Here’s a look at what’s happening around Western North Carolina:
College-campus fun: Western Carolina University recently opened a new $16.7 campus-recreation center to students, the Smoky Mountain News reports. “In the building’s 73,000 square feet of space, visitors can ascend a 50-foot climbing wall; play basketball or volleyball on two multipurpose courts; lift weights; get their heart rate up on treadmills or other cardiovascular equipment; or meet with a personal trainer in a private fitness assessment room. Upstairs, they can join a yoga, step, spinning or other class in one of two mirror-lined group exercise studios, or walk or jog on the indoor one-eighth-mile track.”
Questions about money and director of mental-health agency: The Smoky Mountain News also reports that Tom McDevitt, the head of the Smoky Mountain Center for Mental Health, has come under fire from his board for allegedly taking advantage of his position at the top of the state’s largest mental-health-care agency. An investigation by the newspaper reveals several alleged red flags, including: profits his wife may have made off real-estate transactions involving the agency’s nonprofit Evergreen Foundation; subsidizing his salary with funds from the nonprofit; employing his daughter; and falsely inflating his Smoky Mountain Center salary.
Tackling the AT in record time: Jennifer Pharr Davis, a 2001 Hendersonville High School graduate, finished hiking the Appalachian Trail in record time recently. Davis finished her assisted hike in 57 days, eight hours and 35 minutes — 30 days faster than another woman, according to the Hendersonville Times-News. Davis undertook the challenge to honor the memory of murder victims Meredith Emerson and John and Irene Bryant, who were killed last year in public forests, the paper reports.
New VA center opens:: A new VA center opened in Franklin recently to much hoopla, according to the Macon News. Nearly 700 people attended the Aug. 20 ribbon cutting. The clinic is expected to serve 3,300 veterans in six Western North Carolina counties, as well as Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Natural causes, not snake bite, killed woman: Autopsy reports reveal that it was cirrhosis of the liver, and not a snake bite, that killed a Marion woman on Memorial Day, reports the McDowell News.
• The McDowell News also reports that the Swift Galey textile manufacturer has announced that it plans to close its Marion facility that’s been a fixture there, in various incarnations, for decades. Some 283 workers are headed for unemployment.
Movies downtown: Folks in Forest City want to build a downtown cinema and have it up and running by December 2009.
Celebrity sighting: Golfer Padraig Harrington, winner of the British Open golf championship the past two years and the recent winner of this year’s PGA Championship, stopped by Tryon to show off his Claret Jug, pick up an honorary citizenship certificate and let folks know that he plans to build a home at the White Oak golf and equestrian community in Polk County.
Drink up: Voters in Boone recently approved mixed-drink sales in the town limits by a vote of 1,106 to 408. The Boone Saloon said it will take a couple of weeks to get the proper licenses secured before the first drink can be poured, the Watauga Democrat reports.
Drought shuts paper mill: Blue Ridge Paper Products, Haywood County’s largest employer, has partially shut down operations several weeks before its typical September slow-down, the Haywood County News and Asheville Citizen-Times report. “The region’s drought led to the move, Canton Mayor Pat Smathers said. The plant-owned reservoir, Lake Logan, is nearly depleted. The mill uses the lake to supplement water flow from the Pigeon River, which is critical to Blue Ridge’s production of paperboard for drink containers.”
Real-estate sticker shock: Graham County’s tax assessor says residents can expect the value of property to go way up in this year’s property revaluation process, which is done every eight years in the county. “There will definitely be sticker shock,” Blair Hyder, the county’s tax assessor, told the Graham Star.
N.C. Christmas tree: North Carolina will provide one of the White House Christmas trees again this year, according to this blog referenced by the BooneWeb blog. “Rusty Estes and Jessie Davis of River Ridge Tree Farms in Ashe County won the National Christmas Tree Grand Championship held as part of the National Christmas Tree Association’s annual meeting, which ended Saturday. They’re scheduled to provide the Christmas tree for the White House Blue Room this season. It will be the 11th time since the program started in 1966 that a North Carolina tree will be in the place of honor in the White House.”
Cow paddy bingo winner: Whitey the cow helped Tim Reynolds of Hayesville win $2,000 in a fund-raising game of cow paddy bingo out in Clay County recently. The money goes to the Hayesville Quarterback Club, which benefits local high school football teams.
So what is cow paddy bingo? The Clay County Progress explains: “During ‘cow paddy bingo,’ a cow is turned loose on a fenced-in area which has been marked off in 1,024, numbered squares. The cow determines the winner by making the first ‘deposit’ on one of the squares. Chances on each square are sold with only one grand prize and eight winners who border that square.”
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor