AVERY COUNTY – The year of 2021 has come and gone, providing Avery County with the light at the end of the tunnel past the topsy-turvy year that preceded it: 2020. Moving forward to 2022, however, Avery County has an amalgamation of projects, goals, events and challenges.

Some of the more challenging and exciting additions to Avery County will come in the way of new construction. There are many projects which are under way on that estimate a completion date in the year of 2022. Projects from areas of education, retail and more will provide additional services to the county at large.

The long-awaited resolution to the Avery County High School addition project should be one of the first extensions of the New Year for Avery construction. The renovation of the high school has operated as one of the preeminent large-scale programs. With highs and lows regarding the contracting and pace, Avery County will be able to enjoy its efforts in 2022.

Avery County High School will also be completing the re-turfing of the football field, an advancement that would bring the school’s sporting spirit to even higher heights. The bidding process recently began for the project, with plans for installation in time for the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

Grandfather Mountain looks forward to the completion of the Wilson Center, which has been under construction since fall of 2019. The new addition to the Conservation Campus will nearly double the size of the park’s current Nature Museum, with 10,000 square feet of education space, including state-of-the-art museum exhibits, three classrooms, restoration of the ADA-accessible auditorium, enhanced food service facilities to allow for catering while serving educational groups and expanding capacity for hosting conferences, seminars, receptions and community events.

The year 2021 demonstrated modest pandemic-ridden growth for Avery County. New buildings like the Heritage Park Community Center and the Newland Bojangles opened up, and 2022 may present even more business openings, with or without Covid.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts Store, whose structure was completed well before the end of 2021, has current plans to open in February. Economic leaders are also hopeful the old Lowes Foods building will become inhabited once again. Also in the county seat of Newland, the Inn at Shady Lawn has plans in place to reopen in the spring of this year as well.

Nonprofit groups in the county will be aiming high in 2022. The ultra-productive Feeding Avery Families program looks to continue its exciting growth while helping families throughout the county. FAF has already purchased a new lot of land and expects to have a brand new facility erected before the end of the year.

Yellow Mountain Enterprises, another key nonprofit organization in Avery County, has plans to grow its program. As a premiere vocational rehabilitation program in the county, YME will look toward expanding its group home capacity and the vocational training programs with the Yellow Mountain Treasure Box and Trophy Shop.

Government leadership in Avery has been working on numerous programs throughout the past year, some of which may come closer to reality in this current year. Federal funds to be utilized, developments to be pursued and technological enhancements for the region appear to be on the horizon in the year ahead.

County Manager Phillip Barrier is particularly excited about the prospects of opportunities with the American Rescue Plan, broadband enhancement, workforce housing and grant funding.

“Broadband might finally be here,” said Barrier. “(We’re) waiting on guidance from federal and state government.” Leaders are hopeful that specifics on how counties can utilize funds will be clarified later in January.

Dogwood Trust grants are also intended to be applied for this year to assist in providing peer support from Freedom Life and workforce housing assistance. Talks with developers have increased for housing and may become a reality for 2022.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to help with childcare. I want our working families to be able to afford to work,” said Barrier.

The Trail Grant with the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Department may also be on the table, depending on state decisions, in which a trail could be built at Heritage Park. Barrier looks forward in 2022 to expanding upon the already-efficient utilization of the Heritage Park Community Center.

Barrier also noted a possibility for an occupancy room tax that would assist in economic development for the county.

Avery County will also be witness to a number of key elections for the county. Seats which will be contended for include county commissioner, county Clerk of Court, Board of Education, and the soon-to-be-vacated office of Avery County Sheriff.

With Sheriff Kevin Frye stepping down from his position, a new sheriff will be appointed by February 1. This appointment will run concurrently with the upcoming election season, and the office holder’s status and tenure may be determined by the upcoming spring county primary election. All elected positions play a vital component in both the short-term and long-term mechanisms of the county.

Most every person hopes in 2022 to see the eradication and decrease in impact of the ongoing global pandemic. As the pandemic has dominated discussion and the news cycle for the balance of the past two years, serving at times as a divisive subject, local healthcare workers, government officials and everyday citizens will continue to deal with the pandemic’s effects as 2022 unfolds, hoping for a return to relative normalcy by year’s end.

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