High Country Press’ 2016 Year in Review

Published Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 10:00 am

January

These are some pics following a three-day snow event in Boone last January.

These are some pics following a three-day snow event in Boone last January. Photos by Ken Ketchie

The first story for High Country Press in 2016 was a positive one – and so was one of the last. Here is our year in review, beginning with Amanda and Tristin Rattler welcoming a beautiful baby girl, Briley Mae, into the world. Twenty-five minutes after the midnight fireworks, Briley Mae was the first baby born at Watauga Medical Center in 2016.

The year also started wonderfully for three individuals who beat the ridiculous odds and split the record-breaking $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot. The odds of winning the Powerball had recently decreased from 1 in 175.2 million to 1 in 292.2 million.

In late January, Storm Jonas pummeled the High Country with most areas receiving double-digit snow accumulation and caused two Red Cross shelters to open. Sugar Grove in western Watauga received the most snow, measuring in at 23 inches for the three-day snow event, according to RaysWeather.com.

February

Appalachian State University last day of early voting draws long lines.

Watauga County Board of Elections continues its battle over early voting at Appalachian State University in 2016. Photo by Lonnie Webster

Before all of the snow from Storm Jonas could melt, Mother Nature decided to say hello again. Before noon on a Wednesday in early February, nearly 3 inches of rain fell – before noon. One woman had to be rescued from a parking lot near the mall, which his notorious for flooding in these parts.

In what’s become a rather usual news story in Watauga County in the spring and fall, the State Board of Elections mandated the Watauga County Board of Elections to include an early voting site for the 2016 primary at Appalachian State University after the GOP-led Watauga County Board of Elections couldn’t come to unanimous agreement on one-stop sites.  

The Watauga County Board of Adjustment overturns the Watauga County Planning Department’s decision to revoke a permit for an asphalt plant proposed by Tennessee-based Maymead Inc. off of U.S. 421 in Deep Gap.

March 

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The Boone Town Council purchased 53.8 acres of property near Brookshire Park for a future municipal complex and recreational greenspace. Photos by Ken Ketchie

Small business owners of both political persuasions expressed their displeasure to being blindsided by new sales tax changes enacted by the N.C. General Assembly. The new law, which went into effect March 1, enacted new taxes for all kinds of tradesmen such as mechanics, cabinetmakers and carpenters.

The Boone Town Council agrees to purchase 53.8 acres in between Brookshire Park and Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation property for the future development of a municipal complex and recreational greenspace along the New River. The price was $4.68 million.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Boone celebrated its 20th anniversary on the campus of Appalachian State University in 2016. Heralded climber Alex Honnold and veteran mountaineer and adventure author David Roberts attended the local event, which has turned into a weeklong festival.

Appalachian Hospitality Management, Inc., the corporation that owned the Best Western Hotel in Boone when three people died because of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2013, plead guilty to three counts of involuntary manslaughter. Superior Court Judge Alan Z. Thornburg ordered that corporation dissolved as of sentencing and charges against AHM President Barry Damon Mallatere — three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault inflicting serious injury — were dropped.

April 

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The old Kmart is in the process of being demolished on Friday to make way for a Publix. Photo by Ken Ketchie

In order to make way for a Publix Super Markets, demolition of the old Kmart building on Blowing Rock Road in Boone has begun. The store will open at Blowing Rock Road and Postal Street sometime in 2017. The new store will be about 49,000 square feet in size and feature a drive thru Publix pharmacy. The redevelopment is estimated to cost $9 million.

UNC President Margaret Spellings, attended Monday’s site dedication of App State’s future home for the Beaver College of Health Sciences. The invitation-only event was also a celebration of the voter-approved $2 billion Connect NC Public Improvement Bond because it will fund the $70-million, 203,000-square-foot facility to be located at the corner of Deerfield and State Farm roads.

19-year-old Martin Roberts went missing in April. Roberts was a Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute student. He was last seen in the area near the ASU Convocation Center. More than 250 days later, Roberts has yet to be found. See the Help Find Martin Roberts Facebook page for more info.

A plane crashed into the Boone Golf Course. The occupants were John Field Worsley II, 68, of Lenoir; Steven Cox Berry, 43, of Banner Elk and Benjamin (Ben) Franklin Chappell, 69, of Boone. Listed in critical condition, Worsley was the lone survivor in the days and weeks following the crash.  

May 

Ray Russell of RaysWeather.com embarked on a crazy adventure in May and 469 miles later, he successfully ran across the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, averaging 20 miles a day. He began in Waynesboro, Va. and ended the journey on the southern end in Cherokee.

June 

© Candice Corbin Photography- http://candicecorbin.com/- Boone, NC.

© Candice Corbin Photography- http://candicecorbin.com/- Boone, NC.

The Boone Town Council approved a mixed-used development featuring a parking deck at The Marketplace property surrounded by Water, King and Howard streets. Developed by John Winkler, Kenneth Wilcox and Roger Wright, the mixed-use development will contain 99 units with 159 bedrooms aimed at “young professionals” and college students, both grad and undergrad. The parking deck will accommodate 367 parking spaces with 88 bicycle spaces. Commercial space includes 8,500 square feet for retail and 9,380 square feet of restaurant area.

In its 18th year, Blood Sweat and Gears nonprofit holds another excellent charity ride. This year, Blood Sweat and Gears hosted 30 Ride2Recovery military veterans. See photos from this past year’s ride here.

July

The look of the U.S. 421 widening project in Blowing Rock during Fourth of July weekend. Photo by Lonnie Webster

The look of the U.S. 421 widening project in Blowing Rock during Fourth of July weekend. Photo by Lonnie Webster

Slowly but surely, the years-long U.S. 421 widening project in Blowing Rock starts to look befitting of the village. All lanes opened up in time for Fourth of July weekend.        

80-mile-per-hour, straight-line winds wreak havoc on the High Country, causing a Red Cross emergency shelter to open up for those in need. Thousands of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation members lost power and the utility said that this was the most devastating storm since 2009. See video of powerful storm here.

Owners and staff of the High Country Grizzlies, including famed former App State head coach Jerry Moore, are introduced to the community and media in July. “We want to create a franchise that is a part of the fabric of the community,” said High Country Grizzlies majority owner and successful entrepreneur Donald Thompson.

The Standard of Boone developers announce that the mega student-housing complex won’t open in time for college move-in day in August, just prior to the fall semester beginning. The Standard actually didn’t open until December.

Another person died jumping off of Elk River Falls in Avery County. Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye identified the deceased as 39-year-old Jacques Downing of Newland, who jumped off the falls on Saturday and never resurfaced.

August

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The charred aftermath of the Valle Landing fire. Photos by Ken Ketchie

Scientists from Appalachian State University have captured images believed to be those of the elusive Brown Mountain Lights. Regular sightings of the mysterious lights – hovering above Brown Mountain – date back more than a century. But as often as the lights are seen, they’re rarely captured on film or video. 

Valle Landing, a mixed-use building in Valle Crucis, burned to the ground on Friday morning. One person was flown to Johnson City with life-threatening injuries and another individual was confirmed dead. Benjamin Williford, 30, of Boone, was later arrested and charged with arson.

The Boone Town Council voted 4-1 to request an additional $12 million in USDA loans for the town’s water intake project. The project’s total cost is now estimated to be nearly $42.3 million. This compares to the $25-million bond referendum that town voters approved in 2008 for the water intake and the $20.5 million loan that the town accepted from the USDA to finance the project in 2010.

Boone Police Officer Mike Foley’s wicked sense of humor was on display – and reciprocated – during his retirement celebration at the Jones House. After 34 years in law enforcement, 18 years of which were with the Boone Police Department, Foley’s last day on the force was today, Aug. 31, 2016.

September 

Miami Hurricanes coming to Boone was a big deal.

Miami Hurricanes coming to Boone was a big deal.

High Country United Way distributed $250,000 to nonprofit programs in the area. See a list of grant recipients and grantees here.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s held a ribbon cutting for its Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge facility in Blowing Rock. The Foley Center is an 87,500-square-foot, 112-bed healthcare facility features on-site physicians, short and long-term care, skilled nursing, rehabilitation services, memory support, assisted living and palliative care.

Despite the whooping, the Miami Hurricanes coming to town was a big deal for Boone and Appalachian State University. Multiple records were set including Kidd Brewer Stadium attendance and the amount of liquor sold at the Boone ABC store.

October

Election season brought the Women for Trump bus tour and Chelsea Clinton to Boone.

Election season brought the Women for Trump bus tour and Chelsea Clinton to Boone.

The “Women for Trump” bus tour took a pit stop at the Hardee’s parking lot in Boone after rallies in Charlotte and Gastonia earlier in the day. A few dozen folks turned out for the event

Owned by a pair of young brothers from Boone, Hans Solo creeped his or her way to victory at the 39th annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk. Siblings Reyn and Hickson Beekman were the owners of the fastest woolly worm this side of the galaxy, according to Jim Morton, founder of the famous event. 

Participating in the electoral process is a civic duty that some take too lightly these days; but not Nora Percival. She recently celebrated her 102nd birthday and was more than excited to hit the polls for early voting Thursday, as she’s waited an entire lifetime to vote for a female presidential candidate. 

Appalachian State University and Duda Paine Architects held a two-day workshop, including an open-door charrette on Thursday, with community leaders and the public to review draft designs of the university’s Master Plan 2025

Chelsea Clinton spoke at Legends on the campus of Appalachian State University. Doors closed after 550 people turned out to hear Clinton tell voters why they should vote for her mother, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate.

On Thursday, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made the establishment of the Appalachian High Country American Viticultural Area (AVA) official by placing it in the Federal Register. The ruling goes into effect on Nov. 28, 2016. The High Country Wine Growers Association was responsible for the AVA application that was submitted in October 2014. 

November

Grandfather Mountain amidst a smoky haze from the wildfires on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Grandfather Mountain amidst a smoky haze from the wildfires on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Election Results: Democrats regained control of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners. Incumbents win the school board. Rep. Jonathan Jordan and Sen. Deanna Ballard, both Republicans, win their races, and Roy Cooper defeats Gov. Pat McCrory.

Boone Stands with Standing Rock led a march from Sanford Mall on Appalachian State University campus to Wells Fargo, one of the financial institutions funding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). 

Wildfires raged across Western North Carolina and even hit close to home in Ashe County and the Sampson area of Watauga County.

December

Though matinees and evening features are yet on the program, the Appalachian Theatre’s stunning black-and-teal façade and multi-colored marquee are together the highlight of King Street these days. The first public lighting of the marquee took place during the first week in December.

After nearly 40 years of fighting fires and responding to emergencies, Watauga County Fire Marshal/Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Sudderth announced his retirement.

The Appalachian State Mountaineers football team wins back-to-back Camellia Bowls.

In an opinion dated Dec. 21, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that the 2014 legislation enacted by the N.C. General Assembly abolishing the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction is constitutional.

HB2 controversy extends into the holiday season.

Well, to begin and end on a good note, here you go.

John M. Harris of Boone and his social media friends across several states made the holiday season a little brighter for a single mother who works tirelessly to support her three children and, without a car, walks several miles a day to and from the bus stop, work, day care and life’s other necessary errands.

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