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Report Examines North Carolina Economic Incentive Programs

A bill is expected in the State Assembly as early as this week for a new jobs plan at the urging of Governor Pat McCrory. But it comes on the heels of a new report that 60% of those projects under the Job Development Investment Grant (J-DIG) Program have failed to deliver what they promised.

That’s according to the North Carolina Justice Center and the report’s author, Allan Freyer, who questions the allocation of additional funds, “If there were any other program in state government that failed 60% of the time, the Legislature would have eliminated it already.”

The J-DIG program has a spending cap of $22,500,000 annually. Recently, more than half the money was awarded to MetLife in Charlotte, which Freyer points out reduces availability of funds for other, smaller companies in rural communities where jobs are badly needed. The report says 90% of J-DIG dollars have gone to urban communities and more than 77% of projects approved in rural communities have failed.

Supporters of the J-DIG program say it enables the state to compete with others for new projects or expansions with existing employers. The money is not awarded to companies until they fulfill their promise of added jobs, but Freyer points out the money for J-DIG is still a line item in the budget and cannot be allocated to other proven programs, “It’s less money that’s available for the real building blocks of economic growth like education, job training, industrial and transportation infrastructure. These are the types of investments that actually promote broadly shared economic growth that benefits everyone in the state.”

The report recommends the state examine why so many incentive programs are failing, improve the evaluation process before projects are approved, and focus incentives in industries predicted to experience the largest growth.

Jackson Neighbors in Need has successful fundraiser

Jackson Neighbors in Need (JNIN) raised more than $8,700 at the second annual Charlie’s Challenge fundraiser on Saturday, January 31.

More than 200 people gathered in the Sylva First Baptist Mission Hall for the event to remember JNIN Founder Charlie McConnell and raise money for the organization’s heating assistance program, an emergency shelter, and weatherization services. All money raised came from generous donations from local residents, community organizations and businesses from the surrounding area.

Jackson Neighbors in Need’s heating assistance program works to ensure that area residents are able to afford heating their homes during the winter. Over the past several years, prices for electricity, fuel oil, and natural gas have risen sharply. At the same time, unemployment has risen and government assistance has fallen. The heating assistance program provides up to $400 worth of assistance per household, per cold weather season.

The organization’s weatherization program is another way local residents in need can get help with heating costs. Weatherization assistance includes minor improvements like installing insulating film to windows, to major projects like replacing rotten floor joists and repairing failing ceilings.

Jackson Neighbors in Need also operates an emergency shelter each year from November 1 – March 31.

Two Arrested in Waynesville Meth Bust

An investigation into drug activity at a house in Waynesville led to charges against two people living at 222 Lewis Drive.
Brian S. Shuler, 32, and Shana Nicole Dills, 30, were charged with possession of immediate precursor chemicals for the manufacture of methamphetamine.

According to a press release, the Unified Narcotics Investigative Team executed a search warrant at their home on Lewis Drive on Feb. 11 where investigators found several chemicals used in the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine.
The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office stated these chemicals individually are not illegal to possess, but as a totality of circumstances and combined make them illegal to possess.

The drug task force team had been investigating the house after reports of alleged drug activity.

The Unified Narcotics Investigation Team, or U.N.I.T., is a multi-agency task force consisting of investigators from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Waynesville Police Department, Canton Police Department and Maggie Valley Police Department.

Shuler remains in Haywood County Detention Center on $20,000 secure bond. Dills posted her $20,000 bond and has been released.

Both Shuler and Dills are expected to appear in Haywood County District Court on Feb. 25.

Highway Patrol Offers Simple Winter Driving Tips As Potential Winter Weather Approaches

With the potential of winter and the possibility that motorists may
have to drive in inclement weather, the Highway Patrol is offering simple
and safe driving tips. The weather in North Carolina is often times
unpredictable and this time of year you never know when to expect black ice,
snow, icy roads or a mixture of road conditions. The Highway Patrol is
asking motorists to be prepared as the potential winter storm approaches.

“Winter weather brings new obstacles and responsibilities that the motoring
public will experience anytime inclement weather moves into our state.
Despite a rather mild winter so far, North Carolina’s weather can often
change from one day to the next,” says Patrol spokesman, Lt. Jeff Jeff
Gordon. It’s important that we monitor this weather system and plan
accordingly.”

Here are a few simple steps to help keep you on the road and less anxious:

Avoid travel unless necessary when winter weather is in your area.
Decrease speed.
Wear your seatbelt.
Driving Considerations

Leave Early- allow more travel time; expect delays.
Increase distance between vehicles – it takes significantly longer to stop
on snow covered or icy roadways.
Clear all windows on your vehicle prior to travel – having unobstructed
vision is vital to avoid running off of the road or having a collision.
Illuminate your vehicles headlamps.
Use caution on bridges and overpasses as they susceptible to freezing before
roadways. Avoid using cruise control – cruise can cause the vehicle’s wheels
to continue turning on a slippery surface when speed needs to be decreased.

Be Prepared – ensure your vehicle has a full tank of gas in the event you
are stranded for an extended period of time.
Charge your cellular phone prior to departure.
Take a blanket.
Notify a family member or a friend of your travel plans prior to departure –
if you travel is interrupted, someone will know.

Collision Information- first, be patient. Winter weather also limits our
capabilities and increases our response time; also, keep in mind that we
will be experiencing a high volume of requests for service. Attempt to move
your vehicle out of the roadway if you are involved in a minor, non-injury
traffic collision; especially if you are in a dangerous area such as a curve
or a blind hill. If your vehicle is stranded or wrecked but not in the
roadway, attempts to recover your vehicle will have to wait until conditions
improve for safety considerations.

Road Conditions – to check the status of road conditions, motorists are
asked to go to the Department of Transportation’s website at
http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/. The public is not advised to dial 911 or the
Highway Patrol Communication Centers for road conditions.

However, citizens can contribute to highway safety by reporting erratic
drivers to the Highway Patrol by dialing *Hp or *47 on their cellular
phones. Callers will remain anonymous and should give a description of the
vehicle, location, direction of travel and license number if possible.

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.

WCU College of Health and Human Sciences opens pro bono physical therapy clinic

The College of Health and Human Sciences at Western Carolina University has launched a pro bono clinic to provide physical therapy services to underserved and underinsured populations of Western North Carolina.

The clinic, operated by students in WCU’s doctoral program in physical therapy under the supervision of faculty members, is open from 6 until 8:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. It is located in Carolina West Sports Medicine clinic space on the first floor of the Health and Human Sciences Building on Little Savannah Road on WCU’s West Campus.

The physical therapy clinic is among several clinics located in WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building that are designed to provide much-needed health care services to WNC residents while giving students in the health care professions valuable hands-on learning experiences, said Doug Keskula, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

“Through the new physical therapy clinic and other clinics in our building, we are able to deliver exceptional health services to our community while simultaneously supporting the education and development of the highly skilled health professionals of the future,” Keskula said.

“The truly extraordinary aspect of this clinic is that it is a student-led initiative,” he said. “Our physical therapy students have been involved in creating and implementing every aspect of this much-needed clinic. Under the guidance of faculty member and clinic director Dr. Ashley Hyatt, our students are learning the professional roles of patient advocacy and social responsibility firsthand.”

Hyatt, who joined the WCU faculty in 2013, has previous experience working in a pro bono clinic during her years in graduate school. “I participated both as a student and as a supervising clinician, and I was able to see firsthand how beneficial the clinic was to the community,” she said.

Soon after her arrival on campus, Hyatt began working on a proposal for a clinic at WCU. Students in the physical therapy program formed a student board to develop plans for the clinic, under the supervision of an advisory board composed of faculty and staff from WCU as well as community partners.

“It has been very exciting to see all of the hard work that these students have put into this clinic come to fruition. It is also really rewarding to see our students apply what they have learned in the classroom to actual patients who truly need their help,” Hyatt said. “We all learn something each clinic night, and this will be a constant work in progress. We would like to start expanding the clinic to other professions in the college once we get a bit more comfortable.”

Last September, WestCare Center for Family Medicine launched a new full-time primary care clinic in the building. That clinic occupies 2,000 square feet within the 160,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

In December 2013, Carolina West Sports Medicine opened a rehabilitation and sports medicine clinic in the building, providing services to the community and clinical practice opportunities for WCU faculty and students. The building’s interdisciplinary clinic also hosts WCU’s nationally recognized Speech and Hearing Clinic, the Balance and Fall Prevention Clinic, and Vecinos Farmworker Health Program.

Opened in the fall of 2012, the Health and Human Sciences Building is the first facility built on 344 acres across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus that were acquired by WCU in 2005 as part of the Millennial Initiative. A comprehensive regional economic development strategy, the Millennial Initiative promotes university collaboration with private industry and government partners to enhance hands-on student learning and collaborative research.

In addition, the Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund of Western Carolina University recently issued a request for qualifications for a project to develop a medical office building to be constructed near the university’s Health and Human Sciences Building.

The office building will be the first privately developed structure to be built on the West Campus as part of the Millennial Initiative. Expected to encompass at least 30,000 square feet of space, the building will become home to a mix of office space for health care professionals, along with space for health-related businesses.

The Mountain Area Pro Bono Physical Therapy Clinic is available to individuals who do not have insurance coverage for physical therapy.

Golden LEAF commits $50 million to entice auto manufacturer

The Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors announced today that it reserved $50 million to provide support for the location of an automobile manufacturing facility within the borders of North Carolina.

“The state is readying itself to win and host this type of manufacturing industry,” said Johnathan Rhyne, Chair of the Golden LEAF Board of Directors. “The Golden LEAF Board took this action to demonstrate its commitment to this emerging opportunity. An automobile manufacturer and its suppliers can create thousands of jobs and serve as a catalyst for long-term economic advancement.”

Since its inception, Golden LEAF has been committed to using the funds entrusted to it for projects with the most potential for bolstering North Carolina’s long-term economy, especially in tobacco-dependent, economically distressed, and/or rural communities.

“The committed Golden LEAF funds are not earmarked for a specific site or company, but to a site that an automobile manufacturer has indicated is its preferred North Carolina location,” said Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF President. “The Foundation generally does not make a single grant of this magnitude, but recognizes the transformative potential of attracting this industry. The Board’s commitment is equal to a year and a half of our current grantsmaking budget, conveying the seriousness and aggressiveness that will be required to be successful.”

As a public charity, Golden LEAF funds can be used for costs associated with project needs such as public infrastructure and workforce training.

Taken for a Ride? Subprime Auto Loans Driving Consumers to Bad Credit

Trends have been found in auto lending that look an awful lot like the mortgage market prior to the meltdown that resulted in the recession. Those trends are featured in a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending. The report focuses on the growth of subprime lending … loans to people with poor credit scores.

The center’s Chris Kukla explains there are several issues at play – cars are more expensive and wages are stagnant. Plus, he says dealers are rewarded for issuing loans at inflated interest rates – an undisclosed practice called a dealer markup, “You’re already underwater by 40 percent to half the minute you drive off the lot, but you’ve also got a depreciating asset. Most people, they’re going to be underwater the entire time that they’re in the loan.”

Kukla contends that subprime loans are not only dangerous to a family’s economic health, but in the long run it hurts car dealers as well, because consumers upside-down in long-term loans aren’t repeat customers.

The report found the use of subprime loans for cars has grown quite suddenly, and there’s been a corresponding uptick in car and truck repossessions.

Kukla says consumers may think they have protections, but the industry has been aggressive in averting regulation – especially at the state level, “This is an area where there has been very little, if any, real consumer protections put in place, when you compare it to any other lending market.”

Those against regulations say stricter rules could make it tougher for people with sub-par credit to find auto loans with payments that work within their budget.

NC Schools: Are they making the grade?

All public schools in North Carolina got letter grades from A-F from the State Board of Education Thursday.

Eighty percent of the grades are based on how students performed on standardized tests. Twenty percent of the grades are tied to how much academic growth students showed while enrolled at the school.
About 29 percent of schools got a “D” or “F”. All schools assigned those grades must send a letter to parents informing them.

The statistics show traditional public schools both fail less and shine less than public charter schools. They also show that schools where a majority of students fall below the poverty line overwhelmingly got Ds and Fs.

State education officials said another way to look at the numbers is over two-thirds of schools got a C or better.
On Average Jackson County schools saw a C average with a few exceptions. Jackson Early College received an A while Mountain Discovery saw a B grade.

— Blue Ridge Early College: D.
— Cullowhee Valley School: C.
— Fairview Elementary: C.
— Blue Ridge School: D.
— Scotts Creek Elementary: C.
— Smokey Mountain Elementary: D.
— Smoky Mountain High: C.
— Summit: C

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.

Spring enrollment tops 9,800 for first time in WCU history

Thanks to an increase in the percentage of first-time freshmen returning after their initial fall semester of study, total spring enrollment at Western Carolina University has topped 9,800 for the first time in university history.

The spring enrollment high-water mark comes after WCU set another fall enrollment record in September, with 10,382 students on the roll, a 2.7 percent jump in the total student population over the previous fall’s tally.

Preliminary census data compiled by the university’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness indicates that enrollment for the 2015 spring semester stands at 9,814. That figure represents a 1.7 percent increase over last spring’s enrollment of 9,650, said Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.

Spring enrollment numbers at institutions of higher education typically are lower than fall enrollment as some students do not return for a second semester for reasons that range from academic to personal, Metz said.

The increase in spring enrollment is driven, at least in part, by a higher percentage of first-semester freshmen who returned to campus in the spring for a second semester, Metz said. This year’s fall-to-spring freshman retention rate is 92.4 percent, up from the spring 2014 rate of 90 percent.

University officials point to ongoing efforts to increase the number of students who remain at WCU beyond the freshman year as a factor in recent improvements in retention rates, which also are boosting total enrollment. Higher fall-to-spring rates of retention for freshmen typically also indicate that a larger percentage of students will return for their second year of study.

Although the university’s official census day comes after the 10th class day of the semester, enrollment numbers are considered preliminary until they have been submitted to the University of North Carolina General Administration.

Park seeks NC ‘Citizen Science’ volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are seeking volunteers to help with an important research project. In an effort to do a better job of tracking nature’s calendar, or phenology, park rangers are recruiting volunteers who are willing to adopt a tree-monitoring plot in areas throughout the North Carolina side of the park.

A tree phenology monitoring training will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday March 7, at the Oconaluftee administration building in Cherokee. After training, volunteers will be assigned to a phenology plot for which they will collect data multiple times throughout the growing season.

Plots up for “adoption” are located near parking areas in the Deep Creek, Fontana, Oconaluftee, Purchase Knob, Cataloochee, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap regions of the park.

Information collected by volunteers will go into a national database that helps answer questions such as “was spring early this year?” or “when will the fall colors peak?” Monitoring phenology will help park rangers to understand how earlier springs and cold snaps impact our mountain forests.

Those interested in signing up for the training are asked to contact

Leah Nagel, Citizen Science assistant, at Leah_Nagel@partner.nps.gov or 497-1945

Sheriff’s Office Seeks Help Locating Suspects

Recently the Sheriff’s Office requested assistance from the public in regards to several breaking and enterings and larcenies in the Qualla/Whittier communities of Jackson County. The Sheriff’s Office has obtained arrest warrants for suspects in some of these break ins. Tara Renee Pheasant, aka Tara McCoy, DOB 08/24/1976, and Frank Joseph McCoy, DOB 08/27/1993, have not been located at the time of this release, but the Sheriff’s office is asking for anyone with information about the suspect’s whereabouts to contact our crime stoppers at 828-631-1125 or crimestoppers@jacksonnc.org Frank is the son of Tara Pheasant and both have been charged in Haywood County on similar charges and are out on bond.

Tuscola Mourns Loss of a Classmate

celesteperezTuscola High School students are mourning the loss of a classmate who was killed in a fatal crash Sunday night in Candler. Troopers say it happened around 7PM Sunday evening on Dogwood Road near the I-40 overpass.

They say the driver lost control on a curve and hit a tree. Celeste Perez, 17, formerly of Waynesville was riding in the front passenger seat and died in the wreck.

According to North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Kelly Rhodes, Perez was a passenger in a car driven by 16-year-old Lori Messer, of Clyde.
Perez was taken to Mission Health, along with Messer and male passenger Eddie Mathis, 16, of Canton, where she was later pronounced dead. All three were not wearing their seat belts, Rhodes said.

They are continuing to investigate. No charges have been filed.

Developer sought for medical office building project at WCU

The Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund of Western Carolina University has issued a request for qualifications for a project to develop a medical office building to be constructed near the university’s Health and Human Sciences Building.

The building will be the first privately developed structure to be built on WCU’s 344-acre West Campus as part of the university’s Millennial Initiative.

Expected to encompass at least 30,000 square feet of space, the building will become home to a mix of office space for health care professionals, along with space for health-related businesses, said Tony Johnson, executive director for the Millennial Initiative.

“We envision this building as a hub of collaboration, where WCU faculty and students will work alongside health care professionals,” Johnson said. “The health care practitioners who locate there will help meet the medical needs of the people of the region, and simultaneously will provide hands-on learning experiences for our students and opportunities for professional practice and research for our faculty.”

The request for qualifications is the initial step in the process of selecting a full-service developer to design, finance, construct and manage a medical office building or similar specialty medical center. Selection of the developer is expected to take place in June, with construction to begin as early as January 2016 and occupancy of the building in early 2017.

The medical office building is anticipated to be the first of five phases of building projects designed to complement the Health and Human Sciences Building as part of the long-range planning for the development of the West Campus, Johnson said.

The area around the HHS Building is expected to become the hub of a health sciences cluster, which will expand collaborative opportunities with partners such as private clinics, medical device companies and other health-related businesses. The partnerships will be intended to enhance hands-on student learning, foster collaborative research and promote development of scientific and technological innovations with potential commercial applications, and provide needed services to the community.

Completion of the medical office building will represent an additional collaboration between WCU and private health care partners. Last September, WestCare Health launched a new full-time primary care clinic in the HHS Building. The clinic occupies 2,000 square feet within the 160,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

In December 2013, WestCare opened a rehabilitation and sports medicine clinic in the building, joining Carolina West Sports Medicine, which provides care to the community and collaborates clinically with WCU rehabilitation and sports medicine faculty, staff and students.

Opened in the fall of 2012, the Health and Human Sciences Building is the first facility built on 344 acres across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus that were acquired by WCU in 2005 as part of the Millennial Initiative. A comprehensive regional economic development strategy, the Millennial Initiative promotes university collaboration with private industry and government partners to enhance hands-on student learning and collaborative research.

The medical office building project is made possible because the WCU Board of Trustees in December 2013 endorsed a proposal to lease the “millennial campus” tract to the university’s Endowment Fund, a move designed to enable WCU to respond rapidly and nimbly to potential public-private economic development opportunities.

The lease proposal was subsequently approved by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the governor and the Council of State. It enables WCU to follow a strategic economic development model similar to what is in use at other UNC institutions, including N.C. State University for its Centennial Campus and UNC Charlotte for its Charlotte Research Initiative, where institutional endowment funds already owned tracts prior to their designation as “millennial campuses.”

For more information about the Millennial Initiative, contact Tony Johnson at 828-227-2596 or tonyjohnson@wcu.edu.

Developers interested in the medical office building project can find the request for qualifications online at www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/RFQMOBFINAL11215.pdf.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies to start March 10

Discover America’s most visited national park on guided hikes with Friends of the Smokies. View breathtaking vistas, rushing waterfalls, historic homesteads and more tucked away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Classic Hikes of the Smokies.

The first Classic Hike of 2015 is Tuesday, March 10 to Smokemont. This hike is 6.2 miles round trip and is moderate in difficulty with a total elevation gain of 1,400 feet. Participants will visit a historic chapel and cemetery on this hike.

Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes feature trail interpretation, history and park projects that donations to Friends of the Smokies have supported. Hikes are guided by author and hiking enthusiast Danny Bernstein.

This year’s hikes include Smokemont, Caldwell Fork, Lake Shore, Hemphill Bald, overnight at LeConte Lodge, Big Creek, Boogerman, Purchase Knob, Chimney Tops and Noland Creek.

Participants on the hikes will learn how donations made to Friends of the Smokies help fund stewardship projects in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These projects include but are not limited to native trout management, hemlock wooly adelgid treatment, historic structure preservation, Parks as Classrooms program, and elk management.

Hikes are offered on the second Tuesday of each month. Guided Classic Hikes are $35 and include a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. Current Friends of the Smokies members receive a discount and hike for $10. Members who bring a friend hike for free. All registration donations benefit the Smokies Trails Forever program.

To register, email AnnaLee@friendsofthesmokies.org. To view a complete listing of Friends’ monthly Classic Hikes of the Smokies, visit friendsofthesmokies.org/hikes.html.

2015 WNC Beer Guide Now Available

The winter/spring release of the WNC Beer Guide has hit the shelves around Western North Carolina.

The WNC Craft Beer Guide is the original “go to” guide for locals and tourists looking to visit the breweries in Asheville and the surrounding areas. It includes maps to the brewery locations, as well as pubs that carry local beer, beer tours, and beer retailers. The guide is an informative resource for those seeking to get a “taste” of Beer City.

The WNC Beer guide is a printed and online resource for visiting beer lovers and Western North Carolina residents. View the online version at http://wncbeer.com.

WNCBeer.com is a resource for reviews, directions, and upcoming events. The beer-curious can search by area, by brewery, by event, or by type of beer and download the beer guide app.

50,000 guidebooks are distributed bi-annually and are available for free at area chambers, hotels, retailers, restaurants and pubs in Asheville, Hendersonville, Black Mountain, Waynesville and Bryson City. For information, call Jami Daniels at 277-8250.

Heating Assistance Available

As winter weather makes headlines nationally, N.C. DHHS wants to remind North Carolinians about the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). Applications are still being accepted through March 2015 or until funding is exhausted.

LIEAP is a federally-funded program administered in North Carolina through the Department of Health and Human Services. It provides almost $51 million toward helping eligible households pay their heating bills.

Since Dec. 1, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program has provided approximately $24 million to help more than 80,000 households pay their heating bills and stay warm this winter.

“LIEAP is truly a life-saver for many vulnerable North Carolinians,” said David Locklear, Acting Chief for Economic and Family Services for N.C. DHHS’ Division of Social Services. “Energy assistance is critical for homes with someone at risk for a life-threatening illness or death in the cold winter months.”

Nearly half of the households receiving assistance include an occupant aged 60 and above. Others include at least one disabled person (receiving SSI, SSA or VA disability) who receives services through N.C. DHHS’ Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS).

To be eligible, households must meet income requirements, have reserves at or below $2,250 and be responsible for paying its own heating bills.

Sheriff’s Office Seeks Assistance in Identifying Male

10942460_868184906565760_8306161362118663428_nThe Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is seeking assistance in identifying a male subject who was involved in passing stolen checks at both the Sylva and Cullowhee State Employee’s Credit Unions on Jan. 14. The subject was driving a black newer model car, seen in the photos. The male was accompanied by an unknown female subject in the passenger seat. Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 828-631-1125 or crimestoppers@jacksonnc.org

Group: Big Macs, McNuggets Should Be Sold Without Antibiotics

gr-44209-1-1The company known for its “Golden Arches” is being asked to make its burgers, chicken nuggets and other menu items antibiotic-free. It’s estimated that nearly 70% of all antibiotics sold in the US are used in raising livestock and poultry. McDonald’s sells more than 1,000,000,000 pounds of beef each year, and Pamela Clough with the watchdog US Public Interest Research Group says if the fast-food giant required its suppliers to stop raising meat with antibiotics, it would prompt sweeping changes in the industry, “If they were to make this change, it would be the equivalent of banning antibiotics in meat production in a small country. And so, if they make this commitment, it could really change the paradigm of the market and make antibiotic-free meat more affordable and more accessible for everybody”

Some medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic-resistant infections that are serious public health threats. McDonald’s says it recognizes the importance of combating antibiotic resistance and an update to its policy on antibiotic use in food animals is due out this year.

Other restaurants, including Panera and Chipotle, say they already use only antibiotic-free meats, and the Chick-fil-A chain has made a commitment to only purchase chicken raised without antibiotics by 2020. In 2003, McDonald’s implemented a policy about antibiotics, but Clough says it didn’t go far enough, “It only applied to some suppliers, and didn’t require even these suppliers to only purchase meat raised without antibiotics. It had to do with antibiotics used for growth promotion versus disease prevention. In the end, we need stronger action.”

The fast food giant announced last year that it will start transitioning to sustainable beef by 2016, but Clough says it wasn’t specific about the definition of “sustainable.”