Great Outdoors: Annual festival another success, despite rain

Union Street was alive on May 3 as First Friday events kicked off the 4th Annual Great Outdoors Festival. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The 4th Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival kicked off on Friday, May 3, with the First Friday events downtown. The First Friday events included the First Annual Union Street Chili Cook-Off, sponsored by Erwin Outdoor Supply, a beer tent was set up by Union Street Taproom, Union Street Gallery LLC was open for business, and Movie Night with Bite Food Truck. What’s the Scoop hosted a Creative Canvas party and featured free toppings. A Crystal Generation gave away a free small Rose Quartz with every purchase. There were specials from Beauty by MC and CHIPS offered a free bracelet with purchase. There was also live music downtown and the popular Erwin Cruise-In was set up at the Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot.

Vendors lined the streets on Saturday, May 4, and welcomed the community to the annual event. There was a Children’s Obstacle Course that was sponsored by Unicoi County YMCA that ran from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. At the Unicoi County Courthouse Plaza, there was Free Fishing for Kids sponsored by Cabela’s. There was a huge pool set up and with Stand up Paddle Board lessons provided by USA Raft, Jackson Kayak, and Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute (NOLI.) Numerous food trucks invaded downtown for the festival. There was a petting zoo set up for children to pet exotic animals.

Joining the Great Outdoors Festival this year was the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce’s Triple Threat Competition, which pushed competitors to raft down the Nolichucky River, compete on an 18-obstacle, obstacle course, run a 5K race and cross the finish line downtown. Completing the Triple Threat in just under 33 minutes was Wesley Taylor. Taylor was followed by Mark Grenti, who finished with a time of 36:22. Sarah Bailey finished with a time of 37:45. For more results and for more information about the Triple Threat Competition, please follow Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce and the Triple Threat Facebook pages.

There was live music at the Union Street Stage throughout the day on Saturday and the UCHS Bluegrass band was picking on the corner of Union Street and Main Avenue.

The weather cooperated for most of the day, but a sudden storm hit and hit quickly. Tents were uprooted and the community came together.

“I want to give a shout out to the community as a whole,” Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Tyler Bevins said. “They have been nothing but good to us, but when this storm hit the bystanders and ones enjoying the festival, jumped in and grabbed tents, and they helped vendors pack up in the rain. Everybody was just helping everybody; it was awesome to see community support.”

Oreon Millard and Jen Heglar of Owlery of Oreon took cover and rode the storm out. Despite the storm, Millard and Heglar enjoyed their first Great Outdoors Festival as vendors.

“We have been through worse,” Heglar said.

Millard would love to come back to Unicoi County for any upcoming festivals.

“We would love to pick up more events here, that would be awesome,” Millard said.

The festivalgoers that rode the storm out sought shelter in numerous downtown stores. Union Street Taproom was packed, but according to owner Michael Baker, the storm had nothing to do with that.

“We have been this busy all day,” Baker said.

Next door, Erwin Outdoor Supply had similar results.

“It’s been busy, busy; it’s hard to say how many people that have come through,” Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Mark Lafever said.

Erwin Outdoor Supply teamed up with Unicoi Medical Associates to provide hot foot soaks and medical attention for the hikers from the Appalachian Trail who came to the festival. There were five hikers from Florida up to Pennsylvania receiving care when The Erwin Record visited.

“Dr. Jason (Colinger) started seeing hikers, like an urgent care for hikers and it has just evolved,” Sarah Miller, M.A. said. “I love this and this festival is getting larger every year.”

A Crystal Generation was one of the businesses that remained open for those who braved the storm.

“We have had several hundred visitors over the weekend; we did very well,” A Crystal Generation co-owner Carmen Rosa said. “They loved the gem mining.”

A Crystal Generation had a gym mining station set up outside of their business located at 206 S. Main Ave. in Downtown Erwin.

According to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice, the 4th Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival, sponsored by RISE Erwin and the Town of Erwin, was a tremendous success.

“I would estimate we saw around 10,000-12,000 people throughout the day,”  Rice said. “We are very pleased.”

Fiddlin’ around: Unicoi, Flag Pond host annual festivals

The Spivey Mountain Boys perform at the annual Fiddlers’ & Fiddleheads Festival. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The rain cleared out on Friday, April 26, just in time for Unicoi County to experience a weekend of community, food, and of course, traditional bluegrass music.

The Third Annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention kicked off Friday at the old Flag Pond Elementary School.

According to the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention website, the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings – those such as J.D. Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman, and many others – but also those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.

Friday night kicked off with a square dance that featured Rodney Clay Sutton calling and The Corklickers providing the music. There was also a special performance by Green Grass Cloggers.

On Saturday, April 27, the main competitions began. Winners of the Traditional Song competition were Ryan Nickerson, Andy Duckworth and Mark Kilanski. Winners in the Stringband competition were the New Macedon Rangers, The Fabulous Low Tags, and the Millenial Falconers. The winners of the Banjo competition were Rob Fong, Jake Owen, and Clark Williams. Amy Alvey, Maddy Mulaney, and Rob Fong were winners in the Fiddle competition.

The festival, which centers around the competition, also featured vendors, camping, and plenty of food, courtesy of the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park.

According to Rocky Fork State Park Ranger and picker Tim Pharis, the event was a success. “We are still counting the numbers up, but my guess is around 500 people came out, and we had around 175 performers,” Pharis said. 

The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention is a collaboration between Rocky Fork State Park and ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

• • •

On the north end of the county, another festival took place over the weekend. The 24th Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival was held at Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens in Unicoi.

The festival featured performances by 14 bands on three stages. Jam sessions took place all over the festival grounds. Attendees enjoyed bluegrass, country and gospel music with performances by local talent, including the Spivey Mountain Boys, the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires, and many more.

There was also a “Hammer-In” for local blacksmiths to gather in the barn to show off their unique talents and creations.

In addition to the music and blacksmithing, there was a vintage car show held on the grounds. There were also numerous vendors and plenty of food options. The Unicoi County Ruritan Club was manning the grill all day, and there were plenty of fresh baked goods to eat.

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the 2019 Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival was a huge success.

“Fiddle Fest had an estimated crowd of almost 3,000, and we had 14 bands on three stages,” Shelton said. “Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires drew a huge audience, as well as the Spivey Mountain Boys and the ETSU Bluegrass Gospel Band.”

Unicoi, Flag Pond hosting festivals this weekend

By Richard Rourk

Two popular festivals are returning to Unicoi County this weekend.

Starting Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m., the Third Annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention will take place at Flag Pond Elementary School, 917 Old Asheville Highway, Flag Pond.

“This year will be our first youth contest on Friday night and we will have a musical performance by the Corklickers for our square dance,” Rocky Fork State Park Ranger and picker Tim Pharis told The Erwin Record.

According to the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention website, the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings – those such as JD Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman, and many others – but also those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.

The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention is a collaboration between Rocky Fork State Park and ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

According to Pharis, the festivities will carry over through Saturday, April 27. In addition to music, there will be camping, food, presentations, and contests. For more information please visit or follow The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention’s Facebook page.

• • •

Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 27, the 24th Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival is being held at Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens, 121 Covered Bridge Lane, Unicoi. There are more than 20 performers lined up for the day-long festival that has seen crowds as large as 3,000 visitors in the past.

The free, all-day event runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will include performances by 15 bands on three stages. Jam sessions will also take place on the festival grounds. Attendees can enjoy bluegrass, country and gospel music with performances by local talent including the  Spivey Mountain Boys, Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires, and many more.

“The performers will be related to the bluegrass genre,” Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, who owns Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens said. “The whole thing is built around bluegrass music. All these local kids get their start out there. These kids cut their teeth at these local jam sessions with these experienced musicians.”

In addition to the music, this year the Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival will feature an event for area blacksmiths.

“This year we’ve added the hammer in; this gives several blacksmiths the opportunity to demonstrate their skill,” Lynch said.

There will also be vintage cars, arts and crafts, antiques, and food featured at the festival. According to Lynch, the festival is geared towards the arts that are based in Unicoi County. “That’s the reason we do this – to showcase the amazing talent that we have in this area,” Lynch said. “It’s not just music, it’s all the arts.”

For more information, follow the Town of Unicoi and Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival on Facebook.

Food City CEO expects store to open in July

In an interview with The Erwin Record, Food City CEO Steven Smith said the company expects its new Erwin store will be open by the end of July. “We are pretty excited about all the amenities that we will have,” Smith said. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Spring has sprung and with the mild weather, construction has really progressed on the future Food City store. Last December, Food City President and CEO Steven Smith met with representatives from the Town of Erwin for the groundbreaking of the roughly 44,000 square foot supermarket.

Smith recently spoke with The Erwin Record about the progress being made at the future home of the supermarket on Second Street in Erwin.

“We’ve got all the steel up, we’ve poured half the floor, and from what I hear we will have the store closed up next week,” Smith said. “Closing the store up means you’ve got the floor poured and the steel up and at that time it doesn’t matter if it rains much since the building is secured.”

Smith acknowledged that Food City is still slated to open in Erwin this summer.

“We are excited,” Smith said. “Our plan is still to have the store open by the end of July; we feel that is realistic. It could be a little quicker than that, it could be a little longer than that. We are aiming to be up and running within three months.”

The new Food City will have spaces available for other businesses.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t had any signed leases at this point, but it is fair to say we are speaking to some prospects,” Smith said. “We generally get interests from restaurants, nail salons and a variety of other businesses.”

According to Smith, the 5,000-6,000 square foot spaces could be used for up to roughly three to five shops.

The construction on the Food City gas station is coming along on pace with the storefront.

“I think the gas station will open when the store does,” Smith said. “I know we have the tanks in the ground, and we have had success getting our other gas stations together in a matter of three months.”

According to Smith, the gas station will also have several items for purchase.

“We will have odds and ends for sale at the gas station,” Smith said. “We will also have cases of water and firewood at the gas station.”

According to Smith, the firewood could be a year around seller for the supermarket.

“Believe it or not, we sell a lot of firewood during the spring and summer months with all the lakes and all of the camping in the area,” Smith said.

Smith is already looking forward to interviewing potential employees.

“It won’t be long before we interview people,” Smith said. “Generally we hire about 60 days out. We can train people at our Johnson City and our Jonesborough stores where we have the departments for them and they can get the expertise that they need.”

Smith hopes to hire roughly 100 people for the Erwin store.

“We will need roughly  120-130 people and I’m sure we will have some of our seasoned employees to transfer in; so I would say that we are looking to hire roughly 100 people,” Smith said.

The Erwin Food City will have several of the same features as the other regional Food City stores.

“We will have the curbside pickup Go Cart services,” Smith said. “We will also have our full-service pharmacy. We will have our full-service seafood and meat departments there, and we will have a sit-down cafe there as well. We are pretty excited about all the amenities that we will have.”

Smith acknowledged that Erwin and Unicoi County have been receptive to the supermarket coming to town.

“I don’t know of another town that we have opened up a supermarket in that we have been more warmly received then we have in Erwin and Unicoi County,” Smith said. “The city leaders, and the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board have been so welcoming.”

Smith said he recently ran into Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board President Lee Brown at an event in Kingsport.

“Lee Brown came over and spoke to me and welcomed me,” Smith said. “It really makes you feel welcome when you go into a community like Erwin and the people are excited about the job possibilities, the selection, and the prices, we look forward to it being a really successful store.”

Police force remains on Town of Unicoi’s wish list

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch recently shared information about the town’s annual retreat in Townsend, Tennessee.
(Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The governing body of the Town of Unicoi recently traveled to Townsend, Tennessee, for its annual retreat and, according to one official, returned with a renewed list of goals for the town. Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and outgoing Town of Unicoi City Recorder Michael Borders sat down to speak with The Erwin Record following the March 21-24 Strategic Planning Retreat.

According to Mayor Lynch, town plans have shifted to more short term goals.

“In the past, we focused on five- and ten-year plans,” Lynch said. “This year we focused on three-year plans.”

The three-year goals center around upgrading the downtown area, finding assistance for resident growth, recruiting businesses to the town and finding ways to improve code enforcement, according to the officials.

One goal that the town officials are looking to accomplish is to establish a police department and to enforce codes.

“We had Rex Barton, the police management consultant for MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service), come speak to us and to inform us what we would need to start a police force,” Lynch said.

Improvements to the town’s main thoroughfare is another priority.

“We are looking at grants to develop Unicoi Drive,” Borders said. “We are looking for more residential development, as well.”

Lynch stressed the importance of making Unicoi Drive a top priority.

“This year we focused on cleaning up the appearance of Unicoi Drive, which applies to everything from littering to building codes,” Mayor Lynch said.

Borders also mentioned that the town is actively recruiting for a travel center to come to Exit 32. “The town is in the process of recruiting a travel center to come here that will include a gas station and a nice convenience store,” Borders said, “and exit 32 is a prime location for that.”

One goal on the town’s list was a familiar one.

“We have placed completing the amphitheater and farmer’s market pavilion as one of our top priorities,” Borders said.

While on the retreat, several officials toured the amphitheaters around Townsend for inspiration.

“I wanted the new people to see and to get an idea of what our amphitheater could be,” Lynch said.

In September 2018, the Town of Unicoi received a $248,000 grant from Tennessee’s Local Parks and Recreation Fund to construct an amphitheater. The amphitheater will be built in the space between the Town of Unicoi Tourist Information Center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. As of now, there is no time frame on either project, but Borders acknowledged that these projects will be moving along soon.

Lynch said he felt that the retreat was a success.

“It was a good retreat,” Lynch said. “We went in each day and stayed all day to get our goals together and to prioritize them as a group. To me doing this annual retreat is the smartest thing we ever did – the proof is there.”

School system requests $8.1 million for facility upgrades

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, right, gives a presentation to the Unicoi County Commission regarding facility upgrades throughout the school system. The estimated cost of the improvements is $8.1 million. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Board of Education joined Unicoi County Director of Schools John English and Johnson City architect Tony Street in addressing the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, March 25.

At the meeting, English requested roughly $8.1 million in the form of a capital outlay note through the county for the upgrades. According to English, Unicoi County Schools would pay the outlay note back, but the commission must approve and make the request first.

English worked with Street, who recently completed the construction of the new Boones Creek School, to calculate the estimates for the proposed upgrades to Unicoi County school properties.

Unicoi County Schools are currently paying $330,000 a year on the original capital outlay note that was used for the construction of Unicoi County High School. According to English, that capital outlay note will be completely paid off by June of 2021.

“Our plan is to ask the (Unicoi County) commission to approve and consider a new capital note when the 2021 high school capital note has matured,” English said Monday.

English acknowledged that Unicoi County Schools would be able to pay $330,000 annually on the new proposed outlay note.

The estimated $8.1 million would be used for several projects. English stated that upgrades to  Gentry Stadium, where the UCHS football team plays, would be the top priority. According to English’s presentation, Gentry Stadium needs to have the current press box and seating demolished and rebuilt. The new stadium seating would include steps, handrails, and would be handicap accessible. Gentry Stadium would also need paving and LED lighting. The proposed cost for the renovations at Gentry Stadium would be $2.4 million.

The next upgrade would be for renovations at the UCHS track.

“Our track team hasn’t held a home track meet in a number of years, and our track team deserves a track to call home,” English said. “We also feel like a new track brings in revenue for the county. Track meets bring in a lot of people that are going to stop and eat, they are going to stop for gas and stop to pick up a sports drink.”

The estimated costs at the track would be $1.2 million and would call for the track to be fitted to regulation size. The track would also be resurfaced with a rubberized top that meets the regulations for TSSAA. The proposal also calls for bleachers, a field house, restrooms, and LED lighting.

“The track would be available for citizens to walk on as well,” Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White, who is also a teacher at UCHS, said.

The third wave of upgrades would be for new tennis courts to be built on campus at UCHS. The costs associated with the construction of tennis courts at UCHS would be an estimated $750,000. The plan calls for six tennis courts, fencing, LED lighting and bleachers.

English then pointed to upgrades that were needed to the UCHS auditorium. According to English, an estimated $300,000 would fund upgrading the outdated stage lighting and the sound system.

“The auditorium is another tool in bringing potential revenue into the county,” English said. “We would be able to have more concerts and theater productions that will bring in more people.”

English also explained that Unicoi Elementary was in need of a new gym. The new gym would cost an estimated $2.5 million, and would include restrooms, locker rooms, bleachers and a new equipment storage room inside.

The final phase of projects would be centered around upgrades to Rock Creek Elementary. English said that Rock Creek Elementary was in need of electrical upgrades, a new HVAC and plumbing upgrades. The estimate for the Rock Creek Elementary upgrades is $980,000.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife, Cathy Thomas serves on the Board of Education, advised English that the request would have to go through a few committees before returning to the commission to vote on.

“This will have to go before the Buildings and Grounds committee and the budget committee before it comes back before the commission,” Thomas said.

Thomas recommended that the request be added to the agenda for both the Building and Grounds Committee and the Budget Committee meetings next month.


In other business, the commission voted unanimously to approve and accept the interlocal agreements with both the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Erwin for ambulance services.

The commission also voted unanimously to send out a request for proposal for fencing upgrades at the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department female annex. The annex was in the news recently when on March 14 an inmate was able to escape by scaling the fence.

“She scaled the old fence like a squirrel and was gone,” Sheriff Mike Hensley previously told The Erwin Record.

The commission concluded business by voting to accept the current Unicoi County Commission Facebook page as its official Facebook page. The commission also voted unanimously to start broadcasting the county commission meetings through Facebook Live starting next month.

Thomas makes case fro MedicOne to Erwin BMA

Loren Thomas, chairman of the Unicoi County Commission, addressed the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman on Monday, March 11. Town officials are reportedly considering not entering into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County to use MedicOne as the ambulance service provider for the town. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

In a brief meeting of the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, March 11, the town officials heard from Unicoi County Commission Chair Loren Thomas and Unicoi County Commission Vice Chair Jamie Harris in regards to the county ambulance service.

Thomas asked if the interlocal agreement, which is a collaborative contract between public bodies aiming to provide more efficient, less costly public services, was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. In response, Mayor Doris Hensley stated it was not.

“We were waiting for a joint meeting to discuss the matter,” Hensley added.

“I’m not here to give opinions or to negotiate the interlocal agreement, I just wanted to give you some facts,” Thomas said.

Thomas, whose wife Cathy is employed by MedicOne, addressed the board to dispel rumors about MedicOne’s response times and the potential use of Washington County EMS in Unicoi County.

“There has been a lot of negative media and articles in regards to response times,” Thomas said.

According to the stats provided by Thomas, the national average for EMS to respond to a fatal car crash is 15 minutes and 19 seconds. MedicOne’s 2018 average response time was 13 minutes and 44 seconds for all calls, that includes emergency and non-emergency calls. Thomas also reported that for the last 180 days, MedicOne’s average response time was down to 11 minutes and 44 seconds. Medic -One’s 2018 average response time for emergency calls only was listed on MedicOne’s tracking software at 11 minutes and 53 seconds. The average emergency call response time for MedicOne for the last 180 days is down to 11 minutes and 19 seconds, according to MedicOne’s analytic tracking software, called EOS.

Thomas stated that the third MedicOne ambulance that has been running 12 hours a day has contributed to better response times. MedicOne has been running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract

The contract Unicoi County entered into with MedicOne, which is slated to begin April 1, calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12-hour shift for 7 days a week.

The new contract also includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000. The contract runs from April 2019 until April 2023.

“We have a stronger contract in place now,” Thomas said.

The interlocal agreement between Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin would need to be signed by the Town of Erwin to share in the services of the counties ambulance service carrier. During the Feb. 27 Erwin BMA meeting and work session, Hensley was hesitant to sign another interlocal agreement.

“If we choose not to sign this interlocal agreement we have options,” Hensley previously said.

According to Hensley during the Feb. 27 meeting, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy had offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. According to Hensley, Grandy is in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Also on Feb. 27, Erwin Vice Mayor Mark Lafever suggested tabling the BMA’s decision on the interlocal agreement to buy the town more time to get more information in writing from Washington County. The board voted unanimously to table the vote on an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance service within Erwin corporate limits.

On Monday, Thomas also addressed a potential agreement between the Town of Erwin and Washington County EMS.

“I received an email on Friday, March 8, from (Washington County-Johnson City EMS Chief Executive Director) Dan Wheeley that stated that we have never been contacted about providing services for the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County,” Thomas said.

According to the email sent out to the Board of Directors for Washington County EMS from Wheeley, there have been no talks between Washington County EMS and the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County. In the email, all requests for interviews were being directed to Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy.

As of The Erwin Record’s deadline, no meeting was scheduled between Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin to discuss the interlocal agreement.

According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, he has reached out to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff to set up a meeting for the two municipalities to discuss the interlocal agreement.

“We were contacted and I should know more soon about an agreeable date and time,” Rosenoff said.

• • •

In other business, the board voted unanimously to close Union Street from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 30 to celebrate the ribbon cutting of Erwin Outdoor Supply.

Erwin Vice Mayor and Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Mark Lafever recused himself from voting. According to Erwin Outdoor Supply’s press release, Survivor contestant Gavin Whitson will appear, brand representatives will be on hand, food trucks will be onsite, giveaway and more will take place at that time.

“We will have vendors and food trucks throughout the street,” Lafever said. “We made sure that the neighbors and Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson were OK with this.”

In the last order of business, the BMA unanimously approved an ordinance to rezone property located at 434 Union St. from R-1 (Low Density) residential district to R-1A (Single Family) residential district within the corporate limits of Erwin, on first reading.

The original request for this rezoning was made during the Erwin Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 27. Property owner Joseph “Scott” Metcalf asked the commission for a residential zoning change at 434 Union St. The motion to approve was made by Alderman Gary Chandler and was seconded by Alderman Michael Baker.

Metcalf was requesting to break up the property into separate lots. The land in question is commonly known in Erwin as the “garden lot.” In the past, Chandler and former alderman Virgil Moore tended a community garden at the site. Hensley made the motion and Griffith seconded the motion to rezone the lot during the Feb. 27 meeting. The Erwin Planning Commission approved the request unanimously.

For the request to be finalized, it must receive a second reading as well as a public hearing.

“The public hearing will be Monday, April 8, followed by the second reading,” Rosenoff said.

County government responds to ambulance lawsuit

By Richard Rourk

In the latest battle over the ambulance service in the county, Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit recently filed by John Day against Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and the Unicoi County Commission on grounds that Day lacks standing to sue.

According to Shults’ motion, which was filed on Feb. 21, the lawsuit should be dismissed due to failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Shults cites that the plaintiff is seeking declaratory relief instead of a writ of certiorari. Declaratory relief is a judgment of the court which determines the rights of parties without ordering anything be done or awarding damages.

The Erwin Record previously reported that Day is not seeking any damages from the lawsuit.

“The lawsuit is not punitive toward the mayor and commissioners or seeks any damages from them,” Day previously said. “It simply is a mechanism that will allow the commissioners to rebid the ambulance service contract in a manner that meets state law and without fear of a lawsuit by MedicOne.”

Shults’ motion to dismiss also states that Day’s lawsuit fails to include a dispensable party. Shults proposes that if the court goes forward with the lawsuit that Day would have to join MedicOne as a dispensable party. Currently, Day’s lawsuit aims to retract a possible contract between Unicoi County and MedicOne. Shults is claiming that a scenario may arise where Unicoi County could be bound by contract to MedicOne yet could also face being required to seek ambulance services from a provider other than MedicOne. According to Shults’ motion for dismissal, the lawsuit exposes the county to the possibility of being contractually tied to more than one ambulance service.

Day, a former Unicoi County mayoral candidate and leader of a group of citizens who have expressed concerns over the process that led to MedicOne receiving the contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019-2023, is representing himself in the suit. He filed an amended complaint with the Chancery Court for State of Tennessee First Judicial District, Unicoi County on Feb. 4.

The new contract with Medic -One includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000.

The Unicoi County Commission voted to approve the bid and contract during its Dec. 17, 2018, meeting on a 6-2 vote. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion. Joining commissioners Jamie Harris and Mosley in voting to approve a new contract with MedicOne were commissioners Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix and Matthew Rice. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no on the contract. Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife Cathy Thomas is an employee of MedicOne, abstained from voting.

In the weeks that followed the December approval of the contract, Day encouraged the Unicoi County Commission to reconsider the decision, citing issues with the bidding process and contract status.

The MedicOne contract came before the commission again on Jan. 28. During that meeting, Wilcox made a motion for the panel to reconsider awarding the contract to MedicOne and put the contract out for bid again. That motion, however, failed on a 5-3 vote as only Wilcox, Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted in favor. White, Matthew Rice, Mosley, Jamie Harris and Stephen Hendrix voted against Wilcox’s motion. Thomas again abstained.

Also during that meeting, White expressed concern over a possible lawsuit MedicOne could file against the county for breach of contract that could cost $900,000.

The case will be heard in Unicoi County Chancery Court on Friday, March 15, at 9 a.m. Hearing the case will be the Honorable Judge John C. Rambo.

Unicoi County Commission OKs $200K note for sheriff’s department

The Unicoi County Commission met on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Areas of concern with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department were the focus of the Unicoi County Commission during a meeting on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

On the list of concerns were upgrades reportedly needed at the jail annex facility at 1570 Jackson Love Highway and the jail located adjacent to the courthouse.

On Jan. 23, the Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee voted to recommend to the full commission that the roof at the jail annex facility be repaired using money from the county’s general fund. However, on Monday no commissioner made a motion to make the repairs and the issue died on the floor. The motion would have been for the county to pay the $5,700 out of the county’s general fund.

The roof in question had been leaking, but has been patched. Sheriff Mike Hensley reported during the Jan. 23 Building and Grounds Committee meeting that the jail annex roof is in need of replacement.

“It hasn’t been replaced since we moved in over eight years ago,” Hensley previously said.

Commissioner Jason Harris disagreed with the assessment.

“If the roof ain’t leaking now, I don’t understand why we are discussing putting $5,700 into the roof,” Harris said.

Because the commission did not give the approval to pay for the roof repair out of the general fund , the $5,700 roof repair will be coming out of the UCSD maintenance funds.

• • •

During the most recent Unicoi County Public Safety Committee, the committee decided to approve the purchase of four new vehicles for the UCSD. The vehicles were estimated to be less than $150,000.

During the same meeting on Feb. 20, the committee also approved funding for fencing upgrades and for new equipment for the UCSD. The estimated fencing costs are around $25,000. The new equipment for the UCSD would be new vests that are estimated to cost $20,000 and new security equipment that is estimated to cost $5,000.

On Monday, the commission approved a capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000 which, according to Chairman Loren Thomas, will be used for those projects for the UCSD.

The motion to approve the capital outlay note was made by Vice Chair Jamie Harris and was seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley. The request for the capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000 was approved by a 6-2 vote.

Thomas, Harris, and commissioners Stephen Hendrix, Glenn White, John Mosley and Matthew Rice voted to approve, while commissioners Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed. Commissioner Todd Wilcox was absent from the meeting.

Marie Rice objected to the short notice of the request during Monday’s meeting.

“I just found out about this Friday night,” she said. “I felt we didn’t give adequate notice to the taxpayers.”

• • •

Also on Monday, the commission voted unanimously to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for services to secure bids to acquire a new radio frequency along with the equipment needed. The RFP will include installation and implementation cost.

During the Feb. 8 Unicoi County Public Safety Committee meeting, it was decided that whichever ambulance service takes over in April will be required to seek a new frequency for communication. Currently, MedicOne shares the line that the local Firefighters Association owns. Firefighter Association President Robert Adams had previously stated that the Firefighters Association would no longer share the frequency with the incoming ambulance service. Adams also said that the ambulance service would have 90 days after the April 1, 2019, start date to find a new frequency.

• • •

The commission also voted unanimously to approve an RFP be sent out for bid for fencing and fence repair at the facility at Jackson Love Highway. The Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee met on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to discuss upgrades to fencing and it was decided that the proposal would go before the county commissioners.

In other business, the board joined the Unicoi County School Board in opposing proposed state law SB0019/H80301. The Tennessee General Assembly code SB0019/HB0301 would make the position of director of schools an electable position. The director of schools is currently appointed by the school board, which is elected.

The motion to oppose the Tennessee General Assembly code SB0019/HB0301 was made by Matthew Rice and seconded by Mosley. The motion carried with a 7-1 vote, with Marie Rice the only one opposed. Thomas, Jamie Harris, Matthew Rice, Jason Harris, White, Hendrix and Mosley approved.

In closing, the board discussed inmate revenue. White said he wants to find more data regarding if the state inmates are making or losing money for the county and use that information to decide future plans.

“Let’s nail it down,” Commissioner White said.

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed.

“We need long-range planning,” she said.

Thomas reinforced the significance of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee.

“The Inmate Revenue Committee is new and we are looking through at least five years of data to gauge where we are,” he said.

Unicoi County officials debate future of jail facilities

The members of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee listen to suggestions from TCI Facilities Specialist Bob Bass. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee met on Tuesday, Feb. 12, to discuss the future of the county jails.

Currently, Unicoi County has two facilities – one housing male inmates and one housing female inmates. The two facilities house both local inmates and state inmates. According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, state inmates bring in $39 daily per inmate; however, the costs for inmates vary due to medical needs, as well as other housing needs. Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) pays Unicoi County $39 daily per state inmate that the county houses.

Last year the county spent roughly $256,000 dollars on medical and prescription costs for the inmates, according to Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice. This year the budget for inmate medical costs is $129,000. So far, the county is on track with the projected budget.

Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Detention Facilities Specialist Bob Bass and County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) Jail Management Consultant Jim Hart were on hand to hear the concerns of the committee last week. The county commission concerns are centered on cutting costs in regards to inmate revenue.

The first plan discussed was to expand the facility located next to the Unicoi County Courthouse at 102 N. Main Ave, Erwin, and move all inmates to the location. This plan would allow the county to close down the property at 1570 Jackson Love Highway, Erwin, which currently houses the female inmates.

“We are looking at trying to house one jail, under one roof,” Sheriff Mike Hensley said.

The county is looking to do the most cost-effective maneuver in regards to the jail.

“The overhead of two facilities is killing us,” Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris said. “It would be better if we had one cost.”

A move to one facility would not be an easy move to make, according to Bass.

“Moving to one facility you will be taking on really big challenges,” Bass said. “You would need to make a host of changes to accommodate that.”

The facility located adjacent to the courthouse in downtown Erwin would need to be expanded to house all the inmates.

“Not only are you looking at adding a separate wing for the female inmates, you are looking at enlarging the kitchen, food and food storage, laundry and the booking areas,” Bass said.

According to Hart, the first step to combining the jails to one location would be to get engineers to approve the expansion at the building at 102 N. Main Ave, Erwin.

“I would look at my options, get costs, and go from there,” Hart said.

Another plan that was explored by the committee was to build a new facility at a new location.

“There is going to come a day we will need to build a brand new facility, and we need to be prepared,” Harris said.

It will take numerous years to build a new facility, according to Hart.

“You are looking at 3 to 5 years to build a new building,” Hart said.

The time frame for a new facility would be longer than that to complete, according to Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley.

“It would be a minimum 5 years, at least,” Mosley said.

To build a new facility, the county would have to send the state inmates out to other facilities and move all county inmates to one facility while the new building is erected. The move would be needed to cut the costs of facilitating two separate buildings.

According to Hart, since there will be no expansion to the building adjacent to the courthouse, this move would put the county at risk of overpopulation. Evely cautioned the move.

“Before we send inmates back we want to be sure we view all of the variables first,” Evely said. 

One of the biggest strains on the current two jail system is non-sentenced inmates, according to Sheriff Mike Hensley. A non-sentenced inmate, is an inmate that may have been on and broke probation and is jailed until they can go back before the court.

Bass and Hart joined the commissioners on a tour of the facility adjacent to the courthouse following the meeting on Feb. 12. Bass offered to work in the future with the county through the County Corrections Partnership Initiative if the county approved. The County Corrections Partnership (CCP) is an initiative developed by TCI to assist in measures to address jail issues and reform. The commission agreed to accept his help going forward.

“The more information we can have the better we are,” Harris said. No future meeting with CCP has been set yet.

Since the county is looking at keeping both facilities up and running, some repairs will be needed to keep both jails up to code. The committee decided during the Feb. 12 meeting to put any moves on hold until more information could be gathered in regards to combining the facilities or looking for land to build a new jail.

“We know we need to make improvements,” Commissioner Matthew Rice said. “We just did not want to make them until we were sure about what we were going to do. We have to be sure we are spending money in the right places.”   

One improvement that the committee is looking at is updating the fencing at the facilities. The committee will meet again next month to discuss improvements to the facilities, including the need for a new fence.

UCHS ROTC students raise funds for hurricane victims

The Unicoi County High School Air Force JROTC, including cadets Lacey Ashley, Sebastian Bakken, Dylan Delph, Keilani King, Travis Lewis, Brianna Monroe, Alaina Satterly, Derek Tapp, Luz Terrazas and Josue Terrazas-Lascano, join Dr. Chris Bogart, principal, and Unicoi County Director of Schools John English in a check presentation for Team Rubicon. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The cadets of the Unicoi County High School Air Force Junior ROTC recently collected funds to donate to Team Rubicon. The cadets sent the money to Team Rubicon on Monday, Feb. 11. Team Rubicon is made up of a network of veterans who utilize their skills and talents to help during natural disasters.

“Team Rubicon is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that utilizes the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams,” UCHS AFJROTC instructor Colonel Louis Kaelin told The Erwin Record. “Team Rubicon was founded in 2010, and has deployed across the United States and around the world to provide immediate relief to those impacted by disasters and humanitarian crises.”

The funds raised for Team Rubicon are going to aid in hurricane relief. According to Team Rubicon’s website, the organization has the opportunity to extend its capabilities and services into long-term recovery (LTR) for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Over a 24-month timeline, Team Rubicon will run a new long-term recovery program to rebuild 100 homes affected by Harvey in Houston, 30 homes affected by Irma in Florida and a roof building program in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

The more than 40 cadets at UCHS collected money at Blue Devil home football games.

“The kids went and passed the hat around at a couple of home games and raised more than $300 for hurricane relief,” Kaelin said

If you are interested in donating or volunteering for Team Rubicon, please visit

Town of Erwin plans to install traffic light on Second Street

By Richard Rourk

As part of the preparations for welcoming a new Food City store to Erwin, town officials are preparing to construct a new traffic light.

The Town of Erwin has agreed to have a traffic signal located on the intersection of Second Street and the entrance to the new Food City, which is slated to be open during the summer. The light will be constructed at the intersection of Second Street, the entrance to Food City and where the railroad overpass meets Second Street.

“The traffic light project went out to bid on Wednesday, Feb. 6,” Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff told The Erwin Record.

Rosenoff reported that constructing a mast arm signal could cost roughly $200,000. Rosenoff recently asked the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) to partner with the town on the project and the JEDB agreed to contribute $20,800 towards the cost of erecting the traffic signal.

The remaining amount will be paid for by the recent bond the Town of Erwin received from the City of Clarksville. The loan that was made not to exceed $1 million, was approved during a September meeting of the Town Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The funds were allocated for this project, as well as other public works projects.

“The projected revenue from the Food City site should help offset the cost of the repayment of the bond,” Rosenoff had previously said.

The traffic light project is a collaboration of the Town of Erwin, JEDB and Erwin Utilities and is expected to be completed by June.

“Our desired time frame for completion was four months from going to bid on Feb. 6,” Rosenoff said.

The traffic signal will help the congested area on Second Street, according to Rosenoff.

“It is intended to provide a safer means of vehicle flow and coordination, as well as to provide a safer driving experience through a higher traffic area,” Rosenoff said.

Construction on the traffic signal is expected to start in the coming months and an update to the citizens will be provided as to what to expect at the intersection.

The town will have a pre-construction meeting with the bid winner to address any safety concerns or detours.

“Any delays or safety precautions will be discussed with the contractor and announced to the public through various communication strategies,” Rosenoff said.

Team Gavin: Whitson competing on new season of Survivor

Gavin Whitson will appear on the new season of Survivor which premieres on Wednesday, Feb. 20. (Photo courtesy of CBS)

By Richard Rourk

It’s official.

Erwin’s own Gavin Whitson is going to be competing on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, which is broadcast on CBS. Whitson is the 23-year-old program director at the Unicoi County Family YMCA.

Due to contract restrictions from appearing on the highly successful show, Whitson was not able to speak to The Erwin Record just yet, but CBS will be giving permission very soon. If you see Whitson, he cannot give out details about the show due to these contract restrictions.

In a press release recently issued by CBS, Whitson explains what inspires him: “My mom and dad. They have been my support system for the past 23 years and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them,” Whitson said. “They have taught me to always show kindness, no matter the situation and they have also taught me that if you truly want something in this life, you will do everything you can to get it, no matter what it takes.”

He is the son of Anthony and Kim Whitson.

In the days since the announcement was made on Thursday, Jan. 31, Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp and Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Assistant Cathy Huskins have been hard at work planning special events for the community to support Whitson.

The Chamber has already set up a viewing party for the Survivor: Edge of Extinction premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a pre-show party including games, food trucks and other activities. Whitson will be on hand for photos and autographs and Team Gavin merchandise will be available for sale. The show will be broadcast at 8 p.m.

“We are so excited to have Gavin participate in Survivor and to be a part of that cast,” Delp said.

For more information about the event, check out the Chamber of Commerce’s website or the organization’s Facebook page.

“Stay tuned to see what else we plan for Team Gavin,” Delp said.

Survivor: Edge of Extinction will be on CBS weekly starting Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.

Thomas Simerly posthumously awarded master’s degree

Before he could complete his doctorate degree, Thomas Simerly suddenly passed away. In December, his parents, Max and Teresa, pictured above with their son’s photo, accepted his degree on his behalf. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

For one Unicoi County man, his light burned for a short amount of time, but it burned bright with an intensity that most don’t see in a lifetime.

Thomas Simerly was born to Max and Teresa Simerly on April 27, 1988. The young Simerly grew up like most in Unicoi County – surrounded by the wild. It was this wild spirit that drove Simerly to research and observe everything around him. Frogs were a big part of that research and drive for knowledge that Simerly would display over the years. Simerly grew a fondness for frogs and all animals in general.

Simerly was drawn to science and public office at a young age. 4-H gave Simerly a forum to explore and gain experience in his life. Simerly sought out to do his best and won numerous 4-H awards for his hard work.

This work ethic and desire to learn drove Simerly to seek higher education and he received a scholarship to attend King University in Bristol.

“He got a call while I was out of town working that he had received an offer from King,” Thomas’ mother, Teresa Simerly who serves as the clerk and master for Unicoi County, told The Erwin Record. “He was so excited.”

It was while attending King University that Simerly learned to blaze a path on his own while not forgetting where he came from. Simerly got involved with student government and his drive and personality led him to be elected the Student Government Association president while attending King.

“He and his friend Nathan King got the Young Republican program started at King College,” Thomas’ father, Max Simerly, said.

Simerly received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from King College.

The next stop for Simerly was at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. There, he received his master’s degree in chemistry. While at ETSU Simerly had one of his papers published in his field.

Blacksburg, Virginia, was Simerly’s next stop and for three semesters he studied at Virginia Tech University. As Simerly moved further and further from home, so did his effect on those around him.

“He never met a stranger,” Teresa said.

Simerly ended up moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend North Carolina State University. It was in Raleigh that Simerly settled in and felt at home. Simerly attended the farmers market regularly and ventured out to explore the city when he wasn’t busy on his scholarly endeavors.

“He met people everywhere he went,” Max said.

Simerly was working on completing his doctorate, this time in textiles chemistry, at the Wilson College of Textiles on the North Carolina State campus, when tragedy struck. Simerly passed away suddenly on May 15, 2018, just a few weeks after he turned 30 years old.

Simerly was set to graduate in December 2018. His father and mother received a call from the campus of North Carolina State shortly before the December graduation date with some unexpected news. Simerly had completed the necessary credits to receive his master’s degree in textiles chemistry posthumously. The Simerlys were invited to the campus to receive Thomas’ master’s degree during the graduation ceremony.

“Everyone was so nice there,” Teresa said.

In 30 short years, Thomas reached for the stars and worked hard to achieve excellence in academics and made an impact on those around him.

The spirit of Thomas Simerly, and so many like him, is still alive today in Unicoi County. Every time you see a child looking into a mountain stream with wonderment, every time you see young men and women stopping to help a stranded motorist, every time you see a student pushing harder to find the answer on an assignment, you see the spirit of Unicoi County.

Nurturing Neighbors: Locals begin volunteer program

Nurturing Neighbors organizers, pictured from left, Donna Seagroves, Sharon Slagle, Sarah Schults, and Jamie Rice meet to plan a Jan. 31 event at Erwin Town Hall. The new program will bring volunteers together with those suffering from severe illnesses. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County is filled with an unselfish spirit and there is a group of women that exemplifies that altruistic characteristic.

In this spirit, residents Sarah Shults, Jamie Rice, Sharon Slagle and Donna Seagroves started a program called Nurturing Neighbors. The program links volunteers to help people suffering from severe illnesses and their caregivers by utilizing the volunteers’ specific skill sets.

“We will be setting up community meal trains, help with rides to medical appointments, send cards, well check phone calls, help with grocery shopping, knitting hats, childcare and we are even creating a wig closet right here in Unicoi County for cancer patients,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Nurturing Neighbors was formed after the organizers saw a need for the program.

“It seems that every day, someone in our community is diagnosed with a debilitating illness, specifically cancer,” Rice said. “Just in December alone I heard of four people right here in Erwin who had been diagnosed with this terrible disease.”

The organizers understand that everyone’s needs differ.

“I am a cancer survivor myself and I know that everybody’s journey is different,” Shults, the chief organizer of Nurturing Neighbors, told The Erwin Record.

The group has established a Facebook page and formed a survey to link volunteers to the community’s needs. The result was overwhelming, according to Shults.

“Within two weeks we had over 150 surveys submitted,” Shults said.

There are multiple ways to help, from knitting hats, to sending encouraging cards or even fixing dinner for your sick neighbor. Shults hopes those that are sick or their caregivers will reach out and accept the help of the volunteer group.

“Sometimes, if we are proud, we are denying someone the opportunity to help and to feel like they are making a contribution, and that is important too,” Shults said.

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit Nurturing Neighbors on Facebook and fill out a brief survey, which takes less than two minutes. You are also invited to attend the upcoming Nurturing Neighbors Meet and Greet.

“We will be having an informational public meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31, at Erwin Town Hall at 6 p.m. and would like to invite anyone interested,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Mayors share plans for 2019

By Richard Rourk

The Erwin Record recently interviewed Unicoi County’s three mayors to get their outlooks for their respective municipalities in the coming year.

Town of Erwin – Mayor Doris Hensley

The new year has already started off with a bang for the Town of Erwin. The first annual New Year’s Eve fireworks were a success and, according to Mayor Doris Hensley, will be a yearly event going forward.

“I think we can build on it,” Hensley said. “I’d like to see next year’s be even bigger.”

The fireworks marked a year of successes that saw a number of businesses open up downtown, the completion of the new Unicoi County Hospital, the groundbreaking of Food City, the opening of Dunkin’ in Erwin and numerous events for the community all year long.

Heading into 2019 Hensley announced a number of exciting additions coming up on the horizon. The Gathering Place park downtown and Fishery Park will be remodeled and completed this year. Work will begin on adding a dog park and outside gym to the Linear Trail.

With the recent additions, the town has acquired a new fire truck and a first responder truck as well as adding personnel for the safety of the town.

“We have hired two new police officers, and got two new police cruisers as well, to ramp up protection for our citizens,” Hensley stated.

The town is always looking for new business and industry to be added to the town. Clarence’s Drive-In will be an anchor to the northside of town going forward.

“That is one area we can continue to grow and I would love to fill in those empty spots,” Hensley said of the north end of town.

The Morgan Insulation site is ready for industrial companies to come in and bid on the land. “We are always recruiting industry to come in,” Hensley said of the site.

With all the businesses that come to town, it provides opportunities for new jobs.

Hensley said she is proud of the many events that the town hosts and would like to see more events like the Elephant Parade, the Great Outdoors Festival, the Erwin Cruise In, among others. Hensley would also love to see a music festival happen in Erwin, or even the return of Arts in the Park.

One site that the mayor could see something happening with in 2019 is the former Bear Mountain Outfitters site located at 1001 S. Industrial Drive in Erwin. One business the mayor thought would be successful at the location was a winery. The mayor also mentioned a possibility of putting a pier and take out spot for rafting outside of this site.

With Unicoi County Hospital in full operation, the southside of Erwin has plenty of room for growth.

“We would love to see hotels and restaurants open up on that side of town,” Hensley told The Erwin Record.

There is one business that Hensley would like to see make a return to the area.

“I don’t know why no one has brought Blue Ridge Pottery back to this area,” Hensley stated.

The future of Erwin is clearly geared toward tourism as well.

“In the next 10 years, tourism is going to be one of our top three industries so I want to be proactive,” Hensley said.

Town of Unicoi – Mayor Johnny Lynch

The new year brings a long list of goals for the Town of Unicoi which includes everything from infrastructure to creating a more visible website presence.

The Erwin Record recently sat down with Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and the Town of Unicoi City Recorder Michael Borders to discuss many of the goals for 2019. Lynch shed some light on where the Town of Unicoi draws inspiration and guidance in sculpting their yearly strategic plans.

“We go to the retreat that Pat Hardy from MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) facilitates and it’s really paid off,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.

The retreat allows the municipality to create their strategic plan and to prioritize items, according to the mayor.

“We create our checklist of items we want to accomplish, and as we complete them we check them off,” Lynch said.

At the top of the list is the infrastructure of the town, which is heavily dependent on the roads. Lynch said he is constantly riding with Unicoi County Highway Superintendent Terry Haynes to prioritize which roads need work.

“The roads are always our first obligation,” Lynch added.

Knowing that the annual budget will not fix all the issues in one year, Lynch acknowledged that the town prioritizes the projects and fixes what they can.

Promoting the area for tourism is also a huge priority for the town, according to the mayor. This includes creating a marketing plan, developing an agritourism plan and enhancements to the many outdoor venues in the area.

“One item I’d like to see is a parking lot at the trailhead,” Lynch said.

With signage on its way, many of the area’s outdoor activities will be more visible for those looking in the near future.

The Town of Unicoi is carrying many projects over from 2018. The town has formed numerous committees to cover issues such as creating codes and ordinances. Other accomplishments that are carrying over include the Mountain Harvest Kitchen exceeding its first-year goals. The amphitheater and farmers market pavilion are currently scheduled to break ground this year and to be completed within two years. The projects will be located between the Town of Unicoi Visitor’s Center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. The beautification of Exit 32 will begin in the spring.

Lynch stated he would like to see some businesses come in and compliment the Town of Unicoi’s goal of becoming a tourist destination. One personal goal going into the year for Lynch is one that is always on his list, and that is to create a police department for the town.

The goals for the Town of Unicoi are large scale, but that doesn’t deter the mayor.

“We are optimistic and we are following our strategic plan,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.

Unicoi County – Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely

Unicoi County will be working on improving many projects going into 2019. Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely recently spoke with The Erwin Record about what the new year will bring in Unicoi County.

One area where Evely hit the ground running with was with the solid waste facility upgrades. “When we took over in September our solid waste facilities were in poor condition,” Evely told The Erwin Record.

Since September 2018, the new Unicoi County Commission and mayor have added cardboard recycling, and also are adding a gasket, a roof and drip pans to stop leakage to the receptacles. The county will be looking for additional funds to continue to improve the sites.

“I’m in the process of working on a grant to revamp the Hoover site, replace the compactor and add an auger system,” Evely stated.

The mayor hopes the projects will be complete by spring and then the county can focus on future revamps to the sites.

Grants are an important part of the mayor’s plans going forward. There will be two additional police cars going to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from a grant that was approved last year, but is currently in limbo due to the federal government shutdown.

“We are waiting for the two vehicles right now,” Evely said.

The Unicoi County School System has applied for a bus grant to try and get a maximum of four new buses with a 20 percent match. The courthouse recently received a grant to perform some upgrades to the courtroom.

Evely expressed excitement about Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park and the additions coming in 2019.

“Construction will start on the road and visitor’s center in 2019,” Evely said. “We are looking forward to that getting started; it’s going to be a big boost.”

There are several items that the mayor wishes to get locked down this year, including the ambulance service contract.

“We have the ambulance situation that I hope the commission will have a final decision on shortly,” Evely said.

Evely also expressed some ways his office could execute some long term cost saving measures.

“We are constantly putting out fires, but if we can plan ahead and prioritize some projects, it will help in the long run,” Evely stated.

One project that could save in the long run is looking at replacing the heating and air at the Unicoi County Courthouse. The repairs and maintenance costs keep rising, according to Evely. Another measure that will save money and time in the long run is switching the pay from paper checks to automatic deposit.

“We are looking at efficiencies to save time and money,” Evely said. “I want to save the county money.”

The mayor also expressed how important it was to be available for the upcoming year and for the rest of his time in office.

“I care about the community,” Evely said. “I understand that not everybody is going to like what I’m doing, but that is not going to be from lack of effort or lack of trying to do things the right way.”

Evely acknowledged that the upcoming projects cannot be done without teamwork.

“I appreciate all the other office holders in Unicoi County,” he said. “They have been very helpful to me and I am very thankful for them.”

Day leads opposition to MedicOne contract renewal

John Day expresses concerns to Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely regarding the Unicoi County Commission’s recent decision to retain MedicOne as the county’s ambulance service provider. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Old wounds resurfaced during a meeting between Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and concerned citizens who were seeking answers to the bidding process for the current ambulance service in Unicoi County.

The citizens, led by John Day, met with Evely on Thursday, Jan. 3, to discuss the contract renewal with MedicOne that was approved by the Unicoi County Commission during its Dec. 19 meeting. According to Day, the bare minimum was done by the county in the request for proposal process.

During the Dec. 19 meeting, the Commission voted to approve the bid from MedicOne, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion. County commissioners Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice and Stephen Hendrix voted to approve a new contract with MedicOne. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no to the contract.

The contract, which would run from April 2019 until April of 2023, calls for an annual subsidy of $225,000 to be paid by the county to MedicOne. The new contract calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12-hour shift for seven days a week. MedicOne is currently running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract.

Inside Evely’s office on Thursday, Jan. 3, Day, who was a candidate for county mayor in 2018, referenced the loss of his friend, former Unicoi County Commissioner and Unicoi County School Board member Dwight Bennett who passed away in 2014, when addressing the mayor. Bennett passed away from cardiac arrest while waiting for an ambulance.

“Mr. Mayor this does not serve the county, we deserve better,” Day stated.

Day questioned the bid process and stated that there were three other ambulance services that expressed interest to Day in bidding to serve Unicoi County. According to Day, American Medical Response (AMR) and Lifeguard Ambulance Service are two services that expressed interest.

“We need the best there is,” Day said of the ambulance service options for Unicoi County.

Evely acknowledged the concerns and thanked everyone for coming. Evely informed the citizens of the upcoming Ambulance Committee Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m.

“I invite you to bring those concerns to that meeting,” Evely stated.

As of the Jan 3 meeting the new contract had not been sent out to MedicOne. Day and fellow concerned citizen Jim Donnelly requested that Evely hold off sending the contract and consider vetoing  the December vote by the Commission.

“We would feel better knowing that you would hold off on sending the contract until we can address the commission,” Donnelly said to the mayor.

“The contract has been approved by the Commission and I held off sending the contract for a few days to have this meeting,” Evely stated.

As far as the veto goes, Evely was opposed to vetoing anything that the majority of the Commission approved.

“If the majority of the commission says to send the contract out and the county attorney states I can, I will send the contract out,” Evely said.

Day stated that if he had to, he would take legal recourse.

“I will make an injunction if I have to, this is not going to happen,” Day stated.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas talked to The Erwin Record on Friday, Jan. 4, in regards to ambulance services. Thomas acknowledged the majority of the current Commission feels good about the new contract. Thomas’ wife is an employee of MedicOne.

“The option that we chose was with MedicOne, and it was the best option,” Thomas stated.

Thomas explained why he believes MedicOne was the best option.

“To ensure that the contract was best, we made sure that there are penalties for not abiding to the contract,” Thomas told The Erwin Record.

According to Thomas, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee will meet regularly to oversee the contract. Thomas stated that the next meeting will be to come up with an action plan to combat issues of the overflow of emergency calls.

“We are going to work to nail down procedures in case all three ambulances are on call,” Thomas said. “We have to staff according to call data, but we wish to set up an emergency plan in case all three ambulances are on a call.”

The next Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting is set for Thursday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m. and will be held at the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

North Ridge Church plans move downtown

Brenda Hawley stands in the kitchen of the new location of the Choo Choo Café at 113 S. Main Ave. in downtown Erwin. Hawley’s move to the new location made space for North Ridge Community Church to move downtown. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Choo Choo Café has officially moved. In less than one week, owner Brenda Hawley relocated her restaurant from its location of many years to a new one. Fortunately, she didn’t have to go far. In fact, she moved right next door.

Hawley made the move to 113 S. Main Ave. and is currently up and running. What made the move easy for Hawley was she gave away most of the items in her original restaurant.

“I just opened the doors and gave it away. It was my Christmas present,” Hawley joked.

The move leaves a large storefront vacant, but it won’t be vacant for long. Moving into the old site of Choo Choo Café will be North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus.

“The plan is to be moved into the new building by Easter of 2019,” North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus Pastor and Worship Leader Gary Schwenke told The Erwin Record.

The new site of North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus will be at 111 S. Main Ave.

The Erwin Campus has been meeting at Unicoi County High School since North Ridge Community Church opened the campus in the fall of 2015. North Ridge Community Church also has three other campuses, with two in Johnson City, and one in Gray.

Schwenke said the downtown Erwin location fits the vision the church has for its community.

“We have a heart and passion for the city and felt that building would be a great location to serve,” Schwenke said.

The auditorium will be equipped with roughly 150 chairs.

“Our goal is to go to two services, sooner than later,” Schwenke said of expanding at the new location.

In addition to the auditorium, there will be a space for the children’s ministry, as well as an option for use of the kitchen space through the week. The auditorium could be used as a place for live music or live theatre throughout the week, according to Schwenke. Construction to convert the former restaurant space into the church is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Jan. 2.

Currently, North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus meets Sundays at Unicoi County High School at 10:45 a.m. Student groups meet on Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

The move downtown compliments the wishes of North Ridge Community Church, for their northeast Tennessee campuses.

“We are just excited to serve the community, and to be a part of the community, especially with all the changes to downtown,” Schwenke told The Erwin Record.

• • •

Hawley’s new home for the Choo Choo Café is located at the historic site of the original Erwin National Bank that was built in 1928. This building was built after the Erwin National Bank was destroyed in a fire in 1909.

“This building has a rich history, they actually printed currency here,” Hawley told The Erwin Record.

According to a report by paper money expert Manning Garrett, the Erwin National Bank actually printed $86,390 dollars worth of national currency in 1929.

Keeping the building the same as it was in 1928 was important to Hawley.

“By preserving the past, we can ensure our future,” Hawley said.

Hawley, who has had the building for more than three years, had the inside of the building restored to its original state. The doors are the original doors that were a part of the bank as well as the ceilings that contain a series of classic chandelier lights. The bank vault is now complete with antique china and is the site for the Sunday buffet. The original counter and marble floors are still there. The windows are new but have been fitted to the original frames. The restaurant can seat 43 people inside and has room for diners outside.

“I’m here and I love it. It’s the new Choo Choo,” Hawley said.

For winter, the hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m on Wednesday through Sunday. There will be a Sunday buffet and there will still be evenings when the restaurant will take reservations. Once Hawley is settled, she will open on Wednesday, Thursday, and Fridays for dinner as well. The cafe will still be available to rent out for special occasions. Hawley hopes to serve wine with the dinner services in the future.

If you are interested in dining at the Choo Choo Café, their hours are always posted outside of the door of the restaurant or you can call to see what hours are available during the evenings.

If you are interested in attending a service at North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus you can visit their website at The church also has a Facebook page.

Erwin fireworks to ring in New Year

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Erwin will ring in the New Year in an explosive manner with the inaugural New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

The fireworks are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31, but the community is encouraged to come out and visit downtown early and to stay later.

There will be food trucks available and several businesses will remain open later for the event. Union Street Taproom will remain open following the fireworks so the community can ring in the new year in downtown Erwin. The Union Street Taproom will have the ball drop live on the projector during their New Year’s Eve Party.

The fireworks will be fired off at 7:30 p.m. and local radio station Livewire 103.9 is partnering with Neighborhood Ford to provide a soundtrack to accompany the fireworks.

“I’m excited and the soundtrack is so fun,” CEO and General Manager of JET Broadcasting Corp. Maria True told The Erwin Record.

True said she jumped at the chance to work with the Town of Erwin on the project.

“I feel it’s all about unity with our local businesses,” True said.

The fireworks will be shot off from the Pat E. Brown Memorial Bridge overpass.

“There will be lots of great viewing areas along the Linear Trail, Second Street, Elm Street and throughout downtown Erwin,” Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice told The Erwin Record.

The New Year’s Eve Fireworks may be the first of many in downtown Erwin.

“I have always thought that we should do a fireworks display on New Year’s Eve,” Mayor Doris Hensley had previously said.

If you do come downtown early, the options are vast for fun. While downtown you can enjoy a meal at Choo Choo Cafe or perhaps enjoy a coffee from Steel Rails Coffee House. Capitol Cinemas is a great venue to enjoy the newest movies.

Shops such as Plant Palace, Valley Beautiful Antique Mall, Village Treasures, Chips Thrift Store, Stegall’s Pottery, Union Street Gallery and Baker’s Shoe Repair and Saddle Shop offer unique shopping experiences. You can also plan and host your next event at The Bramble. Other businesses such as Keesecker’s, Liberty Lumber and Computer Guy offer specialty items and services. Roller Pharmacy and Clinchfield Drug Company are also great places to find unique gifts.

The new year will see new businesses open as well as local favorites return. Erwin Outdoor Supply will open its doors for the first time, and NOLI will welcome guests to their brand new restaurant this spring.

What’s the Scoop Ice Cream and Boardgames will return with their frozen treats and board game room. North Ridge Community Church is set to open its doors in the spring at their new location on Main Street.

Union Street Taproom will continue to have Trivia Night every Tuesday evening. Union Street Gallery will continue to host their First Friday Sip and Shop event during the first Friday of each month.

Also returning this spring, the Erwin Cruise-In will once again welcome some of the area’s classic cars to downtown Erwin every Friday night throughout the summer.

Woman survives alleged attack by trio near river

By Richard Rourk

An officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department says a woman is lucky to be alive following an alleged attack that occurred over the weekend.

According to investigator Harmon Duncan, a 32-year-old female from the Tri-Cities area was left fighting for her life after she was reportedly attacked by three individuals. The alleged attack occurred with a rock and in a remote area of Unaka Springs.

According to the victim’s statement, she went for a ride with a male she knew. The two of them went for a walk to the railroad tracks and on the way back, two other individuals that the victim knew showed up and a confrontation took place.

The victim was struck in the head with a rock and lost part of her clothing during the struggle and she fell into the river. The three individuals left her there helpless and the victim said she played dead until the attackers left the scene.

The attack happened late in the  afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 16. The victim was able to find an old blanket to wrap up in and she was able to walk roughly half a mile to the camping area.

“She’s lucky she went the direction she did,” Duncan told The Erwin Record. “If she would have gone the other way she would have wound up on the North Carolina side and she probably wouldn’t have survived that.”

The victim was found on the Unaka Springs side of the Nolichucky River wrapped in a white blanket. The victim was yelling for help and the sheriff’s department had to enlist the help of a local rafting company to assist in the rescue. The joint effort got the female victim across the river where she was transported to Unicoi County Hospital and treated for life-threatening hypothermia and head injuries from the assault. The victim was then transported to Johnson City Medical Center. She was released from the hospital after staying overnight.

“She’s doing better, she’s got head injuries and she is still suffering from hypothermia, but I think she will be alright,” Duncan said.

The three suspects – Austin Gill, Matthew Taylor and Kendra Adams – were arrested by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department on Monday and charged with attempted first-degree murder. They are scheduled to be arraigned in a Unicoi County court on Wednesday, Dec. 19. They are each being held on $100,000 bond.