2010 in review: January through March

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 31, 2010

Editor’s note: With another memorable year winding down, the Bulletin chose to reflect on those stories that kept the community talking. Over the next several issues, we’ll present highlights of those stories.
• Upgrades to Tryon’s water plant were more than halfway complete. The town erected a new building for processing water. The new building is one of many upgrades to the plant required because the facility, which went online in 1988, was no longer going to meet updated state regulations. The upgrades will cost approximately $3 million. The upgrades were 99 percent complete in December.
• Restaurants and bars in North Carolina were forced to give up their smoking sections as of midnight Jan. 2, when a statewide smoking ban became law.
• Tryon Elementary School students returned from Christmas break to new playground equipment, thanks to funding from the Tryon Kiwanis Club, the Polk County Community Foundation, Tryon Elementary PTA, Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce and Game Time Playground manufacture grants.
The equipment was installed in December, 2009 and included a completely new playground. Volunteers with the Tryon Kiwanis Club, PTA and Thermal Belt Habitat for Humanity installed the equipment. The project was a joint effort of the Tryon Kiwanis Club and the Tryon PTA.
• Angel Food Ministries announced it offers lower cost groceries. The non-profit, begun in 1994 in Georgia, offers the program in 35 states. It buys food in bulk and sells it at cost through churches and organizations. Ilona Taunton (Angel Food director – Redemption Faith Outreach Center) donates her time to organize the program in Polk County
• Tryon’s Morris the horse came to life on the Bulletin’s website through a computer animation done by local resident Doug Nickau. Nickau photographed the wooden horse from many different angles and used the photographs to create a computer 3D model. The video is located at www.tryondailybulletin.com.
• Extreme cold weather caused an indoor sprinkler line to burst in the vacant Grover Industries building in Lynn. A line burst inside the building, which flooded a room and spilled throughout the second floor and then downstairs and outside the building.
• The Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce announced it will stop holding the Blue Ridge Barbecue festival after 16 years. Chamber members made the decision, saying the profits did not justify the tremendous amount of time and resources for the two-day festival. The community later rallied to save the festival, which was held in June.
• Land of Lakes subdivision renamed itself the Silver Creek Community. Residents took the initiative this year to improve their community, which is home to around 200 people, including about 40 children. The subdivision was developed in the early 1970s and residents have been rallying state and local officials to get improvements done to the roads.
• Tryon Arts and Crafts welcomed Laura Linz as its new executive director. Linz joined the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization bringing a variety of experience in the visual arts. Her previous position was executive director of Upstate Visual Arts, a nonprofit art organization in Greenville, S.C.
• Tryon Downtown Development Association launched a new website at www.downtowntryon.org. The website features an overview of the StreetScape initiative, plans for town promotion, design, economic development, historic preservation and more.
• The area received a report that the Thermal Belt received 30 inches more precipitation in 2009 than 2008, breaking a five-year period of dry weather that at times put Polk County at the worst level of drought. The area finished 2009 with nearly 77 inches of precipitation. The wettest month was December, 2009, with 12.87 inches including three inches of snowfall from a Dec. 19 storm.
• The Polk County Cooperative Extension sponsored a barn photo contest to help document older barns in Polk County.
• The I-26 banks in Columbus were replanted with trees, shrubs and wildflowers. The reforestation project was done in cooperation with the N.C. Department of Transportation and with help from local volunteers from the Polk County Cooperative Extension Office and the Polk County Appearance Commission.
• Recent cold weather, coupled with the current economic conditions, caused a significant increase in help given out by the Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry. The organization served 1,954 households in 2009 compared to 1,499 in 2008, an increase of 455 households in one year.
• The community with the leadership of Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival entertainment chairman Peter Eisenbrown along with the Foothills Chamber of Commerce begin to explore ways to preserve the festival.
• Dr. Ronald Garner became the new Superintendent of Spartanburg County District One Schools on January 1. Garner, one of the youngest superintendents in South Carolina, replaced former Supt. Jimmy Littlefield, who worked with Garner to ensure a smooth transition prior to retiring.
• Polk County commissioners demanded that White Oak Golf and Equestrian Development pay the remaining costs for the construction of a water line to the development that was completed in the fall of 2009. Commissioners sent a letter to developers giving them 10 working days to pay the remaining $169,752 of the total $359,505. Polk later filed suit regarding the payment and the development was given an extension to make the full payment.
• Residents and business owners agree to pledge $1,000 each to place in the 2010 Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival’s rainy day fund. The Foothills Chamber of Commerce announced it would hold the festival if 75 businesses and residents pledged $1,000 each in case the festival was rained out. The chamber found enough pledges.
• Local sports legend and former Polk County High School basketball coach Tom Pryor died at the age of 76 after an eight-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
• Polk County Jail inmate Dennis Paul Elliot escaped the jail after being a trustee and walking out. Elliott carjacked a Polk County woman the following morning and was captured in Spartanburg County after wrecking. He faced numerous charges in Polk County as well as 77 outstanding warrants in South Carolina.
• Almost 200 attend the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration held by the Thermal Belt Friendship Council. This year’s keynote speaker was Scott Young, senior vice-president, retail sales with Coca-Cola North America.
• The Polk County Republican Headquarters building was demolished after the roof collapsed at the end of 2009 following a heavy snowfall. The building was condemned, and the lot is for sale. Polk Republicans are currently renting space in downtown Columbus. They plan to construct a new building at an undetermined location in Columbus.
• Heavy rains cause five Polk County mudslides. The area recorded 3.6 inches of rain in one day, and several roads were covered by water.
• Polk County named its new adult day care center after Don and Betsy Freeman in honor of Betsy’s tireless work for years to help keep assisted living patients in their homes and out of residential facilities. The center opened earlier this month.
• Howard Greene of Tryon was named the Citizen of the Year at the Carolina Foothills  Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner.
• N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue announced the appointment of Cathy Smith Bowers of Tryon as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate. Smith Bowers was installed at a ceremony at the state capitol.
• Breaking and entering suspect Jacob Watts, 21, of Rutherford County turned himself in after leading several counties on a two-day manhunt. Watts was placed under a $100,000 bond and faced multiple charges.
• The Town of Tryon decided to stop spending money defending the lawsuit against the town and Tryon Country Club after spending $145,000 in legal and court fees. The town and country club was sued a couple of years ago by Country Club Road property owners for the town’s decision to rezone country club property to residential to allow for a development.
• The historic Thompson’s Store and Ward’s Grill announced it was going out of business. New owners were found later and the business reopened this year.
• Tall signs began coming down in Columbus to comply with a new ordinance along the I-26 corridor.
• Patty Otto, owner of the Hare & Hound Pub and the Lake Lanier Tea House, received the Carolina Foothills Business Person of the Year award.
• Local artist Rich Nelson won first place for oil in the Portrait Society of America’s Members Only Competition for his painting “Kim #3.” He was also awarded an honorable mention in the drawing category for his drawing “Lawton.”
• After finishing the Iditarod in 2006, Tryon native Katie Davis competed in her second Iditarod race, this time with dogs that she trained. Davis, 30, now lives in Onley, Montana and raced from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Canada through more than 1,000 miles of arctic wilderness with temperatures 30 below and lower.
• Saluda was hit with a major ice storm that caused the city to declare a state of emergency. Most of Polk County received mostly rain from the storm, but power outages were widespread with 2,500 Duke Energy customers without power one day. Saluda customers were out for several days.
• Super Saturday tickets were raised to $2 apiece, the first hike since the festival began in 1979. The tickets were previously $1 per ticket.
• December, 2009 and January, 2010 were the wettest in over 10 years with the area receiving 12.87 inches of precipitation in December and 14.87 inches in January. The totals represented the most received during either month for more than 10 years.
• A Feb. 10 windstorm left 400 Polk residents without power.
• The Saluda Fire Department won a $56,000 grant from the Assistant to Firefighters Grant Program.
• The Polk County Sheriff’s Office seized $101,000 in drug money. The seizure was the largest ever in Polk County, with the sheriff’s office expecting to be reimbursed $81,000 of the seizure to be used for drug enforcement. The vehicle was pulled over on U.S. 74 and officers found the cash in a Play School hamster toy box.
• Tryon Town Council agreed to seek an exemption from a state law that limits towns from voluntarily annexing more than 10 percent of its incorporated area through satellite or non-contiguous annexations. Council agreed to seek a local bill from the North Carolina legislature for the exemption. Town officials said it would be a good idea for Tryon since it currently is at about 50 percent of the total area it is allowed for satellite annexations. Columbus is the only other town in Polk County that has an exemption from the law.
• More than 500 people attended the Nina Simone statute dedication in downtown Tryon. Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, attended as well as many other members of the Waymon family and sculptor Zenos Frudakis of Philadelphia. Simone was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon and would have been 77 years old in February. She died April 21, 2003.
• Filing ended for Polk County elected offices with 10 filing to run for three open Polk County commissioner seats. Incumbent commissioner Warren Watson changed his affiliation from Democrat to Unaffiliated. Incumbent commissioner Tommy Melton also changed his affiliation from Democrat to Unaffiliated last year. Four candidates filed for Polk County sheriff.
• Polk County contractor Terry Allen Shehan pled guilty to five counts of obtaining property by false pretenses and failure to perform work after being paid. Shehan was ordered by the court to repay $82,000 to Polk County customers.
• About 10 years after it began production in Polk County, the Woodland Mills plant in Mill Spring shut down. The textile plant, which employed approximately 80 workers this year, began operation in the county in 2000 with about 120 employees. The manufacturing building was in foreclosure and the company owed Polk County $45,350.23 in property taxes.
• The recent recession did not slow down Polk Vocational Services as it achieved a 26 percent compounded annual production revenue growth rate over five years and added a second shift to its medical production operation. The not-for-profit organization had plans to reach full second-shift employment of 20-22 positions by 2010. The first six positions were advertised in March.
• Polk County reported that its first rabid animal of the year was captured on Feb. 26. The Polk County Animal Control Office reported that a fox latched onto the clothes of two adults who were doing clean-up for the Town of Columbus in the Hampton Court area off Houston Road. The fox was declared to be rabid and was euthanized. The victims received a series of shots because the fox left saliva and bacteria on their clothing.
• Polk County foreclosures rose by 24 between 2008 and 2009. There were 75 foreclosures in Polk County in 2008 compared to 99 in 2009. In January and February this year, there were 24 foreclosures, according to the administrative office of the courts.
• St. Luke’s announced it  entered into a three-way contract to help keep mental health, substance abuse and developmentally disabled patients out of state mental hospitals as much as possible.
• Former Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril was found guilty in Polk County District Court Wednesday of driving while impaired (DWI). He was arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in October, 2009 on charges of DWI. He appealed the conviction but later took the sentence handed down by the district court judge. When he was arrested for DWI, Abril, who resigned as Polk County sheriff in November, 2008, was on supervised probation after he pled guilty to two counts of solicitation to take indecent liberties with a minor.
• The Green River Farm house was totally lost to a fire after the home was near complete. The owner of the home, Roger Smith, was the vice-president of the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club and he and his wife, Jennifer, donated land for the hunt club’s Green Creek Equestrian park.
• Tryon celebrated its 125th birthday.
• Saluda joined Tryon in seeking a state exemption from the 10-percent satellite annexation rule. Saluda said in March it had no target areas in mind.
• Columbus native Alice Feagan was selected as winner in the professional/hobbyist category of Strathmore Artist Papers’ national illustration competition. Her piece entitled “The Green Life” was featured nationwide on one of four special edition Strathmore Premium Recycled pads.
• The Korean War Veterans Chapter 265 North Carolina presented flowers and a plaque to Rachael Womack Elliott during a special ceremony at Lebanon Methodist Church in Sunny View. Bryant Homer Womack, her brother, a Medal of Honor recipient, died in battle in 1952 at the age of 20.
• Polk commissioners approved phase one of the House of Flags renovation project at the former Columbus fire house, owned by the county.
• The Landrum Police Department made a bust of 12 kilos of cocaine, the largest in the city’s history. The street value of the cocaine was estimated at $750,000. The bust resulted from a traffic stop of two women from Colorado. The women were arrested on trafficking cocaine charges.
• The Pacolet Area Conservancy added four farms and a total of 1,000 acres to farmland acreage protection. PAC has an overall total of 8,000 acres in the foothills region, which it has helped preserve.
• Upstate Forever identified the Landrum and Campobello, S.C., areas as one of six “special places” in Spartanburg County that should be preserved.
• After hearing concern from Polk County, Tryon withdrew its petition to the state to seek an exemption on voluntary satellite annexations past the 10 percent level set by law.
• Fire struck Henson’s, Inc. again as three tractor trailers caught fire causing explosions from tires. The March fire was the second in less than a year; a July 4, 2009 fire that destroyed a building and trucks was deemed arson. The arson fire is still under investigation.
• Columbus closed the road into Chocolate Drop, citing safety issues. One of the subdivision’s streets eroded and another was covered in mud.
• Polk’s unemployment rate hit 10 percent in January, the highest of the current recession. The rate was up 1.1 percent from December and 0.2 percent from the previous high in February, 2009. The N.C. Employment Security Commission reported 959 Polk County residents were unemployed, up 114 residents from December, 2009.
• The number of dropouts at Polk County High School in 2008-2009 declined by about 21 percent from the previous year. Polk County’s dropout rate was already below state average. Polk had 31 dropouts in 2008-2009, which was down 4.87 percent from the previous year.
• Chocolate Drop lot owners sued the development, citing claims of fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract. Seven lot owners sued developers on March 15 saying the development sold them lots that aren’t buildable.
• U.S. Coast Guard Lt. David Shook, son of Pat and Lee Sutphin of Tryon, was awarded the Air Medal for his efforts in a rescue mission in October, 2009.
• Tryon’s fund balance dropped 15 percent with officials citing annexation lawsuit costs as part of the reason for the drop. The town had a $247,833 fund balance at the end of the fiscal year. The town ended the prior year with a fund balance of $336,487. The town’s fund balance dropped from 20 percent of general fund expenditures to 15 percent.
• Dennis Paul Elliott, 52, of Spartanburg received 10 life sentences after pleading guilty to 55 charges. Elliott escaped the Polk County jail this year, carjacked a Polk County woman at gunpoint before wrecking in a chase and being caught by Spartanburg County, S.C. authorities.

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