Holly Kays

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After 2018’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, county and school system officials in Jackson County put their heads together to come up with a plan to reduce the chances of such a tragedy someday happening locally. After more than a year of planning and research, the school system is now getting close to implementing the more complex of those safety measures.

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In the wake of a June 27 joint resolution from the three Cherokee tribes that declared the native language to be in a state of emergency, this year’s Annual Council sessions in Cherokee revealed language preservation to be a priority for tribal members of all backgrounds and political persuasions. 

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Sylva residents gave incumbent commissioners David Nestler and Greg McPherson a vote of confidence by granting them another four years on the town board, but just as in the 2015 race the third of the three seats up for election will be decided by the flip of a coin, according to unofficial results.

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High winds ahead of a cold front expected to move in later today have caused the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to close several roads and issue a warning to hikers.

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More than a year of planning, collaboration and plain old-fashioned hard work has resulted in a new kids bike park along the Jackson County Greenway, an accomplishment celebrated during a sunlit ribbon-cutting event held at noon Thursday, Oct. 24.

“This park right here, not only is it a tangible, concrete resource for kids immediately and today, but it also stands for, I think, effective and incredibly positive collaboration and partnership between our organization and Jackson County, which I think could materialize into other exciting things,” said Michael Despeaux of the Nantahala Area Southern Off Road Bicycling Association. 

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With a new Tribal Council seated and a year of reprieve in place before the election cycle begins again, the body will be considering additional changes to Cherokee’s election ordinance. 

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In August, Jackson County commissioners voted unanimously to buy 3.67 acres along Haywood Road in Dillsboro to use as the new site for the area’s recycling drop-off center. But Dillsboro’s town board is now voicing staunch opposition to the move, claiming that the plan would adversely affect the town’s economy and cause problems with traffic and litter. 

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With two years elapsed since Sylva passed its first-ever food truck ordinance in July 2017, the town board is circling back to discuss what’s working, what’s not and what could be better. 

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After filling the position for nearly a year and a half without the ability to perform law enforcement duties, Greg Wozniak is gone from his position as Pisgah District Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

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Though just barely off the ground, a new hemp testing service launched in Asheville is receiving a markedly positive response from Western North Carolina farmers. 

“We’re definitely feeling pretty busy,” said Amanda Vickers, director of the US Botanical Safety Laboratory. “Our phone has started ringing a lot more since we announced this testing, and a lot of people are really excited to be able to hand deliver their samples. It’s looking like this is really something that there is a demand for.”

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Commissioner Mickey Luker’s lack of attendance at county board meetings in recent months has spurred southern Jackson County residents to ask for Luker’s removal from office, with four people addressing commissioners during their Oct. 15 meeting with that request.

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After a narrow vote and a delayed ratification, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a new budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

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With early voting already underway and the Nov. 5 election just around the corner, two Sylva residents have declared their intention to run as write-in candidates for a seat on the town commission. 

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After being banned since Sept. 26, backcountry campfires are once more allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as of Tuesday, Oct. 22.

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If the United States’ outdoor recreation industry were its own country, it would be the world’s 25th largest economy. And, while towns like Moab and Boulder and Jackson Hole might have more name recognition on a nationwide scale, Western North Carolina has everything it takes to command a large piece of that hypothetical country’s pie.

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The race for a seat on Sylva’s town board is competitive this year, with six people running for election to one of the three open seats. Two of them are incumbents, one is a former town commissioner and three are seeking elected office for the first time. Serving four-year terms extending through December 2023, the winners will govern during a pivotal time in Sylva’s history.

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Legislation creating a Cannabis Commission that would set the stage for hemp production on the Qualla Boundary has been overturned, following a veto from Principal Chief Richard Sneed and a failed attempt from Tribal Council to override that veto. 

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The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has purchased 62 acres at Doll Branch in the Highlands of Roan, an acquisition that adjoins the Cherokee National Forest and is less than half a mile from the Appalachian Trail.

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The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission wants to know about pine snake sightings in North Carolina, found mostly in the southwestern mountain counties, the southern Coastal Plain and the Sandhills.

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A 187-acre conservation purchase in Haywood County will allow for wildlife grazing and movement near Interstate 40.

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Students in the HIGHTS program, which works with vulnerable youth and their families in Western North Carolina, learn about more than honey when they tend beehives through HIGHTS’ Bee Well program, which believes that bees are good tools for working with youth.

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This year Sylva voters will be given a ballot listing six possible names for three open seats on the town’s board of commissioners, but following Danny Allen’s decision to leave the race, only five will belong to viable candidates.

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After coming up short in the General Election Sept. 5, principal chief candidate Teresa McCoy filed an election protest Sept. 12 that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Board of Elections dismissed in a Sept. 30 decision.

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The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has gathered to conduct official business on 14 days since June began, but Commissioner Mickey Luker has been physically absent from these meetings more often than he’s been present. Now, his party would like to see him removed from his seat and replaced with somebody who will fill the chair more often.

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A new chapter in tribal government began this week when the winners of September’s General Election were sworn in before a crowd whose members ranged from local community members to state and national legislators.

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 Billy Graham was just a local preacher from Montreat the first time that the Methodist Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center asked him to come speak at Stuart Auditorium.

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Drought has deepened throughout Central and Western North Carolina, according to a new map published today.

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It was an hour and a half after sunrise, and the day’s first rays had not yet touched Judaculla Rock, hidden away in a hollow near Caney Fork in Jackson County. 

“I would encourage you to come back at different times,” T.J. Holland, cultural resources supervisor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, told the group assembled around him. “It’s one of these fascinating things — time of the year, time of day, weather all affects how this looks, and I’ve not been here twice that I’ve not seen something different.”

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The Center for Domestic Peace — the successor to REACH of Jackson County — is hoping to take over domestic violence services in Jackson County by next summer. There’s still a long way to go to meet that goal, but board members say that getting the organization on its feet is a vital step toward addressing the issue locally. 

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Sylva’s town board voted unanimously Sept. 12 to deny a petition from Dillardtown resident Aaron Littlefield to have his property voluntarily annexed into town limits. 

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UPDATE: Principal Chief Richard Sneed vetoed this resolution on Oct. 2, after The Smoky Mountain News' press time. Tribal Council will hold a special session at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4, to  hold a vote on whether to uphold or override the veto.

At its last meeting Sept. 12, Tribal Council voted to create the Cannabis Commission, a body that will work to get the tribe into the hemp business. 

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After more than seven years at the helm, Dan Harbaugh has left his role as executive director of the Tuckasiegee Water and Sewer Authority. His last day was Friday, Sept. 27, with the TWSA board hiring former Town of Sylva Public Works Director Dan Shaeffer to lead the organization temporarily. 

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A ban on backcountry fires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was announced today following the release of a new drought map showing that 45 counties in central and western North Carolina are experiencing moderate drought.

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Conservation leaders from across the state and nation gathered in Maggie Valley earlier this month to dedicate a land protection project that’s been in the works for a decade and a half — but is in many ways just beginning. 

The Conservation Fund now owns tracts of land totaling 710 acres in Maggie Valley’s Campbell Creek and Jonathan Creek watersheds, with work underway to transfer that property to the Maggie Valley Sanitary District for permanent conservation. Another 1,350 acres are in the pipeline for protection, with property owners having agreed to sell it once the money is there to buy it. 

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Fitness has long been an important part of Angel Squirrell’s life, but in recent years she’s found renewed purpose by sharing it with others. 

It was close to Christmas 2015 when Mark Stein and Randy Doster opened The Meditation Center in Sylva, an oasis of calming music and inspirational décor in a small white house along N.C. 107. 

Plans are progressing for a new animal shelter in Jackson County, the first new construction to be completed in the $7.65 million vision for a revamped Green Energy Park campus. 

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A Blue Ridge Parkway law enforcement supervisor who admitted to using illegal substances still retains his position as head ranger of the Parkway’s largest district, despite a March Board of Inquiry recommendation that his law enforcement commission be permanently revoked, according to records The Smoky Mountain News obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act. 

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There are a few moments in history that every American alive at the time remembers in crisp detail. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The first moon landing. The terrorist attacks of September 11. 

All three bore significance during astronaut Charlie Duke’s visit to Western Carolina University last week, on the 18th anniversary of the twin towers’ collapse. Two years before his death in November 1963, Kennedy changed the course of American history when he pledged during a May 1961 speech that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. NASA met that challenge with just over four months to spare when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the lunar surface, on July 20, 1969. 

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Passing off mass-produced tchotchkes as authentic Native American crafts could soon be illegal in Cherokee following Tribal Council’s unanimous vote to approve the Native Arts and Crafts Act last week. 

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The time to tweak plans for Sylva’s controversial N.C. 107 project is past, residents were told during a well-attended town meeting Thursday, Sept. 12. 

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Five families could find themselves in a brand new home in Sylva if a planned endeavor by Mountain Projects comes to fruition. 

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A lockdown at Southwestern Community College’s Jackson County campus has been lifted after law enforcement determined that students who reported a weapon on campus were mistaken.

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Hometown hero Riley Howell’s legacy will live on in the form a 4-mile race through the streets of the town he once called home, with the event raising money to support victims of violent acts like the one that took 21-year-old Howell’s life on April 30. 

The Mighty Four Miler will be held in conjunction with the Gateway to the Smokies Half Marathon, which started in 2015 and added a 4-mile race in 2017. Neither race was held this year after event organizer Haywood County Chamber of Commerce decided to discontinue it, but endurance event company Glory Hound Events later took on ownership of the race. 

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Jackson County hopes to offset the cost of moving its Dillsboro recycling center with proceeds from selling a piece of land in Sylva that has been county-owned since 2012.

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Election Day dawned clear and sunny in Cherokee Sept. 5, with polls opening at 6 a.m. for voters to choose the tribe’s next chief, vice chief and Tribal Council. 

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Principal Chief Richard Sneed produced a decisive victory in Cherokee’s Sept. 5 election, pulling in 55.11 percent of the vote against opponent Teresa McCoy, who took the remaining 44.89 percent. 

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Richard Sneed will remain the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for four more years following an Election Day victory, according to unofficial results.

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The Nantahala River in the Nantahala Gorge is now open to the public for all uses for the first time since landslides on Saturday, Aug. 24, resulted in significant damage and blockages in the area.

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Beneath the woodsy world of tree trunks, ferns and leaf litter is another, hidden realm. It’s the world of fungi, where these shadow organisms — not plants, but yet not animals — spread their tendrils through the soil, through the moist decay of fallen branches, into the bark of standing trees, both living and dead. Where the two worlds meet is where the mushrooms grow.

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