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. 

Macon Public Health

In order to meet the demand for vaccinating residents, Macon County is cutting back on contact tracing.

On Monday, Macon County Public Health department announced it would no longer issue press releases about COVID-19 clusters in order to move three nurses from contract tracing duties to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

“If you could double my staff then I could vaccinate all week long and test all week long.”

Cory Vaillancourt

A key backer of Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn is now dropping his support following last week’s insurrection at the Capitol in D.C. 

Former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin Jr. was going to be the District Director for newly-elected Congressman Madison Cawthorn. But after seeing his role in the insurrection last week at the Capitol, Erwin says Cawthorn no longer has his support.

Lilly Knoepp

The pandemic has hit non-profits and museums hard due to travel and social distancing restrictions.   One museum in our region appears naturally poised to weather the pandemic.

The War Woman cabin on the property of the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center is decorated for Christmas. It was built in the late 1880’s but is now styled as a 1940’s Appalachian cabin with a woodstove and a vintage radio that clicks on when you enter the room:

“Where the blue of the night… meets the gold of the day,” plays the radio.

Lilly Knoepp

The base Jackson County’s Confederate monument has been covered.

Lilly Knoepp

HCA Healthcare has delayed construction of the new Angel Medical Center location in Franklin. The project was scheduled to break ground at the end of 2020.

“While we hoped to begin breaking ground before the end of 2020, events beyond our control have delayed that until spring of 2021,” said Karen Gorby, Angel Medical Center CEO and CNO, in an email.

Photo courtesy of New Kituwah Academy

Long before the world had ever heard of COVID-19, the Cherokee language was in trouble.

Last year, the three tribes in the U.S. declared a state of emergency because there are now so few fluent speakers.  That includes the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in Western North Carolina.  Here’s how the pandemic has impacted the teaching of the language:

The New Kituwah Academy started in 2004 to teach a new generation of fluent Cherokee speakers. Like other schools, the pandemic caused educators to go to virtual instruction.

Courtesy of Ben Guiney

Jackson County is one of six jurisdictions in Western North Carolina now considered to have ‘critical’ community spread of coronavirus, the highest such classification from the state.  BPR talked to a doctor who was recently in quarantine with COVID-19:

Dr. Ben Guiney tested positive for COVID-19 on November 28th.  He’s not sure if he got COVID working at Harris Regional Hospital or not. During his isolation, Guiney was separated from his family by his bedroom door.

Cass Herrington/BPR News

A major provision of the bill that repealed North Carolina’s notorious HB2 expired this week.

In 2017, North Carolina lawmakers passed a “compromise” to repeal North Carolina’s HB2 – commonly known as the ‘Bathroom Bill’ because it made people use the bathroom of their gender as assigned at birth.

“For me, for people to say that HB2 or HB142 or any of these bills are about bathroom is personally insulting.”

Photo courtesy of NC Wildlife Resources Commission

The final public comment period for new Sunday hunting laws in North Carolina starts this month. 

Since 1868, it has been illegal in the state of North Carolina to hunt on Sundays. A 2015 law removed that prohibition, followed by an expanded law two years later, said Brian McRae, chief of the Land and Water Access Division of North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.

Photo courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

The Cherokee, Clay, Graham (CCG) Health Foundation has donated $40,000 to Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital(EWCH).

“The CCG Foundation has donated funds to help support this facility for many years,” said Andrew Reichman, chairman of the CCG board, in a statement. 

EWCH says it will use the funds to purchase five automated external defibrillators (AED), a flexible fiber-optic ureteral scope for surgical procedures, a urine analyzer for the lab, a treadmill for the cardiac rehab department and a mobile computer workstation.

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University has established a Cherokee Studies Scholarship in honor of an Eastern Band leader and scholar.

Lilly Knoepp

Last week, a North Carolina task force commissioned by Governor Roy Cooper recommended small amounts of marijuana be decriminalized.  It also says legalization should be studied. On the Qualla Boundary, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is already moving forward to legalize medical marijuana. 

Photo submitted to BPR, verified by the Transylvania Sheriff's Office

The Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office is investigating vandalism on Highway 215 near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Spray paint reading, “KKK,” “white lives matter” and “rednecks” was reported yesterday afternoon on the road near a bridge. The office says that this is racist and that "KKK" stands for the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacist hate group. 

Chief Deputy Eddie Gunter says that there haven’t been any similar incidents this year. 

Matt Bush

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association has shared a series of recommendations to “improve the law enforcement profession” statewide.  BPR looks at efforts around transparency: 

The association is made up of all 100 sheriffs in the state. A group of 10 started working on this report after the death of George Floyd this summer. 

“I’m excited about the whole thing to be honest,” said Miller.  

That’s Sheriff Quentin Miller of Buncombe County who represented the Western region (10th district).

Lilly Knoepp

Western North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties were solidly red this election.

The lone competitive General Assembly election in Western North Carolina was House District 119, which includes Jackson, Swain, and parts of Haywood County.  Republican Mike Clampitt won the seat back Tuesday.

“Well I think this win was a little bit more than the Trump Bump,” said Clampitt.

Lilly Knoepp

More than 4.5 million North Carolinians already have voted  - either in person during early voting or by mail.  That’s more than 95% of all the N.C. voters who cast ballots in 2016. Across BPR’s listening area, more than 50% of registered voters in every county have cast ballots.                                                                                  The BPR news team has been visiting polling sites, talking with voters about what issues are driving them to the polls this year. 

Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust, the foundation created to disburse the profits of the sale of Mission Health, is required to host an annual public meeting. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the meeting was hosted via Zoom this week.  

About 600 people virtually attended Dogwood Health Trust's first annual public meeting. 

Janice Brumit, chair of the Dogwood board, reports the foundation has given out about $40 million in total across the 18-county region it covers including the Qualla Boundary.

Matt Bush

The Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says both major party presidential candidates are pandering to another tribe in North Carolina in the final days of the election.

Lilly Knoepp

Voters on North Carolina college campuses played a huge role in the 2018 election.  Democrats broke the legislature’s Republican super-majority by winning two districts that included two of the largest campuses in the state. BPR digs into how those students are voting this year:

Unlike many other UNC System schools Western Carolina University is still holding some in-person classes. That means students can also vote in-person at an on-campus polling place in Jackson County.

“I’m 18, finally. So it’s nice that I can vote.”

Farisha Mohammed

The Dogwood Health Trust has chosen an interim CEO after the foundation’s CEO Antony Chiang stepped down in September.

Courtesy of Principal Chief Richard Sneed

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Nate Hadley/WCJ

More than 1 million North Carolinians have voted during the first five days of early voting in the state.  That’s more than 14 percent of all registered voters in the state.

BPR checked in on the early voting site on campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee:

Cory Vaillancourt

North Carolina House of Representative’s District 119 is one of the most competitive races in the state.  It’s also the most familiar race to voters in the three western counties that make up the district. 

NC DOT

There is a new detour available for people trying to drive between Sylva and Dillsboro. This is big news for the almost 10,000 cars that use the corridor every day.

NC DOT is currently working on a new bridge on Haywood Road over Scott Creek in Jackson County which has closed the road.

Lilly Knoepp

It’s been two months since Jackson County Commissioners voted not to relocate Sylva Sam.  However, anger about the statue remains. 

Sylva Sam still stands on its perch in front of the old Jackson County courthouse, though it is fenced in now.  Down the steps on Main Street, “Black Lives Matter” is routinely drawn in chalk on the sidewalks.

Photo by National Park Service

Fall colors start to shine in the mountains of Western North Carolina in October.

Tourists aren't the only mamals that are more active this time of year, explains wildlife biologist Joe Yarkovich, who works in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

September to November is elk mating season, known as the rut. 

Pixabay

Governor Cooper announced September 17 that children in kindergarten through 5th grade can attend in-person classes starting October 5.  However, learning still looks different for every county and school district in Blue Ridge Public Radio’s listening area. Here is the breakdown of all 15 school districts:

ASHEVILLE

Photo courtesy of TWASA

The struggle to get the most updated information on the spread of COVID-19 in a community has been crucial for local and national government decision-making. Here’s the unlikely source of data for a Jackson County project that hopes to increase the speed of information.

COVID-19 testing delays and asymptomatic carriers have contributed to a slower understanding of how many people in a community have the virus.

“Our goal here is to really give public health officials an early warning for what’s happening in the community.”

Courtesy of NC DOT

NC DOT is calling for public comment on the long-awaited Corridor K.

The highway, which will improve mobility in Graham County, was originally a part of  the Appalachian Development Highway System, a network of road corridors funded by Congress in 1965.

The corridor was restarted in 2015 after a long pause and there is now a preferred alternative for the project.

Courtesy of American Journal of Surgery

Since March, more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in BPR’s Western North Carolina listening area.  Most of those cases end up at the region’s biggest hospital, Mission in Asheville.  Dr. William Hathaway is Chief Medical Officer there. He says the hospital has been following CDC guidelines around patient testing.

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