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.
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.
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.”
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:
Among the Chamber’s 2022 perceived opportunities:
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.