Holly Kays

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Western Carolina University students whose lives have been changed by the tuition reduction program N.C. Promise got to tell their stories to UNC System President Margaret Spellings during her visit to campus Wednesday, Oct. 24. 

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When UNC System President Margaret Spellings visited Cullowhee Wednesday, Oct. 24, the prevailing mood was celebratory and lighthearted as she lauded the success of the new tuition reduction program at Western Carolina University and congratulated student speakers on their accomplishments. But, within 48 hours of her return to Raleigh, Spellings would announce her resignation from the position she’d held for less than three years. 

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An effort is underway to make North Carolina’s 24 western counties into the next outdoor gear industry hub, and the far western region is poised to find itself at the epicenter of that wave. 

“We’ve already got tremendous momentum within the outdoor sector from the early work that’s been done to cultivate this sector,” said Matt Raker, director of community investments and impact for Asheville-based Mountain BizWorks. “A lot of that is rooted in our exceptional outdoor recreation assets we’ve got across the region, from Tsali to the new Fire Mountain Trails to the Tuckasegee and the Pigeon River Gorge, you name it — we could go on for a long time. That’s helped attract a lot of entrepreneurs and brands here, but they have some specific needs to be able to grow.”

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City Lights Café is a fixture in Sylva, a frequent stopping place for downtown workers in search of a cup of coffee, students looking for a place to snack and study or tourists needing a quick and healthy bite before continuing their exploration of Jackson County. 

Growing up in Germany as the daughter of a repair shop owner, Ute Grant knew three things about how her life should go: she never wanted to go to America, she never wanted to get married and she never wanted to be self-employed. But life has a way of showing up the firmest of convictions. 

Sylva attorney Kim Carpenter’s legal career started after law school, but the year she spent beforehand working with the Swain County Department of Social Services planted the seeds. 

There’s still more than a year to go before the N.C. Department of Transportation starts acquiring right-of-way for the N.C. 107 project in Sylva, but businesses are already making decisions about whether to leave town, and governmental entities are already having conversations about how to entice them to stay. 

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MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center will soon begin work toward an alternative vision of the N.C. 107 project in Sylva. 

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Brannen Basham spends more time puttering around the yard than the average homeowner, but the result is not what most people would picture when asked to envision a well-cared-for lawn. 

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The calendar had declared the start of fall two weeks prior, but that didn’t stop the sun from shining hot and high over Cullowhee Oct. 5, the last day of classes before fall break. For much of Western Carolina University’s student body, the heat probably didn’t matter — they’d already finished their last class and hit the road for a weeklong respite from academics. 

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When former Sheriff Jimmy Ashe decided not to run for re-election in 2014, a field of six Democrats and three Republicans signed up for the race to replace him, including Chip Hall and Doug Farmer. 

From towering mountains to shimmering seas, North Carolina has a little bit of everything — and for the trail that ties it all together, a major milestone has just been marked. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, trail volunteers, government officials and natural resources workers from across the state gathered at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee to celebrate completion of a 300-mile section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, starting at Clingmans Dome and ending at Stone Mountain State Park in Allegheny and Wilkes counties. 

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A week-long search for a missing woman in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ended in tragedy Tuesday, Oct. 2, when search crews located the body of 53-year-old Ohio resident Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements about 2 miles from the Clingmans Dome parking area. 

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As the 2019 fiscal year begins for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the tribe is operating under a recently passed budget that trims $40.4 million off the $604.7 million budget passed last year.

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During an Aug. 6 public hearing on the future of N.C. 107 in Sylva, Kel-Save owner Robert Kelley was the first to speak, delivering an impassioned treatise on the need for a plan that would do more to protect Sylva’s small business community from annihilation as right-of-way is acquired. 

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Ron Mau is still in the midst of his first term on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, started in 2016, but this November he’s challenging incumbent Chairman Brian McMahan in McMahan’s bid for re-election. 

A nighttime breath of fresh air turned traumatic for 75-year-old Swannanoa resident Toni Rhegness when she spotted three bear cubs while walking her dog on leash in her front yard Sept. 18.

While Rhegness followed important bear safety rules at her own home — not leaving trash outside and keeping her dog leashed, for starters — her neighbor had left garbage cans outside for pickup the next morning, and the cubs were scavenging them for a meal. Seeing the cubs, the dog barked. Rhegness shouted to scare the bears off and picked up her dog to go inside.

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After more than two months in limbo, the search for Western Carolina University’s next leader has re-launched with the goal of naming a new chancellor by the end of the academic year. 

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There was no discussion as the Jackson County Commissioners voted 3-2 Oct. 1 to uphold a vote they took in August to abolish the Consolidated Human Services Board and put themselves in its place. 

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Jackson County Commissioner Boyce Deitz took office in 2014 after wresting the seat from incumbent Doug Cody, but this time around Cody is looking to reverse that result in a repeat face-off to represent District 2. 

My bride and I celebrated our anniversary by ditching the kids and renting a cabin near Blue Ridge, Ga., for the weekend. 

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Andrew Shepherd has only been a runner for about two years. But when he took up the hobby, he was after more than a casual 5K. 

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An initial tally shows that 434 hikers cumulatively covered 2,756 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail during its birthday weekend Sept. 7 to 9, an average of 6.4 miles per hiker.

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Tribal Council extended its deadline to complete a slew of amendments to its election ordinance with a unanimous vote during its Sept. 6 meeting. 

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Jackson County Schools showed mostly level performance over last year with the release of statewide school performance data for 2017-18 this month. 

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Jackson County Commissioner Charles Elders is seeking a fourth term in office this campaign season, but challenger Gayle Woody is hoping election results will instead seat her for a first term. 

Work will begin next year on a new apartment complex in Sylva aimed at providing housing rates affordable to working-class people. 

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Chimney Rock State Park is now reopen, complete with a working elevator, after a tough year that included extensive damage from Tropical Storm Alberto and a short closure due to Hurricane Florence. 

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park volunteers received regional recognition through the George and Helen Hartzog Awards Program for Outstanding Volunteers this summer. 

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Schools and other educational organizations in Western North Carolina have the opportunity to bring wildlife education programs to their home turf through the Mountain Wildlife Outreach program. 

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The Maggie Valley Lions Club raised more than $10,000 for local charities with its 10th annual Golf Tournament and Silent Auction held Thursday, Aug. 23. 

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A Swannanoa woman sustained serious, though non-life-threatening, injuries Tuesday, Sept. 18, after an encounter with a black bear. 

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To call the view stretching out below the 5,462-foot bald “spectacular,” “impressive” or even “jaw-dropping” would be an understatement. 

It was as clear a day as had been spotted in the mountains this rainy year, skies blue and cloudless ahead of the slowly moving remains of Hurricane Florence. The sun shone on Cherokee to the west, Bryson City visible just a couple folds of land beyond it and the Nantahala Mountains rimming the horizon south and west of the small towns. 

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While the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors has yet to release a revised search process for Western Carolina University’s next chancellor, the WCU Chancellor Search Committee plans to launch the search’s second round during a meeting at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in the A.K. Hinds University Center. 

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Student housing at Western Carolina University will see a massive shuffle over the coming years as university leadership looks to update old buildings while preparing for the school’s continued growth. 

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If anyone ever had an excuse to leave her hometown and never return, it would be Myrtle Driver Johnson. 

Born May 21, 1944, to a mother who didn’t want her, Johnson had a hard upbringing in the Big Cove community of the Qualla Boundary. While her younger siblings — one brother and four sisters — lived with her mother and their father, Johnson, who never knew which of two men her father was, was sent to live with her grandparents. 

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Western Carolina University’s enrollment hit an all-time high this fall for the seventh out of the past eight years, with the population of student Catamounts increasing 5.48 percent over fall 2017 — roughly twice the enrollment increase Western was aiming for. 

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Free press law in Cherokee got a little more free following Tribal Council’s passage of amendments to the tribe’s Free Press Act Sept. 6, but there’s still work to do, said Cherokee One Feather Editor Robert Jumper. 

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While the federal marriage fraud case that’s been the topic of much discussion on the Qualla Boundary over the past year is winding down, FBI activity in Cherokee is likely to continue. 

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Southwestern Community College’s planned health sciences building has earned recognition for its economic development potential — with dollar signs attached. 

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With harvest season underway, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are now reaping the benefits of a springtime program the tribe has sponsored for 15 years running. 

This year’s eight-week WNC Get Fit Challenge is set to return Monday, Sept. 10, challenging not just Jackson County residents but people across the region to get moving. 

“It’s really just encouraging participants to be more active,” said Janelle Messer, health education supervisor for the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “It has a little bit of competitive feel to it. You can compete for weekly prizes. It’s not just who has the most steps or minutes but who’s the most diligent at putting theirs in, who’s the most improved and that kind of thing over the course of the eight weeks.”

Twenty years ago, Erin McManus and her friend Amy Miller were 22-year-olds fresh out of college, with no jobs, no boyfriends and a love of adventure. So, they did what many have dreamed of doing — they outfitted McManus’ little Mazda pickup truck with a loft bed and kitchen set-up, packed up their rock climbing gear and hit the road. For six whole months. 

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Autumnal vibrancy will depend on weather conditions over the next few weeks, according to Western Carolina University’s fall color soothsayer. 

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After nearly a year of public hearings, votes and contentious meetings, Jackson County’s health and social services departments are back where they started — sort of. 

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The Town of Sylva will take MountainTrue up on its offer to look for a better design for N.C. 107, with MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center currently working up a scope of work and timeline for the project. 

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Most people would not see a diagnosis of incurable cancer as an invitation to run 1,175 miles. But Kenny Capps is not most people. 

“It’s a cancer that requires you to say on top of it,” he said. “Moving in whatever way you can, that’s invaluable to being able to live with it. Because you can live with it. I know it’s terminal, but so is life. They don’t have a cure for that either.”

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After pleading guilty to involvement in a marriage fraud scheme, Ruth Marie Sequoyah McCoy, of Cherokee, was sentenced to two years of probation and a $2,000 fine in a hearing held Aug. 23 at the Western District of North Carolina U.S. District Court in Asheville. 

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Kathi Littlejohn can get lost in stories. Especially Cherokee stories. Their origins are often moored in worlds long past, but these stories have a tendency to twist through the years to end up knocking on the door of modernity. 

“One of my first jobs as a teenager was working at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, which I absolutely loved. I was a tour guide,” recalled Littlejohn, who is now 63. “And on bad weather days when it was real slow, it was so much fun for me to sit with the people that were doing the crafts or some of the older guides and listen to stories.”

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Now well into its second year of operation, things are purring along at the American Museum of the House Cat in Sylva, so much so that director Harold Sims is hatching a plan to build a new, bigger home for the cat-honoring attraction. 

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