Festival of Hope raises funds for Relay

The Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band performs for a crowd at the Barbecue, Bags and Bluegrass event. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Last Wednesday evening marked the midway point to the weeklong Festival of Hope and the party was not slowing down.

Previous events such as the Survivor Walk, the Building 429 concert, the Killin’ Cancer Volleyball Game and the Farmer’s Market Community Night had all been successful in raising money and awareness for the American Cancer Society. The Barbecue, Bags and Bluegrass event on Aug. 29 was no different, according to Renea Jones-Rogers, local Relay chair.

The Barbecue, Bags and Bluegrass event drew a large crowd for a great cause. The Unicoi County High School Bluegrass band kicked things off. During their performance, several citizens in attendance came up to pick with the band.

“This is the seventh year of the UCHS Bluegrass Band program and this year we are excited to have two bands, The Blue Devil Bluegrass Boys and the UCHS Blue Belles,” UCHS teacher and band sponsor Lori Ann Wright said. “The Blue Devil Bluegrass Boys are comprised of Connor Brackins, John Hilemon, Tate Kerns, Matthew Laws, Lucas Metz and Adam Street. Members of the UCHS Blue Belles are Hannah Edwards, Blake Hall, Sarah Grace Larkey, Emma Ledford and Macy Robinson. Lucas Swinehart and Olivia Rogers are sound technicians for this year’s band.”

This was the first performance for this group and the oldest member of the band is a sophomore. Some of the band have only been playing instruments for the past few years.

“John has been playing guitar for about two years, but just began playing bluegrass for about the past year,” said John Hilemon’s mother, Anjanette Hilemon.

What they lack in years, they more than make up for in hard work and tenacity, according to Wright.

The UCHS Bluegrass Band was actually started by the students.

“It all started about seven years ago when a student, Craig T. Shelton came to my room to pick with his friend Troy Boone,” Wright said. “I had a few girls in drama that could sing and pretty soon we had a bluegrass band.”

Shelton is now playing with East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass Band and Boone is currently a member of the band, Sideline. The UCHS Bluegrass Band has been successful in promoting members to the next level, according to Wright.

“We have about one student a year go on to play in the ETSU Bluegrass Band and we have a couple of students that have received a full ride to college,” Wright added.

The next scheduled event for the band will be in October for the Farm Bureau Insurance Dinner. There will also be a holiday event in December. Follow the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band on Facebook and Twitter for more information and upcoming events.

Also on Wednesday, the crew at Hawg-N-Dawg was busy keeping up with the hungry crowd. The smoke filled the air with the smell of the eatery’s signature barbecue.

“We were honored to be a part of this inaugural event,” Hawg-N-Dawg owner Lou Snider said.

The weather cooperated for the corn hole tournament last Wednesday. The players received T-shirts from the Relay For Life team for coming out and supporting the event. The winners of the corn hole tournament were the team of Jamie Hensley and Bobby Ramsey. Second place went to the team of John Bannister and Gary Swineheart.

Concluding the Festival of Hope were the Passport to Hope Dinner at The Bramble on Thursday, Aug. 30, which was sold out, and the Friday Night Lights of Hope on Aug. 31. There was a large crowd that braved the early storms to be a part of the Friday Night Lights of Hope. So far, the total amount received has been $41,000. Donations are still being made and can be made anytime at relayforlife.org/unicoitn. Jones-Rogers, on behalf of all with the Relay For Life, wanted to send out a thank you for all of the many faces that showed up for the events.

“We want to thank all of those who gave financial contributions or showed up to bring awareness,” she said. “It was great to see 100 percent of the community from the downtown businesses to the students at Unicoi County Schools come together to make this event a success.”

If you missed this year’s Festival of Hope and would like to support Relay For Life, please contact the local team at relayforlife.org/unicoitn to make a donation or check for upcoming events.

Relay For Life Festival of Hope begins

Cancer survivors begin the ceremonial Survivor Lap during the opening event of the Unicoi County Relay For Life held on Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Unicoi County High School track. Relay events continue this week. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The annual Relay For Life event is officially underway. This year, the festivities will last all week long and is known as The Festival of Hope.

The festival kicked off on Saturday, Aug. 25, with the Survivor/Caregiver Walk for cancer survivors and their caregivers at the Unicoi County High School track. The survivors and their caregivers were led by the Unicoi County Middle School marching band and cheered on by the Unicoi County Middle School cheerleaders. Taking part in the walk, which has become a cornerstone of Relay, were more than two dozen survivors.

Following the Survivor/Caregiver Walk on Saturday, there was a presentation of awards. These awards acknowledged those who work hard to put on such an event. The winners for the Youth Recognition Awards were Gracie Tilson and Bella Bogart.

One of the major awards of the night was the Emma Smith Award, which is named after the founder of the Unicoi County Relay For Life. This year’s winner was Lesa Buchanan. Recognized with the Mike Clouse Award was local resident Bryon Wiggand. Nick Rogers surprised his mother, Renea Jones-Rogers, with the Heart of Hope Award for all the time and energy she has put into making this event a great success.

Saturday’s event had a wide array of activities. There were a variety of classic cars on display. A human foosball course was set up in the infield. Bands played on the main stage. There were multiple inflatables for the children in attendance. Dining options were made available by Trucky Cheese and Tri-A-Bite food trucks, as well as Grillin For A Cure’s fajitas. As the sun went down runners filled the streets for the annual Hope Run.

Relay coordinators said Saturday’s event was a tremendous kick off for the week. The message was clear that the community was not going to lay down to cancer. According to Renea Jones-Rogers, “through our efforts tonight, we will have more folks celebrating birthdays.”

If you missed Saturday’s event, please come join the Festival of Hope for a good time and a great cause. Remaining events include:

Wednesday, Aug. 29: Barbecue, Bags & Bluegrass Night

This event will take place in downtown Erwin on Union Street and will feature food from Hawg-N-Dawg, a cornhole tournament, and a chance to pick with the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band. There is a $10 per person tournament donation. The community is asked to dress in the color of the cancer that has impacted their lives. The event is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 30: Passport to Hope Dinner at The Bramble

The theme for this year’s event will be “A Low Country Experience.” There will be a low country boil, grits bar, desserts and much more. The dinner will start at 6 p.m. This event is almost full, so please call 534-1616 for ticket availability.

Friday, Aug. 31: Friday Night Lights of Hope

The Festival of Hope will wrap up at the UCHS football game. A parade featuring the teams, sponsors, survivors and volunteers will lead to the tailgate party.

The entrances at Gentry Stadium will be lined with the luminaria bags and the signature HOPE sign will be on display as UCHS takes on North Greene High School. At the conclusion of the night, there will reportedly be a special surprise in store for everyone.

Anyone going to the game is encouraged to wear the color of cancer that affects you and your community. The parade starts at 5 p.m. and the game starts at 7:30 p.m.

To check for a full schedule of events or to donate please visit www.relayforlife.org/UnicoiTN and help our area surpass their goal.

Unicoi: Where the buffalo roam – again

A herd of buffalo, including calves born in April and June, now call the Town of Unicoi home. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi is living up to the name Buffalo Valley, thanks to Johnny Lynch.

As a wildlife artist, Lynch, who also serves as the town’s mayor, spent years searching the world for his inspiration. He decided that it would make more sense to find a place that already has natural beauty and expand on the wildlife there for his art.

What he and his wife Pat have created is Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens – a passion project that has been years in the making. Johnny Lynch has created a space where artists, nature lovers, students and an entire community can come celebrate the beauty that is Unicoi County. The Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens has music festivals, is open for tours and provides a venue for weddings or other celebrations. There is even a blacksmith and bakery on site. With all the unique features, one of the favorites is visiting the buffalo.

Centuries ago thousands of buffalo journeyed through the valley and created most of the paths that are used as roads today throughout East Tennessee. As they did in most areas, the large agile animals disappeared.

However, the American Buffalo roam in Buffalo Valley once again after the arrival of several buffaloes to the area. Most recently, three small calves were born in the Town of Unicoi for the first time in over 300 years. One calf was born in April and the other two were born in June.

Lynch said he brought the first buffalo back to the Town of Unicoi about three years ago. One of the biggest obstacles he faced was getting a fence that could hold the wild animals.

“Not only are they large and wild, but they are extremely fast,” Lynch said. “They can outrun a horse and stop on a dime.”

Once the fence was in place, the buffalo followed. The females were brought in from Paint Bank, Virginia, and the bull was brought in from Wolcottville, Indiana. Lynch stated that it is currently mating season, which can run up until October. If the mating takes, then in 9 months there may be new residents in the Town of Unicoi.

Due to the size of the buffalo, the birthing process occurs naturally with no outside help. The mother will separate from the herd to give birth. After the calf is born, the mother will keep the calf away from the herd for a few days to get acclimated. The calves are cinnamon colored when they are born and eventually become a darker shade of brown.

The first born calf in the Town of Unicoi, which was born back in April, is already a dark brown so it shouldn’t be long before the calves born in June to start to darken. The proud father, Sammy, is happy to come take a photo while the mothers and calves are a little more reserved. The buffalo live to be around 30 and the oldest ones on site are right around 3 years old.

There are many other features besides the main attraction to see while visiting Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens. Roaming around the land are numerous peacocks, bees, otters, rabbits, groundhogs and many organisms that live in the pond. The peacocks have just shed their feathers, but will regrow them sometime before the end of December.

Classes from all over, including East Tennessee State University, come to study the ecosystem. Not far from the pond is a bakery, complete with an earthen oven. Inside the bakery, Pat was baking fresh bread and cinnamon filled the air.

For more updates and schedule of events, please visit the Facebook pages of both the Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens and the Town of Unicoi.

Dunkin’ Donuts coming to Erwin

The former home of Huddle House on Second Street in Erwin will be the new home of a Dunkin’ Donuts location expected to open this winter. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Kendal Groner

Dunkin’ Donuts has confirmed that they have chosen Erwin as the location for one of their new stores. The popular breakfast eatery, bakery and coffee shop will be moving into the former Huddle House building at 519 Jonesborough Road.

Guy Rudiger, a public relations specialist for Dunkin’ Donuts, said the store has tentative plans to open sometime this winter. According to Erwin building inspector Brian Tapp, Dunkin’ Donuts have turned in their civil documents and are currently under review.

“It’s looking like it’s going to be a really good opportunity for Erwin and Dunkin’ Donuts,” Tapp said. “We’re excited to have them, especially in the location they are going in on the Jonesborough Road and Second Street corridor. A lot of business is starting to build up in there.”

Broyles Hospitality, a subsidiary of GPM Investments, LLC, issued a statement to The Erwin Record expressing their excitement regarding plans to open a Dunkin’ Donuts location in Erwin.

“We hope to open the doors of our brand new Dunkin’ Donuts this winter – just in time for the cold weather and coffee season,” said Arie Kotler, CEO of GPM Investments, LLC. “The Erwin Dunkin’ Donuts will be conveniently located just off of Interstate 26 at exit 37 adjacent to our Roadrunner Markets convenience store allowing us to serve both locals and customers on the go.

“We have enjoyed serving customers at our other  Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Eastern Tennessee and know that our store in Erwin will be no exception. We feel that by offering the quality of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we can help keep Erwin running on Dunkin’.”

Tapp said he has already approved Dunkin’ Donut’s signage, and added that the building design follows the look of other stores in the area such as those in Jonesborough or Bristol.

“In their plans, they are showing a drive-thru, which will be convenient for the citizens and customers,” he said.

Broyles Hospitality also shared that they are looking for “friendly, energetic team members” and wish to invite anyone with interest to their three-day hiring event on Aug. 29-31 from 10 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall.

Voters choose Evely as county mayor

From Staff Reports

According to unofficial results of the Aug. 2 election released by the Unicoi County Election Commission, Garland “Bubba” Evely will be the next mayor of Unicoi County. Evely, the Unicoi County Republican Party nominee, received 2,133 votes to defeat independent candidates Johnny Day (611 votes) and Richard Preston (629 votes).

The Unicoi County Republican Party nominees for three seats from the Second District on the Unicoi County Commission also won their race. Jason Harris (741 votes), Matthew Rice (700 votes) and Glenn White (705 votes) will represent their district for the next four years. Harris and White have previously served on the Commission; Rice is a new member.

Independent candidates Rob Martin (248 votes) and Lisa Brewington White (247 votes) were also on the Aug. 2 ballot.

Results in uncontested races in the Unicoi County General Election are as follows:

District Attorney General: Kenneth C. Baldwin – 2,522

County Commission District 1:

Jamie Harris – 608

Marie Shelton Rice – 533

Loren Thomas – 592

County Commission District 3:

Stephen Hendrix – 777

John W. Mosley – 742

Todd Wilcox – 912

County Trustee: Paul Berry – 3,082

Sheriff: Mike Hensley – 2,838

Register of Deeds: Debbie Tittle – 3,008

Circuit Court Clerk: Darren C. Shelton – 2,991

Superintendent of Roads: Terry Haynes – 2,946

County Clerk: Mitzi Bowen – 3,076

Unicoi County Board of Education (District 1):

Cathy Thomas – 569

Tammy Edwards Tipton – 617

Unicoi County Board of Education (District 3):

Steven W. Scott – 1,013

Steve Willis – 861

Constable (District 1): Arthur Metcalf – 720

Constable (District 2): Wayne Edwards – 975

Constable (District 3): Timmy Lewis – 1,045


In addition to electing a county mayor and three new Second District commissioners as part of the Unicoi County General Election, Unicoi County voters also cast their ballots in Tennessee Republican Primary, Tennessee Democratic Primary and voted for other uncontested offices in the Unicoi County General Election.

Unicoi County results in the Tennessee Republican Primary are as follows:


Diane Black – 798

Randy Boyd – 523

Beth Harwell – 343

Bill Lee – 1,397

Basil Marceaux, Sr. – 7

Kay White – 57

Tennessee Senate (District 3): Rusty Crowe – 2,668

Tennessee House of Representatives (District 4):

John B. Holsclaw Jr. – 1,108

Tim Lingerfelt – 1,708

United States Senate:

Marsha Blackburn – 2,202

Aaron L. Pettigrew – 436

United States House of Representatives (District 1):

Mickie Lou Banyas – 180

James Brooks – 122

Todd A. McKinley – 421

Phil Roe – 2,230

State Executive Committeeman (District 3): Todd A. Fowler – 2,188

State Executive Committeewoman (District 3):

Sharon Fletcher Boreing – 911

Anita Hodges Taylor – 1,062

Betty J. Ziesel – 201


Unicoi County results in the Tennessee Democratic Primary are as follows:


Karl Dean – 240

Craig Fitzhugh – 69

Mezianne Vale Payne – 24

United States Senate:

Phil Bredesen – 302

Gary Davis – 27

John Wolfe – 14

United States House of Representatives (District 1): Marty Olsen – 292

State Executive Committeewoman (District 3): Debbie McClaskey – 263

The above county results are unofficial until they are certified by the Unicoi County Election Commission.

Erwin Planning Commission reviews plans for new Food City store

Jeremy Fields, vice president and general manager of Appalachian Design Services, presents the preliminary site plan for the new Food City to the Town of Erwin Planning Commission. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Quick progress continues to be made in preparation for the new Food City in the Town of Erwin. A preliminary site plan was approved for the supermarket during the Wednesday, July 25, Erwin Planning Commission Meeting.

Food City representatives, including Jeremy Fields, vice president and general manager of Appalachian Design Services, the architectural engineering company for the project, attended the meeting to clarify any questions from town officials. Fields said after speaking with town building inspector Brian Tapp and Erwin Utilities, he believes there will be no issues complying with the town’s regulatory zoning ordinances.

“I think we’ve got everything in line for meeting the regulations,” Fields said.

Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff asked if there is any part of the site plan that will come before the commission at a later date. Fields said a site lighting plan is still underway and documents related to signage will come from the signage manufacturer.

“We do locate the signs on the site plan, but we do not have the specifications on the signs at this time,” he said. “There are notes on there that the signs are to be per the town ordinance on the signage.”

Tapp said once the site lighting and signage plan is presented to him, he will bring those back before the planning commission for approval.

In discussions on traffic flow for the new store, Fields reported that he spoke to the company’s truck engineer, who expects 30 percent of incoming traffic to go down North Industrial Drive.

“The total maximum load that would do is 63 cars in the peak times … around 5:30-6:30 p.m.,” said Fields.

The main entrance at the intersection of Second Street and North Industrial Drive will be signalized by the town, which Rosenoff said is currently in the planning phase, a requirement of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He added that TDOT has also made a recommendation regarding North Industrial Drive and he is waiting on those comments.

“It’s more I think the exiting out of the Food City or the gas station or the other retail onto North Industrial and down to Second Street … which would be a lot more traffic than normal,” Rosenoff said.

At the suggestion of Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, Rosenoff said he will gather more information on the possibility of widening part of  North Industrial Drive into three lanes to allow for a separate turning lane. Rosenoff threw out the possibility of allowing entry into Food City from North Industrial Drive, but making all vehicles exit onto Second Street, as opposed to the preliminary plan’s entrance and exit onto both Second Street and North Industrial Drive.

However, as a design rule, Food City traditionally has two entrances and two exits to prevent traffic congestion. Hensley also said that the neighboring traffic from Pal’s restaurant is something that should potentially be factored into the plan.

“I can see we’re going to have to do something, but we’ll attack that later,” said Hensley.

Tapp said he and Food City representatives had discussed the possibility of adding additional signage for traffic control if needed. With the majority of the traffic coming through the signalized intersection, one or two delivery trucks for Food City will come up North Industrial Drive each day and utilize the wider western entrance to the store.

Hensley made a motion to approve the plan, and her motion was seconded by planning commission member Betty Chandler before it unanimously passed.

• • •

In other business, the planning commission also approved an ordinance amending the zoning ordinance for the industrial district to require the use of a buffer strip or screen for any new or expanding uses.

According to the ordinance, a buffer strip is to be made of plant material such as shrubs or trees to provide an obscuring screen. The shrubs or trees are to be spaced no more than five feet apart and will grow to at least five feet in width and six feet in height after one full growing season. Screening will be comprised of a six-foot solid visual barrier fence for all frontage along a public street and visual areas from the street, or adjacent to residential properties. Any other method or screening or buffering must be brought before the planning commission for approval.

Rosenoff said the new ordinance was spurred by continual issues regarding industries with storage yards or storage buildings, which have posed aesthetic concerns for some.

“We’ve had issues back and forth a lot of times over storage and it not being screened, or it being unsightly … it’s nice and neat and not rusted or is it rusted and dilapidated … it’s just a back and forth,” he said. “Whereas this provides some provision for the planning commission. This covers us to at least have some sort of powers to required screening.”

Hensley voiced her approval for the ordinance and the benefits of adopting such standards now rather than later.

“I think it’s a very good idea we have this in place,” she said.

Hensley made a motion to approve the ordinance and recommend it to the Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman. Her motion was seconded by Chandler before it unanimously passed.

• • •

Following the Erwin Planning Commission, the Erwin Board of Zoning Appeals met to discuss a variance request regarding an erected and illuminated sign at the Burnout BBQ & Grill, located at 857 Rock Creek Road.

The board had previously granted a variance request for a sign at the property back in June. Tapp said he brought the new variance request back before the board due to regulations prohibiting the use of illuminated signage in a residential district.

“With this being a non-conforming property, I was trying to determine whether or not the sign would fall under the same nonconforming use or not,” Tapp said.

He also stated that the older sign was most likely built prior to the town’s illuminated signage ordinance. After sending letters to receive options from abutting property owners, he stated that he did have one complaint from a neighbor who felt the current sign was sufficient and that the illuminated sign could cause issues and distractions. After reaching out to previous business owners, Tapp said he was unable to find out when the sign was last used.

“To my knowledge, this sign hasn’t been used, based on what they told me, in the last 10 years,” he said.

Hensley made a motion to deny the request due to the concerns of abutting property owners. Her motion was seconded by Chandler before it unanimously passed.

Food City deal approved

Stephen Spangler, vice president of real Eestate and president of Marathon Realty, a real estate subsidiary of Food City’s parent company KVAT, addresses questions from Unicoi County Industrial Development Board members have in regards to the economic impact plan for the new Food City. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

After months of hopeful anticipation, it became official this week that Food City has in fact chosen the Town of Erwin as the location for one of the company’s new stores. The deal became official following Monday, July 23, meetings where the Unicoi County Industrial Development Board, (IDB) the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman and the Unicoi County Commission approved a tax increment financing (TIF) plan of up to $600,000 to support the deal, which includes approximately $20 million in total projected sales annually.

For grocery sales alone, $13 million is projected, with an additional $1.9 million from fuel, another $3 million for pharmacy, and $2.75 million from the additional in-line stores.

According to Stephen Spangler, vice president of real estate for Food City and president of Marathon Realty, a real estate subsidiary of KVAT, Food City’s parent company, Food City is looking to invest $11.5 million over the next six months. The storefront will be 44,000 square feet, with an additional 7,500 square feet of in-line retail shops.

“We’ve looked at Erwin and Unicoi County for multiple years and we have a certain amount of capital expenditures we can allocate for projects from four different states,” Spangle said. “It’s been pushed off and pushed off and our leadership asked us to take a renewed look at the project.”

As Tyler Engle, director of the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board explained, under the tax increment financing plan, taxes would not be abated, but instead there would only be a commitment of the incremental increase in value to the project. The current base tax of the property as it currently is, which generates $22,151 to the Town of Erwin and $41,084 to Unicoi County will still be collected.

Once the new Food City store has been constructed on the 6.5-acre tract located behind Pal’s, Bojangles and Taco Bell on Jonesborough Road in Erwin, a total of 145 jobs will open up, with 40 being full-time and 105 being part-time. Another 35 jobs are projected within the 7,500 square feet of additional retail space that will open alongside the new supermarket. Gross projected revenues include a total of $210,487 for the Town of Erwin and another $210,487 for the Unicoi County School System.

“Our demographics and their needed workforce match up really well,” said Glenn Rosenoff, Town of Erwin city recorder. “The number of young folks and retirees still looking to work … it’s a pretty special combination and I know the payroll is anywhere from minimum wage to up to six  figures for those such as pharmacists.” 

During their meeting, the members of the Industrial Development Board passed two resolutions, the first of which approved the economic impact plan for the proposed development, which falls within the Erwin Gateway Development Area.

“We appreciate your consideration of this request of a TIF. This is a tight project for us … we absolutely need this participation in order to justify the project,” Spangler told the board.

Prior to the city and county meetings, the IDB was required by Tennessee law to open the floor to citizen’s comments on the proposed economic impact plan. Robert Kagely, IDB chairman, opened the floor to any citizens who wished to speak on the matter.

“I understand the investment and great addition this will add to our community,” said Lee Brown, manager at Erwin Utilities and chairman of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County. “I certainly will voice my approval for this project and TIF.”

Ted Hopson, IDB member, made a motion to approve the resolution; his motion was seconded by IDB member Jerry Ramsey before unanimously passing.

The second resolution authorized the execution of any documents pertaining to a tax increment financing to assist with eligible public improvement costs relating to the development.

“The plan approves sort of the outline of a loan, and that loan is secured by a pledge of incremental tax revenues,” said Jordana Nelson, senior public financial attorney with Bass Berry & Simms, the law firm representing the IDB. “In connection with that loan, in order to document it, the board will have to issue a promissory note to the lender, which in this case is also the developer, and then also a pledge of the tax increment revenue and a short document explaining how those revenues will be paid.”

Spangler shared that the proposed interest rate would be five percent, with a maturity of 15 years. He added that plans are to break ground in September and to move quickly with construction.

“April is kind of the target date to open, but obviously weather factors may impact that one way or another,” he said.

IDB Vice President Garland Evely made a motion to approve the second resolution, and his motion was seconded by board member Paul Monk before it unanimously passed.

• • •

The members of Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman swiftly and unanimously passed a resolution in support of the economic impact plan for Food City before attending the Unicoi County Commission meeting to further voice their support of the plan.

During the Unicoi County Commission meeting, commissioners Gene Wilson and Kenneth Garland expressed their concerns that the addition of Food City could detract from other local businesses.

“My opinion, I don’t think we need another grocery store,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he had heard citizen concerns that once Food City opened, the local Food Lion would be forced to close due to lack of business.

“They also said Walmart would shut down Food Lion, but it hasn’t,” said Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox.

Spangler also reported in the Unicoi County Commission meeting that property taxes were “significant” and they were looking to spend approximately $4.5 million of qualified personal property tax revenues.

Of the 145 new jobs, Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley asked Spangler what percentage he anticipated to be from Unicoi County or the Town of Erwin.

“I would hope a majority of them,” Spangler replied.

Spangler said the $600,000 tax increment financing would be utilized for improvements such as engineering testing, site grading, site storm drainage, extension of the public water services, expansion of the public power and communications, site surfacing for the access drives in connection with the infrastructure.

“Those exceed $600,000, and again this $600,000 is a significant commitment and we appreciate that, but it’s paid over 15 years with no net loss for the county,” Spangler stated.

Aside from the public improvements made by Food City, the Town of Erwin is working towards installing a traffic light at the intersection of North Industrial Drive and Jonesborough Road.

Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley addressed the commissioners and pleaded with them to not pass up the opportunity.

“This is an improvement to our city and our county,” she said. “The school system is the one that’s really going to benefit from this. I beg you, please don’t let this fall by the wayside.”

In speaking with Spangler, Hensley said efforts are being made to move sales tax generators such as restaurants or a package store into the additional 7,500 square feet of retail space.

Unicoi County Commissioner Loren Thomas also pointed out that with the new Food City, retail leakage from citizens shopping outside of the county can be decreased.

“I’ve heard a lot of our citizens drive to the Food City in Johnson City, so it’s good to keep those tax dollars here,” said Thomas.

Thomas made a motion to approved the resolution in support of the tax increment financing plan; his motion was seconded by Wilcox before it passed. Out of the five commissioners present, Wilcox, Bridget Peters, Wilson, Thomas, and Mosley voted in favor. Garland voted in opposition.

Industrial Development Board to consider impact of new retail project in Erwin

By Kendal Groner

The Industrial Development Board of Unicoi County issued a notice last week regarding a special meeting and public hearing that will be held on Monday, July 23, at 4 p.m.

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss an economic impact plan regarding a proposed commercial development along the intersection of North Industrial Drive and Jonesborough Road.

“We have been working on this deal since March,” said Tyler Engle, executive director for the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County.

The proposed economic impact plan will be submitted to the Unicoi County Commission and to the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. If the plan is approved by both governing bodies, tax incremental revenues would become available to the Industrial Development Board to promote economic development, pay eligible project costs, or pay debt service on bonds or other obligations related to the project.

“The bond board has to consider a $600,000 tax increment finance package and so that will be considered by the Industrial Development Board, and then if that’s approved, that measure will go to both the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County,” Engle said.

Tax incremental financing is utilized as a public financing method in which municipalities will divert tax revenue increases from a specific area towards some sort of public improvement or economic development project.

“The way I describe it, there will be no change in collection to the base tax, the amount being received by county and city right now will not change whatsoever,” Engle said “What will happen, if the package is approved, the amount by which the value of the property is increasing, the difference in the improvement and the base value, that’s the amount that will fund the note.”

In regards to the potential development project on the approximately 6-acre tract of land behind Pal’s restaurant, Engle was unable to reveal the name of the developer. However, when asked about the economic impact of the project, he stated “a pretty substantial amount” is likely to be invested.

“The public dollars that are going to be used for the increment that’s committed to this project isn’t going to go and build someone a store, this is committed to public improvements such as water lines, sewer lines, utility lines, roads and sidewalks,” Engle said. “This is really important public infrastructure that belongs to the public. These are publicly-owned things we are improving.”

In the specific location, Engle said the board has had preliminary dealings with a few interested developers; however, this is the first serious project in recent years.

“We are really intentional and careful when we commit public dollars to anything,” said Engle. “When we are helping the company, we always look at job totals and payroll totals. We anticipate a strong, positive impact both in terms of jobs and in terms of net sales tax.”

The offices of the Industrial Development Board where the July 23 meeting will take place are located at 100 North Main Ave. in Erwin.

Erwin Farmers Market opens for season

Unicoi resident Tomy Bennett became a vendor at the Erwin Farmers Market for the first time this year. He is pictured with the beets, potatoes and squash he brought to sell. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

It’s that time of year again – the time when farmers markets all across the country are buzzing with customers, eager to pick up their farm fresh produce perfect for outdoor grilling, refreshing summer salads, baked goods and much more.

The Town of Erwin kicked off its farmers market season on July 3 as small crowds came and went throughout the evening to see what their local growers had to offer. Now in its third year, the market is coordinated by RISE Erwin young professional group. Jamie Rice, president of RISE Erwin and communications specialist for the Town of Erwin, spoke about the importance of allowing people to become more connected to their food and where it comes from.

“I think knowing where your food comes from has really taken a front seat to our food culture in a way,” Rice said. “We don’t want things that have been shipped thousands of miles and we don’t always know where our food comes from or whether it’s full of preservatives or sprays of pesticides. It’s so nice to be face to face with the grower.”

By purchasing produce at the market, Rice said customers have the opportunity to get to know the farmer and also ask them about their farm, its location and what kind of farming practices they utilize.

“It creates a sort of intimacy with where your food comes from,” she said. “Most of us don’t have gardens in our backyards anymore and so this is the next best thing. Even the farmers can give you tips and tricks on how to cook the produce they are selling.”

Rice said getting to witness the camaraderie of the vendors and the community – all while helping to support a healthy lifestyle – is one of the most exciting parts of market season taking off again.

“It’s more than just getting your fruits and vegetables, it’s about developing those relationships,” she said.

Kale, swiss chard, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, beets, mushrooms, fresh eggs, local meat, canned goods and refreshing summer drinks were all available at the market last week. In addition to the food vendors, several craft vendors were selling items such as handcrafted jewelry, bath bombs, clothing, decorating items and live plants.

“Everybody was really happy with the turnout and we had a great turnout in vendors,” Rice said.

“When we first started we only had two or three vendors and now we have around 15. We’ve pretty much tripled in size.”

To fend off some of the summer heat, RISE Erwin set up a small mister station alongside the market, something Rice said they will definitely continue using.

“The kids and the grownups both loved that and I think that will be a hit the rest of the summer,” Rice said.

Aside from shopping, market attendees can also check out the local food trucks, attend a yoga class and participate in some of the many activities planned to help foster a happy and healthy community.

Each week, yoga classes taught by Bret Forney with the YMCA and other activities, such as a community bike ride organized by RISE Erwin, a splash dance facilitated by the Erwin Fire Department, learning opportunities with the health department, and face painting and barrel trains, are all planned to take place in the coming weeks.

“We’re really happy that the health department is going to sponsor one of those activities each month,” said Rice. “I think they will be doing some nutrition and cooking type demonstrations. It’s all a really fun time.”

The Erwin Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays from 5-8 p.m. in the Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot. For more information about the market, contact riseerwin@gmail.com, or call 743-6231 or 423-220-7624.

Unicoi County Relay For Life, ACS announce new Festival of Hope

(Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

In August, Unicoi County residents will join together in the inaugural Festival of Hope. It all starts on Aug. 25 at the traditional Relay For Life of Unicoi County to help the American Cancer Society attack cancer from every angle. This year’s Relay For Life event will feature traditional elements, as well as new which will lead to a week full of events that everyone in the community can participate in.

“We are so excited about this year and our new Festival of Hope in Unicoi County,” said Jessica Poff, community development manager for the American Cancer Society. “We are all looking forward to bringing the entire county together through different events throughout the week that will have something for everyone. We are thankful for the support of our community and volunteers to make this possible and we can’t wait to see it come to fruition.”

The American Cancer Society is the cause fighting cancer on every front; standing shoulder to shoulder with cancer patients and those supporting them. Funds raised help the American Cancer Society attack cancer in dozens of ways, each of them critical to achieving a world without cancer – from developing breakthrough therapies to building supportive communities, from providing empowering resources to deploying activists to raise awareness.

The Festival of Hope will feature community-wide awareness activities in addition to the track event. The Sunday focus will be faith-based and feature a community church service and a huge benefit concert with award winning Christian artist, Building 429. Tickets for the concert may be purchased at itickets.com and feature general admission as well as reserved seating.  During the week, events such as a Unicoi County High School volleyball game, Caregiver Café and children’s activities, “Passport To Hope” celebrity waiter event at The Bramble, a barbecue and cornhole tournament night, and more before the week ends at the UCHS football game on Friday night.

The annual Survivor Luncheon is scheduled for Sunday, July 8, at 1 p.m. at Unicoi United Methodist Church. Anyone who has ever heard the words “you have cancer” and a guest are invited to attend. An R.S.V.P. is requested by calling Tina at 743-9136.

In addition to the support of the community, the Festival of Hope is also supported by many local businesses and organizations. To find out how you can get involved, please contact Poff at jessica.poff@cancer.org or visit www.RelayForLife.org/UnicoiTN. Together, we can beat our biggest rival.

MedicOne only company to respond to county’s RFP for ambulance service

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch addresses the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee during a meeting held on June 20. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Concerns regarding the county’s ambulance service have been expressed and discussed by both Town of Erwin and Unicoi County officials over the past several months amidst numerous complaints of long wait times, insufficient staffing and too few ambulances.

After the Town of Erwin was unable to garner enough support to create its own ambulance service, the task of addressing the issue fell into the hands of the county, prompting officials to explore the idea of creating a municipally-owned service or accepting a bid from a contracted provider.

However, after the county put out a request for proposals for ambulance service providers to bid on, the only response came from MedicOne, the county’s current service provider that is awarded a $132,000 yearly subsidy and has been accused of incurring several contract violations.

“We put out requests for proposals that were due today, and we sent them out to several companies,” said Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch during the June 20 meeting. “The only ones who responded were MedicOne.”

Abingdon Ambulance Service, American Medical Response, Lifeguard Ambulance Service, Shoals Ambulance and Bristol Ambulance EMS were a few of the companies that received the RFPs, prompting several Unicoi County commissioners to ask why only one bid was received.

“This is the same thing that happened last time,” Lynch said. “We had folks that were interested, but when it came down to crunch time, they didn’t bid.”

MedicOne submitted two proposals, with the first proposal requiring a $225,000 yearly subsidy, or a monthly rate of $18,750. In the first proposal, MedicOne agrees to provide two 24-hour advanced life support (ALS) ambulances and one 12-hour basic life support (BLS) ambulance for seven days a week.

In the second proposal, MedicOne is requesting an annual subsidy of $350,000 a year, or a monthly rate of $29,166.67. In the second proposal, they agree to provide two 24-hour ALS ambulances and one 24-hour BLS ambulance seven days a week.

“That’s an extra $125,000 for an additional 12 hours a day,” Lynch pointed out.

Also during the meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman Jason Harris asked if the county provided MedicOne with a station would the price come down. Jimmy Erwin, MedicOne operations manager in Unicoi County, said the cost could come down if the county provided them with a station. MedicOne currently pays $1,500 a month to lease its current building off of Exit 36.

It is stipulated in the RFP that the service must be stationed one-and-a-half miles from the Harris Hollow exit and Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley asked if MedicOne was awarded the contract if they would be in the same location

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t be,” Erwin said about staying in the same location.

MedicOne currently has a total of 26 employees including Erwin, with five full-time paramedics, seven full-time advanced EMTs, nine part-time paramedics, and four part-time EMTs.

“They are keeping the shifts covered,” Erwin said. “One of the things that drew some more part-timers in the last little bit was increasing the salaries. MedicOne is competitive at the high end of the area now.”

Currently, full-time paramedics make $14 an hour for 24-hour shifts and advanced EMTs make $12.50 an hour for 24-hour shifts – rates that Erwin said were at or above surrounding counties.

When asked how often a third truck is required, Erwin said it depends on the day and call volume. He said they currently have five trucks in the county, as soon as one is certified by the state inspector.

“A lot of times there’s confusion about how many trucks we have, but we always have two trucks,” Erwin said. “That’s not to say that we can’t get three, four or five calls at a time though.”

Unicoi County Commissioner Loren Thomas inquired about consequences for contract violations in the request for proposal.

“The attorney was concerned if there was a lot of language in there, it would deter bids,” said  Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice. “Especially in a rural area, you can’t penalize a provider for response times.”

“I don’t see in this RFP any penalty clauses,” Lynch said. “That’s not to say that if we go through with this, that we couldn’t negotiate.”

Thomas asked about instances where there aren’t enough ambulances available and questioned how much more it could cost to have three ALS ambulances instead of using a BLS as the third truck, which is primarily just utilized for transports.

“If you’re going to have to just pay an extra dollar and a half an hour to have the paramedic … it’s not a huge cost increase to go with the ALS instead of the BLS,” Thomas asked. “Why not have an ALS available as the third truck in case, for instance, the first two trucks are on calls and say a heart attack call comes in.”

Erwin said he was unable to answer what the exact cost difference would be and also stated that the training for the advanced EMTs prepares them to handle most calls, with only a “small portion” requiring paramedics.

When Thomas asked Erwin how many scheduled transports they average per day, he was told that only one or two scheduled transports are made per week, but discharges that require transports can come with only an hour or two notice.

Mosley asked if Erwin had an estimate of how many transports were made to Johnson City or Washington County.

“We do transport out and we’ll even transport sometimes, if we have the extra truck, we’ll transport one from there to Greene County or Carter County if no one else can get it and they’re Unicoi County residents,” Erwin said.

Despite Erwin’s statements about the additional ambulance and increased staffing, Unicoi County Commissioner Gene Wilson was still adamant that the county should steer clear of entering into another agreement with MedicOne.

“My recommendation, the way MedicOne has treated Unicoi County, is the county needs to go on their own,” Wilson said. “As much trouble as we’ve had, it’s time for the county to wake up and do something. I voted for them when they first came here and I regret it.”

Lynch pointed out that the county still had the option of starting its own ambulance service and added that Jim Reeves, CEO of MedicOne, promised him a “smooth transition.”

“We’re just putting out a feeler just to see how much it would cost,” said Lynch.

Mosley said since Erwin became director last year he believes issues with MedicOne have been improving.

“We’ve had our biggest complaints in the last three years,” Wilson said.

Erwin said the majority of the complaints have centered around personnel issues, which he said was a regional issue that MedicOne has been able to overcome by increasing pay.

“The citizens thought that we could withhold money from these people for not performing as they should and the bottom line was, it was either black or white, you either have them or you don’t,” Lynch said. “If we had gotten rid of them we would have been in a mess.”

Lynch said his recommendation was to sit down with MedicOne and establish ramifications for contract violations. 

“The biggest thing to me is the taxpayers are paying for a service that they weren’t getting,” Harris said. “So I think they should’ve been fined something for not providing.”

Thomas described MedicOne’s service as “smooth” the first four years, which he attributed to the building and utilities they were provided, along with the $180,000 subsidy as opposed to the current $132,000 subsidy.

“That’s when it started going downhill,” Thomas said. “On top of that, there was a paramedic shortage and in the contract we didn’t have penalties.”

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White said he would rather pay $225,000 for a contracted service such as MedicOne, as opposed to the estimated $1.4 million he believes it could cost for the county to start their own service.

“You’re not going to get better service unless you pay more,” White said. “You get what you pay for. To me, since they’re here and if we can get back to what we were doing with them in the first contract, it’s going to save the county a tremendous amount of money.”

Johnny Day, who is running as an Independent candidate for county mayor in the August election, mentioned that yearly operational costs for a county-run ambulance service could be higher than anticipated. Day referenced the approximately $350,000 budget gap that was projected by the Town of Erwin when they were exploring the possibility of creating their own service.

“It’s much easier to work with a contractor and hold their feet to the fire, but it needs to be in the contract,” Day said. “Once you birth that baby and buy all that equipment and set yourself up, the taxpayers are going to eat us alive if we screw this up.”

While Day was concerned about the costs of the county starting its own service, Harris pointed out that the county can still potentially access the $440,000 Community Development Block Grant that was awarded to the Town of Erwin, along with money from the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital to Mountain States Health Alliance, in addition to funds from the Hospital Foundation to start a new service.

“To me, if we were ever going to start our own service … now is the time to do it,” Harris said.

Thomas said his issue with MedicOne over the last four years has been the “weak” contract and said that in moving forward they need to make sure they are able to “hold their feet to the fire” whenever a violation occurs.

“This ambulance issue is the most important thing, period, that we will deal with,” Thomas said. “We need to get it right.”

The committee concluded their meeting with an agreement to meet with MedicOne and discuss the ramifications of contract violations.

Still flying: F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation reaches milestone

Several local and state officials came out to celebrate the F.L.I.G.H.T Foundation flying its 10,000th student. Pictured, from left, are George Huddleston Jr., Tennessee aeronautics commissioner; W. T. Daniels, Greeneville mayor; Jerry O’Connor, CEO of Impact Plastics; State Representative David Hawk; Col. Tom Reeves, former U.S. Army member; Bill Powley, founder of the F.L.I.G.H.T Foundation; State Senator Rusty Crowe; the three Greene County AFJROTC cadets who soared into the air – Jeremy Hankins, George Rapp and Isaac Michalenko; and Daryl Brady, field service representative for congressman Phil Roe. (Contributed photo)

By Kendal Groner

The F.L.I.G.H.T (Flight Lesson Instructional Grants Helping Teens) Foundation continues to aim high, evidenced by the nonprofit’s celebration on Saturday, June 16, for the milestone of flying its 10,000th student.

Air Force Lieutenant Bill Powley, F-4, A-7, F-16 fighter pilot and Vietnam veteran who founded the F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation, was joined by local and state legislators as three students from Greene County High School soared into the air this weekend.

“We had a great time,” Powley said about the memorable day. “Everyone was so positive and upbeat.”

The program has roots in Unicoi County after the program was approved to be part of the Air Force JROTC curriculum at Unicoi County High School before it moved into the Sullivan County High School in 2001. While serving as a JROTC instructor at UCHS, Powley came up with the idea to offer students the opportunity to fly as an exciting recruitment strategy.

Out of the 10,000 students that have flown with the F.L.I.G.H.T. program, Powley has flown more than 7,500 of them personally.

The program proves the sky is the limit for enthusiastic students in more than 20 high schools and, on average, provides the opportunity for 500 to 600 students to fly each year.

“The idea of this program was to build an infrastructure of people who love aviation and understand the meaning of airports in the state,” Powley said. “If you have flown in this program, you are probably a fan of flying, aviation and airports.”

Since 1996, more than 150 students have earned their solo wings and 14 students have earned their private pilot’s license since 2002.

“I just soloed my 166 student Sunday morning, so it was a good weekend for me,” Powley said.

The F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation is responsible for sending eight students to the Air Force Academy, three to West Point, one to the Naval Academy and one to Purdue, along with several others who have gone on to attend flight schools in the region. 

“I would say we send more kids to careers in flying than football players that go into sports careers,” said Powley, who was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame for the program.

In 2010, the program was recognized as the top aerospace science program in the nation among high schools, rising high above the other 10,000 in the nation.

“It’s taken lots of passion, persistence, and miles on my vehicle,” Powley laughed.

He initially funded the program by flying for an hour with three students in Unicoi County and during that time they would take photographs of various properties before compiling a portfolio of aerial shots for the owners.

“I raised $8,000 that way from 80 portfolios over the years,” said Powley.

In the first nine years of the program, Powley was able to fly 250 students, averaging 27 per year. After gaining the attention of NASA and acquiring a grant, he has been able to fly 9,750 students over the last 17 years.

“Grant funding was key,” Powley said about maintaining the program.

After receiving the initial grant from NASA, the Tennessee Aeronautics Division sponsored the program for the last 18 years.

“They have basically sponsored 9,750 of the kids,” Powley said about the Tennessee Aeronautics Division. “It seems like every solo student wants to go on and become a pilot, so that’s pretty cool. Now if we get more funding, we can actually satisfy a lot of dreams for kids to become professional pilots because we do a 50 percent scholarship for them.”

Powley said he expects that the 14 pilots the program has already produced will double in number over the next two or three years.

The F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation typically flies out of the Greeneville, Tri-Cities, Chattanooga or Dallas Bay airports. Usually, three students fly at a time, although Powley recalls having 14 flights in one day with about 40 students.

“A typical trip would be Unicoi County or anybody else bringing maybe 21 to 27 kids to the airport, so I’d have seven to eight flights which takes about three hours,” Powley explained.

The program is offered to students of all grade levels as long as they are enrolled in a JROTC program. In some cases, Powley said students get to fly several times by staying in the program all four years of their high school career.

“Part of the plan is they get a 15 to 20 minute flight and if they do that over four years they get an hour to hour and a half,” he said. “It keeps them motivated, so hopefully by the time they’re 17 or 18 they get excited and want to get their pilot’s license.”

With a pilot shortage, Powley said it is important to provide motivation for students to pursue careers in aviation, and also noted that for many of the students, the program provides them with their first opportunity to be on a plane. 

Some of Powley’s most touching moments with the program come from reading the assigned journal entries he gives to the students. He commonly finds entries that read ‘this is the first time I’ve ever gotten to fly’, and ‘that’s the neatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

“I don’t think you can excite someone any more than that,” he said.

Powley also thanked many of the F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation contributors such as the Aeronautics Division, countless individuals from Unicoi County, Gerald O’ Connor, CEO of Impact Plastics,  and philanthropist and businessman Scott Niswonger and FedEx.

After just recently celebrating his 100th solo student, Powley said a future goal he will aspire towards will be to have his 200th solo student take flight.

“That’s a huge milestone,” he said. “After that, maybe another 15,000 students in the next eight years or so.”

Unicoi County School System creates ‘book bus’ to inspire summer learning

Read to be Ready summer camp children are pictured in front of the book bus along with the individuals who helped bring the project to life during the mobile literacy unit’s launch event at Unicoi County Middle School on June 6. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Children in the Unicoi County School System now have more opportunities to continue learning over the summer months thanks to the book bus, a mobile literacy unit that will give children the opportunity to socialize, hear stories, check out books and enjoy a lunch.

In the June 5 Unicoi County Board of Education meeting, the board heard an update on the aptly-named Aspire Book Bus from Jenifer Lingerfelt, elementary curriculum supervisor and former kindergarten teacher who led the efforts to make the book bus become a reality.

“I want to really brag on Mrs. Lingerfelt and a lot of folks played a large part in this,” John English, director of schools said about the book bus. “I can tell you firsthand, watching her take this from the very beginning with her wheels turning and her mind turning on the vision she had for it, it’s just been amazing. I think about the opportunity our kids are going to have this summer because of her work and the work of others; it makes me really proud.”

From her experience in the school system, Lingerfelt has seen firsthand the importance of students remaining avid readers and staying enthusiastic about learning during those summer months when they are away from the classroom.

“We know that access to books over the summer is critical for kids and in research it’s known as the ‘summer slide’ and it’s just a time in the year where kids are away from books sometimes unless they’re visiting libraries,” she said. “This bus is all about a lot of people coming together to help the kids.”

Last July, Lingerfelt met with Abby Graves, community engagement director for the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and Lottie Ryans, director of Workforce Initiatives for the First Tennessee Development District, to discuss partnerships and seed money to start developing the mobile literacy unit.

“Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) donated $5,000 for our start-up fund and the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) partnered with Unicoi County Schools to write the grant,” Lingerfelt said.

After the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, an early literacy non-profit based in Nashville, received the grant, they approached Unicoi County to see if the school system would be interested in coming up with a way to reach children during the summer and keep them engaged with reading and learning.

“They have taken this idea and ran with it and made it something amazing,” Graves said. “It’s so much more than what I ever dreamed it would be.”

Ryan said that one of her favorite parts about the book bus is seeing the excitement and creativity members of the local school system have brought to the program.

“Jenifer and the team here have done a phenomenal job,” said Ryans, whose focus is on workforce and literacy. “There are so many positive benefits to having this program in place. We know that being able to enhance literacy skills will improve their reading which will improve graduation rates, which will improve employment rates.”

To make the bus, which is filled with the newest technology to assist children in their learning, Tommy Clouse, transportation supervisor for Unicoi County Schools, found a decommissioned school bus they could convert.

“He found us a big, beautiful bus and the maintenance department retrofitted the bus,” Lingerfelt said. “They pulled out all of the seats and then added the book shelving and the furniture, it’s all custom built.”

Tim Ledford with the transportation department, along with Herman Tipton and Norman Hardin from the maintenance department, all donated their time and energy into the bus’s transformation.

“They brought it to life,” Lingerfelt said. “Then we have our technology department under the direction of Bruce Tolley, his team are the ones who put the technology aspects on the bus, so we have Wifi, computers, a smart TV and a sound system.”

The bus already has 12 planned stops in July, where children can enjoy a storytime and lunch, and also check out award-winning books off of the “Read to Be Ready” suggested book list. Community book drives at Food Lion, Clinchfield Federal Credit Union and the local library will allow people to donate books that will then be used as giveaway books for the children.

“The Read to be Ready Summer Camp teachers will work the 12 stops, but we’re also partnering with our local Imagination Library and many of the retired teachers are in that organization, so we’re hoping that they will work some of those stops with us,” Lingerfelt said. “We have some of our favorite teachers from when we were growing up that made a big impact on all of our lives and we would just like to reconnect with them.”

In June, Lingerfelt said they will be taking the bus to several “sneak peek” locations and also plans to work with RISE Erwin young professionals group to work some of the Saturday events they have planned.

“Taking the bus out and seeing the kids get on the bus is by far one of the most fun things I’ve done this year,” she said.

Along with the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, FTDD and ARC, other partners who have supported the development of the bus include: Workforce & Literacy Initiatives, Second Harvest, Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Team, Unicoi County Public Library, Clinchfield Federal Credit Union, Unicoi County Read to Be Ready Summer Camp, Unicoi County Volunteer PreK Program, the Erwin Monday Club and the Unicoi County Imagination Library.

The book bus’s first few stops next month will be on July 2 at Whispering Meadows at 10:30 a.m. and Unicoi Elementary at noon. On July 3, the bus will be at the YMCA at 9:45 a.m, Railroad Street at 11 a.m. and Rock Creek Elementary at 12:15 p.m. On July 6, it will be at the former Flag Pond school at 10:30 a.m. and Evergreen Church at noon.

To stay updated on the Aspire Book Bus stops, visit unicoicountyschools.com.

• • •

In other business during the Unicoi County Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously approved the following on their consent agenda:

• Donations of $20, $65, and $1,018.90 from Nuclear Fuel Service employees for Adopt-A-School Program;

• HOSA to Dallas on June 25 to July 2, 2018, for HOSA International Conference;

• Unicoi County High School 2018 golf schedule and 2018 girls soccer schedule;

• An amendment of $126,575 to the 2018-19 General Purpose Budget for life insurance, medical insurance, dental insurance and instructional supplies and materials.

Southeastern Autorama brings together car enthusiasts, community

Joey Bailey, president of the Southeastern Autorama Club, and his wife, Chrissy Bailey, pose in front of their 1958 Chevrolet during the Autorama on June 2. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Anyone around downtown Erwin this past Saturday could hear the roaring of engines that echoed down Main Avenue as hundreds of car lovers came to put some of their most prized possessions on display for the 58th Southeastern Autorama.

With clear skies that held back rain until the end of the event, large crowds could be seen walking the streets on June 2 as they admired each automobile and the efforts taken to keep them in pristine condition.

“I think the area weather affected it a little bit, but other than that we’re pretty happy with what we have going on here today,” said Joey Bailey, president of the Southeastern Autorama Club.

Bailey, who owns a 1950 Chevrolet truck himself, said there were at least 136 cars present on Saturday. Two standouts for him were a 1957 Chevrolet and a 1969 Camaro.

“The hardest part is keeping someone else from hitting them,” Bailey laughed, explaining the efforts that go into maintaining older cars. “You have to keep them clean, make sure all of the fluids are changed and topped off.”

Although for car enthusiasts, any maintenance is a small price to pay for being able to keep the history-rich cars running.

“I love the camaraderie of everyone who attends,” Bailey said about the event. “Everyone’s friendly and easy to get along with.”

Food trucks and a few craft vendors were present at the Autorama, and door prizes were handed out throughout the day. Along with a 50/50 drawing for $290, various items such as car wash kits, water hoses, a hammock, two side grinders and a socket set were given away as prizes.

Mike McIntosh, owner of Model A Mac’s, attended the event with his fiance, Melissa Peterson, and a 1930 Model A Ford Coupe guarded by a life-size sign of Popcorn Sutton.

“We actually knew Popcorn Sutton, he used to buy his Model A parts from me and my dad,” McIntosh said. “He would give dad some moonshine from time to time and trade it for Model A Parts.”

McIntosh bought the coupe from around the Hickory Tree area near Bristol about five years ago when the former owner decided to sell. 

“I was the lucky recipient,” said McIntosh. “It’s all original, of course, and you can tell it’s never been restored. I have done some mechanical work to get it rideable on the highway.”

McIntosh and Peterson utilize an umbrella as a makeshift roof when they drive it during inclement weather.

“If it rains, I’m ready,” said McIntosh as he held a makeshift umbrella for the roof

“We’ve actually done that before,” Peterson added. “We used the umbrella during the Fiddleheads Festival when it started pouring the rain.”

Besides their love for one another, both Peterson and McIntosh are passionate about antique cars. In fact, Peterson’s engagement ring was a lock washer off a 1931 Roadster. On June 16, the pair will host a cruise-in with live music from 3-5 p.m. at the Erwin National Guard Armory before they wed one another.

“We’re opening it to everybody,” said Peterson. “We are so excited.”

Ben McNabb, the owner of Steel Rails Coffeehouse, was also present at the Autorama where he displayed his yellow 1967 Chrysler Newport Convertible that he nicknamed Marilyn.

“I’ve been at the Autorama a lot, but I’ve only had cars here the last two years,” McNabb said. “It’s neat seeing all of our old friends.”

He also said this area in particular is brimming with car enthusiasts, and he enjoys attending an event that allows so many car owners to show off their vehicles.

“You don’t realize how many great cars are in this town and how many people that have a love for cars and a love for history,” McNabb said. “When you come to something like this and you look at these tags, it’s amazing to see how many are from Unicoi County.”

While many car showers were from Unicoi County, some events goers came from neighboring states to enjoy the day. Clifton Honeycutt came from Mars Hill, North Carolina, with his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, which was recognized as one of the top 25 cars during the Autorama.

“I love old cars and I love this town,” said Honeycutt, who sold a 1971 GTO convertible to buy the Bel Air. “It’s in perfect condition.”

Honeycutt purchased the car in Kentucky and shared a funny story about the vehicle’s history.

“Two little boys were playing in this hay barn in Tennessee somewhere, they felt something hard under this haystack and this car was under it,” he said. “They pulled it out and restored it and that’s why it’s in such good shape.”

At the end of the Autorama, right as the rain started to roll in, the awards for Best Antique and Best in Show were announced. Best Antique went to Charlie Miller for a 1953 Chevy Pickup. Best in Show went to Doug Carico for his 1974 Bronco.

“It feels awesome; I was so happy to win,” Carico said about his Best in Show award. “I was surprised because there’s a whole lot of nice cars here.”

Carico, who also owns a 1965 Mercury Comet, said he has been a fan of Broncos since he was about five years old.

“About 20 years ago I found this one in Roanoke and I bought it and used it as an everyday driver for about four years and then it started smoking and leaking oil.”

He parked the Bronco in his garage, where he said his wife actually used it to store Christmas ornaments until he decided to restore it once the value started to appreciate.

“My son was about 14 at the time and I thought about restoring it for him to drive when he turned 16, and the more I got into it, I thought there’s no way I’m giving him this Bronco,” he laughed.

Over the past two years, Carico said if he’s got a free weekend you can usually find him at a car show.

“This one last year was one of my favorites and I’m definitely glad I came back,” said Carico.

George Hatcher remembered for service to nation, railroad, community

By Kendal Gron

George Hatcher, who passed away on Monday, May 20, is remembered as a humble and kind man who lived life to the fullest. (File Photo)


This Memorial Day marked the passing of George Hatcher, a member of the famous Erwin Nine and a respected Clinchfield railroader, who captured the heart of the community he loved and served.

Born October 14, 1920, Hatcher grew up in the Canah Chapel community of Erwin and was known as a football star at the local high school and college level before he followed his brother, Ed, and went to work for the railroad in 1941. He worked as the fireman for the Clinchfield No. 1, while his brother Ed worked as an engineer.

Mark Stevens, who first got to know Hatcher while he was publisher of The Erwin Record for 13 years, learned more about the rich and exciting lives of the Hatcher brothers while writing “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine,” a book he co-authored with Alf Peoples.

“They were both picked specifically to do that because they were so good at their job,” Stevens said, taking note of the widespread media coverage that surrounded the steam engine. “They were both outgoing and able to talk to people and make them feel welcome. It was just the perfect public relations piece for the railroad and they were the perfect spokespeople. They looked the part, they were the part and they were just great people.”

After his first six months on the railroad, Hatcher enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Corps in June 1942, and in January of 1943 he left to serve in World War II, followed by his brother shortly after. Hatcher became an icon to the area for more than just his railroad service when he was recognized as a member of the Erwin Nine, a group of nine men from the same small community who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Although none served together and were all shot down at different times and in different locations, out of the more than 50 Nazi German prison camps, all ended up at the same one. After Hatcher and his fellow prisoners were freed from their captors, he came home to Erwin and thrust himself back into the railroad work that he knew and loved.

“It was an honor to haul whoever was on board,” Hatcher is quoted saying in Steven’s and Peoples’ book. “It was such an exciting time for the people who got to ride. All the time I worked on that steam engine I never had any regrets.”

Peoples worked on the railroad for close to 50 years, five of which were right alongside the Hatcher brothers. He recalls the exuberance and skill that George used to do his work and mentor others along the way.

“He was always good to me and helped me long before I got on the railroad,” People’s said. “I never thought about it until George brought it up the other day, but he said ‘we had a lot of fun on that passenger train didn’t we?’ He never fussed or complained, he was always happy and having fun.”

Hatcher is described by those who had the pleasure to meet him as “humble,” “always willing to help,” “great at everything he did,” “a go getter,” “kind,” “energetic” and “happy”.

“It really is sad that George has passed on, but he had an immensely great life, and he lived life to the fullest,” Stevens said. “Everything he did, he put in 100 percent.”

‘Unique’ Unicoi event celebrates community

Hannah Rice and Jessica Presser stayed busy selling buckets of fresh strawberries during the 16th annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival on May 19. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

For many years now, strawberries and Unicoi County have gone hand in hand, creating a frenzy of excitement each year when the bright red berries are in season. On Saturday, May 19, the Town of Unicoi once again celebrated its love for all things strawberry with the 16th annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival held outside of Unicoi Elementary School.

“For 50 years, maybe more than that, folks have been coming to this area to get strawberries … it goes that far back,” said Johnny Lynch, Town of Unicoi mayor. “I think everything has gone really well this year. The biggest thing is everyone has gotten to get together and old friends get to get together again. That’s what these festivals are all about.”

Lynch noted the increase in vendors at the festival this year; they were selling a wide array of handmade, artisan products. He also said, despite a few intermittent droplets of rain, he was very pleased with this year’s turnout.

Aside from the multitude of arts and crafts vendors, several food vendors could be found selling hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, barbecue, and, of course, an array of sweets such as strawberry shortcake, strawberry sundaes, chocolate covered strawberries and more.

“That’s what is unique about it. We have kept the old-timey flavor of a festival by having local groups and local talent perform and the food vendors are all churches and nonprofits,” said Lynch. “It gives them an opportunity to raise funds for their particular organizations.”

This year’s festival included a Miss Strawberry Pageant, cake walks, and performances by the bands Turkey Creek, Wayne Keplinger & Friends and Rockingham Road.

There was also a recipe contest sponsored by the Mountain Harvest Kitchen where Holly Clark won first place for a strawberry flan recipe. Gloria Clark won second place for a strawberry dream cake and Grynd Staff won third place for strawberry dumplings.

The main vendor attraction was, of course, the Scott’s Farm strawberry stand, which stayed covered up with business throughout the day as customers happily walked away with their buckets of strawberries.

Scott’s Farms was originally started by Wayne Scott in 1959 after he retired as a school teacher to pursue farming full time. Since Wayne Scott’s passing in 2008, two of his five sons now own and operate the farm.

“I grew up on the farm and I went to school at Virginia Tech and was gone for a few years, but I came back. I always knew I’d farm in some capacity,” said Steve Scott, who now runs the farm with his brother, David.

The farm continues to remain a family affair, with Scott’s two sons now joining the efforts to keep it a success. Along with strawberries and tomatoes, which are their major crops, the farm also sells green beans, sweet corn and a variety of other vegetables at their market in the Town of Unicoi.

“There are a few smaller farms on the river, but around here we are probably the biggest ones left,” said Scott  “My mother and father worked really hard to build this farm and we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to do what we’ve done. Next year, the farm will have been in business for 60 years. I’m just trying to keep it going.”

Lynch said thanks to individuals such as the Scotts, the Unicoi area has established a reputation as an agricultural entity, which has lead to the creation of many agricultural-related jobs over the years.

“We had some individuals that were entrepreneurial in nature and they started small. I remember when Wayne Scott was my agriculture teacher in high school,” Lynch said.

To this day, Lynch said he still recalls the small strawberry patch that Scott started out with behind his house and how it has now developed into one of the most well-known businesses in the area.

“He was a very important member of this community and we recognize him each year by calling this festival the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival,” Lynch said. “It has been, and continues to be, a great success.”

Tasty tradition continues: Flag Pond Ruritan hosts annual Ramp Festival

Donald Shelton, left, and Ed Sparks, right, stayed busy selling bundles of ramps to enthusiastic customers during Saturday’s 33rd annual Ramp Festival. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

For many of those in Appalachian communities, the blooming flowers and warming temperatures that are indicative of springtime also represent the arrival of the highly-celebrated ramp season. A member of the lily family, these wild edibles, which are stronger than a leek and more pungent than a scallion, are native to the forests of eastern North America and hold cultural significance for many communities.

Flag Pond once again demonstrated its status as a close-knit community and love for its Appalachian heritage with the 33rd Annual Ramp Festival sponsored by the Flag Pond Ruritan Club and held at the Old Flag Pond school on Saturday, May 12.

“I’m tickled to death with the turnout this year and plus we had pretty weather this year,” said Richard Waldrop, Flag Pond Ruritan Club president, who estimated that the festival had well over 700 attendees.

Several vendors attended the festival, selling handmade jewelry and other items, flower arrangements, essential oils and more. Live music was played throughout the day with performances from the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Spivey Mountain Boys and the Flag Ponders.

On the menu for the day was soup beans, bacon, coleslaw, cornbread, fried taters and, of course, plenty of ramps. There were also homemade desserts and the option of hamburgers or hot dogs for those who found the strong ramp flavor to be overpowering.

“We went last Saturday and dug ramps and then we went last Tuesday and dug,” Waldrop said. “We hop on the back of a truck and go to the mountains to dig.”

Waldrop estimated that they harvested well over 40 pounds of ramps for the festival and said the best way to eat them is with fried taters.

Putting on the annual event takes teamwork, according to Waldrop.

“We couldn’t put it on if it wasn’t for the volunteers,” he said.

Waldrop also said several volunteers come together to make the festival a reality and contribute in various ways such as collecting ramps, cooking and promoting the large event.

Eddie Farmer, Unicoi County resident, has been cooking at the Ramp Festival for more than 30 years.

“I’ve been here since 6:30 a.m. this morning cooking,” Farmer said during the festival on Saturday. “The festival is just a really good thing for the community and we try to give back in different ways.”

For those who really took a liking to their ramp meal, ramps were available for sale, allowing many excited event goers to purchase their own bundles to take home and prepare.

Ed Sparks and Donald Shelton returned to the Ramp Festival for the 10th year to sell some ramps they had harvested.

“I’ve been eating them for about 65 years,” said Shelton. “I went to school here (Flag Pond School) in 1950. There’s plenty of ramps here if you go in the mountains … they grow in higher elevations”

Sparks and Shelton stayed busy as plenty of festival goers were eager to purchase a bundle of ramps that they could take home and cook up on their own.

“Ramps can be hard to get, but we like to do it for the Ruritan,” said Sparks. “We like the company, music and food at the festival.”

While the Ramp Festival was attended by countless locals to the Flag Pond area, there were attendees from neighboring counties and some who traveled more than a couple of hours to take part in the memorable event.

Johnson City residents Jeff and Delores Moore attended the festival for the first time this year and were eager to try the foraged delicacy for the first time.

“It’s a great festival and I didn’t know anything about ramps before attending the festival,” said Delores.

Jeff said he greatly enjoyed the memory room in the school, a bit of a time capsule that allowed people to learn about the history of the Flag Pond Community, the Ruritan club, and of course ramps.

“That is really awesome,” Jeff said about the room. “I didn’t know there was so much history and cultural significance associated with ramps.”

One of the main attractions at the festival was a memory room in which an informational video put together by East Tennessee State University showed ramps being foraged and how to prepare them.

Laurie Handshu, who traveled all the way from Nashville to attend the event, said she fell in love with ramps after she tried them for the first time in college.

“I fell in love, it was love at first stink,” Handshu said about her first experience trying ramps many years ago. “I lived here a long time ago, about 20 years ago, and I would always come to the festival every year.”

Handshu said she was happy to be back in Flag Pond for the day and described the festival as a “wonderful” event.

“It’s everything it should be,” she said.

While the penetrating aroma of ramps can be a deterrent for some, Handshu said it’s part of the fun of eating them and added that she enjoys other “stinky” foods such as garlic and onions. Waldrop also commented on the powerful smell ramps leave on their consumers and shared a few stories of his own experiences.

“When I was a young’un we’d eat them then go to school and they’d kick us out on the street,” said Waldrop, who recently had a comical encounter during a roadblock after he had eaten some ramps. “I pulled up and the state trooper said ‘are you drinking?”

Waldrop told the officer no, however she did share that she had indulged in quite a few ramps that day.

“‘Get out of there’ he said … he didn’t even check my driver’s license,” Waldrop laughed.

For attendees at the festival, any concerns of bad breath were thrown out the window as people chowed down on platefuls of ramps all throughout the day.

Before the event was over, a ramp eating contest was held and last year’s winner once again proved to have a true liking for ramps. Jasmine Shelton is still the reigning champion of the youth and adult class of the contest and was able to eat 15 ramps in one minute this year.

“This festival is special because it shows that we’re a close community here and everyone knows everybody,” said Waldrop. “We couldn’t do all of this without our neighbors and friends.”

Great Outdoors Festival draws largest crowd yet

Representatives from Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium drew crowds to the kid’s zone of the Great Outdoors Festival as they held demonstrations with birds of prey. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Despite the forecasted weather conditions, there were dry skies and warm temperatures awaiting event attendees who flocked to downtown Erwin for the Great Outdoors Festival on Saturday, May 5. The third annual festival was orchestrated by the community group RISE Erwin, and organizers deemed this year’s event as the most successful one yet with estimated attendance numbers between 4,000 to 5,000.

Along with dozens of outdoor-themed vendors, the festival provided a popular music lineup, a kids zone full of multiple activities, a mobile skate park, food trucks, a craft beer tent, live animal demonstrations with Bays Mountain, and the presentation of the International Fly Fishing Film Festival.

“Our food trucks sold out by 3:30 p.m.,” said Jamie Rice, RISE Erwin president and communications coordinator for the Town of Erwin. “The weather definitely helped a lot; last year’s event was pretty much rained out and this year when we went to bed on Friday night we were thinking it was going to be the same outcome, but when we woke up and there was no rain, we were so thankful.”

Rice said the festival was strategically planned to coincide with numerous hikers passing through Unicoi County as they come off of the Appalachian Trail.

“I think everyone was really appreciative of the efforts that have been made to highlight Unicoi County and the outdoor opportunities that are available here,” she said. “We had so many hikers, which is the reason we do the festival when we do it. That’s a huge win for us when people get back on that trail and tell everyone what a great experience they had in Erwin.”

Food trucks present at the festival included Joe Bill’s Kitchen, Bite, Opie’s Pizza Wagon and Italian ice and kettle corn vendors. The extensive variety of vendors could be found selling everything from pottery, jewelry and handmade body products to knives, outdoor apparel and clothing. Vendors were also offering massages and selling live plants, in addition to the various booths set up to represent community organizations.

Alan and Nancy Stegall attended the event for the first time as pottery vendors and said they were “absolutely loving the festival.”

The Stegalls were selling their handmade pottery, which consisted mostly of coffee and tea mugs in vibrant hues of cool earthy green and blue tones, some with intricate designs and others that were monogrammed with names.

“We got hooked on pottery in college,” said Nancy Stegall, who was previously a registered nurse before pursuing pottery full time in 1983.

Ten years later, her husband, who has a 20-year military career, also began making pottery full time. For the Stegalls, being able to do something every day that they love while spending time with one another makes for a fulfilling career.

“That was the biggest attraction,” said Stegall.

This was also the first year that Northeast Tennessee Outdoors set up as a vendor at the festival. Northeast Tennessee Outdoors was selling outdoor-themed shirts, decals and outdoor-themed hats. The new business continues to grow through social media alone, where they also post informational videos related to outdoor activities.

“We’ve been selling an Appalachian trailblazer shirt and one with our logo on it,” said Katie Linkous, who started the business with her husband, Eric. “You can show where you’re from with our stuff.” 

On the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages, you can find various videos on the topics of hunting and fishing, as well as reviews on different sporting products. 

“If we go on a hike we always try to get online and let people know what the trail was like and if it’s suitable for kids and things like that,” said Linkous, who added they had a great time selling at the festival.

After festival attendees made their way past the foods trucks, musical stage and vendors that lined North Main Street, they entered the kid’s zone located on Main Avenue between Gay and Love streets. The kid’s zone included an archery course, target practice with a pellet gun, a petting zoo and two new editions this year – live animal demonstrations by Bays Mountain and catch and release trout pools supplied by Bass Pro Shops and stocked with rainbow trout from the National Fish Hatchery.

Small crowds gathered around Bays Mountain volunteers as they presented rescued birds of prey such as a Red Tailed Hawk and Great Horned Owl. Onlookers had the opportunity to learn facts about the birds and their impressive natural abilities.

Rice said the new additions were organized by RISE Erwin members Kristen Anders and Juan Villaba, who sought to kick the kid’s zone up a notch this year with the Bass Pro Shop sponsorship and live animal demonstrations.

“Those were huge additions that both the kids and adults enjoyed and we really appreciate their efforts,” said Rice.

Rice added that Trout Unlimited, which presented the International Fly Fishing Film Festival at Capital Cinemas around midday, was very pleased with the turnout and happy to bring awareness to their organization with the film. 

“Hopefully they will have some new members because of the outdoor festival,” she said.

About every couple of hours a new band performed at the festival and this year’s lineup included the Ripple, Folk Soul Revival, Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Anabelle’s Curse and 49 Winchester.

“It was definitely probably the best lineup we’ve had in the three years,” Rice said. “I mean we had people drive three hours to come and see Folk Song Revival and we were really pleased for the turnout they brought to the festival.”

Rice said she believes each time an outdoor- or nature-inspired event is hosted in Erwin, it draws needed attention to the area and its array of outdoor-themed assets.

Recently, Rice said the festival was mentioned in Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine and a professor from Maryville College took notice of Erwin and Saturday’s festival.

“Two of those professors actually came to Erwin and spoke to the mayor about their outdoor program,” she said.

Rice also said the college is currently interested in sending students to Erwin and Unicoi County to help work with the area in conjunction with their outdoor program.

“It’s a feather in our cap each time we’re mentioned,” said Rice. “You never know what opportunities that may bring … our hope is the more times we’re mentioned, maybe a small business that’s outdoor-related will come to want and fill a store shop downtown.”

‘Addiction can last a lifetime’: Officials discuss opioid crisis at community forum

Christy Smith, Unicoi County Prevention Coalition director, left, directs questions towards a panel of experts during an informational opioid forum held on April 26. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

A Community Opioid Forum held on Thursday, April 26, at Calvary Baptist Church gave attendees an opportunity to learn facts about the opioid epidemic and what local resources are available, in addition to hearing from a panel of experts.

The event was hosted by the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and the Washington, Unicoi and Johnson (WUJ) County Medical Alliance.

The panel of experts consisted of: Dr. David Kirschke, Northeast Regional Health officer for the Tennessee Department of Health; Regan Tilson, Town of Erwin police chief; Mike Hensley, Unicoi County sheriff, Angie Hagaman, Diversity Promoting Institutions Drug Abuse Research Project (DIDARP) director; Dr. Paul Jett, physician with Ballad Health; and Angela Murray, director of Corporate and Community development for Watauga Recovery Centers.

“It is our hope that these meetings will continue to educate the public about the opioid epidemic and direct individuals to recovery resources in their area,” said Terry Geraci, president-elect of the WUJ Medical Alliance.

The forum began with an informational video by the American Medical Alliance (AMA) that provided statistics and background information on the growing epidemic.

With an average of 44 people dying each day in the United States from an opioid overdose, many addicts switch to heroin after their supply of pills runs out, according to the AMA. This troubling public health crisis impacts individuals from all classes and walks of life.

Following the video presentation, Christy Smith, director for the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition, began directing questions to the panel of experts and first asked them to differentiate between dependence and addiction.

“When we think about addiction we typically think about people misusing the medication in ways other than intended,” said Dr. Jett.

Jett said that dependence is actually a natural cycle for any opioid use, even as directed by a doctor, and stopping use abruptly will likely lead to at least some withdrawal symptoms. Addiction is characterized by compulsive behavior, continued abuse of drugs, and persistent changes in brain structure.

“If untreated, addiction can last a lifetime,” said Smith. “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are three factors that contribute to opioid addiction: genetics, environment, and opportunity.”

After being in recovery for 11 years for opioid addiction, Murray said that all three factors played a role in her addiction.

“I do have addiction in my family, for sure,” she said. “Because I was always a business owner and worked for myself, I had a perfect opportunity to use without people knowing.”

Murray said she grew up with chronic migraines and after being treated with several medications that failed to alleviate her pain, she was told her only option for pain relief was hydrocodone.

“The more I used, the better I felt and the more I used, the more I needed,” said Murray. “I became dependent and then full-blown addicted.”

According to statistics shared by the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition, there is a 40 percent increased risk that an individual will become addicted to opioids if a first-degree relative also suffers from opioid addiction.

Environmental factors that contribute to opioid addiction include: availability of opioids; perceived risk of opioids (the coalition found that 75 percent of high school students perceive heroin as dangerous, but only 40 percent perceive prescription opioids as dangerous); psychological stressors; learned coping mechanisms; and traumatic life experiences.

“Substance Abuse and Misuse Statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health show that for every 100,000 deaths in Unicoi County, 28 are caused by drug poisoning and this is higher than both the Tennessee and national average,” said Smith.

In 2016, there were six overdose deaths in Unicoi County, five of which were from opioids. That same year, a total of 32,610 opioid prescriptions were written in the county, or approximately 1,840 prescriptions per 1,000 people.

Around 127 pills are prescribed every year for each person in Unicoi County, according to research by the coalition.

“Most people that fatally overdose in our area are between the ages of 25 and 54,” said Dr. Kirschke. “In our region, we’ve had one or two child or teenage deaths, although non-fatal overdoses in teens are increasing.”

Smith said the coalition conducted a survey on drug use and attitudes towards drug use among sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders in Unicoi County schools.

“We found in Unicoi County, the average age of the first use of a prescription drug not prescribed to them is 13,” Smith said.

According to the survey, 51 percent of those who used prescription drugs not prescribed to them in the last 30 days obtained them from a relative, friend or someone they knew for free; 17 percent got it from a relative, friend or someone they knew without asking; and 18 percent purchased them from the internet.

Town of Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said the number of DUIs have almost doubled in the last few years and the majority are not from alcohol, but abused substances.

“Years ago it was alcohol, but this day and time it’s prescription drugs,” said Mike Hensley, Unicoi County sheriff. “It presents a problem for us when we pull someone over and they’re on something, but they have a prescription for it.”

Tilson said officers go through extensive training to determine if someone is under the influence of an illicit substance and added that each DUI arrest can take two or more hours of an officer’s time.

Kirschke also talked about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or when a child is birthed from a mother who is addicted to opioids.

“Basically, it’s become somewhat of an epidemic, especially in East Tennessee,” he said. “It seems like many of the child fatalities, especially infant deaths, a lot of them are from neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

Dr. Jett also said that the East Tennessee region has a rate of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome that is 10 times higher compared to the rest of the nation.

“We are leading the way with a lot of bad things,” he said.

• • •

The panel discussed what spurred the opioid epidemic, and pointed to events back in the 1980s and 1990s that acted as a catalyst for increased use of pain medications. Oxycontin was first introduced by Purdue Pharmaceuticals in 1996.

“We started to judge hospitals by how satisfied people were with their pain levels,” said Kirschke. “There was a time period during which physicians were basically graded with how well they treated pain … doctors’ hands were almost tied.”

Hagaman and Murray spoke on the varied treatments available for opioid addiction that include abstinence-based outpatient treatment, more intensive outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment which typically lasts 30 days and medication-assisted therapy.

“There are all sorts of different types of treatments out there and it’s going to be different for each person,” said Murray.

Smith said, unfortunately, many of the treatment programs don’t last long enough and can lead to relapse. She said goals of recovery include: reduced mortality, improved social function, decreased or discontinued drug use and improved quality of life.

Kirschner also mentioned Naloxone, the antidote to opioid overdose that is available in nasal sprays and injectable forms.

“It reverses the effects of the opioid,” he said. “You can get it from most pharmacies without a prescription and many clinics offer it for free.”

Unused medications can be disposed of at the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department or the Erwin Police Department.

In Unicoi County, CHIPs offers “Living Free” – a faith-based recovery meeting on Thursdays at 9 a.m. For more information, call 743-0022.

Family support meetings are offered in Johnson City at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Mondays at 7 p.m., Tuesdays at 7 p.m, and Thursdays at noon. Harrison Christian Church offers a meeting on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

First Christian Church in Erwin offers an AA meeting on Thursdays at 6 p.m.

To connect to more resources in the region or to learn more about the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition, contact Christy Smith at 735-8407.

Unicoi County Republican Primary: Evely wins mayoral race, Hensley wins sheriff’s race

By Kendal Groner

The results for the 2018 Unicoi County May 1 Republican Primary are as follows.

For Unicoi County Mayor, Garland “Bubba” Evely won the highest number of votes. Evely received 1,821 votes. Incumbent Greg Lynch received 1,301 votes.

For Unicoi County Sheriff, Michael K. Hensley received the highest number of votes. Hensley received 1,955 votes, Jimmy K. Erwin received 805 votes, and Robert Bryan Mccurry received 429 votes.

For Unicoi County Commission District 1, Loren Thomas, Jamie Harris and Marie Shelton Rice were the three candidates who received the highest number of votes and won seats on the panel. Thomas received 545 votes, Harris received 516 votes and Rice received 457 votes.

Other candidates Damon Wilson received 393 votes, Gene Wilson received 307 votes and Eddie Bolton received 272 votes.

For Unicoi County Commission District 2, Jason Harris, Glenn White and Matthew K. Rice were the three candidates who received the highest number of votes. Harris received 580 votes, White received 560 votes and Rice received 553 votes.

Other candidates Kenneth E. Garland received 371 votes and Michael H. Harris received 355 votes.

For Unicoi County Commission District 3, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix and John W. Mosley were the three candidates who received the highest number of votes. Wilcox received 707 votes, Hendrix received 520 votes, and Mosley received 413 votes.

Other candidates Bridget R Peters received 393 votes and Billy R. Harkins Jr. received 351 votes.

Paul Berry ran uncontested for County Trustee and received 2,898 votes. Darren C. Shelton ran uncontested for Circuit Court Clerk and received 2,842 votes. Mitzi Bowen ran uncontested for County Clerk and received 2,854 votes. Debbie McInturff Tittle ran uncontested for Register of Deeds and received 2,846 votes. Terry Haynes ran uncontested for Superintendent of Roads and received 2,761 votes. Arthur Metcalf ran uncontested for Constable in District 1 and received 857 votes. Wayne Edwards ran uncontested for Constable in District 2 and received 861 votes. Timmy Lewis ran uncontested for Constable in District 3 and received 874 votes.

In the Aug. 2 Unicoi County General Election, Evely, the winner of the Republican Primary race for county mayor, will face independent candidates John Day and Richard G. Preston.

In the race for seats on the County Commission in District 2, the winners of the May primary – Jason Harris, Glenn White and Matthew Rice – will face independent candidates Rob Martin and Lisa Brewington White.

The results of the May 1 primary are unofficial until they are certified by the Unicoi County Election Commission. For a full story of the primary, including interviews with winners, pick up a copy of the May 9 issue of The Erwin Record.