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A new exhibition of lathe-made bowls from acclaimed artists Philip and Matt Moulthrop will be on display in the Bascom’s Atrium Gallery through Nov. 6.  

The Highlands-Cashiers plateau boasts a strong concentration of private Moulthrop collectors, in part because of the Wade Hamptom Golf Club annual golf tournament that once yielded a prize of a Moulthrop-turned bowl. All works in this exhibition are for sale and the customer can take the work home when purchased.

Exhibitions at The Bascom are free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Tuesdays through Saturdays. It will also open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays through Oct.1.

www.thebascom.org or 828.526.4949.

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The Alumni Scholarship Homecoming Golf Tournament will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 8, at Sequoyah National Golf Club in Whittier. Then, the Homecoming parade will begin at 6:15 p.m. in downtown Sylva. Meanwhile, the Catamount soccer team will play Georgia Southern at 6 p.m.

On Saturday, Oct. 9, an alumni breakfast will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. in the multipurpose room in the University Center. Tailgating begins at noon before the 3 p.m. Catamount home football game against the Samford Bulldogs.

A show titled “Homecoming Step Show: Battle for the Yard” will be held in Ramsey Regional Activity Center at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5.

The weekend concludes Sunday, Oct. 10, with a 3 p.m. Inspirational Choir concert in the A.K. Hinds University Center Grandroom followed by a 4 p.m. Catamount soccer game against Davidson in the CAC.

For more specific event information, alumni are invited to visit alumni.wcu.edu and students are invited to visit homecoming.wcu.edu.

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Jackson County Early College High School (JCEC) is recruiting for the 2011-2012 school year.  

Several information sessions are scheduled for interested students and their parents. Four dates are scheduled; each begin at 6 p.m. Students and parent should select one session to attend. The dates are: Thursday, Oct. 21; Monday, Nov. 8; Wednesday, Dec. 8; and Tuesday, Jan. 11.

The meetings will be held on the Sylva campus of Southwestern Community College in the lobby of the new JCEC Building, next to Holt Library. Applications may be picked up at any of the information sessions.  The early application deadline is Feb. 1.  For more information, contact the JCEC staff at 828-339-4468.

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Candidates for District Court judge will espouse their vision for the bench at election forums held next week in Haywood and Jackson County.

“Judges make decisions every day that directly influence people’s lives, yet many voters don’t know where judicial candidates stand on the most important issues of the day,” said Chris Cooper, WCU associate professor of political science and public affairs, and director of the Public Policy Institute. “We want to help voters learn what they need to know about the people who want to represent them in the judiciary.”

Candidates in other local races will be given two-minutes at the mic prior to the judge hopefuls taking the stage. The forums will be sponsored by Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute and The Smoky Mountain News. The two forums are:

• 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, at Western Carolina University Multipurpose Room of A.K. Hinds University Center.

• 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, at Haywood Community College auditorium.

A reception will be held from 6:30 to 7 p.m. where voters can talk informally with the candidates for judge and other local offices. The formal portion of the forum will begin at 7 p.m. Local candidates who attend — county commissioner, school board, sheriff, and state representative or senate candidates — will get two minutes each to introduce themselves and discuss their platforms.

Todd Collins, WCU assistant professor of political science and public affairs, will serve as moderator of the forum with the judicial candidates. Questions will be developed prior to the forum, but audience participation will be allowed as time permits.

For information, contact the Public Policy Institute at 828.227.2086 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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By Karen Dill • Special to The Smoky Mountain News

August in the Appalachian Mountains is a time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Summer is winding down, and we look for simple and free escapes to get through the end of the hot days. Wading in a cool stream, walking barefoot in the heavy dew of the early morning and eating ripe tomatoes straight off the vine are only a few of the ways to enjoy August in the mountains. Meals are ones that are easy to prepare, take up little energy and utilize ripe vegetables from tired gardens that are winding down in the August heat.

My first child was born in late August 1980. I can still remember the sultry heat, the heaviness of my body, and the sweet smell of ripe tomatoes that seemed to be forever in my mind. Indeed I felt like a large tomato plant in August; lumbering, awkward and overladen with fruit (or child). I seemed to crave ripe tomato sandwiches and never tired of cups of cornbread and milk for supper. Though I was living in another country far away from the mountains of my childhood, my body seemed to crave the simple dishes of those long-ago Augusts.

I had always had a love affair with the tomato. I loved a sliced tomato for breakfast with scrambled eggs and with fried corn for supper. When we did not have sliced bread (light bread it was called), I would carry a tomato biscuit in my lunch sack to Bethel Elementary. I easily tolerated the teasing from the kids with sliced bread, as there are a few other lunches with leftover biscuits filled with sliced ham, bacon and even tomatoes.

Ripe tomatoes seem to mark the downhill march of summer. The air is heavy with heat and the crisp cool mornings of early summer have gone. Gardens are crowded with vegetables ready for picking. It is a bountiful time, a time of abundance and pregnant fullness. It is a time to sit back and enjoy the simple gifts of the earth.

As a child growing up in Bethel, August also meant work. My father would harvest our family garden and my mother would spend days in the sweltering kitchen canning tomatoes, green beans and preserving all of the other vegetables from the garden. And as if that were not enough, my father would lead me to the tomato fields in our valley to pick the remains of the crop and later to the tomato packing houses to gather the culls that didn’t make the cut in some imaginary tomato pageant.

My father’s friend, Way Abel, had several large tomato fields and a tomato packing house in Bethel. Earnest Beck grew tomatoes for profit also. These men were my father’s old friends and he was not too proud to ask for free tomatoes from their fields. It was in these fields that I learned the lessons of hard work. I would head to the fields with an old wooden wagon with the promise of a dollar from my father if I could fill up that wagon with good tomatoes. Sometimes, he would throw in an extra quarter for a job well done — but not every time as my daddy seemed to understand the power of intermittent reinforcement.

As the summer sun beat down on my head, I would trudge through the rows of tomatoes and pick the leftovers. I learned to pick carefully as a rotten tomato would easily squish in my hand and leave a horrible odor. I was a rather nervous child and when I could not wash my hands, I became anxious (my mother blamed my bad nerves on her side of the family). So I would try desperately to pick the red orbs with great care. During these long hot treks down each row, I decided that I wanted a future that required reading books rather than hard physical labor.

Despite the hard work involved in the harvesting of tomatoes, I grew up loving a good garden-grown tomato. My father would eat tomatoes like apples as he sat in the grass under a shade tree at the end of a tomato row. I preferred my tomatoes sliced and salted for a tomato sandwich. And I was very particular about the making of that sandwich.

The tomato had to be warm and just picked from the garden. The bread had to be white (preferably Bunny Bread). The mayonnaise (best to be Ann Page from the local A&P store in Canton) had to be thickly slathered on both sides of the bread. The tomato slices were salted. The sandwich was then neatly sliced in half, and if we were lucky enough to have some barbequed potato chips, these could be placed inside the sandwich. This addition came later in my life while I was in high school but has added a nice crunch to the standard tomato sandwich ever since. The simple pleasure of constructing a really good tomato sandwich is hard to beat.

As summer farmers well know, tomato sandwiches are only a few of the many delightful dishes from the August garden. Zucchini and yellow squash are so plentiful that neighbors have been known to leave them on doorsteps in the dead of night to avoid being caught. And because my father could not bear to waste a single vegetable, he continued to bring me baskets of those green missiles long after I had moved out of my childhood home to my own rented house on the “backside” of Pigeon River.

I was teaching 2nd grade in Canton and had a full schedule, but my father would show up on my doorstep many evenings in August with baskets of vegetables that begged to be canned, frozen or baked up into breads. I quickly learned how to bake zucchini bread and had filled a small freezer by September. He once appeared on my porch with a basket of over-ripe bananas that had given to him by a local grocer, and I stayed up until dawn making endless loaves of banana bread. I was after all, my father’s daughter. Waste not, want not.

I think that I learned the necessity of frugality and the joy of simplicity from my parents. They had few material goods but found so much pleasure from the gifts of the earth. My mother loved to grow flowers and in the summer, our yard was abloom with colorful flower carpets. My father loved to carve and restore anything that was old and ready to be thrown away. He once made me a set of clay marbles from a clay mud mixture that we dug from a nearby creek. It took days of baking in the hot sun, but the clay marbles were a treasure that I kept for years. These were reminiscent of the simple toys of his childhood.

I can still see my parents as they sat at the kitchen table with its red-checked oil tablecloth at the end of a long day in August. Fresh vegetables would grace the table as bright offerings at an altar. My father would crumble up his cornbread in buttermilk and my mother would chop a slice of onion to add to her cornbread and milk. Talk about the preparation of new vegetables from the garden would be the daily topic of conversation.

Many years and travels later, I cannot resist the allure of plentiful vegetables in August. I will wake up in the early morning planning the evening meal around the vegetables that demand to be picked. I love to see the dinner table laden with bowls of boiled okra, fried corn, squash, sliced tomatoes, boiled potatoes, and green beans. All this meal needs is a cake of corn bread and maybe some onions.

This year I have decided to try a dish that I recently heard about on an NPR show — tomato pie. It sounded a little crazy and the recipe is definitely not low-calorie, but I have decided that it is worth a try. It requires mayonnaise so it can’t be too bad even though it will be hard to rival the standard sandwich.

Fresh vegetables from the garden will accompany this strange pie. Cornfield beans are plentiful, and I fix them in the traditional mountain manner with streaked meat. A side dish of corn is simple to prepare. I scrap the kernels off the cob and saute them with some onions and chopped bell peppers in some butter. I would love to serve a side of cornbread and milk but compromise with a cornbread salad that also utilizes fresh vegetables and is pretty when constructed in a glass bowl. Blueberry lemon pound cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dash of whipped cream will finish off this meal. This meal is a medley of simple foods that seems to inspire a quiet sense of contentment and gratitude for the earth and its remarkable bounties.

Simple pleasures are plentiful the year round in our mountains, but August seems to be a special time to enjoy them. On warm sultry days and cool evenings, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am grateful for life in a beautiful place with four distinct seasons and every imaginable type of weather. I am grateful for babies born in this hot month. I am grateful for a simple childhood that keeps me humble. I am grateful for beautiful ripe tomatoes and simple pleasures that living in the mountains bring.

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Tomato Pie

1 deep dish pie shell (found in the frozen foods section)

6 medium ripe tomatoes

Fresh basil leaves (optional)

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Follow baking instructions on the pie shell package. Remember to poke the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent bubbling. Peel the tomatoes, slice and drain as much water as possible by placing slices between layers of paper towel. Layer the sliced tomatoes, chopped onion and basil leaves on the baked pie crust. Mix together the sour cream, mayo and cheddar cheese. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Spread the mixture over the tomato slices. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

 

Cornbread Salad

1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dry salad dressing

1 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1 pan cornbread, crumbled

3 large tomatoes, chopped

1 can (16 oz) black beans

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped green onions

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

10 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

2 cups of fresh corn, cut from the cob and sautéed until tender

Combine salad dressing mix, sour cream, and mayo. Set aside. Place half of crumbled cornbread in the bottom of a large serving bowl (a tall glass bowl works nicely). Top with half of beans.

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, green pepper and onions; layer half of this mixture over beans. Layer half of cheese, bacon, corn and reserved salad dressing. Repeat layers using remaining ingredients. Garnish with cheese and bacon bits. Cover and chill 2-3 hours before serving.

 

Blueberry Lemon Pound cake

2 cups butter, softened

3 cups white sugar

1 cup milk, room temperature

6 eggs

2 teaspoons lemon extract

1 tablespoon baking powder

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 cups fresh blue berries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the lemon extract. Combine the flour, baking powder, and lemon zest; stir by hand, mixing just until blended so the batter is not over mixed. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl often. Fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for at least 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

 

My Favorite Zucchini Bread

I like this recipe because it is super easy (I have it memorized) and has walnuts in it.

4 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons soda

? teaspoon salt

2 cups of grated unpeeled zucchini

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3 cups unbleached plain flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat the eggs, gradually beat in sugar and oil. Combine flour, soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, zucchini, walnuts and vanilla. Pour in a bread or tube pan. Bake 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

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A proposed park at the site of the Nikwasi mound in Franklin would provide a quiet place for residents to gather while beautifying downtown and educating passersby on the mound’s historical importance.

The Nikwasi mound, located near East Main Street and the Little Tennessee River, is the only remnant of a Cherokee town with the same name that once stood where Franklin is today. While the town owns the mound itself, the property surrounding the mound is in private hands. Two tracts around the mound have recently come on the market, sparking community efforts to buy the parcels for a park. While interest is widespread, the coalition must find funding for the purchase of the land.

The park would link up with the Little Tennessee River Greenway, a five-mile hiking and bicycling trail that winds along next to the river.

Those involved with the project hope the park would help accentuate one of the largest and most well-preserved mounds in the Southeast, a landmark that has become somewhat overshadowed by the buildings that have cropped up around it. For years, the mound had been the spiritual center of the Cherokee town, where councils, religious ceremonies and general meetings were held, according to the Macon County Historical Society.

Gordon Mercer, chair of the Nikwasi Planning Committee and a Western Carolina University political science professor, said if the park comes to fruition, there would be signage in both English and the Cherokee language, explaining the mound’s history.

A coalition that includes the planning committee, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Town of Franklin, Macon County Historical Society, Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Western Carolina University faculty, and The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River has formed to get the ball rolling.

A national organization called the Trust for Public Land has taken up a leading role, while Congressman Heath Shuler (D-Waynesville) has also expressed an interest in getting involved.

Slade Gleaton, senior project manager with TPL, said the park project would fulfill a few of the organization’s overarching goals by protecting cultural, historical and recreational landscapes.

TPL will work on appraising the property around the mound that recently came on the market. Luckily for the coalition, both land owners have said they are interested in having a park created.

After appraising the 0.67-acre and 0.6-acre parcels, TPL will work specifics of the land purchase, including surveys, environmental work and title work.

Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said the vision for the park has existed for a couple of years, but the project still is far from the finish line.

“It’s not anywhere close to a done deal,” Collins said.

Collins, who has Cherokee lineage, said the town might also be willing to reconsider its ownership of the Nikwasi mound.

“At the end of the day, it may be that all the land gets put under the same trust ownership,” said Collins. “We don’t absolutely need to have it in our name.”

A meeting that is open to the public will b held at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Franklin Town Hall.

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By Joe Hooten • Guest Writer

Americana-roots music has seen its fair share of imitators since its revival in the early 1990s. The explosive array of alt-country talent that preceded all the primed-for-CMT bands can be traced back to a handful of artists that pushed the door wide enough so that others could conveniently slip by.

Thankfully, pioneers like the Bottle Rockets are still making considerable attempts at carrying their banner into the 21st century.

Currently based in St. Louis, the Bottle Rockets have earned their well-deserved place alongside bands like Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks as the “godfathers of the alt-country movement” by creating their own brand of Americana heartfelt rock that transcends far beyond the simplistic and overly glorified artists that grace the stages of the most recent Country Music Awards show.

Frontman for the Bottle Rockets, Brian Henneman, has seen a lot in his 15-plus years with his group, but he has never lost sight of the fundamental elements that encompass their music — a good story, solid musicianship, a sense of humor, and that midwestern honesty that comes through in every song. The once self-proclaimed “reporters from the heartland,” Henneman, Mark Ortman, John Horton, and Keith Voegele, have maintained a solid and rather substantial fanbase through all the ups and downs of the Bottle Rocket’s history. Regardless of record label or band member changes, the Bottle Rockets’ sound has expanded in its stature and force over time as they have continually presented solid albums throughout the years, particularly on their most recent, Lean Forward. And with classic songs like “Kerosene,” “Get Down River,” and “Welfare Music,” that may perhaps rival some of the best in the business, the Bottle Rockets catalog grows with new songs like “The Long Way,” “Done it All Before,” “Hard Times” and the rocking “Nothing But a Driver.”

As they celebrate the release of their new album and the anticipated live DVD, the Bottle Rockets show no sign of letting up and despite being one of the hardest working bands on the planet. Brian Henneman took time to talk to Smoky Mountain News prior to the band’s show at the Grey Eagle in Asheville on Aug. 29.

SMN: The title of your new album, Lean Forward (in stores Aug. 11) sounds optimistic in these bleak economic times. Does this apply to the current philosophy within the band or could this be construed as a charge put forth to the listener?

BH: If you wanna be optimistic these days, you gotta work at it. Lean into it. It can be done. You can keep on the sunny side, but, seems like the minute you start slackin’ black clouds’ll find you. This album’s just a little reminder of that. You can do whatever you want, but you can’t say we didn’t remind you.

SMN: Songwriting duties on Lean Forward were divided among the band members. Does this process help the chemistry within the band when it comes to creating an album?

BH: Absolutely!

SMN: You regularly post on the Bottle Rockets message board. Is this a conscious effort on your part to stay in touch with fans?

BH: Not a conscious effort, just me goofin’ off on the Internet. If you’re going to waste time on the Internet, might as well put it to good use. It’s fun. I think the fans enjoy it. I know I do.

SMN: In 2008 the Bottle Rockets celebrated their 15th anniversary. How does it feel to make it this far with all the label and band member changes?

BH: Makes me feel like a cross between a superhero, Survivorman, and a cockroach.

SMN: The music industry has changed dramatically over the past several years, especially when faced with the issue of illegal downloading. Have you come to accept this practice as apart of the business?

BH: Yes. Wha are you gonna do? Go ahead, steal our shit. For us to complain makes us look greedy, which may make us lose potential fans who’d love to steal our shit. It’s all about the consumer. I’d hate to make anything inconvenient for anyone. Please, take it from us, send me your address, I’ll buy you some McDonald’s gift certificates too. I don’t need money, I’m a superhero.

SMN: Extensive touring has been apart of the Bottle Rocket’s work ethic for many years. Music fans often romanticize life on the road. Is it as glamorous as we imagine or is the reality drastically different?

BH: Depends on your definition of glamorous! We don’t get much sleep, I’ll tell you that. Is that glamorous? If so, this life is VERY glamorous.

SMN: In early May 2009, the Bottle Rockets were filmed for an upcoming live DVD release; did this idea originate with the band or with your record label, Bloodshot Records? Was everyone pleased with the outcome?

BH: It was a band idea. The performance that night was great. We haven’t seen any of the footage yet, they had six cameras goin’, gonna be editing for a while yet. I predict it’s gonna be very cool.

SMN: You recently reflected on your contribution to the acclaimed Uncle Tupelo album, March 16-20, 1992. Did those five days in Athens, Ga., have any impact on your career as a musician?

BH: I guess it kinda got my foot in the door back then. A year later we were recording the first Bottle Rockets album in the same studio. Seems like the impact faded pretty quickly, and we were thrown out into the cold, hard, music biz on our own.

SMN: Have you ever entertained the idea of creating your own record label?

BH: Bloodshot’s great, as long as they’ll have us, this answer is an absolute NO. None more no. The no-est.

SMN: The Bottle Rockets are notorious for energetic and memorable live performance. What can Western North Carolina music fans expect at your upcoming show at the Grey Eagle on Aug. 29?

BH: An energetic and memorable live performance! That’s how we roll!

Tickets for their show at the Grey Eagle are only $10 and still available.

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The latest U.S. News & World Report guide to “America’s Best Colleges” ranks Western Carolina University 10th among public universities in the South that offer master’s degrees.

It is the first time WCU has made the U.S. News top 10 list of Southern public master’s institutions.

“Western Carolina has moved steadily up the rankings over the past few years, and we are glad to see that trend continue again this year,” said WCU Chancellor John Bardo. “In recent years, our College of Education and Allied Professions has received two major national honors, and our academic programs in business administration, project management, criminal justice and entrepreneurship have earned high national rankings.”

Still, Bardo cautioned prospective students against putting too much stock in rankings when they are making the important decision of where to go to college. “After students narrow down their list of prospective colleges to a handful, they should visit the various campuses to get a feel about which one is right for them,” he said.

WCU representatives will hold open house sessions on the Cullowhee campus to allow prospective students to do just that on Oct. 3, Nov. 14, Feb. 17 and April 17.

For information about those events and other information about undergraduate and graduate admissions at WCU, visit admissions.wcu.edu.

 

WCU partners with Dillsboro

Western Carolina University has entered into a partnership with the municipality of Dillsboro to provide assistance in building the town’s economy after the recent departure of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

WCU has become involved with the town through its Quality Enhancement Plan, an effort to enhance undergraduate education by linking student experiences in and out of the classroom, and its responses to UNC Tomorrow, a university system initiative to help solve critical statewide problems.

“What a tremendous opportunity this gives the students, and the citizens and the merchants of Dillsboro,” said Mayor Jean Hartbarger.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the university will recruit students who are academically prepared, conduct a strategic program analysis of all academic programs and examine the structure of the university to ensure the university is well-positioned to provide assistance to surrounding communities.

The university will try to emphasize quality in spite of an 8 percent budget cut of approximately $8 million, and the loss of 92 positions last fiscal year, Bardo said. Although the majority of those eliminated positions were vacant, about 31 of them were filled. “The WCU family was hurt by the state budget situation,” Bardo said. “All of us have had to take furloughs. We have had to lay off members of the family, and that hurts.”

The university is facing an additional $200,000 in cuts but can manage those without additional layoffs, he said

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SMN: What did you learn from the teletown meeting? Anything new?

Heath Shuler: “The meeting reinforced my belief that most people don’t fully understand what is in the health-care reform bill and they have many valid questions about it. It also showed that we shouldn’t rush to pass this bill that will have a dramatic effect on most Americans’ lives.”

Why do a teletown meeting, rather than a regular regular town hall meeting?

“I decided to hold a tele-town hall meeting because I wanted to explain my position on health care reform and listen to constituents’ questions and comments without the grandstanding from political groups. It also allowed constituents in the western region to dial in from their own homes rather than having to drive hours to attend.”

How much have you been affected by the grassroots efforts on both sides?

“I listen to all my constituents, but at the end of the day, I still must vote for what I feel is right for the people of Western North Carolina. While I support health-care reform, I still oppose the H.R. 3200 legislation.”

There is a wellness, disease management, and prevention aspect in the bill. What specifically would you add to that? How much could focusing on this bring down costs?

“I’d like to see more tax benefits for individuals and companies to promote wellness and prevention. I’m looking at several proposals on this currently. The problem is that it’s hard for government agencies to quantify saving from wellness and prevention programs. But it makes sense that spending money on prevention will save costs down the road.”

Same with preventing waste, fraud and abuse – what specific measures would you add to the bill that aren’t already there?

“One item is streamlining medical codes for all procedures. Doctors often can get paid different prices for the same procedure depending on which medical procedure code they use to bill.”

H.R.3200 proposes that small businesses with under $500,000 in payroll be exempt from providing health care to their employees. What is your opinion on that proposal?

“I oppose any measure that mandates that business provide health care benefits and would saddle small businesses with higher costs at a time when many already are struggling in these economic times.”

Are you for or against having a public option for health care?

“So far, I have not seen a public-option proposal that I can support.”

What do you hope accomplish with the next tele-town hall meeting?

“I want to continue to listen to my constituents about their thoughts on health care and answer as many questions as possible.”

Comment

A Macon County group is one step closer to its dream of establishing a Living History Farm, a working replica of a pioneer village where visitors can witness what life was like for the earliest settlers in the area.

An independent consultant has completed the first feasibility study for the project, and the results will be made public within the coming month, said Margaret Ramsey, chair of the Macon County Folk Heritage Association Board of Directors. The nonprofit group is the sponsor of the project.

“It’s not a binding thing, but whatever she says, we will certainly study at length,” Ramsey said of the study.

The completion of the feasibility study marks a key first step in getting the idea for the Living History Farm off the ground, a process that has already been a long one. The farm has been a major goal of the Folk Heritage Association since its formation seven years ago, but fundraising for the feasibility study only began this past spring. The group collected $22,000 from various sources, including the Macon County commissioners, the Town of Franklin and local banks.

More money will be needed to continue the process of establishing the Village, a fact the group recognizes won’t be easy in the current economy.

“We realize that these are tough economic times to try to get anything underway, so we’re not anticipating anything immediately, but we are still trying to lay a firm foundation,” said Ramsey.

 

Preserving heritage

The Living History Farm aims to provide a deeper understanding of today’s mountain heritage by giving visitors a glimpse of early Macon County life.

“Heritage is a living part of us,” said Ramsey. “It’s more than just reading and learning — it’s part of who we are.”

The concept of replicating a working village from a long-ago era isn’t new to Western North Carolina. The Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee transports visitors back to 1750s Cherokee life, complete with villagers who hull canoes, make pottery, and weave baskets. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Mountain Farm Museum recreates a mountain farm, but it has working exhibits only a few weekends a year. Unlike other villages, the Living History Village will be the first exhibit of its kind to honor the area’s European settlers. According to Ramsey, Macon County makes an ideal location.

“I think it’s representative of all of Western North Carolina,” Ramsey said of Macon. “It was one of the earlier settled counties, and I think there’s been a lot of interest over the years in recording and preserving history here.”

That interest is evidenced by the success of the Macon County Folk Festival, the first official event ever put on by the Folk Heritage Association. Now in its sixth year, the most recent festival welcomed more than 100 exhibitors and its largest crowd to date.

“Our short-range goal has been preserving the heritage through the festival, and it’s been extremely popular and successful,” said Ramsey.

But the group’s long-range goal, and ultimate vision, is the Living History Farm. The county has already donated a 23-acre site for the farm, located along Cartoogechaye Creek behind Southwestern Community College. Ramsey envisions bringing in a collection of historic buildings, such as a log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse, a church and a store, all of which will be restored and furnished on site. The village “won’t be a static exhibit that people just walk through and look at,” said Ramsey. Instead, volunteers in period clothing will be on site operating a grist mill, running a blacksmithing shop, raising a patch of sorghum molasses and performing everyday tasks of a long ago era. Guests will have the opportunity to take part through various activities and classes on heritage skills.

Exactly what time period will be represented is yet to be decided, though Ramsey said the village could feature buildings that represent different periods throughout Macon County’s history.

“We want to do the very best research and planning we can,” Ramsey said. “We’re going to concentrate on making ours different from anything else available. That’s the only way we’re going to get people here and make sure it’s a sustainable thing.”

 

A patchwork effort

One unique possibility for the village is a focus on quilting, a popular heritage craft. Ramsey is the former manager of the Maco Crafts cooperative, a now-defunct group that was once well known throughout the region. The cooperative was particularly recognized for its quilting abilities.

Ramsey has her eye on four particular creations that could play a role at the Living History Farm. One of them is the World’s Largest Quilt, which has been shown up and down the Eastern seaboard and hung in the Kennedy Center and at the Knoxville World’s Fair. The quilt was sold on the condition that it would remain in Macon County permanently and is on display at the WhistleStop Mall. Another creation, known as the Celebrate America Quilt, was won by a local woman who wants to see it displayed. The quilt features the autographs of stars like Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Randy Travis.

Ramsey is trying to track down two other creations. One is the world’s largest quilted wall hanging that hung in the Phillip Morris cigarette plant in Concord until the facility closed two years ago. The other is an original design that commemorated the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. The whereabouts of the two quilts are currently unknown.

“We’ve got the possibility of [obtaining] these four outstanding and unique quilts,” Ramsey said. “We’d hope to have a place for them and maybe use that exhibit to help attract visitors here.”

 

Keeping the vision

The much-awaited results of the feasibility study will assess the practical and impractical points of the plan for the Living History Farm, and address what it will take for the project to be sustainable. It’s an important first step, but there’s still much work to be done. For now, Ramsey and the Folk Heritage Association members seem determined to see their vision through.

“We’ve got lots of plans and lots of things to pull together, and lots of obstacles in the process,” said Ramsey. “But we’re still in there working.”

Comment

Haywood Community College recently acquired a 328-acre tract of land located at Balsam Gap through a generous gift from The Conservation Fund.

Bordering the Blue Ridge Parkway for 3 miles, the property forms the headwaters of Dark Ridge Creek, which shelters a pure strain of brook trout.

As a natural extension of protected forest land, the Balsam Gap property will serve as a teaching environmental laboratory for HCC’s

Natural Resources programs. This laboratory of native hardwoods and plants will serve HCC’s Forest Management, Fish and Wildlife, GIS/GPS, Low Impact Development and Horticulture programs. HCC is one of only a few community colleges across the nation to offer these comprehensive programs and as a result serves a diversity of students from across the U.S.

“Our Natural Resources programs are attractive not only because of their quality of instruction and high rate of job placement but also because of their field-based instructional methodologies,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, HCC President. “The Balsam Gap property will greatly enhance our students learning experiences by providing more hands-on, in-the-field instruction. This property will have a profound impact on HCC, its students and our surrounding communities. I am deeply grateful to The Conservation Fund for this gift.”

Comment

1920s

Forney Creek Township wants a road leading from Bryson City to Deals Gap on the Tennessee state line. It is the height of the timber boom, and the road would improve access to Knoxville. The community took out bonds totaling $400,000 to pay for the road.

1934

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is officially created.

1940

Forney Creek Township has yet to pay a single cent on the road bonds it took out nearly 20 years prior. With interest, the amount now came to $694,000. The county assumes the outstanding debt. It refinances the bond for $1.3 million, which also includes money for a new school.

1941

President Roosevelt authorizes federal funding to build Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River. The hydropower is needed by Alcoa, which is producing sheets of aluminum for wartime airplanes. Tennessee Valley Authority begins land acquisition.

1942

The federal government wrestles with what to do about 216 families living in a 44,000-acre territory that will be cut off when the lake floods the only road in or out of the area. With a war on, the government doesn’t have the money or time to build a new road above the high water mark. But leaving the people isolated on the far side of the lake isn’t an option either.

1943

The 44,000 acres is added to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the people evacuated, along with those in the direct path of rising water. An agreement is signed between Swain County commissioners, the Governor of North Carolina, Tennessee Valley Authority and the Department of Interior that promises to build a new road — provided Congress appropriates the funds — along the north shore. Road is to be part of an “Around the Park” road network, to commence as soon after WWII as Congress appropriates funds.

1946

Six landowners who didn’t want to give up their land in the North Shore area lose a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority. They wanted to keep their land, since the government was supposedly rebuilding the road, and saw no need for it to be ceded to the park service.

They won twice in lower courts, but it was appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied the families’ claim.

1947-48

Park service builds 0.9 mile of the promised road on the Fontana Dam side.

1959

State of North Carolina constructs a road from Bryson City to the national park boundary, laying the groundwork for the park to pick up construction.

1960

Congressman Roy A. Taylor secured $8 million for construction of the North Shore Road. Park service commences road construction where the state left off.

1962

National Park Service issues a report stating “it appears to be in the public interest to seriously reconsider the plan” to build the road.

1964

National Park Service proposes a trans-mountain road from Bryson City to Townsend, Tenn., in lieu of completing a road along the lake shore.

1966

A public hearing is held in Bryson City that pits advocates of Wilderness Area designation for the park with locals who want their road.

1968

Construction on the road stops after seven miles. The park service has used up the $8 million and is out of money. The prospects for more money seem slim due to environmental opposition.

1974

Contingency from Swain County makes a trip to Raleigh to visit N.C. Attorney General Robert Morgan. They ask Morgan for the state’s help suing the federal government to resolve the 1943 Agreement. They learn they have no grounds for a lawsuit, due to a hold harmless clause in the agreement.

1975

Swain County finally pays off the Forney Creek Road debt from the 1920s for a road that’s long since been flooded by the creation of Lake Fontana.

1975

North Carolina Gov. James Holshouser attempts to craft a compromise to provide a cash settlement for Swain County in lieu of the road. At a later meeting in Washington, D.C., a Swain County attorney offers a starting figure of $25 million, but the National Park Service representative refuses to even negotiate and ends the meeting.

1977

A public hearing is held in Bryson City, again on the issue of wilderness designation for the park.

1978

Secretary of the Department of the Interior Cecil Andrus visits Swain County at the request of local leaders clamoring to get the score settled. They hire a bus and pile in with Andrus on a tour of the county, from Calf Pen Gap overlooking the lake to lunch at the Deep Creek pavilion in the park. After returning to Washington, Andrus appoints an ad hoc committee “to look into the controversies surrounding the agreement and recommend possible solutions.”

Nov. 28, 1980

Andrus writes a letter to the Swain County commissioners agreeing to help them secure a financial settlement of $9.5 million. The sum is based on the value of the road in 1940 at $1.3 million and compounded annually at 5 percent. His letter states: “Over the years others have proposed alternative solutions to resolving the conditions of the agreement but none have been successful. In as such as this controversy has existed for 37 years, it is now time to resolve this controversy.”

1980

Congressman Lamar Gudger, D-Asheville, introduces a bill for a cash settlement of $11.1 million. The bill passes the House but never makes it to the Senate.

1983

A group of Swain County residents files a lawsuit in federal court against all the signatories of the ’43 Agreement asking for road to be built or the lake to be lowered. Known as the Helen Vance lawsuit, it is struck down, appealed, and struck down again. The families appealed a third time to the Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear the case.

1984

A hearing on dueling Senate bills is held in Bryson City. One bill would give Swain County a cash settlement of $9.5 million in lieu of the road. The other bill would build the road and give Swain $9.5 million to boot. County Commissioner Chairman James Coggins makes the following statement at the hearing: “We are weary of making agreements that are never honored by the federal government. It is my sincere desire that Congress will at last pass our long waited for settlement of the 1943 Agreement.”

1987

Another hearing on the dueling Senate bills is held. County Commissioner Chairman James Coggins recycles the same speech as three years prior.

1991

Senator Terry Sanford proposes a cash settlement of $16 million to Swain County. His bill also calls for designating 90 percent of park as wilderness.

1991

Sen. Jesse Helms introduces legislation calling for construction of the road as well as cash payments to Swain County. The bill fails, as do efforts in 1993, 1995, and 1996.

1996

Study puts cost of completing a road at between $136 and $150 million.

Summer, 2000

Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County is formed to advance the cause of a cash settlement. Ten people gather in the living room at Claude Douthit’s house. The group has 284 dues-paying members today.

2000

Congressman Charles Taylor slips in $16 million for road construction during the conference committee of the federal budget.

2002

The park service launches a lengthy and comprehensive environmental analysis of road construction, weighing it against a cash settlement. It would ultimately take five years and burn through $10 million of the money Taylor secured for road building.

Jan., 2003

Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County hire Crisp, Hughes and Evans accounting firm to come up with a figure for the monetary settlement. They arrive at $52 million, based on the cost of the road when it was flooded, with interest and adjusted for inflation.

Feb., 2003

Swain County commissioners vote 4-1 in favor of a cash settlement of $52 million. Bryson City aldermen adopt the same resolution.

2003

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, representing one of the original signatories to the ’43 Agreement, signs on in favor of a cash settlement.

March, 2007

A coalition of Senators and Congressmen from North Carolina and Tennessee sign a letter calling for a cash payoff to Swain County in lieu of building the road.

April, 2007

National Park Service announces its long-awaited decision in the lengthy environmental assessment. It comes down in favor of a cash settlement.

Dec., 2007

Congressman Heath Shuler from Western North Carolina, with the help of Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, secure $6 million as a down payment on a cash settlement as part of the 2008 fiscal year budget. The funds have not yet been remitted to Swain County, however.

2008

In preparation for a cash settlement, the N.C. General Assembly authorizes a trust fund that will safeguard the money on behalf of Swain County. The state will give the county the interest off the account annually, but the principal can’t be touched unless approved by two-thirds of voters in a countywide referendum.

2008

Park reneges on dollar amount of $52 million and lowballs Swain County in negotiations. Advocates of a cash settlement feel double-crossed. Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson digs in on his position that $52 million is too much, while Swain leaders refuse to accept anything less. Negotiations remain in a stalemate.

2009

Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrates 75th anniversary. Swain County approaches its 67th year with an unsettled contract from the federal government.

Comment

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has opened a boating access Area and Public Fishing Area on the bank of the Cheoah Lake.

The Lewellyn Branch boat ramp provides boaters and anglers access to the popular lake in Swain and Graham counties, and is a result of a cost-sharing agreement with Alcoa Power.

“The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is continuously looking for opportunities to increase access to public waters across the state, and the mountain region is no exception,” said Erik Christofferson, chief of the Commission’s Division of Engineering Services. “We are grateful for Alcoa’s help on this project and look forward to many years of boating and fishing access at Lewellyn Branch, thanks to this partnership.”

The one-lane boat ramp is 15-feet wide and 110-feet long, and the fishing pier is 12-by-24 feet. Both the ramp and fishing pier are handicapped accessible. Off-road parking is available. The site is on N.C. 28, 3 miles north of the junction with Fontana Dam Road.

“We are pleased to partner with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission on this project,” said Bill Bunker, vice president and operations manager of Alcoa. “The access area provides a wonderful place for individuals to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and take advantage of boating and fishing activities.”

For more information on boating in North Carolina’s waters, visit www.ncwild life.org/pg05_BoatingWaterways/pg5.htm. For information on Public Fishing Areas visit www.ncwildlife.org/pg03_Fishing/pg3a.htm.

Comment

The Richland Hills low-income senior housing development was touted publicly as being under the auspice of the Asheville-based nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities, which has built similar projects in Buncombe County.

Behind the scenes, however, two local players are involved in the project: Attorney Rusty McLean and Denise Mathis, the former director of the Haywood County Council on Aging, which collapsed due to financial insolvency. Mathis was charged with embezzlement for allegedly diverting donations to other uses while at the helm of the nonprofit. The charges were later dropped since Mathis had diverted the money to cover the debts of the nonprofit and not for personal gain.

McLean served as Mathis’s attorney in the criminal charges and has since represented her in civil suits seeking damages from those whom she says wrongly accused her. Mathis works in McLean’s law office.

McLean is part of a development company that owns the property where the complex is proposed.

While Mountain Housing Opportunities was the public face of Richland Hills, a second entity called VIA Community Network was listed as a key partner in the project in the application for tax credits. Mathis is listed as the registered agent for VIA Community Network, which is described in N.C. Secretary of State filings as a nonprofit formed for charitable and religious purposes.

The same day VIA Community Network was created in December 2008, an LLC called VIA Community Development was also formed. Mathis is again listed as the registered agent for the entity. McLean is listed as a member. Mathis’s home address and McLean’s law firm are listed as the office addresses for both entities.

VIA Community Development, an LLC in which McLean is a member, is the entity slated to purchase the property owned by McLean for $950,000.

Comment

Western North Carolina high school students bicycled 300 miles to the nation’s capital on one trip and canoed along the route of Lewis and Clark on another as part of summer activities sponsored by Talent Search at Western Carolina University.

The federally-funded Talent Search program is designed to encourage and prepare participants to graduate from high school and continue their educations. Todd Murdock, director of the program at WCU, said the goal of the summer trips was to help students explore, learn and grow as they developed leadership skills and cultural awareness.

Nine high school students and a Talent Search alumnus who is in college joined the cycling trip that left June 25 – cooking, camping, and visiting historical sites along the Great Allegheny Passage and C& O Canal Towpath Trail. The trip took them from Pennsylvania through Maryland to Washington, D.C. Participants rode on part of the same path along the Potomac River that Abraham Lincoln traveled by horse and buggy. They arrived in Georgetown, Va., tired and splattered in mud kicked up by their tires on the trail.

Participant Alex Madill, a Smoky Mountain High School senior from Cullowhee, said the most challenging part of the trip was the mental and physical challenge of cycling so far, while the best parts were the camaraderie and shared experiences. “The Antietam battlefield was pretty overwhelming,” said Madill. “It’s so huge, and we thought about how many people died there.”

The second Talent Search group left July 10 for a week to volunteer and hike in Glacier National Park, participate in the North American Indian Days powwow in Browning, Mont., and canoe 50 miles on the Missouri River along the same route as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

“I ate beaver tail and buffalo tongue,” said Anna Purser, an Andrews High School junior from Andrews. “How many people get to say that?”

In letters that participants wrote to themselves to help them transfer the experience home, they talked about lessons they learned on the trip: Keep making new friends. Be kind. Don’t get trapped. Remember that everyone has problems.

Kyle Broom, a Smoky Mountain High School sophomore from Tuckasegee, said he made friends and had experiences he previously had not even imagined. “I love the great outdoors even more now, and I didn’t think that was possible,” he said.

For more information on the program, contact Todd Murdock at 828.227.3482.

Comment

By Julia Merchant • Correspondent

The minimum-security Hazelwood Prison in Waynesville is the only correctional facility of its kind to survive state budget cuts. It is now the sole remaining old-style prison left in North Carolina.

“It’s a certain thing — it will remain open,” said Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, who fought a tough battle on behalf of the prison. It’s a fight Western North Carolina legislators are accustomed to. The facility has appeared on the chopping block numerous times over the years, only to be rescued by the efforts of Snow and other regional representatives.

“It’s the effectiveness of our delegation,” said Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who also fought, once again, to save the prison. “We worked hard, pinned it down early, and stayed with it the whole way.”

Hazelwood will be the state’s last example of a small dormitory-style brick prison built in the 1920s. The only other two like it, in Gates and Union counties, were slated for closure as well.

“They’re older prisons, and that was one of the reasons they were targeted for closure,” said Snow. “Some of them cost a lot to maintain.”

Like Hazelwood, Gates and Union also have their staunch supporters. The prisons provide a means of employment for locals, and inmates perform work detail in the community and provide local churches with an outlet for volunteering. But for one reason or another, Gates and Union were both felled by budget cuts. So why did Hazelwood survive?

“I think it’s the location of the prison, and the fact that it’s the only prison in far Western North Carolina,” said Snow. “It’s almost 90 miles from Murphy to Haywood County, so if they closed it down, the next closest minimum security prison would be somewhere in McDowell County.”

If inmates are kept further away, their loved ones are less likely to visit — which can detract from an inmate’s rehabiliation.

“It’s very important to the families of Western North Carolina, whose family members are incarcerated, that they be closer to home,” said Queen.

If Hazelwood were to close, it might be harder to place its employees in equally well-paying jobs close to home — another reason the prison may have fared better than the others.

“These other prisons that we closed, we had facilities close at hand that employees could be transferred to and keep jobs,” said Snow. “Here, we would have had a harder time transferring employees to equal jobs. That was one of the things that was very important — we would have lost about 50 positions.”

Local government officials have advocated on behalf of the prison, largely due to the amount of work detail the inmates provide to the surrounding community. The inmates pick up trash on the highways and performance maintenance to schools.

“It’s very important for the services that these minimum security prisoners deliver, helping governments do chores and tasks around Western North Carolina,” said Queen.

Snow said he received letters from county commissioners and school board members telling him how important the prison was to them. The Haywood County Commissioners even passed a resolution asking, “Who’s going to keep the highways clean if the Haywood Correctional Center closes?”

Snow also said the prison may also have survived cuts because of its rather good condition.

“It’s in good shape, considering its age,” Snow said.

But Queen stresses that saving the prison this time around is simply buying time and is only a temporary solution. Eventaully, the facility will have to be replaced.

“It’s very important for us in Haywood County and WNC to keep this minimum security unit open until we can upgrade it, but there’s no question it needs to be modernized and replaced with a new facility,” Queen said.

Queen said he plans to make a bigger push toward that goal.

“I want to work with the county, so we can be prepared to replace it with a modern facility as soon as we can find money for capital improvements,” he said.

Queen said a new facility can’t be put off much longer.

“This year we didn’t build any, but we almost lost our prison,” he said. “We definitely need to realize that we had our warning, and now we need to prepare and make other plans.”

Comment

To the Editor:

Well, I am at a disadvantage in this discussion on wind energy development in North Carolina. My friend and, in this case, adversary, Don Hendershot has his weekly bully pulpit and he used it to quote me out of context, while the readers did not have the benefit of reading the entire text of my most recent unpublished op-ed in The Smoky Mountain News.

That’s OK. I understand the limits of paper publications. Others deserve the opportunity to voice their views as well, and I can’t expect more than the very fair treatment this newspaper has given me over the years.

In the Aug. 5-11 issue of SMN, Don once again skirted the basic point being made in my last response to him. By using and accepting utility industry projections of future energy consumption, he is able to make the potential of wind energy in the mountains appear to be minimal. In so doing, he is ignoring the reality of climate change and environmental degradation in the mountains.

He is also ignoring the absolute need to reduce energy consumption in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. He is further ignoring the simple arithmetic fact that if we reduce overall energy consumption, the percentage of wind potential in the total mix increases and becomes considerably more significant.

Don and others who are carrying on a religious crusade to totally ban all utility scale wind development in the mountains are intellectually tricking themselves. The fear is that large-scale wind energy development has the potential to destroy the magnificent vistas in the mountains. They are so focused on this fear that their only answer is an absolute ban.

Meanwhile, there is total denial of the actual destruction of the mountains that is taking place as we debate this issue. Acid rain, high ozone levels, excess nitrogen deposition, mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxin contamination and greenhouse gases from the burning of coal to produce electricity is killing plants, birds, animals, fish, trees and human beings.

Often, the Canary Coalition and other environmental organizations are unjustly accused of protesting against certain industrial practices, such as burning coal, without offering a viable alternative. We are told, “It’s easy to complain about everything. But, what’s your solution? If we don’t burn coal, how will we meet future energy demand?”

This is an unjust accusation because, in fact, we are offering a viable alternative. We have a basic plan. That plan includes dramatically reducing residential, commercial and industrial energy consumption through utility rate restructuring that provides a strong economic incentive for investment in efficiency and conservation measures. Our proposed plan also, by necessity, includes exploiting whatever available renewable energy resources we have in North Carolina to replace and phase out coal. Wind energy in the mountains is by far the least expensive and most viable source of renewable energy available to us at this time. By eliminating this option completely, it’s difficult to see how North Carolina can meet future energy demand without burning more coal.

North Carolina Senators Martin Nesbitt (D-Asheville), Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) and John Snow (D-Murphy) address the issue by completely ignoring the reality and consequences of climate change. They have all voted to fund the construction of new coal-burning power plants, while voting to ban the development of wind energy in the mountains. I don’t believe Don Hendershot would agree with this prescription for meeting future energy demand. I believe he understands the negative consequences of burning coal and how it’s destroying mountain life in North Carolina, as it destroys actual mountains in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

But, I’m forced to level the same question at Don as the one unjustly leveled at our organization so often. If you understand how coal is destroying the mountains, and, if you understand that we have to dramatically reduce energy consumption to survive, what is your plan for supplying the energy needs of North Carolinians? It’s easy to “just say no” when confronted with unpleasant choices. But, if you say “no” to wind, the least expensive and most available option, what is your viable alternative? I haven’t seen anything in your anti-wind tirades that answers that question.

P.S. I want to thank the Jackson County Board of Commissioners for voting unanimously last week to pass a resolution opposing a state ban on wind development in the mountains.

It was the right thing to do.

The issue came up because an important but controversial bill has come before the North Carolina General Assembly this year. Senate Bill 1068 was originally introduced as a meaningful set of guidelines that would restrict wind development in areas of historic significance, in areas of particular ecological sensitivity and in areas where it would interrupt popular viewsheds. The original SB 1068 would give local governments discretion in further restricting wind development or designating areas they deem appropriate.

Under the new version of the bill, all local discretion has been removed and all utility-scale wind generation has been effectively banned. A sledge hammer is being applied where a surgical scalpel is needed. The bill has not yet passed in the House, and may not be dealt with in that chamber until the Short Session next year.

I don’t believe there are too many people who want to see windmills built on the Blue Ridge Parkway, in ecologically sensitive areas, or in places of historic significance. I know I don’t. But, there are many of us who think wind turbines in the mountains have a place.

Unfortunately, in 2007, Senators Snow, Nesbitt and Queen voted to provide ratepayer funding for the construction of new coal plants in North Carolina. Now, they intend to ban windmills in the mountains. How is that benefitting the mountains, western North Carolina and its people?

Thank you again Commissioners William Shelton, Mark Jones, Joe Cowan, Tom Massie and Brian McMahan for standing for reason.

Avram Friedman

Executive Director, Canary Coalition

Sylva

Comment

Eric Sink, a teacher at Summit Charter School in Cashiers, N.C., looks forward to loading his fifth-graders up on a bus every year and heading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the woods become the classroom and a park ranger takes over as teacher for the day. Sink wants his students to realize that where they live is special.

“Why do we study about the rainforest in South America when we have one right here in the Southern Appalachians?” Sink questioned.

The Parks as Classrooms fieldtrip for fifth-graders focuses on air quality at Clingmans Dome, where students visit a monitoring station that tests high-elevation ozone.

“We start with several lessons prior to even going, like what creates the pollution and what can we do to reduce the pollution,” Sink said. “They think a lot about things they can actually do, like the conservation of electricity.”

Since most of the pollution is from coal-fired power plants, they begin to think, “‘If I turn off my lights, I conserve electricity and that’s less coal that has to be burned,’” Sink said. Students also think about driving cars that use less gas, or even riding a bike or walking.

Once in the park, the students turn into scientists, conducting their own experiments to measure the effects of air pollution. They do pH tests of the soil to detect acid rain. They measure wind speed and talk about how it carries the pollution into the mountains.

Sink loves to see his students developing hypotheses, collecting data and performing studies.

“It really gets them to think more about it. We always do better when we are there than learning inside the classroom,” Sink said. “I think the great thing about it is they get that firsthand experimental learning.”

The fieldtrips are tailored for each grade level. Each is synced with the curriculum for that grade — even for kindergarten.

The state curriculum for kindergartners includes learning about animals and how they interact with their environment. A fieldtrip to the Oconaluftee River in the Smokies provides the perfect opportunity.

“We saw squirrels scurrying around gathering nuts. We saw groundhogs popping their heads up in the field. There is lots we are observing and watching in terms of animals,” said Lee Messer, a kindergarten teacher at Hazelwood Elementary in Haywood County, who takes her kids on the fieldtrip every year.

The park is rife with the chance to use observation skills, another big part of the kindergarten curriculum. They get clipboards and magnifying glasses to observe the world around them. Park rangers show them natural objects, like turtle shells and otter pelts, and ask the students to describe how they look, feel, smell and sound. To heighten the use of senses, students listen to recordings of animals and try to guess what animal it is.

Kindergartners are learning how to sort objects by category, and the rock pebbles along the Oconaluftee River prove fertile ground. Armed with nothing but two buckets, the students pick their own attributes — bumpy versus smooth, for example — and sort accordingly.

“Taking this fieldtrip brings everything you are talking about all year long to life,” Messer said. “It is an amazing, amazing fieldtrip. The children always come back talking about it.”

Comment

The Jackson County Green Energy Park recently opened the first landfill methane-fueled art foundry in the world.

“Because of the increasing costs of fossil fuels, as well as the environmental impact of the fire arts in general, demonstrating that landfill gas can work in a foundry situation opens up new opportunities for the preservation of these art forms,” said Tracy Kirchmann, a Western Carolina University graduate student and assistant to JCGEP.

Kirchmann was a recent recipient of an honorable mention in the International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement Award.

The foundry was built to increase the versatility of the metals shop for incoming artist residents. The JCGEP metals shop has two studio spaces available for one to three-year residencies, and is also available for four-week residencies and internships year round. Resident artists share access to the 2,500-square-foot shop, which includes metal fabrication equipment, blacksmithing forges and the foundry.

As the JCGEP program develops, additional works will be shown onsite through an annual sculpture competition. This year’s selected piece, “Metamorphosis,” is a sculpture made of cor-ten steel by Waynesville artist Grace Cathey.

To date, JCGEP also has completed construction on a metals shop featuring a series of greenhouses, three blacksmithing forges, and a glassblowing studio that is slated to open this fall. The major appliances in each of these facilities utilize the landfill gas as their fuel source.

For more information, or to organize a tour of the JCGEP, call 828.631.0271.

Comment

Former WCU student Matthew Link Baker will read from his new book, My Mountain Granny: The Story of Evelyn Howell Beck in the Mountain Town of Whittier, NC at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.

Baker met Beck in 1998 when he was a new student at WCU and unfamiliar with the people and culture of the western North Carolina mountains. The friendship that developed between the elderly woman and the young student forms the basis of the book.

“Evelyn Howell Beck was one of the finest human beings one could ever meet,” Baker says. “She allowed a young college student into her home and treated me like family. I learned lessons that could never be taught in a classroom. There were no layers to be peeled away when meeting her. She was a hardworking woman who lived her life by the light of faith and love of family.”

Beck was born in 1917 and lived her long life in Whittier. She told Baker what it was like living in the area in the “old days,” and how her life had changed over the years. Through her life story, the reader comes to learn about mountain culture and history.

Baker will read from the book and take questions from the audience. For more information or to reserve an autographed copy, please call City Lights at 828.586.9499.

Comment

Harry “Junior” Ward, Jr. recently retired from the North Carolina Forest Service as the Haywood County Ranger. Ward was a success story who got his start in the Haywood Community College Forestry and Natural Resources program. His first job was as a smokechaser in Haywood County. He later became assistant county ranger for Haywood County and remained in that position until 2004 when he became county ranger.

Ward has worked on fires all over the United States from Yellowstone National Park and the Everglades to many states in between, as well as all across North Carolina. He also worked on several natural disasters including five hurricanes, the blizzard of 1993 and the floods of 2004.

Two memorable fires he dealt with during his tenure were in 1987 on Sheepback Mountain in Maggie Valley and in 2008 at Pinnacle Ridge in Balsam.

Scores of people turned out recently for Ward’s retirement sendoff at HCC.

“Time has gone by quickly,” he addressed the crowd. “It’s bittersweet to reach this point. I got to work with and learn from a lot of great people. It’s been a great ride.”

Comment

By Michael Beadle

There’s a view on the way up to Clingmans Dome, an overlook where a maze of finger-like ridges unfurl at your feet and spread across the landscape before tumbling into the Oconaluftee River Valley below. Surveying this vast, unspoiled wilderness, photographer Don McGowan likes to think George Masa once stood here taking photos nearly a century ago.

McGowan can’t help but wonder whether the views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that he enjoys today are largely the result of Masa’s tireless efforts to capture the subtle beauty and awe-inspiring vistas that many take for granted.

“I think he felt a kinship with these mountains,” McGowan said of Masa. “To see through his eyes is always an inspiration to me.”

Masa, who once helped scout the course of the Appalachian Trail through North Carolina and recorded peaks and distances in the Great Smokies, earned his very own spot on the Tennessee side of the park with the naming of Masa Knob in 1961. While the self-taught, Japanese-born photographer earned a great reputation for his endurance as a hiker promoting the idea of preserving mountain land for posterity, he died in 1933 before the Great Smokies became a park. Grieving over the death of his good friend Horace Kephart, plunged into debt during the Great Depression, and suffering from influenza, Masa died in 1933 in the Buncombe County Sanatorium in Asheville. Hundreds of his photos fell into obscurity, many unidentified, lost or stored away by private collectors. Even his grave at Riverside Cemetery in Asheville (the resting place of famous writers Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry) was unmarked. Today much of Masa’s work remains largely unknown beyond the Southern Appalachian region.

But that’s about to change.

A new Ken Burns documentary called “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is set to air on UNC-TV the week of Sept. 27 and features the work of George Masa and the role he played with friend and writer Horace Kephart in making the park a reality. The 12-hour, six-part film by the award-winning and famous Burns may finally give Masa’s legacy the attention he so rightfully deserves, according to Paul Bonesteel, an Asheville-based filmmaker who collaborated with Burns on the “National Parks” documentary.

Bonesteel directed a Masa documentary of his own in 2003, “The Mystery of George Masa,” that fueled a resurgence in learning more about Masa’s work and found a home on PBS stations nationwide. Thanks to the added clout from Burns, Bonesteel’s documentary on Masa will be made available to PBS stations for the next three years.

“A lot more people will be hearing the story of George Masa because of that,” Bonesteel said.

Recent magazine articles, art exhibits, lectures and historical essays have given more people a chance to get to know George Masa, though his younger years before coming to Asheville are still shrouded in mystery. Why did he leave Japan? Why did he not discuss his past with friends and close business associates? How did he die penniless and in obscurity when he once counted the Vanderbilts as clients of his photography business?

Bonesteel learned of the man dubbed “the Ansel Adams of the Appalachian Mountains” through a biographical article written by William A. Hurt Jr. in the book May We All Remember Well: A Journey of the History & Culture of Western North Carolina, published in 1997. Intrigued by what he read, Bonesteel contacted Hurt, who said he felt like he’d only scratched the surface of this enigmatic figure. After a few years of researching Masa’s life, poring over letters and photographs from various university archives and private collections, Bonesteel found a fascinating story of a man who was leading the environmentalist charge long before the hippies of the 1960s.

“He was a curious and mysterious fellow,” Bonesteel said. “There are mysteries that we won’t ever be able to answer. And people like mysteries.”

 

Masa’s background

Masa was certainly not the first to photograph the majestic peaks and scenic vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains, but in the early 1900s, no one had taken on such a monumental task of measuring, mapping and photographing as many of these mountains with the passion and skill as Masa.

Based on the limited information about his early years, there’s not much to tell. He was born in Japan in 1881. His birth name was Masahara Iizuka. Late 19th century Japan was in a state of social and political upheaval. The long-running shogun government system which had isolated the country from Westernized culture finally opened up, bringing a flood of European and American traders into the country.

The Japanese ban on emigration had also been lifted, and tens of thousands of Japanese left their homeland for work in America, many going to Hawaii to toil in the sugar plantations, while others relocated to California, which saw an explosion of population and business after its gold rush.

Iizuka ended up in Asheville in 1915 as part of a traveling group of Austrian students. Together, they would go on mountain hiking excursions, and Iizuka fell in love with the region. When it was time for the Austrian group to leave, Iizuka stayed behind and found work as a valet at the Grove Park Inn. Fred Seely, the manager of the Grove Park Inn who also organized Biltmore Industries, hired the young Japanese newcomer as a woodcarver.

Iizuka, like many foreign-born immigrants with hard-to-pronounce names, decided to Anglicize his name, keeping part of his original moniker. And so he became George Masa.

Masa got his start in photography by developing film for hotel guests. By the 1920s, Masa developed his own business as a photographer, taking portraits and working as a freelance photojournalist for Asheville newspapers and news services. His photography studios went through various names and partners, but he soon became well known locally as a landscape photographer, and his work found its way into magazines, newspapers and chamber of commerce brochures.

 

The Kephart connection

Historians are not clear exactly when Masa befriended the outdoor travel writer Horace Kephart, but the two found a mutual passion in hiking through the mountains and for creating what would become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. George Ellison, a writer based in Bryson City, N.C., who has researched and lectured extensively on Masa and Kephart, notes that the two had a lot in common. Both were wiry men who loved the outdoors, and the park gave them a mutual goal to save the mountains they loved so much. They hiked and camped together, and Masa’s photographs would often accompany Kephart’s articles.

“They were quite a formidable team,” Ellison said.

When Kephart died in a car accident in 1931, Masa was devastated, and before Masa died two years later, he asked to be buried along side of his friend. Though that wish was not granted, and neither lived to see the official creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they were among an elite few to have place names in their honor. Today, Masa Knob stands next to Mt. Kephart, two peaks for two kindred spirits.

While many of Masa’s photographs remain lost or undiscovered, Bonesteel believes that a large body of his work has been made available to give us plenty of insights into his artistry. Masa, sporting his signature bandana and home-made bicycle wheel odometer that he used to measure distances along trails and up to the tops of mountains, is pictured alongside fellow hikers and curious tourists.

There are various stories of this painstaking perfectionist hiking miles into the woods and waiting for hours to get the clouds and the lighting just right before taking his photos. Masa lugged heavy camera equipment into the wilderness and when he pitched a tent, he might store the camera and equipment under shelter as he slept outside. Sometimes friends and fellow hikers would help him carry the equipment up and over mountains.

Author and outdoors photographer Bill Lea said he admires Masa not only for his creative eye for putting the viewer right in the middle of a wilderness setting but also for his work ethic and his willingness to trek great distances with little provision for himself in his quest to find the best photos.

“In fact,” Lea explained, “many people felt he died young due to the disregard he had for his own welfare and subsequent exposure to the elements in his great desire to capture those perfect images.”

In addition to enduring long hikes and inclement weather through rough terrain, Masa most likely had prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals used in film developing that may have given him respiratory illnesses. He suffered from bouts of tuberculosis and ultimately succumbed to influenza.

And not everyone was keen on Masa.

Bonesteel found evidence in letters that Fred Seely, who once hired Masa as a woodcarver at Biltmore Industries, secretly reported on Masa to the federal government. At a time when immigrants and outsiders were viewed suspiciously, Masa’s meticulous record-keeping and documentation of his photographs may have raised some red flags, but Seely soon called off the dogs when there was no substantive evidence that Masa was doing anything un-American. From Bonesteel’s research, he found some subtle forms of prejudice, but more often than not local residents were accepting of Masa and his work and were attracted to the novelty of a talented Japanese photographer in their midst.

“He did a lot of work to capture the grandness of the mountains,” Bonesteel explained. And even in his more commercial work of buildings and architecture, the quality is still there.

 

True scope unknown

While Masa has been compared to Ansel Adams, whose photography popularized the Rocky Mountains and the beauty of the western U.S., Bonesteel argues that the two had very different intentions. Adams saw himself as an artist and had his work shown in galleries. Masa never had an exhibition in a gallery during his lifetime and made a living by selling postcards, portraits and tourist shots.

Bonesteel speculates that there may be hundreds, even thousands of Masa photographs still out there waiting to be seen. A Buncombe County listing of Masa’s possessions at his death suggest the possibility of thousands of negatives. Today, there are several sizeable archives of Masa’s work found at Pack Memorial Library in downtown Asheville, as well as the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

George Frizzell, head of special collections at Western Carolina’s library, helps to preserve Masa’s photos by storing them in Mylar sleeves to keep the natural oils in fingers from damaging them. Given the latest digital photography techniques and computer scanners, Frizzell hopes that more of Masa’s photos can be stored indefinitely and shown to wider audiences via the Internet.

Since Bonesteel’s film came out in 2003, he has been contacted by a family that once kept Masa as a guest at their boarding house in Asheville. Descendents of the family who knew Masa claim to have letters Masa received from Japan. Masa still owed this family about $1,200 at the time of his death, but they kept his letters because of the beauty of the Japanese characters on paper. If these letters could be acquired and translated, they might shed some light as to whether Masa was still in contact with Japanese family and friends and what his relationship was with them. But so far, Bonesteel hasn’t been able to procure those letters.

“I don’t rule out the possibility that something may come out of that,” he said. “There’s work yet to do. The answers may be out there.”

Comment

“I can see test scores going down and higher dropout rates in high school,” he said. “These kids are struggling. They’re really not at the age that they need to be left home alone.”

— Steve Claxton, Swain County Community Schools coordinator

 

The immediate consequences of this economic recession are obvious to those with eyes and ears open, as people lose jobs, struggle to keep their homes, and survive on reduced salaries or cuts in employee benefits. But the long-term negative effects are what are really worrisome, as education and social service budgets are slashed, as all levels of government deal with reduced budgets.

One glaring negative example of the potential domino effect affects middle school kids right here in Western North Carolina. As the state dealt with its massive revenue shortfall, an after-school program funded through the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention lost funding. Support Our Students offered low-cost or free after-school care to at-risk teens and helped about 14,000 students statewide

What the program did, essentially, was provide a place for middle school students to go after school until their parents got off work. They did homework, listened to guest speakers, and took part in other programs specifically designed to keep them in school.

It’s no mistake that this program was originally funded through the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Anyone who works with kids or reads newspapers knows that the early teen years are critical in keeping children on a path toward becoming functioning members of our society. They are exposed to all kinds of temptations that could lead them astray, and often well-meaning parents have few choices, as they must work well past 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. to provide for their families.

Leaving teens alone during this time period is, to put it bluntly, dangerous. The SOS programs provided a positive learning environment for kids who often were not doing well in school. And for parents who had become accustomed to latchkey programs at elementary schools, a necessity for after-school care.

The bottom line here is that teens and families will suffer if these programs are done away with. It will be a few years down the road before another child may drop out or another kid may get arrested on some random drug charge. Then they get in the system, and the cost to help them gets much more expensive than a very low-cost after-school program back in middle school that could have helped them stay on the right path.

And so we see firsthand the repercussions of these specific budget cuts. Similar “savings” are being found across our system of education system and social programs as we deal with this recession. Lawmakers are being forced to make some tough choices, but this one is surely a mistake.

Comment

The Mountain High BBQ & Music Festival will be held at the Macon County fairgrounds Aug. 7-8.

Gates open at noon on Friday. Barbecue cook teams from all over the United States will be cooking and competing to be crowned Grand Champion, earning a NC State Championship at this Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) sanctioned festival.

The event boasts 48 professional cook teams, 12 backyard teams, over 50 craft and retail booths, live entertainment, barbecue and festival foods, an inflatable kids’ play area, a “Tastin’ Tent” and an opportunity to hear great grilling tips from the KCBS tour team.

Only 200 tickets to the Tastin’ Tent are available. Teams will submit samples of their barbecue work for audience judging in two seatings on Saturday, one at 2 p.m. and one at 3 p.m.

Live music will begin at 12:15 p.m. Friday and close out with the Rye Holler Boys who take the stage at 4:30 p.m. On Saturday, music starts at 10:15 a.m. and ends with Eric Haggart just before the awards ceremony at 5 p.m.

A shuttle bus will run both days from the Franklin High School parking lot to the fairgrounds. Shuttle times are 1 to 7 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Admission for adults is $5, children 12 and under admitted free.

In addition, festival organizers have partnered with The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts to present Shenandoah in concert Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Franklin Chamber of Commerce for only $10 with each paid barbecue festival admission.

Comment

By Andre A. Rodriguez • Special to the Smoky Mountain News

A new travel study revealed potential visitors lack awareness about activities and attractions in Cherokee and the surrounding region, detering them from planning a visit.

“People don’t have a very good understanding of Western North Carolina and the things to see or do here,” said Rob Bell, interim executive director for the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. “They’re aware of the scenic beauty and not aware of the activities.”

The study was aimed at increasing the effectiveness of tourism marketing on the Qualla Boundary and the seven counties of the Smoky Mountain Host region — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, Cherokee and Graham.

“We wanted to understand why people aren’t coming and if they had come what they liked and what they didn’t like,” said Bell. “What kind of things would motivate (visitors) to come?”

The study was commissioned by the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and Smoky Mountain Host and funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Travel and Promotion, Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, Western Carolina University and the Goss Agency were also partners in the study.

The Marketing Workshop out of Norcross, Ga., based the study on 600 online interviews with adults who have inquired about the North Carolina Smoky Mountains within the past four years, online interviews with 600 residents within a 300 mile radius outside Western North Carolina who may or may not have visited the area, and 50 telephone interviews with Cherokee Chamber members whose businesses deal with tourists.

The study concluded Cherokee needed to improve the quality of dining options, nightlife and variety of things to do on the Qualla Boundary. Families are looking for more family-friendly activities, and adults desire more nightlife and other activities besides Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

One of the things that stuck out for Bell — aside from the soft economy — was there were so many other places people wanted to visit. For example, they were looking for a vacation at the beach rather than one in the mountains.

Cherokee and the rest of the Smoky Mountain Host area would also benefit from improved perceptions of value for the money, which would have a significant impact on travelers the region seeks to draw, the study concluded. Most of visitors to the region are couples over the age of 55, according to the study, but the region seeks to draw more families with children.

Providing visitors and prospective visitors with sample itineraries and more education about activities in the area, along with package deals or a discount pass for the region, would help motivate more people to visit.

Bell said his organization is already at work on one of the study’s recommendations, which was to provide visitors and prospective visitors with sample itineraries.

“There’s a great hunger for sample itineraries,” Bell said. “We started preparing some that will soon go up on our Web site (www.blueridgeheritage.com).

“One thing that popped out to me with the study findings is people are planning their travel on a much shorter time frame. A lot of folks don’t have time to wait for material in the mail. They’re doing planning on the Internet and hopping in their cars and heading out that weekend or the next weekend. We need to be smarter about how we get the information out there about attractions and lodgings,” Bell said.

People are also interested in finding a good deal, such as area discount passes. The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area offers visitors the Go Blue Ridge card, which provides admission to up to 30 area attractions for two-, three- or five-day increments, including the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Oconaluftee Indian Village and performances of Unto these Hills.

Bell anticipates more attractions will get on board with the Go Blue Ridge program.

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is also in the process of rebuilding its destination-marketing Web site.

“We’re taking the study findings to heart,” he said. “People want to know that there’s a variety of things to do in the area. The Web site makes it easier to access that information.”

Susan Jenkins, executive director of Cherokee Preservation Foundation, said she was encouraged by the study.

“Cherokee Preservation Foundation is pleased to have supported research that identifies opportunities to increase family visitation by providing more family activities and then making the presence of such activities known. The foundation has sponsored previous research about heritage tourism efforts undertaken by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and we are committed to helping the members of the tribe market Cherokee and continuously improve what the Qualla Boundary has to offer visitors,” Jenkins said.

Comment

As if the death of hemlock trees across the Southern Appalachians wasn’t bad enough already, forest researchers believe the loss of hemlocks will alter the carbon cycle of forests.

An exotic insect known as the hemlock wooly adelgid has a death grip on hemlocks throughout the mountains. The giant hemlocks are an anchor tree species in the ecosystem and their loss could have severe ripple effects, from species that depend on them to the cool, moist microclimates found under their dense evergreen branches.

Forest service researchers at the Coweeta Hydrological Laboratory in Macon County now believe the die-off of hemlocks will also have a detrimental effect on hydrology and carbon cycle.

“The study marks the first time that scientists have tracked the short-term effects hemlock woolly adelgid infestations are having on the forest carbon cycle,” said Chelcy Ford, an ecologist with the Southern Research Station who was involved in the research.

Researchers tracked changes in the carbon cycle of infected hemlock stands over a 3-year period. Scientists measured components of the forest carbon cycle — including tree growth, leaf litter and fine root biomass, and soil respiration — finding a decline of 20 percent or more for some of the variables in just three years.

Another piece of news emerging from the research is that hemlocks are dying far more rapidly than initially feared. A total loss of the tree is expected with the next decade.

Researchers noted that other tree species are quick to occupy the space given up by their dying hemlock neighbors.

“We’ll continue to monitor this, but it’s still too early to predict just how different these forests will look 50 or 100 years from now,” Ford said.

Comment

A decrepit dam is being torn down along the North Toe River near Spruce Pine this week, clearing the way for a restoration of natural aquatic habitat.

The dam demolition removes a barrier to river migration of aquatic species, obstructions have led to a decline in some species, including rare and endangered ones.

“The North Toe is a wonderful river and taking this useless dam out makes it better,” remarked Cliff Vinson, the coordinator for the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council, which is organizing the effort.

The cost of removal is $202,500 provided by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Division of Water Resources.

The dam was constructed for power generation in 1918, providing electricity to the town of Spruce Pine and a local factory. It was abandoned by the late 1940s or early 1950s, then partially dynamited in 1960 to clear silt which had accumulated upstream. What remains are massive slabs of concrete and scattered pieces of the dam’s metal inner workings.

“It’s not very often a dam comes out of a river,” remarked Anita Goetz, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The dam removal will also make the river safer for paddlers. The partially crumbled dam creates a powerful hydraulic that claimed a boater’s life in 1983. Boaters that portage around the structure have to skirt an active railroad along the shore.

Comment

When Macon County economic development officials met last week and decided the aging workforce was among the county’s most pressing problems, that was news to our ears. An aging population — and workforce — presents many challenges, but we don’t think employers need worry about finding workers to fill the few professional jobs that are available in this region.

The worry, according to officials, is that the aging workforce and subsequent retirees will require more services. OK, that much is a given. As folks retire, many do require social services and other government aid while not contributing taxes — in the form of payroll taxes — to pay for them.

But in many ways, this fear is a straw man argument. If good jobs are available, professionals and service sector employees will flock to the area to take them. This newspaper, in fact, advertised over the last couple of months for a job requiring a college degree that paid a modest salary. We were inundated with prospective employees, with resumes arriving from Washington, Arizona, New Hampshire and all points in between.

When a reporter for this newspaper went into a restaurant to interview some 33-year-old workers in Macon County, they agreed with this assessment - if jobs are available, people of their generation are used to relocating to find work. It’s the norm these days.

These young family men pointed out a more important truth that economic development officials should concern themselves with — making sure Macon County and Franklin are desirable places to live. They pointed out that amenities like restaurants and other places to socialize are important. They bemoaned the fact that a recreation bond failed, meaning there will be fewer places for their children and them — young families today are active — to go play. They stressed the importance of continuing to focus resources on downtown development.

Yes, the population is aging. We are all living longer and working longer. But Macon County and the rest of this region will benefit more from that demographic reality than they will suffer.

If we want workers when we need them, we just need to make sure we protect open spaces, invest enough so our downtowns remain vibrant and walkable, and invest in education and recreation. As long as our quality of life remains high, people will come to fill the open positions.

Comment

Known for its legendary craftsmanship, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. just launched its new website, www.quallaartsandcrafts.org. For the first time, art collectors from around the world can view online what is said to be the largest collection of Cherokee art.

The website is a treasure trove of information about traditional and contemporary Cherokee art, and features extensive and detailed information about member artists, their work, techniques and the Mutual’s fascinating history.

“Launching the website was the next step in the cooperative’s progression so that we remain a leading vehicle for Cherokee art,” said Yona Wade, outreach coordinator at Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. “We can truly offer our members a worldwide opportunity to showcase their work, and art collectors have a new way to view and learn about Cherokee’s legendary craftsmanship.”

Founded in 1946 to secure fair prices and provide a year-round market for Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian artisans, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. is the nation’s oldest and leading arts and crafts cooperative. It has approximately 300 members who create baskets, pottery, wood and stone carved sculpture, beadwork, fine art paintings and more for display and purchase at the co-op. Many member artists work with age-old, traditional techniques and materials, while others experiment with new methods and abstract forms.

Entry to Qualla Mutual is a juried process and is restricted to enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The purity and simplicity of ancient and contemporary Cherokee arts and crafts on display in the co-op’s gallery have attracted collectors from around the world. Free gallery tours are available Thursdays through Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. through Aug. 29. Qualla Mutual also offers appraisal and repair services; and for more information about these services, call 828.497.3103.

Comment

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Whitewater releases from the Nantahala Lake dam will be suspended in October, forcing rafting outfitters downstream in the Nantahala Gorge to miss out on critical fall tourist season.

Rafting outfitters rely on a predictable flow of water released upstream by Duke Energy, which has a hydropower operation below the Nantahala dam. But starting Oct. 5, Duke will shut down its 67-year-old generator for maintenance and cease water releases.

“There’s going to be two to four weeks lost revenue for sure, and a lack of things for tourists to do,” said Steve Matz, owner of Adventurous Fast Rivers Rafting and president of the Nantahala Gorge Association.

Matz said he wishes Duke had held out on the repairs for a few more weeks.

“The community is a little unclear as to why this could not have been delayed until after the tourist season,” Matz said. “Especially in a recession year like this. It’s a tough year for everybody.”

Other rafting outfitters say that while they’re taking a hit, they understand the repairs must be done to avoid a more detrimental scenario.

Mark Thomas, owner of Paddle Inn, estimates he could lose as much as $15,000 by shuttering his business early. But he’d rather see Duke perform maintenance in fall than risk an unplanned shutdown in summer.

“If this thing broke during this time of the year, that $15,000 would turn into something much larger than that,” Thomas said.

Ken Kastorff, owner of Endless River Adventures, agrees.

“None of us were enthused, but when you take a look at the alternative and the chance of having a problem, it was for sure the lesser of two evils,” Kastorff said. “I wish it could have been done at a different time of year, but you have to consider, this isn’t taking your car to the mechanic. It’s a bit of a bigger job.”

In a press release, officials at Duke Energy expressed their reasoning that a three-month, planned outage is better than a six- to nine-month unplanned one. They also said they will limit the repairs to the tail end of the rafting season, and gave Gorge businesses plenty of advance notice.

“One of the things that we do proactively is let people know our intentions as early as we can,” said Fred Alexander, Duke’s district manager for community relations.

 

Piece of the tourism puzzle

Outfitters concede that October isn’t their cash cow, compared to, say, July.

“If you take a look at the whole scope of things, October really isn’t that busy a period of time,” said Kastorff.

But the month, which marks the end of the whitewater rafting season, is important for other reasons. Keeping people employed is a major one.

“It’s not peak season by any means, but it still helps feed those who are here,” Matz said.

Matz said the repairs will mean people who need to work “are cut short by a month, so there’s going to be more unemployment.”

While rafting itself may not be a big draw in the fall, the industry plays an important role as an entertainment option for the many tourists who flock to the mountains during leaf season. Fall color, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and rafting together work to entice visitors to the far western region.

“In many cases, all three of those things go hand in hand with tourism,” said Kastorff. “Losing one of them I think is going to have a negative impact on the overall tourism of the area, and on hotels and restaurants.”

 

Making do

Rafting outfitters are figuring out how to compensate for the loss of business.

Thomas said his company is booking as many trips as possible prior to October while making sure to communicate the shutoff with customers.

“We’re just doing the best we can to get everybody on the river, and telling as many as we can that the river’s shutting off early,” Thomas said.

Kastorff said he’s concentrating on diversifying the activities his company offers.

“We’re going to go ahead and have a lot of other activities we’ll offer folks on the weekend,” like lake tours, kayak instruction, or day trips to other nearby rivers, said Kastorff.

Others are throwing up their hands in acceptance of the situation.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do,” acknowledged Matz.

However, the blow may be softened a bit by the fact that outfitters have already done surprisingly well this season, despite the shaky economy. Thomas, for instance, reports that June business was on par with 2008 numbers, and that July, “has just blown the lid off,” far exceeding numbers from the past few years.

“It’s been fantastic,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ case may be an exception, but other outfitters seem to be holding their own.

“I don’t think we’re setting any records, but I think we’re on track,” Matz said. “People are still spending money, and people are still here.”

Matz theorized that his guests are cutting out more lavish trips to the Bahamas or Europe in favor of low-cost getaways within driving distance, like Western North Carolina.

 

Nod to Duke

Repairs to the generator should be completed by December, Alexander said. Duke Power has already started lowering Nantahala Lake levels in anticipation of the repairs, though at a slower rate than was initially planned. By Aug. 15, the lake will be at 10 feet below normal levels. By Labor Day, it will sink to 35 feet below. By Oct. 5, the date repairs start, it will be 60 feet below normal.

While outfitters may grumble about the repairs, they do acknowledge that overall, Duke has been a good partner when it comes to managing the flows out of Nantahala Lake.

“It’s as good a flow as we’ve ever had,” Matz said. “We get really great, consistent flows, and they manage the lake levels really well.”

Thomas said that when the lake was under the control of Nantahala Power and Light, the former hydropower owner, the river could stop running without an explanation, leaving outfitters in a lurch. Thomas called Duke “a tremendous asset.”

“Nantahala Power did an okay job, but Duke is right on the money,” Thomas said.

Comment

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

The year was 1954. An up-and-coming singer named Elvis Presley was beginning his musical career. The inaugural edition of new magazine titled Sports Illustrated hit the newsstands. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in the nation’s public schools.

And in the mountains of Western North Carolina, a young Glenn Draper first set foot on the grounds of Lake Junaluska, along with the Keelser Air Force Base Male Chorus and Orchestra

Draper would remain an indelible figure at Lake Junaluska for another 55 years, serving as music director at the Methodist Assembly and as director of the world-renowned Junaluska Singers since 1956. The group has provided musical entertainment at conferences and worship services, toured extensively across the Southeastern United States and beyond, and produced 35 recordings.

During a career that has spanned more than a half century, Draper has mentored legions of young vocalists. In addition to the Junaluska Singers, his groups have included his own creation, the Glenn Draper Singers, as well as the Chattanooga Singers and the Singing Mocs at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where was a professor of music for more than 30 years.

His vocal groups have appeared on national television programs “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Hour of Power,” have shared the stage with the likes of Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Liberace and Wayne Newton, and have performed in such illustrious venues as Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House.

“I feel that this is my calling,” Draper wrote in his 2003 autobiography. “I know that to some people that would sound trite, but my calling at Junaluska is not just to do better music or to educate people; that has never been in my plan. It is to sing music that people consider to be worshipful, and that they are going to like.”

His Junaluska Singers have spent this spring and summer on a farewell tour of sorts, as the 2009 season marks his last year as director of the vocal ensemble. And his swan song summer performance is set for Saturday, Aug. 8, at Lake Junaluska. As that bittersweet performance approaches, former members of the group recently shared their thoughts about the career of a man they call mentor and friend.

“He is the master of melody, the consummate showman,” said Bill Dixon, a vocalist with the Junaluska Singers from 1980 to 1990, who is now an elementary school music teacher and music minister in Quincy, Fla. “The repertoire in his head is incredible. It’s amazing that year after year he has consistently reinvented the singers and their ministry, yet kept the cohesiveness in the groups.”

Ron Whittemore, a singer with the group from 1975 to 1985 and sound technician in 1986-88, called Draper a major influence on his life and career. “He demands excellence, and expects a song to come from the heart and a belief in what you are singing. He is passionate and loving, he is a great motivator and doer, and he has a tremendous drive,” said Whittemore, director of music ministries at Arden Presbyterian Church and emcee/worship leader at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove.

“He is a unique individual, one of those ‘time and place’ individuals. I’m not sure there will be another like him,” he said. “Glenn is one of my greatest mentors. At 81, he still does it better than most in music ministry even today.”

When asked for his favorite memory of his time with the Junaluska Singers, Alan Miller, who is now associate dean of the Center for Performing Arts at the University of Mobile in Alabama, replied, “Oh my, do you have several hours?”

A singer with the group for 13 years beginning in the early 1970s and a sound technician for a year, Miller got his first exposure to Draper in the late 1960s as a participant at a music camp for youth. “Glen would stand up on a platform and direct the 600- to 1,000-voice youth choir, and it was amazing as we sang some of the greatest musicals, like ‘Celebrate Life’ and ‘Godspell,’” Miller said.

“I met some of my closest friends at Junaluska, sang the greatest music, learned to change costumes 14 times in one program, understood variety in music and how to thrill an audience from the master, Glenn Draper,” he said. “To this day, I often think ‘what would Glenn Draper do?’ when I plan a program at the University of Mobile.”

Those who have followed the Junaluska Singers over the years also credit Draper’s wife, Lounelle, with providing the behind-the-scenes support necessary for the group’s success.

“Glenn and Lounelle Draper are a great team,” said Minna Appleby of Lake Junaluka and Dothan, Ala. “They have given of themselves and worked together these 55 years in making the Junaluska Singers a world-renowned choral group. You cannot listen to this group sing under Glenn’s direction without marveling at their gifts and witness, without having your spirits lifted and being inspired.”

Comment

By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist

With the long August recess now behind them, Senators have returned to Washington, D.C., with a heavy workload. In addition to the momentous responsibility they have to pass legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, they have an unprecedented opportunity to change America’s future for the better. Comprehensive climate and energy legislation that passes the Senate can and must dedicate 5 percent of the funding generated by such a bill to safeguarding fish and wildlife and natural resources on which we all rely. Just two weeks ago, 22 North Carolina organizations joined more than 600 groups from all 50 states to do just that. The letter delivered to the Senate has a clear message — we need swift action on climate change that will both create jobs and protect our natural resources.

This call for action is based not only on protecting our environment, but on creating green jobs that will help our economy for generations to come. If funded properly, climate legislation will create conservation jobs nationwide, employing construction crews, engineers, scientists and others to restore America’s landscapes and strengthen ecosystems so they can withstand disruptive changes, remove invasive species from natural areas, repair damaged watersheds and help revive rural economies. Furthermore, here in Western Northern Carolina, our outdoor recreation industry is dependent on healthy ecosystems — businesses that support fishing, rafting, and camping that are being threatened by the effects of global warming, putting at risk North Carolina’s $7.5 billion outdoor recreation economy. As the health of North Carolina’s forests suffers, a range of business and vital ecosystem services are likely to be negatively affected, such as North Carolina’s $100 million per year Christmas tree industry.

We simply can no longer afford to ignore this important issue. Many areas of North Carolina’s coastline are sinking at a rate of nearly 7 inches per century, and studies predict that sea level rise of 18 inches is possible by 2080, flooding more than 770 miles of the state’s coast. Upland ecosystems are also affected as evidenced by a decline in high-elevation spruce firs, loss of brook trout habitat due to rising steam temperatures and the destruction of hemlock forests by invasive species.

Since mid-century, temperatures across the state have risen approximately 1.2 degrees and are expected to rise up to an additional 5 degrees by 2060. A temperature rise of just 4 degrees would cause central North Carolina to resemble the climate of central Florida. In coastal North Carolina, projections show a decrease of up to 8 inches in annual rainfall by 2060. These changes are significant, and the impacts are already being felt.

The House of Representatives has already passed legislation that establishes a national policy to better safeguard natural resources from global warming and provided 1 percent of revenues generated by the bill for these efforts. Ultimately, significantly more dedicated funding will be needed to address the impacts of climate change on our wildlife and natural resources. The Senate is standing at the crossroads of history and we need its leadership now to get the whole job done and ensure that climate legislation both reduces greenhouse gas emissions and safeguards natural resources, wildlife and our own communities threatened by the changes already set in motion.

Millions of Americans have spoken – it’s time for the Senate to listen.

(Brent Martin lives in Franklin and works for the Wilderness Society. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Comment

September in the mountains is an emotionally poignant time as it signals the end of summer and the beginning of fall in a dramatic show of color against a sky of brilliant blue. It carries an air of bittersweet longing accompanied by a scent of dying flowers and burning leaves as well as a sense of transition. Comings and goings, good-byes and tears all flood the soul like the swollen mountain streams. September is a time of changes that pull at the heart.

The mornings have become cooler with a hint of fall in the air. The days are still warm but shorter and the evenings chilly. Local churches organize homecomings and invite their members, old and new, to join in a day of reunion. There is singing of old hymns, delicious foods, handshakes and hugs through laughter and tears.

In 1971, I left my small Bethel community in September to attend college. I was a first generation college student and had little more than hopes and dreams of escaping mountain life to steer my course. My goal in life at that time was to leave this backwater community at any cost. This was a goal that I would both achieve and regret to some degree. Appreciating one’s childhood home is not a reality until a few years and many tears have passed.

This new world of freedom in a university was not only intoxicating but also filled with contradictions and disillusions. It was the 1970s. The Vietnam War continued hopelessly as young men died or came back broken in body and spirit. Racial disturbances continued. Richard M. Nixon lied to the nation about his role in the Watergate scandal. Our leaders were flawed. My newly found freedom was more than a little marred by the ugly truths of politics, wars and injustices. It was my first realization that life was far from simple. I was learning that personal freedom is rarely achieved without struggle and change.

I managed to avoid going home for months and when I did, I would pull out of our dirt road in my boyfriend’s VW bug early Sunday morning to avoid the inevitable church attendance. Finally in late September 1973, I was caught. I would attend the annual Homecoming at my childhood Baptist church. No argument. My mother was firm; for this, young lady, was a command performance. So on a clear, achingly beautiful September morning with a slight nip in the air and the leaves beginning to turn red and golden, I headed back to a building of mere wood and mortar that housed a lifetime of warm memories.

I had agreed to shed my faded jeans for a denim skirt but wore a faded peasant blouse on which I had embroidered flowers and symbols of peace. Despite my changing beliefs in politics and religion, I loved these good people who had watched me grow up and now welcomed me home. And it was with their hugs and their quiet show of love, I knew that I could still come home.

As the strains of “Amazing Grace” filled the air, I humbly joined the church members for dinner on the grounds. I knew that I was home. The plank table held comfort food for the weary soul; food that was as predictable and made from the recipes that were handed down generation to generation; foods that the women of the church had cooked at dawn that morning. Armed with a paper plate and paper cup of sweetened iced tea, I realized that the differences were not as great as I had imagined.

The smells from the food were intoxicating, as the preacher led the congregation in a blessing for the food, this community and the many joys of this earthly life. As I listened to the preacher, I opened one eye and as I absent mindedly brushed away a fly, I gazed at the beautiful array of food. I recognized the platters of fried chicken, potato salad, green beans laden with fat back, fried corn, fresh tomatoes, trays of deviled eggs and a multitude of congealed salads and desserts of all descriptions. All was simple and fresh, without complications.

The dessert table seemed endless with old standards like strawberry short cake, banana pudding, apple stack cake and numerous pound cakes and with new arrivals such as the sock-it-to-me cake and better-than-s-e-x chocolate cake. In the Baptist Church, the word sex was not uttered but spelled aloud.

The congealed salads were congregated at the end of the table near the desserts and could be found on every plate. They must be eaten quickly as they did tend to melt on a warm September afternoon and each church member seems to have a distinct favorite. The congealed salad in the South and in the mountains of North Carolina carries a history that probably began as regular bowl of jello spiked with some canned fruit cocktail. The dish evolved quickly from that humble beginning and became the star of the “church circuit.”

New “church circuit” dishes seem to begin with an initial preparation by women in a church, probably the Methodist, as I imagine their tastes to be more sophisticated than the Baptist. Once approved by the congregation at one of the many potluck occasions, the dish is then deemed worthy of making the circuit and travels by word of mouth or those little recipe cards to other congregations.

A host of congealed salads (most containing the inevitable crushed pineapple and Cool Whip) had made the circuit as well as the ever-popular casserole. In the mountains and rural South, these dishes were a definite departure from the simple dishes of fresh vegetables and meats. They combined flavors and textures and were exotic to the simple rural tongue. They caught on like wildfire. And as each new dish was tried and tested and ultimately made the church circuit, it was added to the annual church cookbook. Many of these cookbooks had separate sections for casseroles and congealed salads though I suspect that this also originated with the Methodists.

As I gazed the usual selection of salads, I recognized my favorite apricot salad as well as the blueberry/cream cheese salad and even a cherry Coke salad that became popular when Coca-Cola appeared in cans. But there — innocently nestled among the faithful was a newcomer — a strange green concoction with what appeared to be miniature marshmallows, a canned fruit and some brown objects. This new dish, my mother proudly crowed was ... Watergate salad! No one seemed to know why or to care exactly how this glowing green glob was christened “Watergate Salad” but it seemed to be all the rage.

Timidly, I made room on my paper plate for the strangely named Watergate salad, secure in the conviction that I would find its taste as disgusting as its looks. I was wrong. I identified the green fluffy stuff as pistachio pudding, the white blobs as marshmallows and the dark pieces as chopped pecans. The combination of sweet and salty unfamiliar to my palate was delicious. I was hooked and unabashedly returned to the table for two or three more helpings.

The recipe, tucked in the pocket of my bell-bottom jeans, was carried back to my dorm room. I impressed my new college friends with the dish and I continue to revive it throughout the years (adding red maraschino cherries at Christmas for a festive look). It is out of vogue now — replaced by other more sophisticated dishes on the church circuit, but I pull out the ingredients every now and again and remember ...

I remember the color of leaves in late September, the brilliant blue of an early autumn sky, the smell of dried leaves and wood smoke. I remember the moment in time when a still innocent young girl could return home and despite disillusion, despite the beginning of a cynical mind, could enjoy the sweet and the salty taste of Watergate salad at a church homecoming and shed a few tears of gratitude and homesickness for the simple life she had left.

Throughout the years I have continued to fix “Homecoming” foods but do change them to suit my changing tastes. I love the simple foods but choose to add my personal signature to familiar dishes. I add a dash of ground red chili pepper to the fried chicken and I bake chicken breasts with olive oil rather than with my mother’s lard scooped from a tin can.

I have numerous variations of the deviled eggs from a dash of curry powder to the addition of capers, cilantro or tarragon — all delicious. The changes may enhance the familiar tastes but the freshness and flavor in these good mountain foods remain the same. I may not get up at dawn to prepare my dishes, but I cook with the same love and attention that the women of my mother’s generation cooked their Sunday dishes.

While I wouldn’t dare change the sinful dessert recipes, I do limit them to once or twice a year and give the leftovers away as soon as I have had a helping. Too much “better than s-e-x cake” cannot be good for the waistline, but I miss the days when I could easily eat several helpings.

Old habits can be changed; new recipes can evolve from traditional ones; and old beliefs can be revised. I still hold the belief that God is larger than any one church or religion; that God is as present in the quiet of a forest or in the dark corner of one’s soul as in a church filled with golden offerings; that God is seen most often in the eyes of children and dogs.

I am still rather cynical about truth in politics and I keep a suspicious eye on the wealthy and the pompous, but I do believe in the possibility of change and the probability of transformation with love. While Nixon lied to a nation, Watergate salad made its debut among the old standards in a small Baptist church in Bethel, North Carolina. The simplicity of mountain foods can be enhanced to fit changing tastes and healthier habits. A young mountain girl could go back home again and be welcomed with open arms. If cynicism can give way to a heartfelt tears shed on a Homecoming Sunday in late September, then almost anything is possible.

(Karen Dill can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Comment

By Julie Ball • Correspondent

As a boy, Gene Gibson remembers his parents heading to some of Western North Carolina’s high mountain ridges in search of chestnuts.

By that time — the early 1930s — most of the trees at the lower elevations were dead, killed by a devastating chestnut blight that all but wiped out the species.

“Most of the chestnut trees down here had already died, but there were still some in the higher ridges that were still producing,” said Gibson, who lives in Jackson County.

For southern Appalachian families, the American chestnut was an important part of life. Not only did it produce food for livestock and timber for homes, but the chestnuts from these massive trees could be used to barter or to sell.

Now a modern-day effort to bring back the tree is taking an important step forward. The U.S. Forest Service, American Chestnut Foundation and officials from the University of Tennessee recently announced the planting of 500 blight-resistant trees on U.S. Forest Service land in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The planting took place last winter, and the trees have thrived over the past year, according to forestry officials.

“Today really is a historic event,” said Bryan Burhans, president of The American Chestnut Foundation, which has been working for more than 25 years to develop a blight-resistant tree.

The foundation has been breeding the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut with the American chestnut, resulting in a mix that is genetically 94 percent American chestnut and 6 percent Chinese chestnut. The cross will hopefully provide just enough DNA from the Chinese chestnut to stave off the blight, yet still boasts the signature characteristics of the American chestnut, such as the prized nuts and high quality wood.

Roger Williams, director of forest management for the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region, called the test planting another step toward re-introducing this “keystone species” to its native range decades after it was wiped out.

 

Forest experiment

The chestnut seedlings planted last year have grown an average of 10 inches already.

Stacy Clark, research forester for the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, described them as “healthy” and “free from blight,” but it will take several more years to determine if they are blight resistant.

Clark said the blight normally doesn’t show up until the trees are five to 10 years old.

“We are hopeful the test plantings conducted last winter will be successful,” said Barbara Crane, regional geneticist for the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region.

The 500 blight-resistant trees were among a total of 1,200 trees planted at three locations on national forest land.

The other 700 trees included pure American chestnut trees, pure Chinese chestnut trees and various generations of trees that are a mixture of the two species. The seedlings grew for a year in a nursery before they were planted as part of this effort.

“These first test plantings are true scientific experiments,” Clark said.

Officials will monitor the growth and determine whether they can survive and what kind of management might be needed.

“Also, it’s important to determine how these trees will grow in a real-world setting,” Clark said.

The Forest Service and University of Tennessee planted the trees on Forest Service land under a memorandum of understanding with The American Chestnut Foundation. The agencies are not saying exactly where the trees are planted to protect them from possible theft.

“The trees we planted are approximately 4- to 6-feet tall. They came from nuts that were collected over two years ago,” Clark said.

Plans call for another 500 blight-resistant trees to be planted in 2010 on national forest land. The American Chestnut Foundation is also working to develop a plan for future restoration of the trees. The American Chestnut Foundation recevied a $1 million contribution last year from the Stanback family, known as champions of conservation in Western North Carolina for their large contributions to preserve tracts of land.

 

Loss of the chestnut

The loss of the American chestnut tree was a “disaster,” according to Gibson, who lives in Jackson County.

Chestnuts made up 25 percent of the hardwood forests in the eastern U.S. The massive trees grew alongside oaks, but they produced more mast and also produced food more consistently. Burhans said a mature oak would produce 1,000 acorns on average — but a mature American chestnut tree produced 6,000 chestnuts on average.

The chestnuts were an important source of food in the forest, but they also provided a crop that could be sold by people living in the southern Appalachian region.

Gene Gibson’s son, Bill Gibson, who serves as executive director of the Southwestern Commission, said his grandmother was born in Haywood County and later lived in Jackson County. She told stories of heading to high mountain coves during the fall to collect chestnuts.

The family would bring along buckets, washtubs, and any other containers they could find. They’d also bring along livestock to fatten them up on the chestnuts.

“They (the family) would go back there, and they’d stay a long time, maybe a week or more,” Bill Gibson said.

The family would roast the chestnuts on site, then haul them home to use during the winter.

Timber from the American chestnut was also used heavily in the mountains. And Western North Carolina is full of stories about the size of the trees. In some cases, it took several people holding hands to reach around the massive trunks.

The trees contributed to the overall health of the ecosystem and were a valuable source of food for wildlife, according to Williams. But in the first half of the 20th century, the trees began dying, hit by a fungus that would become known as the chestnut blight. By the early 1950s, the American chestnut had virtually disappeared, even at the high elevations.

Sprouts from the old root systems can still be found in mountain forests, and one goal of The American Chestnut Foundation is to collect pollen from those native trees for use in the breeding process.

The foundation developed the blight-resistant trees using backcross-breeding over a number of years.

Comment

James Lyle is an internationally renowned illustrator and artist whose work appears in comic books, in campaigns for major corporations, in video games and in the Weekly Reader read by thousands of students each week. He lives in Haywood County and is participating in the Oct. 3-4 Haywood Open Studios Tour:

SMN: Why do you participate in this event?

Lyle: I grew up in Haywood County and have spent most of my life here, but in spite of the fact that I’m known nationally — and even internationally in some circles — very few folks around here know what I do. So when the HOST event first started, I thought it might be a good way to let people in on the secret. It wasn’t until this year that I had the opportunity to actually participate.

SMN: What about your work gives you the most pleasure?

Lyle: Actually sitting down at the drawing board and drawing gives me the most pleasure. The difficulty now is that it seems that I have to spend a great deal of time in self-promotion and networking. Fortunately most of my experiences in “networking” have been positive, and I find that to be nearly as pleasant as the drawing process itself. I’ve been spending a great deal of time lately as vice chairman of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society and that offers a chance to work with a number of up-and-coming artists in the region. Mentoring them is a close second to actually drawing.

SMN: Is your art your sole source of income; and if so, how long did you work at it before getting to your current status?

Lyle: Art is my primary source of income. But my wife and I both work, and I do play an occasional gig with our band, Gypsy Bandwagon — which is technically still “art” in the larger sense of the word. I’ve been working as an artist full time since graduating from Southwestern Community College back in 1992, but actually did quite a bit of work as a freelance artist before getting that degree. So all in all, I have been working professionally since 1983. So, 25 years, give or take a year.

SMN: What attracted you to Western North Carolina?

Lyle: Besides growing up here, I think it’s a beautiful place to live. When I met my wife, I thought for a while that we might live near where she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but the cost of living there is so high that we added it all up and realized that the mountains was a great place to be. So we came back home.

SMN: What would you do if you weren’t an illustrator or cartoonist?

Lyle: I’d like to be a musician if I weren’t able to be an illustrator or cartoonist. Most graphic artists do seem to have some musical aspirations, so I’m in good company.

SMN: Who is your clientele?

Lyle: My clientele varies a great deal, from small comic book publishing companies and personal commissions to magazine publishers, major apparel companies, and advertising agencies. At the moment I’m working on an advertising campaign for a theater company out of Toronto, Canada, while also working on a series of event T-shirts for the U.S. Marines, illustrating a Pirate novel, and preparing to launch a new webcomic.

But there have been any number of other art-type jobs along the way. From painting billboards and doing mechanical paste-up (back before computers), to laying out catalogs and designing Yellow Pages ads. All in all, I’d rather draw.

SMN: Where are you from and what kind of training and education do you have?

Lyle: While we covered this one briefly a little more info might help. I’m from Haywood County. Our family has roots in Haywood from at least four generations back. While I was born in Asheville, Dad moved us back to the family home when I was just two. And except for a brief time in the Chicago suburbs and some time spent in Salisbury, I’ve been here most of my life.

I have an Associates of Applied Sciences degree in Commercial Art and Advertising Design from Southwestern Community College. I still try to help out there serving with the Graphic Arts advisory group and sending promising students their way when they present themselves. But most any artist will likely tell you that what they studied in school was primarily how to teach themselves. A degree is really just the beginning of an education in art, constant practice and application are required to achieve any real success as an illustrator or cartoonist.

Comment

Watergate Salad

• 1 (3.4 ounce) package instant pistachio pudding mix

• 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, with juice

• 1 cup miniature marshmallows

• 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

• 1 (12 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed

In a large bowl, mix together pudding mix, pineapple with juice, marshmallows, and nuts. Fold in whipped topping. Chill. Eat on a late September day, wearing a tie-dye shirt and faded jeans.


Apricot Congealed Salad (my favorite)

• 1 (8 ounce) crushed pineapple

• 1 (3 ounce) box apricot gelatin

• 1 cup buttermilk

• 1 (8 ounce) container Cool Whip

• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Heat crushed pineapple and jello until dissolved. Refrigerate until cool. Add buttermilk, cool whip and nuts. Refrigerate until set.


Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are pretty simple fare and there are numerous variations.

• 7 hard-cooked eggs

• 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

• 1 scant teaspoon prepared mustard

• 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

• salt and pepper

• paprika, optional

Cut 6 of the hard cooked eggs in half lengthwise. Scoop yolks out of egg halves. Press yolks and remaining whole hard cooked egg through a sieve into a small bowl. Stir in mayonnaise and mustard; season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a little paprika, if desired, and top each deviled egg half with an olive half, cut side up. Makes 12 deviled egg halves.

Variations to the basic deviled egg recipe:

• Add some pickle relish and top with a sliced green or black olive.

• Use ranch dressing and cream cheese instead of mayo with chopped onion and pickle

• Add scallions and a dash of curry powder to the basic recipe

• Add cumin, Dijon mustard, 1 chopped jalapeno pepper, a dash of red chili powder and top with snipped cilantro

• Add chopped smoked salmon and top with green onions

• Add a touch of horseradish and freshly ground black pepper

• And my favorite: add capers and sprinkle with freshly snipped taragon


Oven Fried Chicken

Spicy oven fried chicken recipe with chili powder, a little cinnamon, cumin, and lime juice.

• 4 chicken breast halves

• 2 tablespoons honey

• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

• 1 teaspoon finely grated lime peel

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon chili powder

• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

dash cinnamon or allspice

• 2 cups fine dry bread crumbs

• 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

• 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

If desired, remove skin from chicken. Combine honey, lime juice, peel, salt, chili powder, cumin, pepper, and cinnamon or allspice in a large shallow bowl. In a large bowl combine the bread crumbs, chopped cilantro, and vegetable oil. Dip chicken in honey mixture, turning to coat well. Add coated chicken to the bread crumb mixture, patting on crumbs. Transfer to a foil-lined baking pan. Bake at 425° for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is browned and juices run clear. Serves 4.


Better than S-e-x Chocolate Cake

• 1 German chocolate or other chocolate cake, baked, 13x9x2-inch

• 3/4 cup fudge topping

• 3/4 cup caramel or butterscotch topping

• 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

• 6 chocolate covered toffee bars

• 1 tub of whipped topping or whipped cream from a can

Do not remove cake from pan. After the cake has cooled, make holes in the entire top of the cake using a large fork or the handle of a wooden spoon. Pour (one at a time) fudge, butterscotch, and condensed milk over the top of the cake and let each flavor soak in before adding the next. Crush 3 of the candy bars and sprinkle on the top. Frost the cake with the whipped topping (or decorate with squirts of canned whipped cream) and crush the 3 remaining toffee bars to decorate the top. Try to keep your hands off of this great cake before serving! Serves 12

Comment

Local chefs are proving to be some of the best supporters of Haywood County farmers.

“The Buy Haywood project is having a great year, from new produce sales at Ingles grocery stores to a new map and brochure to encourage people to visit farm stands and farmer’s markets,” said George Ivey, coordinator of Buy Haywood, which helps develop stronger markets for Haywood County farm products. “We thought it would be logical to focus next on restaurants, and we’ve been very pleased to learn that many chefs are already on board.”

Those chefs are buying everything from seasonal items like peppers and tomatoes to year-round items like rainbow trout, with some buying directly from farmers at local tailgate markets and others relying on farm stands like Duckett’s Produce, according to Ivey.

The Haywood Regional Medical Center Cafeteria is one of many local restaurants that utilize Christopher Farms of Waynesville for deliveries of a wide variety of fresh, local produce. Chef Phil Mohr is very pleased with the results.

“It’s a great way to support the local economy, and it just tastes better,” he said.

Buying local is also important to Denny Trantham, Chef de Cuisine for the Blue Ridge Dining Room at Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville. A Haywood County native, Trantham buys from farms throughout Western North Carolina, including trout and salad greens grown by several Haywood County farmers.

“Buying fresh food from local sources is all part of our continuing effort to support sustainability,” said Trantham. “Plus, we love the opportunity to showcase these great local products to all our visitors from near and far.”

Several Haywood County chefs also utilize tomatoes and other local produce to make their own value-added products, including Hudson’s Smoked Tomato Jam, available through Sunburst Trout Farm; Maria Pressley’s salsa, available at Maria’s Mexican Pueblo; and a trio of tomato sauces made by Chef Ricardo Fernandez at Lomo Grill.

“We are very thankful that these chefs are offering local farm products to their customers, and in the process helping to support family farms,” Ivey added.

The Buy Haywood project has started compiling a list of local restaurants offering Haywood County farm products. The list is available online at www.buyhaywood.com/try.html.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to identify and support the restaurants that support our local farmers,” said Ivey. “If there are other people out there who offer or want to offer Haywood County farm products in their restaurants, we want them to call us so we can help them connect with farmers, consumers, or both.”

The Buy Haywood Project supports farmers in Haywood County in Western North Carolina by promoting high-quality farm products to community-minded consumers. The project is managed by the Haywood County Economic Development Commission, and it receives support from the Golden LEAF Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. For more information call 828.456.3737.

Comment

The department of stage and screen is kicking off Western Carolina University’s 2009-10 “Mainstage” theater season with the hip, dark comedy “Manuscript.” This season also will feature productions of Shakespeare’s classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Chorus Line” and the futuristic “Natural Selections.”

First on the playbill, Paul Grellong’s “Manuscript” tells the story of three college freshmen who find an unpublished manuscript that will guarantee success. On their quest for fame and fortune, the three are pushed to acts of manipulation and vengeance. Directed by Peter Savage, visiting lecturer in the department of stage and screen, “Manuscript” will run Sept. 23-27.

Claire Eye, theater program director for the department of stage and screen, will be directing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will run Oct. 29-Nov. 1. Eye will put a regional spin on Shakespeare’s classic comedy by setting the play in Appalachia, using the dialect and mannerisms of mountain people to tell this age-old, mystical love story with a contemporary zeal.

Hitting the stage March 18-21 is the hit Broadway musical “A Chorus Line” written by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlish and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Revered as one of Broadway’s longest-running shows, “A Chorus Line” is the story of an audition for a Broadway musical. The play aims to show the determination of the performer and focus on the actor’s ongoing task of trying to land a job. Charlotte D’Amboise, two-time Tony Award nominee and star of “A Chorus Line” while featured on Broadway, will be directing this production.

Bringing the season to a close is Eric Coble’s “Natural Selections,” directed by D.V. Caitlyn, assistant professor in the department of stage and screen. In the play, set in an ultramodern and advanced world, a theme park curator must venture into the wastelands of what was once North America to find a genuine Native American in order to add luster to his park’s image. “Natural Selections” will stage on April 21-25. In addition to the “mainstage” performances, WCU faculty and staff who recreated the 1933 “War of The Worlds” broadcast last fall will be taking the audience back in time once again this season with “On The Home Front,” the re-creation of an entire Armed Forces Radio Broadcast program originally aired across Europe in November 1944. The Armed Forces Radio Broadcast programs helped keep American soldiers up-to-date with stateside news during World War II. The special Veteran’s Day performance will be held Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

The season also will include “A Moveable Feast,” the annual spring dance concert scheduled for Monday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Shows will begin at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday afternoon matinees at 3 p.m. Seasons tickets go on sale Tuesday, Aug. 11. Prices for season tickets are $20 for students, $40 for WCU staff and faculty and senior citizens, and $55 for adults. Tickets also may be purchased for individual performances. Patron Club memberships, which provide additional financial support for the university theater program and its student organization, the University Players and their activities, also are available. There are three levels of membership – Actor ($250), Director ($500) and Producer ($1,000). Each level of membership offers tickets to all productions, and a portion of the membership cost is tax-deductible.

For season tickets call the Fine and Performing Arts Center box office at 828.227.2479. For more information about season tickets or Patron Club memberships, contact the department of stage and screen at 828.227.7491, or visit theatre.wcu.edu.

Comment

By Julie Ball • Correspondent

Some lottery money used to pay the debt on local school projects is coming to Western North Carolina months after the payments were frozen amid the state budget crunch.

The money, which was withheld by the governor in February, was released late last month, and several area school systems say it will be used to pay debt on new and existing projects.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue earlier this year withheld $37.6 million from the state’s schools “to ensure the state had sufficient resources to manage cash flow and payroll obligations,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

That money was the second quarter lottery distribution for schools. Late last month, Perdue announced she was releasing those funds to counties.

In Macon County, those dollars help pay the debt from new school projects including the recently completed renovation and addition at East Franklin Elementary School and a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders under construction across from Macon Middle School.

The second quarter payment, which was withheld, amounted to more than $97,000 for Macon County.

“It [withholding the lottery dollars] resulted in the county having to dig somewhere else in paying the bills that are due,” said Dan Brigman, superintendent of Macon County schools.

Lottery dollars alone don’t pay the full cost for needed capital projects in Macon County, Brigman said. But Macon County has a couple of projects in the works that will benefit from the lottery money.

The new school for fifth- and sixth-graders is expected to be completed in February, and should open for the 2010-11 school year.

 

Jackson & Swain counties

Jackson County also uses its lottery dollars to pay debt on school capital projects, according to Gwen Edwards, finance officer for Jackson County schools.

The county’s second quarter lottery payment is nearly $83,000.

“We use the money for debt, and luckily our debt payment was due prior to the time they froze the money, so it really didn’t affect us last year,” said Darlene Fox, finance director for Jackson County.

The county is using the money to pay the debt on the new building at Fairview School in Sylva, Fox said.

Swain County’s lottery payment for the second quarter is $41,544, according to the governor’s Web site.

School officials say that like other districts Swain County uses that money to pay debt on capital projects.

 

New projects in Haywood

For Haywood County, the lottery payment withheld by the governor amounted to $175,622.

The timing of the release of the money didn’t really affect Haywood County schools, according to Bill Nolte, associate superintendent with Haywood County schools.

“It would have impacted us had we never received it,” Nolte said.

Haywood County plans to use lottery money to pay back a no-interest or low-interest bond that the school system is pursuing.

“The state announced that it would issue interest-free or low-interest bond funds for capital expenditures,” Nolte said.

Haywood County initially applied for $1.6 million for 11 projects, mainly to update heating systems at local schools.

“Those were essentially projects to improve energy usage, change lighting, change out old boiler systems, change piping coming out of old boiler systems,” Nolte said.

Because so few school systems sought the bonds, the state asked schools systems to revise their requests. Haywood’s revised request for $4.2 million included money to replace one of the buildings at Waynesville Middle School.

However, the state approved only $3.8 million of the request, meaning the system is $400,000 short of the amount needed for both projects. The school board’s Building and Grounds Committee is expected to begin looking at ways to reduce the WMS project.

The county couldn’t begin construction on any of the projects until 2010 at the earliest. And Nolte said the projects will also depend on the county’s ability to sell the bonds.

“There are steps along the way that could upend the whole process,” he said. “We could get into it, and no one would buy the bonds.”

What the lottery money can’t do for local school systems is help make up for cuts in their operating budgets, which left a number of school districts in the area having to reduce staff.

Because of budget cuts, Haywood County, for example, has lost seven teachers, two assistant principals, a central office director’s position and two counselors, and the system has fewer teacher assistants and fewer custodians. In addition, the system had to combine some bus routes and deal with cuts in funding for textbooks.

Comment

By Thomas Crowe

 

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful, not only as fountains of timbers and irrigating river, but as fountains of life.”

— John Muir


Depending upon where you live, naturalists and environmental saints appear with different names. When I was living in Northern California during the 1970s, the name John Muir was on the lips of all my environmental movement friends. On the East Coast and in New England, the naturalist canon consists mainly of John Burroughs and Henry David Thoreau. In the Southeast William Bartram is “the man.”

Yet, even with this kind of regional segregation of icons, there is some overlap. The most obvious and interesting of these to those of us here in the mountains of Western North Carolina is that of John Muir. Considered mostly a “westerner,” John Muir is primarily known for his adventures in the Sierra Nevada Range of northern California, his conservation activism that protected Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park, and as the founder of the Sierra Club. While the Sierras were his preferred stomping grounds, he did travel throughout his lifetime to many areas of the country, including the Western North Carolina mountains.

As if by some kind of time warp or reincarnation intervention, John Muir will be returning to the mountains of Western North Carolina for the first time since his now-famous 1,000-Mile Walk of 1867. As a walk-in to the body of California-based actor Lee Stetson, Muir will be giving talks in Asheville and Highlands that relate some of his most remarkable adventures in the wild, including a remarkable “tree ride” in a windstorm, a “sleigh ride” on a snow avalanche, his “interview” with a bear, and a face-to-fang encounter with a rattlesnake.

Muir’s true wilderness tales are liberally salted with his wilderness philosophy — all around the theme of the health and invigoration one acquires when one fully and joyfully engages wildness. But even more important to us here in the Smoky Mountains, he will be talking about his time spent here in the Western Carolina mountains.

“Looking out over the mountains of Western North Carolina, the scenery is far grander than any I ever before beheld,” Muir writes in his book 1,000 Mile Walk. “Such an ocean of wooded, waving, swelling mountain grandeur is not to be described — all curves and slopes of inimitable softness and beauty. Oh, these forest gardens! What perfection, what divinity, in their architecture! What simplicity and mysterious complexity of detail!”

Describing our Western North Carolina mountains with such superlatives, Muir sounds a lot like Thoreau in his similar diary entry style of writing in The Maine Woods and like Robert Louis Stevenson’s travel writings. But in 1,000-Mile Walk, Muir is not describing the Maine woods or the Highlands of Scotland, he is reminiscing on his trek through our hills at the age of 29 as part of his long hike from Indiana to Florida right after the end of the Civil War while living mostly on stale pieces of bread, almost dying of starvation, camping in a graveyards and encountering “long-haired horse-riding ex-guerrillas who would kill a man for $5.”

Writes Muir of the more pleasant part of that journey through the North Carolina mountains: “My path all today led me along the leafy banks of the Hiawassee River. Mysterious, charming and beautiful, it’s channels are sculptured far more so than the grandest architectural works of man,” Muir muses in his entry in the book for Sept.19. “I have found a multitude of falls and rapids where the wilderness finds a voice. Such a river is the Hiawassee, with its surface broken to a thousand sparkling gems, and its forest walls vine-draped and flowery as Eden. And how fine a the songs it sings!”

Born in 1838, John Muir was a Scottish-born American naturalist, wilderness explorer, author, and early advocate of preservation of U.S. wilderness. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement. In 1849, Muir’s family emigrated to the United States, starting a farm near Portage, Wisconsin which they called the Fountain Lake Farm. Muir described his boyhood pursuits as including fighting and hunting for bird’s nests. As a natural storyteller, Muir taught people the importance of experiencing and protecting wilderness. In 1892, he founded the Sierra Club “to make the mountains glad,” he said. His work and writings contributed greatly to the creation of our National Parks System, or “national forest reservations” as he called them.

In his recently released PBS series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns said of John Muir, “Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. John Muir was lightning. My eyes at times would fill with tears in the editing room as we worked on telling Muir’s story.”

The man who plays Muir in Ken Burn’s PBS series is Lee Stetson, the same man who will share Muir’s amazing adventure stories to the audience at the Crest Pavilion at the Villages at Crest Mountain in Asheville and at the Highlands Playhouse in Highlands in October. Stetson’s Muir shows have toured throughout the country since 1983. He also lectures frequently on the arts and the environment, and spends a considerable portion of his time promoting the performing arts in the national parks. One reviewer recently said of Lee Stetson’s performance: “This veteran actor makes us believe so deeply in Muir that we, too, begin thinking of the plants and trees and wildlife as people. Stetson has done as much or more to acquaint Americans with one of its most remarkable sons than Muir himself in all his writings.”

In his dairy entry for Sept. 20 in his 1,000-Mile Walk, Muir writes, “All day among the groves and gorges of Murphy. Found a numbc er of rare and strange plants on the rocky banks of the river Hiwassee. In the afternoon, from the summit of a commanding ridge, I obtained a magnificent view of blue, softly curved mountain scenery. Among tress I saw Holly for the first time. My companion this day informed me that the paleness of most of the women in his neighborhood, and the mountains in general hereabouts, was caused chiefly by smoking and by what is called ‘dipping.’ I had never even heard of dipping. Their term simply describes the application of snuff to the gum by means of a small swab.”

 

(Thomas Crowe is the author of the award-winning nature memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods and The End of Eden: Writings of an Environmental Activist. He lives in Tuckasegee in Jackson County and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Comment

Haywood County is shelling out $75,000 for an out-of-court settlement that resolves an ongoing lawsuit by a landowner over the county’s erosion control laws.

The county’s liability insurance pool will cover the remaining $105,000 of the $180,000 settlement.

“It was going to be very expensive to go forward,” said Chip Killian, the county attorney. “It was better to put it behind us.”

The settlement ends the pending lawsuit Mr. and Mrs. Ron Cameron and Mr. and Mrs. Brian Cameron filed against the county to recover $250,000 in attorney’s fees plus damages, as well as the county’s plans to appeal the initial decision that favored Cameron.

The county spent $282,000 in legal fees of its own and $5,000 in insurance deductibles to fight the suit.

In an official statement, the Haywood County commissioners said they do not agree with the outcome of the case but have decided that it was in the best interests of Haywood County citizens and the Haywood County Sediment Control Board to resolve these matters “fully and finally.”

A copy of the settlement agreement will be available after all pending matters have been dismissed, and all closed session minutes related to the case will be available for public review once approved for release by the commissioners.

In the lawsuit, Ron Cameron claimed he was wrongfully being held to the higher erosion control standards than apply to developers rather than the lesser standard that applies to logging operations. The county claimed Cameron was not a logger but had intentions to develop the property one day, and thus should comply with the more stringent erosion control measures.

A nearly three-week trial in May came out in Cameron’s favor. The county had planned to appeal the ruling in Cameron’s favor.

Continuing with an appeal would have racked up more costs for both sides, giving both not only an incentive to settle but also bargaining power.

Comment

By Julia Merchant • Contributing Writer

A year and a half ago, Fatie Atkinson spent most of his time in an office designing custom furniture and tossing around ideas with other creative professionals. Today, instead of the chatter of a bustling office, Atkinson is more likely to hear the roars of his 2- and 4-year-old sons as they chase him around, pretending to be monsters. A far cry from his position in the corporate world, Atkinson has a new title — stay-at-home dad.

When the economy forced Atkinson’s employer to let him go, he took on a whole new role — one that’s traditionally been held by women. He now takes care of his sons all day while his wife goes off to work as a hospice nurse, providing for the family financially.

But Atkinson is far from alone. The United States has an estimated 5.5 million stay-at-home parents, including 140,000 fathers, according to 2008 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s triple the number from a decade ago — and the figure is rising as the economy forces more and more to rearrange their lifestyle.

For Atkinson, a Clyde resident, having his meetings replaced with trips to the playground has been a big adjustment.

“What I would say is that it’s hard to accept the role,” Atkinson says. “It is what it is. It’s definitely different. There’s a lot more emotion involved, and being a guy, that’s just different. You just don’t expect to be doing the dishes and cleaning the house. It’s definitely a role reversal.”

Clint Matthews, another new stay-at-home dad, refers to himself as a “domestic engineer.” Matthews graduated from Southwestern Community College in the spring with a Graphic Arts degree but couldn’t find work. His wife fast-tracked her degree to enter the workforce as a teacher, while the couple decided Matthews would stay home to care for their 7-year-old daughter at least until the economy improved.

Now, Matthews’ daily responsibilities include “keeping the house clean and doing the shopping and laundry, so when my wife comes home, she still has a happy child and clean house.”

 

Breaking stereotypes

In many ways, it’s a role reversal that society is still struggling to adapt to. When Mark Upton of Cullowhee quit his job as a sheetrock hanger to care for his daughter, now 4, while his wife pursued a master’s degree, his co-workers were skeptical.

“They thought I was some sort of con man who tricked his wife into taking care of me,” Upton says.

On top of the typical challenges that come along with being the primary caregiver — Upton’s daughter was a colicky baby who cried nonstop — Upton has continued to deal with society’s perception of him. A burly and admittedly scruffy guy, he chuckles as he recalls his daughter’s tantrum in a grocery store, which prompted stares from strangers who feared she was being abducted.

Upton has grown used to strangers’ glances. He’s still often the only dad around when he takes his daughter to the playground or library in Sylva.

Jerry Span, of Fontana, says his parents were a bit taken aback when he presented the idea to them. Span lost his job as an activities director at a resort roughly six weeks ago. Until then, his wife had been caring for their two daughters, ages 2 and 5; the couple decided Span’s layoff would give them the opportunity to switch roles.

“They’ve been raised as the father is the provider,” Span says of his parents. “But while I may not be supporting my family financially, I’m providing a lot of other gains by doing this.”

So far, Span is relishing his new role, particularly the way it’s impacted his relationship with his 2-year-old daughter, whom he’s home with full-time.

“I’m able to spend a lot more time with my daughter,” he says. “Before, I saw her about two hours a day, but now we’re pretty much with each other all day seven days a week. I’ve noticed a difference in our relationship, and I’ve been able to appreciate her a lot more.”

For Jake Ferguson, being the primary caretaker of his 5-year-old son affords him an opportunity his own father was unable to have. Ferguson’s wife, a technician with AT&T, had better benefits through her job, so the couple decided she would continue to work after their son was born.

“My mom died when I was young, and my dad worked and we stayed on our own a lot,” Ferguson recalls. “We could never afford a babysitter and stayed home a lot by ourselves. I decided early on that any time I could spend with him could be precious.”

 

Daunting task

Of course, staying at home with a kid brings spending time with them to a whole new level. More experienced stay-at-home dads know first-hand that ambitions don’t necessarily match up to reality.

“Basically, I thought it would be a lot of fun and games. It’s a little more work than I thought,” admits Ferguson. “Up to about 3, it seemed like it was all work. He needed help with every little tiny thing.”

Upton had plans to write in his free time.

“I thought it was something I’d do as a stay-at-home dad, but by the time she went to bed, I’d be too exhausted,” he recalls.

Newer stay-at-home dads Atkinson and Span have ambitions to continue working part-time from home. Atkinson has discovered, though, that between breakfast, baths, and entertaining the kids, it’s not easy to slip away.

“I’m lucky if I get a shower and brush my teeth,” he says. “You lose a lot of independence. It’s hard to have time to get mentally recharged.”

Span is experiencing the same challenges while getting his business, Simplicity Public Relations, off the ground.

“Two-year-olds demand a lot of attention,” he says. “In the middle of working on something on the phone with a client, the last thing you want to do is be distracted by a 2-year-old that wants something.”

Being in charge of a child’s well-being can be daunting. Upton describes his biggest challenge as “sort of trying to be everything for her; protecting and keeping her safe, but instilling discipline; and recognizing she also has a need for play.”

Stay-at-home parents must map out a day’s activities and try to diversify them.

“I feel like I should be doing more for them,” worries Atkinson. “I don’t want to get stuck in a rut as far as doing the same thing over and over and over. That gets monotonous. I try to get them out of the house as much as I can.”

The isolation of being a stay-at-home father can compound the day-to-day challenges of parenting. None of the dads interviewed for this article were aware of more than a couple other stay-at-home-fathers, if any. There aren’t any active groups specifically for stay at home dads in Western North Carolina.

“For a while there, I did go stir crazy, until I got involved in some groups and activities and started to take him places and stuff,” Ferguson says.

It was overwhelming at first, Ferguson remembers. “I didn’t really know where to start. That’s the hardest part for me as a dad — most guys are used to doing stuff on their own. We don’t ask.”

Ferguson credits a program administered by the Haywood-based group Kids Advocacy Resource Effort for providing him with guidance. Through the program, a child development specialist visits a home to show parents developmentally-appropriate activities to do with their child, like tossing a ball into a basket.

Ferguson also joined some local playgroups, and he says the moms welcomed him.

Other dads do things differently when it comes to activities and social interaction.

“We just hit the playgrounds and meet people out there basically,” Upton says.

Span says for now, he’s managing fine on his own.

“I don’t really feel like I’ve needed a support system. I’m sure as I get into this further, I’ll get tired of the redundancies and try to find something,” he says.

 

Worth it

Despite all the challenges stay-at-home dads face — including isolation, a loss of independence, and the pressures of everyday care — there are certain moments that make it all worthwhile. For Atkinson, it’s the “wonderful, adorable moments” like when his sons chase after him with ferocious monster voices. Or for Ferguson, the fieldtrips he was able to take that allowed him to watch his son’s reaction to new sights and sounds, like Sunburst Trout Farm. For Span, it’s walking hand in hand with his two daughters after they waited to greet the oldest one at her bus stop.

Matthews, another stay-at-home dad in Clyde, may sum it up best. He says the importance of his relatively new role as his daughter’s primary caregiver really hit home recently, when he read a statistic that the average American father spends an average of 37 seconds a day in direct communication with their child.

“I spend hours a day with my daughter,” Matthews says. “I consider it a job, not a drudgery. I’m really blessed.”

Comment

Bob Buckner, director of Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, is one of the first two recipients of the Award for Excellence in Marching Music Education presented by MENC: The National Association for Music Education and Drum Corps International.

Buckner, a resident of Waynesville, received the award in recognition of his outstanding work as a music educator, and for his efforts to assist both organizations with the creation and implementation of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band.

The newly created award will be given twice a year to recognize educators, organizations or businesses that have made significant, life-long contributions to the art of marching music. It was designed by Tom Batiuk, an American comic strip creator. Batiuk created the Funky Winkerbean comic strip, which featured Harry Dinkle, the self-proclaimed world’s greatest band director.

MENC is among the world’s largest arts education organizations. It serves millions of students nationwide through activities at all teaching levels, from preschool to graduate school. Drum Corps International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing positive experience through the art of marching music performance.

Bucker has established a distinguished career in the field of music education and in the marching pageantry field. Under Buckner’s direction, WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band earned the distinction of being the only marching band ever selected to perform at the North Carolina Music Educators annual convention and has performed at the prestigious Bands of America National Marching Band Championships. Among his other awards and honors are MENC’s Lowell Mason Award and selection to the Bands of America Hall of Fame.

Buckner’s latest music education award is another addition to the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band’s growing 2009 awards roster. The band recently was named the recipient of the prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands.

Western Carolina is the first institution in the state of North Carolina and the first member of the Southern Conference selected for the award, which has been called the “Heisman Trophy” of the collegiate marching band world. Formal presentation of the award will be during the WCU vs. Wofford football game held on Oct. 24 in Cullowhee.

The marching band’s 2009 halftime show “Born to Be Alive” features the music of the Black Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, Patrick Hernandez, Maroon 5, Bee Gees, Motley Crue, Kanye West, Michael Jackson and Chick Corea.

For more information about the Pride of the Mountains, visit www.prideofthemountains.com or call 828.227.2259.

Comment

A $10,000 cash prize is at stake for the second annual Rumble in the Rhododendron Fly Masters Tournament on Sept. 26-27 in Cherokee.

Sponsored by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fisheries and Wildlife Management in partnership with the North Carolina Fly-Fishing Team, the top three teams in the two-day, two-person competition will split the prize money with $5,000 going to the first-place team, $3,000 going to the second-place team, and $2,000 to the third-place team.

The Rumble is the only fly-fishing tournament to award this much prize money. The only other tournament to ever offer such a hefty cash purse was the nationwide “Fly-Fishing Masters” series produced by the Outdoor Life Television Network (OLN) from 2004-2006. The grand prize of $50,000 was split among the top three finishers. The event consisted of four regional qualifiers and a final round in varying locations, but both the television channel and national tournament were cancelled.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fisheries and Wildlife Management have sponsored the event since its inception and have embraced the opportunity to promote its fishery through this tournament.

“The Tribe is very proud of their fishery and intends to make this tournament a premier event to attract world-class anglers,” said tournament spokesperson Christopher Lee, who is also a member of the North Carolina Fly-Fishing Team. “A large prize should attract a lot of angling talent from across the country.”

Furthermore, the event is set in the Ravensford Valley where anglers often find themselves fishing among wild elk and other native wildlife

For more information about the Rumble in the Rhododendron Fly Masters Tournament visit www.RumbleintheRhodo.com or call 828.421.0172 or 828.269.6529. For more information on the North Carolina Fly-Fishing Team visit www.flyfishingteamnc.com.

Comment

By Jon Beckman • Guest Columnist

The human brain must have been the first computer, capable of capturing and storing data for future reference, helping us learn to get out of the rain and not to put our hands in the fire a second time. Those millions of experiential bytes it processes over one’s lifetime are sorted and filed, covering all five senses as well as emotions, reason, free thought and imagination. Where that stuff’s piled and how it’s programmed precisely remains a mystery, but it’s clear that it’s always there, and sometimes it’s downright amazing what you can find in those dusty bins.

On Aug. 29 I was selling produce at the Sylva Farmers Market, as I do every Saturday. I saw a face in the crowd that I hadn’t seen there before, but there was something strangely familiar about it. I didn’t think it was just because she was attractive (which can scramble a memory card, even for a farmer), so I ran a quick scan of my mental hard drive while I hawked watermelons, typing in the search bar “Do I know her?” was the only thing that came back on my “I”screen.

I went back to business, passing it off as something my Spam Blocker had failed to filter. But as I packed up at the market’s close the image reappeared with more detail, making me think I had missed something with my driver’s first search. I re-Googled my search to “Lovely maiden with blond hair to her neck that I must have known who would cause me to pursue this” and ran it again, sending a virtual ME-mail link to all the other addresses on my cerebral list serve.

A minute or two later a thin file came back from the depths of my own cyberspace: “Four Days in Cape Cod 1975” .

I asked myself “What’s this old file?” With little hope, I right clicked and opened two lines of text and three attached JPEG’s. The text read: “Went on vacation with Grandma, Mom, bro & sis to Cape Cod. I met some guy named Grog with a fast car and later a girl on the beach. Not much else happened.”

“Huh” no info here, I’d better keep looking. My cursor opened the first grainy attachment: a modest, shingle-sided Cape set on a knoll surrounded by maritime vegetation. Yeah, so, I thought. I moved my mind’s mouse to open photo #2: a sandy beach with rolling waves. O.K., O.K., and, and. I clicked #3, my driver slowed to retrieve the larger file before filling the screen with faded pixels ... then, there she was.

“That’s the image! Bingo! “OMG!” I texted back to the unknown. It was the same face and the same hair and same smile (well, I did have to virtually Photoshop in 34 years of graceful aging). I studied the image for a while before noticing the two hyperlinks below it.

Curious to know more I hit the first link which took me to the site “Boy meets girl on beach, goes Gaa-Gaa.” It told the story of a chance meeting, summer teens in love, the girl’s crazy brother, stolen wine and analogous kisses on the moonlit sands, breaking rules and a small-town boy is swept away by an angel. It ends with the boy going to see her on his last night there only to find her gone, with someone else. He leaves crushed; the perfect teenage tragedy. “Wow, poor bastard,” I thought.

Reluctantly, I hit the other link to “Boy Returns to Chase Angel,” it simply read, “He returned the next year alone with a 1966 Rambler and a rose to look for her. She is not to be found, nor a trace of their few blissful days. Crushed again, the difficulty of catching angels becomes clear to him on the long quiet road from the Cape Cod shores back to Buffalo. “Wow, poor bastard,” I thought.

Not knowing quite what to do with this new info, I minimized it on my brain’s desktop and got back to driving home to clean out the truck and cut grass. I must have forgotten to close that window because a day or two later the page auto-refreshed and a tweet came across my cranial Blackberry ... “Kathy, er...um.. McCloud, MacLeod, maybe?” Who’s this? I queried. The thread went back to the angelic image of 1975, perhaps driven by an entry error or a misfiring synapse. I rebooted and refreshed the system, tried defragging and compaction but the only reply was .

It’s true, I lamented, you can’t expand an existing file without adding data, and I had none. I called my brother with the flypaper memory for backup. He confirmed the dates and some shenanigans with Grog, but nothing on the girl. “Sorry Dude, you’re the only one with that data” was the most he could offer. I ran the search a few more times over the next few days, pleading with my server for a better connection, but there was no more info to be gleaned from those miles of magnetic tape from the 8-track days.

I returned to the market the next Saturday hoping to see that face again and verify the ancient data I had found. Once again, the angel had disappeared.

I decide to end my search and close the file before the guys in the white suits showed up for me or my wife, accused me of being a delusional, middle-aged loser chasing unrequited love. I logged off and a message came through my inbox: “Four days in Cape Cod 1975” .

I came to the conclusion that not all files are created equal and that the mind’s motherboard — like any machine — has its limitations. It seems our human hard drives really only crash one time, when the Great Ethernet no longer responds. And until that time comes, there are some files that simply cannot be deleted. They are yours until you scroll that final message .

(John Beckman is a farmer, builder and human hard drive in Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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Western Carolina University professor Rob Young has co-authored a book titled The Rising Sea, which bears an “urgent message” for society about the threat posed by global sea-level rise.

Sea-level rise is not merely a future possibility but is happening right now, according to the book and related research co-authored by Young and his friend and mentor from Duke University, Orrin H. Pilkey.

Scientific data indicate that over the last decade, seas worldwide have moved upward an average of slightly more than one-eighth inch per year, and reliable research indicates oceans may climb as much as seven feet in the next 100 years, Young and Pilkey say.

The evidence of sea-level rise is abundantly clear through casual observation at coastlines around the world, according to the authors. For example, a cemetery used by English settlers on North Carolina’s Portsmouth Island has become a salt marsh, “while the old pipes that are supposed to drain surface water runoff from South Carolina’s Charleston Peninsula are now partially blocked at high tides.”

Young and Pilkey argue that societies around the world must begin responding to the challenges of sea-level rise “in a planned and rational way, taking the long-term view” before major cities and other coastal development are inundated.

Young said scientists might still debate whether humans are causing global warming, but no reputable scientists can deny sea-level rise because it has been documented over the past two decades. Young said he believes it is “important for scientists to speak more forcefully” about issues such as sea-level rise to combat the wave of naysayers who use the media to spread non-scientific falsehoods.

“We hope this book will start a national conversation,” he said.

Young is a geosciences professor and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at WCU, while Pilkey, a pioneer in the study of American shoreline development policy, holds the position of professor emeritus in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke. The two scientists became acquainted when Young was in graduate studies at Duke, and Pilkey was Young’s adviser and teacher.

Young joined WCU’s faculty in 1997. Over the years, he has become a much-sought-after expert on the topics of hurricane impacts and coastal management. 828.227.3822 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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When John Springstead went hiking through the forest behind his house outside Bryson City last week, he stumbled across a pale blue wad of paper peaking through the leaves. He stooped down to retrieve it as any good Samaritan would and ended up unearthing an interesting ecological find.

“As I cleaned the pine needles away, I realized they were mushrooms,” Springstead said. “I cleaned off all the debris and they rose up in beautiful shape.”

Several days later, more of the same mushrooms appeared about 20 feet away.

Springstead looked the mushrooms up in a quick reference guide book, but the only blue mushrooms listed in the book were Blewitts. It wasn’t a perfect match, so Sprinstead kept probing until he identified the mushrooms as Indigo Milk Caps. They are edible, though Sprinstead refrained from trying them.

The mushrooms were found near Kirklands Creek above the Holly Springs Cemetery road.

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Plans for a 300-acre golf course on Cullowhee Mountain in Jackson County have been temporarily sidelined after developers failed to follow through on a federal environmental permit.

Several creeks were in the way of Legasus’ golf course design. Nearly two-thirds of a mile of streams had to be buried for construction of the greens and fairways. To do so, Legasus needed a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The agencies sent Legasus back to the drawing board in April 2008 to consider a different golf course design that would lessen the environmental impacts.

A year lapsed, however, prompting the Army Corp to put Legasus on notice that its permit application would be canceled. Legasus sought a 120-day extension, but that extension has now lapsed as well.

“As such we assume that you no longer wish to pursue federal authorization and your application has been withdrawn,” the Army Corps wrote in a letter to developers dated Sept. 4.

The golf course was part of an 1,800-acre development with more than 850 lots and condos called Webster Creek. Legasus failed to make timely mortgage payments on the tract and a portion of it landed in foreclosure in July, prompting 368 acres to be sold off — including a portion once slated for the golf course.

Webster Creek was one of five tracts being developed under the name River Rock, which called for a total of 1,700 lots on 3,500 acres on five separate tracts between Tuckasegee and Glenville.

The status of the grand plan seems to be in flux, however, with several of parcels sold off voluntarily or through foreclosures in recent months.

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Four Haywood Community College Professional Crafts students, representing each field of study, were recently awarded Gateway to the Arts Scholarships.

Those receiving the $1,000 awards for the 2009-10 academic year were Stephanie Costa, fiber; Melinda Erwin, clay; Penny Jewett, wood; and Julie Merrill, jewelry.

The Gateway to the Arts Scholarship is a new scholarship available at HCC and is the result of the “Gateway to the Arts, Fine Art and Craft Show” which was held in May. Gateway Club co-owner Art O’Neil and Studio Thirty Three jeweler Diannah Beauregard partnered to host the event and create the scholarship fund.

According to Beauregard, who is a 1986 graduate of HCC’s Professional Crafts-Jewelry program, the intention of the “Gateway to the Arts, Fine Art and Craft Show” and scholarship is to support the education of fine art and craft artists in Haywood County.

Costa says fiber is a passion of hers and upon graduation, she would like to integrate working with people, anthropology and weaving together. In addition to attending HCC full-time, Costa works 30 hours a week at Early Girl Eatery in Asheville.

“If I had not got this scholarship, I could not have come to school full-time and would not be able to get my degree in two years,” Costa says.

Erwin says she grew up around clay all her life near Sea Grove. She is in the process of setting up her own studio out of her home in Haywood County. The studio is called River Glass Studio. Receiving this scholarship was especially helpful to her, being a mom of two children ages 8 and 9.

Jewett already has her own small business, Rustic Nature Creations, and feels that earning a degree in Wood is an extension of what she already does. Her custom work is available at Turning Creek Gallery in Clayton, Georgia, Fiddle Stix in Mars Hill, and the Watershed Trading Company in Bryson City.

Jewett returned to school after being laid off with more than 20 years in office management and customer service. “It was time to do something for myself and I have found a passion. I have never felt more whole in my life.”

Upon graduation, Jewett will complete an apprenticeship with Western Heritage Furniture in Jerome, Arizona.

Merrill has made jewelry for six years and came to HCC to take the blacksmithing courses. She participated in the workstudy program at the John Campbell Folk School in the blacksmithing program. She likes to incorporate steel into jewelry and enjoys rustic, older-looking jewelry.

After completing a degree at HCC, Merrill would like to complete a residency at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

For more information about the Gateway to the Arts Scholarship, please call 828.565.4170. For more information about HCC’s professional crafts programs, please call 828.672.4500 or visit online at www.haywood.edu.

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