Holly Kays

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By the end of this year, a new championship-caliber disc golf course will debut on a wooded property along Raven Fork in Cherokee, right on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

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Trail closures and food prohibitions are expected to remain in place on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville through the end of the week after a bear attack sent two people to the hospital last week. 

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After three years and $330 million, a new hotel tower and convention center is now open at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians marked the start of a new Tribal Council term this week, with 2021 election winners sworn in and new officers selected Monday, Oct. 4. Through 2023, Big Cove Representative Richard French will serve as chairman and Birdtown Representative Albert Rose will serve as vice chairman.

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This November, Sylva voters will have their pick of four candidates to fill two seats up for election on the town board. Incumbents Mary Gelbaugh and Barbara Hamilton will face challengers Natalie Newman and Carrie McBane to earn the job of shepherding Jackson’s county seat through the next four years. 

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A black bear injured two people near the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville when it attacked on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

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On a sunny Saturday in September, tall grasses wave a fringe atop Max Patch, framing mountain layers fading from ripened green to hazy blue. Blooming heads of goldenrod and aster dot the slope, a brisk wind whisking autumn chill into the sun-warmed air. Slope and shrubbery combine to create pockets of privacy on the open bald, fostering an illusion of wilderness that’s broken only when the white-blazed trail brings two travelers together.

It’s a wholly different scene than the one that sprawled across the mountaintop just one year ago, when Asheville artist Mike Wurman flew his drone over the bald to capture what became a viral image of 130 tents blanketing a trampled-down Max Patch.

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On Thursday, Nov. 18, North Carolina tobacco growers will get to choose whether to continue paying 10 cents per 100 pounds of flue-cured and burley tobacco sold in order to support tobacco research and education.

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Waynesville Middle School student Kate Clark is the winner of this year’s Haywood Waterways Association Kids in the Creek T-shirt design contest, meeting success at her first try entering an art contest.

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Patrick Brannon, outreach specialist at the Highlands Biological Station, has received the 2021 award for exceptional environmental education programs from the Environmental Educators of North Carolina.

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Due to the Delta variant’s continued impact on public health, the Outdoor Economy Conference originally scheduled for Oct. 12-15 has been postponed until April 2-7, 2022 — but other opportunities to connect with the outdoor community will be scheduled in the meantime.

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Chiseled by an Emmy- and Academy Award-winning artist, a 2,400-pound bronze piece depicting Harriet Tubman leading a young girl out of slavery is now installed at Bridge Park in Sylva. 

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In celebration of its 50th anniversary year in 2022, the Nantahala Outdoor Center has announced a schedule of international travel tours beginning in the spring.

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Mainspring Conservation Trust recently closed on an in-holding of the Nantahala National Forest Service in the Caney Fork Valley of Jackson County.

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Haywood County Recreation and Parks will continue its hiking program through October, offering a diversity of guided hiking opportunities throughout the month.

Nearly $3 million in newly announced funding will support further development of the outdoor-driven community and economy in Western North Carolina. The project aims to generate 325 jobs and generate $18.1 million of new investment in the region’s outdoor economy.
The three-year project, managed by Mountain BizWorks and the Growing Outdoors Partnership, will rely on three core pillars to accomplish its goals.

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The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in North Carolina fell below 3,000 last week for the first time since Aug. 10 as the summer surge due to the Delta variant appears to be receding. 

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The 30th annual Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Chamber Challenge Golf Tournament drew 92 golfers to participate in 23 four-person teams on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

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The future of a three-star hotel project at the Sequoyah National Golf Club in Whittier is uncertain after Tribal Council voted unanimously Sept. 20 to withdraw a resolution requesting $3.5 million to pay Tribal Construction for site work on the property. 

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The Brevard-based business Black Folks Camp Too was recently given The President’s Award from America’s State Parks during the organization’s annual awards.

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Every Thursday at 1 p.m. this October, staff at the Highlands Nature Center will offer “Autumn Amble” tours around the botanical garden.

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When the Davidson River first hit flood stage on at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17, it was a normal — albeit rainy — workday for employees at the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Brevard. But by 5:45 p.m. a river that had mere days ago flowed less than a foot deep peaked  at 14.19 feet, plunging the fish hatchery raceways under feet of water and leaving employees — as well as a volunteer and member of the public who had been at the education center — to scramble for higher ground. 

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Waves, water and mountain streams will be key design elements at Jackson County’s new indoor pool complex, commissioners heard during a Sept. 14 work session  with the company carrying out the $20 million project. 

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Two new changes to Sylva’s rules for downtown parking are now in effect following a pair of unanimous votes at the Sept. 9 town board meeting. 

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Enrollment, retention and freshman interest at Western Carolina University are all down this fall compared to last year, and university leaders are preparing to combat what they believe will be a lingering issue through the pandemic and beyond. 

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This year marked both the 16th birthday of the Benton MacKaye Trail and the 100th anniversary of its namesake’s flagship idea. Proponents of the trail want Congress to honor these milestones by designating the Benton MacKaye Trail as the nation’s 12th National Scenic Trail

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On the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 17, Rob Young was watching the rain fall. He watched it first through the windows of his office at Western Carolina University and then later at his home in Webster — and, continuously, on his computer screen, where ever-changing river depths were displayed through the state’s Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network, or FIMAN

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The $633 million budget Tribal Council approved Sept. 7 represents a return to growth, after a cautious 2020-2021  budget relied on just 50% of the previous year’s casino proceeds and clocked in 19.5% slimmer than the 2019-2020 document. 

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After nearly two hours of discussion, debate and even tears during its Thursday, Sept. 9 meeting , the Cherokee Tribal Council shot down an effort to change a law banning the licensing and solemnization of same-sex marriages on the Qualla Boundary. 

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For the first time since 2015, Western Carolina University has posted a fall enrollment figure lower than that of the previous year.

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Eric Romaniszyn had been Haywood Waterways Association’s project manager for less than six months when the legendary floods  of September 2004 tore through Clyde and Canton, challenging him to execute his new role addressing watershed health and education in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime weather event. 

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Bernadette Peters arrived in Western North Carolina in 2011 as a novice in the world of food service and an outsider to the tight-knit Sylva community. 

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Until 2016, then-Chancellor David O. Belcher spent much of his time and energy as leader of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee telling anyone who would listen that WCU’s future was in danger. Specifically, the future of its engineering, science and nursing programs. 

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Tribal Council passed a 2021-2022 budget today that incorporates recommended salary increases for employees, board members and elected officials following the results of a compensation analysis from the consulting firm REDW.

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Three current Tribal Council members will not return in October following the Sept. 2 General Election, but the 2021-23 government will feature only one new face — unless a potential recount should change the results in Painttown. 

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In a historic vote, Cherokee voters said yes to expanded alcohol sales on the Qualla boundary following a Sept. 2 referendum. 

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A “reasonably colorful” fall leaf season with a less pronounced peak than usual is predicted for Western North Carolina, according to Western Carolina University fall color forecaster Beverly Collins.

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A week before Tropical Storm Fred unleashed historically high floodwaters on Western North Carolina, Greg Philipp was in Washington fighting the wildfires  now enveloping the bone-dry American West. Now, Philipp is the U.S. Forest Service incident commander for the aftermath of heavy rainfall that will impact favorite recreation sites in the Pisgah National Forest for years to come. 

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Sylva Town Manager Paige Dowling presented two options during the town board’s Aug. 26 meeting for funding the $2 million needed to repair landslides on Allen Street, but her ultimate recommendation was that commissioners pass on both and wait for help. 

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The Cherokee Tribal Council approved more than $110 million for new health facilities on the Qualla Boundary and in Cherokee County, giving unanimous endorsement to two separate projects during its Aug. 5 meeting. 

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For the second year running, the much-awaited Cherokee Indian Fair is canceled due to COVID-19.

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After a three-month lapse, Jackson County has re-instituted its masking requirement for county facilities. The mandate applies when entering “interior public spaces” and being within 6 feet of another person.

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A man found dead in the Hazel Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last September likely died due to a bear attack, making Patrick Madura’s death the second bear-related fatality in the park’s history. 

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In addition to claiming lives, homes and livelihoods, Tropical Storm Fred has had a significant impact on many beloved sites on Western North Carolina's public lands. News related to closures, impacts and damage to WNC's outdoor offerings will be posted here as it is received. 

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Friday, Aug. 13. Rivers are at normal levels, with a gauge about a mile upstream from Jukebox Junction on the East Fork Pigeon River reading 0.4 feet at 8 a.m., while a gauge on the Pigeon River just outside of Canton reads 1.61 feet.

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Election Day is coming to Cherokee on Thursday, Sept. 2, with voters set to choose Tribal Council and School Board representatives, as well as weigh in on three alcohol-related referendum questions. 

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Though Tropical Storm Fred bears the brunt of the blame for last week’s flood, a cold front moving ahead of the tropical storm set the table for destruction. 

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Rain was coming down hard as Gary Griffith surveyed his fields in Bethel, around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 17. Harvest season was in full swing, and before he went home to Ratcliff Cove, he wanted to make sure his 15 acres of peppers and cucumbers growing along the Pigeon River would make it through the storm. 

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While the Cruso area undisputedly received the worst of the flooding in Western North Carolina, it did not receive the worst of the rainfall.

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The Indiana Gaming Commission has approved a deal that would put an Indiana casino in the ownership of a company held by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

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