arrested six individuals who they believe were linked to the crime: Mark Steven Goolsby and Dean Raymond Mangold, of Sylva, and Tiffany Leigh Marion, Jason Christopher Johnson, Jeffrey Czechonna Miles II and Jada McCutcheon, of Decatur, Ga.

The four Georgians had traveled to Western North Carolina a couple days prior to Aug. 8 to gamble at Harrah's Casino in Cherokee. While in the area, they met Goolsby and Mangold who, investigators say, directed them to the house and told them that it contained valuable goods.

Marion is the first of two suspects to stand trial in connect with the Swain County murders. Mark Goolsby, of Sylva, will face a jury at some later date, and McCutcheon hanged herself in 2009.

The other three defendants — Miles, Mangold and Johnson — all pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. Mangold is serving minimum of 212 months for those charges as well as two counts of second-degree murder. Miles and Johnson must serve two consecutive life sentences for the two murders followed by a minimum of 189 months for those charges and one count of attempted first-degree arson.


The Swain County Board of Elections has decided to continue running a satelite early voting site in Cherokee, but to the chagrin of some nixed for now the idea of an additional site in the rural Alarka community.

The Swain County commissioners this week approved the election board’s request for $2,600 to run an early voting site in Cherokee for two weeks prior to the May primary election.

However, the election board decided not to pursue an early voting site catering to residents in the remote communities of Alarka and Nantahala.

Swain first ran an early voting location in Cherokee during 2010 but has debated for the past month whether it was worth the cost to do so again this year. Without the extra site, Cherokee residents must drive anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to reach the main early voting site in Bryson City. Jackson County has historically provided an early voting site in Cherokee for residents on the Jackson side of the reservation.

The Cherokee site will also make early voting more convenient for voters in Whittier, which is closer to Cherokee than Bryson City.

“That portion of the county was underserved,” said Mark Tyson, a member of the Board of Elections. “There had been a lot of community response made to the board.”

Residents of Alarka and Nantahala have similarly long treks, but the Board of Elections determined that it did not have enough time to adequately set up a brand new early voting site.

“It would be tougher to do a site in the western part of the county,” Tyson said, “given the short of amount of time that we had and the limited resources.” The election board decided to revisit the idea of a West Swain site next year.

Commissioner David Monteith suggested the election board go ahead and ask for money for both sites, but they felt it was too late to prepare both in time for early voting.

“I challenged them on it and told them they should do so, but they didn’t want to do it,” Monteith said.

Monteith said county residents would have liked to see the additional site in West Swain and that the election board should have dealt with the issue earlier.

“They could have come to us a month ago,” he said. “They just weren’t thinking ahead.”


Early voting request, take two

The Board of Elections members had to appear before the commissioners twice in the past week over the issue. The first time, the election board did not come with a clear request but instead presented an open-ended question to commissioners on which sites they wanted to fund.

“So you all have not decided exactly what you want to get? You are speculating?” said Commissioner David Monteith.

Board of Elections Chair James Fisher explained that the election board had avoided making a hard and fast request because they did not want to put the final decision on the backs of the commissioners.

“I felt like it was unfair to y’all,” Fisher said.

Monteith replied that the commissioners would be answerable to the final decision anyway.

“Would it not be better for you guys to make a decision on what you want?” Monteith said. “I would rather know exactly what you want.”

Commissioners told the election board to return once they had nailed down what specifically it wanted the county to fund. The election board came back five days later with its specific request — namely to fund the site in Cherokee but not Alarka.

When the Swain County Board of Elections first offered an early voting site in Cherokee in 2010, the turnout was poor, with only 226 people taking advantage of the new location. “That’s not to say that it won’t be successful this go around,” Fisher said.

Board of election members said the site may just need more time to gain a following but also questioned whether the county can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a previously underused early voting site. The board spent about $3,500 to run the site in 2010.

“We are letting these people down by not getting them where they need to vote,” said resident Barbara Robinson.

The Swain County Board of Elections first approached the Board of Commissioners after realizing that it didn’t have enough money in its budget this year to run more than the single early voting site in Cherokee.

Counties once got a small contribution from the federal government to help fund early votings, but the state legislature for now is refusing to pony up the required state match, which means counties would not get the assistance this year.

“It is thrown on the backs of the counties,” said Phil Carson, chairman of the board of commissioners. “The taxpayers are footing the bill.”


With little brouhaha or fanfare, the Swain County Board of Commissioners voted last week to nudge its room tax up 1 percent, less than two months after the idea was first floated publicly.

“We felt like it would be a good plus for Swain County,” said County Commissioner David Monteith. “It is not on the local people. It is on the tourists.”

The Swain County Tourism Development Authority first introduced the idea of an increase to commissioners in mid-January. It will go into effect in July.

The tax on overnight lodging stood at 3 percent before the vote. The increase will bring in at least an additional $100,000 annually and will be earmarked for special tourism projects.

“It’s a very good thing,” said Brad Walker, a Swain County Chamber of Commerce board member and chairman of Smoky Mountain Host.

The former Bryson City mayor said it would give the tourism agency flexibility to support special projects it currently doesn’t have a budget for.

“We are now trying to help develop attractions,” Walker said, adding that the county cannot do that without additional funds.

One project that the additional money could help with is the renovation of the historic courthouse in Bryson City into a visitor center and museum.

Another target for funding is the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, which is expected to draw thousands of out-of-towners to the county. The tourism agency wants to post signage advertising the kayaking competition and help with beautification efforts near the Nantahala Gorge where the event will be held.

Swain County had one of the lowest taxes on overnight accommodations in the state. More than half of the counties in the state have a tax that is more than 3 percent.

Opponents of the increase, however, say it could hurt business.

The county should focus on advertising its comparatively low taxes, not jack them up, said Winfred Brooks, who has worked in the cabin rental business for 20 years.

“This is not the time to consider gouging traveling tourists anymore,” Brooks said. “Keep your taxes low you will get more visitors.”

Now, if someone pays $100 to stay the night in a Swain County hotel or inn, he or she will pay an additional $4 a night compared to $3 a night, not counting sales tax, to occupy the room.

Swain’s room tax collections increased 5 percent last year and 8 percent the year before that, making it one of the few counties that has escaped a downturn in its room tax collections as a result of the recession.

Last year, Swain County brought in $341,000. The money is used to promote tourism, mostly by advertising and marketing Swain as a destination.

The county can currently use up to 30 percent of its current room tax collections on tourism projects, including the Christmas lights featured throughout downtown Bryson City.


Room tax rates

• 3 percent: Clay, Graham, Macon, Mitchell, Yancey, Jackson*

• 4 percent: Haywood, Swain, Buncombe, Transylvania, Cherokee

• 5 percent: Henderson, Madison, McDowell

• 6 percent: town of Franklin, Watauga

*Jackson County has proposed an increase to 6 percent.


Margaret Wakefield is not a college student nor does she sport dreadlocks and Birkenstocks while chatting about how the world should focus more on peace and love.

Wakefield has short dark hair, pink fingernails and silver heart-shaped earrings. Wearing a printed shirt and sweater, the Cherokee resident is dressed as if she was going to a nice restaurant with a friend or just coming from church.

Despite her clean-cut appearance, Wakefield is a vocal leader for, what some may find, a surprising cause — medical marijuana.

Wakefield’s mother died from cancer a year ago, and the life-changing event has made her very open and passionate about allowing people suffering from chronic illnesses to use cannabis as a form of treatment.

“If I had known then what I know now … (my mother) would have had some to smoke everyday,” said Wakefield, a member of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network, a nonprofit with the end goal of passing a medical marijuana bill. Medical cannabis is legal in 16 states and in Washington, D.C. Another 17 states have seen bills introduced.

The N.C. Cannabis Patients Network has about 700 members, most of whom range from age 30 to 60 and beyond, Wakefield said. Members are also allowed to remain anonymous.

“We are just wanting to be able to grow our own medicine,” she said. “We are trying to get our rights back.”

There is currently a bill in a N.C. House of Representatives committee, which NCCPN hopes will be voted on either during the upcoming short legislative session in April or when the newly elected General Assembly leaders meet next year.

House Bill 577, a.k.a. the Medical Cannabis Act, would allow people with debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis (to name a few), to receive prescriptions for medical marijuana from their doctors. Studies have shown that cannabis can increase one’s appetite and offer pain relief.

The state would also profit from the legalization of medical marijuana. Within four years, the state would realize about $250 million in revenue from the production and sale of cannabis each year, according to the bill.

However, Wakefield understands that the organization is in for a tough fight in this Bible Belt state, especially since some are hesitant to sign their name in support of such a controversial bill. When asked what the biggest obstacle to the bill’s passage was, Wakefield immediately spouted the Republicans.

“They tend to be a lot more conservative than Democrats,” she said.

But even when the General Assembly was under a Democratic majority in previous years, similar efforts went nowhere.

While marijuana carries a stigma for its use as a recreational drug, allowing medical marijuana is not tantamount to opening the floodgates of illegal use, supporters claim. Many synthetic pharmaceutical drugs are abused in street settings but are still legal for their perceived medical benefits.

One Democratic state representative from Buncombe County has already put her support behind the Medical Cannabis Act.

Patsy Keever, who is serving her second term of office in the N.C. House of Representatives, said her husband suffered for three years before he died of cancer, and his pain medication was in pill form.

“He couldn’t swallow,” she said.

If medical marijuana was available, her husband could have inhaled it in a vapor form, Keever said.

“Medical marijuana has been proven to treat the pain,” Keever said. “Anything that will just help somebody in pain and not harm them or anybody else seems like a no brainer to me.”

The bill being considered in North Carolina is much stricter than the one in California, Wakefield said.

In California, it is widely claimed that anyone can get a medical marijuana prescription by simply walking into a doctor’s office and saying you have a problem. In North Carolina, patients looking for a prescription would have to have a relationship with their physician, which includes a full medical assessment and the doctor’s willingness to provide follow-up care to determine the efficacy of the drug.

People who wish to grow or sell marijuana or marijuana-infused products, such as cookies or butter, will be required to pay a $5,000 licensing fee each year. That amount could increase to $10,000, pending possible amendments to the bill, Wakefield said.


Get involved

The North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network will hold a meeting at 2 p.m. on March 10 at Tribal Grounds Coffee Shop in Cherokee. Discussions will revolve around allowing the use of medical marijuana in North Carolina and educating people about the benefits of prescription cannabis. The meeting is open to the public.



When it comes to the election season, 2012 has turned into a bellwether year for North Carolina, and Republicans are clammoring to claim state and federal seats currently held by Democrats.

Even the popular N.C. House Democrat Ray Rapp, who has enjoyed two uncontested election seasons, is now facing mounting competition for his 118th District seat. Rapp has represented Haywood and Madison counties in the N.C. House for 10 years.

“I think this is a really interesting year,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. “There is so much uncertainty.”

Rapp will be pitted against one of three Republican candidates come fall.

The make-up of Rapp’s district changed only slightly when new lines were drawn following the national census, a political shuffle that occurs every 10 years to ensure that each district still has roughly the same number of residents.

Rapp’s district has lost parts of Haywood County and picked up the whole of Yancey County.

Prior to the reconfiguration, the district was 28 percent Republican, but it is now 31 percent.

The three Republican candidates hoping to take on Rapp are:

• Jesse Sigmon, 63, is retired from the Department of Revenue but works part-time at Builders Express in Mars Hill, where he currently resides. Sigmon ran unsuccessfully for state office in 1998 and again in 2000, but he said the new district make-up could be the change he needs to win.

“The numbers are more favorable to a fair election for a Republican,” Sigmon said. “I did not feel I could win in the past few elections because of the numbers.”

• Michele Presnell, 60, is a current Yancey County Commissioner and owner of Serendipity Custom Frames in Burnsville. She is also the wife of former state senator Keith Presnell. Presnell said that the district needs a change — someone who can better represent its constituents.

“This is a new district, and I feel that I can represent the people of this district in a more conservative way,” she said.

• Ben Keilman, a Canton resident and Pisgah graduate, is by far the youngest competitor at 23. He recently graduated with a political science degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he was active in College Republicans. Keilman currently works for his father at Asheville Cabinets.

In the last election two years ago, Republicans took control of the state legislature for the first time in a century. And, the political tide in North Carolina continues to turn in favor of the traditionally more conservative party, Cooper said.

“More Republicans think they’ve got a shot,” he said, later adding that the once-light blue state now has a purple tint. “This is all just a path to becoming a red state.”

However, disorganization among the state Republican Party, witnessed by the outpouring of so many candidates in the primary, will benefit Democrats in the long run, Cooper said.

“The Republican’s don’t seem to have an organized party to sift through these candidates,” Cooper said. “The lack of party organization is really striking to me.”

The race for Heath Shuler’s seat in Congress is another election in which Republicans will need to narrow the field. It is even more hotly contested with eight Republicans battling for their party’s nomination.

Although the House district held by Rapp is still majority Democrat, it does not mean that the race will be a cakewalk for Rapp, however.

“I think it will be a little more difficult,” Cooper said.

Rapp agreed that the district is more competitive than it once was and said he will focus on visiting all corners of the district and meeting with constituents — something he has become known for.

“It’s too easy to get drawn into the world in Raleigh and forget your roots,” Rapp said. “Accessibility, I hope, has been a hallmark of my terms.”

Rapp said he is occasionally teased that he will show up anywhere-even a goat roping.


Sunburst Trout Farms in Haywood County plans to add jobs and expand its operations thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The farm received a nearly $300,000 Value Added Producers Grant from the USDA to help expand its market, namely finding new customers to buy more trout. The grant will help with everything from hiring a sales person to the upfront cost of trout fingerlings, which are then raised to full size at the farm.

Sunburst, founded by Richard Jennings, is a third generation family owned and operated company that processes fresh ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat trout products.

“The main goal is to stabilize things financially here,” said Sunburst’s Chef Charles Hudson. “We couldn’t have done it without that funding.”

The project, which will begin in April, will include purchasing more trout fingerlings, hiring new marketing and processing workers and installing new software to increase ordering efficiency. The plan is estimated to cost $500,000. The company was awarded $10,000 from the North Carolina Value-Added Cost Share Program in addition to the USDA grant.

Sunburst in particular hopes to increase business during winter months. The months of January, February and March are typically very slow for everyone in the mostly tourist-dependent region. The majority of Sunburst’s customers are within three hours of its Haywood County location.

But if the company is able to spread to new states, it could see more money rolling in throughout the year. One possible market is Florida, which gets a seasonal influx from people trying to escape the winter chill elsewhere.

“They (Florida) are busy when we are slow,” Hudson said.

Sunburst does not hatch its own trout from eggs but rather purchases them from trout hatcheries in Western North Carolina. The grant will allow them to increase the number of fish it purchases and therefore the number of trout it is able to sell.

Sunburst hopes to add about 100 new customers a year with the help of the grant funding.

To market the extra fish, Sunburst will also create a new marketing sales position. The job will include extensive travel and focus on expanding the company’s current market in the Southeastern U.S. Most of Sunbursts customers are restaurants, though their products are also available at some grocery stores.

Sunburst will add another two other positions to help carry the extra workload at its facility.

Last year, Sunburst sold about 250,000 pounds of trout. This year, it hopes to sell more than 300,000 pounds, Hudson said.

“It’s going to be a really good thing for not only us but for the county as a whole,” Hudson said.


Driving down Maggie Valley’s main drag, it’s hard not to notice the gauntlet of signs offering cheers of support for Ghost Town in the Sky’s new owner Alaska Presley.

Business owners on both sides of U.S. 19 have rearranged the lettering on their message boards to thank or bless Presley for vowing to reopen Ghost Town, an amusement park that symbolizes past prosperity in Maggie Valley.

“It makes me feel good,” Presley said of the encouraging notes.

Ghost Town has been closed for two years after going into bankruptcy but was purchased earlier this year by Presley who plans to reopen the park that once brought droves of visitors to Maggie Valley.

Weeds and other plant life have grown up around Ghost Town’s attractions, adding to its unkempt look. As she toured the park last week, Presley pointed out bushes and trees that would need to come down or be trimmed back and areas where brush must be cleared. Presley has already hired workers to tackle the greenery and is looking for contractors to make other necessary repairs.

With a listed population of 681, the mock Wild West Town sits at an altitude of 4,600 feet. While obviously a victim of harsh mountaintop weathering, vandals left the most apparent blemishes — broken windows, doors and doorframes, and residue from fire extinguishers — throughout the small fictional town.

“The buildings to me seemed in pretty good shape,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, adding that most of the work looked cosmetic.

Presley estimated that $2,500 worth of glass had been smashed but feels better now that she owns Ghost Town and can take action against any trespassers.

“Now, I can do something whereas before I didn’t have the authority,” Presley said.

Presley has dreamed of owning Ghost Town ever since its original owner put it up for sale 10 years ago. It was shuttered for three years, reopened under new owners for a couple of years, but then fell into bankruptcy and was once again closed. Presley rescued the park after striking a well-planned financial arrangement with BB&T. While BB&T was owed $9.5 million by the previous owners, Presley bought it last month for just $1.5 million.

But her work has only begun, as she embarks on a legacy project for the valley she loves: to restore the park to its former glory. The price tag is unknown, but she plans to tap her personal assets for the initial work.

Presley had previously remained quiet about some of her plans for Ghost Town’s revival but last week revealed her hopes to turn the highest of the park’s three levels into a religious-themed attraction.

The top level currently houses a concert hall, kiddy rides and Native American village. However, Presley plans to move the children’s rides to Ghost Town’s lowest level, where other rides currently reside, and get rid of the village.

In their place, Presley said she hopes to build large gold and white concert hall where people can hold religious events or performances. If her dream becomes a reality, the mountaintop would be crowned with statue of Jesus with a similar look to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Presley said.


A very long to-do list

For now, Presley is focused on getting Ghost Town’s core attractions up and running — fixing up the Old West town and getting the parks’ rides in working order — in hopes of a summer opening.

All the amusement rides, including the park’s signature roller coaster and its all-important chairlift that takes tourists up the mountain, must pass inspection with the N.C. Department of Labor. That had proved a hurdle for past owners, partly because of a strained relationship.

To get the ball rolling, Presley invited Cherie Berry, the state labor commissioner, to tour the amusement park last week along with Maggie Valley leaders and media.

During the tour of Ghost Town, Presley and Berry were “laughing, cutting up and holding hands,” Smith said. “That will be a really good working relationship.”

Representatives from the Department of Labor said they were not surprised by the appearance of the park. The equipment looked much like they thought it would, considering the weathering it has undergone during the past two years, said Tom Chambers, chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau at the Department of Labor.

State officials have not been asked to conduct comprehensive tests on Ghost Town attractions as of yet and therefore could not provide opinions on how much or what type of work the rides need. It is still up-in-the-air as to which rides still work.

“I don’t know what’s good and what’s not good,” Presley said.

No matter what, however, it is clear that Ghost Town still has its fans who will show up to visit the park when it opens. The Maggie Valley Chamber still receives messages everyday asking if Ghost Town is open.

Once Presley is able to fix transportation up the mountain, “I think people will be excited just to hear that the chairlift and incline are running,” Smith said.

As well as repairing the transit, however, Presley will need attractions that will draw all ages. One such addition would be a zipline, which Presley hopes to incorporate before opening.

A zipline would be “awesome,” Smith said. “The thrill lovers would love it.”


Chris Graves had just parked a school van in a field, and his wildlife students were filing out for some hands-on, out-of-the-classroom learning when they spotted a flock of about 80 crows clustered together.

No sooner were they out of the vehicle when one of Graves’ pupils began imitating the birds’ call. Chill ran up the students’ spines as the crows, like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, swarmed toward them.

“Students will remember that,” said Graves, a fish and wildlife management instructor at Haywood Community College.

With the sixth annual Wild Game Dinner rapidly approaching, students will have the chance to raise money while showing off their animal-calling skills to a crowd of hundreds of friends, family and curious community members.

The event also features a calling competition, in which students and others perform their best imitation of various animals’ purrs, clucks, yelps and cackles.

The main purpose of honing your wildlife calls is to draw an animal in when hunting. But outdoor sportsmen — a generally competitive bunch — have taken it to a new level, Graves said.

“It’s fun, but at some competitions, they get pretty serious about it,” he said.

Many of HCC’s students started hunting and learning how to call certain critters since they were young.

“I think they were born in camo,” said Shannon Rabby, a Fish and Wildlife Management Technology instructor. “They love the outdoors.”

Not only does the event provide amusement but it also serves as a good warm-up for the students who soon after battle other schools at the Southeastern Wildlife Conclave in mid-March.

“We are kind of proud of what we do at that,” Rabby said.

The group has snagged third place during the past couple of years despite going head to head with mostly upperclassmen and graduate students from four-year universities, including LSU and Auburn University.

“My students are freshmen and sophomores,” Rabby said with pride.

Haywood Community College is renowned for its various natural resources degrees, a sought after program by students across the South who want to be foresters, game wardens, park rangers and the like.

The annual Wildgame Dinner hosted by the students has outgrown its venue twice in its just six-year history, a reflection of its upstanding reputation in the community.

The school’s Wildlife Club began hosting the wild game dinner in the lower level of HCC’s student center. As the event grew, it moved to the Haywood County Armory.

“Next thing we knew, we had filled up the armory,” Rabby said. “It’s tremendously successful.”

Last year, about 700 people attended the dinner. It is now held at the Haywood County Fairgrounds.

The potluck dinner includes a silent auction with everything from art to live animals, a gun and live music by No Show Jones and the Wildermen. The six-member band first performed at the dinner last year and is made up of HCC students in the Natural Resources Department.

“What shocked me is I had them in class … these guys are very quiet,” Rabby said. But, not when they get an instrument in their hands.

The grand prize for the night is a lifetime hunting and fishing license. Funds raised at the dinner help pay for a scholarship as well as travel to various conferences and competitions.

“We want this to be a celebration,” said Rabby.


Answer the Call

Haywood Community College’s Wildlife Club is hosting its annual benefit dinner, complete with drawings, live music, a silent auction and, of course, food. Attendees are encouraged to bring a dish as the dinner is a potluck and money to bid on items ranging from art to live animals.

What: The 6th annual Wild Game Dinner

When: 6 p.m., March 2

Where: Haywood County Fairgrounds

How Much: Suggested donation of $10 per person or $5 if you bring a dish.


Waynesville leaders are looking for a way to keep guns out of town parks and recreation centers despite changes in the state’s conceal carry law that allow guns in more places than before.

A new state law stipulating where concealed weapons can and can’t be carried seem to leave a gray area when it comes to town parks. The town of Waynesville has always banned concealed weapons at town parks and would like to keep doing so but likewise doesn’t want to go against the new state law.

The law passed last year prevents concealed guns from being carried in recreational and athletic facilities and schools. And, under the law, weapons are legally allowed in some formerly prohibited places such as bars and state parks. While the state tried to be specific where guns are banned, however, the verbiage is ambiguous in some respects.

“There are a lot of questions in our mind, ‘what is an athletic facility? Is a dog park an athletic facility?’” said Town Manager Lee Galloway during a meeting with town leaders earlier this month.

The town’s recreation center on Vance Street and the nearby baseball and soccer fields could be classified as athletic facilities and still ban weapons. The dog park, which is completely surrounded by athletic facilities, would also remain gun free.

Prior to the state law change, Waynesville already had an ordinance in place that prevented people from carrying concealed weapons in town parks.

Several North Carolina communities, including Blowing Rock and Hickory, have begun to question the legislature’s decision, he said. Some town boards have decided not to loosen their ordinances to fall in line with the state.

“It has pretty well been concluded that this will end up in court at some point,” Galloway said.

Mayor Gavin Brown asked the town attorney to draft an ordinance even though a likely court battle over the legislation would leave a final outcome up in the air. And, if the town passes the new ordinance before the matter is resolved, the board can simply adjust it as needed.

“We can change the ordinance” if necessary, Brown said.

Despite any arguments over gun rights, the fact remains that neither Waynesville nor any town in North Carolina has had a problem with permitted gun-toting individuals. Those with permits generally obey the law with respects to their weapons and only use it for protection.

Police Chief Bill Hollingsed said he could not find incidents involving a permitted carrier using a gun at a sporting event or in a park.

“I can’t say that we have a big problem with this; we can’t find any city in the state that has a problem with this,” Hollingsed said.

The people that the town and police need to be concerned about are those who do not have permits but carry a weapon anyway, the town board agreed. The law will not prevent that individual from committing a crime.

“You worry about the people who are going to carry a concealed weapon no matter what the law is,” Hollingsed said.


The ball is already rolling on repairs to the rides at the once-popular Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley, but a summer opening could hinge on the park passing muster with state inspectors.

New owner Alaska Presley, a businesswoman and longtime Maggie resident, will meet with officials from the N.C. Department of Labor and town officials this week to discuss necessary repairs and improvements planned for the shuttered amusement park.

The Department of Labor and the previous owners had a contentious relationship as multiple devices failed multiple inspections on multiple occasions. Lack of communication by the former owner with state inspectors was part of the problem — one Presley intends to avoid now that she is at the helm.

The Department of Labor will be able to give Presley a better idea of what needs to be accomplished before she can open the park.

Ghost Town fell into bankruptcy about four years ago and ultimately ended up on the courthouse steps in mid-February this year. That is where Presley, a nearly lifelong Ghost Town supporter, purchased the park. She hopes to restore it to its former glory as well as add new attractions with modern appeal.

Presley said she hopes to open a portion of Ghost Town by the middle of summer. However, renovations and improvements will take at least three years, she said.

Presley would not name which rides she wants to fix up prior to her summer goals, saying she did not want to make any promises she couldn’t keep.

“I’m taking my time because I want it to be done properly,” she said.

Presley said she did not know which rides will need work, nor how much.

“At the time they closed, the rides were OK,” she said. “They look OK, but I just don’t want to take a chance on them.”

Instead, she will depend on ride inspectors with the Department of Labor to help point her in a positive direction.

The preliminary meeting this week is just about “goodwill and to be sure that I am on the right track and that I’m not doing anything that doesn’t need to be done,” Presley said.

For the Department of Labor, the appointment is a chance to get off on the right foot with Ghost Town’s new owner.

“(It’s) an opportunity to proactively assess the equipment,” said Tom Chambers, chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau at the Department of Labor.

Chambers is unsure exactly what to expect when he inspects the park, but said the rides were most definitely subject to wear and tear related to the weather, which could include corrosion to both the appearance and integrity of the equipment.

“A lot of time has lapsed between the last time we looked at this equipment and now,” he said.

The park has been closed since 2009. Its high-elevation mountaintop setting makes the rides and equipment particularly vulnerable to weathering.

The department inspects between 6,000 and 7,000 rides each year. Every ride in the state must undergo rigorous testing and be re-certified every season.

“We find problems with every device that we see,” Chambers said.

Not only does the department inspect rides, but it can also provide names of quality contractors who could complete specific tasks.

“We want her to be successful,” Chambers said.

Presley has already hired a company to trim the trees and tame the other plant life that has grown up in and around the park while it was stalled in bankruptcy and foreclosure.

“They got the (Wild West) town cleaned,” Presley said. “It’s just perfected.”

Within the next couple weeks, she also hopes to put out bids for plumbing repairs. The former owner did not shut off water to the park, resulting in burst pipes during the winter’s harsh freeze-thaw cycle.


A way up the mountain

Because Ghost Town is perched atop a steep mountain with no public road access, the only ways for visitors to access the park is by riding up in a chairlift or a cablecar known as the “incline railway.” Neither have been in working order, and both are key to the success or failure of Ghost Town.

Without them, visitors have to be shuttled up the mountain from a park-and-ride lot in school buses.

Presley is hunting for a contractor to begin repairing the incline railway, which transports visitors up the mountain to Ghost Town. She has already purchased the parts needed to repair the incline railway, but it will still be about five months before it’s fixed, she said.

And, what about the lift — the only other way to ascend the mountain slope?

To the best of her knowledge, “the lift is fine. It just needs to go through all the testing,” Presley said.

A couple town leaders attended an informal, private meeting with Presley last week to let her know that the town is behind her.

“We certainly will help anyway we can,” said Audrey Hager, the town’s festival director, during a phone interview. “We can’t speak to monetary or advertising.”

The town has already pitched in by helping facilitate the initial meeting between Presley and Department of Labor officials, who are required to inspect the park before it reopens.

“They have a lot of insight on what they (Ghost Town’s previous owners) did wrong in the past,” Hager said.

The roller coaster in particular had its ups and downs. After the amusement park filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, the owners still tried to open it for the season, hoping to earn some money to help pay off its debt. However, on the opening weekend, neither the roller coaster nor the drop tower were running after failing to meet state standards.

Later that year, the roller coaster opened for a single day before it broke down once again.


Complaints from business owners and customers have Maggie Valley leaders asking if its police presence in the small tourist-oriented town is a bit overbearing.

Cruising along Soco Road — the single stripe along which Maggie Valley businesses have sprouted up — drivers are likely to see police cars camped out along the side of the road or in a parking lot.

While some find this fact comforting, other Maggie leaders and business owners argue that an overwhelming police presence in the valley deters possible consumers who fear that the cops are simply waiting to bust someone.

“There is a perception that it intimidates customers,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone during a meeting of Maggie leaders this month.

It is not just a perception; people are intimidated, chimed in Alderman Mike Matthews. Board members agreed, however, that cops mustn’t turn a blind eye and should enforce the law.

“Nobody is asking you to turn the cheek by any means,” Matthews said.

Although no one wants a lawbreaker to get away, some think that people shy away from Maggie Valley because they are afraid of being pulled over even if they are not speeding or driving drunk.

“They’ll be texting each other “Don’t go to Maggie. Don’t go to Maggie,’” Matthews said.

Chief Scott Sutton said he had not heard the same concerns. Visitors to the valley like to see cops out and about, patrolling the town, Sutton said.

“It don’t bother most people,” he said.

In fact, Sutton said, the police department will receive calls from a restaurant or a bar, asking the cops to show up around closing time to make sure the peace was kept.

“I can’t discourage my officers from doing their duties,” he said.

As far as drunken driving goes, DWI rates in Maggie are low, Sutton said. Most offenders are locals, he said. Others haven’t been out on the town in Maggie but are coming back from a show at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Cherokee.

Alderwoman Saralyn Price, the former town police chief, said that the officers are not picking on particular businesses but rather parking in a favorite spot or in the most convenient place.

“You are going to pull over in the easiest place,” Price said.

The aldermen and mayor made it clear that they, too, do not want the police to start shirking their responsibility, but DeSimone suggested that the town use some unmarked cop cars, which would allow police officers to continue to monitor the valley conspicuously.

“Nobody is complaining that you are pulling over people who are drunk or speeding,” DeSimone said. “We don’t want you to be less effective.”

The mayor also proposed fiddling with the police department’s patrol schedule, ensuring that a couple of cops are watching Soco Road while others make the rounds through residential areas — a circuit that takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete.

The aldermen said they brought the concern to Sutton after hearing complaints from business owners — but one alderman stated that the talk might not have not taken place if Maggie Valley businesses were not experiencing hardship as a result of the recession.

“If this was five years ago … then we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Matthews said.

Like the town leaders, business owners had mixed feelings about the fuzz in Maggie Valley.

Steve Hurley, owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar, said he has not heard any patrons protest about the number of patrol cars along Soco Road.  

“It’s never affected me,” Hurley said. “I like having the cops around. I want them to be getting the drunk drivers.”

In regards to officers parking their vehicles near his business, Hurley replied that they have to park somewhere.

In contrast, a co-owner of Stingray’s said it is a chronic problem.

“Here is the feedback we hear: we don’t want to come to Maggie Valley because all the law does is sit around and wait on us,” said Nathan Hughes, Stingray’s owner. “That kills business. People get intimidated by that.”

The police need to find a happy medium, in which they continue to keep people safe but avoid scaring off potential customers, Hughes said.

Maggie has historically had an active bar scene. It was one of the first and only towns where liquor drinks were legal at bars. For nearly two decades, it was one of the only WNC towns west of Asheville where mixed drinks were sold, and revelers would bring their partying to Maggie as a result, setting a precedent of an active after-hours police presence.


Maggie Valley’s town board has decided not to play favorites when it comes to the growing number of motorcycle rallies revving up to claim a piece of the two-wheeled action at the town festival grounds.

Maggie Valley will be home to at least five motorcycle rallies this year — a crowded field that led two longtime rally organizer to seek a reprieve. Too many motorcycle rallies, particularly in close proximity to each other, hurt their ability to draw patrons. There simply aren’t enough bikers to support all the rallies, prompting organizers to ask the town for exclusive windows when no other rallies will be held.

But, the town board last week unanimously denied the request from Thunder in the Smokies for a four-week window of protection around its two annual motorcycle rallies put on by Handlebar Corral Productions.

“This is a complicated issue and having this protection window in here is not as cut and dry as some people would like to think it is,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone. “My opinion is that for 2012 we should not handle this issue on the fly.”

The town board agreed at its most recent meeting to maintain the status quo and revisit the issue of protection windows for events in 2013.

“We are trying to do what’s best for Maggie,” said Alderman Phil Aldridge. “We need a year to think about it; we need six months.”

In December, Chris Anthony, a promoter with the company, sent a letter to town leaders, asking “that there be a minimum of four consecutive weeks before and after of no other motorcycle related events.” For the past nine years, Handlebar Corral Production has put on Thunder in the Smokies at the festival grounds twice a year — one in the fall and in the spring.

It came after a similar request by Rally in the Valley, put on by the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association. Rally in the Valley gave Maggie leaders an ultimatum: either bar any other motorcycle festivals during the fall or the event would be no more. The town denied that request as well, and the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers made good on their threat by pulling its event from Maggie Valley’s calendar.

Rather than tackle the problem this year when most plans have already been set, the town decided it would consider such requests for events in 2013.

The town eliminated most of the fees associated with using the festival grounds in the hopes that the prospect of a cheap-to-use venue would attract more events. And, for this reason, Alderman Saralyn Price said the town should not be beholden to each promoter’s requests.

“We are giving it away,” Price said. “We should not be letting people tell us how to run the festival grounds.”

Beginning with next year’s events, each request will be weighed on a case-by-case basis though the town does hope to pen a more formal application process for promoters who want to use the festival grounds.

“We are trying to rewrite the rules while the game is going on,” DeSimone said. He added that the town already tries to separate similar events to ensure that it gets the most out of each. If the town decided to schedule two motorcycle rallies on consecutive weekends, for instance, it would be unlikely to realize a large profit from either event.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie, said that the valley is not the only place running into these conundrums. While vacationing in Myrtle Beach, O’Keefe said she heard a news story state that town officials there considered cancelling all its rallies because of on-going problems with promoters.

“Everybody thinks all of this only happens in Maggie Valley,” she said.


More motorcycles

On the heels of its decision about Thunder in the Smokies, Maggie’s town board approved yet another motorcycle rally coming to town. Event organizer Charlie Cobble originally planned on doing a car show in May but told the town he wanted to rebrand it as the Maggie Valley Spring Bike Fest after research showed that a car event would not fair well.

“We did not do a lot of the leg work that we should have done,” Cobble admitted. “We did not want to spend the money and not bring the people.”

According to his research, only 15 percent of people surveyed said they would attend a car show. Cobble said he did not want to back out of his commitment to host an event and did not want to hold an unsuccessful one either. So, in the interest of making money for both himself and the town, Cobble requested the change.

Cobble said he has already spent about $7,400 and begun lining up vendors, sponsors and bands. And, luckily for Cobble, the town denied the Thunder in the Smokies request for exclusivity, which would have prevented him from hosting another motorcycle rally in May.

That same night, the Maggie Valley aldermen also added three additional events to its festival grounds calendar and lined up another event for 2013.


RBC Bank is looking to offload the building that once housed O’Malley’s On Main Pub and Grill in Waynesville from its list of assets.

A ‘for-sale’ sign has been posted in the window of the vacant building following a bank foreclosure last fall. The once-popular downtown bar had changed management at least four times in six years, leading to a slow but steady decline in business and opening the door for new competition in Waynesville’s bar scene to gain a toehold. O’Malley’s was ultimately forced to close after the building owner failed to make mortgage payments and fell into foreclosure, ending a 20-year run.

At least five people have viewed the more than 5,000-square-foot property, said Jason Burke, a Realtor with Whitney Commercial Real Estate in Asheville.

“I’ve had a lot of interest,” Burke said. “I think it will sell soon.”

He added that two offers have already been made. The asking price is $428,000 for the three-story building, which includes an upstairs apartment and basement. The building and business together sold for $875,000 in 2005, but O’Malley’s was still a thriving business at that time.

Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said the business is a more difficult sale because a new owner must commit to purchasing the while building rather than leasing it.

“I think the financial end of it is holding it up,” Phillips said.

Phillips said she would like to see a restaurant occupy the space and believes it could be profitable. “If there is something unusual, if there is a different idea, if there is different food choices than we already have, then sure,” she said, adding that she has approached several people about the vacancy.

Waynesville already has “a couple of really good bars that have excellent food,” Phillips said about the idea of opening the business as a bar once again.

Tourism officials hope the anchor storefront doesn’t remain vacant but instead is put to work creating jobs and generating additional revenue in the county.

“O’Malley’s is a great space for a new business on Main Street,” said Cece Hipps, president of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, in an email. “The space will require that the business have both financial resources to purchase and time to up fit the space to their needs.”


Cumbersome baggage

Before the building landed in foreclosure, it was home to O’Malley’s On Main for 20 years.

During its early years, the bar filled a niche. It was the one and only bar on Main Street, a community gathering spot with a genuine Cheer’s atmosphere. A spate of management changes set off a decline in customer service, however. Meanwhile, what was once the only game in town began facing competition scene from a burgeoning downtown bar scene with establishments like Tipping Point Tavern, The Wineseller, The Sweet Onion, The Gateway Club and Frog’s Leap.

By the time Lisa Bessent leased the business in 2008, it was already on the way out.

“It had a lot of bad reputation to overcome,” Bessent said. “It was just a struggle the whole time.”

During her tenure as owner of O’Malley’s, Bessent said she never once wrote herself a paycheck but would bartend or wait tables if she needed petty cash. Everything else went back into the business, she said.

“I was not making any money at O’Malley’s,” Bessent said. “I’d never ran a business in my life.”

Bessent attributed part of the bar’s poor bottom line to competition from Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar, which captured customers from the nearby ski resort in Maggie Valley who previously traveled to Waynesville in search of a bar.

Regardless of the actual business, the then-building owners Eric and Jon Mostrom of Minnesota defaulted on their loan to RBC Bank, which had lent them $510,000 in late 2005. The vast majority of that loan — more than $420,000 — had still not been repaid by March of last year. So, the bank started the foreclosure process and later purchased the building at a discount on the courthouse steps.

When the bank announced that it was foreclosing on the building, Bessent decided to take what money she had left and move on rather than continue to sink everything she had into the business while waiting for the final foreclosure date.

The foreclosure was Bessent’s lifeboat off of a sinking ship. It was the “perfect out,” she said.

Despite her luck the first time around, Bessent, currently a bartender at The Gateway Club, would like to run a bar again in the future.

“I would really like the opportunity to run another business like that,” she said. “Now, I have experience under my belt.”

However, she said the name O’Malley’s is stained and brings with it cumbersome baggage.

“I don’t know if putting O’Malley’s back in there would be a good idea at all,” Bessent said.

The things she enjoyed most, Bessent said, was being able to socialize with people and escaping the regular 9-to-5 day.

“It was like my living room,” she said. “I really miss that part of it.”


Swain County commissioners will have to decide in coming weeks whether to pony up $3,000 to $5,000 for an early voting site in Cherokee this election.

The Swain County Board of Elections doesn't have the money in its budget this year to run an early voting site in Cherokee as it did in 2010. The election board decided last week to pass the decision up the chain to county commissioners.

The election board also has given county commissioners the option of funding another early voting site at the West Swain County Fire Department to serve the Alarka, Almond and Nantahala areas.

The cost of running the sites would be between $6,000 and $12,000, said Joan Weeks, director of Swain County's Board of Elections. Right now, the only early voting site would be at the board of elections office in Bryson City.

Board of Elections Chairman James Fisher seemed confident that the commissioners would approve their request and then the board could move forward with election preparations.

"We are going to appear before the county commissioners and get the funding," Fisher said.

All three election board members have declared their support for continuing to operate the early voting site in Cherokee as long as they can line up the funding.

"I am still very hopeful we can make this happen," said board member Mark Tyson. "It would be sad if it didn't."

Tyson wanted the election board to go ahead and vote last week on the additional early voting sites. He made a motion to approve the early voting sites in Cherokee and West Swain pending funding from the county commissioners.

But, the other two election board members felt it was more appropriate to simply ask commissioners first.

"I felt like Mr. Tyson was trying to create a problem," Fisher said. "It would have backed the commissioners in a corner."

Board of Election officials will make their request at the next county commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28. And, at least some county commissioners are open to the idea of contributing to the early voting sites.

"I fully support the tribe having a voting precinct," said Commissioner David Monteith. "I think they should have a place to vote."

Commissioner Steve Moon, on the other hand, was more hesitant, saying he wants to discuss the issue with the other commissioners before deciding whether the $6,000 to $12,000 investment is worth it.

"That's a lot of money," Moon said. "That is not something we need to rush into."

County Commissioner Donnie Dixon agreed that the board must meet to talk about the issue collectively but was more optimistic that it might vote in favor of funding the sites.

"That is very possible," said Commissioner Dixon.

After addressing the county commissioners, election officials are planning to meet with tribal council leaders to update them on the issue.

Cherokee leaders have indicated that they would like the early voting site to operate again this election year and are willing to offer the county Internet services and a building on the reservation free of charge.

The request for an early voting site in West Swain came up for the first time this year.

Former elections board member John Herrin filed a formal request with the Board of Elections for a site located at the West Swain County Fire Department in Almond. The location would offer residents near the Nantahala Gorge and Alarka a closer place to vote. Currently, residents must drive into Bryson City — a 20- to 30-minute trip — in order to cast their ballot early.

"It is my intent in requesting this that it will inherently make the 'Right to Vote' much easier for the registered voters of Swain County," wrote Herrin in his request. "This would as well relieve some of the workload on the Election Day for very possibly the whole county."


Which costs more, time or money?

When the Swain County Board of Elections first offered an early voting site in Cherokee in 2010, the turnout was poor, with only 226 people taking advantage of the new location. Board of election members said the site may just need more time to gain a following but also questioned whether the county can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a previously underused early voting site. The board spent about $3,500 to run the site in 2010.

Without the additional location, Cherokee residents will again have to drive to the Swain County election office in Bryson City if they want to vote early — a more than 20-minute trek. And, for those living in the far reaches of Cherokee's Big Cove community, the trip is more like 30 to 40 minutes.

However, Cherokee residents aren't the only ones in Swain County who face a long haul into Bryson City to take advantage of early voting. People in Alarka and Nantahala have similar distances to drive. Residents of that area travel about 21 miles, or about 30 minutes, to cast early ballots.

Residents of western Swain County have indicated that they would like an early voting site as well. But, a formal request for an additional location was not submit to the Board of Elections until this year.


Things have gotten slightly darker at Western Carolina University.

The Cullowhee-based college is battling Boone’s Appalachian State University in the “Battle of the Plug.” A play on their football competition, Battle of the Old Mountain Jug, this battle pits the two rivals against each other for the benefit of the environment.

University sustainability officials are encouraging students living in the dorms to unplug and turn-off whatever and whenever possible. Professors are also being asked to teach their classes in the dark. But it is also the little things — like unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use to avoid a so-called “vampire load” — that can add up on a collective scale.

“The ability to beat App is up to everybody,” said Lauren Bishop, energy manager at WCU. “Students seem really excited about it this year, which makes me excited.”

Officials are measuring which campus residence hall saves the greatest percentage of energy, as well as how the overall reduction in energy use compares with participating institutions, including App State. WCU kicked off the three-week long event on Feb. 13.

Although Bishop is an App State grad herself, there’s no love lost when it comes to this energy competition. Despite her App State ties, Bishop assures that she bleeds purple.

“I have more of my energy invested in this school,” she said.

Bishop contacted App State with the idea of holding an energy competition a few years ago, but at the time, they had no way to track their energy savings. That is until the Center for Green Schools, an environmentally conscience nonprofit, created Campus Conservation Nationals, a countrywide electricity and water use reduction competition among colleges and universities. The nonprofit provided an online platform for schools to catalog their conservation efforts.

As of Monday, with 22 days left in the competition, App State was narrowly beating WCU.

If WCU hopes to pull off a win, it will need to work to shift the way students act and show them how much energy is indeed saved when they take a five- instead of 10-minute shower or turn the lights off when they leave a room.

“It is behavior change,” said Caden Painter, an energy management specialist at WCU. “We will continue to host activities that will promote this behavior change.”

Signs are posted around WCU reminding students about the competition, and Bishop has reached out to student groups to help spread the word.

“Peer-to-peer communication is still the most effective way,” she said.

Bishop has been receiving steady requests from resident assistants and student groups to lead sustainability-related events, such as a green energy trivia night. Participation is reaching “critical mass,” she said.

Bishop hopes that they will be able to keep the momentum going even after the competition ends.


Sustaining its energy focus

All state colleges and universities must lessen their energy consumption 30 percent by 2015 — a feat that WCU has already attained. WCU was the first, and in fact only, university in the state to meet the mandatory energy reduction goal.

“We are the only ones maintaining it,” Bishop said.

But the university isn’t resting on those laurels.

With the installation of a new chancellor, the university has begun work on its new vision — which includes more energy savings.

“Sustainability is a big piece of that,” Bishop said.

The best and easiest way to be sustainable, according to Bishop, is simply monitoring usage levels.

The university spends nearly $1 million on utility bills each year, Bishop said.

WCU has started “aggressively” scheduling classes and events so that buildings not in use can be essentially shut down, she said.

WCU also plans to debut its own program for keeping track of its energy usage at some point in the future. Harrill Hall, which is currently under renovation and will reopen with a gold LEED certification, will feature a screen displaying that residence hall’s usage data, Bishop said.

The school has one other LEED-certified building; its’ Health and Human Sciences building is certified at the silver level. However, sustainability has been a part of WCU’s construction planning for several years.

“We have started to make that more of a priority in the building,” Painter said.

Although they are not certified, the Fine and Performing Arts Center and the Center for Applied Technology building are “pretty energy efficient,” Bishop said.

It is considerably easier to construct more sustainable buildings that use various forms of energy more effective than to condition humans to change their behavior.

“I think it’s more taking the control out of the end user,” Bishop said. “Building better buildings.”


Delinquent payers of the tourism room tax in Haywood County will soon have the tax collector knocking on their door.

County commissioners approved a resolution that will allow the tax collector to recover money from hotel and motel owners not paying the county’s 4-percent occupancy tax.

“It’s not fair when you’ve got some people who are paying on time every month and some people quit paying,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “Over the years, it has become an increasing problem.”

The tax is supposed to be tacked on to a tourist’s bill when they stay in a hotel, bed and breakfast or vacation home rental. Lodging owners then remit the tax they collect to the county on a monthly basis. The Tourism Development Authority uses revenue from the tax to fund advertising campaigns, area events and other tourism-related expenditures.

“How do you know if they’ve not paid?” asked Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

Collins said that she can read newspapers, look on websites or simply drive by lodging establishments that she knows are not paying and see them still accepting customers.

Room tax money is paid to the county finance office, which keeps a small percentage of the tax to pay its employees. However, the TDA was responsible for contacting businesses who were behind in their tax payment or those who did not pay. The TDA, however, does not have anything close to the authority that the county tax collector has. Tax collectors can garnish wages or take money directly from a business’ bank account if it is not paying.

For years, the tourism authority board has struggled with ways to bring accommodation owners into compliance. Each meeting, the board is presented with a list of people who owe overdue taxes.

“This is an ongoing issue,” said Commissioner Mike Sorrells, who also sits on the tourism board. “Every meeting, this is discussed.”

In some cases — continued delinquency or flat out refusal to pay — the TDA will still need to resort to legal action to collect its dues.


Waynesville leaders have committed to foot the bill for the long-held dream of a skateboard park — and it will receive help from an unexpected place.

After years of pinning their hopes on grants and private fundraising that only partially materialized, town leaders have now decided they must move forward with the construction of a public skate park or kill the idea all together. The town board discussed what to do about the skate park at a daylong annual planning session last week. And, fortunately for local skateboarders, the town has said it will fund the project no matter what.

“I sort of like the idea of being able to hang our hat on (the skate park investment),” said Alderman Wells Greeley. “We are going to have parents who will bring their kids over to Waynesville for the day. This falls in the category of what I call good growth.”

Alderman Gary Caldwell has been advocating for a skateboard park for 15 years and was the most vocal board member when discussing the skate park last week.

“I know I am asking a lot,” Caldwell said. But, Caldwell said he wouldn’t stop lobbying for it.

“It’s not a dying issue,” he said.

Plans for the park continually stalled during the past decade as the town struggled to find financing for the project.

“I think it’s something that has been wavering too long,” said Alderwoman Julia Freeman.

Freeman said the town should support projects that benefit kids and get them active.

That’s exactly what the town did in 2010, when it put up $30,000 to hire a consultant to design a skate park in collaboration with ideas from local skateboarders.

The price tag to build a skate park was pegged at $325,000. The town has amassed almost $137,000 toward the cost: a $60,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Rec Trust Fund, a $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club and another $40,000 committed by the town itself.

With blueprints for a skate park in hand, the town hoped it would kick-start fundraising, but only $5,000 in private donations has been raised in the past year.

That leaves the town $190,000 short to fund the project.

If the town continues to postpone the project, the cost will inevitably increase with inflation.

“The longer the delay, the higher the price — for the same thing,” said Alderman LeRoy Robinson.

A facilitator from the Southwestern Commission who was running the town’s planning meeting tossed out the idea of scaling back the project and thereby reducing the cost. But, town board members did not seem receptive to that idea.

“If you scale it back, you are going to reduce the challenge, and that is part of the draw of something like this,” Robinson said. “If they don’t feel it is a challenge, they will be back on the street.”

Skateboarding on town sidewalks and most streets is illegal, and violators could be fined $50 or, even worse, have their board taken away. But, that doesn’t mean kids aren’t doing so when no one is watching.

“That has been a major issue,” Caldwell said. “It’s a nuisance.”

The park will give those kids a free place within walking distance of downtown to skateboard legally.

The design for the skate park, developed by Spohn Ranch Skateparks from California, includes bleachers for spectators, at least four ramps and a raised platform with rails, among other features.

“To be honest with you, I’ve been trying to do this forever and ever, but I never envisioned it to look like this. This is amazing,” Caldwell said.

Although the town is building the skate park, it will not staff it, limiting its liability in the event of an accident. Once the park is complete, the town could host competitions there, which would draw visitors and their checkbooks.


As luck would have it, money materializes

As the Waynesville town board grappled with where it would find $190,000 to fund the remaining balance of a skateboard park, it realized somewhat accidentally it was staring a new source of revenue in the face.

At the same meeting where the skate park was discussed last week, the town also took up the issue of whether to start charging fees for controversial sweepstakes machines as several other towns in the region do.

The board agreed in an epiphany moment that recreation would be an appropriate use the new income.

It would likely not be enough to fund all that is needed, however. Maggie Valley and Canton currently tax the sweepstakes machines in their respective towns. Maggie collects $8,250 a year, while Canton rakes in nearly $32,000 each year.


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