Graham County

Bryan Miler/Courtesy of BPR News

Update January 5 at 10 am: Wednesday morning power was almost completly restored across the Western North Carolina mountians. Five residents in Henderson, Buncombe, Haywood, Graham and Polk Counties respectively are still in the dark, according to Duke Energy.

There is potential for another snow storm on Thursday night to Friday morning in the region, according to The Weather Channel. 

Lilly Knoepp

North Carolina’s last dry county appears it will start selling alcohol soon.

In Tuesday’s election, voters in Graham County narrowly approved seven different ballot questions that would allow for beer and wine to be sold in the county. 

Sophia Paulos has been Graham County's economic development director for five years. She says a lot has changed in the county in that time, such as improved unemployment numbers and new businesses.

Erlanger and Lilly Knoepp

A new clinic aims to make healthcare more accessible in Graham County Schools.

With the school year underway, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new health clinic for students and staff.

“As a family nurse practitioner, we kind of tease and say, 'we go from womb to tomb,'” said Debbie McDaniel.

Courtesy of NCACC

Last week, three of the country’s major pharmaceutical distributors reached a $26-billion settlement with several states over opioids.  North Carolina was one of them.  Here’s what happens next:

Local government leaders worked to get all 100 counties in North Carolina to sign onto an agreement on how funding from the settlement would be distributed.

Photo by Doreyl Ammons Cain/Appalachian Mural Trail

Community members are celebrating a new mural in Graham County dedicated to the Beloved Women and matriarchs of the Snowbird Community on Saturday. 

The Graham Revitalization Economic Action Team project – funded by a 2019 Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Grant – was created by local Snowbird artists and the Appalachian Mural Trail. 

“The main purpose of everything was to include Snowbird with Robbinsville,” said Jackson County artist Doreyl Ammons Cain. Cain is the co-founder of the trail and one of the lead artists of the mural.

Courtesy of Dakota Brown

 Over a year ago, the borders of some local counties and regions were shut to the public to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

As part of BPR and Foxfire Museum's oral history project,  Dakota Brown, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee shares what it was like when the Qualla Boundary closed during her interview with Foxfire curator Kami Ahrens.  

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Lilly Knoepp

Graham County started off COVID-19 by shuttering its borders.  Months later, the county is experiencing an outbreak at a nursing home.

Graham County didn’t experience COVID-19 community spread until August unlike many surrounding counties which spiked much earlier.

“Graham County for their flu season typically runs about 6 weeks behind the state.”

That’s Beth Booth, director of Graham County Health Department.

Michelle Shiplet

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Graham County closed its borders.  BPR talks with a local nonprofit about economic struggles of finding food during the pandemic:

As one of the least populous counties in all of North Carolina, Graham County has seen a slower spread of COVID-19 than other areas.  It took until this month for community spread to occur. But throughout the pandemic, access to food has been an issue in the community.

“I’m standing outside the door hollering numbers and meals through the window and delivering boxes to vehicles.”

Courtesy of U.S. Census

Right now only about 30 percent of Jackson and Swain Counties have responded to the U.S. Census. Statewide almost 60 percent of North Carolians have already responded to the census. 

“Western North Carolina has historically been undercounted in the Census and 2020 is no exception,” said Jackie Simms, chair of the programs and grants committee at Dogwood Health Trust in a press release. 

Lilly Knoepp

Graham County is one of the most rural counties in North Carolina, with just around 9,000 residents.  It’s isolation led county leaders to put in place some of the most restrictive measures in the state in hopes of keeping the Coronavirus away - but it still came anyway.

BPR spoke with Graham County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case about the responsibility she felt when she learned the news: 

Lilly Knoepp


The North Carolina General Assembly is heading back to Raleigh on Tuesday to take up emergency legislation dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Blue Ridge Public Radio talked with one member of the Western North Carolina delegation: 

Lilly Knoepp


The Public Health Department for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced Saturday that three Swain County residents and one Graham County resident have tested positive for COVID-19.

Lilly Knoepp

This week, Graham County removed all barriers into the county. In March, the county essentially closed its borders to visitors as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local government officials cited the lack of a hospital in the county as a main reason to restrict movement.

Graham County Manager Becky Garland explained that the county had to establish more manned checkpoints and barriers than originally thought necessary. 

“It brought us to the point where we had to say, ‘Let’s stop and regroup here,'” says Garland. 

Lilly Knoepp

  Both the Qualla Boundary and Graham County have put in place restricted travel for non-residents.  Residents in another rural county are calling for similar measures. 

On Monday, Whittier resident Kellie Marr started a petition to ask Swain County commissioners to shut the county’s borders. The petition has already garnered almost 700 signatures. 

Lilly Knoepp

Update: Graham County along with Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital have opened up a Coronavirus Community Information line. Beginning Thursday, community members can call 828-835-4258  on Monday through Friday from 9 A.M. to noon and 1P.M. to 4 P.M. to speak with a representative. There is no cost and no insurance needed. This public service provides convenient access to local health care providers who will answer their questions. This is NOT a COVID-19 test screening line.  

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Public schools in North Carolina will be closed for the next two weeks.  Here’s how systems in the westernmost part of the state are handling it: 

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Democrats have seen a sharp drop in voter registration in North Carolina's seven westernmost counties over the past four years.  Republicans have seen a similar increase during the same timeframe, as well as those registering as unaffiliated in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties.

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

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: 

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

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., Michel Tronchetti

A common frustration for residents throughout the mountains of Western North Carolina is the lack of high speed internet access.   They now have a place where they can vent. BPRs Davin Eldridge has more…

Author's Note: a link to the survey is provided at the bottom of the article.

In the dining hall of the VA Community Living Center in Asheville, 96 year old Wayne Carringer sat tall in his wheelchair, stationed next to the podium, where former State Representative Joe Sam Queen, recalled the brutal highlights of his distinguished military career

“He has lived the blood and guts of history, and served admirably “Former State Representative Joe Sam Queen told the crowd.


For a few short weeks, every year, the mountains of Western North Carolina are renowned for their bright autumn leaves. The generations have brought to the region countless so-called “leaf-lookers” enthralled by their fiery shades of yellow and red come mid-October. Even this year, when area biologists are expecting fall leaves to be duller, and less-vibrant, all local economists can see on the horizon is the color of money for the mountains.

Corporal Punishment, a Dying Practice in NC Schools

Apr 26, 2016

The use of corporal punishment as discipline in North Carolina schools is now practiced in just three counties.  Child advocacy groups are urging them to end it, saying that it does more harm than good. Davin Eldridge has more.