Year in Review: The Bulletin looks back on 2016 (Sept. – Oct.)

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, December 29, 2016

The area honored those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The area honored those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Editor’s note: Join us as we take a look back at some of the top stories, newsmakers and images that shaped the year.

September 2016

Polk County Schools lead all NC districts on state performance grades

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Data released by the North Carolina State Board of Education show Polk County Schools as the highest performing school district in North Carolina in 2015-16. All seven Polk County schools scored a B or higher on the 2015-16 School Performances Grades compiled for the state board, making Polk County Schools the only district in the state to have all of its schools score at least a B. Polk County Early College received an A while all other county schools received a B. It marks the first time since the state began releasing letter grades in the 2013-14 school year that all district schools have earned a B or higher.

Polk sheriff’s office arrests two women for opiates

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has two women in custody after discovering large amounts of opiates and benzodiazepine tablets in their vehicle. Alice Darlene Swihart, 48, of 326 Peach Blossom Ct., Johnson City, Tenn. was arrested and charged with two counts of trafficking opiates and conspiracy to traffic opiates, and Kathy Lynn Walker, 55, of 1504 Colony Park Dr., Johnson City, Tenn. was arrested and charged with two counts of trafficking opiates and conspiracy to traffic opiates, according to sheriff reports.

Mimosa Flooring in Tryon gets new owners, carries on family legacy

Customers who have stopped by Mimosa Flooring on the state border in the last few weeks will have noticed new owners Sarah Fink and Kevin Webb. Fink and Webb, along with their daughter Kaya, became owners of the flooring store in the middle of July due to the previous owners, Jack and Linda Campbell, getting older in age and looking towards retirement. The Campbells’ son, Mark, helps Fink and Webb at the store.

Mill Spring resident starts petition to bring Charter Internet service to eastern Polk County

A Mill Spring resident has posted a petition on to bring the Charter Internet service provider to his area and eastern Polk County. The petition outlined the complaints of Windstream customers in the county. Jarvis Garrett was listed on the website as the individual who started the petition.

State eliminates road sign test for driver license renewal

Beginning in September, drivers who wanted to renew their North Carolina license no longer had to retake a test on the identification of road signs. This policy is part of Governor Pat McCrory’s “Driving Change” initiative to increase efficiency and improve customer service at driver license offices.

Tryon to receive insurance money to repair tennis courts

After three months of negotiating with four different insurance companies, the Town of Tryon has finally settled repairs for the tennis courts at Harmon Field. Tryon Town Manager Zach Ollis said the town is waiting on a check for approximately $50,000, which will enable the town to replace courts 1 and 2 and pieces of fencing that were damaged in June at the Blue Ridge Barbecue and Music Festival.

Polk church bus catches fire on I-26

The Hickory Grove Baptist Church bus caught fire along I-26 on Thursday, Sept. 8. Local agencies responded, including Saluda Fire and Rescue, which extinguished the fire quickly. Several people were traveling from the church to a church festival in Clyde and the bus lost power and caught on fire while going up the mountain. Everyone exited the bus and no one was injured.

Area marks 15-year anniversary of 9/11 terror attacks

Members of the General Daniel Morgan Chapter #1781 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart took to the I-26 overpass in Landrum Sunday morning to honor their comrades who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. The American Legion Post #250 and McFarland Funeral Chapel held a remembrance ceremony at Polk Memorial Garden, and both the Landrum and Columbus Fire Departments held observances as well.

Polk had largest visitor spending percent increase in NC for 2015

Gov. Pat McCrory recently acknowledged Polk County as having the largest percent increase in visitor spending in the state from 2014 to 2015 out of the state’s 100 counties. County officials said the increase of 11.8 percent to $26.76 million in 2015 is thanks in part to the county’s larger attractions like the Gorge Zip Line in Saluda and Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC).

Feagan retires as PCHS principal; Schweitzer named next school leader

Polk County Schools announced that Polk County High School principal Mary Feagan will retire effective October 28. With Feagan’s retirement, the Polk County Board of Education approved the selection of Brandon Schweitzer as the next principal at Polk County High School and the choice of Michelle Travieso as an assistant principal.

Saluda to use Coon Dog Day profits to start public restrooms

Commissioners decided during their August meeting to use profits from this year’s Coon Dog Day to begin work on public restrooms downtown. This year’s Coon Dog Day made a profit of approximately $6,300. Public restrooms are proposed to go in the rear of Pace Park, located downtown.

Rally in Columbus for National Day of Action calling for rejection of the Dakota Access Pipeline

On Friday, Sept. 16, Polk County and surrounding area citizens joined with, CREDO, the Sierra Club, and others across the country in a national day of action in solidarity with tribal nations calling on President Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline permanently.

Bright’s Creek in foreclosure; temporary receivership ordered

Bright’s Creek was in foreclosure proceedings with its lender and a federal judge ordered a temporary receivership to oversee management of the property. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger ordered on July 8 that a temporary receiver be granted to manage Bright’s Creek.

Area motorists see gas station closures, gas shortages

Gov. Pat McCrory’s office issued a statement declaring a state of emergency in North Carolina following a pipeline leak near Birmingham, Ala. that left states up and down the East Coast with gas shortages. The Colonial Pipeline extends from Houston, Texas to New York, supplies fuel for 50 million people a day along the East Coast, and began leaking on Sept. 9, according to pipeline officials. Some counties resorted to limiting consumers to 10 gallons per visit, and some stations were completely out of gas.

Nina Simone Netflix documentary receives six Emmy nominations, wins 2016 Outstanding Documentary award

The Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” received two Emmy nominations during the 68th annual Emmys program, which celebrates TV shows and documentaries released within the last year. Based on Tryon native and outspoken singer Nina Simone and produced by Liz Garbus, the documentary received nominations in the following categories: Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction Program, Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program, Outstanding Sound Editing for a Nonfiction Program and Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming.

Concern raised over downtown Tryon’s empty storefronts

Empty storefronts in downtown Tryon had some residents concerned, while others said businesses are arriving and extended store hours are planned. The Tryon Tourism Development Authority (TTDA) met Sept. 12 and discussed a recent Facebook thread that included both negative and positive comments about Tryon. The thread began on the Facebook group “Columbus, NC; Landrum, SC; Tryon, NC; Asheville, NC, Western NC” on Aug. 22 with a post from Linda Stenzel. 

New site proposed for Block House Steeplechase

The Tryon Riding & Hunt Club entered into contract negotiations with Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP), owners of the Tryon International Equestrian Center, to relocate TR&HC’s Block House Steeplechase to a property owned by TEP on Hwy. 9 in Green Creek. The move would bring the Block House to its third location since pioneering horseman, Carter Brown, started it in 1947 at the Block House property owned by the Alfred Plamondon family. It ran for 41 years at that namesake venue until moving to the newly created Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in 1988.

Polk County surpluses house, two buildings for auction

Polk County Commissioners made an effort to preserve a historical home in the county by offering it and two buildings for sale if the buildings could be moved off the property. The house and buildings are located at 221 Park St., Columbus, on part of the property on which the county is constructing a new law enforcement center. No bids were received for the buildings, so the county manager is deciding how to demolish them.

October 2016

Woman dies in fire near Green Creek

A woman died on Friday, Sept. 30 after a mobile home on Wilkerson Hollow Lane near Green Creek caught fire. The Green Creek Fire and Rescue received a call at 10:33 a.m. to a fire at 120 Wilkerson Ln. Kathleen Benson Dixon, 55, was identified by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshal as the victim.

Tryon hosted international film festival

The second annual Tryon International Film Festival, organized by Kirk Gollwitzer and Beau Menetre from the Polk County Film Initiative, celebrates films as they search for distributors here in the United States. Tryon was host to more than 30 films, eight breakout sessions and international filmmakers from as far away as Nepal.

Walk/remembrance ceremony held at Harmon Field

The second annual walk/remembrance was held on Oct. 8 to honor those who are struggling with mental illness and for those who have lost their struggle. The walk was held at Harmon Field with free food, T-shirts and candles as well as speakers, a walk in honor of loved ones lost and a dove release.

Commissioners approve $13.5 million loan for law enforcement complex

Polk County commissioners unanimously approved a $13.5 million installment financing agreement on the new law enforcement complex to be completed near Milliken by the end of 2017. The agreement detailed the installments for which the county would have to pay biannually on April 1 and October 1 for the next 15 years through 2031.

Courthouse wall in Columbus complete

A new retaining wall is now complete at the Polk County Courthouse in downtown Columbus. The new retaining wall and replacement of brick pavers as well as other repairs was completed recently by Jay’s Lawn Service. The Polk County Board of Commissioners paid approximately $100,000 for the work.

PCHS seniors show gains on SAT scores, place well above state average

Seniors in Polk County High School’s class of 2016 recorded a 39-point year-over-year improvement on the SAT college admissions exam, according to data released by The College Board and the North Carolina Department of Instruction. Polk County High School seniors recorded an average composite score of 1552, well above the state average (1485) and national average (1484). The figure also exceeded the score of 1513 recorded by students in the class of 2015.

Polk to get farmers market on wheels

Polk County commissioners approved a resolution to donate Polk County Public Library’s Bookmobile to Growing Rural Opportunities (GRO). Patrick McLendon, executive director of GRO, attended the commissioners’ Oct. 3 meeting and asked commissioners to approve the proposal to convert the library’s Bookmobile into a mobile farmers market, the first of its kind in western North Carolina.

Local equestrian organizations support evacuees, horses ahead of Hurricane Matthew

Residents and local equestrian organizations opened their barns and homes to those who have horses along the coast in the path of Hurricane Matthew. Tracie Hanson, executive director of the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE), said she opened more than 300 stalls for residents from as far away as Charleston and Wilmington who have horses and need to evacuate.

Election signs being stolen, vandalized

The drama of the 2016 election season reached Polk County as political signs were stolen and vandalized. Democratic and Republican banners and yard signs were reported stolen from private property in Columbus, Tryon and Green Creek.

Lake Adger appraises for $5.1M

Polk County Commissioners recently discovered Lake Adger is worth $5,150,000 after having the potential water resource appraised. Commissioners met Oct. 3 and heard from Gerry Hartman, senior appraiser and engineer with Hartman Consultants from Florida. The county contracted with Hartman for $35,300.

Polk County Schools approves part-time athletic director job description

The Polk County School Board approved a job description for a part-time athletic director position at Polk County High School during their Oct. 10 meeting. This is a result of Brandon Schweitzer, former athletic director, being promoted to high school principal following the announcement of Mary Feagan’s retirement earlier this school year.

Tryon man sentenced to 18 years in prison for burglary/habitual felon

A Tryon man was sentenced to 18 years in prison in September for second-degree burglary, possession of burglary tools and for being a habitual felon. Ronnie Bell, of 963 Hwy. 176 South, Tryon, was found guilty by a jury during Henderson County Superior Court the week of Sept. 19-30, according to district attorney Greg Newman’s office.

Polk sheriff’s office arrests man for arson, indecent liberties with a child

On Sept. 22, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a structure fire at 411 Hugh Champion Rd. in Polk County. After an investigation, the sheriff’s office determined the fire had been intentionally set during a domestic dispute. Ascencion Ramirez Jr., 34, of 25 Karen’s Place, Asheville, was initially arrested and charged with two counts of assault on a female, two counts of carrying a concealed weapon, domestic criminal trespass and second-degree arson, according to sheriff reports.

Polk amends zoning ordinance to allow other schools in RE1

The Polk County Board of Commissioners amended the county’s zoning ordinance to allow other schools in the RE1 (Residential Estate) zoning district in order to allow the Polk County Cooperative Extension Office to relocate to the former adult day building, located off Skyuka Road in the Columbus Township.

Polk Vocational Services now providing alternative family living opportunities

Polk Vocational Services announced that they are now accredited and providing Alternative Family Living (AFL) opportunities for those with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD). An AFL is a service designed to provide care and support in a family and home setting for persons with IDD. It can be thought of as foster care for adults.

Polk commissioners starting a committee, survey for broadband service

Commissioners met Oct. 17 and heard from Keith Conover, technical assistance director for the western region of the N.C. Department of Commerce, who said part of his job is to get broadband in rural areas. Commissioners came to a consensus to direct county manager Marche Pittman to create a committee and move forward with a survey.

Polk’s Foothills Express bus service to be scaled down

Polk County’s fixed bus route with stops from Tryon to Mill Spring will be scaled down after county commissioners were told 386 people rode the bus from November 2015 through August 2016. The bus route, beginning Nov. 21, 2016, was scaled down to one bus, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 8:30 a.m.-2:45 p.m.

Columbus continues dogwood theme on town flag

Columbus Town Council met on Oct. 20 and heard from John Vining with the Discover Columbus committee, which designed the town’s new flag. The design is very similar to the town’s seal with the predominant feature being the dogwood. The white dogwood flower is pictured against a deep blue background, surrounded by a gold ring, on a red field.

Columbus creates master police officer position

In order to create incentive for long-standing police officers as well as help increase officer training, Columbus Town Council approved a new position that comes with a $1 per hour pay increase called a Master Officer position. Columbus Town Council met Thursday, Oct. 20 and approved the new position that will be offered to officers with either three or four years employment with the town.

Polk County listed as in a severe drought

After above average rainfall in the month of August, the area has seen just under one inch of rain in the months of September and October, placing Polk County in a severe drought as of Tuesday, Oct. 18. The N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council listed Polk County as one of nine counties in the state in a severe drought. The counties of Cherokee, Clay and Macon were listed in an extreme drought, the highest classification.

Polk County deputy on administrative leave

A Polk County deputy was placed on paid administrative leave after a woman he was in a relationship with used his service weapon to take her own life. The deputy was not being named, as the district attorney’s office decided on Thursday, Oct. 27 not to file any charges against him.