CHARLOTTE — The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte on Dec. 30 released a list of 14 clergy who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse since the diocese was established in 1972, as well as lists of those who worked in Western North Carolina who have been named by other dioceses and orders. They include several who formerly pastored in the High Country.
The list is the result of a year-long process by the diocese that included “an independent review of more than 1,600 files dating back almost 50 years to ensure a full accounting of credibly accused clergy in the diocese’s history,” it said.
“It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior,” Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis wrote in a letter published Monday. “However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families.”
“This list is the culmination of a process begun more than a year ago in our belief that a full accounting of credibly accused clergy would provide validation for victims and demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability,” he wrote.
Included on the Charlotte Diocese’s list are Damion Jacques Lynch, who served at St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country in Boone from 1991 to 1995, as well as serving as campus minister at Appalachian State. A diocese spokesperson previously confirmed to the Watauga Democrat that the diocese considered reports of abuse by Lynch to be credible.
Also named is Aloysius Joseph D’Silva, who had assignments at St. Bernadette Catholic Mission in Linville and St. Lucien Catholic Church in Spruce Pine.
Among those who served in Western North Carolina before the Diocese of Charlotte was established, when the Diocese of Raleigh oversaw the Catholic Church across North Carolina, are William J. Kuder, whose assignments included St. Bernadette Catholic Mission in Linville and St. Lucien Catholic Church in Spruce Pine and Edward William Smith, who had one allegation involving abuse in 1963 in Boone, when Smith was pastor of St. Elizabeth.
The Charlotte Diocese then includes a list of clergy and religious brothers who served in Western North Carolina with no allegation documented in the Charlotte diocese but who were named on lists or publicized by other dioceses and religious orders.
It includes H. Cornell Bradley, whose assignments included Church of the Epiphany Catholic Mission in Blowing Rock and St. Elizabeth in Boone, and Anthony Thomas Jablonowski, who served at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jefferson and St. Frances of Rome Catholic Mission in Sparta.
The diocese compiled the information on a new webpage, www.accountability.charlottediocese.org, which also features resources including a new hotline for reporting sexual abuse operated independently by Red Flag Reporting. The hotline allows people to speak up, anonymously or not, when suspected sexual abuse or other unethical activity is noted.
Two of the priests said to be credibly accused served consecutive assignments as pastor at St. Elizabeth in Boone: H. Cornell Bradley (1989 to 1993) and Damion J. Lynch (1993 to 1995). Lynch was placed as associate priest at St. Elizabeth in June 1991, and after the departure of Bradley, was installed as pastor of the church.
In the mid-1990s, parents of a 14-year-old boy alleged that Lynch molested him from 1991 to 1995, the diocese stated.
“Lynch admitted the abuse and was sent for psychiatric treatment,” according to the diocese stated. He was placed on administrative leave by then-Charlotte Bishop William G. Curlin, a diocese spokesperson previously confirmed.
Court records show that in 1996, the diocese paid $87,000 to the family to settle a complaint of sexual abuse of the boy, which included an agreement not to publicly discuss the matter. In 1997, after a counselor cleared Lynch for return to ministry, Curlin appointed Lynch to Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church in Charlotte, the diocese stated.
But when the family learned of alleged abuse of the other twin brother, they filed a civil complaint in Watauga County Superior Court against Lynch, Curlin and the Charlotte Diocese in February 1998. The lawsuit ended in March 1999 with a settlement of an undisclosed amount paid by the diocese.
Lynch was removed from ministry in January 1998, and Lynch was released from the clerical state in 2009, the diocese said. The nonprofit organization BishopAccountabilty.org indicates that Lynch was last known to be living in the Washington, D.C., area.
In December 1998, a teenager reported D’Silva had inappropriately touched and kissed her at St. Bernadette Catholic Mission in Linville, the diocese stated.
“D’Silva denied the allegation and the Diocese of Charlotte could not substantiate the claim at the time,” the diocese said, and D’Silva died in 2005. But as part of the diocese’s 2019 historical file review, the allegation was re-examined and found credible through an independent investigation, it said.
Kuder was pastor of the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and its school from 1949 until his death in 1960. The west Asheville-area parish was under the supervision of the Diocese of Raleigh at the time but became part of the Charlotte diocese when it was established in 1972.
Discussions with some of Kuder’s victims originated in 1992, when the first victim came forward. Raleigh Bishop Joseph Gossman and Charlotte Bishop William Curlin, both now deceased, found the allegations credible and publicly apologized for Kuder’s crimes in a joint statement in 1995, the diocese said. Afterward, numerous additional victims came forward to report having been abused by Kuder, it said.
The Raleigh diocese reported the allegations to law enforcement although no criminal charges could be filed, the Charlotte Diocese stated. In 2018 the Raleigh diocese publicly named Kuder on its list of clergy credibly accused of child abuse.
According to the nonprofit organization BishopAccountabilty.org, immediately prior to his time at St. Joan, Kuder was assigned to St. Lucien in Spruce Pine from 1942 to 1949. St. Bernadette in Linville is a mission parish of St. Lucien.
In October 2019, the Ohio-based Glenmary Home Missioners publicly named Smith on its list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese of Charlotte sought more information since Smith’s ministry with the Glenmary society included one assignment in Western North Carolina in the 1960s, when the Raleigh Diocese oversaw the Catholic Church across the state.
“The society told the Charlotte diocese it had received two credible allegations of sexual abuse many years after Smith’s death in 1975,” the Charlotte Diocese stated. “One allegation was received in 1993 of abuse in the 1960s at Buck Creek, a short-lived training facility and summer youth camp run by the society. The other was received in 2001 involving abuse in 1963 in Boone, when Smith was pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church.”
“In December 2014, the Charlotte diocese received a separate allegation against the deceased priest from a man who reported he had been sexually abused in the 1960s on Boy Scout camping trips in the Boone area,” the diocese stated. “The diocese’s Lay Review Board alerted Watauga County DSS as well as the Glenmary society, which found the allegation credible.”
In December 2018, Bradley’s supervising religious order, the Jesuits’ Maryland Province, named Bradley on its list of accused clergy for credible allegations of sexual abuse in the late 1960s to early 1980s in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“There are no credible abuse allegations documented during his time in the Diocese of Charlotte,” the Charlotte Diocese stated.
Bradley was assigned to St. Elizabeth in Boone — another parish of the Charlotte Diocese — from July 1989 to September 1993, according to church records. Under Bradley’s pastorate, two education wings were completed at St. Elizabeth in 1993 to accommodate continued parish growth, according to a parish history formerly published on the Charlotte Diocese website.
Province spokesperson Mike Gabriele confirmed to the Watauga Democrat in early 2019 that Bradley was temporarily removed from ministry and sent to treatment in 1993 — the year he left St. Elizabeth — following reports of abuse that allegedly occurred at a different location years before.
Bradley was returned to ministry in 1994 and was assigned to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia as a campus minister and basketball team chaplain until 2006, when the province permanently removed Bradley from ministry amid an investigation of additional allegations, according to media reports. He left the Jesuits in 2007.
In 2004, Jablonowski pleaded no contest to charges of abusing a 17-year-old boy at a Wyoming parish in the 1980s, according to public records. He served prison time and was dismissed from the clerical state in 2006.
“In the 1970s, Jablonowski served on loan to the Ohio-based Glenmary Home Missioners, who assigned him to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Jefferson, North Carolina,” the Charlotte Diocese stated. “There are no documented abuse allegations from his time in Jefferson.”
Beginning in January 2002, the Boston Globe revealed the vast extent of abuse by Catholic priests. In June 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
The charter mandates a zero-tolerance policy, strict screening and training standards, and protocols for reporting and preventing abuse in all U.S. Catholic churches, facilities and programs.
In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that hundreds of priests were accused of abusing more than 1,000 children and that church leaders took steps to cover up the crimes, renewing the international focus on the scandal. The revelations mounted increasing pressure on dioceses and orders to release the names of accused priests.
In a statement released Dec. 30, the Charlotte Diocese said that it set in motion a multi-layered process to publish the names of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse in fall 2018.
“The diocese automatically placed on its list clergy who had admitted to allegations or were charged by law enforcement with child sexual abuse offenses,” it said. “In addition, the diocese placed on its list all clergy who were determined by its Lay Review Board to have been credibly accused.
“To ensure historical allegations were identified in the diocese’s files, independent investigators from U.S. Investigative Security Services of Charlotte reviewed 1,600 personnel files of priests, deacons and religious brothers, as well as other archives, for any indication of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Their review took more than 1,000 hours and encompassed 150,000 pages of documents. As a result, four credible cases of alleged abuse handled before the Charter protocols took effect in 2002 were surfaced from the files and included on the list.”
“A credible allegation is one that has the semblance of truth; one supported by information worthy of belief. It is not a finding of guilt,” the diocese explained.
“Very little attention had been paid to our personnel files going back almost 50 years, but we knew it was important to explore their contents and make relevant information known,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Winslow, a canon lawyer and former promoter of justice who oversaw the file review as the diocese’s newly appointed vicar general and chancellor, in a statement. “Today, we sincerely hope our efforts will provide some validation for abuse survivors and promote a culture that allows people who may be suffering in silence to come forward and seek help.”
The Watauga Democrat staff asked local leaders to give readers their best predictions for the issues, projects and events that are upcoming in 2020.
Watauga County will begin to update its master plan for county facilities in 2020 as well as plan and implement upgrades to emergency communications infrastructure — including work on adding new communication towers, according to County Manager Deron Geouque. The county also hopes to begin a new simulcast system that creates one dispatch channel and establishes tactical channels for emergency incidents, Geouque said. Additionally, Geouque said the county will also make facility upgrades and improvements at the landfill.
Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said that in 2019, the county experienced an increase in the total number of permits issued and expected that to continue into 2020. He added that there was a small increase in commercial projects in unincorporated areas in 2019.
“Provided the overall economy remains strong, I see no reason that these positive trends won’t continue,” Furman said.
Wataugans will also be asked to participate in the 2020 Census on April 1. He said it is especially important that Appalachian State students participate, as college students are counted where they attend college and live as of April 1, not in their hometowns. According to Furman, the Census count could impact funding for programs such as highway projects, rural fire department grants, SNAP, Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start. It could also affect reapportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and could affect school district boundaries.
“It is important that everyone participates in the Census,” Furman said. “We need an accurate count, not only to help us plan, but also because it affects the amount of federal dollars that will flow into the county … After we receive the numbers, we will reassess our plans, and potentially update them.”
Furman said that while dependable county-wide broadband is still lacking, progress will be made in 2020. An Appalachian Regional Commission grant to the nonprofit Education and Research Consortium is planned to be used to leverage private investment from Riverstreet Networks to improve broadband coverage in the eastern part of the county, Furman said. The county is assisting ERC in the effort.
With a Census, clean energy goals and projects that will span several years on the agenda for 2020, the town of Boone isn’t just looking to the year ahead — it’s planning for the next decade.
Expect more construction as projects that either began or were approved in 2019 reach completion or break ground, respectively. The Howard Street improvement project did not go out to bid in 2019 as was hoped, but before year’s end the town had authorized a loan application for $9.45 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the project. Boone Town Manager John Ward said he didn’t know the timeframe for hearing back about the loan, but if and when the loan is approved, the town will go out to bid within 60 days. Ward hopes the project can move forward in time for the spring construction season.
Planning will continue for the town’s new municipal complex at the Bolick Farm property in East Boone, which will include the relocation of the town’s police, public works, planning and inspections departments as well as a new fire station. Ward expects that sales of the town’s current public works and police buildings will be finalized this year, providing funds to move the project beyond site planning.
Identifying and implementing new efficiencies in town operations, including the installation of radio-read water meters, will be another priority in 2020, Ward said, along with continued sustainability efforts such as a local solar array.
The town will continue to grapple with increased pressure on municipal services by growing residential, student and visitor populations.
“Participation in the 2020 Census ... will be so important for all people to be counted so that our federal and state funds will be allocated for local municipal and county use,” Ward said.
Parking is a seemingly perennial issue for Boone, and in 2020, “we think that we’ve got some good solutions that have been identified and partnerships with Appalachian State University involving the deck off of Howard Street and Appalachian Street,” Ward said, which could open the door for discussions about parking needs near the courthouse area as well.
“I think the movement from surface lots to decks are a big one for the town of Boone,” he said. “We’ve got to be very diligent and cautious as we move forward with developing those plans to make sure they’re financially feasible.”
Finally, Ward said, “One (goal) we all hope to accomplish (is to) develop a proactive partnership with the county for the benefit of all Watauga County citizens.”
After concentrating on major projects in and around downtown, Blowing Rock is moving forward with developing a vision for Valley Boulevard, which could include code change reccomendations, beautification and other suggestions. The process is slated to be completed in spring 2020.
Memorial Park, in the center of town, has been a discussion item with different ideas presented on how to update the park, including potentially adding permanent pickleball courts and new playground equipment.
Two Winkler hotel projects are being constructed in Blowing Rock. In a town filled with smaller, seasonal hotels, the 21-room Inn on Cornish on North Main Street in Blowing Rock will be completed by the end of January, Winkler said. A 12-room hotel in the 800 block of Main Street, also developed by Winkler, was approved for rezoning in December.
Tracy Brown, Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority executive director, said that in 2020, town and tourism officials will try to work out ways to potentially alleviate traffic concerns for the town. Brown noted that the issues became apparent in 2019 as tourist numbers grew.
Beech Mountain is currently going through several major changes. The newly elected town council voted in December to fire its town manager and will decide in the near future how it decides to go forward in the process of hiring a new manager. The new Beech Mountain Town Council seeks to tackle years-old problems with aging infrastructure, specifically its water and sewer pipes.
Another ongoing project in Beech Mountain is Shane Park, for which the town is saving up funds. Work was halted in December by Town Manager Robert “Bob” Pudney to re-evaluate certain aspects of the project.
Seven Devils moved into its new town hall in 2019 and is currently conducting a survey on how to repurpose its old town hall, both inside and outside. Options floated around in the survey include using the space as a game hall, an expanded book exchange and a meeting area, among others.
Preparation for new school construction, testing changes and school safety initiatives are expected in 2020 for Watauga County Schools.
WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott said that the school system is set to continue its planning and preparation for the construction of a new Valle Crucis School. The Watauga Board of Education voted in November to extend its contract for a due diligence period on a tract of land in the Valle Crucis community known as the Hodges Property through March 2020.
“During the extended period of due diligence, the board hopes to expand its vetting of the property to state permit level testing — a standard of evaluation usually reserved for after the purchase of a property,” Elliott said.
Elliott said that so far, all of the testing and evaluation of the property is very encouraging, and the board hopes to move into more concrete planning of the school’s construction in the coming year. The board also hopes to look into the planning of the eventual replacement of Hardin Park School as well.
The board of education is also set to continue work on the “significant” list of repairs and renovations at its existing facilities identified by the system’s 2017 architectural study, Elliott said. This list includes the continued work to improve parking lots, roofs, HVAC systems and security measures.
The new year will also see the application of a new statewide assessment model that will replace the end-of-grade test in K-8 schools — called the North Carolina Personalized Assessment Tool, according to Elliott. The new system will have third- through eighth-grade students take three tests in math and reading through the year that assess what students have learned up to the point of each test. Subsequent tests will assess the material covered in the time between each test.
Elliott said the tests will be personalized with different questions based on how students performed on the first two assessments. He added that the system aims to lower the amount of time students spend testing, while increasing the effectiveness of assessment.
WCS will also be adopting a new statewide school safety initiative called the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System in 2020. The system allows students to download an app that allows them to anonymously report tips about a wide variety of potential issues — such as weapons on campus, bullying incidents, drug use or self-harm, Elliott said. Tips can be sent in via web, a phone hotline or through the app, and can include photos and videos.
Lastly, the board of education will also see new leadership in 2020 as the current Chairman Ron Henries and Vice Chair Brenda Reese — both longtime educators — are not seeking re-election to their seats on the board.
Appalachian State leaders say the planned fall 2020 increase in enrollment by 720 students, or 3.7 percent, is consistent with its “slow and steady” growth in recent years. But crossing the 20,000 threshold has been a topic of much discussion and debate in the greater campus community this fall, which will likely carry over into the spring.
One concern raised by faculty members is the ability of university mental health services to keep pace with the growth. Information provided by Appalachian State spokesperson Megan Hayes identifies student health and wellness as a top priority in 2020.
“It remains the utmost priority for the Division of Student Affairs to meet the wellness needs of current and future students,” Hayes said.
Recent restructuring in the Division of Student Affairs has included allocating new resources to the teams that supports student wellness, as well as added resources to the Counseling & Psychological Services Center for students and M.S. Shook Student Health Services, she said, and “a variety of quality improvement endeavors (by Student Health Services) have reduced time to service and increased overall clinical efficiency.”
In 2020, Student Health Services is poised to hire additional service providers and work with the SGA to develop a student-led health advisory board. Counseling and Psychological Services is working to enhance service delivery and will soon mobilize an operational plan that focuses on initial consultations and triage, as well as a more robust referral network, according to Hayes.
Health promotion trainings, nutrition services and recreation offerings will continue to support students’ health and wellness needs, she said.
Extensive campus construction will continue as the multiphase, $191 million housing project on the west side of campus is schedule to complete its first two of four residence halls in 2020, with construction beginning in the next phase.
Renovation of Sanford Hall began in summer 2019 and will continue throughout 2020, with completion planned in spring 2021. In addition, Hayes said, “Appalachian is working hard on securing state funding for a much-needed renovation to Wey Hall.”
And new athletics facilities will take shape in 2020, with the new $50 million north end zone facility at Kidd Brewer Stadium scheduled to open next fall, and development of the new athletics facilities at the old Watauga High School property (Appalachian 105) still in the design phase.
Appalachian is in the midst of a developing a new climate action plan — which include recommended mitigations for three categories contributing to Appalachian’s total carbon footprint: purchased electricity, transportation and steam heat generation — will be unveiled on April 22, 2020, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
The plan, which has been authored by Appalachian’s Sustainability Council — comprised of faculty, staff and students from across campus — updates initiatives from the original climate neutrality plan written in 2010.
“The UNC system goal is to achieve climate neutrality by 2050,” said Lee Ball, Appalachian’s chief sustainability officer and chair of the council. “Our Faculty Senate set a goal of 2035, and our Student Government Association set the goal as 2025. We will hit some targets by 2025. We’ve already made many efficiency improvements. Other elements of the plan will take longer, but our commitment as an institution is solid, rooted in history and tradition, and steadfast.”
Appalachian’s 2020 goals also include continued improvements at Middle Fork Academy — the elementary school in Winston-Salem that Appalachian State established as a demonstration school in 2018-19.
In the coming year, Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagman said his office hopes to deploy a mobile Computer Aided Dispatch system designed to decrease verbal radio conversations while enroute to law enforcement calls for service.
Hagaman said that the CAD system will also provide critical information during emergency responses directly to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
“This will be a game changer for us,” Hagaman said. “Given our increase in call volume, we must be as efficient as we can be via the use of proven technologies as we respond to our citizens in crisis and need.”
Additionally, Hagaman said that local agencies are becoming increasingly aware that they must rely on each other when responding to various emergency incidents in the area. Going into the new year, he said that several joint task forces among several local law enforcement agencies will convene for larger criminal investigations or threat assessments.
“As a result of our own highly successful threat assessment unit/teams, we have been asked to provide vital and sensitive information to our local, regional, state, multi-state and federal partners,” Hagaman said.
Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said the Boone Police Department will be progressing with space needs planning for a new police department in 2020.
“As Appalachian State University and the town continue to grow at a rapid rate, we will also have to keep up with ways that we can better serve our population to keep the High Country area as crime free as possible,” Crawford said.
Boone Police plans on requesting additional personnel in the upcoming budget to better serve the town of Boone and the university community. Crawford said that throughout much of 2019, the department was trying to hire good officers and retain them — which will continue into 2020 as the department is still trying to get enough officers to fill shifts.
“While it takes approximately three months to go through a hiring process, it also takes about three months to get the officers through a field training program,” Crawford said.
Crawford also foresees 2020 as being a year that Boone Police Department will progress with training personnel in new ways to serve the community.
“We have a great staff and that are eager to reach new levels of training, education and service,” Crawford said.
Locally, several major road projects are slated to start in 2020, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
One main artery between Boone and the western half of the county will be replaced as work on the N.C. 105 Watauga River bridge is now slated to start in 2021 after being delayed from 2019 and 2020 start dates. The rest of the N.C. 105 widening project going through Foscoe is still slated for a 2022 construction start.
The Watauga portion of the $224 million widening of U.S. 221 from Deep Gap to Jefferson, a 16.1-mile project that started in 2016, is poised to be completed in late 2020. The Watauga sections of the project are mostly completed, the NCDOT said in November.
Another completed 2020 project will be the intersection improvements to the corner of West King Street and College Street in downtown Boone. A longer left turn lane and mast-arms for traffic lights were part of the construction that started in 2019 and is slated to be completed by the end of May 2020.
The Deerfield Road upgrades from the intersection of State Farm Road to Wilson Ridge Road and the Bamboo Road and Wilson Ridge Road widening project are both set for right-of-way action, according to the NCDOT. Included in the $20.524 million project will be a multi-modal pathway along the Bamboo Road section of the project, according to NCDOT Engineer Mike Pettyjohn.
The Hunting Hills Lane bridge over the South Fork New River will also have right-of-way work done in 2020 in advance of the slated 2021 construction.
Blowing Rock will have major pedestrian projects ongoing in 2020. The U.S. 221 sidewalk project, which will connect Main Street to Bass Lake, has gone out to bid after more than a year of right-of-way work. The project was made possible by a federal grant. The Middle Fork Greenway will have two sections slated to begin building in 2020, one going from the Blowing Rock trailhead to Chestnut Ridge and the second from Tweetsie Railroad to Goldmine Branch Park.
Going into 2020, AppalCART, Boone’s public transit system, is looking at surpassing more than 2 million riders for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which would eclipse the previous record of 1.8 million.
Downtown Boone has been a major focus for development and business in 2019 and the fruits of those labors could come to bear in 2010.
“I think we will see a continued renaissance in the downtown district, thanks in part to the Appalachian Theatre, the Horton Hotel and other private developments helping attract more people to the area,” said David Jackson, president and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think this next year will show us patterns of success that can and will be used to spur future business growth. Just simply understanding the traveling patterns of the patrons of these new businesses will help everyone in the area know how to better align their own hours and resources.”
Other projects coming down the pipeline are the planned 105-room, four-story East King Street hotel at the corner of Hillside Drive, as well as the planned 70-room Marketplace Hotel on the corner of King, Burrell (formerly Water) and Howard streets, which developer John Winkler said in early December will be submitted for approval in the near future.
While brick and mortar businesses are booming, Jackson sees another focus for business in the near future.
“I also think we will see a more strategic commitment toward outdoor economy in our county and region,” Jackson said. “Outdoor economy is not just tourism, it includes manufacturing and product development as well as land use and protections. We have great examples of positive impact in these areas and a further galvanization of these elements will only help us better tell the story of the regional economic impact our area has on the rest of the state and surrounding areas.”
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System President and CEO Chuck Mantooth and staff are aiming to develop plans to meet the growing needs of an aging population in 2020, Mantooth previously said. The $90 million in current plans for Watauga Medical Center in Boone includes a new bed tower adjacent to the emergency department, surgery suites, a new cardiovascular center and a new central energy plant.
In Blowing Rock, the Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge was sold to Liberty Healthcare of Wilmington in 2019, and the two are developing plans for a retirement community in the area, a longtime goal of ARHS.
One area on potential concern for businesses, specifically when it comes to tourism, is that 2020 is a presidential election year, according to Watauga Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Wright Tilley.
“Historically, a lot of destinations will see a dip in a presidential election year,” Tilley said. “We did not feel that dip in 2016; hopefully we won’t see that in 2020.”
One of the most anticipated projects in 2020 will be the expected completion of the Watauga County community recreation center.
The approximate $38 million recreation center is currently in construction at the corner of State Farm Road and Hunting Lane. According to County Manager Deron Geouque, the facility — which is planned to have a leisure pool, competition pool, four indoor basketball courts and other amenities — is expected to be completed in late April or early May. The county also plans to complete new outdoor facilities such as tennis courts, a basketball court, pickleball courts, a pavilion and renovation of the softball field located next to the new community recreation center, Geouque said.
Construction is tentatively set to begin on Section 1 and Section 4 of the Middle Fork Greenway in 2020, according to Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman.
Furman said that Section 1 is a partnership between the town of Blowing Rock and Blue Ridge Conservancy and is located in Blowing Rock. However, Section 4 is a partnership between Watauga County and the Blue Ridge Conservancy.
If all goes to plan, the sections are estimated to be completed before the end of 2020. Construction still necessary to see completion includes “paving the parking area, pouring the concrete ramp, constructing a shelter and installing signage,” according to Furman.
“We have made good progress on the Guy Ford Road river access in 2019,” Furman added. “County solid waste and recycling personnel have done a great job building the retaining walls necessary to create the parking area and river access ramp.”
After its grand reopening in October 2019, the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country is planning an active year in 2020, according to Vice Chairman Keith Martin.
“We appear to be developing a pattern of announcing upcoming events every three or four weeks as contracts are signed and tickets are ready to go on sale, and I don’t see that changing in the near future,” Martin said, adding that App Theatre finds some performers through “block-booking,” which is the practice of “two or more venues in close geographic proximity (but in non-competing markets) book the same artists or events on consecutive nights.” This method also makes tickets more affordable for patrons, Martin said.
“For our inaugural season, we want to remain open to ‘opportunity bookings’ and are talking almost daily with artists and agents about bringing the best possible events to the High Country,” said Martin.
Tickets will go on sale in mid-January for the performance of a popular Canadian music group, The Wailin’ Jennys, which will perform in March.
BLOWING ROCK — The white home located at 4259 U.S. Highway 321 South, which was built in 1908 across from Tweetsie Railroad, was demolished on Dec. 19 by a private company. According to Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman, the land will be used for the construction of a Quality Plus Gas Station.
Laura Lillis, formerly Laura Prevatte, daughter of the original owners, was there to see the event. She grew up in the home, which her parents purchased the home in 1930. In the early 1970s, the home had been moved back away from the road to allow for the construction of Highway 321 South. It was originally built on 93 acres.
Laura’s late brother Rogers Prevatte and sister-in-law Shari had lived in the home for 30 years, and Shari continued to live there until two weeks before the demolition.
“Laura came up for the day to see the demolition. It was very emotional for her having grown up in the home,” said Alan Gordon, who was present at the demolition. “Shari was also sad; however, I feel she realized that it was destined.”
The owners sold 12 acres to the Middle Fork Greenway so that all could enjoy the river and land. The Middle Fork Greenway is a recreational trail that’s being developed by the Blue Ridge Conservancy, in partnership with Watauga County, Blowing Rock and Boone, to connect the two towns.