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New Forum At Mountain Brewery Offers WNC Residents A Platform And 'Voice'

Davin Eldridge
Smoky Mountain News's Garrett Woodward interviews Bryson City's Lisa Weeks, a candidate for alderman, at the very first Smoky Mountain Voices forum.

In a region where thousands of acres of national forest can easily separate one mountain town from the next, it’s not unusual for some residents to describe it as “the middle of nowhere”. One area brewery is looking to dispel that stigma, with the launch of a new public forum it says will show that there are, in fact, plenty of big things happening in the region. BPR’s Davin Eldridge has more…

Small town life can be a rather isolated experience in Western North Carolina—especially for younger residents. When the nearest gas station or grocery store is a twenty-minute drive away, or the closest show or shopping mall is three counties over, that can make what’s happening on the national stage, or the next town across the way, seem a world away.

To remedy some of this sense of seclusion, a new series of community forums has been launched called Smoky Mountain Voices. The series basically aims to do two things: encourage community dialogue, and introduce people or groups—whom might otherwise go unnoticed in their communities—to the rest of Western North Carolina.

“The idea is to not only bring the community together, but also bring out more community dialogue,” that’s local journalist and event host Garret Woodward closing out the very first Smoky Mountain Voices. “I think in this day and age, we need to be more connected, and realize your neighbor is a pretty cool person. I hope that we keep doing this. Is this what you’d like to see more of?” 

The whole idea for Smoky Mountain Voices came about bar-side a few years ago, when Nantahala Brewing owner Joe Rowland and Woodward got to talking.

“What we see on TV every day, national dialogue, there’s no one talking about what’s going on in your town—at least in your face, unless you read the paper.”

So, as Rowland puts it, what better place to do this, than at a brewery like Nantahala?

“It’s easy to get folks to come from other communities that may not be in Bryson City," said Rowland. "Maybe they’re in Sylva, maybe they’re in Dillsboro, maybe they’re in Waynesville, maybe they’re in all points in between—and out to the west too—all those places that have suffered from a low economy for a very long time. I think you end up creating a place where people can come and talk and be a part of the overall community.”

The events are organized in a casual Q&A styled format.  Lisa Weeks, who’s running for alderman in Bryson City, was featured in the first one.  She faced questions from Woodward, as well as from the public, on topics ranging from the national opioid epidemic, to local street closures.

Future gatherings will aim to include all manner of mountain residents, including artists, musicians, coaches, and farmers.

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