Swain County

Bear Allison

The mountains and forests of Western North Carolina are some of the most visited in the country.  Thanks to that, the region is a hub for the outdoor recreation industry.  BPR’s reports on how a new partnership wants more awareness of the local industry:

Author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle said mountain biking changed her life. She became an avid rider when the Fire Mountain Trails opened on the Qualla Boundary.  She said biking helped her finish her most recent novel ‘Even As We Breathe.’  

Courtesy of Swain County YouTube

National calls for stronger gun control legislation have prompted some Swain County residents to ask commissioners to make the county a 2nd Amendment sanctuary. Donna Cole brought forward almost 1000 signatures to the commission in support of the resolution in March. Cole said that citizens need to be able to defend themselves.

“If you take the weapons away from the regular people, then the only people that are going to have weapons are the criminals,” said Cole, who is 66. 

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. 

Courtesy of Camp Watia

Summer camps are a big part of the culture of Western North Carolina. There are over 70 camps of all types for kids of all ages at the western end of the state. Many are still deciding if they will close due to COVID-19. 

Singing songs around a campfire, canoeing, team building - these are all activities that are associated with summer camp. They are also activities that require close contact - something that isn’t possible in a social distancing world of COVID-19.  

“Capture the flag is a big activity for us that we do every Sunday.”

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

  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. 

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: 

Important GOP Primary In NC House District 119

Mar 2, 2020

Voters in Tuesday's primary in North Carolina will decide party nominees at the federal, state, and local levels.  One race in Western North Carolina will decide whether the region’s biggest political rivalry will get another go.

Lilly Knoepp

The North Carolina Department of Transportation owed $18 million to counties across the state over the last 6 months because of budgeting issues.   

Public Transportation departments across Western North Carolina are running out of money. They have not yet received funds from one state program.

In Swain County, that means the transit department worried it wouldn’t be able to fund transportation across the sparsely populated county of 14,000 people much longer.  It’s waiting on $120,000 dollars. 

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

The mountains of Western North Carolina offer beautiful views and outdoor activities but the topography is often a challenge for the state department of transportation. 

Here are a few important updates on local roads in the region:

US Route 441- Jackson County

Lilly Knoepp

Update 1/11/2020: NC DOT has announced that the road through the Nantahala Gorge will be closed until Monday at 7am. 

U.S. Routes 19 and 74  through the Nantahala Gorge are closed today and tomorrow. State department of transportation crews are working to clean up debris caused by the landslide that happened on Saturday.  DOT Spokesman David Uchiyama says today’s closure is preventive. 

Lilly Knoepp

  While policymakers are working to change the laws around opioid prescriptions, local communities are working to educate parents about how to talk to their children.  

We head to the Bryson City library where a nonprofit is trying to educate parents about drugs.

Kaye McConnell of Renew Bryson City is taking parents around a bedroom she has set up in the auditorium of the Marianna Black Library.

“So do you like the vase?” asks McConnell.  “It’s a pretty bong.”

Courtesy of NOC

Aurelia Kennedy, co-founder of Nantahala Outdoor Center passed away on Saturday morning at her home in Wesser, NC. She was 84 years old. Kennedy moved to Swain County with her husband Peyton in 1973 to start the company with their friend Horace Holden. Holden passed away earlier this year. Now the company is a multimillion dollar business with locations in four states.

US Forest Service

Hazardous conditions due to rockslides that occurred last weekend have closed the Nantahala River through the Nantahala Gorge according to the U.S. Forest Service.  That means all boating and other uses are prohibited through one of the most popular areas for outdoor water recreation in the region.  

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.

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

  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.



Lilly Knoepp

Despite this week’s summer temperatures, the weather will chill across the mountains this weekend. Here are tips from a horticulture expert on when you should start planting for summer.


Don’t be fooled by the flowers and tomato plants on sale across the region, says Christy Bredenkamp Horticulture Extension Agent for NC State. We aren’t past the “frost-free” date just yet: “So the Internet says the end of April is the last frost date and May 4th or 5th and May 10 and May 15th. I’ve seen all those dates - so which one is right?”


  A bill in the North Carolina General Assembly would allow Swain County to control more of the money it was paid by the federal government for the so-called ‘Road To Nowhere.”

Cory Vailliancourt

Additional reporting by Cory Vailliancourt


Governor Roy Cooper visited Nantahala Outdoors Center as a part of his Western North Carolina tour on Friday.


Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Blue Ridge Public Radio will hold its first ever joint listening session with Smoky Mountain News on Thursday April 18th in Bryson City.  We want to hear from you - what are the issues impacting your community most, and how might our outlets best cover them.  Tell us from 6:30 to 7:30 at Nantahala Brewing at 61 Depot Street in Bryson City.  We hope to see you there!  This will be the first of many listening sessions BPR will hold with our news partners across across our listening area over the next ye

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Blue Ridge Public Radio will hold its first ever joint listening session with Smoky Mountain News on Thursday April 18th in Bryson City.  We want to hear from you - what are the issues impacting your community most, and how might our outlets best cover them.  Tell us from 6:30 to 7:30 at Nantahala Brewing at 61 Depot Street in Bryson City.  We hope to see you there!  This will be the first of many listening sessions BPR will hold with our news partners across across our listening area over the next ye

Photo courtesy of Great Smokies Health Foundation

  Since the Mission Health-HCA sale officially closed, the charitable foundation created with the proceeds of the sale - Dogwood Health Trust - is now official too.  While it will be the largest such foundation for Western North Carolina, it’s not the first created by the sale of a health system.  


Lilly Knoepp

 Access to healthcare can be difficult all over Western North Carolina - but that’s especially true in the rural parts of the region, where hospitals are far apart and average incomes are lower than in Asheville.

One of the few free clinics in Western North Carolina is located in Bryson City.

Lilly Knoepp

  The North Carolina Department of Commerce released its economic development ratings for all 100 counties. Here’s more on what that means and how Western North Carolina ranked:


Lilly Knoepp

The U.S. government came through on a 75-year-old promise to Swain County when it paid the final dollars of a settlement for the so-called “Road To Nowhere” this month. However, officials say that the county won't see the additional funding until next year.

The federal government said it will finally pay a debt it has owed the state since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.


(CORRECTION - This story has been updated to reflect other WNC legislators who sponsored medicinal marijuana legislation) 

Opioid abuse claims almost four lives per day in the state of North Carolina – leaving some patients to shun the post-surgical benefits of these powerful painkillers altogether.  Recent comments from a Western North Carolina legislator suggest there may be a renewed effort to fill that gap by putting some medical marijuana laws on the books.