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MerleFest 2015 – In One Week!

Preparations are well underway for MerleFest 2015, presented by Window World, which officially begins next Thursday, April 23, at 2:30 p.m., and runs through Sunday, April 26, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

With over 80 acts performing on 13 stages during the four-day festival, attendees should expect the unexpected with special surprises, spontaneous jam sessions and one-of-a-kind musical collaborations.

“It seems our fans are really thrilled about this year’s complete lineup. They always get excited to see Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, David Holt, The Kruger Brothers, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and others who performed with Doc Watson. And, we are pleased to welcome back Hot Rize, last seen at MerleFest in 2003. This will mark the first MerleFest appearance for Grammy Award-winning The Earls of Leicester,” said Ted Hagaman, festival director. “Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s 2015 appearance is creating a lot of buzz as well.

“Of course, we will continue to honor and memorialize Doc, who helped found this festival. Through his guidance and artistic creativity, MerleFest has grown into a world-class festival. MerleFest will always honor the memory and contributions of Doc and his son Merle,” added Hagaman. “As always, we take pride in the diversity presented in our lineup. That is a credit to Doc Watson, who always believed that all genres of music should be celebrated.”

As in previous years, the list of performers fits the “traditional plus” definition originally described by the late Doc Watson. Watson coined this term to describe the unique mix of music found at MerleFest: traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock, “plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play,” Doc said.

The complete lineup and stage schedules are posted at www.merlefest.org and available on the MerleFest mobile app; festival updates are delivered via Twitter (@MerleFest) and Facebook.

Thursday, April 23, will feature performances by artists that include Trampled By Turtles, Lee Ann Womack, Hot Rize, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Larry Stephenson Band and others. That afternoon, participants in Pete Wernick’s MerleFest Bluegrass Jam Camp will perform on the Cabin Stage, and the Opening Night Dance with Donna the Buffalo will begin at 10 p.m. at the Dance Stage.

Thursday is also a day for community outreach, with several MerleFest artists visiting and performing at local schools. MerleFest Outreach touches the lives of nearly 11,000 students each year.

On Friday, April 24, fans will hear performances by The Marshall Tucker Band, Jim Lauderdale and North Mississippi Allstars, The Earls of Leicester, the Del McCoury Band performing songs of Woody Guthrie, Sam Bush Band, Bruce Robinson and Kelly Willis, The Kruger Brothers, Spinney Brothers, Chatham County Line, Mipso, Ballie & The Boys, The Honeycutters and others.

Finalists in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest compete on Friday to determine who will win first place and some great surprises, including the opportunity to record a song with Pinecastle Records. The culmination of the contest is Friday evening when contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale announces the winners, and the songwriters perform the winning entries on the Cabin Stage at 8 p.m.

Friday also offers the Doc and Merle Watson Performing Arts Showcase, hosted by Joe Smothers and Bob Hill of Frosty Morn on the Austin Stage. The series is intended as a diverse, eclectic sampling of local and regional talent, allowing festival-goers to see the artists in a more intimate setting. And in what is becoming a “must-do” event, Scythian’s Friday night show at the Dance Stage will start at 10:30 pm – it’s recommended that you get there early!

The lineup for Saturday, April 25, includes performances by The Avett Brothers, Willie Watson, The Gibson Brothers, Peter Rowan, Blue Highway, JOHNNYSWIM, The Jim Lauderdale Band, The Steel Wheels, Front Country, Del Barber, New Country Rehab and Blind Boy Paxton, among others.

In the afternoon, fans can enjoy theDoc Watson Guitar Tribute on the Watson Stage, starting at 1:45 p.m., with host Jack Lawrence and David Holt, T Michael Coleman, The South Carolina Broadcasters, Roy Book Binder, Tim Stafford (Blue Highway), Bill Mize, Stephen Mougin, Uwe Kruger, Adam Lawrence and Jacob Burleson.

Also of note will be several events at the Creekside Stage, including “Memories of Doc and Merle,” hosted by T. Michael Coleman (with many special guests expected) and the always-popular Mando Mania set.

The MerleFest 2015 Band Competition kicks off at the Plaza Stage at 10 a.m. on Saturday, as well. Music fans can watch ten bands perform sets throughout the day, with the winning band earning a coveted performance slot on the Watson Stage at 4:30 pm.

The highly-anticipatedHillside Album Hour – where a revered or iconic album is performed live from start to finish – will once again be hosted by The Waybacks, with many surprise guests joining in the performance, including previously announced guest lead singer Joan Osborne. The Midnight Jam will take place in the Walker Center (separate ticket required and available for purchase by 4-day and 3-day ticket holders and Saturday-only ticket holders). This year’s Jam is presented in partnership with The Bluegrass Situation and hosted by The Steel Wheels. In addition to The Steel Wheels, the Midnight Jam will feature Willie Watson, Jim Lauderdale, The Gibson Brothers, Front Country, Mipso, New Country Rehab, The Honey Dewdrops, Moore Brothers Band and Stephen Mougin, along with a few other surprises.

Sunday, April 26, will feature performances by Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Steep Canyon Rangers, The Kruger Brothers with the Kontras Quartet performing “Lucid Dreamer,” Paul Thorn, The Black Lillies, Shannon Whitworth and others.

In addition to the Sunday Blues with Roy Bookbinder set, featuring Richard Watson, Doug MacLeod, Blind Boy Paxton, Veronika Jackson, Rev. Robert B. Jones and Charles Welch, fans can experience the “Spirit of Sunday” set with the Nashville Bluegrass Band as well as the Gospel Hour with Jim Avett.

Throughout the four-day festival, the Dance Stage will feature various workshops and dance instruction with plenty of opportunities for festival attendees to cut loose with some stellar music performers. Additionally, Mayes Pit/Cohn Auditorium in Thompson Hall at MerleFest is devoted to a wide variety of workshops and demonstrations on Friday and Saturday, where world-class performers share their expertise with attendees. Avid MerleFest fans will be interested in the “History of MerleFest” workshop being presented by “B” Townes, the first director of MerleFest, who worked very closely with Doc Watson to bring MerleFest to life. The Songwriters Showcase Coffeehouse at the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall offers a venue where songwriters can showcase their original songs. The Pickin’ Place is an area for musicians of all levels and genres to meet old friends and make new ones while singing and playing their favorite tunes together.

The Acoustic Kids Showcases will be held: Friday, Austin Stage 5:30-7 p.m.; Saturday, Dance Stage 10-11:30 a.m.; and Saturday, Mayes Pit 3:45-5:15 p.m. Additionally, from among this year’s pool of applicants, several performers will be chosen for a special “Acoustic Kids Ambassadors” performance hosted by Andy May on the Cabin Stage, Saturday 6:20-6:45 p.m. These showcases allow music fans the opportunity hear the next generation of pickers, singers and traditional-style artists.

The Little Pickers Family Area offers children’s activities, crafts and entertainment, as well as performances at the Little Pickers Stage. Children can also meet Flattop, the big raccoon who serves as the MerleFest mascot.

In addition to music, MerleFest offers special activities and shopping, all in a family-friendly atmosphere. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally-located shopping village featuring demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia and services such as first aid, lost and found, and Internet access. Lowes Foods “Raised Right Here,” offering fruit, vegetables and deli-style sandwiches, will be a welcome addition to the expanded list of food vendors that will be at the festival this year.

Also new to MerleFest is the Belk Lounge, which will be located between the Traditional and Americana stages. Festival patrons can relax like a VIP there, as well as register to win prizes, receive special giveaways, and use the lounge’s cellphone charging station.

For those who would like to start their day with a little Downward Facing Dog, a yoga class will be offered at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning at the Dance Stage. Beginners and yogis alike are welcome to attend! Additionally, nature walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus will be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“For those wanting an affordable weekend getaway, MerleFest provides a true value to its customers,” said festival director Ted Hagaman. “The admission prices are extremely reasonable – especially considering that we feature over 80 acts on 13 stages. Also, there are no hidden charges. We provide free parking, a free shuttle that will deliver you to the entrance, a free program guide as you enter, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area for children offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”

Tickets for MerleFest may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A ticket discount is still available through April 22, 2015, and tickets will be available for purchase at the gate. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the extended early bird discount.

MerleFest 2015 is presented by Window World. MerleFest is grateful to 90+ sponsors and advertisers for their support in making the event possible, including: Belk, Pepsi, Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Tyson, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, The InterFlex Group, Hardee’s, Winston-Salem Journal, WXII 12, the Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, Bojangles’, Carolina Ford Dealers, Carolina West Wireless, CenturyLink, Lowes Foods, Wilkes Communications, Wilkes Regional Medical Center, Wells Fargo and Mast General Store. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at www.MerleFest.org.

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

Sen. Rucho introduces sales tax bill; Critics Say It Would Not Benefit WNC

In a March press conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, released a plan that would shift from a sales tax distribution formula favoring counties where items are purchased to one based solely on a per capita distribution.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenberg, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he agrees with the basic idea of moving to a system that distributes sales tax revenue based on a per-capita basis rather than the current system, which distributes most revenue based on the location of the sale.

But Rucho said the plan put on the table in late March by Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, would have too negative an impact on most cities. An analysis of Brown’s bill by the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division showed that while 93 out of 100 county governments would see an increase, a majority of municipal governments in WNC would see a loss of revenue. Asheville, for instance, would lose roughly $4 million in annual revenue, according to analysis of Brown’s plan.

Rucho said last week his bill, S608, makes the change to per-capita distribution in a way that reduces the hit to cities and the seven counties, including Avery, Buncombe, Macon and Watauga, that stand to lose revenues once the formula changes. Under Ruchos plan, some services that are not currently subject to sales taxes would have to start charging them.

Another sales tax bill introduced in the House would allow counties to raise local sales taxes by 1/4 cent without holding a voter referendum.

Emissions tests not needed in Haywood, Henderson, Rutherford

Emissions tests for cars and trucks are no longer necessary to protect air quality in more than half the counties where state testing is currently required.

That was the conclusion of a study the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources provided the General Assembly last week.

Legislators in 2013 directed DENR to conduct a study on whether all of the counties covered under the motor vehicle emissions testing program are needed to meet and maintain current and proposed federal ozone standards in North Carolina. Cars and trucks collectively are the largest source of emissions that lead to ozone formation in the state.

“North Carolina’s air quality has improved significantly since emissions testing requirements were expanded for motor vehicles in the early 2000s,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of DENR. “We studied the air quality improvements for this report and concluded that we could eliminate emissions testing for motor vehicles in numerous counties without harming air quality or violating federal standards.”

The elimination of emissions tests would save car owners $16.40 per vehicle each year in counties where tests are currently required after the first three model years, state officials estimate. Safety inspections are still required in all 100 counties, costing owners $13.60 per vehicle each year.

The state currently requires emissions testing in 48 of its 100 counties. The DENR study determined that North Carolina could eliminate testing in 27-to-31 of those counties by Jan. 1, 2016, depending on the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency revises the current national ozone standard.

The EPA proposed a more revised ozone standard in December 2014, and plans to adopt a new standard by Oct. 1, 2015. The current ozone standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb) measured over 8 hours, and the EPA has proposed lowering (or strengthening) the standard to a level in the 65-70 ppb range.

If the EPA sets the standard at 65 ppb, DENR recommends eliminating testing in 27 counties: Brunswick, Burke, Caldwell, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Craven, Edgecombe, Franklin, Harnett, Haywood, Henderson, Lee, Lenoir, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Robeson, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson. If the standard is set at 70 ppb, the recommendation includes four additional counties: Granville, Orange, Pitt and Rockingham.

Changes to the counties covered by the program would require legislative approval. The report recommends further analyses during the coming year to determine whether additional counties could be removed from the program after 2016.

The department’s report on the auto emissions testing program can be found at: http://www.ncair.org/news/leg/Final_Report_HB_74_IM_Study.pdf.

Wandering Dangers Highlighted During Autism Awareness Month

Nearly half of children on the autism spectrum are believed to engage in wandering, a behavior that can end in tragedy. The U-S Senate is considering a bill known as Avonte’s Law, which would provide funding for police departments to purchase equipment that can help locate people with autism who go missing.

Wendy Fournier with the National Autism Association says those with autism typically wander to something of interest, or they flee an overwhelming environment, “Noises, lights and people and hearing five different conversations at the same time. That kind of stuff can be magnified for people on the spectrum. A lot of times the only thing they can do is run away. That’s the only way they can get any relief from that sensory overload.”

Fournier says due to challenges with communication and safety awareness, children or adults with autism can end up in dangerous situations when they wander. According to the Autism Society of North Carolina, the prevalence rate of autism in North Carolina is higher than the national average and stands at one out of every 58 children – versus one in 68 nationally.

Avonte’s Law is named after a 14-year-old with autism whose body was discovered in a river three months after he ran away from his New York City school. Fournier says the legislation also calls for training for law enforcement agencies to better recognize and respond to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “It’s really easy for a person with a communication disorder to come across as being uncooperative to the police so the police really need some training to start recognizing autism and other cognitive disorders.”

Fournier says parents are encouraged to implement measures that can prevent wandering, including security alerts on doors and ID bracelets or tracking devices for their child. She says swimming lessons are also crucial, “About 90 percent of the kids who die following a wandering incident die from drowning. Our kids are very, very attracted to water. So we recommend that everybody teach their child, make sure they know how to swim.”

April is Autism Awareness Month.

Spring fire season is here; be careful when burning debris

As crews fight two wildfires in Western North Carolina, the N.C. Forest Service is also urging residents across the state to exercise caution when burning debris during spring fire season, which typically lasts from March to May.

N.C. Forest Service shieldFirefighters from the NCFS and the U.S. Forest Service are battling the 595-acre Weed Lane Fire in Buncombe County. One home has been destroyed and five more damaged.

The NCFS is also assisting the USFS on the 150-acre Poplar Fire in Mitchell County. The causes of the fires are under investigation.

In spring, people do a lot of yard work that often includes burning leaves and yard debris. There are many factors to consider before burning any debris. The NCFS encourages residents considering debris burning to contact their local county forest ranger. The forest ranger can offer technical advice and explain what the best options are to help maximize the safety to people, property and the forest.

“Protect our natural resources by acting safely. Don’t burn on dry, windy days, and maintain a careful watch over a fire until it is extinguished,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

For people who choose to burn debris, the NCFS urges them to adhere to the following tips to protect property and prevent wildfires:

Consider alternatives to burning. Some yard debris, such as leaves and grass, may be more valuable if composted.

Check with your county fire marshal’s office for local laws on burning debris. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours; others forbid it entirely.

Make sure you have an approved burning permit, which can be obtained at any NCFS office, county-approved burning permit agent, or online at http://ncforestservice.gov.

Check the weather. Don’t burn if conditions are dry or windy.

Only burn natural vegetation from your property. Burning household trash or any other man-made materials is illegal. Trash should be hauled away to a convenience center.

Plan burning for the late afternoon when conditions are typically less windy and more humid.

If you must burn, be prepared. Use a shovel or hoe to clear a perimeter around the area where you plan to burn.

Keep fire tools ready. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, a steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire.
Never use flammable liquids such as kerosene, gasoline or diesel fuel to speed burning.

Stay with your fire until it is completely out. In North Carolina, human carelessness leads to more wildfires than any other cause. In fact, debris burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in the state.

These same tips hold true for campfires and barbeques, too. Douse burning charcoal briquettes or campfire thoroughly with water. When the coals are soaked, stir them and soak them again. Be sure they are out cold and carefully feel to be sure they are extinguished. Never dump hot ashes or coals into a wooded area.

Burning agriculture residue and forestland litter: In addition to the rules above, a fire line should be plowed around the area to be burned. Large fields should be separated into small plots for burning one at a time. Before doing any burning in a wooded area, contact your county ranger who will weigh all factors, explain them and offer technical advice.

For more information on ways you can prevent wildfires and loss of property visit http://ncforestservice.gov.

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina recognizes Child Abuse Prevention Month

North Carolina’s future prosperity relies on the healthy growth and development of all children. During April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) encourages all North Carolina citizens to come together to celebrate community efforts to ensure all children have great childhoods. When children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships with their parents and other adults in their community it builds healthy brain architecture, forming a sturdy foundation for future success.

Adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect result in toxic stress that damages the developing brain architecture. If left unaddressed, this leads to increased risk of academic failure, chronic long-term health issues, and increased crime rates and violence. One of the most effective ways to prevent these long-term consequences is to ensure children grow up in nurturing, supportive homes and communities. PCANC accomplishes this by raising awareness for effective child abuse prevention efforts, supporting local family support and parenting education programs in all 100 North Carolina counties, providing training and education opportunities for professionals and the public, and advocating for policies that benefit children and families.

“We invite every adult in our community to play an active role in the lives of the children and families they know,” said Bud Lavery, PCANC president and CEO. “By working together we can prevent child abuse and neglect and help all children grow up healthy and ready to make a positive impact on the future of our state.”

Jackson County students win Youth Art Month awards at WCU

More than 60 Jackson County school students received awards for work exhibited at Western Carolina University during Youth Art Month.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges that included WCU art education students and staff members of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Their art was among more than 300 student works selected by local art teachers for the display at the Bardo Center in March.

Several hundred people attended a reception held Sunday, March 22, to honor all of the young artists. The works ranged from painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics to basketry, printmaking and other visual arts. The exhibit ended Monday, March 23.

Youth Art Month is a national observance and WCU has hosted the exhibit for more than 30 years to celebrate and encourage school art programs.

“The Youth Art Month exhibit at WCU remains as the largest exhibition of children’s art in and from Jackson County,” said Erin Tapley, associate professor of art education who serves as the event coordinator. “It’s always great to watch the children get excited when they’ve found their piece and point it out to their proud families.”

The exhibit sponsors include Jack the Dipper Ice Cream of Sylva, Claymates Pottery of Dillsboro, Jackson County Arts Council, North Carolina Arts Council and WCU’s School of Art and Design, Art Education Club, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Bardo Center, Fine Art Museum and College of Education and Allied Professions.

Participating schools and the winners are:

Blue Ridge School – First place, Brittany Kinsey (grade seven); second place, Cazmarine Jones (grade nine); Teacher’s Choice Award, Jeffrey Burnette (grade 12); honorable mention, Cheyenne Bryson (grade 10).

Cherokee Elementary School – First place, Patricia Armachain (grade five); second place, Kamia Wiggins (grade four); Teacher’s Choice Award, Logan Biddix (grade one); honorable mentions, Hilarie Howell (grade two), Tyruss Thompson (grade two), Ahanu de los Reyes (grade two), Lilliann Bigmeat (grade three).

Cullowhee Valley School – First place, Alex Noltensmeyer (grade three); second place, Enoc Alvarado (grade two); Teacher’s Choice Award, Aliya Mayton (grade seven); Claymates Award, Carter Pastoris (grade six); honorable mentions, Serenity Shook (kindergarten), Kyle Shanklin (grade seven), Sarah Grider (grade seven), D.J. Drakeford (grade eight), Sierra Galayadick (grade eight).

Fairview School – First place, Tashi Hacskaylo (grade five); second place, Ty Howard (grade one); Teacher’s Choice Award, Cheyenne Clayton (grade eight); honorable mentions, Isabel Townsend (grade two), Coco Wells (grade three), Cole Stillwell (grade four), Brenan Martin (grade five), Jeff Stillwell (grade eight).

Jackson County School of Alternatives – First place, Solomon Elam (grade eight); second place, Kenneth Maney (grade 11); Teacher’s Choice Award, Lakota Russell (grade two); honorable mentions, Kim Pannell (grade nine), Tyler Fisher (grade 11).

Scott’s Creek School – First place, Chloe Ledford (grade four); second place, Landon Maloy (grade three); Teacher’s Choice Award, Bethany Cartwright (kindergarten); honorable mentions, Kason Powell (kindergarten), Devlin Bright (grade one), Iriss B. Connoly (grade two), Cadence Medford (grade two), Ryland McCoy (grade three), Georgie Schweinler (grade five), Oswaldo M. Salano (grade six).

Smokey Mountain Elementary School – First place, Laura Alich (grade four); second place, David Chiltowski (grade eight); Teacher’s Choice Award, Abby Branning (grade two); honorable mentions, Amarni Wachacha (grade one), Mason Napier (grade two), Teyha Price (grade six), Corbin Moore (grade seven), Hailey Carter (grade eight), Lucy Miller (grade eight).

Smoky Mountain High School – First place, Heather Mangus (grade 10); second place and WCU School of Art and Design Director’s award, Morgan Carpenter (grade 10); Teacher’s Choice Award, Emily Miller (grade 10); honorable mentions, Morgan Carpenter (grade 10), Amelia Ray (grade 10), Kendall Rhymer (grade 11), Casey Owen (grade 12), Emily Miller (grade 12), Allie Smith (grade 12).

Summit Charter School – First place, Megan Reihmeier (grade six); second place, Chase Coggins (grade eight); Teacher’s Choice Award, Ava Grace Kapdohr (kindergarten); honorable mentions, Benjamin Ball (grade two), Lalo Tepepa (grade three), Braden Collins (grade six), Leah Grace Craig (grade eight).

Study Shows Dangers of Teen Driving Distractions

A study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety simulated with dash cams what happens when a teen is distracted behind the wheel.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety hopes the study will shed light on the magnitude of the dangers in teen driving.

New statistics show the majority, 6 out of 10, of teens who crash were distracted. Those distractions don’t only include texting while driving but also talking to passengers and adjusting the radio.

Those numbers are more than four times the rate that officials previously estimated based on police accident reports.

People with the study, traffic safety groups, and Johnson all hope these shocking numbers are a wake up call for all teens behind the wheel and their parents.

44 states, including North Carolina and D.C., ban texting for all drivers. Now, people want tougher laws on teen driver cell phone use.

Monica Lewinsky and the Scourge of Adult Cyberbullying

A growing awareness of adult cyberbullying was underscored last Friday when Monica Lewinsky adressed it in a TED Talk. Cyberbullying can happen to people of any age, according to author Blair London, who heard some of her adult friends share stories of their experiences on social media.

After researching, she realized they were not alone. She says the “distance” provided by online communication can sometimes make people more cruel than in “real life.” “So, you get the friend of a friend of a friend, who doesn’t really care who this original person is, and so they don’t care if any harm comes to them.”

London recently published “Lure to Death,” a novel that centers on the issue of adult cyberbullying. Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky spoke publicly at a TED Talk in Vancouver last Friday on her experience with bullies who sent cruel messages to her via social media. According to no-bullying-dot-com, cyberbullying or “trolling” can play out with harassment, impersonation, or sharing someone’s secrets online.

In her speech, Lewinsky offered others encouragement as they struggle with cruelty online, “Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing. You can survive it. I know it’s hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story.”

London says while adult cyberbullying may be a growing problem, online cruelty between young people is nothing new. She says it often starts as “tweens” “friend” people for the sake of quantity and not quality, “Young people, I think that they collect friends. They go on the Internet at that young of an age and put things out there and they think nothing of it. They think they’ve got a friend out there.” North Carolina law prohibits anyone from using a computer or computer network to intimidate or torment a minor. The state also makes it a crime to “intimidate or torment” teachers online.

North Carolina Taxpayers Report Leaner State Returns in 2015

If you’re among the North Carolinians who already have filed your taxes, you may have noticed your state tax burden is a little greater this year. Greg Elder, a Spruce Pine tax preparer for H & R Block, says the state’s decision to eliminate tax credits like the earned-income tax credit from the tax system is impacting the budgets of his clients, “Most people, it boils down to a smaller North Carolina refund than they’ve received in the past. So if you’re making a plan prior to getting your taxes done that you’re going to use your North Carolina refund, don’t go buy that refrigerator just yet.”

The new system eliminated the tiered income-tax rates that were tied to income levels, setting the tax rate at 5.8% for 2014 and 5.75% for this year. The tax changes are a result of a tax overhaul passed in 2013 and put into effect for the 2014 tax year.

Alexandra Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center, says while her organization doesn’t take issue with the necessity of taxes, her analysis indicates the new tax model disproportionately impacts the working class, “The key thing about a tax system is it absolutely has to be adequate to meet the core public-service commitments that we need to be making as a state, but the way in which we raise revenue is really critical. ”

Sirota says taxpayers making less than $67,000 a year, about 80% of the state, will see their taxes increase under the tax plan. Even with that, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates state tax revenue will be down by about one-billion by the end of this year because of an overall reduction in corporate taxes.

Elder says while a tax refund is never a guarantee, the abrupt change in the state tax system is leaving many of his clients without a much needed boost this spring, “People do count on that money. It’s been similar for years and years and years, and so they had no reason to think that it wouldn’t be for tax year 2014.”

In addition to the EITC, deductions for medical expenses, retirement income, child care expenses and college 529 plans also were eliminated.

Law enforcement involved shooting in Transylvania County

The SBI is the lead investigating agency in a fatal shooting of a suspect in
Transylvania County near Brevard this evening.

The investigation is in its very early stages, but the SBI can confirm that
Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Alcohol Law Enforcement and a
federal agent were serving warrants when a suspect was fatally shot. More
information on the law enforcement involved and the person shot will be
shared as promptly as possible.

Information from the Sheriff’s department has not been release whether it was a deputies or another agency’s officers who pulled the trigger.

Public Comment on Murphy Branch Rail Line

The N.C. Department of Transportation (Rail Division) will hold a public meeting to review results of the recent study of reactivating the Murphy Branch rail line between Andrews and Murphy (A2M- Rail Reactivation Study). The meeting will be held on March 11 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Enloe Building on the campus of Tri-County Community College in Murphy.

In November 2014 NCDOT completed the Draft A2M Rail Reactivation Study which evaluated the market and investment viability of returning rail service to the Murphy Branch rail line.

NCDOT representatives, consultants and public officials will be available during the open-house style meeting to provide information, answer questions and collect comments regarding the study and the project in general. Citizens are welcome to attend at any time during the meeting hours. There will not be a formal presentation.

NCDOT purchased the 14 mile long Murphy Branch between Murphy and Andrews in 1988 from Norfolk Southern Railroad. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR) purchased the segment between Andrews and Dillsboro in 1996, and operates tourist excursions and some freight interchanges in Sylva.

With construction on a new casino resort in Murphy, this expansion could offer direct rail service from the Andrews Aiport.

Match Made in Heaven? NC Researcher Finds Social Class Impacts Relationships

Your compatibility with your partner may come down to dollars and cents, according to the research of a Duke University professor.

Sociologist Jessi Streib studied couples where each partner grew up in a different socio-economic class and found that even if you “marry up”, your upbringing still impacts decisions and behaviors, “People from different class backgrounds often had different ideas of how they wanted to live their daily lives, and this would would shape everything from how they would express emotions to how they wanted to spend their money. ”
Tag: Among her other findings is one that runs contrary to the notion held by many scholars that “strivers” can outrun a difficult childhood by getting a college degree and good paying middle-class job.

A person’s approach to raising children is also impacted by their economic upbringing. Streib says those who grew up in a financially depressed family choose to let their children have more control over their time, while people who grew up in the middle class tend to plan and make decisions for their children, “They wanted to organize and oversee and make sure things were going according to a plan and their partners who grew up with less privilege often had to kind of navigate unstable situations and so they wanted to approach things in a more spontaneous way. ”

Streib adds that the obstacles presented by a socio-economic “mismatch” can be overcome, provided the couple is mindful of their differences.

New regional care center will provide mental health, addiction treatment

A Buncombe County community partnership has succeeded in securing just under $2 million in grant funding from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to open a new 24-hour urgent care center and crisis facility for mental health and addiction treatment in Asheville.

The funding was awarded through the department’s Crisis Solutions Initiative, a statewide effort to improve mental health and substance use crisis services. Smoky Mountain LME/MCO (Smoky), which manages public funds for behavioral health and developmental disability services in western North Carolina, led a collaborative effort involving 22 area organizations to develop the new center.

The regional comprehensive care center is set to open later this year adjacent to Mission Hospital at 356 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, a facility currently occupied by Smoky. Smoky is relocating this spring to south Asheville.

Buncombe County owns the facility and has dedicated it for behavioral health functions. Mission Health and the county are partnering to provide a financial commitment for renovations, and Buncombe County Health and Human Services will provide in-kind operational support of $500,000 annually, which includes the cost of space, utilities and a 24-hour-a-day, on-site law enforcement officer.

“This comprehensive care center will operate under a philosophy that recovery from addiction or mental illness is not only possible, it happens,” said Smoky CEO Brian Ingraham. “Staff will offer crisis resolution, support, safety and real options for recovery. The co-location of multiple services at one site reflects a vision of community partners to provide ‘whole person’ care to people in need of medical, clinical and pharmacy services.”

In recent years, Buncombe and surrounding counties have seen unprecedented demand for behavioral health crisis services, stretching local hospital capacity. Many people in crisis feel they have no option except to visit an emergency department, which is not an ideal setting for this type of care to be delivered.

The center will serve both children and adults from Buncombe and surrounding counties and operate 16 beds for people in crisis and who need a secure place to stay while they receive therapy and medication.

The center will offer urgent behavioral healthcare and detox services, mobile crisis care, same-day assessments, outpatient therapy and intensive outpatient treatment for substance use. It will also house community and peer support and treatment teams. The center will also include a community pharmacy.

The center’s multi-disciplinary staff will include physicians, licensed clinicians, registered nurses, qualified professionals and security staff.

Certified peer support specialists will work with individuals receiving care at the center to offer hope and support, build trusting relationships and connect people to aftercare and community resources.

The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will offer on-site family support services.

RHA Health Services, Inc., a local service provider, will operate the facility, and the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry will provide pharmacy services. The Asheville Police Department and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will provide security, transportation and custody services for individuals under an involuntary commitment order.

One of the most exciting aspects of the development of the regional center is the ability to repurpose the Neil Dobbins Center across the street. Currently, the Neil Dobbins Center is an adult crisis stabilization and detox facility. As these programs move to the new regional comprehensive care center, the Neil Dobbins Center will be used as a facility-based crisis center for children and youth.

The DHHS Crisis Solutions Initiative aims to ensure that people experiencing an acute mental health or substance use crisis receive timely, specialized psychiatric treatment in coordination with available, appropriate community resources.

Each year, there are an estimated 150,000 visits to emergency departments in North Carolina related to an acute psychiatric or addictive disorder crisis, and 13 percent of individuals with a mental health crisis treated in an emergency department will return within 30 days, according to DHHS.

A Jump Start for New North Carolina Farmers

As the interest in locally produced foods grows, an increasing number of young people are looking to make a living farming the land.

Allison Kiehl with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy says there is a great need in North Carolina to have a successful flow of farmers producing local foods. But she says there are many challenges including the high price of land, which often is prime for development, “Agriculture is one of the biggest economic producers in our state, and farmers are aging and in a lot of cases they don’t have children that want to take over the farm, and sometimes the best option is to sell to development.”

The conservancy’s Farmer Incubator Program is initiating new agricultural businesses in North Carolina by offering new farmers access to land and equipment at reduced rates. Kiehl says farmers in the program also are given support, training and tools to help them run their businesses.
Second Cut: Land outside of Asheville protected by a conservation easement by the conservancy is also helping young farmers.

Gaining Ground Farm is leasing the land, and owner Anne Grier says they’ve doubled their production and expanded their Community Supported Agriculture Program. She says it provides stability because they can plan out what and how much they need to grow for the year, “The people pay ideally between now and March for produce that they’ll be getting from May until October, so it just helps us know what to grow in what volume, so it’s just a very secure thing. ”

The incubator program has allowed Matt Coffay of Second Spring Market Garden in Asheville to expand their CSA year round. He says they have more greenhouses for use, which has increased their winter food production. And aside from providing fresh, local food, he says the CSA is building community, “CSA is the pinnacle of story building with food. You’re able to actually build a relationship between an individual member of a CSA and an individual farmer, and that relationship can last for years.”

The incubator program was launched last year, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Appalachian Trail remeasured, total is 2,189 miles

Re-measurements and relocations of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) have brought the total mileage of the footpath to 2,189.2 miles, an increase of 3.9 miles from last year’s mileage of 2,185.3. This mileage is carefully documented in the trail’s official guidebooks, which include the Appalachian Trail Data Book and the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion. Both books are published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Every year, the latest mileage and shelter information is updated from volunteers who are constantly improving the Trail, with volunteer Daniel D. Chazin of Teaneck, New Jersey, leading the efforts since 1983. This year, more than half of the changes in the mileage are in southwest Virginia, with 2 miles added to the total following a re-measurement by volunteers.

Increases were also reported in New York-New Jersey (0.1 mile); central Virginia (0.1 mile); Tennessee-North Carolina (1.5 miles); and North Carolina-Georgia (0.2 mile).

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s guidebooks are invaluable planning resources for any Appalachian Trail hiker, whether they are out for a day hike or hiking the entire length from Maine to Georgia,” said Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the ATC. “These guides contain the latest information from volunteers who measure, maintain and manage the Trail and those who hike it regularly.”

Current editions of official A.T. guidebooks and maps are available from the Ultimate A.T. Store at www.atctrailstore.org or by calling 1.888.287.8673.

Volunteers donate more than 200,000 hours to maintain AT

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is pleased to announce that for fiscal year 2014, 5,617 volunteers reported 241,936 hours to maintaining and protecting the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for hikers to use. Since the ATC began collecting reports in 1983, individuals have contributed more than 5 million hours to the A.T., resulting in a volunteer network that is recognized worldwide.

The number of hours reported, which is the second highest since 1983, reveals a loyal commitment to the trail despite a government shutdown in October 2013 that resulted in volunteers being unable to work on National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service lands. Despite this sequestration, volunteers donated time equivalent to what is completed by 116 full-time workers and contributed to a wide variety of projects, including maintaining the A.T. corridor, monitoring and removing invasive species, supporting teachers in the Trail to Every Classroom (TTEC) program and assisting A.T. Communities near the Trail.

ATC volunteers represent 31 A.T. Maintaining Clubs and Trail Crews; Visitor Center and regional office volunteers; and participants in additional ATC programs, such as TTEC and the Appalachian Trail Community program. Though trail maintainers are perhaps the most visible, volunteers also participate in many other activities, from community outreach to local, regional and trail-wide management efforts.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy exists because of the generosity, talents and support of our volunteers – they are the very soul of the Appalachian Trail,” said Ron Tipton, executive director of the ATC. “The impressive number of volunteer hours reported for fiscal year 2014 illustrates a continued dedication to the preservation and management of the trail.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/volunteer.

Register now for Appalachian Farm School

Registration is now open for the 2015 Appalachian Farm School, a pilot program to centralize agricultural business training in a single program for farmers in the seven western counties of North Carolina. The course begins Jan. 29 and ends April 9, 2015, and takes place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on alternating Thursday evenings.

The AFS is a program of the Western North Carolina Food Policy Council (WNCFPC) with support from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. The program’s goal is to build a “one-stop” program in which farmers are able to access low-cost agribusiness resources from around the region.

Courses and workshops will be taught by professionals from the region and by state agency representatives, and will cover topics such as GAP certification and food safety regulations; basic agribusiness planning; marketing; production and pricing for market demand; soil and pest management; agribusiness financing, and legal and insurance issues.

The AFS relies on expert teachers from partners such as Cooperative Extension, the North Carolina Departments of Agriculture and Revenue, North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (NCREAL), Southwestern Community College’s Small Business Center, and Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute.

The cost for the full three-month program is $75, which includes dinner during each class and all materials. Registration is available online at www.wncfpc.org/appalachian-farm-school. Paper copies can be accessed by calling 399-0297 or at the Small Business Center or Extension office.

WNCFPC, founded in 2011, brings together agriculture and food security representatives in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Haywood counties to address regional needs around agricultural and food security issues. A similar program offering training for food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters will be offered later in 2015.

For more information about the Appalachian Farm School, please visit www.wncfpc.org or contact Emily Edmonds at wncfpc@gmail.com.

Planning for Pets: Keep Four-Legged Friends Safe This Holiday

With all the food and festivities, keeping Fluffy or Fido safe during the holidays can be a challenge. But furry family members will be just fine with some simple precautions from their owners.

Director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States, KC Theisen says bowls of candy or snacks that are left sitting out can cause health issues for pets, “Chocolate is a well-known toxin to dogs and to cats. Some nuts are also not healthy for pets to eat, especially if they get a large number of them. It’s best to keep all of those dishes, all those snack trays, kind of above ‘nose level.'”

She says plants also need to be kept out of reach because, if consumed, poinsettias, mistletoe and holly all can be poisonous to pets, or at least cause stomach upset. Pets also can be curious about decorations, so Theisen recommends securely anchoring the Christmas tree and keeping all breakable ornaments, tinsel and garland out of reach.

A houseful of guests not only can cause anxiety for the host but also for some pets. Theisen advises owners to consider their pet’s individual personality when deciding whether or how long to allow them to mingle with guests, “If they’re a social butterfly and they love to see people, and they can stay calm around a large crowd – excellent, they might enjoy the festivities. But a lot of pets feel more confident if they have a safe place to retreat to.”

And before putting your pet outside for an extended period of time, Theisen says keep the weather and temperature in mind. Although cats and dogs do have fur coats, she says leaving them outdoors when it’s freezing can put them at risk of hypothermia or frostbite, “It’s really important to remember that their noses are naked, their ears are mostly naked, and the bottom of their feet that touches the pavement – are naked! So, we have to be extremely careful.”

For those who are taking their cat or dog along for holiday travel, Theisen says it’s a good idea to double up on tags and collars so if a mishap occurs, their pet can be located as quickly as possible.

Firefighters Limit Damage From Forest Fire

The fire from a burning debris pile got out of control Friday afternoon causing a fire to burn over about ten acres of mountain land  in the Kitchens Branch area of Jackson County. Fighting the fire in a rugged area also know as Queen Caves was strenuous to the volunteer firefighters and North Carolina Forest Service personnel.  Both eyewitnesses and firefighters confirmed that fire lines were  created along the crest of the mountain which allowed the controlled backfire to safely cause the fire to safely burn itself out with.  Several houses in the area were not in immediate danger but could have been threatened had the wind changed. The weather conditions were favorable for the fire to burn but because the winds were basically calm it was easier to keep the fire under control.  Those planning to burn during this season are reminded of the importance of obtaining a burning permit and following the printed regulations. Permits can be obtained either on line or at several area businesses and at the NC  Forest Service headquarters in the Savannah/Greens Creek area on Highway 441 South.