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COVID-19 makes its way through ACS, AppHealthCare reports 52 deaths and BOC makes mask mandate for employees

ASHE COUNTY — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners met in an emergency session on Aug. 25 to vote on a mask mandate for all county employees in county buildings and to ask, but not require, that the public wear masks as well when in these buildings.

Chair Todd McNeill, Vice Chair William Sands, Chuck Olive, Jonathan Jordan and Jerry Powers all expressed their concern for the ever-growing pandemic and saw it fit that employees protect the public through a mask mandate. No state-wide mandate has been set by Gov. Roy Cooper, therefore the public can still operate on choice.

The 2021-22 school year has kicked off with nearly 260 total individuals, both students and staff, currently out of school due to positive testing and quarantine for COVID-19.

According to Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, 40 positive tests came back among students with 74 being quarantined in the first week of school beginning, Aug. 16. In addition, one staff member tested positive and seven are quarantined.

As of Friday, Aug. 20, one more staff tested positive, two were quarantined, an additional 17 students contracted the virus and 71 more were quarantined. 42 students are now awaiting test results.

The ACHS football team recently announced cancellations to Friday night football for two weeks, Aug. 27 and Sept. 3. Eight athletes tested positive at ACHS and 1 athlete tested positive at the middle school.

Cox said that outside of football, the positive cases are results of outside of school activities with the possible exception of one, which is yet to be confirmed.

Ashe County Schools is currently working on a webpage that will account for current and upcoming case numbers. No release date for the website has been released.

Throughout the county, AppHealthCare has reported 77 active cases as of Aug. 30; 235 individuals have been directed to quarantine and 52 cumulative deaths have been reported. Ashe has had a total of 2,723 positive cases since testing began.

In Watauga, there are 126 active cases, reported on Aug. 30. Thirty-seven individuals are quarantined and deaths are steady at 34. Alleghany has risen to 40 active cases with 72 individuals in quarantine. Deaths have remained at five.

The vaccination rate for Ashe County has increased to 48 percent who are partially or fully vaccinated. Fifty-two percent remain unvaccinated and only 22 percent is left to each the goal of 70; 13,169 vaccines have been administered by AppHealthCare alone according the the Aug. 27 situation update.

Ages 12-17 have seen a vaccination rate of 23 percent, 18-24 at 36 percent, 25-49 at 45 percent, 50-64 at 57 percent. 65-74 at 70 percent and 71 and up at 72 percent.

Ashe County remains in the “red” which represents a high level of community transmission.

AppHealthCare is continuing to encourage the community to get vaccinated, wear masks, wash their hands and watch their distance when possible.

According to NCDHHS, North Carolina has seen a total of 1,208,303 cases since testing began. 3,509 are currently hospitalized.

For more information on COVID-19 testing or vaccines, visit www.apphealthcare.com to make an appointment or call (336) 246-9449.

History inside and out: Museum's victory garden keeps Ashe County food heritage alive

Now in its sixth year, the Ashe County Victory Garden — part of the Museum of Ashe County History — is doing its part to preserve the region’s unique agricultural heritage.

Maintained by volunteers from the Ashe Extension Master Gardeners program, the garden produces an abundance of crops distinctive to the High County, such as Ashe County pimento peppers, Oxheart tomatoes and Morse’s Pole 191 beans for their seeds. Originally planned as part of the museum’s World War II exhibit, the garden has, over time, transformed into a tool for educating the public about local plant varieties and how to grow them.

“When we first started growing stuff, we took the crops that came from the garden and took them to the sharing center, squash and things like that, and they were able to use the food,” said Bill Naser, victory garden coordinator and local master gardener. “But, it has since evolved into a seed saving garden. We take every bean, we take every seed from the peppers, from the tomatoes, we save them, put them into little envelops and take them to the library and people can come and check them out.”

Located on the second floor of the Ashe County Public Library, the Ashe Seed Library allows residents to pick out free, open-pollinated seeds produced locally. The goal of the program is to preserve the seeds, stories, and foodways specific to Ashe County and Western North Carolina through gardening.

“These seeds have stories, they’re connected to families in the community that have been saving them for sometimes a 150 years,” said Ashe County extension director, Travis Birdsell. “Not only are they part of our living heritage, they’re also adapted to our area to grow better here.”

The term victory garden comes from the wartime practice of supplementing household rations by growing personal gardens, a practice that started in the early 20th century and saw a boom during World War II. According to the Ashe Victory Garden’s outdoor exhibit, victory gardens were responsible for producing 40% of the country’s vegetables by 1944.

“They actually started during World War I. The federally government actually handed out seeds to people to get them to grow gardens at their home,” Birdsell said. “The whole purpose was to offset the need of the national food supply. So, people could help supply themselves with food, so then more food was available to send off to the troops. That way, every person could engage in supporting the war effort.”

Each year, the Ashe Victory Garden slightly changes, seeing new additions to its crop of regional plants. This year, volunteers planted a new pollinator garden who’s nectar and pollen producing plants attracts insects such as bees and butterflies. The garden also saw the planting of heirloom seeds gifted to the museum’s curator, Dong Long, by the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee seeds — corn, beans and squash — go hand in hand with the museum’s newest exhibit, “Real Americans: Native Americans in Ashe County” which details the region’s history prior to European settlement.

“The Cherokee Nation has given us, through Don Long, seeds,” Naser said. “They keep them seeds to themselves and for them to have given Don the seeds that we have used over here is, well it’s what we think of as a honor. We’re working really hard to keep that bed looking great.”

Known as the three sisters, the crops of corn, beans and squash are a important part of indigenous culture. Volunteers planted the heirloom seeds in the Native American style, with the beans using the cornstalk as a trellis and the squash growing around the corn’s base. The beans release beneficial nitrogen back into the soil which fertilizes the corn and squash, while the squash’s broad leaves provide shade, which keeps moisture in the ground and stops weed growth. The variety of seeds given to the museum by the Cherokee Nation were those of the colored flour corn, Trail of Tears bean and Georgia Candy Roaster Squash.

Going forward, the master gardeners hope for more of the same success by expanding their work at a slow, steady pace.

“Just small evolutions like the pollinator bed this year, and the Cherokee bed this year,” Naser said.

The master gardner volunteers responsible for this year’s crop of heirloom vegetables are Peggy Holt-Ward, Linnea Miller, Bill Naser, Beth Lyon-Smith, and Penny Moore, with Travis Birdsell assisting.

For more information about the Ashe County See Library visit arlibrary.libguides.com/acpl-online/seed-library or call (336) 846-2041.

The Ashe County Victory Garden is located behind the Museum of Ashe County History located at 301 E Main Street in Jefferson. The museum’s hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Giving back: New Badger Family Scholarship Endowment will benefit Ashe County students

ASHE COUNTY — The Badger family’s history runs deep in Ashe County, and now a new scholarship bearing their name will benefit the county’s graduating seniors.

The Badger Family Scholarship Endowment was the idea of Michael Badger, owner and operator of The People’s Drug in West Jefferson until his retirement in 2012. A devoted fan of High School athletics, Badger can often be found cheering on the Huskies at local sporting events. Badger stated that he — along with the help of the NC Community Foundation — created the Badger Family Scholarship Endowment as a means of giving back to the community which has helped make him who he is today.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have done well with my businesses. I’m really proud of Ashe County and I’m really proud of all the kids who go to school there,” Badger said. “I just felt that this was one way to repay Ashe County for being so good to our family. “

Through the years, members of the Badger family have taken on careers as teachers, nurses, realtors, medical doctors, machinists, paralegals, pharmacist, dental hygienists, nutritionists, morticians and in the auto industry. In the past, the Badgers have also donated land to build the county’s first hospital, as well as owned-assisted living facilities for older adults.

According to Badger, this scholarship will be available to all Ashe County graduates, regardless on whether they choose to attend a four-year degree, or two-year institution following high school.

“I just wanted to support the county by giving these kids an opportunity to further their education whether it be a two-year college or community college, or a four year,” Badger said. “I want the kids that we choose to give the scholarships to to certainly be well rounded kids, be respected in the county and be respected in their community.”

Looking toward the future, it is the hope of Badger that his extended family continues this scholarship for the years to come.

“Hopefully, our family, the Badger family as a whole, will contribute to this scholarship and let it be an ongoing scholarship for years and years to come,” Badger said.

For more information regarding the North CarolinaCommunity Foundation and the Badger Family Scholarship Endowment visit www.nccommunityfoundation.org/. Students interested in the scholarship should speak with their school guidance councilor.

New River Conservancy hosts Splash for Cash fundraiser

JEFFERSON— Looking to continue protecting and cleaning the New River, the New River Conservancy hosted the Splash for Cash, its annual river cleanup fundraiser, on Aug. 28. In a flotilla starting from Zaloo’s Canoes, Kayaks & Tubes in Jefferson, participants in the Splash for Cash paddled and floated down the river and enjoyed a waterside lunch together.

Additionally, the NRC raffled off a Wanderer paddling helmet from Sweet Protection, a jet boat ride through the New River Gorge as well as a Seaplane ride over Claytor Lake in Virginia. A door prize of an 8-person guided tour down New River State Park was given out on Aug. 28.

The NRC’s Splash for Cash, presented by Parke’s Electrical Services, brought 51 community members to the river, 30 more people than the Splash for Cash has ever had in the past. Zaloo’s provided shuttles and boats for free for the event.

Executive Director of the NRC, Elizabeth Underwood, said that the event met their goal of raising enough money to entirely cover the organization’s river cleanup program for an entire year, which costs $10,000. So far, in 2021 the NRC has hosted 5 river cleanups along 66 miles of the river, ultimately removing 14,200 pounds of trash out of the river, including 125 tires, which Underwood stated is around the weight of an adult African elephant.

Underwood said that by the end of the year the river cleanup program will have pulled out enough trash from the New River to equal the weight of a blue whale, clocking in around 300,000 pounds of trash. The thousands of pounds of trash in the New River are detrimental to the river ecosystems, according to Underwood, and she said she is thrilled to have the community come together in support of the conservancy.

“It is always great to see old and new friends from up and down the watershed come together to protect the New River,” said Summer Rich, NRC Communications Director. She said that the volunteers, sponsors and community members are integral to the conservancy’s work throughout the watershed.

Community sponsors included Premium ($1,000) Sponsors of Sharpe Falls Power, Buckeye Advisors LLC, River Ridge Land & Cattle Company; Paddle Sponsors ($500) The Hotel Tavern, Waters Edge on the New, McDonalds of West Jefferson, Skyline Skybest; and Community Sponsors ($250) Boondocks, Global Manufacturing, WKSK The Farm, Miller’s Insurance, Ashe High Country Realty, Old Orchard Creek General Store and Craft Bistro.

To learn more about the NRC river cleanup program, visit http://www.newrivercleanups.org/. For more ways to get involved, reach out to Summer Rich, NRC Communications Director, at summer@newriverconservancy.org or visit http://www.newriverconservancy.org/.