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Ka-chunk, ka-chunk … Ka-chunk, ka-chunk….

For over a century the sound of wheels on wood have greeted residents of and visitors to the Lake Junaluska Assembly alike as cars, trucks, people and pets cross the bridge over the Lake Junaluska Dam.

As the sturdy old stake-bed dump truck — held together largely with rusty steel coat hangers — scrambled up the mountain laden with over a cord of firewood, the man behind the wheel finally found the address and pulled up the driveway.

Although Richard Reeves has spent the last 12 years splitting wood in an empty lot off Lea Plant Road in Hazelwood, he certainly hasn’t been alone in that endeavor; a plethora of locals — in that paradoxical individualistic, communal mountaineer spirit — give what they can, when they can, how they can.

Fourteen Macon County charities are vying for a piece of Franklin’s $40,000 nonprofit funding pool, but not all organizations will walk away with their full request. 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians threw its support behind the cause of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota when Tribal Council voted to give $50,000 toward a legal battle to prevent construction of an oil pipeline north of Standing Rock Sioux land.

In the second quarter of 2016, Burnsville Republican State Rep. Michelle Presnell only received one contribution that wasn’t from a political action committee, a professional association or another candidate.

fr championChampion Credit Union donated $100,000 last week to nine local school systems in the communities it serves — including Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

fr wcusenateWestern Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher had a heart-to-heart with university faculty last week about the controversy over a politically charged financial gift to WCU from the conservative Koch Foundation.

fr libraryKaren Wallace knows the importance of a library. “In a rural area, the library is the single greatest man-made resource offered to residents and tourists,” she said.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino has donated $10,000 to Friends of the Smokies in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this year.

The contribution recognizes the value of having the most visited national park in the country at Cherokee’s doorstep.

“I can remember as a child sitting under an apple tree under the highway watching the traffic go by just bumper to bumper,” said Joyce Dugan, the director of Communications and Relations for Harrah’s.

While Cherokee is a unique tourist draw in its own right, Dugan said the creation of the park instantly catapulted Cherokee into a tourism economy.

“There was a little dabbling in tourism prior to the park opening because there was curiosity about Indians. But being the gateway to the park brought thousands more through,” Dugan said. “There was just one way in and one way out. It really did open up Cherokee.”

Harrah’s sees 3.5 million visitors a year — roughly the same number that the North Carolina side of the Smokies sees every year.

“I think we share some of the same patrons,” Dugan said. “I think we can work hand in hand and promote each other.”

Cherokee has been retooling its tourism image in recent years. A large part of the new image has involved incorporating themes of nature into architecture and town layout, and promoting the Tribe’s various cultural tourism attractions like the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama, and the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

The park means more to the tribe than just tourism, however. The Cherokee have a spiritual connection with the landscape that was preserved by the park’s creation.

“As a tribe in these United States, our role should always be about the protection of the earth,” said Dugan, who previously served as chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “That’s what we stood for: not taking from the earth anything you could not use and always giving back. But we have adopted so many modern ways, we tend to abuse it, too. The park serves as a reminder to us of what preservation is all about.”

Dugan said there is some resentment against the park for the recent loss of gathering rights, which the Cherokee see as their right as native peoples. Cherokee historically were allowed to gather wild plants — mushrooms, berries, ramps, herbs, greens and the like. The park has recently tried to put an end to the special status afforded to the Cherokee people.

“Even though there have been resentments along the way, we know what a wonderful thing it was,” Dugan said of the park. “I think sometimes personally, ‘What if that park had not been designated? What would it look like?’ I just can’t imagine. In that respect, most all of us here who are Cherokee appreciate that.”

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