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

Eight months ago, Jackson County Commissioners voted to keep the county’s Confederate monument in Sylva – but with some historical context added to it.   BPR reports on the first glimpse of what the changes will look like:

Lilly Knoepp

The candidates for the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s Tribal Council elections have been finalized. The full list was published from the EBCI Elections board on Thursday by the Cherokee One Feather. All 12 seats – two for each township – are up for election. The primary election will be held at the beginning of June.

Lilly Knoepp

In this week’s BPR Presents “The Porch,” news director Matt Bush talks with our regional report Lilly Knoepp about her recent reporting on HCA Healthcare’s commitment to the Mission Health System.

For-profit HCA purchased Mission Health in 2019. Here’s a transcript of the conversation along with links to resources: 

Asheville Citizen-Times

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have joined their colleagues in other states in introducing a bill that would limit healthcare for trans youth.  BPR has a reaction from a local activist...

Two out of the three primary sponsors of Senate Bill 514 – which restricts transitional care for people under the age of 21 - represent Western North Carolina: Senators Warren Daniel and Ralph Hise, of District 46 and 47 respectively.

Tina White, executive director of Blue Ridge Pride Center, calls the bill “fearmongering.”

Courtesy of Gibbins Advisors

It’s been two years since HCA Healthcare purchased Mission Health.  The details of the sale continue to be discussed by the independent monitor assigned to ensure the stipulations in the deal are followed. 

Buncombe County Government Virtual Meeting

Buncombe County Commissioners will wait until later this month to vote on a non-discrimination ordinance.  It would be the first such county ordinance in Western North Carolina since local governments were allowed to pass them in December 2020.  

WCU Special Collections/Courtesy of Hallie Lackie

Western Carolina University’s Special Collections library has digitized a new collection called Western North Carolina Tomorrow Black Oral History Project. The collection is made up of interviews with Black residents from Western North Carolina during the late 1980s. All the subjects were over the age of 69.

Courtesy of Swain County YouTube

National calls for stronger gun control legislation have prompted some Swain County residents to ask commissioners to make the county a 2nd Amendment sanctuary. Donna Cole brought forward almost 1000 signatures to the commission in support of the resolution in March. Cole said that citizens need to be able to defend themselves.

“If you take the weapons away from the regular people, then the only people that are going to have weapons are the criminals,” said Cole, who is 66. 

Cory Vaillancourt

A race in Haywood County this weekend raises money for survivors of gun violence and honors a fallen hometown hero.

The Mighty Four Miler on Saturday morning supports the Riley Howell Foundation Fund.  It’s been almost two years now since Riley Howell, a Waynesville native, was killed during a shooting at UNC Charlotte.

Lilly Knoepp

One Western North Carolina Republican wants North Carolina to expand Medicaid. 

State and local representatives – mostly Republicans - gathered at Southwestern Community College to talk about the need to “close the health coverage gap.” Sarah Thompson, executive director of the Southwestern Commission explains what that gap is:

Courtesy of NC DOT

Graham County’s Corridor K project is moving forward. NCDOT announced today that the environmental impact study for the highway expansion was finalized.

“This historic milestone is the result of the numerous coordination efforts of the team, with not only NCDOT’s normal local and agency partners, but efforts to understand the concerns of environmental advocacy groups, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Tribal partners and MANY others,” said Division 14 Engineer Wanda Austin in a press release. “This collaborative effort has laid the groundwork for many other future projects.”

Courtesy of Bob Wehr

Before the pandemic, agricultural funding came North Carolina’s westernmost counties to help connect farmers and those in need of local food. BPR shares how during the pandemic, the program became even more important:

Just a few miles outside of downtown Robbinsville sits Bob Wehr’s 27-acre farm.

“It's in a little bit of a valley. It’s kind of pretty. It has a Southern exposure, so it's a lot of sunlight. It's just kind of fun and makes you feel good when you drive by and see the cattle out there grazing,” said Wehr, who is 76 years old.

Courtesy of Tiger Drive-In

Businesses in Appalachia - like the rest of the country - have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. But some have found themselves uniquely suited to thrive over the last year. This week for BPR and Foxfire Museum's COVID-19 oral history project, we hear from a business owner who was able to carry on with a nostalgic outdoor entertainment that brought people together - safely - during the pandemic.

Tom Major, owner of Tiger Drive In Theater was interviewed by Foxfire Museum fellow and Rabun County high schooler Zain Harding in July 2020.

Lilly Knoepp

The town of Franklin lost one of its matriarchs this month.

Vice Mayor of Franklin Barbara McRae passed away on March 2nd after a long battle with cancer. Long before she entered politics, McRae had a career in a different public service: journalism.

She worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for the Franklin Press for 10 years. Rachel Hoskins, now the publisher of the Press, worked with McRae for six years.

Matt Bush

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland served her first full day in the cabinet today.

Courtesy of The Nikwasi Initiative

The nonprofit that took control of the sacred Nikwasi Mound in Franklin two years ago is releasing more details about its plans for the site.

The Nikwasi Initiative is made up of representatives from Macon County, the town of Franklin, Eastern Band of Cherokee(EBCI) and Mainspring Conservation Trust.

Courtesy of Appalachian Regional Commission

The Appalachian Regional Commission(ARC) is looking for public input from the Appalachian community about what the commission should prioritize in the next 4 years.  The federal organization has funded economic development and infrastructure projects in the region since 1965.  BPR reported in 2019 that over the past decade the ARC has spent over $40 million in Western North Carolina on about 130 projects.

Photo courtesy of Anh Pham

Life in Appalachia has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic.  For some people, the pandemic meant that they couldn’t go home. This week for BPR and Foxfire Museum's COVID-19 oral history project, we hear from Anh Pham. She’s an international boarding school student at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. She was interviewed by Foxfire Museum fellow and Rabun County high schooler Mario Trujillo in July 2020.

Lilly Knoepp

The HCA Healthcare independent monitor has announced it will be hosting an online public informational meeting next month.

The firm, Gibbins Advisors, was appointed by the North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein to oversee HCA Healthcare’s compliance with the terms of its 2019 purchase of Mission Health System.

Courtesy of Mission Health

Mission Health System has announced that it is moving forward with its new hospital in Franklin after more than a 3-month delay because of the pandemic.

Mission Health says it will be breaking ground on the new Angel Medical Center at the end of April.

Dr. Timothy Layman oversees clinical operations at Angel. He says the new hospital, which will now be across town,  will have new technology - including a new imaging suite - and more space.

Lilly Knoepp

Today, Western Carolina University Faculty Senate presented the Board of Trustees with a request: they need a salary increase.

“They asked a lot of questions so that was super positive,” said Kadance Otto, chair of the Faculty Senate.

Otto said faculty hasn’t received seen their pay increase in line with cost-of-living since 2008.

“To me, a raise is something above the cost of living because that is something that is more than the average rate of inflation. So at bare minimum we are simply asking to keep up with inflation,” said Otto.

Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

As more people get vaccinated in North Carolina, more places are opening to administer the shots.  BPR looks at Western Carolina University’s on-campus clinic.

The clinic, located at the school’s Health & Human Services building, opened to the public this week. This is after administering over 600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in February to help clear Jackson County Department of Public Health’s waiting list.

“Our website and call center went live yesterday around 2 p.m.”  

Courtesy of Ann Miller Woodford

  Here’s part one of BPR’s features on Ann Miller Woodford.

Earlier this week, we profiled local historian Ann Miller Woodford, who published “When All God’s Children Get Together.”  It’s about the history of the Black communities of Western North Carolina.

Lilly Knoepp

BPR is answering listener queries about the Coronavirus in a new segment "Talk To Us: COVID Questions" BPR’s Lilly Knoepp brings us this week’s answer.

This week, Niyaso Cannizzaro of Buncombe County submitted this question: “When will at-risk individuals under the age of 65 be able to get the vaccine?”

To get an answer, we asked Melissa McKnight, deputy health director with Jackson County Public Health:

“So if you have a high-risk individual but they aren’t yet 65. They are likely to be assigned to group 4,” said McKnight.

Graphic by Foxfire Mountain Heritage Museum

Blue Ridge Public Radio is partnering with Foxfire Mountain Heritage Museum to launch a campaign to collect oral histories about the COVID-19 pandemic in Appalachia. The goal of the project is to record our region’s experiences with COVID-19 and to bring together the Western North Carolina community during this time of isolation.


Photo courtesy of Foxfire Mountain Heritage Museum

Blue Ridge Public Radio is partnering with Foxfire Mountain Heritage Museum to launch a campaign to collect oral histories about the COVID-19 pandemic in Appalachia. The goal of the project is to record our region’s experiences with COVID-19 and to bring together the Western North Carolina community during this time of isolation.

How to Participate

Courtesy of WNC Historical Association and Ann Miller Woodford

The Western North Carolina Historical Association is located in Asheville's oldest brick house - where at least 70 people were enslaved. Now the association is hosting an exhibit about the history of Black communities west of Asheville.  Author and historian Ann Miller Woodford talks with BPR about why its important to learn about the region’s history – and how to apply it to the present.

Schuylar Shayne Photography

A project to document the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Western North Carolina is expanding.

The LGBTQ+ Oral History Archive was founded at UNC Asheville in 2019 in partnership with the Blue Ridge Pride Center. Now the project is expanding to Western Carolina University, says Travis Rountree.

Matt Bush

Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners both voted to remove the Vance Monument from Pack Square in downtown Asheville.  But where will it go?  

Courtesy of Haywood Health and Human Services

Local health departments across Western North Carolina are depending on volunteers to help them with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

BPR talked with a former public health director who came out of retirement to help administer the vaccine.

Patrick Johnson retired as the public health director for Haywood County’s Health and Human Services Department last fall, after working in public health for 36 years.

“When I decided to retire, they talked me out of it once,” said Johnson. He’s 66 years old.