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Originally published: 2013-12-28 15:36:33
Last modified: 2013-12-28 15:37:19

2013: Year in review

by Anna Oakes

Many folks may feel they're still trying to dry out at the end of 2013, a year that produced record rainfall amounts and multiple flood events -- damaging roads, infrastructure and other facilities and playing spoiler to many a home garden.

The wet weather resulted in emergency declarations, government aid and a renewed call to improve the town of Boone's stormwater system.

The tragic deaths of three people -- a couple in their 70s and an 11-year-old boy -- in two separate incidents in the same Best Western hotel room-rocked the local community and made headlines across the nation.

Authorities are still trying to piece together the events and failures that led to the preventable fatalities, a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Political battles began early, with disagreements between the town of Boone and Watauga County over land use regulations, sales tax distribution and closed meetings souring local government relationships and frustrating the general public. Tensions continued in the fall election season, when many decried the actions of the Watauga County Board of Elections to relocate polling places.

And Watauga County said goodbye to a number of community members in 2013, including Watauga County Public Library librarian Evelyn Johnson, former Clerk of Court Glenn Hodges and legendary Blowing Rock and Watauga High School coach Carter Lentz.

Following are some of the biggest news events to make the Watauga Democrat headlines in 2013.

Jan. 30 • Rains trigger flash floods
Massive thunderstorms rolled through the state Jan. 30, bringing torrential rains and flooding to the mountains.

Valle Crucis received nearly three inches of rain, while Deep Gap saw 3.7 inches and Boone got more than five inches of rain. Watauga County declared a local state of emergency that evening.

Flash floods stranded vehicles during the evening rush hour and forced evacuations from apartments due to water entering the buildings and a propane gas leak. Emergency crews conducted a number of swift water rescues and closed several roads in the Boone area.

Blowing Rock Road briefly became a rolling river as Boone Creek overwhelmed culverts and spilled into the streets. The creek rose well beyond its banks on the Appalachian State University campus, transforming Durham Park into a temporary lake.

March 27 • ASU announces move to Sun Belt Conference
Appalachian State University announced March 27 it had accepted an offer to join the Sun Belt Conference on July 1, 2014.

ASU had been seeking membership to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference since August 2011.

Appalachian State has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1970. Appalachian State's football team won 11 SoCon championships and won Football Championship Division national championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

March 28 • Kafitz exits superintendent post
Watauga County Schools Superintendent David Kafitz and the Watauga County Board of Education agreed to a contract buyout only nine months into a contract that was to extend through July 2016. Kafitz, who said he had intended to stay with Watauga County Schools until retirement, became ensnared in two conflicts with community members that may have led to his early departure.

Assistant Superintendent David Fonseca was appointed to serve as interim superintendent until the school board hired a new superintendent.

April 16 • Watauga commissioners change sales tax distribution
The Republican-led Watauga County Board of Commissioners in April voted 3-2 along party lines to change the distribution method from a per capita method to an ad valorem method in response to Boone's recent enactment of new multi-family housing standards, which commission Chairman Nathan Miller said jeopardized the county's pending sale of the old Watauga High School property.

The change led to an approximate loss of $2 million in annual revenue for the town of Boone.

The town and county were unable to meet to discuss the situation. Boone offered to hire a mediator to meet with both boards in closed session, but the county refused on the grounds that it would violate state open meeting laws.

Town council members in turn criticized Miller for unilaterally negotiating the sales tax distribution change with other towns, which cost Boone an estimated $2 million in lost revenue, but resulted in a net gain for the county and the towns of Blowing Rock, Seven Devils and Beech Mountain.

April 18 • Chancellor Ken Peacock announces resignation
Appalachian State University Chancellor Ken Peacock announced in April that he would step down from the post he had held for nine years when his successor was appointed.

"Becoming Appalachian's sixth chancellor in 2004 was an opportunity of which I never dreamed I would have," Peacock said. Under Peacock's tenure, ASU saw its freshman applications skyrocket; and the university achieved a number of athletic accomplishments, including three national FCS football championships, the expansion of Kidd Brewer Stadium and ASU's acceptance of an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference and move up to the FBS level of competition.

The campus also completed a number of other capital projects, including a new library and student recreation center, the construction of a new dining hall and the expansion of the student union and honors residence hall.

The ASU board of trustees formed a Chancellor Search Committee in August, which continues to evaluate candidates for the campus' top position.

May 6 • Floods hit Watauga
Heavy spring rains caused significant flooding and power outages throughout the High Country, resulting in Watauga County Schools classes being canceled and roads being closed. A rockslide caused by the rains blocked one lane of U.S. 321 south of Blowing Rock.

June 8-10 • Carbon monoxide blamed in hotel deaths
On June 8, 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams was found dead in Boone Best Western room 225 and his mother was hospitalized with poisoning injuries.

In April, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, a couple in their 70s, had died after staying in the same hotel room. Investigators determined the cause of death to be carbon monoxide poisoning linked to a pool water heater and faulty exhaust system.

Information uncovered in the days following the death of Williams revealed that the processing and analysis of toxicology results in the autopsies of the Jenkinses could have been expedited -- but were not.

Police conducted a six-month investigation and turned the case over to the district attorney's office in early December. The families of the victims have also indicated they plan to file civil lawsuits over the incidents.

June 30 • Eric Marsh dies in Arizona wildfire
Ashe County native and Appalachian State University graduate Eric Marsh was among 19 firefighters killed June 30 battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona. Marsh was 43.

Marsh was the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of wildland firefighters.

The massive wildfire started June 28 with a lightning strike, burning hundreds of acres and destroying homes. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the incident "as dark a day as I can remember."

July 4 • Watauga Democrat celebrates 125th year
Watauga Democrat celebrated its 125th year of community journalism in July 2013. The first edition of the Watauga Democrat is said to have been distributed in July 1888 as a publication to see the local Democratic Party through the fall election. Thereafter it folded, but on July 4, 1889, Robert C. "Bob" Rivers and D.B. Dougherty revived the newspaper.

July 21 • Gov. Pat McCrory visits Boone
Gov. Pat McCrory met with Boone officials, merchants and members of the public during a July visit to Appalachian State University and to King Street businesses.

McCrory first appeared at the closing ceremony of the second annual Appalachian Energy Summit, where leaders of all 17 University of North Carolina campuses and several private institutions gathered for three days to strategize and set goals to reduce energy consumption. McCrory then visited the Mellow Mushroom on King Street, where he shook hands and posed for photos with customers and local leaders.

Aug. 12 • Board of elections makes controversial changes
Amid shouts and boos from an audience of about 60 people, the Republican majority on the Watauga County Board of Elections voted 2-1 to eliminate the early voting site on the Appalachian State University campus and combine three Boone precincts into one with 9,340 registered voters and one polling place.

The board later rescinded the action combining the three Boone precincts' but also drew criticism when it moved the Boone 2 precinct polling place from the ASU student union to Legends and the New River 3 polling place from the National Guard Armory to Mutton Crossing on Bamboo Road.

Aug. 25 • Earthquake strikes Boone
On Aug. 25, a magnitude 2.9 earthquake struck two miles north-northeast of Blowing Rock and three miles south of Boone around 3:50 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS said the quake originated at a depth of 5.7 miles, according to the agency's Earthquake Hazards Program website.

Area residents in Boone, Vilas, Bethel, Meat Camp and Blowing Rock reported a sudden, abrupt shaking, as if a vehicle had collided with their buildings. Others reported hearing a loud boom, followed by the shaking.

Aug. 27 • Bomb threat leads to schools evacuation
A bomb threat to Watauga County Schools led to the evacuation of all nine of the public schools in the county on Aug. 27. The threat turned out to be a hoax, but served as an opportunity early in the school year to test evacuation techniques by staff and students.

Sept. 15 • Scott Fogleman hired as new Blowing Rock town manager
In September, Scott Fogleman was selected from more than 40 applicants to serve as Blowing Rock's newest town manager. Fogleman relocated from Cary, where he served as the town's budget director for 11 years.

Fogleman replaced former town manager Scott Hildebran, who announced in May that he would be leaving Blowing Rock for a similar position in Morganton. Hildebran served as Blowing Rock's town manager for 10 years.

Oct. 1 • Federal government shutdown closes parkway facilities
The first federal government shutdown in 17 years led to the closing of several popular destinations, beginning on Oct. 1. While the Blue Ridge Parkway remained open, campgrounds, parks, gift shops and other stops were closed and a total of 195 parkway employees were furloughed during the shutdown.

Oct. 14 • Parent protests WHS book selection
A Watauga High School parent in October challenged the selection of Isabel Allende's "House of the Spirits" as a sophomore honors English reading assignment. The 1982 fictional work, originally in Spanish, tells the story of three generations of the Trueba family as they interact in a spirit-filled world amid turbulent social revolution.

The parent said the challenging themes and ideas the book presents are lost within the novel's graphic descriptions of rape, prostitution, violence, abuse, abortion and death.

The challenge inspired a letter in support of the book from the author and a teach-in at Appalachian State University. As of the year's end, two school committees had upheld the use of the book.

Nov. 5 • Ball elected as Boone mayor
Andy Ball was elected mayor of Boone on his 31st birthday in the November municipal elections, sweeping a race with three other candidates. Fellow Democrats Jennifer Peña, Rennie Brantz and Quint David were elected to the Boone Town Council. Outgoing three-term Mayor Loretta Clawson retired in December after eight years as mayor and eight years on the Boone Town Council.

Voters re-elected Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence by a decisive margin as he defeated challenger Dan Phillips. The three open town council seats were won by Doug Matheson, Sue Sweeting and Ray Pickett. In Beech Mountain, incumbents Cindy Keller, Rick Miller and Paul Piquet were re-elected to the town council, and in Seven Devils, incumbents David Hooper, Kay Ehlinger and David Ehmig faced no challengers.

Nov. 12 • Table Rock wildfire burns Linville Gorge acreage
A fire started Nov. 12 near Table Rock and burned approximately 2,579 acres in the Linville Gorge Wilderness and adjacent national forest land, sending thick smoke into Boone and other High Country communities.

As of early December, the cause of the fire was still under investigation. The gorge is part of the Grandfather Ranger District in the Pisgah National Forest.

Nov. 22 • ASU football plays final SoCon game
The ASU football team defeated the Western Carolina Catamounts 48-27 in ASU's final game as a member of the Southern Conference. The win gave the Mountaineers possession of the rivalry's Old Mountain Jug until the teams play again, whenever that may be.

The team finished 4-8 in its first season under coach Scott Satterfield and in 2014 will compete in the Sun Belt Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Dec. 18 • ASU announces program eliminations, consolidations
ASU administrators announced decisions to consolidate nine undergraduate and graduate programs and eliminate nine programs as a result of a two-year program prioritization process.

Academic administrators said the program prioritization review considered such factors as graduation rates, uniqueness in the University of North Carolina system and other quantitative and qualitative measures, in addition to low productivity (low enrollment numbers).