Lilly Knoepp


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. 

Lilly Knoepp

A news report released this month showed a Western North Carolina state representative is a member of one of the largest anti-government groups in the country. Republican Mike Clampitt told BPR that he wasn’t trying to hide his affiliation: 

Clampitt doesn’t see what was newsworthy about his name on a list of members of the Oath Keepers.

“No, it's not new information. I feel like it's been very open and out there,” said Clampitt.

Courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fans of puns and cleaning up trash have an opportunity to help out in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this weekend.

Saturday is the 4th year of the Deep Creep Smokies Service Day.  Sheridan Roberts is the volunteer coordinator for the park.

“We thought it would just be really fun to do a costumed clean-up at Deep Creep, Deep Creek – and call it the Deep Creep,” said Roberts.  

Volunteers meet up in costume at Deep Creek in Swain County to clean up the area and do activities.  

One person dressed as Death with a sign reading, "Unsafe staffing is good for business." Mission Hospital Ashville
Lilly Knoepp

Members of the National Nurses United Union at Mission Hospital marched outside the building Thursday morning, asking for a solution to a staff shortage across departments.

Dozens of nurses gathered including a person dressed in a death costume with a sign reading “Unsafe staffing is good for business.” Others were dressed in scrubs, coats and masks.

Elizabeth Binzel is a nurse from the cardiac unit. She says she worked two 15 hours shifts last week - both without a break.  

“That is in no way safe for our patients to have nurses that exhausted,” said Binzel.   

Bryan Miler

Recently, social media swirled with reports that a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train had derailed.  

Lilly Knoepp

The Eastern Band of Cherokee will host two river clean-ups Wednesday to honor their connection to the water. Juanita Wilson is manager of training and development for the Eastern Band. She explains that honoring Long Man is a traditionally Cherokee way to talk about rivers.  


Courtesy of Pardee UNC Health Care

The CEO of Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital, Steve Heatherly, has moved on to a new role in Henderson County.

Heatherly started as Chief Operating Officer at Pardee UNC Health Care on October 11th.  

Courtesy of National Nurses United

The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating a complaint at Mission Health. 

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University is looking for feedback as the school updates its future land use plan. 

This year’s student population at Western Carolina University surpassed the predictions which estimated there would be just over 11,000 students in the year 2023. Mike Beyers is chief financial officer of the school.

“As we work on this update we don’t plan to project the growth to be quite as great over last 8 years. We expect it to slow a bit,” said Beyers.  

Lilly Knoepp

Early voting in most of Western North Carolina begins next week! Are you ready to vote?

Early voting will be held Oct. 14 through Oct. 30, 2021. Find your early voting location here.

Lilly Knoepp

People in Buncombe, Haywood and Transylvania counties impacted by the flood can apply for assistance. Here's more info to sign up for one-time funds to buy food. 

In August, Tropical Storm Fred caused flood waters to rise across the region damaging businesses and homes. Many families continue to rebuild, from their floorboards to their pantries.

Those folks can get funds for food this week explains Haywood County Emergency Services spokesperson Allison Richmond.  

Lilly Knoepp

Earlier this month, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal Council upheld its ban on same-sex marriage. BPR looked into how widespread these bans are in Native American Tribal governments across the United States:

Mason Adams/Inside Appalachia

BPR is launching several new programs this Sunday including a show centered on the voices and stories of Appalachia. BPR spoke with the hosts of Inside Appalachia ahead of this weekend’s debut: 

Lilly Knoepp: I’m Lilly Knoepp, the regional reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. I’m here with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s show Inside Appalachia and hosts Mason Adams and Caitlin Tan. We are so excited that BPR is going to air your award-winning show very soon. Thanks so much for being here with me today.

Photo Courtesy of Pexels

The Nantahala Health Foundation and Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation hope to address the region’s housing crisis by helping homeowners keep their homes livable.  

Lori Bailey, executive director of nonprofit Nantahala Health Foundation explains their new Healthy Homes Initiative.

“If you’re a family that is really struggling to get by already then you need a little assistance just to keep it in good repair going forward and so that you are able to keep living there,” said Bailey.

Lilly Knoepp

Downtown Sylva has a new addition - a sculpture of Harriet Tubman.  Meet the local woman behind the sculpture. 

The 9-ft bronze sculpture called “Journey to Freedom” sits in Bridge Park.

“Looking at the sculpture, I'm like that’s not my face but those are my hands, those are my feet, that’s my body. Like I am Harriet Tubman too.”

That’s Jada Bryson. She’s a dance teacher in Franklin where her family has lived for as long as they have records. She was dancing at a Macon County Women’s History Trail event when she was approached by Cashiers sculptor Wesley Wofford.

Cory Vaillancourt

The state legislative committee that will undertake redistricting in North Carolina made its way to the mountains Tuesday evening for its only meeting in the region.  

Almost 200 people showed up to the campus of Western Carolina University to listen and share comments about the redistricting process. About 50 people spoke during the public comment period.   

Kathleen Barnes represented the Transylvania County NAACP. She said she drove two hours to the meeting which she called “a public health risk” identifying that some people in the room were unmasked.

Lilly Knoepp

The Confederate monument known as 'Sylva Sam' is Jackson County now has its updated plaque. 

County commissioners in August voted to change the plaque on the statue outside the old Jackson County courthouse to remove the Confederate flag on it as well the inscription to ‘Our Heroes of the Confederacy.’ 

The changes were completed Monday afternoon, says Commissioner Gayle Woody.  

Courtesy of Town of Franklin

The town of Franklin has hired a new town manager who is a familiar face in Western North Carolina. Amie Owens was previously the assistant town manager of Waynesville. BPR spoke with Owens during her first day on the job.

“I think each town has its own challenges. I was so excited to see a manager position open in Western North Carolina because that’s pretty rare these days,” said Owens. She served as assistant town manager in Waynesville from 2016-2020 and in Altavista, Virginia from 2020 – 2021.

Owens is a native of Haywood County, North Carolina.

Lilly Knoepp

Campgrounds are a way of life in Western North Carolina – and have been long before the current camping craze which helped bring more than 12-million visitors to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park last year.  BPR went to Laurel Bank Campground in Haywood County.  Camping there is more than a weekend activity or a vacation.  It’s life – and family. 

Sherrie Lynn McArthur still remembers growing up at Laurel Bank Campground in Cruso. She is now 66 years old.


On August 17th, historic flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred devastated Western North Carolina.  Haywood County was hit hardest, as six people were killed in the Cruso, Canton, and Bethel areas.

Lilly Knoepp

Eastern Band of Cherokee held its general election on September 2nd. The unofficial results for the new tribal council and the three referendum questions on the ballot. BPR’s Lilly Knoepp spoke with Holly Kays, outdoor editor and staff writer at the Smoky Mountain News about the election results.

Courtesy of EBCI Tribal Council

The Eastern Band of Cherokee will not officially recognize same-sex marriages on the Qualla Boundary.  BPR was at Thursday’s tribal council meeting when the vote was taken…

“Still determined. Resolve is still there.”

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

Despite recent severe weather, this year’s fall leaf forecast for Western North Carolina is looking bright. Here’s when colors will be at their peak:

The fall colors of red, orange and yellow will be best at high elevation in mid-October says Professor Beverly Collins, who teaches biology at Western Carolina University.

“I think our color change at Cullowhee, which will be at about 2,000 ft will be at about end of October,”  said Collins.  

Lilly Knoepp

  A second flood didn’t occur in Haywood County this week. Despite a voluntary evacuation, that allowed locals to continue their cleanup from flooding more than two weeks ago.  

The ground is still muddy outside Juke Box Junction Restaurant where Peter Constantian is sitting outside. He points to how high the water level in the Pigeon River rose during the flood.

“They said the water came all the way up to the floor boards, and maybe a little bit came through the floor boards but the basement was totally flooded,” said Constantian.  

Lilly Knoepp

If you drive through downtown Sylva, you might see a new mural. The mural is the opening act for the town’s first Pride parade.

On the side of an antique shop in downtown Sylva, the message on the rainbow mural now says “You Belong Here.”

“Sarah always  helps me now with my design projects these days. She has a great eye.”

Erlanger and Lilly Knoepp

A new clinic aims to make healthcare more accessible in Graham County Schools.

With the school year underway, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new health clinic for students and staff.

“As a family nurse practitioner, we kind of tease and say, 'we go from womb to tomb,'” said Debbie McDaniel.

Lilly Knoepp

Tuesday’s flash flood in Haywood County left business and homes mired in mud and debris. Here’s what the damage looks like on the ground:

The water of the Pigeon River pushed into the Canton and Cruso areas so high – that it’s still too early for a full assessment of the damage.

Muddy volunteers gathered at Bear Waters Brewing Company in downtown. Shaun Sandefur’s father Kevin is the owner of the brewery.

A Shot Above/Allen Newland

Haywood County was ravaged last night by heavy rains and wind from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.

At least were 30 people unaccounted for on Wednesday afternoon after flooding caused evacuations in Haywood County.

The towns of Clyde and Canton were both on boil advisories because their shared water system is shutdown.

Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers was walking around downtown checking on local businesses when BPR spoke with him:

Courtesy of Macon County Schools

School boards across Western North Carolina are still deciding on whether to make masks mandatory for students and staff.  The region’s Congressman has recently attended several meetings to share his views against mask mandates. 

The Macon County Board of Education met on Monday night to discuss the school system’s masking policy which was planned to be optional.  The meeting was virtual because of high COVID-19 case numbers in the county. 


Students and staff in 8 out of 16 school districts in BPR’s listening area will not be required to wear masks indoors. Masking indoors and for unvaccinated people is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.


Buncombe, Henderson, Swain, Madison, Macon and Jackson Counties as well as Asheville Schools and Cherokee Central Schools will require masking on campus. This list was updated on August 17th. 

Lilly Knoepp

Medical marijuana will soon be legal on the Qualla Boundary. BPR shares the details – including a timeline for when people can buy it:

The Eastern Band of Cherokee started looking into legalizing medical marijuana over five years ago. For Jeremy Wilson of the tribe’s Cannabis Commission, this month’s vote by the Tribal Council to legalize it is a relief.