NewsFlash - Winter 2024

NewsFlash - Winter 2024: The latest from throughout Western North Carolina
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COVID funds tapped to add and improve homeless shelter beds
Buncombe County has apportioned part of its remaining $50.7 million COVID relief funds to preserve existing homeless shelter beds while adding others. Commissioners have set aside $875,000, with the City of Asheville kicking in the same, coming to a net total of $1.7 million. This funding shot in the arm will result in the creation of 43 new beds while maintaining 45 existing beds between three different area shelters, according to officials. The Salvation Army will add 20 beds, and the Safe Shelter collaborative will rotate 20 new beds between Grace Episcopal Church, Grace Lutheran Church and Trinity United Methodist Church. The Haywood Street Congregation will add three beds for those who need medical care, behavioral health or substance abuse support services, according to staff reports.

New director named to oversee North Carolina’s state parks
Brian Strong, interim director of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation since early 2023, recently was named the division’s director. The appointment by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, under the auspices of Governor Roy Cooper, means that Strong, a decades-long veteran of the state recreation department, will oversee all the state parks. Since 2000, Strong, who holds a master’s degree in Natural Resources Policy, has managed the division’s State Trails Program and its major grants initiatives, including the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership. The division is dedicated to the enhancement and preservation of conservation, recreation, and education. 

Cherokee County residents seek biking and walking “rail trail” 
Some residents in Cherokee have cast their eyes toward a “rail trail,” a former railway that is converted into a recreational pathway. Fourteen miles of railroad tracks sit dormant between Andrews and Murphy in Cherokee County, and the cost of improvements to return the tracks to service was estimated to be north of $10 million in 2018, thus the inactivity. Proponents of the rail trail point to the economic success of the Creeper Trail in Virginia to area-adjacent towns, thought to be around $60 million. Federal grants could be attained, say the advocates, citing the approval of a nationwide infrastructure bill centered around alternative transportation. 

A nature installation for flighty friends
A new bird sanctuary in Hendersonville’s Sullivan Park has opened, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the city, the owners of Wild Birds Unlimited, and the progressive vision of local resident Crystal Cauley. Several studies have found that listening to and watching birds helps reduce stress and anxiety, even up to eight hours after encountering them. This is one of the many benefits Cauley cited when proposing the installation, which has been named Brooklyn Creek Bird Sanctuary. Carey and Lutrelle O’Cain, proprietors of Wild Birds Unlimited, contributed funding and installed several birdhouses around the park. 

Public and private investment in North Carolina’s small towns pays big dividends
North Carolina’s Main Street and Small Town Main Street communities have gleaned more than $5 billion from investments into their downtowns since 1980, according to new statistics from the Department of Commerce. During the 2022-23 fiscal year, Main Street programs brought in $684.6 million in local public and private investment, with more than 350 new businesses realized and approximately 3,000 jobs added in their downtown regions. The North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center oversee the program as part of the Department of Commerce and its Rural Economic Development Division. Results reflect reporting from the state’s 70 participating Main Street and nine allocated Small Town Main Street communities within the two programs.