Franklin

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.

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.

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 / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Black Lives Matter protests across the nation have sparked rallies in support of law enforcement.

 

Hundreds turned out for the Back The Blue Rally hosted in part by Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland. 

 

“We have people here from Jackson County, Macon County, Swain County, Clay County. We have people from all over who came out here to support us,” explains Holland.

 In the crowd you hear someone yell: “Andrews.”

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Protests in the rural towns of Western North Carolina for racial justice are growing into a movement.

 Molly Haithcock, 24 and Erykah Lasha, 22, didn’t know each other until a few weeks ago even though both went to Franklin High School. Haithcock, who identifies as a black woman, says she was sickened by the killing of George Floyd and wanted to do something - anything: 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Macon County now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 proportionately in the Blue Ridge Public Radio listening area. 

Lilly Knoepp

Macon County reported just three positive cases of COVID-19 for 12 weeks. On Friday, Macon County Public Health has announced 42 positive cases have been confirmed in the last 48 hours. This brought the total case count up to 63.

Lilly Knoepp

HCA Healthcare’s CEO announced this week that the health system would be limiting its capital projects because of the COVID-19 Health crisis.

“The Company believes the extent of COVID-19’s adverse impact on its operating results and financial condition will be driven by many factors, most of which are beyond the Company’s control and ability to forecast,” states HCA’s first quarter report.

Lilly Knoepp

On Monday, the first case of COVID-19 in Western North Carolina was confirmed in a patient that is isolating in Macon County after visiting Asheville.  

 

The Macon County Health Department cannot confirm the location of the patient who tested positive for COVID-19 because of privacy regulations. Spokesperson Emily Ritter explains: 

 

Lilly Knoepp

  The independent monitor over HCA continued its tour of Western North Carolina at the Robert Carpenter Community Center in Franklin.

The meeting was held in the middle of a work day, something that frustrated the almost 50 people that gathered in Franklin to ask questions and air their concerns to Gibbins Advisors. Ron Winters is with the independent monitor overseeing HCA. 

 

Lilly Knoepp

Ever since the Franklin-based bank Entegra announced its sale to First Citizens in April, rumors have been swirling that locals will lose their jobs once the sale is finished. Here’s an update as the year ends. 

CEO Roger Plemmons says that Entegra’s sale to First Citizens Bank can’t be finalized until three local branches are sold.  Plemmons explains that without the sale First Citizens would have had more than 50 percent of the market in Macon County and that isn’t legal:

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: 

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

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. 

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

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

The Franklin Town Council has voted to transfer the deed to the ancient Nikwasi Mound to a nonprofit.   

The hall broke out into applause after the town council voted unanimously in favor of transferring the property to the Nikwasi Initiative - a nonprofit made up of representatives from Franklin, Macon County, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Mainspring Conservation Trust.

Hope Huskey is on the board of the Nikwasi Initiative and a member of the Eastern Band.  

 

Lilly Knoepp

  Last year over 25,000 people marched at the state capital in Raleigh to support public school teachers through the Red 4 Ed NC cause. This year they’ll do it again on May 1st.

 

Franklin High School teacher John deVille is the vice president of North Carolina Association of Educators. He’s also on the Red 4 Ed advisory board.  He says May 1st isn’t a protest.

 

Lilly Knoepp

Franklin-based Entegra Bank has announced a merger with First Citizens Bank. This is a swift change from the merger between Entegra and Smart Bank announced in January.

 

Lilly Knoepp

The Franklin Town Council delayed its decision until next month on transferring the deed of the Nikwasi Mound to nonprofit The Nikwasi Initiative.

It was standing room only for the public session on the transfer of the Nikwasi Mound, as 19 different people spoke before town council for and against the deal. 

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

  At its March meeting, the Franklin Town Council moved forward with a motion to transfer ownership of the Nikwasi Mound to a nonprofit.

 

The origin of the ancient mound has been called into question. BPR spoke with historians and archeologists about the mound and what makes it a sacred space.

 

Lilly Knoepp

Last week, the Franklin Press reported that five plaintiffs had filed an injunction against the Franklin Town Council to block them from voting to transfer ownership of the Nikwasi Mound to local non-profit The Nikwasi Initiative.

Lilly Knoepp

  Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin kicked off their 10th year anniversary celebration last week.

 

Before the theater in Franklin was built, the biggest plays in town took place at the local high school. Now 10 years later, general manager and artistic director Scotty Corbin estimates that over three-quarters of a million people have attended shows at the theater.

 

“Our actual birthday is July 3rd but we’ve decided let’s make it a year of celebration,” says Corbin.

 

Lilly Knoepp

Mission Health has finalized their deal with HCA but it isn’t done yet. The deal is currently on the desk of NC Attorney General Josh Stein. Stein is expected to approve or amend the deal near the end of November.

Mission Health’s deal will affect 18 counties in Western North Carolina so each community has a chance to send letters to Stein voicing their concerns about the deal or their support.

Lilly Knoepp

The first piece of a project connecting historical sites of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee is complete.  When the full project is finished, a cultural corridor will run over 60 miles along the Little Tennessee River from Rabun County in Georgia to the town of Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina. The effort has been a long time coming.

Is Franklin N.C. The Gem Capital Of The World?

Jul 30, 2018
Lilly Knoepp

  Franklin, North Carolina is nicknamed the “Gem Capital of the World.” The small town hosts gem shows, rock shops and gem mining. How did this small town get such a big reputation?

“It’s just the luck of the shovel,” says Judy Johnson. She’s been working at Mason’s Gem Mine for 11 years. The mine which opened in 1952 is located in Burningtown just outside of Franklin. The mine sits on a natural deposit of gems and is a prime example of how the area got its name. Tourists dig their own dirt from the mountain side and then sift for gems in flumes.  

Southwestern Community College

If you visit a National Park, there’s a good chance you’ll cross the path of a ranger who was trained right here in Western North Carolina.  Southwestern Community College in Sylva is one of only seven colleges in the nation that offers the National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Academy. 
 The program is one of the oldest in the country and just graduated its 100th class.  BPR’s Helen Chickering visited the academy while school was still in session.

Cory Vaillancourt/Smoky Mountain News/BPR

Winning an election is just the beginning for a public official – governing is challenging, ever-changing and can become extremely technical in a legal sense.  So newly elected officials go back to school to learn what they can and can’t do, and what might land them in jail.

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