University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Update (8-11-16): A major, state media outlet is reporting a federal court has struck down North Carolina's state House and Senate maps. According to WRAL-TV of Raleigh, the court ruled the maps were unconstitutional on the basis of race, but the 2016 election will go ahead as planned with the maps as they are.

UPDATE: Rocky Mount has changed their mind about removing Pokemon Go locations at parks and city properties.  After a review of parks and facilities, the city decided not to remove Pokemon Go sites, unless there’s a specific hazard at the park. 

If you recognize that theme, you may be among the 75 million people playing Pokemon Go.  The wildly popular app has young and old alike wandering around, phone in hand, searching for Pikachu, Charmander, and Squirtle.  In an effort to cover this new craze, I set off to find poke players and had no trouble at all.

Rip currents have been making headlines lately with deaths along North Carolina's coast attributed to these swift, powerful channels of water.  To help keep you and your family safe this summer, Public Radio East’s Mac McKee speaks with Atlantic Beach Fire Chief Adam Snyder about how to break the grip of the rip.

Pokemon Go is causing issues here in eastern North Carolina.  We speak with community colleges about how they’re dealing with an influx of people coming on campus and we talk to local officials concerned with player safety.  Plus, Fisher Houses offer toys, beds, and breathing space for military families adjusting to new lives.  We explore eastern North Carolina based Fisher Houses.  Camp Lejeune has one and the newest opened at Ft. Bragg. And, do you know what to do if you are caught in a rip current?  Find out this week on the Down East Journal.

Fisher House Welcomes Families in Transition

Jul 29, 2016

Since it opened its doors in April, Ft. Bragg’s newest house has welcomed more than 67 families. It’s a special residence, part of the Fisher House Foundation’s program, and the second such residence the Fayetteville Army base has hosted in 23 years.  It’s one of two program homes in North Carolina – the other is aboard Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.   Chris Thomas has this.

How do you deal with a life permanently altered – by a disease, a traumatic injury, or the sudden, premature, and violent death of a loved one?

Often, it’s going about your daily routine.

“My mom had, you know, her own little space…so she could get up in the morning and get her own little cup of coffee and sit outside and do her devotional and all that.”

Lori Sutherland of Fayetteville, mother of Michael Rodriguez – killed in action in 2007. Ms. Sutherland said he’d long dreamt of a soldier’s life. When it came to an end over the battlefields in Iraq, her family – primarily from Galveston, TX – was referred to the Fisher House at Ft. Bragg.

Nearly a decade later, Ms. Sutherland is now manager of the base’s new Fisher House, the latest of 70. The former house – the house where her family stayed in the days following Specialist Rodriguez’s death – is set to be demolished.

“When they come to tear the house down, I’m (going to) get a window to keep – just a little piece of the house. I’m (going to) have the guys that are tearing down the house to save me a window.”

The Fisher House Foundation is a philanthropic organization started in 1990 by a Brooklyn born builder Zachary Fisher.

Fisher Houses are residences built on military installations – usually near a hospital – and donated to the U.S. Government. They are temporary living spaces for visiting families of service people wounded, sick, or killed in action.

Its founding, according to Josie Callahan of the Camp Lejeune Fisher House, can be traced back to a conversation he had with Pauline Trost, wife of, then, Chief of Naval Operations: Admiral Carlisle Trost.

“During the course of that friendship, Mrs. Trost brought to Zach’s attention that there were these family members who were coming for their service member who was receiving treatment at the hospital and had no place to stay. They were staying their cars. And he very simply said that he could build something for them because that was his line of work and that’s what he could do.  

Ms. Callahan has been manager of the Camp Lejeune Fisher House since it opened in 2010. She says she still remembers the first family that stayed there – a Marine Corps Master Sergeant, his wife, and their two children.

“And it was so neat to see – and really, to be honest, it’s so neat today to see – the families come in and, you know, and their face lights up, they’re looking around, they can’t believe that this gorgeous home is going to be their coming to stay.”

Since its founding 6 years ago, the Camp Lejeune Fisher House has hosted 1,800 individuals for 5,600 nights. The house has 11 suites.

“We have a family room, a dining room, kitchen, laundry room, business center, quiet room, and unisex bathroom that our families share together – those are our common spaces. And then each family is given their own room and their own bathroom.  

Among the family members welcomed by the new house in Fayetteville Trica Leake, mother of Spc. Drew Ruiz, who was diagnosed with cancer this past winter.

“When we first got there, it was like coming home. I’d never felt so welcome in any place in my entire life. You’re immediately brought in, treated like family.”

She stayed from January to June and made the transition from the old house to the new. The old house, according to Ms. Sutherland, was roughly half the size of the current one.  

“There was a couple of times I had to get help as far as being able to provide food for myself and that was immediately provided because there’s so many volunteers that would come through there and donations of food and pretty much everything that you would need to run a home.”

Along with helping out around the house, Ms. Leake said she spent her free time exploring Fayetteville and contributing to the local economy.

That’s an under-examined aspect of a Fisher House’s presence in a community, Ms. Callahan said.

“So they’re really no different than the folks that stay in a hotels, except they’re not paying the occupancy tax affiliated with the hotels. But, they’re still needing to grocery shop, purchase clothing.”

Though families usually arrive at the Fisher House under unpleasant circumstances, Ms. Callahan says some families will turn up while on vacation for a friendly visit.

“One of our families had come – the last time they’d come to us, their son had been hurt in Afghanistan – and so, fast forward 2-and-a-half years later, they were sitting the rocking chair on the porch when I came into work one morning and…I said ‘hey guys, what are you doing here?’ and they said ‘he deployed today. He went back over and we just wanted to see our friends that helped make that happen.”

Some have been hesitant to donate to veteran-focused charities after multiple, high profile cases of alleged fraud were uncovered this year.

But the Fisher House Foundation’s record is, more or less, squeaky clean. They received the highest marks available from two, major, charity watch dogs – Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy’s “Charity Watch” database.

“You know, we can’t speak for any other organization, we don’t work for them, so they’re responsible to their donors, to their boards, to their folks for what they do and we’re responsible to ours, but we’ve kept that transparency so when people say to us ‘what about these other things happening?’ we can’t speak to that, but let us show you what we’ve done, what we’ve raised, what we’ve done with it, how we’re doing it and what our future plans our and let you make that decision, and by having all of that information available, and by time and time again doing exactly what we said we were going to do, we’ve been able to keep that public trust which is so important to us.”

Like most charities, Fisher House Foundation takes donations – including hotel points, frequent flyer miles, and unwanted vehicles. But Lori Sutherland said the things individual houses need most aren’t that different from what you may get at the store.

 “We need things like cleaning products. We need food, you know, groceries. Gift cards are always welcomed. That way we can run to the story and get what we need.”

Items like new toys for the houses’ younger visitors are also welcomed.

For more information, go to

I’m Chris Thomas.   

People in the sailing capital of North Carolina won’t have to drive far to get groceries anymore.  A ribbon cutting takes place Wednesday July, 27th on a new Piggly Wiggly in Oriental.  Jared Brumbaugh reports.

People in the sailing capital of North Carolina won’t have to drive far to get groceries anymore.  A ribbon cutting takes place Wednesday July, 27th on a new Piggly Wiggly in Oriental.  Jared Brumbaugh reports.

Wind Energy's Future in NC up in the Air

Jul 26, 2016
Avangrid Renewables

Last weekend, the skyline in Pasquotank County changed dramatically when builders hoisted a nearly 500 foot wind turbine in a corn field.  More than 100 just like it, part of the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East project, will make up the first wind energy farm in the state.


This week on the Down East Journal, we detail the state’s first ever wind farm currently under construction near Elizabeth City.  The project has drawn criticism from some who are proposing legislation aimed at limiting future construction elsewhere in the region. We speak to local environmentalists and state representatives on the future of wind farms in eastern North Carolina.  And, 29 eastern North Carolina Arts Councils are seeking applications for regional artists grants of up to $1,000 in financial support for art projects.

INTRO – North Carolinians are enjoying the lowest July gas prices in 12 years. George Olsen has more.

Thousands of dead fish have washed up on the banks of the Neuse River, near Flanners Beach.  Scientists believe the fish kill could get worse before it gets better.  Jared Brumbaugh has more. 

ENC Residents fought, died for Union in Civil War

Jul 18, 2016
North Carolina Union Volunteers

Thousands of men from North Carolina enlisted to fight in the Civil War, many them for the Confederacy, but some – including 1,300, white, eastern North Carolinians – went against their state’s government and fought for the Union Army. They were later joined by nearly 1,100 black men from region.  

Those decisions pit brother against brother and for some, it resulted in paying the ultimate price – on the battle field and the gallows.

Tryon Palace

Dancing, singing, and drumming.  Jonkonnu is a long celebrated African American tradition.  It’s roots can be traced back to the 1800’s in Jamaica and to the people of West Africa.  This cultural practice is being preserved and taught this summer at Tryon Palace with free workshops every Tuesday, now through Aug. 5th.  The workshops culminate with a public student performance of Jonkonnu Friday, Aug. 9, at 2 p.m.  Jared Brumbaugh has this audio postcard.

Local towns along the coast are stepping up efforts to make beaches safer and more accessible.  Atlantic Beach is rolling out plastic walkways each morning to provide a stable surface for wheelchairs.  Emerald Isle is focusing on reducing the number of drownings with the installation of over 100 flotation devices along the surf.

Good news for gardeners in the Pitt County area. George Olsen has more.

This week on the Down East Journal, ECU's School of Music celebrates the 20th anniversary of it's guitar festival, four days of concerts and workshops that attract students and experts from across the nation.  We speak to organizers and participants about the Greenville festival's growth and vision.  Plus, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is seeking input from local hunters on white-tailed deer management in a statewide survey.  And, a new art exhibit called "Summertime" opens at the Crystal Coast.

Melissa McGaw, NCWRC

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is calling on hunters to help out with a statewide deer hunting survey to help improve deer management.  The current study expounds on another conducted in 2006 with 10,000 hunters.  Officials hope to reach over 220,000 this time.

ECU Celebrates 20th Guitar Festival

Jul 11, 2016
Joe Pellegrino / The Daily Reflector

ECU's Summer Guitar Festival was held July 6th through the 9th in Greenville with four days of concerts and workshops.  The event attracts students and experts from across the nation.   Chris Thomas has more on the festival's growth over the past 20 years and the vision for the future.

This is how things started Wednesday morning – the first day of this year’s ECU Guitar Festival. Back in 1996 just 12 people checked in for the first one. This year, 53 people registered for classes and gradually wandered into the lobby of the A.J. Fletcher School of Music.

Zika Taskforce Surveys State Mosquito Population

Jul 5, 2016
University of Florida

In response to the Zika outbreak, and any threat it may pose to North Carolinians, a statewide co-op of researchers, pest control specialists, and doctors are studying local mosquito populations – specifically, carriers of the headline grabbing virus.

The study is in its early stages, but as Chris Thomas reports, participants – and the state as a whole – may have gone into it with a hand tied behind their back.  

This week on the Down East Journal, we speak to an East Carolina University entomologist about a statewide study on mosquitoes and the Zika virus.  We detail the newly created Zika Task Force, its goals, and obstacles.  Plus, the annual sea turtle survey is underway at the coast this summer.  It’s the first time they’re using drones to count sea turtle populations at Cape Lookout Bight.  And, it's music and conversation with Jennifer Licko about her latest CD, "Sing."

Duke Marine Lab UAS

A team of researchers are conducting their annual sea turtle survey at the coast this summer.  But this year, they have a new tool to give them a bird's eye view.  Drones equipped with cameras fly over the water and capture images of sea turtles from above.

Sing - Jennifer Licko

Jun 30, 2016

INTRO – A new CD by ENC native Jennifer Licko took a long, circuitous and electronic path toward final production. George Olsen has more.

“It was a really nice collaboration of an Irish producer in Minnesota, an English producer in Florida and a Brazilian producer here in Brazil and I think it made for an interesting outcome.”   

Beyond Binary: Living a Secular Life in the Bible Belt

Jun 27, 2016
Getty/Dimitri Otis

Now we continue our series “Beyond Binary” which explores the changing demographics of our area.

Eastern North Carolina is among the key notches on the “Bible Belt.” Houses of worship can be found on the most remote country roads and it isn’t uncommon to see their lots filled to the brim at least twice-a-week.

But as Chris Thomas reports, secularism’s reemergence in America hasn’t exempted eastern North Carolina.

Public input is being sought on transportation projects planned in and around New Bern.  Jared Brumbaugh has more on the meeting set for Wednesday, June 29th. 

The largest project, carried over from last year, would upgrade U.S. 70 in James City to interstate standards, and include intersection improvements to Taberna Way, Thurman Road, Stately Pines Road and Fisher Ave.  The meeting will also include details on a new roundabout where Broad Street, Neuse Boulevard and Martin Luther King converge. 

National Park Service, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

The mystery of what exactly happened to the Lost Colony is still unknown, but archeologist are uncovering clues as to what life was like for colonist who were a part of the first English settlement attempt in the New World.  Earlier this month, archeologists discovered several pottery shards on Roanoke Island, near Fort Raleigh, dating back to the 16th century.  

This week on the Down East Journal, we speak to an archeologist with the First Colony Foundation about rare 16th century pottery pieces recently found on Roanoke Island, near the first settlement in the New World.  And, our "Beyond Binary" series continues.  We speak to a regional native who is part of a national trend opting for a life without organized religion. The Down East Journal, Friday at noon on all of the PRE stations, and Saturday at noon on News and Ideas. 

A section of U.S. 264 in Beaufort County will be closed for the next six months as a bridge replacement project gets underway.  Jared Brumbaugh has more. 

The new span will replace the current bridge over Pantego Creek constructed in 1950 that is functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.  The project started last week and workers are installing new water and sewer infrastructure at the site now.  In the coming weeks, Resident Engineer for the State Department of Transportation Cadmus Capehart says demolition of the existing bridge will begin.

The Sampson Independant

Every third Saturday of June, the National Hollerin' Contest takes place in Spivey's Corner.  But this past Saturday's competition is probably the last time hoots and hollers are heard in this crossroads community.  Organizers say the event has been suspended because of increasing cost and decreasing participation.  But Jared Brumbaugh was there when the Hollerin' Contest was well attended and in this feature, we look back at the nearly 50 year old tradition.

What's it like to hold something older than the Parthenon in the palm of your hand? You'll find out this week on the Down East Journal when we speak to an ECU anthropologist who did just that after millennia-old, stone points were discovered in the state.  And, we say farewell to a nearly 50 year old tradition.  The National Hollerin’ Contest in Sampson County is coming to an end.  Plus, it's your opportunity to go behind the scenes at Tryon Palace.

ECU Archaeologist Weighs in on Finding Prehistoric Points

Jun 20, 2016
Lori Gross via the Charlotte Observer

Around the time the Pyramids at Giza were finished, Stonehenge was consecrated, and bronze was the next big thing in Europe and Asia, nomads living on the western hemisphere, about 300 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean, made stone points and buried them in the ground – probably for later use.

5,000 to 6,000 years, in what’s now known as New London, North Carolina near the Stanly and Montgomery County line – those points were rediscovered in Leonard and Karen Shelor’s backyard.