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. 

Ways to Connect

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. 

Lilly Knoepp

  As part of the sale of Mission Health to HCA, the for-profit health system promised to build a new hospital in Macon County.  BPR talked to Angel Medical Center’s CEO about when ground will be broken for the new facility.

A new Angel Medical Center was in the works long before the HCA sale says CEO and CNO Karen Gorby.

Lilly Knoepp

Western Carolina University has been breaking enrollment records for years but as they expand they need to continue to remember their history. BPR digs into their recent archaeological finds. 


Under a hot sun, students wield tiny trowels and dust pans to unearth ancient artifacts under the supervision of their archaeology professor. 


Lilly Knoepp

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the country.  But all those visitors are not seeing its full history according to the park service. 

Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust, the nonprofit foundation created by the sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA, has chosen its initial CEO. 

Antony Chiang, president of Empire Health Foundation, has been chosen as the initial CEO of Dogwood.  He has been president of he organization for the last nine years. It is similar to Dogwood but based in Spokane, Washington. 

Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust has announced another member of their board of directors. 

The non-profit health foundation that was formed when Mission Health sold to for-profit HCA Health announced that Dr. Donna Tipton-Rogers  will join the board. 

A Cherokee County native and graduate of Murphy High School, Tipton-Rogers became the first woman to serve as president of Tri-County Community College in 2007. 

Lilly Knoepp

North Carolina’s state budget fight is entering its second month. While Republican leaders in the General Assembly and Democratic governor Roy Cooper remain far apart on ending it, the lack of a new state budget is holding up progress on an important issue for rural parts of the state. 


With so much focus on how the budget standoff will play out, it’s unlikely that any more bills will be passed this session. John Coggin is the Director of Advocacy at the NC Rural Center. 


Lilly Knoepp

Nantahala Health Foundation has hired Lori Bailey as executive director of the organization. The new nonprofit health foundation formed after the February sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA Health.

Lilly Knoepp

UPDATE:(2:30 p.m. Tuesday ) Cherokee Guns confirms that the billboard was taken down this morning. The store had more time on their contract with Allison Advertising, which owns the billboard, so they put up a new message. 

The billboard now reads: "First Amendment. Enough Said. Cherkoee Guns." 

Lilly Knoepp

A controversial billboard in Murphy depicting and deriding four Democratic Congress women is staying up - for now. BPR spoke with the town’s mayor and the store owner about the attention the sign has brought: 

Lilly Knoepp

  The Cherokee language is officially in a state of emergency. The number of fluent speakers has been dwindling for years. BPR spoke with Cherokee language experts about what is being done to teach and preserve their native tongue. 

There are only about 200 fluent Cherokee speakers left in the Eastern Band of the Cherokee(EBCI) and only about 2,000 nationwide.  Leaders in the Eastern Band say that’s not because the language isn’t being taught - but rather a lack of teachers and Cherokee families speaking the language at home. 

Photo courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

Since the sale of Mission Health earlier this year, the foundation tasked with spending the profits of the deal has been quiet.  BPR got an update from the chair of the organization’s board:

Lilly Knoepp

  It’s been almost six months since Mission Health was sold to for-profit HCA Health. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein visited two Mission Hospitals this week to see how the aftermath of the sale is transpiring.  BPR caught up with him at Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard. 


Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition

  Murphy-based nonprofit Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition has a new name this month after a merger with Asheville conservation nonprofit Mountain True. Here’s what this expansion means for the region: 


Callie Moore has been the director of Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition for over 15 years so she’s still getting used to answering the phone by saying, “Hello, Mountain True.” 


“We’ve already changed the signage and the outgoing voicemail and everything,” says Moore.


Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

North Carolina lawmakers could give the final okay to sports betting in the state as early as Monday.  A bill that would allow sports books and off-track horse betting at casinos on tribal lands cleared a key House committee Wednesday in Raleigh, and is on the agenda for a floor vote Monday evening.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians operate the only two casinos in North Carolina.  The casinos are located in Cherokee and Murphy on the Qualla Boundary.  

Lilly Knoepp

  Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the state budget last week because it didn’t include an expansion of Medicaid. BPR spoke with the CEO of one of the last non-profit hospitals in Western North Carolina about how this will impact the facility. 


In April, Governor Cooper visited Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Cherokee County to talk about Medicaid expansion.  Erlanger leadership presented Cooper with a resolution in support of expanding Medicaid. Now CEO Mark Kimball is worried that expansion isn’t going to happen. 


Lilly Knoepp

  The Cherokee language is officially in a state of emergency according to the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Blue Ridge Public Radio sat down with an Eastern Band native speaker at the new Kituwah Academy to learn more. 


Myrtle Driver Johnson is 75 years old. She’s an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a Beloved Woman. 


Johnson introduces herself in Cherokee before switching to English. 


Photo courtesy of NC Rural Center

Jackson County resident and executive director of the Southwestern Commission Sarah Thompson is the newest member of the Dogwood Health Trust Board.  Officially known as the  Southwestern North Carolina Planning and Economic Development Commission, the regional council of government works with the seven westernmost counties on technical, economic and planning resources.   “I think it's an incredible opportunity for all of WNC, and I'm thrilled to be able to bring my perspective on rural community and economic development to the board,” says Thompson in an email.   Thompson is 14th member of

Lilly Knoepp

Lake Junaluska has hosted the Western North Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church for decades.  For many of those years, its felt more like a family reunion than a convention. But this year was a little different.


Kids play in swimming pool on the edge of the lake while adults get ready for another long day of voting.


Courtesy of Harris Regional Hospital

  Both chambers of the General Assembly are set to vote on a budget agreement crafted by Republican leaders.  Governor Roy Cooper seems likely to veto it when it reaches his desk, however, as it does not contain Medicaid expansion.  That has been a chief goal for the governor and his fellow Democrats.  


Matt Bush

The general election is months away on the Qualla Boundary, but sexual assault allegations are resurfacing against a candidate for tribal council for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  


Lilly Knoepp

  Horace Kephart is remembered as one of the seminal authors of Southern Appalachia. He was also a key player in the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The first-ever biography of his life was just published. Here’s more on the book, “Back of Beyond” - and his complex life -  from Swain County.


Lilly Knoepp

Following the murder of a hiker last month, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has redesigned safety features on its website. Here’s the latest:


The conservancy website now features call buttons for 911 and the park service. Additionally an incident report form can now be sent as an email - instead of having to be mailed in as a pdf.


Franklin-hostel owner Colin Gooder says these new safety measures are a welcome change.

Lilly Knoepp

  Rural broadband access in Western North Carolina has seen funding and supportive legislation in recent months.  


BPR spoke to those who have been working on the issue for years about what these strides could mean.


Courtesy of Jackson County Genealogical Society

  This week is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed women the right to vote. It was another year before it was ratified by the majority of states.

It took another 10 years for the first woman to be elected to the NC Senate - she was from Jackson County.

Lilly Knoepp

  The sale of the Mission Health System means more than $1-billion in proceeds would be awarded to groups in Western North Carolina through grants.  The first grant applications are now being accepted by one legacy foundation of its hospitals. BPR attended one of the workshops for the grant in Cashier.



Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust has announced that it has added  Dawna Goode-Ledbetter to the organization’s board of directors.

Goode-Ledbetter is a native of McDowell County. She currently serves as executive treasurer of the McDowell Chamber of Commerce and as vice-chair of the McDowell County Health Coalition.

Goode-Ledbetter is the 13th member of the Dogwood Health Trust Board of Directors.  

Lilly Knoepp

The lawsuit against the Franklin Town Council members in response to their decision to transfer the deed to the ancient Nikwasi Mound has been withdrawn.


Gloria Raby Owenby, one of the plaintiffs, says that the group’s legal counsel explained that the injunction would take months or years. The group wasn’t willing to wait that long with an “uncertain outcome,” says Owenby, who explained that the group never hired an attorney. She says that the lawsuit could be brought up again at a later date.


Lilly Knoepp

 US Route 441 is a main artery in Western North Carolina. However, a crack in the road on Cowee Mountain in Jackson County has slowed traffic since late February.


Nathan Tanner is the Department of Transportation resident engineer for three counties of Western North Carolina - thats district 2 of division 14. He explains why they decided to redirect traffic down to two lanes: