Macon County

Lilly Knoepp

Downtown Sylva has a new addition - a sculpture of Harriet Tubman.  Meet the local woman behind the sculpture. 

The 9-ft bronze sculpture called “Journey to Freedom” sits in Bridge Park.

“Looking at the sculpture, I'm like that’s not my face but those are my hands, those are my feet, that’s my body. Like I am Harriet Tubman too.”

That’s Jada Bryson. She’s a dance teacher in Franklin where her family has lived for as long as they have records. She was dancing at a Macon County Women’s History Trail event when she was approached by Cashiers sculptor Wesley Wofford.

Courtesy of Town of Franklin

The town of Franklin has hired a new town manager who is a familiar face in Western North Carolina. Amie Owens was previously the assistant town manager of Waynesville. BPR spoke with Owens during her first day on the job.

“I think each town has its own challenges. I was so excited to see a manager position open in Western North Carolina because that’s pretty rare these days,” said Owens. She served as assistant town manager in Waynesville from 2016-2020 and in Altavista, Virginia from 2020 – 2021.

Owens is a native of Haywood County, North Carolina.

Courtesy of Women's History Trail

The Women’s History Trail in Franklin continues to uncover new stories, as it celebrates the history of Western North Carolina. 

Mary Polanski, one of the co-leaders of the Women’s History Trail in Franklin, sits at a picnic table along the Little Tennessee River. 

“August is upon us here at the Little Tennessee River and East Franklin. And we’re in the park by the river and the mound is near us. And the beautiful land around the river is summery looking and it’s a little breezy out,” said Polanski.

Lilly Knoepp

Angel Medical Center has a new CEO. Mission Health has named Clint Kendall the new Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Office of the Macon County hospital.

“I am excited to be in the community of Franklin and look forward to caring for the people of this area in my new role at Angel Medical Center. I hope to meet many of you in the coming months,” said Kendall in a press release.

Lilly Knoepp

Angel Medical Center CEO Karen Gorby is retiring. Gorby also served as the Chief Nursing Officer for the Macon County hospital which is part of the Mission Health System.

Gorby’s career in healthcare  has spanned four decades, according to an announcement from Dr. Timothy Layman, director of Hospital Clinical Operations.

Layman will be the interim CEO/CNO at Angel Medical Center until a new CEO is chosen.

Courtesy of Town of Franklin

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott announced this weekend that he won’t be seeking re-election in a letter to the editor titled, “Bob’s Swan Song.”

“It’s time for me to pack up my bust of Harry Truman and my 'No Sniveling' desk plaque and move on.  I will not be seeking a fifth term as mayor,” said Scott in the letter.

Courtesy of Mission Health

The groundbreaking on a new Angel Medical Center in Franklin has some local leaders applauding HCA for following through on a promise it made when it purchased Mission Health.

Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields was among the crowd for the groundbreaking on a windy afternoon in Franklin.

“When you enhance your health services you help everybody – and that’s what we are looking for,” said Shields.

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 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 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.

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.”

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.

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 / 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.”

Cass Herrington / BPR News

Henderson County has Western North Carolina’s highest population per capita of Latinx residents.  And the County’s Health Department reports a third of COVID-19 cases are among individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latinx. That’s why the state Department of Health and Human Services has directed $100,000 to the Hendersonville-based non-profit True Ridge.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor announced that a Highlands Town Hall employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. All of the town hall’s employees - about 10 including the mayor - have now been tested and are awaiting results. Taylor says the employee had been working from home but had been in the office intermittently. 

 

 Taylor says that he supports the new mandatory order for masks in public. 

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Macon County continues to have the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in Western North Carolina. BPR takes a deeper look at one of the county’s largest employers, which saw one of the first clusters of cases there. 

 

About 8 percent of Macon County roughly 34,000 residents have been tested for COVID-19 explains Emily Ritter, the public information officer for the county’s Public Health department.

 

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

Macon and Clay Counties have joined Cherokee County in starting to roll back COVID-19 restrictions. 

Macon County’s Emergency Management Team has announced that restrictions on lodging accommodations and the request that non-residents self-quarantine for 14 days in the county will be rolled back on May 8.

All statewide stay-at-home orders and business closures are valid. Additionally, declarations by the Town of Franklin and Town of Highlands are also still in place at this time.

Lilly Knoepp

FIND THE LATEST COVID-19 CASE COUNT IN NORTH CAROLINA HERE.  FOR ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS CLICK HERE.

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: 

The U.S. Forest Service says is arson is the suspected cause of a wildfire reported Sunday night near the Lake Appalachia Dam in Cherokee County.  It’s estimated at 80 acres in size on land owned by the Forest Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority.  

Lilly Knoepp

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has officially banned outdoor patio dining in the state due to COVID-19. Some restaurants across the state were still offering takeout patio dining. 

On Thursday, Jeanette Evans, owner of the Mad Batter Kitchen in downtown Sylva, was setting up for takeout dining. Evans says that the Jackson County Health Department had come by to explain the ban for the kitchen and the Lazy Hiker Taproom, as well as provide some protocol for customers to safely eat takeout.

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: 

 

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: 

Lilly Knoepp

 Macon County Commissioners voted to approve a constitutional support resolution Tuesday night.  This resolution was different from a 2nd Amendment sanctuary resolution many other counties in North Carolina have passed.

For 3 months, Macon County commissioners have been discussing this – and Tuesday night’s meeting was the biggest yet.

Lilly Knoepp

On Thursday, Buncombe County officals kicked off its new weekly meetings to update the public on Coronavirus(COVID-19).  

 

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