Lilly Knoepp

Reporter

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network.  She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science. 

Ways to Connect

Matt Bush

The Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says both major party presidential candidates are pandering to another tribe in North Carolina in the final days of the election.

Lilly Knoepp

Voters on North Carolina college campuses played a huge role in the 2018 election.  Democrats broke the legislature’s Republican super-majority by winning two districts that included two of the largest campuses in the state. BPR digs into how those students are voting this year:

Unlike many other UNC System schools Western Carolina University is still holding some in-person classes. That means students can also vote in-person at an on-campus polling place in Jackson County.

“I’m 18, finally. So it’s nice that I can vote.”

Farisha Mohammed

The Dogwood Health Trust has chosen an interim CEO after the foundation’s CEO Antony Chiang stepped down in September.

Courtesy of Principal Chief Richard Sneed

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Nate Hadley/WCJ

More than 1 million North Carolinians have voted during the first five days of early voting in the state.  That’s more than 14 percent of all registered voters in the state.

BPR checked in on the early voting site on campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee:

Cory Vaillancourt

North Carolina House of Representative’s District 119 is one of the most competitive races in the state.  It’s also the most familiar race to voters in the three western counties that make up the district. 

NC DOT

There is a new detour available for people trying to drive between Sylva and Dillsboro. This is big news for the almost 10,000 cars that use the corridor every day.

NC DOT is currently working on a new bridge on Haywood Road over Scott Creek in Jackson County which has closed the road.

Lilly Knoepp

It’s been two months since Jackson County Commissioners voted not to relocate Sylva Sam.  However, anger about the statue remains. 

Sylva Sam still stands on its perch in front of the old Jackson County courthouse, though it is fenced in now.  Down the steps on Main Street, “Black Lives Matter” is routinely drawn in chalk on the sidewalks.

Photo by National Park Service

Fall colors start to shine in the mountains of Western North Carolina in October.

Tourists aren't the only mamals that are more active this time of year, explains wildlife biologist Joe Yarkovich, who works in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

September to November is elk mating season, known as the rut. 

Pixabay

Governor Cooper announced September 17 that children in kindergarten through 5th grade can attend in-person classes starting October 5.  However, learning still looks different for every county and school district in Blue Ridge Public Radio’s listening area. Here is the breakdown of all 15 school districts:

ASHEVILLE

Photo courtesy of TWASA

The struggle to get the most updated information on the spread of COVID-19 in a community has been crucial for local and national government decision-making. Here’s the unlikely source of data for a Jackson County project that hopes to increase the speed of information.

COVID-19 testing delays and asymptomatic carriers have contributed to a slower understanding of how many people in a community have the virus.

“Our goal here is to really give public health officials an early warning for what’s happening in the community.”

Courtesy of NC DOT

NC DOT is calling for public comment on the long-awaited Corridor K.

The highway, which will improve mobility in Graham County, was originally a part of  the Appalachian Development Highway System, a network of road corridors funded by Congress in 1965.

The corridor was restarted in 2015 after a long pause and there is now a preferred alternative for the project.

Courtesy of American Journal of Surgery

Since March, more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in BPR’s Western North Carolina listening area.  Most of those cases end up at the region’s biggest hospital, Mission in Asheville.  Dr. William Hathaway is Chief Medical Officer there. He says the hospital has been following CDC guidelines around patient testing.

Jessi Stone/Smoky Mountain News

The Dogwood Health Trust Board of Directors has announced that Antony Chiang is stepping down from his role as Chief Executive Officer. 

Chiang started his role at Dogwood Health Trust in November 2019 after moving to the region from  his role as president of Empire Health Foundation in Washington state

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Great Trails State Plan is an effort to link trails in all 100 counties into one statewide network to connect more communities. NC DOT wants to hear from people across North Carolina about how existing trails are used and what would be the best ways to effectively link more trails together.

NC DOT spokesperson David Uchiyama explains:  

Courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

On Saturday morning, visitors at the Foothills Parkway West Entrance in Walland, Tennessee reported seeing a black bear skin with head and a cardboard sign attached to the entrance sign that read “From here to the lake Black lives don’t matter.” 

“We encourage anyone with information to reach out to us as we continue to investigate possible motives for this incident.” says Chief Ranger Lisa Hendy. “We take vandalism incidents seriously in the park, and this particular incident is particularly egregious. It is for this reason we are offering a reward for information.” 

Two people are dead after a fire early this morning at the Evergreen Packaging mill in Canton.

Blue Ridge Public Radio

Voice memos are a great way to share your thoughts and concerns with your community. Think of it as sending a voicemail to Blue Ridge Public Radio that can then be played as part of a special segment or a story. Hearing your stories, comments and questions inspires us and helps the radio station succeed in its mission of amplifying the voices of our Western North Carolina community. 

Here's a simple guide to recording and sending in your voice memo. You can send the memo to news@bpr.org. 

How To Record A Voice Memo

Holly Kays / Smoky Mountain News

Even with the pandemic, mass outdoor gatherings in support of various causes have become a common occurrence across Western North Carolina.  Dangerous weapons are prohibited at ‘demonstrations.’  But the definition of a ‘demonstration’ is open to interpretation, even among law enforcement. 

 At the end of August, the Armed Patriots, a group based in Bryson City gathered on Main Street in Sylva.  

“It wasn’t really an event. We just went out and expressed our Second Amendment rights.” 

Lilly Knoepp

Graham County started off COVID-19 by shuttering its borders.  Months later, the county is experiencing an outbreak at a nursing home.

Graham County didn’t experience COVID-19 community spread until August unlike many surrounding counties which spiked much earlier.

“Graham County for their flu season typically runs about 6 weeks behind the state.”

That’s Beth Booth, director of Graham County Health Department.

Lilly Knoepp

COVID-19 cases in Western North Carolina have stabilized says Dr. Mark Jaban, medical director of Haywood County Health and Human Services.

Courtesy of Shirley Parks

Students started back to school last month amidst the uncertain world of COVID-19 and a racial justice movement across America. Franklin resident Shirley Parks remembers her own uncertain days as a student during integration in Macon County and much later in 2011 as the first Black principal in the county since integration. 

Parks worked in the Macon County School System for 33 years. She says its hard to watch children and parents struggling with the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Seventeen residents of Harrill Hall at Western Carolina University have tested positive for COVID-19. The cluster is the first during the fall semester, according to Jackson County Public Health.

“We expected there to be cases related to our campus as more than 9,000 students returned for residential in-person instruction this fall,” says Kelli R. Brown, WCU chancellor in a press release. “We have extensive protocols in place and will continue to execute our quarantine and isolation procedures.”

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Nurses at Mission Health's hospital in Asheville are currently voting on whether to join a union, National Nurses United.

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Nearly 400 people marched on the campus of Western Carolina University Wednesday afternoon in response to racist videos featuring students that were posted to social media last weekend.  Those students are no longer enrolled at Western Carolina and will not return. 

Cory Vaillancourt

While he was being renominated Monday in Charlotte for a second term in office by the Republican Party, Mills River waited for President Trump.

Much of the crowd at President Trump’s rally was made up of farmers and local politicians.  But not all of them agreed with the president.

“I’m here today representing the Town of Mills River.”

Cory Vaillancourt

On Day 1 of the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, President Donald Trump traveled about two hours west to a produce packing facility in Mills River.

Masks were encouraged but not required as President Trump spoke to a few hundred at Flavor 1st Growers and Packers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen to introduce the President of the United States the co-owner of Flavor First Growers and Packers Kirby Johnson.”  

Johnson’s company is part of a USDA program for families impacted by COVID-19.

Cory Vaillancourt

(9:00 p.m. Monday) - Shortly after being renominated for a second term, President Donald Trump visited Western North Carolina Monday afternoon to tout an agricultural program created to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michelle Shiplet

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Graham County closed its borders.  BPR talks with a local nonprofit about economic struggles of finding food during the pandemic:

As one of the least populous counties in all of North Carolina, Graham County has seen a slower spread of COVID-19 than other areas.  It took until this month for community spread to occur. But throughout the pandemic, access to food has been an issue in the community.

“I’m standing outside the door hollering numbers and meals through the window and delivering boxes to vehicles.”

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Republican nominee candidate for NC Congressional District 11 Madison Cawthorn is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct.  BPR spoke with Cawthorn at a law enforcement rally over the weekend:

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