Holly Kays

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A public input session on the question of whether Jackson County should form a middle school drew split opinion during a public hearing Tuesday, Aug. 7.

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Western Carolina University has reached an agreement with Morris Broadband to expand high-speed internet service to rural, underserved areas of the Cullowhee Valley area near campus through the use of existing power poles owned by the university’s electricity distribution service.

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Pension plan double-dipping is prompting the Cherokee Tribal Council to consider tripling the number of years required to draw from the tribe’s retirement plan from five to 15. 

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Southwestern Community College is moving forward with plans for a $20 million health sciences building, having accepted applications from 11 contracting firms seeking to become prequalified to submit a bid for the project. 

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Barbed wire and hundreds of pounds of donuts are the key ingredients in a University of Tennessee Knoxville effort to complete the largest-scale black bear population study ever attempted. 

The 16 million-acre study area covers portions of Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, but by far the biggest chunk — about 8 million acres — includes portions of 24 WNC counties. Researchers collected data from the other three states last year but are spending the second and last year of the study focused solely on counting bears in North Carolina. 

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A Cherokee woman who successfully fought off disorderly conduct charges earlier this year has filed suit against nine parties in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians government, claiming that she’d been subjected to years of hostile working conditions and sexual harassment leading up to the criminal charge, which she said was based on a fabricated version of events. 

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New parking is coming to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino following the Cherokee Tribal Council’s unanimous vote Aug. 2 to transfer a 4.7-acre tract to the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise. 

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A brief conversation in Tribal Council Wednesday, Aug. 1, was the first public discussion on how the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians might eventually regulate the commercial use of culturally sensitive names since the issue was raised following the launch of 7 Clans Brewing. 

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Sylva Town Hall was filled beyond capacity as Mayor Lynda Sossamon called a public forum on the redevelopment of N.C. 107 into session Monday, Aug. 6. 

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When Sam Chandler heard that the summer camp he’d been attending for years planned to launch an adventure camp, he was sold. Chandler — who at 17 is a rising senior at Tuscola High School in Waynesville — was quick to sign up for the week of ziplining, hiking and whitewater rafting at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. He came back for a second year, and, when he’d maxed out the two-year cap on adventure camp attendance, returned this year as a counselor.

It would be a common story of summer camp memories and corresponding summer camp allegiance, but for one simple fact: Chandler, like the rest of the teens embarking on these outdoor excursions, is mostly blind. 

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Jackson County stands alone among the western counties for not having a separate middle school, but a group of parents is hoping to change that. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is in the midst of an effort to overhaul its elections laws, with a Sept. 30 deadline to take a final vote if the new rules are to apply for the September 2019 elections. 

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A new partnership between Southwestern Community College and Harris Regional Hospital aims to help aspiring nurses afford their education while bolstering Harris’ ability to maintain a quality staff. 

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Establishing a park in the Savannah community of Jackson County will be more expensive than originally anticipated, with commissioners voting unanimously July 16 to add $150,000 to the existing $250,000 project budget. 

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Grayson Wolfe is the kid with the huge smile on his face as he jumps between stepping stones on the obstacle course. He’s the kid biting his tongue in concentration as he prepares to descend the slide; the kid blowing air through a straw with all he’s got to power his paper boat through the water; the kid leaning over to hug one of the adults volunteering that day at Full Spectrum Farms.

“He’s really shining here,” said Grayson’s dad Ron Wolfe, watching his son play. 

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will seek $280 million in credit to fund a list of five priority projects following a 9-2 vote during Tribal Council’s July 10 Budget Council meeting.

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Educational leaders from across the mountain region convened at Cherokee Central Schools this month for an afternoon of conversation and collaboration around one central question — what can North Carolina communities do to better prepare their children for success against the unknown challenges of the future? 

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Intermittent breeze ripples the water atop Lake Junaluska as the sky vacillates between sun and cloud, but the wind can’t quite carry away the excited shouts and chatter of the 60 kids and teens strung out along the dock, casting lines in the water or paddling its surface in red canoes. 

“There goes Maggie!” somebody shouts, pointing to a little girl whose head just barely rises above the top of the canoe as she reclines between two teenage volunteers and another young girl, who supports Maggie carefully from behind. 

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Western Carolina University will have to wait a little longer to welcome a new chancellor to Cullowhee following a July 16 announcement from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. 

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Long-debated plans to renovate the old Cherokee Indian Hospital building as a crisis stabilization unit will now move forward following a 9-2 vote from Tribal Council to appropriate $31 million in funding. 

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When the Jackson County Health and Human Services Board met for its inaugural meeting June 11, board members made it clear that they had some major questions about county commissioners’ decision to create the consolidated board. The two-hour meeting ended with an exclamation mark when Jerry DeWeese announced his resignation from the board, with the remaining board members taking a split vote in favor of asking commissioners to provide a letter of explanation for the consolidation. 

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A youthful lark ended in tragedy July 1 for a Maggie Valley elk that trekked through the Pisgah National Forest to wind up in Henderson County. 

The young bull’s travels ended when he wandered onto I-26 near Hendersonville, just before 5 a.m. Sunday, July 1. A woman driving a minivan struck the elk, and while nobody in the vehicle was injured, the elk was hurt badly enough that he had to be put down. 

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Now nearing its third birthday, the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy is seeing strong numbers as it heads toward the July 23 launch of its first addition since opening in September 2015 — a 41,000-square-foot entertainment area featuring bowling, arcade games and a full-service restaurant. 

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With no end in sight to rising enrollment, Western Carolina University is hoping a public-private partnership with Wilmington-based Zimmer Development Company will help meet the housing needs of future upperclassmen.

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For even the most woods-savvy of plant lovers, a blooming mountain camellia is a rare to non-existent sight. 

A member of the tea family, it’s picky about its habitat, easily susceptible to drought and fire, and reticent to reproduce. All that adds up to a tenuous existence in scattered, isolated populations through the Southern Appalachians. To find a mountain camellia, you’ve got to know where to go and what to look for, and be willing to tromp through the backcountry until you see it. 

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A long-awaited mural is now complete in Sylva, marking the end of the Sylva Public Art Committee’s inaugural project. 

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A Cherokee resident will spend four years in federal prison for his involvement in the 2015 stabbing death of 25-year-old Tyler Gaddis, of Whittier. 

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Dismay over preliminary road construction plans that would force 54 Sylva businesses to relocate has sparked a revival of the Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance, the group that in the early 2000s fought off N.C. Department of Transportation plans to build a new highway — dubbed the Southern Loop — connecting Cullowhee to U.S. 74.

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Bill Holbrook has been a lot of things in his 71 years on earth — a factory worker, a manager, a father, a husband — but he’s always been a farmer.

“I enjoy getting my hands dirty. I enjoy the challenge,” said Holbrook, who owns Cold Mountain Farms. “I like it better than working on concrete in a factory.”

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A committee focused on increasing affordable housing options in Jackson County has been created following a unanimous vote of the Jackson County Commissioners.   

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The three Cherokee tribes joined voices last week to decry the recent surge of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

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Hookup fees are set to plummet for water and sewer customers in Jackson County following adoption of the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority’s new budget. 

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I entered the lottery on a whim, figuring that, like 90 percent of my fellow entrants, I’d end up with nothing but a polite “thank you for entering” and an invitation to try again next year. I was stunned, frankly, to receive an email that instead began with the word “congratulations” and an invitation to start dreaming about a front-row seat to one of the region’s most spectacular natural phenomena. 

That would be the flashing of the synchronous fireflies, Photinus carolinus. 

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From the moment Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher announced he’d been diagnosed with brain cancer — more than two years ago, in April 2016 — the diagnosis ceased to be the burden of an individual person. It became the burden of the entire Catamount community, and when at age 60 Belcher finally lost his battle with cancer on Sunday, June 17, grief rippled quickly through the WCU campus and past the borders of Jackson County, threading through the mountain region and out into all the lives and communities that Belcher had touched during his years on earth. 

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Outpourings of support and sadness were in ample supply once news of Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher’s death reached the Catamount community at large. From political leaders to staff to students, nearly everyone had a story or a sentiment to share about how Belcher had impacted them. 

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Enforcing banishments could become easier for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians depending on the fate of a bill that would heighten the penalty for trespassing on Cherokee land. 

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Hookup fees are set to fall for water and sewer customers in Jackson County, but how much will depend on the outcome of a budget process that’s set to wrap up at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 25. 

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An idea to turn the Jackson County Green Energy Park into a campus for creativity, learning and animal adoption now has some legs after commissioners voted unanimously June 18 to spend $45,000 on a master plan for the project. 

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Jackson County Commissioners voted unanimously June 18 to adopt a $71.67 million budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts July 1. 

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Twenty-five years ago, a group of residents, conservationists and agency officials met in Macon County to talk about water. At the time, the Little Tennessee River had no conserved land along its banks, and there was no nonprofit organization around dedicated to protecting it — but the gathering sparked a change.

“That conference was really the catalyst for the formation of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association and then later the Nikwasi Land Trust, (both of) which became the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee,” said Jason Love, site manager for the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Macon County.

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The Kituwah Economic Development Board is now ready to start pursuing expanded business opportunities for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after Tribal Council approved appointments and a compensation plan for the venture last week. 

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After 51 years standing high on a hill along Patton Avenue in Asheville, a 23-foot-tall statue of Chief Pontiac is coming down. 

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The reward for information leading to a conviction for ballot tampering in Cherokee’s September 2017 elections has been quadrupled from $25,000 to $100,000 following a unanimous vote from the Cherokee Tribal Council June 7. 

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The tension that surrounded Jackson County commissioners’ decision to merge its health and social services departments wasn’t hard to sense when the new consolidated board gathered for its first meeting Monday, June 11. 

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When the Jackson County Commissioners met June 5 to discuss final changes to the proposed budget for 2018-19, they came away with more questions than answers when faced with more than $1 million in additional funding requests. But a 10-minute follow-up June 11 was all that commissioners needed to give the OK to the plan county staff developed to address the crunch. 

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A month of rain capped off by the arrival of Tropical Storm Alberto has caused massive flooding, landslides and loss of life in North Carolina’s western region, but the mountains west of Asheville were mostly able to escape the devastation experienced in Polk, McDowell, Avery and Buncombe counties. 

“I think everyone’s optimistic that we dodged a bullet to have got 20 inches of rain in two weeks and not gotten any more extensive flooding than what we had,” said Joe Deal, agriculture extension agent for Macon County Cooperative Extension.

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When you enter Western Carolina University from the four-lane, a green-and-white N.C. Department of Transportation sign is the only thing to say that you’ve officially arrived on the Catamount campus. 

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Western Carolina University got some good news last week when the state legislature approved a budget bill that includes $16.5 million for the first of two phases to replace its aging steam plant, an ever more pressing need that WCU has been clamoring to address for years. 

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A referendum vote asking Cherokee voters to OK a tribally owned beer, wine and liquor store off casino property failed on two fronts last week — the question received more no votes than yes votes, and turnout fell short of the percentage required to qualify as a valid referendum. 

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With the deadline to adopt a new budget drawing ever closer, Jackson County Commissioners are still deliberating how to handle $1 million in last-minute budget requests. That’s on top of an already planned $979,800 public safety increase that’s spurred a 1-cent per $100 property tax increase in the proposed budget. 

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