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NC Rail Projects Get Big Boost Thanks to Federal Grant Awards

Rail in North Carolina is getting a big boost thanks to two federal TIGER grants recently awarded to the N.C. Department of Transportation to improve both freight and passenger service across the state. NCDOT learned last week that it received the grants, following Transportation Secretary Tony Tata’s application submittal in April.

The largest grant, for $5.8 million, will fund a major freight improvement project in northeastern North Carolina to upgrade the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad Company in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties currently operated by Genesee and Wyoming. The 52-mile rail line serves Nucor Steel, one of the largest employers in the region. 

“This project will improve the railroad track and allow shippers such as Nucor to utilize modern, heavyweight cars that are more efficient in today’s railroad operations,” said Tata. “The overall improvements will increase mobility and safety while promoting economic development in the northeast region of North Carolina.”

“This grant was possible only through the very strong support of NCDOT, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and the communities and customers our railroad serves,” said Jim Irvin, president of the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad.  “It will allow for the modernization of the railroad, helping support existing customers and attract new ones to the communities along our line.”

Additionally, NCDOT will invest $2 million in the project through its Freight Rail and Rail Crossing Safety Initiative, funded through dividends from the North Carolina Railroad Company, as well as $800,000 from the North Carolina Mobility Fund. The total cost of the project is $11.6 million, with more than $3 million in private investment coming from the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad Company.  

The second grant for $200,000 will be used to develop transit options along the Piedmont corridor, including terminal projects such as the Gateway Station project in Charlotte. This money will allow NCDOT to continue moving this project forward with its partners on community-based connections along the route. 

TIGER grants – which stand for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – provide a unique opportunity for the USDOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives.

SCC to host political debate series

0915_DebateThe mere mention of words like “political debate” may cause some college students’ eyes to glaze over.

That’s not the case with members of Dr. Bucky Dann’s “Social Problems” class at Southwestern Community College.

Since the start of the fall semester, they’ve been studying up on regional and statewide issues in preparation for a series of debates that will be hosted in the Burrell Building conference center at SCC’s Jackson Campus over the next few weeks. Dr. Dann’s students will select and ask all questions of candidates at each event.

“A lot of times, debates are for older people,” said Gabrielle Beam, a 19-year-old Bryson City resident who’s pursuing an Associate of Arts degree at SCC. “I don’t think many people expect a teenager to care, much less know about these kinds of issues. So it’s cool to have this opportunity.”

The first debate, set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 25, will feature the six candidates (Independent Jack Debnam; Republicans Doug Cody and Charles Elders; and Democrats Boyce Deitz, Brian McMahan and Joe Ward) who are vying for three seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. On Oct. 9, Democratic N.C. Representative Joe Sam Queen (D) will debate Republican challenger Mike Clampitt (R). And on Oct. 30, N.C. Senator Jim Davis (R) will face challenger Jane Hipps (D).

The public is invited to attend all three, and WRGC radio (540 AM) of Sylva plans to broadcast each one live.

“It’s really important to be unbiased,” Beam said. “The great thing is that our classmates are really diverse. We all come from different backgrounds, and we’re all going to have input into which questions are asked. I think it’ll be fun.

Another of Dr. Dann’s students, 16-year-old Early College student Kendra Graham, said she and her classmates are taking seriously the responsibility of being granted such significant roles at the debates.

“I’m a little nervous to be honest,” said Graham, who lives in Cullowhee. “But it’ll be nice to surprise people who may not think 16- or 17-year-olds are engaged in the political process.”

“We want to style our questions so that each candidate can answer from a neutral zone and know that they’re not being picked on,” Graham added.

To prepare students for the commissioners’ debate, Dr. Dann has invited Jackson County media to attend a class session and provide insight on some of the critical issues facing Jackson County.

Dr. Dann said he’s been impressed by how his students have embraced this challenge.

“Preparing for this debate has involved a lot of research,” Dr. Dann said. “Having our students ask questions that they’ve prepared and selected for these events is a key element of the learning process, and I’m very proud of their approach to this event. I am confident that everyone who attends will be impressed with our students, and more importantly, we’ll all learn a lot more about the candidates and where they stand.”

Governor, Congressman address UNC Board of Governors at Western Carolina University

District 11 U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows makes remarks to the audience and Board of Governors.

District 11 U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows makes remarks to the audience and Board of Governors.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors’ three-day visit on the Western Carolina University campus came to a close Friday (Sept. 12) as the board held its regular monthly meeting and heard remarks from District 11 U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows and N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory.
The Board of Governors, the policy-making body for the entire UNC system, joined UNC President Tom Ross and numerous chancellors from WCU’s sister institutions for the gathering in Cullowhee that included board committee meetings on Thursday (Sept. 11) and the meeting of the full board Friday at WCU’s A.K. Hinds University Center.

Congressman Meadows, a resident of the Glenville community in Jackson County, noted in his comments to the Board of Governors that the ambassadors he meets with from around the world are often familiar with the state’s university system.

“North Carolina is known for a lot of things – a lot of great things,” he said. “The one thing that continues to come back when I mention that I’m from North Carolina is our university system. It is something we must protect. It is an asset that we must continue to tout. It transcends everything else.”

McCrory spoke to the Board of Governors about a wide range of issues involving the state budget and the North Carolina economy. He also expressed concern about an issue he said has not been addressed adequately by North Carolina leaders – the long-term maintenance costs of state-owned buildings.

In one of the meeting’s lighter moments, McCrory announced that he is an alumnus of Catawba College, the WCU football team’s opponent for its Saturday (Sept. 13) game. McCrory provided the coin toss during the gridiron matchup at WCU’s E.J. Whitmire Stadium. He thanked WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher for providing a warm welcome to campus and said, despite the fact that he graduated from Catawba College, “I wore my purple tie just for you.”

Ross delivered his report concerning the UNC system to the Board of Governors during the meeting, and he also expressed appreciation to Belcher and his staff for their work in preparing for the board’s visit. The Board of Governors scheduled its meeting on the WCU campus in honor of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the institution.
“We could not have been treated better this week, during this 125th-year celebration of Western Carolina, and we thank all of you for your warm welcome and hospitality,” he said.

During his presentation, Ross introduced WCU engineering technology major Ben Strawn, who spoke about his experiences as an intern this summer with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The WCU senior from Peachland said the primary project he worked on during his internship, an electronic explosive initiator, is expected to be produced by the Army and used in the field.

In his comments, John Fennebresque, chairman of the Board of Governors, joined Ross in thanking the WCU community for its hospitality.

“I have noticed for the past three days – there is something about this place,” Fennebresque said. “Everybody seems to have a smile on their face. It’s unbelievable. So if there’s special water or something like that, I want some.”

Belcher’s time before the Board of Governors included the screening of a video produced by Joseph Hader, a WCU alumnus and member of the staff of the university’s Office of Communications and Public Relations. The video focuses on WCU’s service to Western North Carolina.

“It has truly been a pleasure and a privilege for us at Western Carolina University to host the Board of Governors, President Ross, staff of UNC General Administration and chancellors and staff from our sister institutions across North Carolina,” Belcher said. “I hope during your brief visit here you caught a glimpse of who we are and why this little slice of paradise we call Cullowhee is so special.

“We love Western Carolina University, and I think it shows,” Belcher said. “For 125 years, WCU has been in the business of changing lives. I assure you, the best is yet to come.”

Debnams Give to SCC’s Student Success Campaign

Over the 26 years that Jack and Gail Debnam have owned Western Carolina Properties, they’ve noticed the essential role Southwestern Community College plays in the region.

SCC’s ability to quickly adapt to the changing needs of Jackson, Macon, Swain Counties and the Qualla Boundary was the primary reason the Debnams decided recently to give $1,000 to the college’s Student Success Campaign.

“SCC offers a product that’s more agile than the typical higher education,” Jack Debnam said. “They try to meet the demand of what our population and businesses need, and they’re better aligned to do that.”

The most ambitious fundraising effort in the Southwestern Community College Foundation’s history, the Student Success Campaign aims to narrow the gap between scholarship need and availability by raising more than $1 million through community’s generosity and with the help of a federal challenge grant.

Every dollar donated up to approximately $300,000 will be matched, dollar for dollar, by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Generous gifts like the one the Debnams made are going to make it possible for more students than ever before to get a quality education at Southwestern,” said Mary Otto Selzer, director of the SCC Foundation. “We are pleased that Jack and Gail are so keenly aware of Southwestern’s significant impact on the region, and we are thrilled by their support.”

The Debnams’ daughter Cori and son-in-law Jason attended SCC, and Jack Debnam said he’s particularly impressed by the fact that 90 percent of Southwestern graduates remain in the area after receiving their degrees, diplomas and/or certificates.

“As a commissioner, I’m a firm believer in supporting our local community,” Jack Debnam said. “Through SCC, you get more bang for your buck.”

Fracking Hearing Held At WCU on Friday

State officials held their final public hearing on the controversial issue of fracking in North Carolina at Western Carolina University on Friday night. Hundreds of people turned out to voice opinions on both sides of the fracking issue.

Earlier this month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said they would not test for natural gas in our western counties since it would be unlikely to find it here and due to budget issues.

Opponents of fracking say they don’t want to see natural gas drilling in our mountains due to environmental issues. Many are concerned about the chemicals used in fracking which do not have to be disclosed. While they worry about new statewide fracking regulations, others see natural gas as a needed energy source for the future and job creator.

Southwestern Community College Hosts Political Debate Series

Southwestern Community College will be hosting a series of political debates over the next few weeks at the Jackson Campus. Students in the “Social Problems” class are studying and researching regional and statewide issues, and they’ll be asking questions in these debates.

 

Thursday, Sept. 25 (7 p.m.) – Jackson County Commissioners

Doug Cody (R)

Boyce Deitz (D)

Jack Debnam (R)

Charles Elders (R)

Brian McMahan (D)

Joe Ward (D)

 

Thursday, Oct. 9 (7 p.m.) – NC House

Mike Clampitt (R)

Joe Sam Queen (D)

 

Thursday, Oct. 30 ( 7 p.m.) – NC Senate

Jim Davis (R)

Jane Hipps (D)

 

Two Convicted In Black Bear Poaching

A federal jury sitting in Asheville convicted on Monday, Sept. 8, Jerry Francis Parker, 63 and Walter Henry Stancil, 66, both of Rabun County, Ga., for their involvement in illegal bear hunting activities and related offenses, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

The defendants are subject to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine, the loss of their hunting licenses for five years, and a period of banishment from the national forests.

According to evidence presented at trial and documents filed with the court, the defendants engaged in a number of illegal hunting activities in 2011, including using chocolate candy as bait at a site that one of the defendants described as “probably the most active bait site in the United States.”

The defendants were convicted of violating the Lacey Act, which criminalizes the interstate transportation of wildlife taken in violation of state or federal hunting laws.

American black bears are a species of special concern warranting federal and state protection. The hunting of American black bears is illegal at any time within the National Parks. Hunting on Forest Service land is only permitted during open season and in compliance with federal and state law. The U.S. Attorney is committed to the protection of natural resources from illegal hunting activities, including baiting, spot-lighting and exceeding hunting limits.

The investigation was conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.

Governor McCrory to Visit WCU

Jackson County residents can expect a visit from the Governor on Friday.  N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory will be visiting WCU to deliver remarks to the Board of Governors during its regular monthly meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m. Friday in the Grandroom of WCU’s A.K. Hinds University Center. Other activities scheduled for that meeting are the presentation of a major WCU award to a Western North Carolina political leader and a special 125th anniversary presentation.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the 32-member policy-making body for the entire UNC system, will be gathering on WCU’s campus in Cullowhee on Wednesday through Friday (Sept. 10-12) for a series of meetings and activities. Board members and UNC President Tom Ross are coming to WCU in honor of the 125th anniversary of WCU’s founding.

 

Report: NC Health Coverage Gap Impacts Mom and Dad

Parents in North Carolina are among those feeling the effects of the state’s decision to turn down federal dollars to expand Medicaid. A new report released this week by the Urban Institute examines the impact to the more than 300,000North Carolinians who fall into the coverage gap – they don’t qualify for publicly funded-health coverage, or an insurance policy through the Affordable Care Act.

Genevieve Kenney with the Urban Institute says there’s a growing disparity between parents in states that opted for the expansion, and those that chose not to,”The parents in the states that have not expanded Medicaid have an uninsured rate that is close to 20 percent, where it’s closer to 10 percent for the states that have expanded Medicaid.”

The report says states that have accepted federal funding have seen nearly a 33%drop in the rate of parents without health insurance. North Carolina lawmakers turned down the funding because of concerns over costs to the state. The federal government is paying 100% of the cost until 2016 and will reduce its funding to 90% by 2020.

Adam Linker with the Health Access Coalition says knowing that the expansion could have provided care for thousands of uninsured people is a bitter pill to swallow,  “The most frustrating thing about this is that there’s really no reason that North Carolina is not expanding, other than ideological reasons.”

17% of uninsured parents surveyed reported having fair or poor health, and slightly more said they had mental health concerns. Linker says research indicates when parents have access to preventive coverage and care when they are ill, they’re also able to care for their families, “We know that insured parents are able to be more present in their children’s lives. They’re able to take better care of their children, because they are not themselves sick.”

According to the research, nearly half of the uninsured parents studied lived in southern states and more than half were Latino.

Search Continues for Missing Appalachian State Student

540e241252300.imageThe search continues for a missing Appalachian State student. Today marks one week since 18-year-old Anna Smith went missing. State and local investigators say Smith may now be in danger.

She was last seen at her residence hall room on campus in Boone, around noon last Tuesday, September 2nd. Smith, from High Point, is now classified as a missing and possibly endangered person.

Investigators are actively using all means to locate Anna.  Anna is possibly carrying a bright blue LL Bean backpack that contained a blue ENO hammock. Anna was possibly last seen wearing a red or orange top and black leggings. Anna typically carries a red purse as well.

Anna has short red or blonde hair, blue eyes, and stands 5 feet 9 inches tall with a slender build. She has nose piercings, a black and white sunflower tattoo on her upper right chest near her collar bone and Latin lettering over her lower left ribs.

Investigators are utilizing all means including interviews, forensic examination of records, surveillance video analysis and any other available means to attempt to locate Anna.

Her parents ask anyone with information to come forward. On Saturday morning, university police were joined by Boone police and other personnel in a search of several wooded areas on campus which turned up nothing.

Smith’s friends and family members said they distributed fliers around the campus and elsewhere in the Boone area over the  weekend. The fliers also were distributed among tailgaters outside Kidd-Brewer Stadium prior to ASU’s football game Saturday night against Campbell University.

WNC fall color may be spotty, but last longer, says WCU’s foliage prognosticator

Fall 2013 Color shot by Heather L Hyatt

Fall 2013 Color shot by Heather L Hyatt

The combination of a wet spring and forecasts for above-average temperatures this fall could produce a long-lasting leaf display in the mountains of Western North Carolina, but with spotty color development.

That’s the word from Western Carolina University’s autumnal season soothsayer Kathy Mathews in her annual prediction of how foliage around the region will perform as the sunlight of summer wanes and days become crispy.

Mathews, an associate professor of biology at WCU, specializes in plant systematics and bases her color forecast in part on weather conditions. She believes that the formation of higher levels of pigments in the leaves correlates with dry weather throughout the year, especially in the spring and September.

Predicting the quality of the fall leaf color is a combination of a science and an art, Mathews says. “Forecasters combine knowledge of environmental effects on pigment formation, climate history and forecast, and a healthy dose of observation and experience of past autumns in the region to make their best prediction,” she said.

Rainfall measurements for the Asheville area indicate that April was a very wet month, with about two inches above normal precipitation, and rainfall amounts slightly above normal fell in May and June, Mathews said.

“The rainy spring months this year portend somewhat muted pigments on the leaves in the fall,” said the fearless foliage forecaster. “On the bright side, our abundant tulip poplars, which are typically among the first trees to change color in the fall, perform well in wetter conditions, developing a golden hue that persists longer before browning. Overall, however, trees that produce red leaves, including sourwood, red maple and dogwood, perform best in dry conditions. Therefore, we may see fewer brilliant reds during the peak of fall color change.”

Still, the development of dry conditions in late August and September could improve the overall outlook and produce the best bursts of color, she said.

On the other side of the weather coin, the seasonal forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for slightly above-average temperatures this fall in the Southeast, and if that prediction pans out, the color season could be longer than normal, extending well into November, Mathews said.

Fall foliage fans always want to know when the “peak color” will happen, but the timing of the color change is highly dependent on the decreasing amount of sunlight that comes with the passing days, plus the elevation of a particular location, she said. “The peak of fall color often arrives during the first and second week of October in the highest elevations, above 4,000 feet, and during the third week of October in the mid-elevations, 2,500 to 3,500 feet,” Mathews said. “However, the timing of the first frost is important, as well. Because freezing temperatures quickly degrade the green chlorophyll, leaves peak in color intensity four to five days after a frost.”

Several periods of unusually chilly mid-summer weather in WNC, which included some of the highest peaks of the Smokies dipping into the 30’s, already may have had an effect on some trees in the mountains, Mathews said. “We’ve been seeing very early color change already in individual trees, mainly red maples, around the western part of the state,” she said.

Regardless of all the factors that affect leaf color, visitors to Western North Carolina always will find a pleasing leaf display somewhere in the mountains from September into November, with a smorgasbord of color made possible by the region’s more than 100 tree species, Mathews said.

Winning NC U.S. Senate Race Could Come Down to Youth Vote

gr-41562-1-1The race for North Carolina’s open US Senate seat could be a fight ’til the end, but the key to victory could come down to the youth vote. Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is defending her office against Republican opponent State Representative Thom Tillis. New research from a nonpartisan research group known as “CIRCLE” at Tufts University suggests the youth vote in North Carolina could determine the outcome of the November race.

The unknown, says Peter Levine with the organization, is how recent changes in voting law will impact voters, “In North Carolina, there’s a lot of controversy about the changing rules regarding photo I.D. and voter registration and stuff so some would raise questions about whether youth turnout would get suppressed by that. We don’t know, but that’s certainly a part of the story.”

North Carolina’s photo I-D requirement will not be in effect in this midterm election. Levine says almost 46% of registered North Carolina voters, ages 18 to 29, turned out for the 2010 midterm elections. There are 1.4 million citizens in that age group in the state, making it one of the ten highest in the country.

Millions are being spent on both sides in the form of traditional print and T-V campaign ads, but Levine says according to his research, the key to the youth vote comes down to old-fashioned hand shaking,”The answer is direct contact. Young people really respond well to being asked to vote, and to a conversation – either at their doorstep or on the phone – about voting, because that allows them to ask questions and find out more.”Based on historical trends, he says it is also incorrect to assume that the youth vote will automatically sway toward the Democratic Party.

Sylva to Celebrate 125 years

The Town of Sylva is planning to honor its rich past on Saturday, Oct. 11 with a free 125th anniversary celebration downtown for all ages. The event will pay homage to the start of the cozy northern Jackson County town back in 1889. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and will run through 3 p.m. At 9 a.m., the farmers market will open and run throughout the day adjacent to the Bridge Park. At 10 a.m., there will be a horse parade, starting at Mark Watson Park and proceeding through Main Street to Mill Street and ending back at Mark Watson Park.

Free After 30 Years: Convictions Overturned for Two NC Men

Henry Lee McCollum, seen with his attorneys, and Leon Brown were declared innocent and released from prison after serving 31 years for a crime they did not commit. Photo credit: Gerda Stein.

Henry Lee McCollum, seen with his attorneys, and Leon Brown were declared innocent and released from prison after serving 31 years for a crime they did not commit. Photo credit: Gerda Stein.

They spent 30 years behind bars and today, two North Carolina men can walk free. On Tuesday, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission presented DNA testing to a Robeson County judge exonerating Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown in a 1983 rape and murder. District Attorney Johnson Britt agreed they are innocent of all charges and consented to their release.

Ann Kirby, an attorney for Brown, says the case highlights the need for better investigations and people willing to stand up for what’s right, “District Attorneys with the kind of courage that Johnson Britt has, as a true minister of justice, which is what prosecutors are charged to be – Not going in just to get convictions, but to go in and just give the truth. Because that’s what we need is the truth – and sometimes, we stop before we get there.”

McCollum and Brown were sentenced to death, accused of the rape and suffocation of an 11 year old girl. Brown’s sentence was later reduced to life in prison, but McCollum has remained on death row through decades of appeals. The DNA evidence matched a man currently serving a life sentence for rape and murder, who lived at the time near where the victim’s body was found.

Both McCollum and Brown have intellectual disabilities and were teenagers at the time of their arrest. James Payne, who also represented Brown, says the evidence that tied them to the crime was false, coerced confessions and investigators rushed to judgment, “Taking the easy answer and ignoring all the other indicators that there was another answer to the question led to two of them being on death row – one for five, one for 31 years. ”

Henry McCollum’s attorney, Ken Rose, called it “terrifying” that the justice system allowed the men to be wrongfully imprisoned. He added there’s a problem with the reliability of the convictions of people on death row.

 

Cut 45302 :14  “Mostly, these cases are old cases, before there were important reforms in the state. And I think there are a lot of problems in a lot of those cases. So, it’s a powerful message that we should not restart executions, and we should consider abolishing the death penalty.”

Tag:  According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, there are 153 people on death row.

 

 

Vaccinations are the Cure for Unnecessary School Suspensions

VaccineThe North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reminding parents to ensure children are up-to-date with vaccines to avoid suspension from school. North Carolina law requires children who are home-schooled or attend a public, private, charter or religious school to be up-to-date with North Carolina-required vaccinations within 30 calendar days from the first day of school.

Failure to show proof, such as shot records, will result in the suspension from school until the required immunization has been obtained.

Vaccine-preventable diseases, such as chicken pox, meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough) and others, are still experienced throughout North Carolina. Staying up-to-date with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinations is the best way to protect schools and communities from diseases that can cause unnecessary illnesses and death.

For a complete list of required vaccines or additional information, visit: www.immunize.nc.gov

Another Record Enrollment at WCU

One year after total student enrollment at Western Carolina University topped 10,000 for the first time in the institution’s history, records continue to tumble at WCU as this fall’s official enrollment stands at 10,382.

 University officials say the 2.7 percent jump in the total student population over last year’s tally of 10,107 is driven in part by an increase in the size of the freshman class and another year of improved retention rates.

 That’s the word from WCU’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness, which compiles official census statistics for reporting to the University of North Carolina system.

Experts Say Pick Up a Book to Better Bond with Your Child

Finding time to stop and read to your child can be hard at the end of the day, but experts say making the time will pay off in the long run. Programs in North Carolina, such as Reach Out and Read, work to encourage reading.

Brian Gallagher with the organization explains how the simple act of reading aloud to your child can make a difference, “By having the parent hold the child, sit with the child, have the child hear the parent’s voice, the book in many ways helps to create that interaction.”

Tag:  In North Carolina, Reach Out and Read distributes almost 223-thousand books annually. The program works with North Carolina pediatricians to hand out books at annual well-check visits. According to Child Trends, 55% of children aged three to five in the US are read to every day.

 

H.W. Cumming is a technology executive and dad who in spite of travel made time for nightly reading to his children. Some nights he made up stories and recently turned them into a children’s fantasy novel that’s been published this summer.  “It was always something that we kept very sacred. It was just something that we had to do. It was something that we did that was our bonding time, and we never missed it.”

Gallagher says by working with doctors to distribute donated books, Reach Out and Read is able to connect with children and their parents, “The doctor is that trusted messenger. When the doctor hands that child a book, starting when they’re babies, the parent’s going to hear that message very early on that this is something that’s good for your child, it’s good for you.”

Tag 2:  In addition to making reading to your child a part of your everyday routine, Gallagher recommends letting your child turn the pages, talk about the pictures and ask your child to retell the story.

September is Grape And Wine Month in NC

grape muscadineIn recognition of the state’s growing wine and grape industry, Gov. Pat McCrory has proclaimed September 2014 as North Carolina Wine and Grape Month.

The state’s wine and grape industry has grown significantly in recent years. It now employs more than 7,600 workers and has an economic impact of nearly $1.3 billion.

One indicator of the industry’s maturity is the federal government’s recent designation of a fourth American Viticultural Area in the state. The Upper Hiawassee Highlands AVA covers 690 square miles within the upper Hiawassee River basin in Western North Carolina. It joins the Haw River, Swan Creek and Yadkin Valley AVAs.

Having four distinct AVAs in North Carolina is a testament to the variety and quality of wines that NC is able to produce.

North Carolina boasts more than 400 commercial grape growers. Muscadines are grown mainly in the East, while European-style vinifera grapes are grown in the West and Piedmont. While many of the grapes are used to make wines and other specialty products, there is also a significant fresh market for the fall fruit. In September and October, shoppers can find fresh, native muscadine grapes at farmers markets and roadside stands.

North Carolina’s grape-growing history dates to the late 1500s, when Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers first noticed wild scuppernongs on Roanoke Island.

Americans Are Not Saving For Retirement

Much has been written about the “sandwich generation” — middle-aged Americans who are caught between their financial obligations to elderly parents and to their children, while they also try to prepare for their own retirement years.

Yet millions of Americans face an even bigger bind: More than one-third of all working-age adults haven’t managed to save any money toward retirement, according to a new survey by Bankrate.com. The personal finance site found that 26 percent of people 50-to-54-year-olds and 14 percent of those age 65 and older have no savings.

The survey of over 1,000 adults living across the U.S. also found that 69 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds and a third of 30-to-49 year-olds have yet start putting something away for their later years.

The Bankrate findings jibe with other research that illustrate the death of retirement savings. The median retirement account balance for all working-age households in the U.S. is $3,000, and $12,000 for near-retirement households, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.

However,  Those who are saving for retirement are starting earlier than in the past. And Millennials — people born between 1980 ad 2000 — at least feel more financially secure than any other age group surveyed, which may account for their lack of retirement savings.

Of course, preparing for retirement in a post-recession economy is easier said than done. A recent CBS News poll found that about 70 percent of working Americans are finding it hard to save for retirement at all, as they attempt to pay bills and meet their basic living expenses.

Only 18 percent of U.S. workers say they are very confident of having enough money to live comfortably during their retirement years, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Tunnel Repair Begins on Newfound Gap

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced upcoming tunnel repair work inside the Morton Mountain Tunnel from September 2 through September 27. A full-time, single-lane closure will be in effect throughout the duration of the project. The tunnel is located 12 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road.

 A leak in the tunnel ceiling and walls caused significant damage on the north end of the tunnel. Last winter, the leak formed very large icicles and an ice mound on the road surface causing roadway hazards for drivers that had to be cleared before the road could be opened for safe travel. During the repair, the tunnel will have one lane closed to allow workers to cut channels for the installation of drainage pipes in the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. Debris curtains will be set up to shield vehicles from construction activities in the closed lane.

 Visitors should expect delays through the 0.25-mile, single-lane closure area. Bluegrass Contracting Corporation of Lexington, KY was awarded the contract and will maintain traffic flow through the area using a temporary traffic signal. On weekends, flaggers will direct traffic through the area from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on both Saturdays and Sundays.