Sheriff: No new information on Lucas Vance

Lucas Vance, 35, was reportedly last seen on Oct. 30 in Marbleton. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now assisting on the case. Anyone with information is asked to call 743-1850. (Photo contributed by law enforcement)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation continue to search for Lucas “Luc” Vance.

Vance is 35 years old. He is 5 foot 2 inches and weighs 190 pounds. Vance has short hair and green eyes.

He was last seen on Oct. 29, and the last contact was made after midnight on Oct. 30 in the Marbleton community of Unicoi County.

According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, the investigation is still open.

“We searched around Mr. Vance’s house with cadaver dogs today, but did not find anything,” Hensley said.

When asked if the investigation is now a recovery search as opposed to a rescue search, Hensley said, “No, we are still searching.”

Hensley acknowledged that there has been no new information since Vance’s disappearance.

“There has been no new information whatsoever,” Hensley said. “We searched today and we will keep looking.”

The Erwin Record first reported that a four-day search was suspended following no new information in regards to Vance’s disappearance in the Nov. 6 issue.

According to Hensley on Nov. 5, the ground search came to an end on Nov. 2, but the investigation continues.

“The investigation is still very active. We’re not going to let up,” Hensley said on Nov. 5. “We won’t stop until we find him.”

Hensley reported that the four-day search involved drones, dogs and horses as well as numerous volunteers. In the search, the UCSD was joined by Town of Unicoi Police Chief Andy Slagle and Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue, as well as almost 100 local volunteers. The searched covered the Marbleton community.

“We are doing everything that is possible to find Vance, and we are very grateful for the support of all that has taken part in the search and this investigation,” Hensley said. “We will not stop until Luke is found and I ask you to continue to pray for everyone involved and the family.”

If you have any new information please contact the UCSD at 743-1850.

County receives ThreeStar Award

Local officials accept a ThreeStar Award from Governor Bill Lee during the recent 2019 Tennessee Governor’s Conference. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The three municipalities of Unicoi County and the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board continue to work to get grants to help stimulate growth in Unicoi County.

Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board Executive Director Tyler Engle joined Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, Town of Erwin Alderman Michael Baker and Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff in Nashville for the 2019 Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Oct. 24-25 to receive The Governor’s ThreeStar Award in the amount of $50,000 to assist with efforts to house our workforce.

To be eligible for ThreeStar grants, each county must meet all ThreeStar certification requirements, develop an asset-based strategic plan and design a program to implement a goal from its strategic plan. Fifty-nine counties were selected out of 78 applications to receive the award.

According to Engle, this grant will continue the JEDB’s efforts following strategic plans created by the JEDB, TNECD, the First Tennessee Development District and Smart Growth America to set the county on the right track and get ready for the 2020s and beyond.

“Every year we have the opportunity to work with TNECD’s Community Development Director Jody Sliger, and this year we were able to obtain a $50,000 grant for housing in the area, which is very unique,” Engle said.

Engle acknowledged that the grant could be used for more housing in Unicoi County.

“It’s very important that we develop more housing because when we bring more housing on the tax roll, that helps to stabilize the tax base and to offset future needs for the county,” Engle said. “Having housing available helps lure industry and business to our county.”

According to Engle, the JEDB is considering all types of housing for Unicoi County.

“We are looking at traditional family detached homes, we are looking at semi-attached duplexes and we are looking at apartments,” Engle said. “The last time I spoke with Smart Growth (America), they projected that the goal would be 65 percent multi-family units and 35 percent single-family units. I know it is a surprise but data suggests that folks don’t want big yards and big homes to take care of anymore.”

Hensley said she was excited when she was notified of the award and grant.

“The thing we are short on is housing and this $50,000 will help us plan for more housing in Erwin and Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “This will help us out enormously with our economy, our tax base and it will help in bringing the town up to the needs of those people that may work here, but live out of town. We hope this will help workers that live out of town and work here that they can become our neighbors and residents.”

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said he is proud of the hard work that went into the ThreeStar Award. 

“The ThreeStar Award is a great accomplishment for our country,” Evely said. “It takes the two towns, the county and the JEDB working together to keep that status. It is vitally important because a lot of grants and the level of matching funds to receive the grants are based on whether you have that status. I appreciate the work that Tyler Engle puts into spearheading the process to achieve the designation. Also, mayors Hensley and (Johnny) Lynch are a great asset with all they do.”

Lucas Vance still missing, TBI joins investigation

Lucas Vance, 35, was reportedly last seen on Oct. 30 in Marbleton. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now assisting on the case. Anyone with information is asked to call 743-1850. (Photo contributed by law enforcement)

By Richard Rourk

A Unicoi County man is still missing, according to local law enforcement.

Lucas “Luc” Vance, 35, of Unicoi, has been missing since Wednesday, Oct. 30. According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, the last contact with Vance was made shortly after midnight on that day in the Marbelton community in Unicoi County.

“Vance was last contacted shortly after midnight on what was late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning,” Hensley said. “He was supposed to show up for work early the next day. That’s when a family member went to check on him and couldn’t find him. That’s when we launched the investigation.”

According to Hensley, the ground search came to an end on Saturday, Nov. 2, but the investigation is still ongoing.

“The investigation is still very active. We’re not going to let up,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said, “We won’t stop until we find him.”

Hensley acknowledged the four-day search involved drones, dogs and horses as well as numerous volunteers. In the search, the UCSD was joined by Town of Unicoi Police Chief Andy Slagle and Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue, as well as almost 100 local volunteers. The search covered the Marbleton community.

“We’ve searched on foot, with dogs and horses and even drones,” said search leader Nick Hughes. “We’ve covered almost 250 acres already.”

Slagle said he is thankful for all of those that have been searching for Vance,

“The town and community have been great; it’s remarkable,” Slagle said. “Everybody knows Luc and we want to see him come back home safe.”

Lead investigator, Ron Arnold, has reminded volunteers that any information is helpful and asked that citizens contact the sheriff’s department with any information that may be pertinent.

Hensley also reported on Monday, Nov 4, that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has agreed to assist in the investigation.

“I have called in TBI,” Hensley said. “They are assisting us on this ongoing investigation.”

Vance is 5-foot-2 and weighs 190 pounds. He has green eyes and very short hair.

If anyone has any information on Vance, please call the Unicoi County Sheriff Department at 743-1850.

Board of Education OKs $3.1M bid for work at Gentry Stadium

Director of Schools John English discusses renovations at Gentry Stadium during a meeting of the Unicoi County Board of Education on Tuesday, Oct. 29. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

During a special called meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24, the Unicoi County Board of Education continued to evaluate items that could be cut from the estimated $3.3 million bid for renovations to Gentry Stadium.

At the end of the meeting, the board decided to table the low bid by Preston Construction Company, based out of Johnson City, until a Tony Street of BLS Thompson and Litton could present the board with an updated bid after the board agreed on a few changes to the original plan. The updated bid would be what Street called “value engineering.”

According to Unicoi County Schools Director John English, some items had to be altered to bring the bid down to meet Unicoi County Schools’ original proposed budget of $2.4 million. 

“The low bid was Preston Construction and on the day the bids were opened we asked Mr. Street to get with Preston to get an itemized statement,” English said. “I do feel, based on the numbers, we had an accurate and a good tight bid, but it was over what we projected and budgeted for this project.”

According to Street, among the items that could be cut from the original plan are a perimeter fence that surrounds the stadium, which could save the board $62,000. Another cut is a reduction in the proposed amount of paving at the stadium that could potentially save the board $190,000. Another is a reduction in landscaping items that could save the board $23,000. Also up for cutting is a pathway that leads from the field house to the practice field and the removal of a retaining wall along the stadium’s embankment near the press box. 

The board also is considering cutting back on: a new crown for the center for the football field that could save $90,000; a new stove and hood in the concession stand that could potentially save $10,000; and a possible reduction in the number of seat back seats that are being planned to be installed in the new stands, at the 50-yard line.

Street opposed making any cuts to repavement of the circle around the football field, and updates to the fieldhouse that include a new commercial washer and dryer and two water heaters. Street acknowledged that one washer and dryer would be sufficient. 

“This is the same type of washer and dryer that Science Hill has and they are very pleased with it,” Street said. 

Unicoi County School Board member Tammy Tipton was concerned that one washer was not enough.

 “As someone who helps with the football team’s laundry, it does concern me, Tipton said.

Street also recommended that the board keep the new LED lighting that is planned to ensure that they are up to TSSAA code and Street recommended that the board consider keeping the updated football field, complete with a new crown and irrigation system. 


The Unicoi County Board of Education met again on Tuesday, Oct. 29, and wasted no time in accepting an updated bid for construction to be done at Gentry Stadium following this football season. The updated bid from Preston Construction now totals $3,154,100 and was unanimously approved by the board on Tuesday.

The motion to approve the updated bid was made by Unicoi County Board member Steve Willis and seconded by member Glenn Fisher.

On Tuesday, BLS Thompson and Litton Senior Project Manager Tony Street presented the board with a new set of numbers and options for the renovations. The board was able to cut $170,900 from the original bid of $3,325,000.

Some of the items that were cut from the original bid were: landscaping projects around the stadium at a savings of $13,870; a walkway from the field house to the practice field at a savings of $25,000; one retaining wall with a savings of $2,850; a new stove and hood for concession stand at a savings of $10,300; a partial deduction of $5,200 for roofing pavers for the press box; and a reduction in seat back seats from 300 down to 180 seats at a cost deduction of $1,520. The board also agreed to not alter the football field at a savings of $98,480.

Renovations to Gentry Stadium are set to begin following the Blue Devils’ 2019 football season.

“I’m proud that we got this done with no new taxes for these projects,” Fisher said.

For the full story of the Oct. 29 meeting, pick up a copy of the Nov. 6 issue of The Erwin Record.

Elephant silent auction begins Oct. 28

Pictured is one of the elephant statues that will be up for auction beginning Oct. 28. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

It’s time to say goodbye to the elephant herd that has called downtown Erwin home this year.

“We will be holding a silent auction at Erwin Town Hall from Oct. 28 through Nov. 1 during business hours,” Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said. “The minimum bid is $150 with increments of $10 or greater.”

This year’s herd was different than the herds that have been auctioned off in the past. These elephants are smaller in size this year and that has presented an issue for the town.

“This year we will have 17 of 20 original elephants available for auction,” Rice said. “We started with 20, but two were stolen and one was vandalized.”

Rice first informed The Erwin Record of the stolen elephant statues back in August and said these thefts “hurt” because the elephants were painted by community volunteers who dedicated hours of their time working on the pieces to be enjoyed by the community as a whole.

The elephants are not the only thing different this year.

“This is our first silent auction and will last an entire week,” Rice said. “Normally we have a live auctioneer in the Gathering Place for a high energy morning auction.”

Rice is excited about this year’s auction.

“We are hoping this silent auction will be a more relaxed environment and more people will participate and since the elephants are much smaller this year, and made of concrete and a fraction of the cost of the previous years, the bids are starting at only $150 versus $1,500 last year,” Rice said. “Again, we are hoping this will be a great year for more people to get an Erwin elephant.”

Like previous years, this year’s proceeds will go to work for a familiar charity.

“One hundred percent of the proceeds from this auction will benefit the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee,” Rice said. “Next year, the sponsored elephants proceeds will benefit the sponsors’ choice of charity. Seventy-five percent will go to the sponsors’ choice, the remaining will be divided by RISE and Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald.”

According to Rice, this year’s Elephant Revival herd brought lots of changes and curveballs. “Due to the flooding in the midwest this winter, delivery was delayed of our large fiberglass statues, and while we were working on the logistics of this issue, the Town of Erwin found out that we were going to be featured in a National Radio broadcast of NPR,” Rice said. “We knew that we absolutely had to have elephants on display in our downtown this summer, no matter what it took, and fortunately, a small business in Hampton came through for us and made 20 concrete statues in a matter of about two and a half weeks. All our amazing volunteer artists were on standby during that time. Once they received their statues, most created their design in a matter of a seven to 10 days. It was really an amazing feat by everyone involved.”

For Rice, the community coming together makes the yearly event worthwhile.

“The town is so thankful that we have such passionate and helpful citizens who believe in this public art project and helped to make it a reality this year and every year,” Rice said.

Rice acknowledged that the Elephant Revival has brought so much positive attention to Erwin. “Because of the Erwin Elephant Revival and this public art project, we have had five different documentary crews here since May recognizing our efforts,” Rice said. “One crew came all the way from Los Angeles and stayed almost a week filming our sweet town.”

The Town of Erwin and RISE Erwin have already started making preparations for next year’s herd.

“The new herd will be ready and on display for the Great Outdoors Festival on May 2,” Rice said. “We have eight total ordered, and they have grown in size. These elephants stand at almost 5 feet tall, versus the 30 inches in the previous years.”

According to Rice, the artists have been notified and are ready to start work on the new herd. “Most of our artists already have them in their possession and are working on them all winter,” Rice said. “All of the new elephants will be sold at a live auction in October of 2020.”

If you are interested in bidding for this year’s herd, the silent auction will be at Erwin Town Hall, Oct. 28 through Nov. 1, during business hours. The last time to bid is Friday, Nov. 1, at 4 p.m. Winners will be notified on Monday, Nov. 4. Due to the heavy nature of the statue, shipping is not recommended. Local pickup only.

The minimum bid is $150 with increments of $10 or greater. There will be a table in the Erwin Town Hall lobby with pictures of each elephant and a bid form for bidders to fill out. Bidders must leave contact information and also their highest bid.

“This is a very easy and stress-free auction,” Rice said.

For more information, please follow the Town of Erwin and RISE Erwin on Facebook.

Erwin native survives Hurricane Dorian, stays in Bahamas to help others

Dr. Pam Peterson Mobley, an Erwin native, stands with Dutch Navy workers providing aid to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

For four days, Dr. Pam Peterson Mobley, an Erwin native, was among the hundreds of people missing after Hurricane Dorian struck the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas on Sept. 1.

Pam and her husband, Dr. Ed Mobley, are anesthesiologists and alumni of East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine. The couple, who live in Knoxville, purchased a home on Green Turtle Cay, one of the smaller Abaco islands, about four years ago. Pam, a 1994 Quillen graduate, retired from medicine in 2008, and Ed, class of 1991, still works as an anesthesiologist at the University of Tennessee.

Pam was visiting their island home with a friend when Dorian started brewing in the Atlantic Ocean.

“It started as a Category 1 storm, and no one was really worried,” Pam said. “They thought we’d lose power, and that would be it. When it upgraded to a Category 3, we started to think about leaving. But all of a sudden, it was a Category 5, and it was too late to leave.”

So Pam evacuated to a friend’s home on the island and prepared to ride out the storm on higher ground.

“We watched as the walls started bulging in and out – it felt like they were breathing,” Pam said. “The floor started shaking, and the roof started to lift. We pushed the furniture against the walls to strengthen them and then ran into the bathroom to huddle in a bathtub. Eventually four of us took shelter in a closet.

“It was pretty terrifying. I’m from the mountains and have never experienced a hurricane,” she said. “And I don’t plan on ever experiencing another one.”

As the storm approached the island, Pam was able to communicate with Ed and their son, Chris Mobley, through FaceTime. But once Dorian reached land, the storm snapped every power pole on the island and they were completely cut off from electricity and communication. Ed and Chris waited anxiously in Tennessee for any word of Pam’s fate.

On Sept. 4, they finally confirmed that Pam had survived. However, the gorgeous island that the couple had enjoyed visiting for the last two decades was in shambles, along with their home, which was a pile of debris after the storm.

“Miraculously, though, no one from our tiny island lost their life,” Pam said. “Our island was extremely lucky.”

The storm devastated the island and left it without any medical care. There was one clinic on the island, but the nurse who staffed it evacuated, along with her children.

So after a quick 36-hour trip back to West Palm Beach to reunite with her family, Pam decided to leave behind the comforts of electricity, internet, fresh food and running water in order to return to Green Turtle Cay to help her neighbors recover and rebuild their lives.

Volunteers cleaned up the clinic, and Pam immediately started mobilizing donations of life-saving supplies and medications to restock what the clinic and residents had lost. Using portable generators, she began providing medical care to neighbors and relief workers, who needed everything from tetanus shots for stepping on nails to emergency care for injuries from falling off roofs while doing repairs. She met relief workers from across the globe, including members of the Dutch Navy.

“I have witnessed an incredible amount of love and kindness here, and from my home in Tennessee,” Pam said. “I found out that there were people from my home church who had prayer chains going while I was missing. That blew me away.”

Their kindness has inspired Pam and her family to give back. Ed is still practicing medicine in Knoxville, but he plans to join Pam when he can to assist with medical care on the island; they are both applying for voluntary physician licensure in the Bahamas. In addition, their son Chris, who has a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently working toward a second degree in computer engineering, is planning to take a semester off of school to help with efforts to provide clean water to the island.

“There is so much work to be done,” Pam said. “Seeing constant debris and devastation grinds on you a bit.”

While running a medical clinic on a devastated island was not the way Pam envisioned her retirement, she has found a silver lining.

“At Quillen, there is a lot of emphasis on primary care,” said Pam. “Before I began medical school, I had a nursing degree from ETSU College of Nursing. Studying to become a doctor, I always wanted to be a family practitioner. But then I did a rotation in anesthesia and fell in love with it. Although I loved my career in anesthesia, I’ve always had some regrets about never getting to do primary care. I guess you could call this my second chance.”

Her second chance recently came with a moment of encouragement. She heard from a couple that she had treated and ordered evacuated from the island after they were rescued by the Coast Guard. They were hospitalized and recovering.

Pam predicts a similar fate – one of recovery – for the island she has grown to love.

“We’re going to rebuild our home there,” she said. “These people have become our people.”

Town of Unicoi swears in first police chief at 25th Anniversary Celebration

Andy Slagle has been chosen as the first police chief in the Town of Unicoi. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

The Town of Unicoi welcomed Andy Slagle as its first police chief on Friday, Oct. 11, at the town’s 25th Anniversary Celebration which was held at the Visitor Center off Exit 32 in Unicoi. 

Mayor Johnny Lynch unveiled the new police cruiser and swore-in Slagle before reminding residents that the chief will be working closely with Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley in a continued effort to serve the community’s safety needs in a quick and effective manner. The new chief will be focused on code enforcement while the sheriff’s deputies will continue to provide around-the-clock coverage to this area of the county. 

“We’ve been working toward this goal for more than 10 years,” Lynch said. “I’m proud to see it finally taking shape, and knowing that we can now put some teeth behind our codes is a huge relief. That’s not something the sheriff’s office can provide, so it was important we step up to the plate and do our part too.” 

Slagle spent eight years in the Army National Guard and has more than 12 years of law enforcement experience, most of which was spent with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. He was even assigned directly to the Town of Unicoi when the sheriff’s department operated a substation out of the Unicoi Town Hall. Slagle was recognized as the Tennessee DUI Officer of the Year and received the Governor’s Highway Safety Traffic Officer designation in 2011. He resides with his wife and three children in Erwin and is actively involved in various community organizations. 

“I’m thrilled for the challenge in front of me,” said Slagle. “I love this community and I’m honored to have been chosen not only to protect it, but to help create a structured program for code enforcement, event security, traffic control, and overall growth for the town.” 


The new chief received a warm welcome from more than 200 in attendance at the celebration. Guests enjoyed free hotdogs, chips and drinks served by the Unicoi Ruritan, as well as live music performed by the Monday Night Cabin Pickers, the Shelton duo Windy and Warm, and headliner Spivey Mountain Boys. 

“I’m continually blown away by my neighbors here in Unicoi,” said Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton. “The multitude of talent in the area and the strong volunteer spirit within this tight-knit community is just amazing. That’s what makes these events so much fun for everyone, it’s like a family picnic.” 

Plenty of activities were available for the younger citizens including face painting, fire truck tours and a bounce house. 

Attendees also had the opportunity to tour the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, Unicoi’s food-business incubator, and shop the Tanasi Art Gallery inside the Visitor’s Center. 

The celebration ended with a fireworks display that lit up the sky in honor of the town’s 25 years of growth and success. 

The Town of Unicoi extends special thanks to the Unicoi Ruritan, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Forest Service, Unicoi History Group and the Unicoi Business Alliance for helping make this momentous celebration possible. Additional thanks to event sponsors, Food City and Food Lion, and the many volunteers that make these types of events so special. 

For more information on the Town of Unicoi or its upcoming events, contact Ashley Shelton at

470-0204 or email [email protected]

Chamber: 42nd Apple Festival could be record breaker

Main Avenue in downtown Erwin was packed with Apple Festival visitors during Oct. 4-5. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

The 42nd Unicoi County Annual Apple Festival is officially over and it looks like it could be a  record-breaking year.

According to Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp, this year’s festival is set to break previous attendance records.

“All of our preliminary reports point to a record-breaking year for the attendance,” Delp said. “Our Friday morning numbers were especially strong this year.”

Delp acknowledged that the previous record was 110,000 attendees for the Oct. 4-5 festival. Delp also explained that the final numbers will be in later in the week, but she is sure that this year will break the 110,000 mark.

“We actually take pictures from above the crowd at several points throughout the day to get the correct crowd numbers. We account for tent space and we are able to get the correct number of attendees,” Delp said. “We actually worked with Tysinger, Hampton & Partners to come up with mathematical equations to count the crowds. There is a lot of math involved and we should have the final numbers at the end of the week.”

According to Delp, the weather played a big part in the increased crowds.

“The weather could not have been any better,” Delp said.

Delp also acknowledged that the streamlined food court and the addition of vendors have also increased the attendance.

“The 350 vendors have done really well,” Delp said. “Some had already sold out by Saturday afternoon, and the new food court layout has worked out very well. I think maybe we may need to add seating at the food court.”

In addition to the 350 vendors and food court, the festival featured two separate entertainment stages and a large children’s area full of games, rides and crafts for the younger crowd. There was also the Annual Apple Festival 4 Mile Run/3K Walk Road Race that was hosted by the Unicoi County Family YMCA. The Annual Apple Festival Cooking Competition was hosted by UT Extension of Unicoi County and was sponsored by Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

According to Unicoi County UT Extension Agent and County Director Rachel York, the winners of the cooking competition were as follows: In the sweet category, first place went to Elisabeth Casey for a braided apple sweet bread; second place went to Tonya Casey for an apple rose; and third place went to Joe Shultz for an apple cheesecake. In the savory category, first place went to Maria Costa for a caramelized onion and apple tart; second place went to Elisabeth Casey for a Thanksgiving stuffing with apples and cranberries; and third place went to Tonya Casey for an apple pizza.

Differing from previous years, the Miss Apple Festival Scholarship Competition will be held on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.

For several of the local shops and vendors the 42nd Annual Apple Festival was a huge success and marked important milestones for their businesses.

“We have gone through several bushels already,” True Family Apples co-owner Amy True said.

For Union Street Gallery and Union Street Taproom, this year’s Apple Festival marked the first year anniversary for the downtown businesses.

“We would like to say thank you to all of our customers that have supported us over the past year, and we look forward to serving them on this second year and continuing to be a part of the community as a whole,” Union Street Taproom co-owner Michael Baker said. “Thank you to Whisk Bakery & Cross Anchor Union for helping us celebrate our one year anniversary.”

For the Union Street Taproom, the Apple Festival provided a great backdrop to welcome friends and new customers.

“The festival was a huge success for us, as we offered a fun inviting space for families to relax in an air-conditioned space during the festival,” Union Street Taproom co-owner Tara Baker said. “We were also able to serve a ton of out-of-towners who didn’t know that downtown Erwin had a taproom and said they would be back again not only during the Apple Festival. We want to give a huge shout out to the Chamber of Commerce and Town of Erwin for such a job well done on the Apple Festival.”

For more information about the 42nd Apple Festival and for more details of next year’s 43rd Apple Festival, please follow Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.

Town of Unicoi 25th anniversary celebration set for Oct. 11

From Staff Reports

A celebration that has been 25 years in the making will take place on Friday, Oct. 11 in the Town of Unicoi.

The Town of Unicoi will host its 25th Anniversary Celebration on Friday, Oct. 11, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Town of Unicoi Tourist Information Center, located at 106 Unicoi Village Place. The event will conclude with a fireworks display at 8:30 p.m., weather permitting, and will also feature hot dogs live music and games.

According to Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, this milestone is an important one for the town.“

“This is going to be a big night for the community,” Lynch said. “We’re proud to be one of the youngest towns in the state and I’d say we’ve come a long way in our 25 years.”

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the Unicoi Ruritan will be serving dinner while residents enjoy live music from the Monday Night Cabin Pickers, the Sheltons and headliner Spivey Mountain Boys, who will take the stage at 7:30 p.m.

The Tanasi Art Gallery will be open inside the visitor center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen will be giving tours from 5-7:30 p.m.

“There is going to be something for everyone,” Shelton said. “The Town of Unicoi has really done a lot with a little over the years and it’s time to take a moment to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a community.”

Shelton acknowledged that children can enjoy playing on the free inflatable jump house and slide after they take a tour of a fire truck from the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department. Attendees can also swing by the photo booth for a commemorative keepsake of the town’s 25th birthday.

The evening will conclude with a fireworks display at 8:30 p.m., as long as high winds and dry weather are not a problem.

For more information, contact Patricia Bennett at 735-0517 or email [email protected]

To keep up with upcoming events in the Town of Unicoi, like the upcoming Heritage Day, which will be open to the public on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Bogart Bowman Cabin, please follow the Town of Unicoi on Facebook and on Youtube.

Regal sets plant closing date

Regal officials recently announced that its Erwin plant will close by September 2020. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

September 2020 will mark an end to an era in Unicoi County.

According to a statement released last week by Vice President of Business Development & Investor Relations Rob Cherry, Regal Beloit, formerly Morrill Motors, will close its Unicoi County facility by that date.

“Regal Climate Solutions is in the process of restructuring its business to proactively position the company for long-term success,” Cherry said. “Following an extensive review, the Climate business has decided to close its Erwin facility and will either transfer the production to other company facilities or outsource it. The transfer and outsourcing of work will take place over the next 12 months and is expected to be completed by September 2020. We are committed to working closely with our associates and customers throughout this process to minimize disruption or personal impact and to ensure a successful transition.”

Regal Beloit purchased Morrill Motors in 2007. Morrill Motors was founded in 1946, by Wayne J. Morrill and has been manufacturing small appliance motors in Erwin for close to 73 years.

This move impacts more than 125 jobs in Unicoi County.

“This will impact our region tremendously; it will definitely cause an impact in our economy for sure,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said. “We were shocked to see Regal leave and we hate to see them go, but that is part of business.”

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch agrees with Hensley.

“This is definitely sad news,” Lynch said. “We rebounded when the railroad left town, we will rebound from this too. We just have to keep on, keeping on and bring more industry into this area.”

CSX, another large employer in Unicoi County, announced the closing of its Erwin terminal in October 2015.

According to Hensley, the move motivates Erwin to work harder with the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board to find more industry to bring into Unicoi County.

“This means that we have to get with the economic development board. We have to support them more and to step up our efforts to recruit industry into Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “Once we are able to contact potential businesses that would be interested in coming here we will. That way when Regal moves out a new industry can move in. That would be the best scenario for everyone.”

Hensley acknowledged that Erwin is already home to prime real estate to bring good-paying jobs back to the area with the pad-ready site at the former Morgan Insulation location.

“We think that once it gets out that we have 150,000 square feet of pad-ready property that is adjacent to the railroad and interstate accessible, that we will have activity on it,” Hensley said.

According to Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board Executive Director Tyler Engle, the former Morgan Insulation site is getting some inquiries.

“We have had lots of positive interests. We are in the process of updating the listing on TVA’s site. We really are just being very aggressive with recruiting,” Engle said. “As for the Regal location, we will work with everyone. Right now there are a lot of moving parts and until they are gone, we really can’t commit to another industry there. We are hopeful that we can have an industry come in after they are gone, but we want to focus on those Regal employees and make sure that they are taken care of, first and foremost.”

For Hensley, it is important to think of the employees that may be going through a transition at this time.

“I can only imagine how stressful it must be for those employees, but we want them to know that we are here for them,” Hensley said. “We will offer some retraining, and we have heard from several businesses in the area that would be willing to hire some of these employees. That is one thing about this region – we are very supportive of each other.”

According to Engle, the move to pull out of Unicoi County by Regal has generated support for the employees from within the region.

“Our communities are coming together to rally, just look at what Clinchfield Federal Credit Union and their CEO Sandy Lingerfelt are doing for employees of Regal – they will be offering restructuring for folks that have had a change in employment status,” Engle said. “The Joint Economic Development Board will be working with the Department of Labor Workforce Development as well as with Tennessee Economic and Community Development that these employees are retrained and reskilled to ensure they have every opportunity to continue their careers.”

For those employees who may be in transition and are looking for resources, please contact the Unicoi County Joint Economic Board at 743-9555.

42nd Annual Unicoi County Apple Festival to be held Oct. 4-5

Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp displays merchandise that will be available during the Unicoi County Apple Festival on Oct. 4-5. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Fall festival season will hit its peak in East Tennessee this weekend as Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce hosts the 42nd Unicoi County Annual Apple Festival.

The festival will be held on Friday, Oct. 4, and on Saturday, Oct. 5, with more than 350 vendors and two music stages set up for the event. The festival will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

According to Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp, the organization has high hopes for the 42nd staging of the popular event.

“We are expecting this year’s Apple Festival to be a huge success,” Delp said. “As you know, last year was extremely successful; everything clicked, including weather, and we are hoping for a repeat of that success this year.”

Delp acknowledged that the annual event draws close to 110,000 attendees and is considered to be Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 events in the southeast and is a four-time winner of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association’s Pinnacle Award.

“The premier two-day event offers something for everyone, including handmade crafts, antiques, entertainment, a large children’s area, a Blue Ridge Pottery show and sale, contests and a smorgasbord of food,” Delp said.

One major difference in this year’s festival compared to past festivals is the location of the food vendors.

“In the past, we had three different food courts, and this year we decided to combine all of our food vendors into one really large food court with tents and covered seating at a central location,” Delp said. “All of our favorites are coming back and we have added new ones as well. The new location will be directly behind the Unicoi County Courthouse in the parking lot.”

According to Delp, the old food court that was located adjacent to the Unicoi County Courthouse will now house all of the sponsors of the Apple Festival.

“Our wonderful sponsors will have promotions and giveaways,” Delp said. “Our sponsors will be Neighborhood Ford, Champion Windows, Russell Cellular, BWXT Nuclear Fuels, Lee Filter, Select Seven, Grand Rental Station, Ballad Health, Integral Chiropractic, Bath Fitter, Hubs Paint and Design and Holston Distributing. They will be located adjacent to the courthouse.”

The food court that was at the gospel stage located on the corner of South Main Avenue and Love Street will be home to more craft vendors.

“We actually opened up space for more than 35 additional craft vendors this year by consolidating the food courts,” Delp said.

The 42nd Annual Apple Festival will again feature two main entertainment stages.

“The two entertainment stages are the Love Street Stage and Tucker Street Stage,” Delp said. “On Friday and Saturday, the Love Street Stage will feature Christian artists and Southern Gospel groups from around the region. The Tucker Street Stage is a pro-touring stage that will feature headlining concerts.”

Headlining this year’s Apple Festival will be Southern Rebellion. Southern Rebellion will be playing the Tucker Street Stage on Saturday starting at 6:30 p.m. According to Delp, Southern Rebellion is a high-energy country music band from Johnson City.

“Their original music, which can be found on their debut album ‘Southern Man,’ is the perfect combination of Country Music and Southern Rock,” Delp said.

According to Delp, the festival will still feature numerous activities for the younger crowd.

“The festival will also contain a large children’s area with games and rides for the young and young at heart,” Delp said.

The festival spans across a 5-block section of downtown Erwin and includes adjoining side streets. From Interstate 26, take Exit 37 into downtown Erwin. Several parking areas around Exit 37 have been secured for festival attendees.

To ensure the safety of the large number of attendees, festival organizers ask that you please do not bring pets onto the festival grounds. Bicycles and skateboards are also not permitted on the festival grounds.

Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will again have one of kind Apple Festival T-shirts for sale. For more information and a map of the festival, please see The Erwin Record’s special Apple Festival supplement included in this issue.

For more updates about the 42nd Apple Festival and the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, follow Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.

Officials hear ambulance service update

Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley addresses Unicoi County officials during a meeting last week. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley and Washington County/Johnson City EMS Unicoi County Director Lt. Adam Copas attended the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on Thursday, Sept. 19, and gave an update on call volume since taking over ambulance service on July 15.

According to Wheeley, from July 15 through Sept. 15, Washington County/Johnson City EMS took 671 calls in Unicoi County. Of the 671 calls, 516 calls were transports.

“That’s roughly 76 percent of the calls,” Wheeley said of the transports.

Wheeley and Copas also provided the committee with statistics about where patients are being transported. The bulk of transports in Unicoi County are going to Johnson City Medical Center and Unicoi County Hospital.

According to data provided by Wheeley and Copas, 39.9 percent of the calls went to Johnson City Medical Center and 29.6 percent calls went to Unicoi County Hospital.

“We are going to try to go to the closest facility, unless it is something we know needs to go to Johnson City,” Copas said.

According to Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley, the Unicoi County Commission is prepared to start discussions about what to do when the Washington County/Johnson City EMS contract is up in July of 2020.

“This is great information as we prepare for the future,” Mosley said.

According to Mosley, county officials must decide if they are going to put the service out for bid or if the county will begin its own service. Should county officials decide to start their own service, the county could run the service annually to the cost of roughly $218,000, according to Wheeley, which is the subsidy Unicoi County is paying Washington County/Johnson City EMS currently.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas acknowledged that since the numbers are rolling in, the commission could begin preparing earlier than their original six month target date.

“I know we aimed at looking at the numbers and preparing for our next move around January, but since they (Washington County/Johnson City EMS) keep giving us this data, we can begin working on the future sooner,” Thomas said.

Thomas claimed that the success of the service lies in the leadership of Copas.

“We have heard nothing but positive things, and Adam (Copas) has gone out of his way to reach out with other organizations in the area to improve communication,” Thomas said.

Wheeley agreed with Thomas and feels that the stability in Unicoi County will lead to more EMTs applying for jobs to work in the county.

“There are good, talented people working here (Washington County/Johnson City EMS Unicoi County) and Adam (Copas) have been able to provide stability and together they have been very efficient,” Wheeley said. “With that stability, more people will be looking to join.”

The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 3 p.m.

New K-9 joins Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department

Andy Slagle, an officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, works with K-9 officer Saido. The dog joined the department earlier this year. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

There is a new officer patrolling the streets of Unicoi County and his name is Officer Saido.

Saido is a Belgian Malinois and is the newest K-9 officer partnered with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. Saido is less than 2 years old.

“He’s still a puppy, but he’s a big puppy, he weighs 77 pounds,” Officer Andy Slagle, who is the handler for Officer Saido, said. “He and I bicker; he will fuss and knock over the water bowl when I’m out of the vehicle, he thinks he needs to be out as well.”

Before hitting the streets, Slagle and Saido had to attend training in North Carolina.

“Training was really tough, but very enjoyable,” Slagle said. “It was actually quite physically demanding and we did a lot of tracking, but it was very fun.”

According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, Saido officially joined the force in the spring.

“We got him back in April, but he and his handler, Officer Andy Slagle, had to go to the academy first,” Hensley said. “Officer Slagle was my first choice; he’s young and energetic and you need someone like that when working with a K-9, especially when tracking.”

Not only are officers Slagle and Saido partners, they are roommates.

“He stays with me at night; he’s family,” Slagle said. “I feed him, take care of him and even give him baths when he lets me – he hates water.”

When Slagle met Saido, he knew that he was the right dog for the job.

“When I went to demo the dogs, I knew once I saw him that he was the one. I did not want to demo another dog,” Slagle said. “We bonded really fast. They even said at Ventosa Kennels in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, that the bond between us was tight.”

Saido is equipped like any other UCSD officer.

“He has a vest. We have worked with several non-profits like Vested for K-9s, to get bulletproof vests and other vital equipment,” Slagle said. “These nonprofits are wonderful assets for smaller police departments with K-9 officers.”

According to Slagle, Saido has hit the ground running.

“We’ve worked more than 30 cases so far with roughly 16 arrests,” Slagle said. “We’ve hit a bunch of singles and doubles. We haven’t hit a home run yet, but it is coming.”

Saido is a multi-use K-9 and that is just the way Hensley likes it.

“This K-9 is used for drug search, but can be used for tracking and article search,” Hensley said. “He scored high on drug searching at the academy, but he also scored very high for tracking and article searches.”

According to Hensley, a K-9 is vital to a police force.

“You can’t go wrong with a K-9 – he’s definitely an asset,” Hensley said.

Hensley hopes that Saido will continue the great work and will do so for a long time.

“It all depends on the dog, but the average career for a K-9 is between 8-10 years,” Hensley said.

Relay’s battle against cancer goes on

Local cancer survivors begins the annual survivor lap during Relay For Life on Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Unicoi County High School track. The Unicoi County Relay For Life continues to raise funds in the battle against cancer. (Photo contributed by Cheryl Wright)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County continues to take the fight to cancer.

“We are at $35,000 right now, which is just shy of our goal of $50,000,” Unicoi County Relay For Life Chairwoman Renea Jones-Rogers told The Erwin Record. “We will still be accepting donations to go towards our goal until December.”

The Unicoi County Relay For Life wrapped up its annual Festival of Hope on Saturday, Sept. 7, with a night full of events at the Unicoi County High School track.

“We had a great event,” Jones-Rogers said. “Our theme was ‘Wish Upon A Cure,’ so a lot of our events were Disney themed.”

This year’s closing ceremony included the First Annual Bryon Wiggand Memorial Cruise-In For A Cure. According to Jones-Rogers, Wiggand, who won the Mike Clouse Award last year, is being honored because of his tireless work with Relay For Life.

“With Bryon being a big part of Relay, it was very special, and we had a lot of cars show up,” Jones-Rogers said.

According to Jones-Rogers, Tina Duncan won the Emma Smith Award. The Unicoi County Relay For Life was founded by Emma Smith and her name is still synonymous with the organization today. The Emma Smith award is handed out yearly to a deserving volunteer.

Bristol Campgrounds won the Mike Clouse Award. The Mike Clouse Award is named after another very special volunteer.

“Campers at the Bristol Campgrounds holds several fundraisers over the years, and they have raised more  than $10,000 over the past six years,” Jones-Rogers said.

Also winning awards at the ceremony were Erwin Utilities, who took home the Ayers Community Action Impact Award and the Heart of Relay Award went to Gary Amos.

According to Jones-Rogers, more than 30 cancer survivors participated in the Survivor Walk.

• • •

The Festival of Hope kicked off on Aug. 26 with the Second Annual Barbeque, Bags & Bluegrass event. The event, which was presented by Blue Nation Warriors Relay Team and sponsored by Erwin Outdoor Supply, Union Street Taproom and Union Street Gallery, took place on Union Street on Monday from 5-8 p.m.

“The Unicoi County High School bluegrass band played, there was a barbecue dinner for $5 a plate and there was a corn hole tournament as well,” Jones-Rogers said.

The Festival of Hope Community and Kids Night at the Farmers Market in Erwin, was held on Aug. 27. There were train rides, activities for children, survivor and caregiver recognition, community goodies, and Unicoi County Hospital hosted an ice cream night, as well as the popular Banana Split Eating Contest.

The Second Annual Festival of Hope “Passport To Hope” dinner was held on Aug. 29 at The Bramble in Erwin. According to Jones-Rogers, NOLI catered the event and there was a dessert auction at the end of the evening.

The Second Annual Friday Night Lights of Hope was held before and during the Aug. 30 Unicoi County Blue Devil football game against the Hampton Bulldogs.

“We teamed up with Carter County Relay For Life and held a joint march together for the game,” Jones-Rogers said.

Both Unicoi County and Carter County Relay members released lanterns together.

According to Jones-Rogers, all the events were a huge success, especially a series of concerts with The Williams Brothers and their Beautiful U Tour, that came through UCHS on Sept. 3.

“The Williams Brothers came up from Asheville and did concerts in Unicoi and Carter counties,” Jones-Rogers said.

For Jones-Rogers this year’s event was bittersweet as she will be passing the torch as chairwoman of Unicoi County’s Relay For Life to Lesa Buchanan at the end of the year.

“When I originally started, it was a way for me to give back for all the support we received when (my son) Nick (Rogers) was in his battle,” Jones-Rogers said. “I love my Relay family. I definitely have received more than I gave.”

According to Jones-Rogers, even though cancers are being fought and survival rates are higher due to groups like The American Cancer Society and Relay For Life, everyone still has to fight for the cure.

“We can’t let our foot off the gas,” Jones-Rogers said.

If you are interested in donating to Unicoi County Relay For Life, please visit and select Unicoi County or contact Jessica Poff at [email protected] Donations can also be made at the Clinchfield Federal Credit Union.

Old Elm Street School development still in works

A Georgia-based developer still plans to turn the former Elm Street School building into condos. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

Patience is still the word used for a familiar site in Erwin.

The 12,000-square-foot old Elm Street School building, located at 600 North Elm Ave., in Erwin, was built in 1922. The building had served as a school until 1969. From 1970 until 2011, the site was used to house Unicoi County School System’s offices and served as the Board of Education meeting place.

Lee Naylor, who is a developer with Plansouth Inc. based out of Georgia, has owned the property for close to three years now.

Naylor had previously discussed two options for the site. One option would be to use the site to create nine spacious condos, and the second option was to use the site to create 15 smaller loft apartments.

“We have discussed the two plans at length, and I am leaning towards the nine-unit plan,” Naylor said. “The two-bedroom and two-and-a-half bathroom units might be the way to go.”

According to Naylor, there is no way to put a timeframe on when work will begin with the project. “We are sitting holding tight,” Naylor said. “I wish we could put a date on it, but when you do that you tend to get into trouble. I still own the project and still intend to develop the building.”

Naylor is currently finishing up projects in Georgia.

“We have several projects that were ahead of the Erwin building on our list that we are finishing up,” Naylor said. “I’d like to start on the Erwin project this year or next, but cannot commit to anything right now.”

Naylor previously spoke to The Erwin Record back in December 2018 and had originally planned to start the project in the spring or summer of 2019.

Despite being busy with other projects out of state, Naylor has kept up with the growth in Erwin. “With Food City opening and future industry potentially coming in down the road at the former Morgan Insulation site, we are excited to be a part of the growth in Erwin,” Naylor said.

According to Naylor, the site is ready to be worked on when he and his staff come to town.

“We did put a new roof on the building, so it is sitting in a good spot and well preserved,” he said.

Naylor acknowledged that patience is key when it comes to the development of the site.

“Not much has changed since we last spoke; timing is everything,” Naylor said.

For more information and updates on the Old Elm Street School building, please visit

Centenary United Methodist Church to celebrate 110th anniversary

The congregation of Centenary United Methodist Church invites the community to join them in celebrating the church’s 110th anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 8. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

This weekend, one area church will be holding a celebration that has been more than a century in the making.

Centenary United Methodist Church, 203 North Elm Ave., Erwin, will hold a 110th Congregational Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 11 a.m. The celebration will also recognize the anniversary of the current chapel, which will be celebrating 100 years this year. “This has been a year in the making. Harry Lewis, our evangelism committee chair, really wanted this project,” Centenary United Methodist representative Kathy Jones said. “Our congregation is 110 years old, but our building is 100 years old, so this will be a dual celebration.”

Jones, who has been a member of the Centenary congregation for 18 years, told The Erwin Record that members of Centenary range in all ages and longevity with the church.

“In comparison to many in the congregation, I’m considered a newcomer,” Jones said. “Some of our older members have been here for more than 45 years. This is just a very special congregation inside of a very special church.”

Reverend Kimberly Isley is excited to host the event.

“Hopefully everyone in the community will attend,” Isley said. “Even people who don’t attend Centenary regularly, can come out and help us celebrate the historic event. “We hope that everyone that has been involved with and touched by the annual Good Friday event that we and the Unicoi Ministers Association put on will attend.”

According to Isley, Three Rivers District Superintendent Lori Jo (L.J.) Cranford will be speaking and music will be provided by The Appalachian Trail Bluegrass Band.

“Cranford has been a United Methodist Pastor for around 25 years, and some in this area may remember when she was the pastor at Sulphur Springs United Methodist Church prior to becoming the district superintendent,” Isley said.

Isley, who has been the pastor at Centenary United Methodist since 2014, acknowledged that the congregation has worked hard to display the historical value of the church in the community. “This will be a historical event, and our congregation has worked hard to find items to display during the event,” Isley said. “Everyone is encouraged to come check out the exhibits and enjoy lunch with us after the guest speaker.”

According to Jones, Centenary takes pride in giving back to the community.

“We have been a presence in the community for many years and we have always been a church that you could look to help out with whatever is going on in the community,” Jones said. “For many years we had a Relay For Life team that raised several thousand dollars for the area Relay For Life. We have a very active Women’s Methodist Group that reaches out to work with several organizations. We also are very active in the Habitat for Humanity builds in Unicoi County.”

Jones acknowledged that following the 110th Congregational Anniversary Celebration, the church will focus on events for the upcoming Unicoi County Apple Festival.

“Our youth park cars here at the church, and proceeds help them go to the Resurrection event in Pigeon Forge every year,” Jones said. “The Methodist Women group will be doing our annual bake sale here in the chapel of Centenary United Methodist Church. We will have hot apple pies, in fact, some people from out of town come in just for the calm of our chapel.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the 110th Congregational Anniversary Celebration, on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 11 a.m. or if you can’t make it and would love to attend a typical Sunday Service, feel free to drop by on any Sunday at 9:45 a.m. for Sunday School or at 10:55 a.m. for services.

“We encourage everybody to attend any time,” Jones said.

For more information, please follow Centenary United Methodist Church on Facebook.

Sassafras Moon Festival to be held Saturday, Sept. 7

HERBalachia graduates, pictured from left, Micky Morton, who owns Love Roots Farm; Lesley Setchim, who owns Appalachian Alchemy; Ralph Crawford, a retired Eastman engineer; Taylor Tucker a mother of three and owner of her own herbal business; and Sarah Devault, who is the nursing manager at a local hospital. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

There is a unique and free family festival coming to Erwin next weekend.

The Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival began as a vision to restore and preserve the herbal traditions and plants in Southern Appalachian.

“The Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival is a one-day celebration of herbalism for our community and it came about as the natural growth of interest in the use of herbal medicines has grown in our area in the last few years,” HERBalachia founder Michelle Bouton told The Erwin Record. “While HERBalachia’s Herbalist Lifestyle Program has been very successful in the past few years, I want to reach out to those who may not have financial means to allow them to attend herbal classes.”

Bouton wanted to be sure that HERBalachia’s festival is a free event. “I was determined from its inception that ‘SassyFest,’ as it has affectionately become known, be free to all who want to attend and I hope to find other avenues to offer this valuable information to others in future,” Bouton said. “I want Unicoi County to become known for its unique natural resource, and hope that the people here can use those more to add to health, and maybe even start new businesses based on herbals.”

According to Bouton, the festival is the result of grants.

“Through grant support from Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) and Central Appalachian Network (CAN), this festival will allow locals to come together and learn more about growing, harvesting, and use of native herbs,” Bouton said. “CAN awarded HERBalachia the grant to get the festival started and assisted me in getting training for fundraising and community development, and ASD served as our nonprofit fiscal sponsor for the grant, I have to give thanks to both of them.”

Bouton acknowledged that the festival will have something for everybody.

“The festival will offer vendors of all types, including herbal soaps, teas and artwork, as well as native plants for sale,” Bouton said. “Throughout the day, free presentations on a variety of topics related to herb growing and environmental stewardship of at-risk plants will be offered by local residents such as Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens, Jeannie Dunn of Red Moon Herbs, and Chester Crain, ginseng specialist.”

According to Bouton, Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival will be beneficial to beginners and experts alike.

We will have nine free presentations by experts in the herbal field, from creating more fertile soils to raise herbs to understand how we can both continue our local tradition of ginseng harvesting but also make sure the plants are being replenished so it can be removed from the ‘at-risk’ species list,” Bouton said. “Many of our vendors will be offering interactive activities, such as tasting herbal foods to making their own bath products to take home and we will also have an area dedicated to herbal education opportunities in our area as well as United Plant Savers and Herbalists Without Borders, two of the most important herbal conservation organizations in the U.S.”

Bolton sees this festival a vital event for the community.

“I feel this event is important because herbalism is a pathway to connecting people in our area back to nature and our backyards and when we care about what is outside our doors, we take an active role in protecting that, meaning we are less willing to spray Roundup on our yard or dump our trash in the creek,” Bouton said. “East Tennessee has some of the most amazing biodiversity on the planet, and I believe if we learn more about that, value it, and take pride in it, it will be better for our health and our economy.”

According to Bouton, the Unicoi County area has long been known as a cradle of herbalism in the United States due to its amazing biodiversity, which rivals that of the Amazon as local  Appalachian root diggers provided around 75 percent of the crude herbs for medicine trade in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

“So many people have stories of their mamaw or papaw taking them into the woods to teach them about herbs, but the information on these plants and their usage is all but forgotten,” Bouton said.

To help keep these old traditions from dying out, Bouton started HERBalachia in Erwin in 2016 to provide the local community with knowledge of using what is growing in their back yard to boost health and prevent disease, as it has been done for hundreds of years in this area. “HERBalachia’s recent ‘Foraging Wild Foods’ workshop held at Erwin Outdoor Supply drew about 50 attendees, and brought students interested in learning about wild foods from as far as Knoxville,” Bouton said.

Now in its fourth year of programming, HERBalachia offers classes such as plant ID walks held in fields and woods, as well as hands-on medicine making classes teach students to create their own home apothecary of tinctures, teas, salves, lotions, and syrups.

“Due to high levels of interest by local medical providers, HERBalachia partnered with ETSU College of Nursing to offer Continuing Education Credits for their Advanced Herbals series of classes,” Bouton said.

Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice is excited to have HERBalachia and Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival in Erwin.

“The Town of Erwin is so proud to help sponsor and promote this festival,” Rice said. “It truly embodies the magic that lies within our mountains, and there has already been a great response on social media.”

Union Street Taproom Owner Michael Baker is also excited to be a part of the festival.

“We will be opening at 10 a.m. and we will be serving beermosas,” Baker said. “We will have three speakers throughout the day.”

For those interested in attending the first-ever Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival, more information can be found at or the HERBalachia Facebook page. The event will be held Saturday, Sept 7, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and is free to all.

Senator Blackburn discusses healthcare, economy during visit to Erwin

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn speaks to lunch attendees alongside State Representative David Hawk at The Bramble on Friday, Aug. 16. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn made a stop in Unicoi County on Friday, Aug.16, to speak at a luncheon held at The Bramble and sponsored by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce.

Blackburn was in town touring Nuclear Fuel Services and was the grand marshall of the Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 17.

At Friday’s luncheon, Blackburn laid out her plans for rural development, trade, the economy and healthcare.

Blackburn, who was given questions by State Representative David Hawk, laid out what she believes is vital to strengthening rural development.

“High-speed internet is the key to rural development,” Blackburn said. “You cannot have 21st-century education, healthcare or law enforcement without high-speed internet.”

Blackburn, who chairs a newly-formed technology task force, called 21st-century warfare one that will be fought through cyberspace.

According to Blackburn, there are two items holding up a trade agreement with China.

“Intellectual property protections and a Chinese telecommunications company named Huawei are two issues holding up a China trade agreement,” Blackburn said. “Our innovators deserve to be paid and recognized for their contribution.”

In regards to Huawei, Blackburn explained that the issue runs deeper than just intellectual property theft.

“Huawei is the state-run telephone company and they embed spyware in their products; this makes them vulnerable to hackers,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn then shifted the conversation to the economy.

“I am proud to say that Tennessee’s unemployment rate is at 3.4 percent and the wage growth is up 5 percent in the state, and this is all because of the President’s tax break,” Blackburn said. “Our goal is to make these tax cuts permanent; they currently run out in 2025.”

Blackburn told the crowd of close to 70, that she is adamant about making the tax breaks permanent.

“We are trying to speed the clock up a little bit on these tax cuts since the growth has been phenomenal,” Blackburn said. “When you have less taxation, less government and less regulation, it leads to more growth.”

Blackburn then turned to healthcare, specifically rural healthcare.

“It really bothers me rural health care is shrinking, so I came up with a rural health agenda,” Blackburn said. “I am working on three separate bills that will bring more healthcare professionals to rural areas, fund a healthcare renovations fund to provide grants to repair older rural healthcare facilities and to increase telehealth availability to rural areas.”

Blackburn also asked those in attendance to share their concerns. Unicoi County Register of Deeds Debbie Tittle pointed out that Unicoi County is struggling for taxable land due to the county being made up of more than 60 percent U.S. Forestry land.

“We have a wonderful county, but we need more money we need more federal grants,” Tittle said. Blackburn nodded in agreement.

Before she left, Blackburn had praise for NFS.

“The work at NFS is important to Oak Ridge, Y12, Arnold air, which is testing our autonomous vehicles; it’s important to our vehicles and our Navy,” Blackburn said. ”NFS is vital to economic growth and our future.”

Awaiting Blackburn outside the luncheon was a group of protesters holding signs and asking questions. Blackburn did not answer any questions protestors asked as she entered and exited The Bramble.

Local Democrats stage protest during Blackburn’s visit

More than two dozen peaceful protesters lined the corner of North Main Avenue and Gay Street, on Friday, Aug. 16, to oppose U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn’s visit to Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn was met with more than two dozen peaceful protestors as she visited Unicoi County on Friday, Aug. 16.

Members of Unicoi County, Washington County and Sullivan County’s Democratic Parties were on hand to welcome Blackburn with signs that read “Truth Matters,” “Marsha, Donald’s Darling” and “Have You No Shame,” among others.

“We are here to let Marsha know our opinions on climate change, education, and gun control,” Unicoi County resident Brunhilde Tober-Myer said.

Unicoi County resident Rebecca Cummings said she took offense to Blackburn’s support of President Trump during the release of the Mueller Report.

“Marsha claims that Trump was exonerated,” Cummings said. “She needs to retract that statement.”

Unicoi County residents Bill and Judy Beckman were in attendance and felt the need to address the issue of the federal debt among many other issues.

“We are here to bring to the forefront several issues including the huge increase in the federal debt, dishonesty and corruption in politics, especially where Citizens United is involved,” Bill said. “Campaign finance reform is a huge issue. Racism is a huge issue. Dividing the nation is a huge issue and Medicare for All is a huge issue.”

Judy agreed.

“We have never been so divided,” Judy added.

Some signs held by the protesters were very personal. For Sarah Eberle of Johnson City, her sign had pictures of who she is out protesting for.

“I have three beautiful granddaughters and I don’t want to leave them a bad, nasty world,” Eberle said.

For 27-year-old Unicoi County resident Gerald Burke the reason to protest was for his children.

“I want to take responsibility for my community,” Burke said. “I see values that are not reflective to the community around me and I want to exercise my voice. My children have inspired me to get involved. They are going to inherit this community from me and I want to leave it better than when I found it.”

For Daisney LaCroix, the need for the youth to be represented is important.

“I’m here because these issues matter to me and my generation, and I came out to support those who are pushing for our voice to be heard,” LaCroix said. “If I could speak to Senator Blackburn, I would tell her, ‘You are a woman, you should understand that the Heartbeat Bill doesn’t protect women at all, period, it never will, especially young women and children that are victims’.”

Unicoi County resident Jim Priesmeyer fought the heat to bring awareness to the opioid and gun crises in America.

“I’m a gun owner myself, but it seems to me we have an under armed police force and an over-armed civilian population, and that needs to turn around,” Priesmeyer said. “I would say to Senator Blackburn we need an incremental plan to bring enforcement to our gun control laws, something needs to be done.”

Despite not getting any response from Sen. Blackburn during the Aug. 16 visit, the crowd felt accomplished by the number of protestors that attended the rally and the number of thumbs up and waves the group received by passersby.

“I’m so proud of Erwin and Unicoi County right now,” Unicoi County resident Jamie Rainey said.

Erwin man arrested after 7-hour standoff with police

Stephen Honeycutt

By Richard Rourk

Officers from Erwin Police Department, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Johnson City Police Department and Washington County SWAT, joined forces to apprehend a wanted Tri-Cities man following a standoff that lasted several hours on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, officers from Erwin Police Department noticed Stephen Honeycutt, 41, 136 Rutter Lane, Erwin, speeding on Carolina Avenue. 

“Yesterday afternoon, at approximately 2 p.m., the Erwin Police Department clocked a speeding vehicle on Carolina Avenue,” Hensley told The Erwin Record. “The suspect did not stop and led the officers to a residence on Chestoa Pike. The suspect pulled out what appeared to be hunting rifles and entered the residence from the back.”

The residence was the home of Honeycutt’s ex-girlfriend, and she was able to escape the residence when Honeycutt entered, according to the sheriff.

Honeycutt, who was originally wanted on aggravated criminal trespassing and theft charges stemming from an incident where Honeycutt allegedly kicked in the door at the same residence a week prior, barricaded himself in the house. 

“Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson and I were on the scene and we were able to make our way in the residence with Honeycutt,” Hensley said. “He had several weapons including a .38 pistol.”

According to Hensley, JCPD and Washington County SWAT were called in as well as Rev. Craig Shelton, as he knew the suspect, to start negotiations. 

“We negotiated with the suspect for approximately seven hours,” Hensley said. “The suspect placed the pistol on his lap, and he was shot with a non-lethal bean bag and we were able to end the standoff without injury.”

Honeycutt was taken into custody around 9 p.m. 

Hensley said he was thankful that the incident had a good outcome. 

“I just want to thank the community for their patience while we set up a perimeter and took the necessary measures to resolve the issue,” Hensley said. “I want to thank everyone that prayed for the officers and the suspect. I’d also like to thank Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal, Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner and all the officers who did an amazing job of responding.” 

According to Hensley, situations like these can be resolved because these organizations work together. 

“We trained with these officers and we have a good relationship with these agencies, and if you have a seven-hour standoff, you need help,” Hensley said.

In addition to the previous trespassing and theft charges, Honeycutt picked up more trespassing and theft charges, along with aggravated domestic assault, aggravated burglary, evading arrest and vandalism charges, according to Hensley.