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editor's pick featured
Split vote lifts Blowing Rock state of emergency and mask mandate
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Blowing Rock TDA executive director Tracy Brown loads up the last of the ‘masks required’ signs he collected on downtown sidewalks on Nov. 18 after town council voted to remove the state of emergency and mask mandate within the town limits at a special meeting on Nov. 17.

BLOWING ROCK — In a special called meeting on Nov. 17, Blowing Rock’s town council voted, 3-2, to end the state of emergency due to COVID-19 and lifted the mask mandate within the town limits.

The commissioners were split 2-2 on the measure and mayor Charlie Sellers cast the deciding vote. In articulating the reason for his tie-breaking vote, Sellers said at this point it should be a matter of choice whether or not to wear a mask; that the mandate was not being enforced and was challenging to enforce to begin with; the state and county do not have such a mandate; and that only four towns or counties in North Carolina currently have a mask mandate.

The motion by Albert Yount (seconded by Doug Matheson) to lift the state of emergency and mandate included a condition: if the 7-day moving average of the percent of positive tests is over 5 percent for seven consecutive days, then the town council will reconvene and consider reinstating the COVID-19 restrictions. David Harwood and Sue Sweeting voted to keep the state of emergency and mask mandate in place.

As retrieved by The Blowing Rocket after the special meeting from the national Centers for Disease Control website, the 7-day moving average of total cases in Watauga County is 70, producing a statistical “case rate” of 124.61 cases per 100,000 people. The percentage change in the 7-day moving average of total cases is -20.45 percent. The website shows no deaths

The percent of positive test results in Watauga County, according to the CDC website is 3.99 percent.

Data retrieved from the AppHealthCare website’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated that there were 59 active cases in Watauga County, which is 11 below the CDC’s Nov. 16 reported 7-day moving average of 70.

It should be noted that a newly comprised town council will take office at the regular meeting on Dec. 14. Holdover commissioners include Yount, Matheson and Harwood, to be joined by newly elected Pete Gherini and Melissa Pickett. Commissioners serve 4-year terms. Charlie Sellers won re-election as mayor for another 2-year term.

editor's pick featured
Reveal party: Blowing Rock allocated $4.8 million in the new state budget for Main Street water and sewer infrastructure
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

NC Representative Ray Pickett (R) announced that Blowing Rock will receive $4.8 million for the Main Street water and sewer project in the new state budget signed Nov. 18. His remarks came at the Nov. 18 ‘State of the Town’ event produced by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Blowing Rock TDA and the Town of Blowing Rock.

BLOWING ROCK — A governor’s signature made for a big celebration at Blowing Rock’s “State of the Town” event at the American Legion Building on Nov. 18. That’s because included in the North Carolina state budget signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on Thursday is an important line item: $4.8 million to help with the cost to repair and replace water and sewer line infrastructure on Main Street.

Blowing Rock resident Ray Pickett (R) is the region’s representative in the North Carolina legislature and helped push for the funding. He was on hand Thursday night to announce the news. State Senator Deanna Ballard (R) was also instrumental in the line item’s inclusion.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

A good crowd gathered in the American Legion Building on Nov. 18 to hear the ‘State of the Town’ presentations.

A short while later in the program, town manager Shane Fox provided some detail for what the state funding allocation really means.

“It is actually more than $4.8 million,” he said. “When you consider that we were planning to borrow the $4.8 million over 40 years, with interest it would have cost closer to $6 million.”

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce CEO Charles Hardin provided details on how the business community in Blowing Rock prospered during the COVID-19 period.

During his portion of the evening’s program, Fox noted that some of the town’s water and sewer lines date back to their installation in 1910 and an even larger percentage are more than 50 years old. He showed images of cast iron lines that had been dug up for repairs that are riddled with holes.

“You touch one of those lines with a shovel and they just fall apart. So many are only being held together by the dirt around them,” said Fox.

Fox reported that the $4.8 million in state funding will be allocated $3.7 million for the repair and replacement of 9,200 linear feet of 8-inch water lines and install new fire hydrant as well as provide for new services and meters. Roughly $800,000 will be allocated to provide 1,150 linear feet of 8-inch sewer lines, new manholes, and new service connections.

Other key highlights from the State of the Union event:

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System CEO Chuck Mantooth summarized developments in the system, including Watauga Medical Center, Cannon Memorial Hospital, Appalachian Regional Behavioral Health Hospital and the affiliated specialty services.

  • Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce has 528 members, including 35 new members, and has a 97 percent member retention site.
  • Art in Park shows ran at 75 percent capacity
  • Symphony by the Lake sold out its approximately 2,500 admission tickets. Chamber CEO Charles Hardin said that the smaller admission format will be the norm going forward.
  • The Chamber provided seven scholarships for Blowing Rock STEM students to attend summer programs at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

Among the Chamber’s 2022 perceived opportunities:

  • Address workforce shortages
  • Explore solutions for affordable housing
  • Energize “young professionals” and recruit people willing to work remotely
  • Business education for members
  • Establish an undergrounding utilities task force
  • Work with the Town of Blowing Rock and TDA re: parking solutions

The Village Foundation has funded 55 grants totaling $786,000 since its formation in 2012

Town manager Shane Fox pointed out that the town’s General Fund has roughly doubled in the 10 years since 2010, to $10.5 million, while the Water and Sewer Fund has risen from $1.4 million to $2.25 million.

  • The property taxes collected in FY2020-21 amounted to $4.75 million.
  • Fox said that the mix of property tax revenue, sales taxes, occupancy taxes, and other miscellaneous revenue, combined with relatively high property values, has allowed Blowing Rock to keep taxes relatively low compared to other High Country jurisdictions. When combined with the property tax rates of their respective counties, Beech Mountain has an total tax burden of $1.21; Banner Elk, $1.04; West Jefferson, $0.93; Seven Devils, $0.91; Boone, $0.84; and Blowing Rock, $0.83 (Blowing Rock, $0.43 + Watauga County, $0.40).
  • Fox noted that it had been 8 years since Watauga County had revalued property and suggested that because property values had generally increased, property tax rates might well decline.
  • Fox reported that the sidewalk to Bass Lake should be almost fully completed on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving.
  • Fox said that the street repaving project approved by town council in March 2020 is more than 90 percent complete.
  • Fox noted that the recent Chestnut Street and Morris Street stormwater drainage project was the largest of its kind, involved 14 curb inlets with grates and 10 junction boxes with manholes
  • Both the paving and stormwater projects have been completed on time and within budget.
  • The town completed a $225,000 replacement and upgrade project at the water treatment plant and its chemical tanks. The project was completed on time and on budget.
  • Despite being the highest scoring project in the state, Blowing Rock was not awarded a grant from the state’s parks and recreation fund, but hopeful for funding in 2022.
  • A study conducted by the town revealed that 34,000 people used the Memorial Park restrooms in October 2021, supporting the need for expansion and upgrading.
  • Fox thanked the TDA for its 100% funding of the landscaping improvements at the entrances of Sunset Drive. It included 395 tons of rock, 340 tons of dirt, 20 yards of mulch, and 400 perennials, shrubs and trees, and that the fire station No. 1 is next.
  • 24 pressure relieve valves will be replaced over the next five years at a cost of roughly $1.2 million. The ones being replaced date back to the 1960s and 1970s.

TDA executive director Tracy Brown reported that $1.51 million in occupancy taxes were collected in the most recent fiscal year and that translated to more than $25 million in lodging sales and an estimated $75.5 million in visitor spending.

Brown stated that the impact of visitor spending and tourism related taxes results in approximately $463 million in tax savings that would otherwise have to be paid by residents.

Brown added that the entire High Country region, including Watauga, Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, and Mitchell counties totaled $632 million in visitor spending.

Besides the mountains, the common thread connecting the five High Country counties is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which annually attracts more visitors than the national parks of Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone combined.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System CEO Chuck Mantooth reported that ARHS has recently added a third hospital to the system, the Appalachian Regional Behavioral Health Hospital, adjacent to Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville.

  • ARHS is the second largest employer in the High Country with an annual budget of $226 million.
  • The hospital system contributes almost $30 million annually in charity care and uncompensated care.
  • Of the $12 million target for the ARHS “Higher Elevation” capital campaign, approximately $9 million has already been raised.

editor's pick featured popular
Sixth grade science fair turns heads at Blowing Rock School
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Nara Westwood and Cullen Sukow conducted research on oil spills and their impact on the environment, winning first place in the Earth/Environmental Sciences category of the Blowing Rock School competition.

BLOWING ROCK — Human beings often approach questions and problems with preconceived notions about the answers or solutions. As sixth graders at Blowing Rock School, Kate McKenzie and Katelyn Morgan admitted to approaching their 6th grade Science Fair project with a bias, too — but then learned something different.

“Our project was about the best ways to lower blood pressure in daily living. We thought that spending 10 minutes with a dog would have a more profound effect than 10 minutes of yoga or 10 minutes of meditation. Well, we were wrong. Through our project, we determined that 10 minutes of meditation actually did a better job of lowering blood pressure,” said McKenzie.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Dogs may be man’s best friend but Kate McKenzie and Katelyn Morgan discovered that meditation for 10 minutes is a better way to lower blood pressure than spending 10 minutes with a dog. The duo won first place in the Mathematics category of the Blowing Rock School’s 6th grade science fair, Nov. 19.

McKenzie and Morgan’s project was called, “Chill Out,” just one of some three dozen science and math projects prepared by sixth grade students under the supervision of science and language arts teacher, Allyson McFalls at Blowing Rock School.

“Every year this is an exciting competition because we see the kids grow so much from doing their projects,” said McFalls. “Sometimes the topics even surprise us. This year, for example, there was a group who explored data about how hunters were impacting the local deer population over the last 10 years or so. It was really nice to see these students take a robust dataset, work with it, and come up with a project.”

McFalls said that the sixth grade science project is the first really long term project that the students will tackle.

“When you think about a project at school, most think of one that lasts maybe two weeks as being long-term,” said McFalls. “For these projects, it takes about 10-12 weeks to work through the scientific method and talk about how we determine independent variables and dependent variables. Then, how do we articulate the data in a way that communicates a conclusion in a way that makes sense?”

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Lucas Cash and Carson Morris investigated the impact of water pollution for the Blowing Rock School 6th grade science fair competition, Nov. 19.

McFalls said that learning to think critically is a primary mission at Blowing Rock School.

“One of the great pleasures for me in teaching at Blowing Rock School is that we begin the process of encouraging critical thought even at much lower grades. It doesn’t begin just in 5th or 6th grade. Some projects really start that even in 2nd and 3rd grade. It is nice to be able to build on that foundation when the students get to middle school,” said McFalls.

McFalls has had considerable success in nurturing students toward good science projects, even award-winning entries at the state level.

“I think this year’s class has several entries that will do well at the regional and state level. This is the tenth year that I have organized the science fair for the school,” said McFalls. “Last year we did it virtually because of COVID-19. The state competition. they recently announced, will be virtual again this year. We are still waiting to hear what the regional director will decide.”

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Nara Westwood and Cullen Sukow won first place in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category of the Blowing Rock School 6th grade science fair competition.

For the school level competition, McFalls said that she has recruited several teachers, as well as some Appalachian State science students and a retired science teacher to serve as judges.

“We use the same scoring methodology that they use at the regional and state level. Typically, we’ll have a pair of judges for each category. It there are some close calls in a category, then they can collaborate to arrive at the best results,” said McFalls.

McFalls said that it is common for the students to approach a project with a definitive bias about what the results will be, maybe even as much as 75 percent of the time.

“That’s where we have to talk about how to craft that initial research question and how do they go down the road of solid research before they develop their hypothesis. The students may not realize they are doing it, but they often try to pull conclusions from their own personal experience rather than from the research,” said McFalls.

McFalls noted that the regional competition will be in January and the state competition (for regional qualifiers) is in March.

The Blowing Rock winners:

BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES A (Animal and Plant Science, Microbiology)

  • 1. Claire Nance:
    1. Do Dogs Have a Color Preference?
  • 2. Alexis Sullivan:
    1. Do Cats Have Unique Paw Prints?
  • 3. Holland Effrid:
    1. What is the Difference between a First Generation of Wisconsin Fast Plants and the Second?

    BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES B (Cellular, Molecular Biology and Medical Science)

  • 1. Eloise Cascio:
    1. Sports Nutrition
  • 2. Cameron Parker:
    1. How Does Color Affect Mood?


  • 1. Bailey Hoge:
    1. What is the Difference in Flours in a Cake?
  • 2. Knox Winebarger and John Wilson Mills
  • 3. Dillon Napier

  • 1. Claire Nix:
    1. Pinhole Projectors
  • 2. Lawson Smith and Caden Sokolnicki:
    1. Air Cars


  • 1. Nara Westwood and Cullen Sukow:
    1. Oil Spills
  • 2. Ava Langley and Elizabeth Garrett:
    1. Well Water vs. Tap Water
  • 3. Maddison Canter:
    1. Geology of the Appalachians


  • 1. Kate McKenzie and Katelyn Morgan:
    1. Chill Out
  • 2. Eli Summerlin and Henry Hamby:
    1. Hunting in North Carolina


  • 1. Madison Plemons:
    1. What Type of Pipe?
  • 2. Nora Price:
    1. Which Common Shape Creates the Most Lift?
  • 3. Zach Johnson:
  • Air Filters

    editor's pick featured
    Bra decoration contest raises $1,800 for High Country Breast Cancer Foundation
    Photo by Marisa Mecke 

    Cindy Kovalchin, Joanie Venza and Irene Sawyer pose with the winning decorated bra, the “Bra Ridge Parkway,” which featured a hand-painted Linville Viaduct and an attached swinging bridge.

    BLOWING ROCK — Local artists, organizations and community members decorated a variety of themed bras to fundraise more than $1,800 for the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation.

    Vice president Joanie Venza said 54 bras were decorated to be sold, and that the group’s founder, Irene Sawyer, donated her own money for the $1,000 cash prize to the decoration competition’s winner.

    Although the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation has not been able to host all the events they usually would because of COVID-19, Venza said that they hosted their virtual 5K in late October and are continuing to accept donationsas well as provide funds and aid to those battling breast cancer in seven different High Country counties.

    Photo by Marisa Mecke 

    The “Bra Ridge Parkway” received the most votes.

    The High Country Breast Cancer Foundation uses 100 percent of proceeds from fundraisers to give money directly to those battling breast cancer to cover anything from medical bills to transportation to doctor’s appointments and more. Additionally, the organization has partnered with Paxman, a company which produces cooling caps to help prevent hair loss during chemotherapy treatment.

    Beyond the generosity of the community members who donated or purchased the decorated bras, Venza said that local business owner Hailey Oliver offered the group her space for free to host the event. Oliver Style Boutique opened only last week in the Blowing Rock Tanger Outlets, but Oliver said she was happy to lend her space when recommended by the outlet’s manager.

    Oliver Style Boutique is a pop-up shop that will be open through Jan. 15, Oliver said. She originally sold just jewelry through Paparazzi, a multi-level marketing company, but wanted to expand into clothes and other goods in her own boutique.

    Photo by Marisa Mecke 

    Bras were decorated by individual community members as well as other local nonprofits in the High Country, and each has been or will be sold to raise money for the HCBCF.

    Steve Dunphy provided music throughout the night, and while the public voted for their favorite bras, the competition was judged by two celebrity judges, Charles Hardin, the president and CEO of Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce and David Jackson, president and CEO of Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.

    To learn more about the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation, their services and how to donate, visit hcbcf.org.

    Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member for Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under covered issues.