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. 

Courtesy of Mission Health

Registered nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville agreed on their first union contract.

The three-year deal increases wages, guarantees breaks, mandates nurses must be given PPE and free access to COVID-19 testing.  It also forms a Professional Practice Committee to review staff levels.

National Park Service

There isn’t enough wild ginseng to harvest this year. That’s according to the U.S. Forest Service which will not be issuing any ginseng harvesting permits for the Nantahala or Pisgah National Forests in 2021.  

“We need to pause the harvest now to help ensure that these plants will be available in future years and for our grandkids and their kids,” said Gary Kauffman, botanist for the National Forests in North Carolina in a press release.

Courtesy of Dakota Brown

 Over a year ago, the borders of some local counties and regions were shut to the public to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

As part of BPR and Foxfire Museum's oral history project,  Dakota Brown, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee shares what it was like when the Qualla Boundary closed during her interview with Foxfire curator Kami Ahrens.  

Lilly Knoepp

The U.S. Forest Service has announced new restrictions at Max Patch, a national forest area near the Tennessee state line in Madison County which includes a section of the Appalachian Trail. The 4,629 foot bald is a popular camping and backpacking destination but the trail saw an explosion of visitors during 2020.

Registered nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville have announced a tentative agreement on a contract with HCA. The deal will be shared with the nurses' union this week.  The negotiating team is recommending for the nurses to approve the deal.  Details about the contract will be shared after the vote. Mission Hospital nurses joined National Nurses United in September 2020.

Courtesy of ASAP

Right now, the mountains of Western North Carolina are in the thick(et) of berry season. BPR reports on the history of fruit picking in our region:

Farmers who had extra produce and not enough workers to pick it used to offer locals the option to pick fruits and vegetables themselves for a lower cost.  That started what is now called U-Pick, explains Sarah Hart, communications coordinator for Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project(ASAP).

“Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries have long been good U-Pick crops,” said Hart.

Lilly Knoepp

Sylva Town Commissioners voted Thursday to reject plans to update the base of Jackson County’s Confederate monument.  ‘Sylva Sam’ sits outside the historic Jackson County courthouse, and county commissioners approved a plan to cover the Confederate Flag on the monument’s base and highlight its 1996 rededication to “veterans of all wars.” The phase, “Our Heroes of the Confederacy will also be covered.

Sylva Town Commissioners have wanted it removed since 2020, which they affirmed with a 3-2 vote again Thursday.  Commissioner Ben Guiney presented the resolution: 

Bear Allison

The mountains and forests of Western North Carolina are some of the most visited in the country.  Thanks to that, the region is a hub for the outdoor recreation industry.  BPR’s reports on how a new partnership wants more awareness of the local industry:

Author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle said mountain biking changed her life. She became an avid rider when the Fire Mountain Trails opened on the Qualla Boundary.  She said biking helped her finish her most recent novel ‘Even As We Breathe.’  

Cory Vaillancourt

For the first time, Juneteenth will be an official holiday across the country. Beyond governments, local institutions are also recognizing the holiday for the first time.  Here’s how Lake Junaluska will celebrate Juneteenth for the first time:

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

It’s been six years since the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark ruling, making same-sex marriage legal.  But that ruling doesn’t apply to sovereign nations in the U.S. – including the Eastern Band of the Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary.  

A year before the Obergefell decision, the Eastern Band Tribal Council passed a resolution codifying the tribe would only recognize marriage between a man and woman. 

Lilly Knoepp

North Carolina is only three weeks away from a major transformation of its Medicaid system and a new poll shows most people don't know about it.

The program will soon be administered by private insurance plans – instead of the current fee for service.  A survey by the nonprofit -  North Carolina for Better Medicaid finds that two out of three people know little to nothing about the change that could affect who and where their doctors are. 

U.S. National Park Service

As temperatures warm up and COVID restrictions are lifted more tourists are hitting the streets - and the trails of Western North Carolina.

However, this is the time of year when natural food for bears is most scarce.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver explained that most bear-human conflicts occur from mid-May through August because of this lack of food. Stiver says June is the most challenging month. 

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

Three states box in Western North Carolina - Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.  All three responded to the pandemic much differently than North Carolina did.  BPR reports on a study which examined which approach worked better.

COVID restrictions – even now almost 15 months later - look very different across Western North Carolina’s borders.

Sean Mulholland is a professor of Economics at Western Carolina University. He notes that Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper put more COVID restrictions in place than his Republican counterparts in neighboring states.


An estimated $26 billion-dollars could soon be coming to counties all across the country from a financial settlement involving opioid manufacturers.  BPR reports that county governments in North Carolina are already making plans for that money:


Crossover Day passed this month in the North Carolina General Assembly.  The deadline essentially determines which bills have a chance of passing this session.  And two bills that Beer City, USA and its neighbors in Western North Carolina had its eye on made it through.

Lilly Knoepp

Last summer, BPR reported on rallies across Western North Carolina in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. These demonstartions echoed those seen across the country during the months of protests for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.  One such rally was in Murphy. TeLor Allen was one of the organizers.

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

Jackson County Commissioners voted last night to move forward with plans to update the Confederate monument, known as 'Sylva Sam', who sits below the Jackson County Public Library Complex.

County Manager Don Adams shared that the plaque to cover the current Confederate flag on the monument will cost about $14,000 including installation. AOA signs in Yadkinville provided the estimate. 

Courtesy of North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office

In the eight westernmost counties in the state, much of the population doesn't have access to broadband . Recent data also shows that access to speeds above 25 Mbps are even worse - less than 15 percent in Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Swain Counties. 

The broadband gap has become even more apparent during the pandemic as workers and students moved to working from home via the internet. 

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

During Western Carolina University’s commencement ceremony, the university recognized the history of the Cherokee with an official land acknowledgement for the first time.

Courtesy of Gas Buddy

Colonial Pipeline announced Thursday morning that fuel deliveries should be made by the end of the day. The pipeline restarted operations on Wednesday night after being out of service since a cyber-attack caused a shutdown.  

Catherine Komp/BPR News

Gas stations across Western North Carolina are feeling a crunch after the Colonial Pipeline shutdown because of a cyber-attack. In Asheville, long lines outside of gas stations spilled onto Merrimon avenue and other city streets on Monday. By Tuesday morning, many of those gas stations were out of fuel.

Lilly Knoepp

Do you have a question about the COVID vaccine?  We want to hear from you!  Record your question as a voice memo on your cell phone and email us at or use the "talk to us" feature on the free BPR mobile app.

Matt Bush

The Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal council voted Thursday to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana on the Qualla Boundary. It is still illegal to sell or use the substance in public. It was incorrectly reported by other outlets that the Eastern Band legalized medical marijuana.

Joey Owle is Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the Eastern Band.  

Courtesy of Mission Health

The groundbreaking on a new Angel Medical Center in Franklin has some local leaders applauding HCA for following through on a promise it made when it purchased Mission Health.

Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields was among the crowd for the groundbreaking on a windy afternoon in Franklin.

“When you enhance your health services you help everybody – and that’s what we are looking for,” said Shields.

Courtesy of Principal Chief Richard Sneed's Office

"No More Stolen Sisters."

That’s what the banner outside of the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s council house reads today in honor of the national day of awareness for murdered and missing indigenous women.

Lilly Knoepp

During a pandemic, an 83-year-old man is attempting to become the oldest person to complete the over 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail. BPR spoke with him as he made his way through Western North Carolina:  

It's spring in Franklin. That means that the town is full of hikers making their way up the Appalachian Trail.

After hours at a downtown bakery, a group of locals and hikers are wolfing down spaghetti and meatballs. Among them is a well-known bearded figure in the hiking community.

“I’m Sunny Eberhart. My trail name is Nimblewill Nomad.”

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

Mission Health System celebrated a groundbreaking at the site of the new Angel Medical Center in Franklin.

The $68 million location will not have more beds than current hospital but the new space will have bigger rooms, and new technology and more windows explained Angel Medical Center Board of Trustees Chair Johnny Mira-Knippel.

Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

A hospital at the western end of North Carolina is expanding psychiatric services through a pilot program that is the first of its kind in the state.

Matt Bush

The town of Andrews in Cherokee County is currently without all four of its police officers following an incident at the police station.

Photo Courtesy of FIND Outdoors

Just in time for Earth Day, The Cradle of Forestry in Transylvania County is re-opening this week after being closed. During the pandemic it was open on a limited schedule. 

The 6500-acre site in the Pisgah National Forest is a museum and trail system that was the location of the first national science-based forest management program established in the 19th century.