Park renamed to honor Alexander

Rocky Fork State Park rangers unveil the new sign at the renamed Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. U.S. Senator Alexander, pictured above left, received this honor thanks to Governor Bill Haslam, pictured above right. The sign was unveiled during a ceremony held on Monday, Jan. 7. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Jan. 7, Rocky Fork State Park officially became Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. The official unveiling took place in front of roughly 100 people who came to see the new sign.

Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely of Unicoi County, Mayor Doris Hensley of the Town of Erwin, and Mayor Johnny Lynch of the Town of Unicoi were on hand to welcome Congressman Phil Roe, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Lamar Alexander to the event.

Excitement has spread across the county for the future of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, according to local officials.

“It’s going to be a great boom to the area,” Evely told The Erwin Record. “I can’t wait for the visitor’s center to be built up here.”

Evely wasn’t the only official that saw the importance of this day.

“I’m so excited for this,” Hensley said of the unveiling.

The excitement even spread to the north end of Unicoi County as Lynch sees an opportunity for tourism to grow.

“It’s a big day,” Johnny Lynch said of the naming of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said she is also looking forward to the future of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

“I’m just excited about the economic aspect and that the park is preserved,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Roe, who is an avid hiker, acknowledged that Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park is one his favorite spots to hike.

“A hundred years from now, when no one knows we had this meeting, people are going to be able to take in the natural beauty of this area,” Roe said of the efforts of those that fought to save Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Roe also acknowledged the efforts of David Ramsey and the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park for their hard work to save the park.

Haslam surprised Alexander with Rocky Fork State Park taking on his namesake.

“Certain people are instrumental in making things happen, that’s why we are standing here today, and I want to take the opportunity to announce that Rocky Fork State Park will for hereafter be known as Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park,” Haslam said to the crowd.

Alexander said he was humbled by the announcement.

“This is a natural treasure and is one of the most beautiful spots in our country,” Alexander said of the park.

Alexander also sees a bright future for the park.

“This is Upper East Tennessee’s gateway to the Appalachian Trail and will be a signature for this area,” Alexander said.

He also thanked those that worked hard to make this day happen.

“I want to acknowledge former (Unicoi County) Mayor Greg Lynch, Marie Rice, Mayor Johnny Lynch, Mayor Bubba Evely, Mayor Doris Hensley, Dave Ramsey and all of you that have been involved with this,” Alexander said.

Alexander acknowledged that he was amazed by what those involved were able to do with the land.

“The Conservation Fund bought the property, that was $40 million, nobody else was going to do that, the government couldn’t do that, and they bought it so the people of this country can enjoy it,” Alexander said in thanking the Conservation Fund.

• • •

Switching gears, Alexander and Roe addressed concerns about the current government shutdown on Monday.

“That needs to end, I wasn’t for a shutdown under President Obama, I’m not for a shutdown under President Trump,” Alexander said. “We weren’t elected to shut the government down.”

Alexander went on further to address what needs to happen to resolve the shutdown.

“What we need to do is act like adults, and the president should sit down with the Congressional leaders and they should come to a conclusion,” Alexander stated. “There is no courage or skill in taking a position; there is courage and skill in getting a result and it’s time to show some of that.”

Roe spoke about what the furloughed government employees can expect.

“Those folks are going to get paid,” Roe said. “It’s not their fault the government shut down, it’s our fault.”

Roe went on to acknowledge the need for a speedy resolution.

“In the short term for those that are living paycheck to paycheck it’s bad, so the sooner we can get this resolved amicably, we should,” Roe said of the urgency to end the shutdown.

When asked about the possibility that President Trump will declare a state of emergency to fund the border wall, Alexander was quick to respond by calling for unity.

“If there is a priority that is legitimate, the Democratic leaders should bend over backwards to complete it, and the president should be in return reasonable, reliable and specific and if they could all sit down and show themselves to be experienced negotiators, this could end in 24 hours,” Alexander stated.

Governor Haslam would not rule out a future run for the U.S. Senate. Haslam is finishing up his term of Governor for Tennessee. Governor-elect Bill Lee will officially take Haslam’s office on Jan. 19.

“Chrissy and I are going to take time to think about it and to pray on it, it’s too important of a role to not give serious consideration to,” Haslam stated that he would decide soon on whether or not he will run.

Alexander has announced that he will be retiring at the end of his current term in 2020 and will not seek reelection.

Officials break ground on new Food City store

Town of Erwin and Unicoi County officials join representatives of Food City in the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for the new Food City store in the Town of Erwin. The company hopes to have the new store opened in approximately six months. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Wednesday, Dec. 19, the bulldozers and jackhammers stopped for a brief moment for the official groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of Food City in Erwin. Representatives from Food City, including President and CEO Steven Smith were present to break ground with representatives from Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin.

“It’s good to have you here in Unicoi County,” Unicoi County Commissioner Chairman Loren Thomas said to Smith.

The groundbreaking officially starts the clock on the opening of the roughly 44,000 square foot supermarket near Taco Bell, Bojangles’ and Pal’s in Erwin. Depending on the weather this season, the construction could be done in six months.

“We hope to have a Food City here in early summer,” Smith said.

The new store is expected to generate 140 jobs to the area.

“We have about $11.5 million dollars invested in this facility,” Smith stated.

The new store will also feature several award-winning energy saving concepts, ranging from energy efficient glass cooler doors, parking lot lights and refrigeration systems to motion sensors and 100 percent LED lighting, as well as an open rafter ceiling design.

“Our customers can expect to find the same smiling faces, top quality products and competitive pricing they have come to expect from Food City, housed in a more energy efficient model, along with some exciting new features and conveniences,” Smith stated.

According to a press release from Food City, the location will include an in-store bakery/deli, complete with a hot food bar and café seating area. Full-service meat and seafood departments will offer pre-marinated and seasoned oven ready products, plus a complete selection of top quality meats that are all-natural with no solutions added, including Certified Angus Beef.  In-house meat cutters will hand-cut steaks and fresh meat to order.

Expanded grocery, frozen food and produce departments will offer a complete selection of gourmet, international and specialty items. Rapid checkout service will be provided by six traditional checkout lanes, one express lane and four self-checkouts. For added convenience, the store will include a Food City Pharmacy, equipped with a drive-thru for greater ease in prescription services, a Food City Gas n’ Go and Go Cart curbside pick-up, which allows customers to shop online and pick-up their order when they arrive at the store.

The 140 jobs are something that Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley and Smith can agree is a huge boost for the people of Erwin and Unicoi County.

“The interesting thing about who we employ is, for a lot of folks it’s their first job, for a lot folks it’s their last job,” Smith said of the generational diversity in Food City’s workforce.

When Food City begins hiring for their store, according to Hensley, they should see a solid return on investment.

“We pride ourselves on our work ethic here, and in our school systems we try to teach that,” Hensley said of the workers of Erwin.

Food City is one of many businesses that have committed to the growth of the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County.

“I think with Food City here you are going to see a lot happening, and with the hospital you are going to start seeing more growth in the south side,” Hensley said.

The addition of Food City opens the doors for other opportunities as well.

“This offers so many opportunities for the people of Unicoi County,” Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County Executive Director Tyler Engle said of Food City opening in the summer.

Food City is part of a larger plan to bring more businesses to Erwin.

“We hope to be a catalyst to help Erwin to grow and prosper,” Smith told The Erwin Record.

The excitement for Food City was evident in the groundbreaking ceremony.

“We are so appreciative of Food City for coming to Erwin, this is the best Christmas present ever,” Hensley said of welcoming Food City to Erwin.

Food City representatives were also feeling the excitement of the collaboration between Erwin and the supermarket company.

“We want to be a good partner with Erwin and Unicoi County, we want to recognize the character of the community,” Smith told The Erwin Record.

Smith, who is from a small town that has similar demographics as Erwin, is invested in the growth of Erwin.

“I will commit to you that not only are we going to build you a fine supermarket, but our folks will be a great community partner,” Smith said. “We will invest in your nonprofits and do our part to make Erwin a great place to live and to raise children.”

County Commission chooses to stay with MedicOne

The Unicoi County Commission held its last meeting of 2018 at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 17. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Dec. 17, the Unicoi County Commission made the contract renewal with MedicOne official.

MedicOne will continue to serve Unicoi County beginning the new contract in April of 2019. The contract will run until April of 2023. The contract includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to MedicOne. The county currently pays $132,000 dollars annually under the current contract which expires in April.

The commission voted to approve the bid and contract, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

Monday’s vote followed the recommendation made by the Ambulance Committee during a meeting at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 14.

On Friday, the committee viewed a response from MedicOne to a proposed contract submitted by the county for ambulance services.

“We sent a proposed contract to representatives of MedicOne on Dec. 5,” Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stated on Dec. 14.

MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves responded back to the committee on Dec. 14, prior to the meeting with some proposed changes.

The proposed changes included removing a $2 million insurance umbrella that would cost MedicOne $63,000 in annual costs. Another change that MedicOne would like to see was a new ambulance being purchased in April 2019 and a second one to be purchased in April of 2020. MedicOne already has a 2017 ambulance currently in their fleet. This would allow the ambulance service to have three ambulances that would be in compliance of the original 5-year, 250,000-mile option in the current contract.

“We would have three frontline ambulances that should be in good shape and low mileage within the first 12 months of the new contract,” Evely told the committee.

The committee voted to continue talks with MedicOne to try and reach an agreement and discuss it at the Dec. 17 Unicoi County Commission meeting. The commission had the option of either accepting the updated contract from MedicOne at the meeting or putting the contract back out for bid. Unicoi County Attorney Douglas Shults was asked to draw up a new request for proposal just in case talks fell through with MedicOne.

The current contract for ambulance services is up in April of 2019.

“What we are concerned about is the safety of our citizens,” committee member Commissioner Glenn White said on Friday.

On Monday, commissioners Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice and Stephen Hendrix voted to approve a new contract with MedicOne. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no.

“I’d like to see this go out for bid,” Commissioner Jason Harris stated.

Once the vote was over Commissioner Marie Rice expressed her concerns about continuing to have MedicOne provide ambulance services to Unicoi County.

“I will refer the calls I get to the ones that voted for this, those calls are coming,” Rice said. Commissioner Jamie Harris was more hopeful for the contract renewal.

“This contract gives the commission more teeth. I’m hopeful this works out,” he told The Erwin Record.

The new contract calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12 hour shift for 7 days a week. MedicOne is currently running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract.

Thomas was optimistic about the agreement going forward.

“We are paying for more because our citizens deserve more,” Thomas told The Erwin Record about the subsidy.

•••

With the ambulance service issue taken care of, the commission moved on to revisit an item that was previously shelved.

Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Representative Troy Ebbert addressed the commission concerning a proposed bike trail that would cover roughly five miles and travel through the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi and a stretch of Unicoi County. The proposed grant was for $90,000 dollars and required 10 percent of the grant be paid by the three municipalities, to complete a study of the proposed trail.

The 10 percent would have been split between the three municipalities, costing the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi, and Unicoi County roughly $3,000 dollars each. The Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi have already agreed to pay the $3,000 dollars for the study. Commissioners Glenn White and John Mosley expressed concern over the trail study.

“I have spoken to people in that district and they do not want the trail,” Mosley stated.

The commission narrowly voted to oppose the trail study in a 5-4 vote. A motion was made to approve the study by Commissioner Matthew Rice and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Stephen Hendrix. Joining Matthew Rice and Hendrix in approving the study grant was Commissioner Jason Harris and Chairman Thomas. Voting to oppose the bid was Commissioners White, Mosley, Wilcox, Marie Rice, and Jamie Harris.

•••

In the last order of business, the commission voted unanimously to update their contract with Quillen College of Medicine, Division of Forensic Pathology to perform autopsies for Unicoi County. The current contract has a 20 autopsy yearly cap. The new contract will release the cap.

A motion was made by Commissioner Jason Harris and seconded by White. The commission voted unanimously to accept the new contract.

United Way surpasses fundraising goal

Thanks to the extra funds raised, the United Way was able to give to additional organizations. United Way Vice President David Erickson, right, presents a check to Larry Rose, a representative of the Imagination Library. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County United Way surpassed its goal of $120,000 during the most recent drive thanks to the generosity of the citizens of Unicoi County.

It was announced during the United Way Victory Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 6, that the local United Way received a total of $128,528, which will benefit 22 area organizations.

“It’s been a good year,” Unicoi County United Way Vice President David Erickson told The Erwin Record.

Clinchfield Senior Adult Center’s reception room was packed with members of the organizations that both help and are helped out by the United Way. The crowd was treated to a lunch prepared by Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz and music by the Unicoi County High School Blue Belles.

After lunch, the Development Director of Second Harvest Food Bank, Ann Rhem addressed the crowd to discuss the impact that United Way has on the community.

“The population of Unicoi County is 17,945 and of that 2,580 citizens are food deprived,” Rhem stated.

That is roughly 14.4 percent of the population of Unicoi County that could use the assistance of Second Harvest Food Bank.

Another organization on hand that United Way has been able to help is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA helps assist and represent children during court cases.

“Children can often slip through the cracks of the justice system, and we are here to help make sure that they have the same representative with them every step of the way,” Executive Director of CASA Whitney Mclaughlin said.

After recognizing the organizations in attendance and handing out special awards for those that contributed, Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown revealed the total amount of $128,528 that was raised by the local businesses.

“This wouldn’t be possible without everyone sitting in this room, and our local industry that is committed to the United Way,” Brown said. “They are the backbone and the lifeblood of the area United Way.”

The annual United Way drive may be over, but you can always give to the United Way of Unicoi County. Donations can be mailed anytime to Unicoi County United Way, PO Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650.

Also, follow Unicoi County United Way’s Facebook page for more updates and events.

County to negotiate with MedicOne for ambulance service

The Unicoi County Commission discussed the future of the county’s ambulance service during a meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission got to work on Monday, Nov. 26, to address several issues. One issue that has been on the minds of the commission for a long time has been the county’s ambulance service.

During Monday’s meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley moved to enter negotiations with MedicOne in regards to ambulance services for the county starting in April 2019. Unicoi County Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

The plan would call for members of the Unicoi County government to negotiate terms with MedicOne, which has a contract to provide ambulance services to the county through April 2019, and if both parties agree then when the current contract is up in April, Unicoi County would retain MedicOne as it’s ambulance service.

If an agreement is not met by Dec. 14, then Unicoi County would send out a request for proposal or RFP.

“If we wait until December, what are we going to do with an RFP? Most ambulance services want 90 days notice to set up shop,” Commissioner Marie Rice inquired.

Another concern raised by Commissioner Glenn White was that the last two times the commission sent out RFPs only one ambulance service responded and that was MedicOne. Mosley responded that the proposed plan would be to have Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and County Attorney Douglas Shults talk to MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves to see if an agreement can be met. If the agreement can not be made by Friday, Dec. 14, by noon, then the commission will send out RFPs.

Members of the Commission discussed the ambulance service during a Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

“There are three options on the table, stay with Medic One, re-open the bidding, or create our own ambulance service,” Mosley said during the committee meeting.

The concern for Unicoi County has been a lack of staff and equipment, which has reportedly caused issues with wait times.

“The big thing hurting us right now is personnel. It’s not just a MedicOne issue; it’s statewide,” MedicOne Manager Jamie Kemp said to the committee.

Currently, there are four job openings posted through MedicOne’s website.

“We are short two paramedic positions,” Kemp said.

Another problem that has recently affected the call load for MedicOne is the hospital moving. “Before there weren’t many calls from the UCMH Long Term Care Unit because they could transport the patients next door without calling an ambulance service, now we get more calls to transport from UCMH Long Term Care to the new hospital,” Kemp said.

Along with staffing concerns, the committee is concerned about the lack of vehicles for MedicOne.

“I think we need three ambulances,” County Commissioner and committee member Jamie Harris said. “I know it’s a lot of money and I don’t want to put it on the people, but we need it.” Only two ambulances currently serve Unicoi County.

The committee has a  decision to make going forward.

“We have to make a move on this,” County Commissioner and committee member Glenn White said.

On Monday, the proposal made by Mosley passed on a 5-3 vote with Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. Commissioners John Mosley, Glenn White, Jamie Harris, Stephen Hendrix and Todd Wilcox voted for the motion, while Jason Harris, Marie Rice and Matthew Rice voted no.

• • •

Next on the agenda, the Commission listened to citizens of Buffalo Valley as they asked the commission to sign a letter of opposition to the City of Johnson City’s streambank mitigation plan.

Speaking on behalf of Buffalo Valley was Calvin Hoyle, Steve Williams, Andy Landers, Town of Unicoi Alderwoman Kathy Bullen and former Town of Unicoi Alderman Roger Cooper.

A motion was made by White and seconded by Wilcox to send the letter.

“This affects all of Unicoi County,” Mosley said to the board.

According to the Buffalo Valley citizens, the prices for home resale values have dropped $50,000-$60,000. The board voted unanimously to send a letter of opposition to United States Army Corp of Engineers.

If you are interested in writing an opposition letter to the request made by the City of Johnson City to use the land that housed Buffalo Valley Golf Course for streambank mitigation, you can email it to ryan.evans@usace.army.mil by Nov. 30.

• • •

In other business, the Commission voted to receive a non-financial matching grant of $36,750 for signage. This grant is a shared grant for Unicoi County, the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Erwin. The only cost will be labor for this grant.

The motion to accept the grant was made by Matthew Rice and seconded by Hendrix. The motion passed unanimously.

“One of the things about tourism is we have all these wonderful places to go, but don’t have signs showing people where to go,” Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stated.

In closing, the Commission voted unanimously to accept the approval of William Todd Hopson as the new commissioner of Unicoi County Water Utility District.

Christian Care Center taking over UCMH Long Term Care

By Richard Rourk

The Long Term Care unit at the former hospital building will soon be operated by Christian Care Center. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health Board of Control held a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Erwin Town Hall to discuss the future of the former hospital building located at 100 Greenway Circle Erwin.

While the operations of the hospital have moved to the new Unicoi County Hospital, the UCMH Long Term Care is still housed at Greenway Circle. At the meeting last week, representatives of Ballad Health, which owns and operates the county hospital, addressed the board and announced that they support Christian Care Center, LLC taking over operations of the UCMH Long Term Care facility.

It did not take the board long to make a decision. A motion was made by UCMH Board of Control member Russell Brackins to agree to lease the property to Christian Care Center; the motion was seconded by UCMH Board of Control member Gene Wilson. The motion passed unanimously for the UCMH Board of Control to lease the property to Christian Care Center. If everything goes as planned, the transition will take effect at the beginning of the year.

“Closing date is set for Jan. 1 and it will be for a 10-year lease,” UCMH Board of Control Chairman Roland Bailey told The Erwin Record.

Ballad Health President of the Southeast Market Dwayne Taylor announced that they found the perfect partner to take over operations.

“We wanted someone that focused on quality above profit, someone that would love these patients the same way we do and we know we found that partner in Christian Care Center,” Taylor said.

Christian Care Center Vice President of Client Operations Sandy Deakins addressed the board to introduce what Christian Care Center’s intentions would be with the UCMH Long Term Care facility.

“Our goal isn’t to fix what works, but to take what works and expand upon that,” Deakins said to the board.

Deakins explained Christian Care Center’s philosophy.

“We are not looking at being the biggest, just the best,” Deakins said.

Christian Care Center expressed interest in the facility and the promise that comes with it.

“We want to do what’s best for the community, as far as the building there are some real good bones to work with there,” Deakins said of the facility.

The possibility of expanding the Long Term Care unit throughout the former hospital building is on the table, according to the discussion at the meeting. One of the goals for the large facility would be to provide the option for private rooms.

“We would love to take the side the hospital was in and create private rooms and expand rehab care,” Deakins exclaimed.

Comfort was a topic expressed by Deakins.

“It’s the patients’ home, we work in their home, they don’t live at our work,” Deakins explained.

The board did inquire about several topics.

“What is your normal ratio of registered nurses and certified nursing assistants?” Brackins inquired.

Deakins acknowledged that they like to have at least one RN on board at all times.

UCMH Board of Control member Marie Rice inquired about the status of current employees at Long Term Care.

“Our goal is to get started talking about benefits with the staff and preparing interviews,” Deakins said.

Deakins addressed concerns of staff turnover.

“If it works, we want to make it continue to work, we want them to be a part of our team, and if staff chooses not to stay, Ballad Health has great opportunities for the staff as well,” Deakins explained.

Rice then asked if Christian Care Center planned on retaining the employees and Deakins answered.

“That is our goal. I’m optimistic,” Deakins said in regards to retaining the staff.

Deakins spoke with The Erwin Record following the meeting about the expansion of the Long Term Care facility.

“It could result in more jobs,” Deakins said. “It will certainly make the facility more competitive with today’s market.”

UCMH Long Term Care will be the ninth facility for Christian Care Center.

Police chief addresses school bus safety

By Richard Rourk

Within the past week several children have been struck by vehicles throughout the United States while waiting on their school buses. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, the greatest risk to a child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one. The website is full of tips on how to get children to school safely.

To help prevent accidents for drivers, when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people. Slow down and watch for children and be alert.

“Paying attention is key,” Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said.

Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic. Learn and obey the school bus laws in Tennessee, as well as the “flashing signal light system” that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off.

Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.

“It is absolutely imperative that we do not pass these buses,” Tilson told The Erwin Record.

Children should arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

Parents should visit the bus stop and show children where to wait for the bus: at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb. Remind children that the bus stop is not a place to run or play.

Children may also want to wear bright colors and it may be a good idea to get a backpack that has reflective stripes.

When the school bus arrives, children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens and the driver says it’s okay before approaching the bus door. Children should use the handrails to avoid falling.

Children should never walk behind a school bus. If a child must cross the street in front of the bus, they should walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing.

Children should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see them. If a child drops something near the school bus, like a ball or book, the safest thing is for the child to tell the bus driver right away.

In a release from January 2018, NHTSA reported between 2006 and 2016, there were 216 pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes.

Among the 216 pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes, 163 were struck by school vehicles and 52 were struck by other vehicles.

Towns’ voters elect aldermen

From Staff Reports

While casting their ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 6, for U.S. Congressional representatives and governor, Town of Erwin and Town of Unicoi voters also cast their ballots for seats on their respective town boards.

Erwin voters voted for three open seats on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. According to unofficial results from the Unicoi County Election Commission, winning those three seats were: Mark Lafever with 1,279 votes; Michael Baker with 892 votes; and Gary Chandler with 864 votes.

Also running in Erwin were: Virgil Moore with 630 votes; Stephen Wilson with 497 votes; and Timothy Shelton with 461 votes.

***

Unicoi voters cast their ballots for two open seats on the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen. According to unofficial results from the Unicoi County Election Commission, winning those two seats were: Kathy Bullen with 577 votes and Wanda Wilson-Radford with 534 votes.

Also running in Unicoi were: Roger Cooper with 486 votes; Charlene Thomas with 470 votes; and Debbie Bennett with 369 votes.

All results are unofficial until certified by the Unicoi County Election Commission. Approximately 60 percent of Unicoi County voters cast ballots in this election.

For a full story of the Nov. 6 election, pick up a copy of the Nov. 14 issue of The Erwin Record.

United Way campaign continues

By Richard Rourk

The United Way of Unicoi County is off to a solid start in its annual campaign.

“We are approaching the 50 percent mark on our goal of $120,000,” United Way spokesperson Lynnsey Seagroves told The Erwin Record.

According to Seagroves, the United Way is still waiting for all of the partners to turn in the numbers so far. One partner has turned in the funds collected and it looks promising for the future.

“Pal’s in Erwin collected donations for us from Sept. 25-Oct. 8 and collected over $310,” Seagoves said.

This is the first year that Pal’s partnered with the United Way.

“This is a new partnership this year, and we’re so thankful for their support and our community’s generosity,” Seagroves said. “Pal’s efforts are proof that spare change can make a big impact.”

There are several other partners throughout Unicoi County that are accepting donations at their checkouts. Those businesses include the Plant Palace, Keesecker’s, Steel Rails Coffee House, Roller Pharmacy, Clinchfield Pharmacy, Baker’s Shoe Repair, Valley Beautiful Antique Mall, What’s the Scoop?, Hawg-n-Dawg, CHIPs Thrift Store and the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center. “We’d love for everyone to consider donating spare change if a box is spotted while they’re out in town,” Seagroves said. 

The donations go to support more than 22 local organizations.

“Through these agencies, $380,000 in United Way donations have impacted over 10,000 lives in Unicoi County over the last three years,” Seagroves told The Erwin Record.

The agencies include Unicoi County Public Library, Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Unicoi Shoe Fund, Unicoi County YMCA, Unicoi County 4-H Club, Contact 211 Ministries, Sequoyah Council, BSA, Monroe Foundation, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children, Children’s Advocacy Center of 1st Judicial District, Manna Storehouse, CHIPS Inc, Kiwanis Shopping Tour, Heritage Museum, Unicoi County Literacy Program, Unicoi County Student Backpack Program, Unicoi County Student Dental Program, Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, Tennessee Rehabilitation Center, Erwin Little League, and the Imagination Library. If more funds than expected come in, the United Way will help more organizations.

“We usually do more than our goal to help out more organizations, sometimes we are able to help up to 25 or more organizations,” Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown told The Erwin Record in regards to past drives.

Pal’s becoming a partner wasn’t the only new addition to this year’s drive.

“Something else that’s new this year is our weekly ‘What United Way Means to Me’ features on our Facebook page,” according to Seagroves.

“What United Way Means to Me” is a way for organizations that have been supported by United Way to state the impact of the donations received.

“We’ve asked representatives from the agencies we support to share about how they’ve seen United Way donations make a difference firsthand and continued funding from the United Way is important,” said Seagroves. 

Going forward the United Way would love to see more stories on their Facebook page.

“We’d love for our community members to follow the Unicoi County United Way Facebook page and share these stories about how funding is making a difference in Unicoi County,” said Seagroves.

The campaign, which started on Sept. 25, runs through Dec. 6. If you would like to donate but can’t make it out to one of the locations in town, donations can be mailed anytime to Unicoi County United Way, PO Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650.

“Unicoi County United Way could not support these 22 worthy organizations without the generosity and support of our community and local businesses, and for that, we thank you,” Seagroves said.

‘Monument to the region’: New Unicoi County Memorial Hospital opens doors

Members of the community walk into the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital for the first time following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, Oct. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Oct. 22, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital opened its doors for the first public viewing.

“We are ready,” UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll told The Erwin Record on Monday about the opening of the new facility.

The doors to the new hospital officially opened to patients on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, which preceded an open house for the public, drew quite a crowd. On hand to welcome the innovative facility was Carroll, Ballad Health President and CEO Alan Levine, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital physician Dr. Joshua Puhr, Corporate Director of Spirit and Pastoral Care for Ballad Health Gary Metcalf, and U.S. Congressman Dr. Phil Roe.

Carroll recognized past and present hospital board members, as well as government officials in attendance.

Over the last three years, the vision was laid out for the new hospital in a 10-point plan.

“Our 10 guiding principles which are reflective of this hospital are patient and family-centered, safe and efficient, economically feasible, accessible and easy to navigate, able to optimize our resources, flexible and adaptable, supportive of advanced technology, environmentally friendly, attractive to health care professionals and supportive of higher education,” Carroll said.

Carroll then recognized the Ballad Health staff and what they mean to the new hospital.

“This hospital is just a building, the real Unicoi Hospital is made up of our team members and I couldn’t be more proud,” he said.

The new hospital will employ a staff of roughly 115 individuals.

Levine opened his remarks during Monday’s ceremony by recognizing a family that lost everything to a fire recently.

“The first act of this hospital will be to donate $5,000 to that family,” Levine said.

Levine then reinforced Ballad’s commitment to Unicoi County.

“This building today is a monument to the region,” he said.

Ballad Health was faced with a dilemma when they had to decide whether to invest in a rural hospital or not.

“We had to decide if we create a new path forward with a new vision of what a rural hospital would look like or do we simply let other external influences just decide for us what we should do,” Levine explained.

The board at Ballad Health decided to invest in regionalism.

“Our board decided to invest in Unicoi, and that is why we have the hospital we have here today,” Levine said.

When taking the microphone, Roe told a story that shows how far health care has come in this area.

“In 1980 I was the 75th doctor on staff at the Johnson City Medical Center,” Roe said. “There are now over 600 doctors.”

Roe hammered home the investment that Ballad is making in Unicoi County with this new facility.

“Alabama and Tennessee have had the most rural hospital closings in the United States and to be successful you have to have a good education system, which you have here in Unicoi County, and you have to have good healthcare, which you have in this building,” Roe said.

Several local officials were in attendance at Monday’s ceremony.

“This is a very nice addition,” Chairman of the Unicoi County Commission Loren Thomas said. Former Town of Erwin Mayor Russell Brackins reflected on his time on the board and what this hospital means for Unicoi County.

“I’ve been on and off the board for the past 30 years and this is great,” Brackins told The Erwin Record.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley were also in attendance to see the opening of the hospital.

“When you see all these rural hospitals closing and you see a facility like this, it’s a boom for our community,” Evely said.

“This hospital will bring in more growth throughout the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County and it’s a great day for us,” Hensley told The Erwin Record.

Carroll addressed further what this hospital will mean for Unicoi County.

“You need high-quality health care when you are deciding on a place to live and we can give that to Unicoi County,” Carroll said.

Looking to the future Carroll explained how growth looks going forward.

“We do anticipate growth and volume in both inpatient care, but especially in our outpatient care, with our updated diagnostics,” he said.

Levine explained what Unicoi County means to Ballad Health, saying: “Ballad is a regional health system and Unicoi is a critical part of our region.”

The new UCMH is equipped to offer imaging services including, ultrasound, bone density and 3D mammography. The X-ray machine delivers digital results for both inpatient and outpatient procedures.

“I can tell you that this X-ray machine is second to none,” Roe said.

The Cannon Radiology CT Scan is capable of 160 slices per rotation. Cardiology services, including stress tests, will be available seven days a week. The new nuclear medicine area allows for heart and lung exams. The MRI machine is the first in the state of Tennessee and the first Ballad Health facility to feature virtual theater, which allows the patients to bring in their favorite movies or music to be played while they are in the MRI machine.

Wings, Ballad Health’s air ambulance service made an appearance at Monday’s event, and the crowd was entertained by both the Unicoi County High School Marching Band and the UCHS Bluegrass Band. The public was treated to catering from Hawg-N-Dawg.

The new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital is located at 2030 Temple Hill Road in Erwin and features 24-hour emergency services.

Fires destroy homes, vacant building

A fire destroyed the home on Jim Jones Road on Monday, Oct. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Fire departments from several counties responded to a fire in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 21, at 5949 Unicoi Drive. When they arrived on scene they found the old Wiseman’s Feed and Seed building, which had been abandoned for some time, fully engulfed.

The crews battled the fire for more than six hours due to the windy conditions. One Carter County firefighter sustained minor injuries fighting the blaze.

“He’s doing well, he’s just bruised and sprained,” Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Deputy Chief Wes Hensley told The Erwin Record.

According to the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office Communication Director Kevin Walters, the fire is currently under investigation, therefore details are limited. There was no power to the building, so the fire more than likely wasn’t electrical.

“We haven’t had electricity in there for more than two years,” according to building owner Alyssa Hodge.

The fire could’ve been more devastating considering how close it was to a residential building, as well as Wiseman’s Clothing and Shoes.

“We are lucky that it didn’t reach Wiseman’s or our apartments up the hill, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Hodge said.

All of the firefighters that responded were able to save the surrounding buildings and for that Hodge was thankful.

“They did a great job, I just want to thank the firefighters, especially the one that was injured,” Hodge told The Erwin Record.

***

Early on Monday, Oct. 22, there was a fire at a residence on 3206 Unicoi Drive, Lot 6.

There were children involved in that fire, but no serious injuries reported. Sgt. Jacob Marshall and Deputy Cody Arnold with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department reportedly arrived to see the front porch was fully engulfed.

All four people, two adults and two children, were discovered safe outside of the fire. The sheriff’s department confirmed there were no one else in the home. The house was a total loss. “Cody Arnold and Jacob Marshall did a great job for us,” Unicoi County Investigator Harmon Duncan told The Erwin Record.

If you are interested in donating clothing to those affected by the fire the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Dispatch is accepting clothing at Family Ministries Resources Center 1119 N. Main Ave. in Erwin. The sizes for the two adults are for female 3x-4x and female 14-16 and the sizes for the two children are 6-9 months for a 5-month-old child and size 3 for a 2 and half-year-old child. A Gofundme page is being set up for financial donations.

According to Walters, this fire is currently under investigation as a possible arson case. If you have any information please contact the State Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017. The State Arson Hotline is open 24 hours a day and you may remain anonymous when providing information.

***

Also on Monday, around 10:30 a.m. firefighters responded to a fire at 524 Glenn Effler Road that destroyed a two-level house. No serious injuries were reported, but one firefighter needed medical attention for abrasions to his hands. Unfortunately, a family pet perished in the fire. Initial reports suggest this could have been a wiring issue.

Multiple firefighting units from around the area were on the scene with UVFD fighting the fire. The house was deemed a total loss.

New Unicoi County Memorial Hospital opens next week

Finishing touches are being done at the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital ahead of its opening next week. A ribbon cutting has been set for Monday, Oct. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

Heritage, service, tradition and innovation are what drive the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, which will officially open to patients on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 7 a.m.

Ballad Health had the future in mind when they decided five years ago to build a new hospital, according to one representative.

“This shows Ballad’s commitment to Unicoi County,” said Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Administrator Eric Carroll during a tour of the new facility for media on Friday, Oct. 12.

Ballad Health will celebrate the opening of the new facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, Oct. 22, beginning at 11 a.m. Tours will take place following the ceremony.

The hospital, which currently employs roughly 115 staff members, will have a 24-hour emergency room. There will be 10 emergency exam rooms. UCMH will also feature 10 private inpatient rooms, all with mountain views. The rooms are also large and feature couches that can convert to beds.

“Patients’ families are a part of the healing process,” Carroll said. “We want the families to be able stay in comfort.”

The walls are lined throughout the hospital with local artwork. With all of the modern amenities, there are some historical artifacts that are prominently displayed as well – a heritage wall features a reel from Capital Cinema, a picture of the “Erwin Nine” and an actual Blue Ridge Pottery plate.

“The items on this wall represents the best of Unicoi County,” said Carroll during the tour.

Ballad brings many exclusive features to the new hospital. The hospital itself is the first hospital to be completed since the merger between Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance. UCMH was built to give the citizens of Unicoi County the option to receive quality healthcare close to home.

“All of the services that citizens used to travel for – the CT Scans, MRI’s and 3D Mammograms – can be done right here close to home,” Carroll said.

The MRI machine is the first in the state of Tennessee and the first Ballad Health facility to feature virtual theater. Virtual theater allows the patients to bring in their favorite movies or music to be played while they are in the MRI machine.

“This is a way to bring the stress level down in an already stressful situation,” Carroll said.

The MRI machine is extremely quiet compared to its predecessors.

“You can have a conversation in the room while the MRI is going,” said Carroll.

The MRI also has the largest bore available to allow for more room in the machine.

Another exclusive feature is the use of Epic, the technology platform that will connect all Ballad Health facilities in the future. All facilities that use Epic can communicate information back and forth to each other and to the patient. The Epic platform currently covers 200 million people, roughly two-thirds of patients nationwide.

Although Epic is already in use at legacy Wellmont facilities, it has not carried over to the legacy Mountain States facilities.

“Unicoi County Memorial Hospital will be the first legacy Mountain States hospital to go live with Epic,” Director of nursing at UCMH April Jones, RN, said.

The staff at UCMH finished Epic training last week. The tentative date for Epic to be available for all Ballad Health facilities is set for April of 2020.

The new hospital has many other new or upgraded additions, including a large trauma room and a second smaller trauma room. There is also a helipad that is available for Wings air ambulance service transport.

“This helipad makes it convenient for those that need emergency transport to another one of our facilities,” Carroll said.

Located outside of the trauma room is a unique design feature that allows all stations such as nursing, ER and labs to be joined in a central location.

“This design was made for efficiency,” stated Carroll.

This area also leads to easy access to the lab area within roughly 50 feet.

UCMH is equipped to offer imaging services including, ultrasound, bone density and 3D mammography. The X-ray machine delivers digital results for both inpatient and outpatient procedures. The Cannon Radiology CT Scan is capable of 160 slices per rotation. Cardiology services including stress tests will be available seven days a week. The new nuclear medicine area allows for heart and lung exams.

The new facility features a chapel, which was previously missing at the old UCMH. Although there is a cafeteria area in the current hospital, it wasn’t very easy to locate. The new cafeteria area is larger than its predecessor and is centrally located with both indoor and outdoor seating. The indoor area has Edison lamps and large window spaces for natural lighting. On the wall next to the cafeteria is a lit Blue Ridge Pottery logo.

“Your eyes are drawn to this artwork as you walk into the lobby,” Carroll said of the Blue Ridge Pottery logo.

There are numerous USB and plugins conveniently located for patients and visitors to charge their electronic devices. One other unique feature is the gift shop, which offers locally curated gifts. The proceeds from the gift shop go to the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Auxiliary which funds several local healthcare initiatives.

As employees and patients transition from the old hospital to the new one, there will be hours where both are operational.

“There will be no lapse in coverage while we transition,” Carroll told The Erwin Record.

As of right now, there are no new plans for the future vacated portions of the old facility. The Long Term Care unit will remain there for the time being. As far as what will become of the rest of the facility, there are no plans at this point.

“That is something we will have to discuss with the county,” Carroll said.

The new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital is located a 2030 Temple Hill Road in Erwin. To RSVP for the ribbon cutting, call 302-3042 or email unicoicountyhospital@balladhealth.org.

Apple Festival draws another large crowd

The 41st Annual Unicoi County Apple Festival was held Oct. 5-6 in downtown Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

It’s official. The 41st Annual Unicoi County Apple Festival is over. The economic impact may not be tallied yet, but if the crowd was any indicator, it was a successful festival. The early consensus is that the Apple Festival numbers were up again this year, according to the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce.

“We felt really good,” Chamber Executive Assistant Cathy Huskins told The Erwin Record. “Our numbers were up. We actually had several vendors sell out and have to go home early. It was just a super weekend.”

The streets of downtown Erwin were filled with many faces on Friday, Oct. 5, and Saturday, Oct. 6. Some were familiar and some were visiting the festival for the first time.

“This is my first time here and I’m enjoying it,” Don Caudill told The Erwin Record.

Caudill, who made the trip from Gate City, Virginia, said he heard about the festival from friends that have come down before and decided to check it out for himself.

One of the more popular areas of the festival was the children’s area, which was sponsored by the Unicoi County Family YMCA and set up between Erwin Town Hall and the Post Office. The children, like the rest of the crowd, made their way downtown.

Devin and Danni Lingerfelt came all the way from Elizabethton to enjoy all of the inflatables and fun. Jennifer Bradley watched on as her son, Luke Bowman, climbed the rock wall. Young Porter Huskins had already passed up the children’s area and was shopping for a new belt from one of the leather vendors downtown.

Another popular attraction was the two musical stages. The music kicked off on Friday at noon over at the Love Street Stage, which presented some of the best gospel acts in the area. The Tucker Street Stage showcased a wide variety of musical acts.

“We play a little bit of everything, from a little bit of classic rock to a little bit of classic country,” Keith Oliver told The Erwin Record.

Oliver is the drummer of the band Broadstreet Station. This was the first Apple Festival for some of the acts, but according to Oliver, he had played the festival a few years back and had fond memories of the experience.

“It’s always been a good time, lots of good people here,” said Oliver.

Inflatables and bands weren’t the only attractions in the area. With 350 vendors, there was something for everyone. At the Steel Rails Coffee House, “business was good,” according to Lydia McNabb.

Another local vendor that was enjoying the festival was True’s Apples. Selling bags of apples ranging from $5-$15, Amy True had a steady line forming to purchase the featured fruit. Creative Canvas was downtown giving demos of their art and Mayor Doris Hensley was there checking it out.

“We’re glad you are here today,” Hensley told Angela Shelton and Patti Baker, two of the partners in Creative Canvas, which provide a unique experience as they bring the art studio to you.

Down on Union Street two new businesses that had opened the week of the festival were tending to the crowds.

“I love that they added the vendors down Union Street this year, it really has helped get people in the doors,” Union Street Gallery co-owner Jan Bowden told The Erwin Record.

Over at the Union Street Taproom, co-owner Michael Baker was serving up some of the best craft beers in the area, including a hard apple cider just in time for the festival.

Some of the out-of-town vendors were experiencing the same results as the locals.

“Business was going good,” said Melissa Hooper and Patti Garrett of Our Tribe Creations from Kingsport.

Another new vendor was giving items away this year. Geico who helped sponsor the Apple Festival brought the Geico Bus Experience to Erwin. The bus provided karaoke, air conditioning and several games where everyone was a winner of some kind of prize. Boomtown & Co. out of Johnson City were selling numerous local T-shirts, hats and other clothing. They were selling a unique Erwin T-shirt with a custom art print in honor of “Mary” the elephant.

“We are happy to be back and have a great spot here on Union Street in front of the Union Street Taproom,” Shane Evans told The Erwin Record.

As the 2018 Apple Festival came to a close, the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is already looking to expand for the 42nd staging of the event.

“We are already looking at vendor information for next year,” said Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp.

APPLE FESTIVAL 

CONTEST WINNERS

Cooking Contest

Besides all of the entertainment, vendors, and of course apple offerings, there were other events that the Chamber of Commerce and their partners put on. One such event was the Apple Cooking Contest sponsored by the Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

The winners were announced by Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning, UT Extension Agent Rachel York and Town of Unicoi Director of Communications and Programs Ashley Cavender. The winners were Jordan Mallory with a chai apple pie in the pie category. Joe Schultz took home first place in the cake category with his apple pecan carrot cake. The savory category saw Nikki Willis winning with her apple vanilla bean tiramisu. The first place overall was Nikki Willis with her apple vanilla bean tiramisu. Willis also finished second in the pie category with her creamy chai apple pie. In the cake category, Ian Metcalf took home third with his fresh apple walnut cake and Nikki Willis took home second with her apple spiced latte cupcakes. In the savory category, Madelyn Field took home second with her apple pecan upside-down cake.

Miss Apple Festival Pageant

Held on Sept. 29, the Miss Apple Festival Pageant crowned several winners, who were announced to the festival crowd on Oct. 6. The new Miss Apple Festival is Kayla Calton. Crowned Miss Teen Apple Festival was Myra Burchett. Abagail Hensley was named Miss Jr. Teen Apple Festival. The Pre-Teen Miss Apple Festival title went to Savannah Waddell.

Winning the title of Princess Apple Festival was Tatum McAmis. The new Little Miss Apple Festival was Sophie Morelock. Taking home the title of Baby Miss Apple Festival was Sofiah Burgner. Emmalynn Garner was named Mini Miss Apple Festival. Lillian Waddell was crowned the new Toddler Miss Apple Festival. Olivia Greene took home the title of Ms. Apple Festival. Also crowned during the pageant was Christy Rach, who is the new Lady Apple Festival.

One of the big annual events that occur during the Miss Apple Festival Pageant is the receiving of pet food and kitty litter for the Unicoi County Animal Shelter. As part of the Miss Apple Festival pageant, participants raise pounds of pet food and kitty litter for the local shelter.

“We wanted to add a community service element to the pageant,” said Miss Apple Festival Pageant coordinator Whitney Allen Carr.

This year they raised more than 12,000 pounds. The top five Community Service Donors sponsored by Mountain Commerce Bank were: Laykin Tomlinson with 2,184 pounds; Paisley Bunting with 1,301 pounds; Meredith Cochran with 1,171 pounds; Leslie Carrilli with 1,113 pounds; and Neveah Eads with 1,103 pounds.

Apple Dumpling Contest

The annual Apple Dumpling Contest featured several children ages 5 and under from Unicoi County competing for a good cause. The Apple Dumpling Contest contestants raised money for Change is Possible (CHIPS) Family Violence Shelter, as well as multiple education programs of the Chamber of Commerce within Unicoi County.

Emmaline Olivia Drake was the Apple Dumpling of the Year. First runner-up was Colton Longworth. Aiden Stephen Howell was second runner-up. The Apple Dumplings raised a total of $2,064.50.

Ruby Apple Hunt

The annual Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce scavenger hunt, the Ruby Apple Hunt, kicked off on Monday, Oct. 1.

The daily winners of $50 were as follows: Day one – Sandra Parker; day two – Diana Saymaan; day three – Jeremy Greene and family; day four – Linda Hicks; day five – Kristen Banks. The $250 grand prize winner was Jeremy Greene.

Apple Festival begins Friday

By Richard Rourk

Included in the Oct. 3 issue was The Erwin Record’s 41st Annual Unicoi County Apple Festival Supplement. (File photo)

The Apple Festival is finally here.

The 41st staging of the annual event will be held on Friday, Oct. 5, and Saturday, Oct. 6, in downtown Erwin. Again coordinated by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, the 2018 event promises to be bigger and better than ever.

“We’ve added more booths down Union Street that will help showcase the newly opened Union Street Gallery and the Union Street Tap Room,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp told The Erwin Record.

Partnering with the Apple Festival this year will be Geico Insurance.

“They are bringing the Geico Bus Tour with the Karaoke Experience,” Delp said. “The Geico mascot will be here as well giving out prizes.”

The Geico Bus Tour will be located off of Church Street and Gay Street between the Commons Area and the Unicoi County Courthouse.

On the Southern Gospel Stage, which is located on the corner of Church and Love streets, the headliner will be Melissa Evans starting at 6 p.m. on Friday.

Other acts performing on Friday at the Southern Gospel stage include: The Glorymen and Tiffany performing at noon; Christian Trivette performing at 1:30 p.m.; The Vintage Quartet performing at 3 p.m.; and Russell Bennett at 4:30 p.m.

The schedule for the Southern Gospel stage for Saturday is as follows: Bless’d Ministries kicking things off at 10:30 a.m.; Russell Bennett performing at noon; The Foundations performing at 1:30 p.m.; The Pine Ridge Boys performing at 3 p.m.; and The Joyaires performing at 4:30 p.m.

The music will start on Friday on the Tucker Street Stage at 3 p.m. The headliner on Friday will be HAAL starting at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the line up is as follows: Broad Street Station opens up at 3 p.m.; taking the stage at 5 p.m. will be Hip Gypsy; and closing things out will be 7 Mile Mushroom at 7 p.m.

There will be a children’s area with rides, games, concessions and much more in the parking lot of Erwin Town Hall. On site will be attractions from The Fun Factory, Adrenalin Rush, Laser Tag, Bungee Run, Joust, Saber-Tooth Tiger Slide, Bungee Trampoline and Madagascar. Children and adults of all ages are invited to participate.

The selection of food ranges from traditional, Chinese, Greek, Stir-Fry to specialty items such as apple butter, fried pies, jams, jellies and other apple treats that will be available at this year’s Apple Festival.

The UT Extension Apple Cooking Contest will take place on Friday.

Runners from across the region will converge on the streets of Erwin on Saturday for the running of the Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. and YMCA Apple Festival 4-Mile Footrace and 3K Race Walk. Again this year, $100 will be awarded for setting a confirmed new state age group record. Race day registration is $25 for the walk and $30 for the run. Registration closes at 7:30 a.m. the day of the event. All participants receive a souvenir T-shirt.

Festival activities officially began on Saturday, Sept. 29, with the Miss Apple Festival pageant. As part of the event, contestants collected and donated more than 12,000 pounds of dog and cat food as well as kitty litter for the Unicoi County Animal Shelter.

“We wanted to add a public service element to the pageant,” said Miss Apple Festival Coordinator Whitney Allen Carr. “So we decided to partner with Jurnee’s Journey and the Unicoi County Animal Shelter to raise food and litter for the shelter.”

The pageant contestants received cash prizes that were sponsored by Mountain Commerce Bank.

Currently, the second annual Apple Hunt Contest is underway. There will be a daily $50 prize and on Saturday there will be a grand prize of $250 for those that find the apple medallions in town. The clues to the scavenger hunt will be posted on the festival’s social media page.

Festival merchandise is currently available at the Chamber office, located at the corner of Main Avenue and Gay Street in downtown Erwin. Merchandise will be available at a booth outside the Chamber office during the festival.

For a full schedule of Apple Festival events, visit the Unicoi County Apple Festival Facebook page, as well as unicoicounty.org. Details are also available in The Erwin Record’s special Apple Festival supplement included in this issue.

United Way campaign begins

Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown kicked off the latest fundraising campaign at a breakfast on Tuesday, Sept. 25. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

It’s officially fall in Unicoi County. The leaves are changing, the nights are getting a little cooler, and Blue Devil Football is on a roll. It is also time for the local United Way chapter to kick off its latest campaign.

The United Way officially kicked off the 2018-19 drive on Tuesday, Sept. 25, with its annual breakfast at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center.

Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown kicked things off by welcoming attendees to the breakfast.

“It’s hard to sum up what all United Way does, but I can tell you a single contribution has a chance to reach so many people,” Brown said.

Breakfast was then served and the guests were treated to a performance by the Unicoi County Blue Belles.

Unicoi County High School Principal Chris Bogart spoke on behalf of the Unicoi County Little League, which receives support from the local United Way. Projects such as replacing the fences and general upkeep of the field come from contributions from United Way.

“One of the great things that United Way does for Little League is provide scholarships for the children that come to play,” Bogart said. “We do charge a fee, it’s not a large fee, but if you have multiple children playing it can add up.”

Representatives from Riverview Baptist Church addressed the crowd and sent out a challenge. Pastor David Brown and his congregation collect socks and blankets for the homeless.

“A fire starts in one place,” Brown said. “The fire starts in one place, then it spreads much like the desire that resides in all of you to help those around you.”

He stated there are more than a hundred churches in this county. Riverview Baptist Church Representative Sue Webb added, “it is an honor to be here. And as Pastor Brown said, there are more than a hundred churches in this county and I challenge them to give.”

According to statistics provided by Unicoi County United Way, over the last three years, the United Way was able to raise more than $380,000 which funded 22 agencies to serve more than 10,000 Unicoi County citizens.

Ninety-three percent of contributions raised go back into helping the community right here in Unicoi County.

“We usually do more than our goal to help out more organizations,” Brown said. “Sometimes we are able to help up to 25 or more organizations.”

In closing President Brown went on to address what it means to give. “If we can feed a hungry child, what a blessing,” he said.

The goal for this year’s drive is $120,000. If you would like to donate, the Unicoi County United Way will have donation spots throughout the community. Pal’s in Erwin will have a donation box from Sept. 25 until Oct. 8. There is a donation box at Hawg N Dawg on Union Street in downtown Erwin as well.

You can also send a check to the Unicoi County United Way P.O. Box 343. You can keep track of the progress by visiting the Unicoi County United Way’s Facebook page.

There is also a banner outside the post office in Erwin that will track the progress.

The United Way victory event will be held Dec. 6 at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center.

Clinchfield Federal Credit Union opens branch at UCHS for students

U.S. Congressman Phil Roe, right, joined Clinchfield Federal Credit Union CEO Sandy Lingerfelt and Clinchfield Federal Credit Union Board Chairman Paul Monk for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the institution’s new branch at Unicoi County High. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Students at Unicoi County High School welcomed a new service to campus on Monday, Sept. 17, as the Clinchfield Federal Credit Union is officially opened for business in the heart of Blue Nation.

Clinchfield Federal Credit Union CEO Sandy Lingerfelt was on hand to cut the ribbon with some very special guests. There was a group of more than 20 people to open the newest branch. Joining Lingerfelt and the students of Unicoi High School were members of Clinchfield Federal Credit Union’s Board, Unicoi County Schools Director John English, former Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch, and special guest U.S. Congressman Phil Roe. Also in attendance representing Clinchfield Federal Credit Union were Senior Vice President of Marketing & IT Allison Anderson and Business Development Representative April Simmons.

The ribbon cutting took place in the commons area of Unicoi County High School where the branch will reside. At this new location, the students will receive the same service that Clinchfield Federal Credit Union has been providing the community since 1947. Currently the credit union will be open on campus Thursday’s 11:30 A.M.-1:30 P.M.

“This is a great idea,” Roe said. “It is important to teach financial literacy as early as you can. I am actually working on a bill that would begin saving at birth. My idea is to put $2,000 away when a child is born. That money stays until retirement age for the individual. The most powerful thing in the world is compound interest.”

Roe wasn’t the only one who praised Lingerfelt’s idea.

“What a great idea,” English said. “We appreciate everybody at Clinchfield for bringing it to us. Anytime we can work together and teach the students things like financial literacy, it’s a good thing. Thank you again for your partnership and all that you do.”

The idea for the credit union on campus began when Lingerfelt began speaking with Joey Lewis’ personal finance class and realized there was a great need for it.

“They have credit unions in schools in areas like Nashville, but this in new to this area,” Lingerfelt said. “The plan is to utilize the facilities for educational purposes and to, in the near future, have the branch be led by the students.”

The credit union allows students to bank at school. By having the credit union there, students will be able to get cash when they need it most. If they need cash for a sporting event, field trip, or even lunch, they can just swing by. Students don’t have to be 18 to open an account either. As long as a guardian is willing to co-sign with the student, they can open an account.

According to Lingerfelt there may be more opportunities for even younger children to get exposed to financial education. She is currently looking at grants to start a program for elementary and middle school aged children to get a better understanding of financial stability. “We take piggy banks to the younger children and let them fill them,” Lingerfelt said. “We bring a coin counting machine in and let the children empty their piggy banks so they can see first hand how saving works.”

If you are interested in finding out more about Clinchfield Federal Credit Union or you are interested in opening an account, please visit clinchfieldcu.com or stop by their 1038 North Main Ave. location.

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.