Murder Suicide Investigation in Jackson County

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an ongoing investigation into the deaths of two people at 25 Mule Pen Road, Sylva, in the Savannah Community of Jackson County.

Deputies responded to the scene after family members found the deceased inside the home. Investigators believe the event to be a murder then suicide and are looking for no suspects related to this incident. Deputies were dispatched to the location on September 18, 2015 at around 11:17 a.m.

Judy Lee Nave, 65, and James Bruce Franklin, 51, of Whittier were found dead in the woman’s home by family members.

Man Arrested in Pisgah High School Bomb Threat

Phillip Duncan Herndon, 68, was arrested Friday night following a bomb threat at Pisgah High School.

Herndon was charged with the felony of making a false bomb threat at a public building. He’s being held at the Haywood County Jail under a $10,000 bond.

Around 1 p.m. a call came in Friday to the Canton Police Department issuing a bomb threat at Pisgah High School. The police department notified Pisgah High officials who secured the campus and began the process of evacuating the school.

By 3 p.m., the bomb dog brought in from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s office had cleared three buildings. The scene was cleared at 4:20 p.m. and nothing was found in any of the buildings.

Students were taken to the nearby football stadium until their parents picked them up or the buses arrived. No one was allowed to enter the Pisgah High School main campus until it was deemed safe by law enforcement officials.

Missing Hiker Found in Haywood County

A missing Tennessee hiker was found around 7 p.m. Monday around 100 meters from the trail in the Lenoir Creek area on the north side of Cold Mountain.

Julie Hays left her home in Jonesboro, Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 19, around 7 a.m. for a day hike on the Art Loeb trail headed toward Cold Mountain. Her vehicle was found parked at the trailhead on Little East Fork, along with a note she had left at the car stating she began her hike at 10 a.m. Her husband reported her missing after she failed to return home late Saturday evening.

Searchers were mobilized shortly after midnight Sunday and continued an around-the-clock search for the woman.

Monday evening rescue workers heard a woman’s voice and were able to locate an injured Hays.

She was finally brought out a little before 3 a.m. Tuesday morning in stable condition. She was transported to Mission Hospital where she was treated for her injuries.

WCU astronomers to host eclipse viewing party Sept. 27 at Jackson County Airport

Western Carolina University will host a lunar eclipse viewing event at the Jackson County Airport on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 27.

Astronomy faculty from WCU will set up telescopes for viewing the eclipse. The viewing party will begin about 9 p.m. and end around 11:30 p.m.

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon, Earth and the sun are aligned so that the shadow of the Earth is cast on the moon. The September lunar eclipse is a total eclipse, which means that the moon will be completely covered by the Earth’s shadow.

“Telescopes will be set up to observe the moon during the eclipse, and people will be able to observe it with the naked eye,” said Paul Heckert, WCU professor of astronomy and physics. “People who are interested can also watch the eclipse from their homes, as no special optical aid is needed.”

Partial eclipse should begin about 9:07 p.m., with total eclipse occurring at about 10:11 p.m. and continuing until 11:23 p.m. Partial eclipse will continue until 12:27 a.m.

Heckert is hosting the event with his colleague Enrique Gomez, associate professor of astronomy and physics.

The lunar eclipse viewing event is free and open to the public. If the evening is completely overcast or if it is raining, the event will be canceled.

N.C. Mountain State Fair has second-largest attendance on record

Beautiful weather and family-friendly entertainment drew large crowds to the N.C. Mountain State Fair at the WNC Agricultural Center. The fair hosted 190,327 people during its 10-day run, which came to an end Sept. 20.

“We had the second-largest attendance in fair history, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the way this year’s fair has turned out,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “The N.C. Mountain State Fair is a great way to start the fall season and celebrate the best that Western North Carolina has to offer.”

The 2015 edition of the N.C. Mountain State Fair featured more than 75 food vendors, nearly 40 carnival rides and 4,000 animals on display. New attractions included Hansen’s Spectacular Acrobatic Sensations, Rowdy Rooster, Galaxy Girl and Southland Dairy Farmers’ Mobile Dairy Classroom. The fair also expanded the Mountain Heritage Circle with 51 crafters and artisans educating the public on their heritage crafts.

The Mooternity Ward saw 19 calves born during the fair. In the livestock shows, both youth and adults competed in beef cattle, dairy cattle, goat, llama, rabbit, sheep and swine contests. More than $50,000 in prize and sponsorship money was awarded to livestock winners.

The fair also held 11 cooking contests, including a new tomato contest and the first-ever Mast General Store and Lodge Dutch Oven Cook-Off. Thirteen-year-old Nate Worley of Leicester was a big winner in the cooking contests. He placed in eight of 11 contests, and took home blue ribbons in four of them.

On Wednesday, the fair set an attendance record with 14,882 people for its annual Ingles Day. Fairgoers who brought five cans of food received free gate admission that day. Nearly 21,000 pounds of food was collected and donated to MANNA Food Bank.

Summer Visitation at Park Continues with Strong Numbers

More than 3.9 million people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer, just shy of last summer’s numbers.
The park says 3,958,131 people visited during June, July and August this year, down from 3,963,131 in 2014, pushing the park to its highest visitation since 2000.

Visitors increased at the main entrances at Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina, but dropped off in the outlying areas of the park during 2015.

The greatest increase was at the Cherokee entrance, where 749,131 visited in 2014 and 804,611 in 2015, a 7.4 percent increase.
Park visitation for the year is up nearly 5 percent.

New Smokies Chief Ranger Announced

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash announced that Steve Kloster has been selected as the new Chief Ranger. Prior to this position, Kloster was the Tennessee District Ranger, as well as serving as interim Chief Ranger during several temporary assignments totaling 27 months. Kloster succeeds Clayton Jordan who was recently selected as Smokies Deputy Superintendent in April.

As Chief Ranger, Kloster will oversee up to 75 people in the Resource and Visitor Protection Division who perform law enforcement duties, emergency medical services, search and rescue operations, campground fee collection, dispatching, and backcountry operations. Kloster brings a wealth of experience to the position after serving in the Smokies since 1988 as a Park Ranger, Backcountry Ranger, and Cosby Area Supervisor at diverse park locations including Abrams Creek, Greenbrier, Cosby, and the Little River District.
“Steve’s broad field experience, extensive institutional knowledge of the park, strong community partner ties, and demonstrated ability to work well with colleagues across divisional lines makes him a great asset to both the Resource and Visitor Protection Division and the management team,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.
Prior to working at the Smokies, Kloster was a Park Ranger at Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, Independence National Historical Park, Yellowstone National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and Canaveral National Seashore. In addition to these park assignments, Kloster has served as the Operation Section Chief for the National Park Service Eastern Incident Management Team at commemorative special events and emergency incidents across the southeast. He has also served as the Incident Commander in major search and rescue operations in the park and while recently detailed to Congaree National Park to search for a lost family.
Kloster is a native of upstate New York and received his Bachelor of Science Degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland, NY with a major in Recreation Education and a minor in Biology. He has lived in Pittman Center since 1992 with his daughter Bethany, currently of Tallahassee, FL and his son Matthew, currently of New York City.

Search for Missing Hiker

The search for an overdue Tennessee hiker in the Shining Rock wilderness area continues for a second day after Sunday’s search yielded no sightings.

Julie Ann Hays, 49, left her home in Jonesboro, Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 19 around 7 a.m. for a day hike on the Art Loeb trail headed toward Cold Mountain. Mrs. Hays’ vehicle was found parked at the trailhead on Little East Fork, along with a note she had left at the car stating she began her hike at 10 a.m. Her husband reported her missing after she failed to return home late Saturday evening.

Search and rescue personnel were dispatched and mobilized after midnight Sunday. The search has continued around-the-clock since, involving several dozen searchers from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and local volunteer fire departments, Henderson County Rescue Squad, Buncombe County Rescue Squad, Asheville Fire Department, Asheville Police Department, and a helicopter from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

Hays is described as a Caucasian female, 49 years of age, approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall, 150 pounds with an average build, green eyes, long blond hair, fair complexion and wearing contact lenses. Hays is an Assistant District Attorney in Washington County, Tennessee. She was prepared for a fair-weather day hike, packing only a light lunch and wearing a blue short-sleeve shirt, blue jeans and hiking shoes. She has hiked alone in the area before, but not on that trail.

Emergency personnel are continuing to search the area, along with search-and-rescue canine teams and – weather permitting – search aircraft.

Anyone who has seen Julie Ann Hays or has any information as to her possible whereabouts is asked to contact the Haywood County Communications center at (828) 452-6666 immediately.

Cherokee Tribe Taking Over Food Program

Cherokee is assuming another state-operated program. For years, Commodity Food Distribution has been provided to members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by state and local jurisdictions. Now, the EBCI Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) Division will administer the federal grant directly from the USDA and transition to the Cherokee Tribal Food Distribution Program on Thursday, Oct. 1.

During the transition, there will be a five day gap in service. The current Commodities Food Program will distribute in Cherokee for the last time on Wednesday, Sept. 23. The program will then shut down and re-open as the Cherokee Tribal Foods Distribution Program on Oct. 1.

The eligibility requirements for participation will not change nor will the location of the distribution facility which is still located at 2260 Old Mission Road in Cherokee. The hours will be extended though, and starting Oct. 1 will be Monday – Friday from 7:45am – 4:30pm.

For more information concerning the Cherokee Tribal Food Distribution Program, contact PHHS 359-6180 and after Oct. 1, contact the Tribal Food Distribution Center 359-9751.

Police Seeking Help in Franklin Pharmacy Break In

Police in Franklin need help finding the man they say broke into a pharmacy early Wednesday morning, trying to steal prescription drugs.

Police say the attempted robbery happened at the Smart Pharmacy, just after midnight Wednesday.

The man busted out the front glass to get in, but wasn’t able to get any narcotics or money.

Police describe the suspect as a white male, approximately 6 feet tall with a slim build.

If you have any information about the break-in, please contact the Franklin Police Department at (828) 524-2864.

Teen Vaping Study

Teens are increasingly turning to electronic cigarettes not to get their tobacco fix, but instead to inhale pot.

A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that teens have devised ways to turn e-cigarettes into devices for hashish oil, marijuana, wax and other cannabis products. Researchers surveyed 3,847 Connecticut high school students about their drug and e-cigarette use and found that students using e-cigarettes to vaporize cannabis was 27 times higher than the adult rate.

According to the study, 5.5 percent of the students surveyed had used an e-cigarette to vaporize cannabis. In total, nearly 30 percent of students said they had tried marijuana or hashish in some form. Of those students who already smoked marijuana, 18 percent had used an e-cigarette to “vape” the drug.

Health Officials Warn Against Flu

As flu season approaches, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging all North Carolina residents to protect themselves by getting vaccinated against the flu.

“It’s not too early,” said Acting State Health Director Dr. Megan Davies, M.D. “The last three flu seasons have begun early in North Carolina, so we don’t want people to wait too long.”

During the past 2014 – 2015 season, North Carolina recorded its highest number of flu-associated deaths in the past six years. This is a reminder that flu can be a serious illness, especially for adults over 65, children under five, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your family from getting the flu,” said Dr. Davies. “This year’s flu vaccines protect against the H1N1 virus and other flu strains that are expected to be in our state during the coming season.”

In addition to vaccination, DHHS encourages everyone to use precautions to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses:

Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water or an approved hand sanitizer
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly
If you are sick with flu, stay home until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours

I-40 in Haywood County Closed Due to Rock Removal

Interstate 40 is closed in Haywood County this afternoon while crews remove some unstable rock masses at mile marker 6, near the Tennessee border.

Through traffic to Tennessee is detoured through Asheville on I-26 West to Johnson City, then south on I-81 to access I-40 west of Newport. Local traffic is able to use I-40 west of Asheville through Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley to Harmon Den (Exit 7).

I-40 is expected to reopen later this evening, once crews stabilize the slope.

“Safety is always our top priority,” says Aaron Powell, NCDOT District Engineer. “We want to be sure the area we’ve been working in is completely safe before reopening the highway to traffic. We appreciate drivers’ patience as we ensure their safe passage through Haywood County.”

Construction in that area started in June to reduce the risk of rockslides. The project is expected to be complete in mid-October.

WCU Offers Open House at Biltmore Park

Prospective students will have an opportunity to find out about the wide variety of graduate and professional programs offered by Western Carolina University during an Open House set for Tuesday, Sept. 22, at WCU’s instructional site in Asheville.

The event will be held at WCU’s location in Suite 100 at 28 Schenck Parkway (beside P.F. Chang’s) in Biltmore Park Town Square. The Open House will be a drop-in, and interested individuals can come by anytime between 5 to 7 p.m. to enjoy refreshments and talk to WCU faculty and staff.

WCU’s offerings taught either partly or entirely in Asheville include doctoral programs in educational leadership and nursing practice; master’s programs in accountancy, business administration, counseling, English, health sciences, nursing, public affairs, social work and technology; bachelor’s programs in mechanical engineering and nursing; and several certificate programs such as professional and technical writing, and family nurse practitioner.

For more information, call 828-654-6498 or email biltmoreparkinfo@wcu.edu.

Arrest made in cat shot with arrow incident

Buddy Rayvon Leger IIIA Waynesville man was arrested for a felony cruelty to animals charge in connection with the August 26 incident involving a pet cat being shot with an arrow.

The incident took place on Lazy Circle in Waynesville. The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office was contacted when the victim arrived home from a funeral on August 29 to find one of her cats lying on her bed with an arrow in its body.

Haywood County Sheriff’s Office deputies received information Thursday evening pointing to a possible suspect in the crime. During the course of the investigation, deputies took into evidence arrows that appeared to be like the one found in the cat.

Buddy Rayvon Leger III, age 22, also of Lazy Circle, was arrested at approximately 8:30 p.m. Thursday and charged with felonious cruelty to animals – maiming a domestic cat by shooting it with a bow and arrow. He was released on a $5,000 unsecured bond. Leger’s first court date is slated for August 23.

WCU again ranked among best in South by US News & World Report

Western Carolina University once again is ranked among the best universities in the South in two categories in the 2016 edition of the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” guidebook released today (Wednesday, Sept. 9).

The guidebook lists WCU as 13th among “top public regional universities” in the South, up two places from last year’s spot at 15th. The publication also has WCU tied with two other schools at No. 32 on a list of the “best regional universities” in the South, five places above last year’s ranking at No. 37 in that category.

The category in which WCU appears includes 618 higher education institutions that offer a wide range of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and that tend to attract most of their students from surrounding states.

In addition, Western Carolina ranked at No. 27 among institutions in the South for “best colleges for veterans” and at No. 90 nationally in the category of “best online programs.”

The annual rankings are based on a variety of indicators, including assessment by administrators at peer institutions, graduation rates, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

The rankings come as WCU is celebrating an all-time high in the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who have returned for their sophomore year with 80 percent of last year’s freshman class back in school this fall semester, and as more than 3,000 applications for admission to next year’s freshman class already are being processed.

Although rankings guidebooks can provide some guidance in the college search process, prospective students should concentrate on finding the school that is the right fit for them personally, said Phil Cauley, director of student recruitment and transitions at WCU.

“A great way to learn more about Western Carolina and to see if it is a good fit is to visit during Open House, which allows students to get a feel for the campus by taking a tour, talking with faculty and staff, and learning about academic programs, extracurricular activities, student support programs and financial aid,” Cauley said.

WCU has four Open House events scheduled for this academic year. The first one is Saturday, Oct. 31, and others are scheduled for Nov. 14, Feb. 20 and March 12. Registration and more information are available at the website openhouse.wcu.edu.

Students who cannot attend an Open House have the alternative of participating in a weekday campus tour, Cauley said. More information is available by emailing admiss@wcu.edu or calling 828-227-7317.

World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept. 10

Thursday, Sept. 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day, co-sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health organization (WHO) The IASP and WHO are encouraging people to light a candle near a window at 8 p.m. to show support for suicide prevention; to remember a lost loved one through suicide; and for the survivors of suicide.

This year’s theme is “Suicide Prevention: One World Connected.” Every year, over 800,000 people die from suicide; this roughly corresponds to one death every 40 seconds. The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined.

Suicide is the fifth leading causes of death among those aged 30-49 years in 2012 globally. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 15-29 years age group in 2012 globally. Overall, it is estimated that during 2012 for each adult who died of suicide there were over 20 others who made suicide attempts.

The psychological pain that leads each of these individuals to take their lives is unimaginable. In 2012, suicide accounted for 1.4 percent of all deaths worldwide, making it the 15th leading cause of death. Mental disorders —particularly depression and alcohol use disorders — are a major risk factor for suicide in Europe and North America; however, in Asian countries impulsiveness plays an important role.

Suicide is complex with psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors involved. Connectedness is crucial to individuals who may be vulnerable to suicide. Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it.

Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act.

Waynesville Man Charged in Wife’s Murder Extradited to Florida

A man picked up in Haywood County is being held without bail after being charged with murder in the death of his wife, who went missing in 1993 in Jacksonville.

Michael Ray Haim, 49, was arrested recently in Waynesville and transferred to the Duval County jail.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said that DNA tests identified skeletal remains found in a Jacksonville backyard as Bonnie Lynn Haim, who was 23 when she went missing in January 1993.

Police said a piece of bone was unearthed in December by workers excavating a backyard swimming pool at the Haims’ former home.

Jail records did not show Monday whether Michael Haim had an attorney. Haim’s next court hearing is scheduled Sept. 24.

An investigation into the disappearance of Bonnie Haim started Jan. 7, 1993, when a resident found her purse in a dumpster and when she failed to show up for work that morning.

In April 2005, the couple’s son Aaron won a wrongful death lawsuit against Michael Haim for $26.3 million. Aaron was 3 at the time of Bonnie’s death.

In December 2014, skeletal remains of a female were found at the family residence in Jacksonville by people making repairs at the home.

Haim was arrested with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service and the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.

WCU hits all-time high freshman retention rate of 80 percent

Western Carolina University has hit an all-time high in the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who have returned for their sophomore year as 80 percent of last year’s freshman class is back in school this fall semester.
That means the university has achieved one of the major goals of its “2020 Vision” strategic plan five years ahead of schedule, said Tim Metz, WCU assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.
“Increasing our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate to 80 percent by the year 2020 is spelled out in our strategic plan,” Metz said. “To reach that goal five years early speaks volumes about the work our faculty and student support staff are doing to help ensure that students stay in school and remain on track to graduate.”
This year’s record retention rate of 80.06 percent is 2.2 points higher than last year’s rate of 77.88 percent and nearly 14 points higher than in 2006.
A total of 1,624 new first-time, full-time freshmen are enrolled at WCU this fall. In addition, the academic profile of this year’s freshman class has improved on all fronts, with higher average scores on the SAT and ACT entrance exams and higher high school GPAs than the previous year.
Total student enrollment at WCU remains steady, with a tally of 10,340 undergraduate and graduate students on the books as of the university’s official census day of Friday, Aug. 28.
Undergraduate enrollment is up slightly, increasing to 8,821, a 0.4 percent rise over last year’s tally. Graduate student enrollment is down by 4.8 percent, dropping to 1,519 from last year’s count of 1,595.
The decline is mirroring trends in graduate school enrollment across the state and nation because of an improving economy in which fewer people seek advanced degrees and a recent end to financial incentives for school teachers to seek advanced degrees in education, said Dale Carpenter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.
Undergraduate programs in WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology and the College of Health and Human Sciences saw some of the most significant growth in undergraduate enrollment this fall, said Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar.
“These programs supply graduates in the fields of engineering, technology, nursing and the health sciences, which are key to regional economic development and to meet the workforce demands of business and industry and the health care needs of the people of Western North Carolina,” Morrison-Shetlar said.
Western Carolina also experienced an increase in the diversity of its student body this fall, with a 16 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students, a 7.5 percent increase in the number of Asian students, and a 20 percent increase in the number of multiracial students.
Although classes began at the university Monday, Aug. 17, enrollment numbers are not official until after the 10th day of classes, referred to as “census day.” Even then, the numbers are not considered final until any errors have been corrected and the files have been submitted to UNC General Administration.
With the books closed on the 2014-15 student recruitment cycle, the Office of Undergraduate Admission now is hard at work building WCU’s freshman class of 2016, with more than 3,000 applications from high school students already submitted for next fall, said Phil Cauley, director of student recruitment and transitions.
The first of four scheduled Open House events for prospective WCU students and their parents is set for Saturday, Oct. 31. Additional events at WCU are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14; Saturday, Feb. 20; and Saturday, March 12.

Study Predicts Fall Tourism Increase

Although many of us still may be shaking the sand out of our bathing suits from summer’s final trip to the beach over Labor Day weekend, a few students and faculty members at Western Carolina University have turned their attention to autumn and the mountains.

Students in a senior-level “Tourism Strategies” class taught by Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Program in WCU’s College of Business, are predicting a noticeable increase in hotel occupancy rates in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park gateway counties of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.

The students analyzed October hotel room demand trends since 2009 using data supplied by Smith Travel Research, a leading source of information for the hospitality industry, to develop the third annual October tourism forecast for 21 counties in WNC. New for this year’s forecast is the inclusion of three counties on the Tennessee side of the park.

“The class took into account factors that influence travel demand during October in the area including dramatically falling gas prices, an expanding array of fall festivals and events, new attractions and venues, new destination marketing and promotion programs, and, best of all, predictions of a vibrant fall color show in the Smoky Mountain and Blue Ridge region this year,” Morse said.

“Gas prices in the Southeast are about 22 percent lower now than at this time last year,” he said. “The lower gas prices in 2015 means that the average family has an additional $1,100 to spend in disposable income that they are not spending on gas.”

Among the fall foliage forecasters cited by the students is Kathy Mathews, WCU associate professor of biology, who is calling for one of the best leaf-looking seasons in recent years because of drier-than-normal conditions in 2015.

In the tourism study, the WCU students divided 21 WNC counties into five groups, adding a group for the Tennessee counties. The students examined the total number of hotel rooms sold and the overall occupancy rates for October 2014; compared weekday and weekend occupancy rates from last October; and determined the average change in the number of hotel nights sold for October during the previous three years.
The students’ predictions for North Carolina regions:

Region 1 – Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties: A 5.2 percent increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. Among the reasons for the increase, the students said, is the opening this fall of the new Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy.
Region 2 – Haywood, Jackson, Transylvania and Swain counties: A 4.4 percent increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. Among the factors, the students said, are increased entertainment options this fall at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and three home football games at WCU this October.

Region 3 – Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties: A 5 percent increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. Contributing factors include proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway coupled with falling gas prices, the students said.

Region 4 – Burke, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell and Yancey counties: A 5 percent increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. The students again cited proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and cheaper gasoline as reasons behind the expected increase.

Region 5 – Buncombe and Henderson counties: A 4.2 percent increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. “A 4.2 percent increase for this October over last year is a very significant uptick for an already-strong tourism market in the Buncombe and Henderson areas,” Morse said. “They have launched new destination advertising and promotions programs and have extended their media reach into new feeder cities, with an increase in festivals and events around the growing craft beer industry.”

The students’ predictions for the three Tennessee counties:
Sevier County: A 4.2 increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. The students cited the strong tourism market in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville supplemented by new attractions and restaurants including Dollywood’s new four-star family resort hotel called DreamMore, the Jimmy Buffet-themed Margaritaville hotel and restaurant in Pigeon Forge and the Rocky Top Sports World complex in Gatlinburg.
Blount and Monroe counties: A 4.1 increase in October 2015 tourism compared to last October. Contributing factors include the expected vibrant fall colors and lower gas prices, prompting more travel along Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains in Tennessee to Robbinsville in North Carolina