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2009 Year in Review

Article Published: Dec. 30, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
2009 Year in Review

2009 Year in Review - A residence on Skyland Drive in Blowing Rock was destroyed by fire on Jan. 16.

Photo by Jerry Burns


The Laurelmor 6,000-acre golf resort was sold to BR Development Group LLC and Blowing Rock Resort Venture LLC after the Florida-based Ginn Company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

John Richard Gray, 28, was transported back to Watauga County on Jan. 1 to face a first-degree murder charge in the Dec. 22 shooting death of Jimmy Roberts, 40, at the Gold and Closeout Connection Pawn Shop on King Street. Gray remains at the Watauga County Detention Center awaiting trial.

The Library Restaurant and Pub was broken into on Jan. 6 by a man captured on video surveillance preparing food and removing layers of clothing to reveal tattoos on his upper body and back.

A home on Skyland Drive in Blowing Rock was completed destroyed by fire on Jan. 16. The residence was unoccupied at the time of fire and the cause was determined to be items placed too close to a wall heater.

Three cases of E. coli were confirmed by the Appalachian District Health Department. Typically there are two to three cases per year in Watauga County.


Watauga County schools received their "Report Cards" from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. All of the elementary schools in the county and Watauga High School scored above the state average in percentage of students proficient in reading and math.

On Feb. 8, a woman was forced into a vehicle while standing near the roadway of Horn in the West Drive. She was able to free herself and suffered minor injuries.

The Watauga County Board of Education voted to support one of two presented options for the expansion of the Greenway Trail near the new high school site. The board supported a trail further from the campus that came with a price tag of double the option that was closer to the school.

Two out of five buildings were destroyed by fire at Eddie Moretz Lumber Company in Deep Gap. There were no injuries reported.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved the Greenway Trail extension that runs closer to the high school building, but costs less than half of the option chosen by the school board. The expansion chosen will likely be funded by an obesity-prevention grant.


Watauga County schools were closed as a snow storm dumped as much as 12 inches at the higher elevations in the county on March 1.

Mountain Times Publications launched online Marketplace.

The annual "Green Book" report showed that North Carolina's land and water conservation trust funds provided more than $43 million for projects in Watauga County in 2008.
Curtis Media Group purchased six area radio stations.

A Deep Gap man was arrested after Watauga County Sheriff's officers discovered a methamphetamine lap on his property.

Former Boone mayor Wade Brown died at the age of 101.

Former Blowing Rock editor Jerry Burns was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor that can be granted in North Carolina.

Appalachian State University basketball coach Houston Fancher resigned after nine seasons as head coach.

Watauga County clerk of court Glenn Hodges retired after 16 years of service.

A landslide on the Blue Ridge Parkway closed a two-mile section of the road near Milepost 270 north of Boone.

Grandfather Mountain was declared a North Carolina state park, joining 33 other state parks, including Elk Knob State Park in the Meat Camp community.

A bomb threat was phoned in for the Watauga Courthouse with no explosives found.


Retired clerk of court Glenn Hodges was presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, North Carolina's highest civilian honor.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce awarded a $600,000 grant to the Hospitality House in Boone.

Juan Manuel Juarez Reyes, the man accused in the 2007 drunk-driving death of a Boone man, agreed to a plea bargain that sent him to prison for more than 15 years.

Boone postal carrier Brent Beach was honored as a member of the U.S. Postal Service's "Million Mile Club," an award given to postal carriers who have reached 30 years of service without being responsible for an automobile crash.

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan toured the Appalachian State University campus.

The current Watauga High School campus went back up on the auction block, several years after the Watauga County Board of Commissioners turned down more than $30 million for the property.

Around 70,000 people attended MerleFest, an annual festival named in memory of Merle Watson, the son of of Watauga County resident and Grammy winner Doc Watson.

The "Buzz" returned to the Appalachian State University basketball program as Buzz Peterson, who coached the Mountaineers from 1996-2000, was hired for a second tour of duty as ASU's head coach.


In a May 6 report, the Watauga County Commissioners were presented with the staff's recommended budget, featuring a 10-percent reduction and a bottom-line General Fund of $40.4 million. The recommended budget reflected a three percent cut to most departments.

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce selected Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock as the 2009 Business of the Year. The boarding house developed by Lot Estes in the late 1800s helped build the area's reputation for leisure and vacation. The family estate was expanded into a lodge and retreat in 1972, with condominiums. Now the resort features 250 condominiums, the Bob Timberlake Inn, the Manor House Restaurant and Pub, and a new spa.

The Watauga County Board of Education voted on May 11 to increase school meal prices by 15 cents. Grades pre-K through 3 will be $1.95, grades 4 to 8 set at $2.05, grades 9 to 12 will be $2.20 and adult prices increased to $3.25. Elementary breakfasts increased to $1.20, high school breakfast $1.50 and adult breakfast will be $1.75. The after-school snack will increased by a nickel to 85 cents.

On May 22, Frederick Philip Hammer, 49, of Crumpler, pleaded guilty to the August shooting deaths of Ronald Hudler, a Christmas tree farm owner, his son, Fred, and employee John Steven Miller. He was given seven life sentences without the possibility of parole and an additional 23 years in a state prison.


On June 1, Will Dicus, a popular member of the Watauga High School baseball team died after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 18. Dicus was stricken with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in the soft tissue, usually either in the leg or ribs.

Dicus was remembered as a likeable and yet mentally tough individual. He played on the varsity team and saw time on the pitcher's mound his junior year, despite the risk of injury, including a game against West Wilkes when he pitched five innings.

The Watauga County commissioners voted unanimously to close the Appalachian Skate Park. The county recreation commission had recommended the closure one month earlier. Liability, low usage and the issue of skaters following the posted rules were among the reasons for the closure.

The Watauga County Schools announced 28 layoffs on June 10 in response to an almost $3 million budget shortfall. The layoff included 15 teachers, 11 teachers who had been hired temporarily for the school year, one administrative position and one technology support position.

AppalCART was awarded $6 million toward the construction a new service terminal as a part of the federal stimulus package. Work on the new terminal located on the N.C. 105 Bypass is underway. The funds will be distributed as $5.5 million toward the terminal and $500,000 toward shelters to be constructed at bus stops.


On July 3, it was announced that Boone Police Chief Bill Post was stepping down at the end of July after 11 years leading the Boone police force.

Post had been police chief since 1998. He was eligible for retirement last year, but stayed on to help with transition as six long-time department personnel retired.

On July 9, then-Watauga County librarian John Blake said he had been forced to resign this week. Blake had been the county's head librarian for nearly five years and said he was surprised by the request that he resign.

Louise Humphrey, director of libraries for the three-county Appalachian Regional Library, said she was responsible for all personnel decisions and refused to comment on the action.

On July 11, a reception was held for American Legion Post 130 retiring commander Earl Moretz.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-5), N.C. Rep. Cullie Tarleton (D-93), N.C. Sen. Steve Goss (D-45) and Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson attended the event.

Moretz, a Watauga County native, had been Post 130 commander for 20 years and a member of the American Legion for 34 years. He served in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II.

Several students at an Appalachian State camp in Valle Crucis tested positive for H1N1 flu virus, according to a July 15 report.

According to ASU officials, 10 campers and one counselor reported flu-like systems. ASU student health service sent samples to the state health department in Raleigh. Seven of the samples tested positive for H1N1, formerly known as swine flu.


On Aug. 11, the Board of Trustees for the Mariam and Robert Hayes Performing Arts Center in Blowing Rock announced the suspension of all operations at the closing of the production Hank Williams: Lost Highway. In a statement, the board said it would evaluate and its options and resources to resume operations on sound economic footing prior to the 2010 summer season.

Blowing Rock's historic Green Park Inn was sold in a foreclosure auction in the front lobby of the Watauga County Courthouse, after the foreclosure of the deed of trust by Ellaron, LLC, to its previous owners, Allen and Patsy McCain. The opening bid of $1.66 million came from a corporation calling itself Green Park Inn Incorporated. No other bids were offered.

During the week of Aug. 24, work began on the widening project of U.S. 421 from the N.C. 194 intersection to U.S. 321/Hardin Street intersection. The project will widen U.S. 421 from a four- to a six-lane divided highway with a raised concrete median. The $15 million project is expected to be complete by the end of 2011.


Winston-Salem's Baptist Medical Center confirmed that Boone street vendor Joshua Watauga was in stable condition, after collapsing behind an area restaurant in August. Community members rallied online to "bring Joshua back home."

A N.C. Department of Transportation study reported that approximately 45,000 vehicles travel daily on the 1.1-mile stretch of U.S. 421/East King Street currently under construction for widening in Boone.

The town of Boone implemented a downtown parking plan for ASU football home games. The plan drew more criticism than praise from downtown merchants, causing town officials to reexamine the matter.

The Watauga County Board of Education approved its 2009-10 budget of $41.2 million, including a reduction of about $9 million from the previous year, mostly due to state budget cuts, including 50 fewer positions. Taking retirements and resignations in consideration, the school system terminated eight positions.

A Blacksburg, Va., man participating in the Blue Ridge Relay was found dead in an unoccupied Ashe County house, having sustained stab wounds about various areas of his body. The death was treated as a suspected suicide.

The N.C. Christmas Tree Association celebrated its 50th anniversary in Boone.

Grandfather Mountain was recognized by the National Association of State Park Directors for conservation of natural resources.

The Hospitality House of Boone broke ground on its new facility off Bamboo Road. The facility will be 18,500 square feet and house 62 clients. Project cost was estimated at $4.7 million, with completion projected for January 2010.


Boone Drug turned 90 years old, having first opened in 1919. The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce helped celebrated with a Business After Hours event at the pharmacy chain's historic downtown location.

Dana Bruce Crawford, former Beech Mountain assistant chief of police, was named Boone Police chief, succeeding Bill Post. Crawford had also served as investigator and deputy sheriff.

Watauga resident Doc Hendley, founder of nonprofit organization Wine to Water, was named in the CNN Heroes Top 10 list. Through wine-tasting events, Wine to Water raises funding to finance the construction and/or maintenance of wells in third world countries. To date, the organization had provided clean water to approximately 25,000 people in refugee camps, orphanages, hospitals and a leper colony, as well as hundreds of homes.

N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents seized 926 gallons of moonshine in Wilkesboro, issuing an area resident with citations for possession of non-tax liquor, possession of non-tax liquor for the purpose of selling, and possession of equipment and ingredients intended for the use of manufacturing of an alcoholic beverage, all misdemeanor charges.

The Boone Town Council approved its Boone 2030 Land Use Plan, which promulgates "smart growth" principles of mixed-use development with consistent regulation, with attention to pedestrian and vehicle accessibility.

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 60th birthday, having been signed into creation Oct. 24, 1949, by local attorney Wade Brown, Farmers Hardware owner Clyde Green and insurance agent Stanley Harris Sr.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners passed a revision to ban new billboards in Watauga County, also preventing the replacement of existing billboards with any new digital billboards.


Municipal elections were held Nov. 2. Boone mayor Loretta Clawson was reelected. Andy Ball, Jamie Leigh and Rennie Brantz were elected to the town council. Blowing Rock mayor J.B.

Lawrence will serve another term. Tommy Lee Klutz, Jim Steele and Doug Matheson were elected to the council. In Seven Devils, Kay Ehlinger, David A. Ehmig and Bob Dodson will serve on the council.

On Nov. 9, the Watauga County Board of Education approved an anti-bullying policy. The revision defines bullying and harassment as "any pattern of gestures or written, electronic, or verbal communications, or any physical act or any threatening communication" on school property or during school events that cause reasonable fear or harm.

An Appalachian State University student died Nov. 11 after having been shot at a party on Faculty Street. Jay Franklin Derby, 20, of Matthews, was shot sometime before 12:30 a.m. His friend, Galen Elijah "Eli" Ruble, 20, of Boone, was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter in the negligent death.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved a renewable-energy project at the former county landfill. The project will capture methane gas, a by-product of decomposing organic matter buried in the landfill, to generate electricity.


The threat of a rockslide closed U.S. 321 from Kirby Mountain Road to Waterfalls Road in Caldwell County from Dec. Dec. 7 to Dec. 16 as crews worked to clear boulders from the slope. Regular blasting closes the road from noon to 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.

On Dec. 8, a fire closed the Peddler Steakhouse on Blowing Rock Road. The kitchen and storage areas were heavily damaged in the blaze. Owner Murray Broome said work is underway the restaurant is scheduled to reopen in February.

The Salvation Army appointed the first command staff to the High County United Way. Capt. Teresa Della Monica will serve as the social work director and director of the Family Store in Foscoe.

The body of Deana Elizabeth Schermerhorn, missing since Nov. 8, was located in Seven Devils on Dec. 14. The cause of death has not been released and authorities are seeking her husband, Christopher Warren Meade, for questioning.

Over the weekend of Dec. 20, the High Country was covered in approximately 14 inches of snow. The snow caused road closures, and the closing of all Watauga County schools and a one-day closure of Appalachian State University.

A Christmas Day ice storm crippled Watauga with ice totaling one half to three quarters of an inch. The ice caused massive power outages and the county commissioners declared a state of emergency in the county. The ice damaged approximately 3,500 miles of power lines and caused 150 broken electric poles.

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