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

Photo by Ingrid Christie


Renowned author and satirist David Sedaris is making his way back to Western North Carolina next week. 

It may come as a surprise to some of Sedaris’ followers that he spent a year of his early life in the mountains, as a student at Western Carolina University.

Lilly Knoepp

The North Carolina General Assembly is back in session this week.  But it will not be taking up the vetoed state budget – meaning a major cut to mental health care providers in Western North Carolina will stay in place for now.

BPR talks to one local mental health provider about how this will impact the community: 

Lilly Knoepp

  Two weeks ago, a Macon County newspaper announced it was closing. But after a public outcry, the paper is now determined to stay in print. Let’s go to the newsroom:  

Vickie Carpenter has been at the Macon County News and Shopping Guide for 18 years. She is a photographer and helps manage the office. Here’s how she felt when she was told the paper was closing: 

Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust has announced a fund to help local organizations hire grant writers. 

It’s called the Leverage Fund, explains Antony Chiang, Dogwood’s new CEO.

 

Lilly Knoepp

Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Lilly Knoepp sat down with North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green after she visited Western Carolina University writing students. Shelton Green talked about how she views her work as a part of Southern Literature, why poetry is important and where real change happens. Here are some key parts of the conversation. 

How people should be introduced: 

 

Lilly Knoepp

North Carolina’s Poet Laureate stopped by Western Carolina University this week to hear students share their poetry. 

Pam Duncan is an associate English professor at Western Carolina. Every year she starts her creative writing class with poetry. 

“I’m hoping that they will see that poetry can live in the real world. It’s not just limited to the classroom,” says Duncan. “I believe we all need poetry everyday.” 

Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has approved Gibbins Advisors as the independent monitor of HCA Healthcare. The healthcare consulting firm based in White Plains, New York will be responsible for watching over HCA as outlined in the asset purchase agreement with Stein. 

“That commitment to engaging with local communities, along with the monitor’s qualifications, led me to direct my office to consent to the selection of this monitor,” says Stein in a press release. 

Photo courtesy of HCA Healthcare

Mission Health reached a deal with health insurer Cigna before their contract lapsed. 

The Asheville hospital system reach a deal with the insurance company on October 30, just shy of the November 1 deadline. 

The multi-year agreement ensures that all Cigna patients will remain in-network. This deal covers Mission Health, an operating division of HCA Healthcare, which includes the surrounding five rural hospitals. Only Mission Hospital was in danger of going out of network.

Lilly Knoepp

  Current mayor Bob Scott ran unopposed for his last two terms in office. The 17-year veteran of public service says he’s using the same signs as years past and took zero campaign contributions this time around. Here’s why: 

 

“To much money in elections. The worst thing that ever happened to this country was Citizens United,” says Scott, referring to the famous U.S. Supreme Court case.  

Lilly Knoepp

  North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein this week joined three other state attorneys general in calling for a single $48 billion dollar settlement with five major pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic.  All 50 U.S. states would receive money under the proposed settlement. 

 Here are some reactions to the deal from rural leaders in Western North Carolina: 

Lilly Knoepp

Despite a wet weekend, much of Western North Carolina is still in a drought following an abnormally warm and dry September.

Here’s one outpost in the region that shows how this drought paints a larger picture of changes happening in Western North Carolina. 

Scientists at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Macon County have been tracking climate data since the 1930s. 

The lab is an experimental forest that has some of the longest-running data on stream flow, precipitation and temperature. 

Courtesy of WOW

 Waynesville holds its annual Apple Harvest Festival this weekend.  In between fruits and other fall treats, one booth is really hoping to "Wow" attendees.  

Jessi Stone/Smoky Mountain News

Leaders representing local nonprofits and community organizations packed a conference room at Southwestern Community College. Janice Brunmit, Chair of Dogwood Health Trust introduced the new CEO Antony Chaing.

 

Dogwood was established in February when private hospital giant HCA Healthcare bought the non-profit hospital Mission Health for $1.5 billion. The foundation is tasked with allocating profits from that sale to organizations across the 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary. Chaing says the aim is to improve public health. 

 

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

North Carolina Republican legislative leaders continue to pass ‘mini-budgets’ as negotiations remain stagnant with Democratic governor Roy Cooper over his veto of their full spending plan.  Without a full budget, construction projects across the state are unfinished or un-started. Here’s a look at one such project. 

 Western Carolina University is heated by its steam plant, which was built almost 100 years ago. The university is currently waiting for $16.5 million in state funds to update it. 

Lilly Knoepp

  While policymakers are working to change the laws around opioid prescriptions, local communities are working to educate parents about how to talk to their children.  

We head to the Bryson City library where a nonprofit is trying to educate parents about drugs.

Kaye McConnell of Renew Bryson City is taking parents around a bedroom she has set up in the auditorium of the Marianna Black Library.

“So do you like the vase?” asks McConnell.  “It’s a pretty bong.”

Lilly Knoepp

Prescription opioid abuse has been in the national spotlight this summer as new data about the numbers of prescriptions per county has been released. North Carolina is also part of national lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma for their role in the crisis. 

Lilly Knoepp

Earlier this year, the three Cherokee tribes in the U.S. – which includes the Eastern Band of Cherokee in Western North Carolina - announced their language is in a state of emergency because of a shortage of fluent speakers.  Efforts to reverse that have taken on many forms – such as at a summer camp in Graham County.   

 That’s where campers learned to sing this summer’s #1 song - in Cherokee.

“Old Town Road” by Lil NasX was undeniably the song of summer 2019.

But you probably haven’t heard it like this: 

Nick Breedlove/Jackson County TDA

  Fall is not just a beautiful season in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The foliage is also an economic driver for the region.

Dr. Beverly Collins is a biology professor at Western Carolina University. She predicted a bright and colorful leaf season but the September weather might be changing that forecast.

“We’ve been having a pretty intense heat wave since August,” says Collins.

 

Courtesy of NOC

Aurelia Kennedy, co-founder of Nantahala Outdoor Center passed away on Saturday morning at her home in Wesser, NC. She was 84 years old. Kennedy moved to Swain County with her husband Peyton in 1973 to start the company with their friend Horace Holden. Holden passed away earlier this year. Now the company is a multimillion dollar business with locations in four states.

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

  It was 1957 when Dr. Levern Hamlin Allen headed to what was then called Western Carolina College. Allen remembers the long drive to Cullowhee from her where she was living in Charlotte in those days. 

“Oh 1957 that was a long time ago. When I look at the pictures of how tiny I was,”says Allen.  

Lilly Knoepp

  The Franklin Town Council unanimously approved a special use permit to build a new Angel Medical Center. BPR was at the meeting. 

 HCA Healthcare will build the new facility off of Hunnicutt Lane and Center Court Drive in Franklin.  The for-profit company purchased the hospital as part of its acquisition of the Mission Health system.

“The facility will really be based on what Franklin and Macon County need.” 

 That’s Angel Medical Center CEO and CNO Karen Gorby. She presented the most recent plans for the new hospital. 

Lilly Knoepp

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians held their general election last night for all 12 tribal council seats, vice chief and principal Chief. 

 

In the unofficial tally, Principal Chief Richard Sneed held onto his seat with about 400 votes more than veteran politician Teresa McCoy. At her campaign headquarters last night, McCoy thanks Sneed for running a pretty clean campaign.    

 

Lilly Knoepp

  The Appalachian Regional Commission is holding its annual summit this week in Asheville.  The federal organization funds projects in  420 counties in 13 states from Mississippi to New York – including in Western North Carolina. 

 The Appalachian Regional Commission was created in 1965 to work on economic development and infrastructure projects such as highways in the region. 

Lilly Knoepp

  The Appalachian Studies community is a tightly knit group of academics, writers and historians from across the country. When news happens in the community it spreads fast - or at least that’s what happened when “Hillbilly Elegy” came out.  

The best-seller’s subtitle says that it’s “a memoir of a family and a culture in crisis.”  

Doug Woodward

Southern Appalachian identity is complex and loosely defined.  But when it is, the portrayals are often unflattering. From whitewashing to stereotyping, the region is not all about poor hillbillies.     

Blue Ridge Public Radio followed the debate through film, literature, academia and music to learn more. In this installment we look at the echo of the film “Deliverance” across the region, from art and whitewater to the lasting stereotypes.

Lilly Knoepp

One week from today, voters on the Qualla Boundary will head to the polls to elect all positions in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal government. BPR has this look at the principal chief race. 

Neither candidate for principal chief is new to politics. Current Chief Richard Sneed has been in this office since 2017. Teresa McCoy has been a tribal council member on and off for close to 20 of the last 30 years. 

Lilly Knoepp

An ancient Cherokee mound in Franklin has now officially been turned over to a local nonprofit.  BPR attended the commemoration of the transfer. 

Locals gathered in a pavilion on the Greenway near the Nikwasi Mound to mark the sacred site’s handover to the Nikwasi Initiative. Bob McCollum is on its board.

“Good morning,” says McCullom. The crowd responds: “Good morning!”

“What a great day that has been a long time in coming,” he says. 

Photo courtesy of Southwestern Community College

  Students at Southwestern Community College are hailing a grant program they say has helped them stay on track at school.

 

Abbie Turner is a mother of two in the physical therapy program at SCC. Turner lives in Mills River and says she drives over 500 miles a week to make it to classes and her clinical rotation for the program. All that driving took a toll on Tuner’s tires but it would cost hundreds of dollars to fix them - something that wasn’t in her budget.

Lilly Knoepp

  UNC Asheville launched an LGBTQ+ oral history archive earlier this year.  BPR talked with those working on the project to see what they’ve uncovered so far.

Corey Childers just graduated from UNC Asheville in May. But they stuck around the city this summer to work with Professor Amanda Wray to interview participants for the university’s first LGBTQ+ archive of oral histories. 

 They say that being a part of this effort has made them feel more comfortable in the queer community of Western North Carolina. 

Lilly Knoepp

 For the first time ever, North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties met to discuss how to solve the opioid crisis.  BPR was at the summit in Bryson City.

For Graham County Commissioner Connie Orr, the issue is personal. Her son has been battling addiction since he was prescribed Vicodin at 15 years old. He’s now 51. 

“From that time until now my son has been fighting the addiction of opiates which has moved not only to opiates but to heroin, meth or any drug that is available right now,” says Orr. 

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