op frEver know you are in a good place at the right time? Every now and then that sentiment — about living Western North Carolina right now — overwhelms me.

I’ve been messing around with newspapers and journalism in some form or another since I was 13. It’s a vocation that puts one in contact with all kinds of people and takes one to all kinds of places. So I’m mostly beyond those “gee whiz” moments that are often part of the job.

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Columnist

I’ve had quite a few cars on the road in the past 40 years, and I’ve noticed that they all start to fall apart when the odometer begins showing nervously higher figures. The breakdowns that happen depend largely on how hard the operator has been on the pedals and buttons and how diligent they have been in preventative maintenance and regular upkeep. 

op frI’m not sure it represents a new philosophy or perhaps is just an acknowledgement of reality, but the decision by the state Department of Transportation to hold off on any further planning for the massive Southern Loop project in Jackson County was certainly welcome news.

It was September 2001 when the controversy over this proposed bypass erupted in Jackson County and made its first appearance in the pages of The Smoky Mountain News. Malcom MacNeil, the former owner of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, was circulating a petition from the very outset that garnered more than 500 signatures to get the state to back off the project.

op frBy Doug Wingeier • Guest Columnist

In a previous letter, I described how devastating to human beings our current immigration system is. The flaws are many and obvious. But disagreement arises as to how to correct them. I believe that a just system can only come about through legalizing the status of all immigrant workers and their families, and providing a smooth, transparent road to citizenship. This reform should include:

op frThe Lake Junaluska Assembly is marking its 100th anniversary this year, and a plethora of activities will take place at the Methodist conference center during the July 4 week. I’m not Methodist, but because of my job as a journalist in this region, I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact the Lake has had on Haywood County and the surrounding area. And I’m not talking about economics and tourism and dollars, though it has a positive impact in that area as well.

op cardenEditor’s note: Marie Cochran attended the production of the “Liar’s Bench” on June 20 at the Mountain Heritage Center on the WCU campus and wrote this review for The Smoky Mountain News.

I am very familiar with the term “the Liars Bench” in its practice of casual storytelling among Southern men sitting in the courthouse square and at barbershops; yet I was skeptical to hear this lighthearted phrase associated with the account of 19 Black men who drowned on a chain gang only decades after the Civil War.

As a disclaimer, for the last month I’ve been a witness to the assemblage of information and a participant in debates that raged about the proper way to engage a diverse audience. Yet, I waited like every other audience member wondering whether “Tears in the Rain” would be told as a gruesome ghost story, a sorrowful tale of faceless men who perished in an unfortunate accident, or an insightful portrayal of a human tragedy.

op frThere’s just not much exciting about turning 14, but that’s what The Smoky Mountain News turned a couple of weeks ago. I can keep up with our age because of the volume number on the front of this edition and because I track it by my son’s birthday. He was just shy of a year old when we started, and this summer he’ll turn 15 and take driver’s ed. 

It’s a middling anniversary, not like 10 or 15, and it seems a long way yet to 20. Still, I sometimes pinch myself or throw cold water on my face and wonder if I’m dreaming. When we hatched the idea for this newspaper more than 14 years ago, and when the first edition of  The Smoky Mountain News rolled off the presses on June 5, 1999, I had no idea whether we would survive. Way back then, it was more a dream than a well-planned business venture.

op frBy Doug Woodward • Guest Columnist

What entity in our community serves the needs of every one of our citizens, whether that person is 3 years old or has been around for 90 years? And what place is this which can offer the same level of service to the wealthy and disadvantaged alike? Some organizations or businesses can offer services to a small segment of our population, but only one — our Fontana Regional Library System — can claim to open its doors to everyone.

 

Many who aren’t familiar with our library may say, “Oh yeah, they lend out books and old movies.” That limited viewpoint usually means that the speaker hasn’t set foot in the library in recent years, and sometimes we even find a commissioner or state representative who falls into that category.

op frIt was a great day for a picnic … or a baseball game. The sun hung there above the horizon like a hanging curveball, warm and inviting, and the air was as still as a sleeping cat curled up in a laundry basket of freshly dried towels. A spring day so perfectly placid often portends a storm, and in this case, as I stood there in right-centerfield flanked by my center fielder, Andy, and my right fielder, Rees, I was afraid the storm was just about ready to rage in the form of a furious rally by the Braves, the leaders of the Mountaineer Little League Farm League and proud owners of a 7-2 league record.

Our team, the Cubs, had jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Braves had the bases loaded with two outs. A base hit here would plate at least two, and probably three runs, cutting significantly into our lead.

op frAlice Aumen, one of the owners of Cataloochee Ranch and a longtime tourism booster in Haywood County and Western North Carolina, hit the nail on the head: “It’s a vision problem.”

She was referring to the decision by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, not to support the proposed room tax hike for Haywood County because a small, vocal contingent of lodging owners and two town aldermen in Maggie Valley came out against it. Because everyone in Haywood would not support the hike, Davis allowed it to die in committee. That means hundreds of thousands of dollars for tourism-related capital projects will not find its way to Haywood County.

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