News in brief: I-26 connector meeting, Hump Mountain, veterans train service dogs

HUMP DAY: Hikers on the Appalachian Trail take in the view from Hump Mountain in the Highlands of Roan. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy transferred a 324-acre tract on Hump Mountain to the U.S. Forest Service in November. The land is now part of Cherokee National Forest. Photo by Don Pugh

NCDOT to hold I-26 Connector meeting

A big public highway project deserves a big public input session, and that’s just what the N.C. Department of Transportation will host to discuss plans for the Interstate 26 Connector and Riverside Drive widening projects in Asheville. Beginning with an open house 4-6:30 p.m., the Tuesday, Dec. 4, meeting will also include a presentation at 7 p.m. followed by a public hearing. The event takes place at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, 31 Woodfin St., downtown Asheville.

In addition to recording spoken comments during the public meeting, NCDOT will accept written comments on both projects until Friday, Jan. 4.

Project maps and information will be available at the meeting and can also be viewed online at The NCDOT has established a toll-free hotline for the I-26 Connector project at 800-233-6315.

Hump Mountain land transfer

Using funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, the U.S. Forest Service purchased a 324-acre tract near the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan from the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. The land is now part of Cherokee National Forest.

SAHC purchased the tract last year in hopes that LWCF funding would facilitate the transaction that was completed this month. A grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also helped transfer the property to public ownership.

Despite the success of its effort to preserve the Hump Mountain tract, SAHC warned that future land conservation efforts are threatened by policy changes at the federal level.

“Unfortunately, Congress allowed the LWCF to expire Sept. 30, after 53 years as America’s most successful conservation program,” Jay Leutze, SAHC trustee and spokesperson for the LWCF Coalition, said in a press release. “We certainly hope this project is not the last one we get to do in this treasured landscape. Congress should reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF immediately before we lose the opportunity to save more places like Hump Mountain.”

More information about the LWCF is available at

Service dog training program helps veterans

Warrior Canine Connection has teamed up with Buncombe County’s Veterans Treatment Court to offer a service dog training option for veterans involved with the criminal justice system.

Veterans train service dogs for fellow veterans, a process that also promotes their own recovery from combat-related trauma and satisfies required community service commitments. The training takes place weekly at the courthouse, and veterans may participate in the program throughout the VTC process.

The Asheville program is WCC’s sixth; other locations include four counties in California and one program in Baltimore.

“Working with Clifford, I feel normal. I feel like a person again,” said one program participant in a WCC press release. “The best way to put it — Clifford keeps me calm. He is always happy to see me. And he responds to my moods. I am learning that I can control how I feel. And instead of being alone with my thoughts, I am often focusing on Clifford.”

Judge Marvin Pope commented that WCC “has brought a new sense of joy into the courtroom that directly mirrors our nonpunitive and supportive approach. I am seeing veterans [who] are otherwise isolated and reserved (from unaddressed PTSD symptomatology) coming to life. … While we are training the service animal, it is actually a mutual process of growth and healing.”



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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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