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The Macon County Board of Education has put in countless hours this year working to provide the best education possible for its students.

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Not all heroes wear capes.

At least not Amanda Seay. She seems more the utility pants and boots type. 

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Raise your hand if you’ve been paying attention to Western Carolina University athletics this academic year. 

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Million-dollar mountaintop vacation homes, phony moonshine from corporate mega-distilleries, dime-a-dozen seedy strip malls — none of these things are Appalachian things, and if one of the hardy old Mountaineers of yore was magically transported through time to the present day, they’d hardly recognize the place. 

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With a new year approaching, it’s the perfect time to start setting fitness goals — and to plan for participating in any of the 15 races Glory Hound Events has on its schedule for 2024. 

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The standing tradition of starting the New Year off on the trail will continue at N.C. State Parks Monday, Jan. 1, with more than 50 staff-led hikes showcasing the wonders of the Great Trails State. 

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Registration is open for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s fourth annual Winter Hiking Challenge, asking participants to complete 60 miles of trail in the 60 days between Jan. 1 and March 1. 

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The U.S. Forest Service has issued a proposal that would amend all 128 forest land management plans in its jurisdiction with language aimed at better maintaining, improving and expanding old-growth forests. 

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Delve into the amazing biodiversity of the Southern Appalachians with a program offered at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, at the University of North Carolina Asheville’s Reuter Center in Asheville or via Zoom. 

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Across the state, there has been an increase in firearm-related hunting incidents involving serious injury and fatalities. 

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The N.C. State Climate Office has launched a year-in-review tool that gives a review of trends and records at weather stations across the state. 

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At the Dec. 20 Haywood Chamber of Commerce board meeting, CeCe Hipps announced that she would be stepping down next summer after leading the Chamber for nearly 20 years.

“We have been fortunate to have had CeCe’s leadership. She has made so many contributions to the success of Haywood County and will be missed,” said Chamber Board Chair Laura Tragesser.

Over the past 20 years, the Chamber of Commerce has assisted Haywood County's growth by making connections to support local businesses and entrepreneurs.

“I’m proud of what we have accomplished in making this an attractive place for business growth and have been honored to serve as a voice for the community. Connecting individuals and organizations with opportunities for professional development has been one of my personal passions. I am also thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside Haywood County leaders, Chamber members and especially the Chamber staff.” said Hipps.

“Hipps has a strong record of success and has been responsible for building a robust and active chamber with a small budget and small team during the most challenging economic times and disasters. She has been creative and innovative in providing programming and opportunities to engage and empower individuals, especially young professionals and entrepreneurs, to become leaders and serve their communities. Hipps understands the importance of engaging her board and creating an environment of pride and ownership of the chamber,” said long-serving Chamber Board Member Bruce Johnson.

During Hipps' tenure, the Chamber of Commerce has helped Haywood County navigate natural and economic disasters, including the Great Recession in 2008, the COVID-19 pandemic, the devasting floods in 2004 and 2021 and the closure of the Pactiv Evergreen Mill in Canton in 2023.

“Our response to these events shows the true heart of the community and how we help our neighbors during these times,” she added. 

“Throughout our biggest challenges, CeCe has been a consistent, positive voice and stable leader,” said Ken Howle, Executive Director of Lake Junaluska.

Hipps advocated for her community during recessions and the pandemic to ensure all businesses received daily information regarding the status of the virus, grants and PPP funding. In addition, she pulled together a team of resource providers, business experts and leaders to provide information on business survival and methods to make necessary changes due to staffing and supply shortages while managing support to provide information learning sessions in a safe environment when Zoom burnout was evident. She was also instrumental in recovering from a significant flood that destroyed a part of the community. 

Her connections with business owners, manufacturers and medical facilities assisted in providing essential supplies and volunteers to assist in clean-up during a pandemic. 

“She understands the importance of regionalism, advocating for proper growth and change, and works with regional allies on relevant common issues,” said Board Chair Laura Tragesser. 

During Hipps' tenure, the Haywood Chamber celebrated 50 years in October 2021. In 2018, the Haywood Chamber began working with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to generate new energy and enthusiasm around economic development, which has expanded during the last several years to include other areas of need in housing, broadband and recreational facilities. The Apple Festival, held each October, has grown and brings an estimated $300,000 to the local economy for the one-day event.

In addition to growing the Apple Festival from 70 vendors to over 100 and being named one of the top 10 Fall Harvest festivals in 2020, she has implemented many events and programs, with the majority still being active programs of the chamber. Issues and Eggs, Women in Business, Women’s Empower Hour, Leadership Haywood, Chamber Connects, the Elected Officials Reception and the meet-n-greets with candidates seeking office. 

In addition, Hipps has used her experience with public policy to adopt a Legislative Priorities agenda while working with county leaders to seek their input.  She also implemented an annual Legislative Trip to Raleigh and has been part of planning a legislative trip to Washington, D.C. 

In October, Hipps and the Haywood Chamber of Commerce were recognized with the prestigious designation of a Carolina Accredited Chamber by the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. The Haywood Chamber is one of only 35 chambers in North and South Carolina recognized for their standards of excellence in the profession. This designation recognizes the Haywood Chamber of Commerce as one of the elite chambers in North and South Carolina to be certified.

In addition to the CACCE Certification, Hipps also received the CCE and IOM designations, the NC Government Basic Economic Development Certification and is a graduate of Leadership North Carolina. She was one of five team members who received the first Advantage West Certified Entrepreneurial Certification for Haywood County. She worked with key community leaders and recognized Haywood County as the First Certified entrepreneurial Community, assuring programs and support were available for businesses.

Hipps currently serves on several community committees and has been a part of visioning and planning processes throughout her tenure in Haywood County. She plans to continue residence in Haywood County, spend more time with her family and explore new career opportunities. 

The Haywood County Board of Directors has established a search committee of local business, government and education leaders.  The process of determining a successor for Hipps will begin immediately, and a job description will be posted on the Chamber’s website in late January.

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North Carolina’s candidate filing period for the 2024 General Election ended last week, and after a slow start, a flurry of Western North Carolina candidates have qualified for federal, state and local races. 

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Haywood County has been recognized with the prestigious Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA). 

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Jackson County Tourism Development Authority (JCTDA) will reopen its cycle for tourism capital projects Jan. 1, 2024. $600,000 is available for projects that benefit visitors and residents alike. Applications for this cycle are due June 1, 2024. 

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The Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE) recognized the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce as one of two recipients of the 2023 Carolinas Accredited Chamber designation at their annual management conference awards ceremony held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Summerville, South Carolina.  

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A significantly expanded bear hunting season and loosened rules about bait usage are among the rule changes the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is proposing for 2024-2025. 

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For the first time since Oct. 23, Western North Carolina is free of active wildfires. 

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Drought conditions are the best they’ve been in a month, according to the latest map from the Drought Management Advisory Council, with recent rains wiping out the extreme drought conditions that had affected 13 western counties. 

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Go behind the scenes with snowmaking at Cataloochee Ski area with field trips offered Tuesday, Jan. 23, and Tuesday, Feb. 13. 

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The Wildlife in North Carolina Photo Competition is now open, accepting entries until 5 p.m. Jan. 31, 2024. 

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A namesake has been chosen for the $2 million greenhouse the Southern Highlands Reserve in Lake Toxaway is building to propagate red spruce trees for replanting on the landscape. 

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Students in Western Carolina University’s interior design program soon will have access to new experiential learning opportunities thanks to a $75,000 gift from a woman whose 40-year career in the profession got its start at WCU. 

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On Thursday, Nov. 30, the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Team held a grand opening/ribbon cutting ceremony for the American Museum of the House Cat. 

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Henderson County resident Michele Woodhouse has been reelected as chair of the North Carolina Republican Party’s 11th Congressional District after stepping down from the post late in 2021.

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Three surveys from Mountain Projects that aim to help the nonprofit develop a housing plan, identify housing projects that will meet the community’s needs and provide information to pursue funding through state, federal and private sources is now open. 

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The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles’ license plate agency in Jackson County will close at 5 p.m. Dec. 15. 

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 This holiday season, the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program joins local and state law enforcement to urge drivers against impaired driving. 

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According to a study published last month in the scientific journal Animal Conservation, wild red wolves in eastern North Carolina had a significant ecological impact prior to their dramatic decline in recent years. 

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A 2.5-year-old female white-tailed deer harvested during firearm season in Franklin County has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, an always-fatal illness affecting cervids like deer and elk. This marks the county’s first case of CWD. 

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Cataloochee Ski Area offers discounted rates for youth and adults to explore the slopes and hone their skills with several program offerings this winter. 

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The racing season is back at Cataloochee Ski Area, starting in January for ages 8 through adult. 

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Through Jan. 13, farmers, forest landowners and ranchers who have experienced discrimination in farm lending from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can apply for financial assistance. 

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Friends of the Cherokee National Forest, a new nonprofit based in Knoxville, aims to become a driving force in preserving one of the region’s most cherished landscapes. 

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On Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, Haywood County Sheriff’s deputies from the Criminal Suppression Unit located and arrested Tyler James Ponder, 35, of Canton, North Carolina on four counts each of statutory sex offense with a child by an adult and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. 

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Haywood Regional Medical Center announced that Dr. Allison Johnson was named Preceptor of the Year by the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM).

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Creeping along the forest floor is a group of native plants that look like mosses, but aren’t mosses.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park  has lifted a burn ban that’s been in effect for weeks amid drought conditions and an active wildfire season. 

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After 20 years of living only in captivity, the federally endangered magnificent ramshorn has been returned to the wild. 

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County governments and conservation nonprofits have until Dec. 18 to apply for farmland preservation grants from the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. 

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Drake Fowler, deputy executive director at The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, has been named president of the N.C. Chapter of the American Association of Landscape Architect. He will serve a one-year term leading the organization.

Fowler joined the Arboretum during 2015 as chief operations officer and chief financial officer and assumed his current post in 2019. He has been instrumental in the recent $2 million renovation and expansion of parking; overseeing the design and implementation of the $1.2 Willow Pond project that is a stormwater management, education and conservation initiative that protects the rare mole salamander; and programming of future improvements at the Arboretum’s Parkway entrance.  

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Family farms across the region are eligible for emergency loan assistance from the Farm Service Agency due to damage or losses from drought occurring this fall. 

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Western North Carolina is well represented in the more than $15 million recently awarded to protect working farms and forests, support county farmland preservation efforts and promote agricultural enterprises. 

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Mountain BizWorks has named eight outdoor businesses that have been selected for the fifth cohort of its annual Waypoint Accelerator Program, which offers targeted support and resources for promising early-stage outdoor businesses. 

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More than 500,000 North Carolinians stand to gain free health coverage in the coming months. 

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Western Carolina University is delighted to announce its recent exhibition “Spark of the Eagle Dancer: The Collecting Legacy of Lambert Wilson” will now be extended through June 28 in the Fine Art Museum at WCU in Cullowhee. 

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 The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation announced that Charlotte Muir has been appointed as its new executive director. The announcement comes following an extensive nationwide search conducted by the Succession Planning Committee and approval from the Board of Directors. 

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A new hiking trail is now open in Old Fort, offering an opportunity for people with disabilities to get outside. 

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Held Sunday, Nov. 12, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Cades Cove Loop Lope raised more than $110,000 to support the park. 

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Winter Gary has been appointed interim executive director of the Highlands Biological Foundation as the organization works through a leadership transition after Charlotte Muir left for an executive director position with the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation. 

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