Alison Jones, a veteran editor with roots in Durham, will be joining the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy as the managing editor of The 9th Street Journal.
Jones will bring a deep understanding of Durham to The 9th Street Journal. She grew up here, attended Durham Public Schools and covered the city as a reporter for the News & Observer.
She also knows Duke and our students. For the past six years she has worked as a senior writer for Duke’s communications office, where she has written for a variety of university publications and helped students and faculty publish op-eds. She also knows the Sanford School of Public Policy from her two years at the Center for Child and Family Policy and her occasional work helping out with the Ways and Means podcast.
In talking with Jones and reviewing her work, we were impressed with her meticulous editing and her thoughtful approach with student writers. We are looking forward to having her work with our talented group of student journalists.
In addition to her 9th Street duties, Jones will teach a podcasting course beginning next fall, which will bolster the Center’s offerings in this growing and important area.
After a series of drownings and broken-bone injuries at an old rock quarry in the Eno River State Park — a beautiful swimming hole enjoyed by Durhamites since the 1970s — state park officials have taken action they hope will prevent future accidents.
This spring, they felled trees to create a barrier at a dangerous jumping spot — a cliff with a 25-foot drop into deep water.
While they hope to make the four-acre Eno Quarry a safer place to visit, they acknowledge that some visitors are upset about the change.
“I know that it makes people unhappy,” said Kimberly Radewicz, the Eno River State Park superintendent. “But the quarry needs to turn into a purely recreational area, not a hub for daredevils.”
Four swimmers have died since 1993 at the Eno Quarry, which Radewicz calls a “beautiful nuisance.” In recent years, her office has received calls about broken backs, broken feet and broken ankles. Three years ago, a 15-year-old girl broke four ribs and suffered a collapsed lung after jumping from the cliff and hitting a tree trunk on her way down.
The Eno Quarry is surrounded by steep banks in some areas and is uniformly around 65 feet deep. The view from its rocky ledges may give the illusion of a smooth landing, but just under the surface of the dark green water lies a treacherous mix of logs and debris. To enter the water, swimmers must either jump from a 12-to-25-foot rock shelf, climb down a rocky bank, or wade in through the only shallow area — where the bottom is riddled with debris and sharp rocks.
On her routine patrols, Radewicz warns visitors of the quarry’s hidden dangers.
“I tell them the quarry is beautiful, but there’s these other things you need to know for your own protection, for your own security and safety.”
Visitors frequently do not realize how deep the swimming hole actually is, and that there are no lifeguards, Radewicz said. After she shares her insights and statistics, they sometimes reconsider their plans to jump or swim without life vests or rafts.
The Eno Quarry was excavated in the 1960s to provide stone for the construction of nearby Interstate 85. In later years it filled in naturally with water, and visitors soon followed.
The quarry was originally on private property, and locals would trespass to swim, fish, or cliff jump. When people started to get hurt, the property owners at the time, the Coile family, took action.
“They put up barbed wire, they put up barriers, and people would tear them down,” said Radewicz. “It was a very popular place for people to go. I’ve heard stories that they hired a guy with a .22 rifle to try to keep people away.”
For 29-year-old Durham native Todd Fox, the Eno Quarry and its infamous jump have been a reliable weekend destination for more than 13 years. In fact, Fox’s parents met while swimming there, when they were teens.
After seeing the felled trees on a recent visit, he was devastated.
“They massacred [it],” Fox said. “All that history gone … years of experiences my son will not get the chance to have.”
The Eno Quarry became part of the state park in 2003. The superintendent at the time, Dave Cook, foresaw trouble and tried to ban swimming there altogether. He put up a fence around the jump spot, but outraged swimmers dismantled it, and Cook and his staff eventually revoked their ban. Unable to effectively prohibit swimming, they decided they would simply discourage it.
To reach the quarry, visitors park at the Cabe Lands Access parking lot off Howe Street and hike about a mile on the Cabe Lands and Quarry trails, navigating under trees and over streams to reach a clearing in the woods. The trail is marked with signs that warn against swimming in the deep water with its submerged hazards, and against jumping or diving from the quarry’s steep banks.
The signs are meant to prevent accidents, but they aren’t a guarantee.
The earliest reported drowning at the Eno Quarry was in 1993. In 2007, 18-year-old Ian Creath drowned while swimming far off shore. Seventeen-year-old Lamont Burt Jr. died in 2015 while swimming just below the jump spot. Nicklaus Brown, 18, drowned after jumping from the cliff and failing to resurface in 2019.
Under former superintendent Keith Nealson, the state park’s response to fatalities focused on increasing quarry patrols and constantly reminding the public of its dangers. Visitors often laughed off his rangers’ warnings, Nealson said.
Nealson and his staff discussed putting up another fence, but they didn’t want to repeat Cook’s mistake. For a while, whenever people called his office for information about the swimming hole, Nealson resorted to saying “we don’t have one.”
“When you reach a point where you can’t manage people, you have to find creative solutions,” Nealson said in an interview.
The Eno Quarry makes up just one-tenth of a percent of the state park’s property, but it is the source of 70% of all emergency calls and citations, he said.
“The hardest part of managing the entire state park was that quarry,” Nealson said. “On a typical summer weekend, it would be unusual if we didn’t respond to at least five or six incidents there.”
Radewicz knew she needed to do more, especially now that soil erosion is making all entry points increasingly precarious. After she was promoted from park ranger to superintendent in 2019, she channeled her new authority into safeguarding the swimming hole.
When the state park closed in 2020 because of the pandemic, she leveraged the time to brainstorm solutions before reopening. The existing warning signs were not enough; fences can be climbed or destroyed; and a swimming ban is impractical to implement and enforce.
“We would have to have rangers down there 24 hours a day,” Radewicz said. “We don’t have those sorts of resources here.”
She settled on felled trees as the best and most natural option. In February, Radewicz got permission to drop the first round of trees over the jump spot. More trees were felled there in May after teenagers continued to jump, finding gaps in the original barrier.
So far this year, the Eno River park office has noticed a decrease in emergency calls and injuries.
“It seems to be doing great so far,” Radewicz said. “I have high hopes.”
This is particularly good news given the area’s recent surge in visitors. According to Radewicz, Eno River State Park broke one million visitors for the first time ever last year, ranking it the fourth most popular park among the 41 in the state.
Regulars have noticed how much busier the park is this year.
“It gets so crowded that it’s impossible to even park there,” said Zachary Keesee, 22, an avid quarry cliff jumper since high school. “It’s not just locals anymore. People from all over the state come, and nearby college students come in big groups.”
Keesee likes meeting new people and doesn’t mind the increase in visitors, but he’s not sure they’ll continue to come with the jump spot destroyed.
“[The tree barrier] doesn’t only ruin the jump, it ruins the spot where everyone sits and hangs out,” he said.
On recent visits to the Eno Quarry, Keesee has seen groups of teenagers immediately turn around and leave after seeing the jump spot barricaded.
While some visitors are unhappy about the new efforts to block cliff-jumping, other quarry visitors say they were never interested in the jump to begin with.
“We didn’t go there for an adrenaline rush,” said Konsta Anttila, who has been a few times with his wife, Elaina. “It was more about having a really relaxing time in a better alternative to a public pool.”
Jump or no jump, many visitors can still be found at the quarry on a summer afternoon — hiking, picnicking, fishing, reading in hammocks, or floating in the water on colorful rafts.
This is Radewicz’s vision for the Eno Quarry.
If safety issues arise again, she said she’ll go back to the drawing board to find new solutions. But for now, she will dedicate her time to improving the trail around the quarry, making it more sustainable.
Keesee said there are still some smaller banks to jump from, and he wouldn’t be surprised if some committed visitors attempted to “dodge the trees” and make the big jump anyway, but he will err on the side of caution and instead try to find a new spot. He regularly does this by scouring Google Maps for small bodies of water nearby that seem swimmable and then checking them out in person. Sometimes he scores, sometimes not.
Still, he said, he has yet to find a spot that beats the Eno Quarry.
Even Fox, who was devastated to find his jump ruined, said he will continue to visit the quarry.
“Even though they messed up my favorite part of the quarry, I will definitely be going back,” Fox said. “It’s still a really nice, peaceful walk through a beautiful part of the woods. Plus, there are waaaay too many memories.”
At top: Felled trees block access to 25-foot cliff at the Eno Quarry. Photo by Nicole Kagan, The 9th Street Journal
Reporters with The 9th Street Journal had plenty to cover this year and all rose to the occasion.
They published more than 140 articles on the pandemic, demands for racial justice, high-stakes elections and more.
Some articles stood out due to the heft of the subject matter and the depth of the reporting. As 2020 draws to a close, here is some of our best reporting of the year:
Hospital bill collectors
Six months after an intruder raped a Duke University student in her campus apartment, bill collectors started calling her about unpaid Duke University Hospital charges. Victims are not supposed to be charged for sexual assault exams. But rules have loopholes, Cameron Beach reported.
A Durham crisis
Hundreds of people were evacuated from Durham’s oldest public housing community due to unsafe conditions last winter. Housing authorities in other North Carolina cities take better care of their properties, Caroline Petrow-Cohen explained.
After the pandemic struck, the world learned how important contract tracers are. These public health sleuths encounter suffering that is hidden from most of us, Bella Caracta described.
Once a homicide
After a judge discredited police evidence in the case against a Durham teenager, prosecutors dropped charges accusing him of killing his father. Months later, a medical examiner revised the cause of the man’s death, Ben Leonard disclosed.
Families in the dark
When the new coronavirus started spreading, federal officials banned visitors from nursing homes. Intended to protect the vulnerable, the move isolated residents from family members at a time of great danger, Victoria Eavis documented.
Follow the money
Durham officials boasted of giving aid to small businesses this summer. But for weeks, they did not know who received the funding, Ben Leonard revealed.
What is Swing NC?
Trying to track the origin of a $53,000 donation to a congressional candidate shows how the campaign finance system is a messy tangle, Michaela Towfighi found.
COVID-19 in jail
Darrell Kersey’s death was the second COVID-19 fatality linked to the Durham jail that was not disclosed to the public, Dryden Quigley exposed.
Repairs gone wrong
For months, public housing residents were forced to live with a rodent infestation where their children play outdoors, Charlie Zong reported.
At top: 9th Street Journal reporter Rebecca Torrence interviews a Durham resident during early voting at Duke University’s Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center. Photo by Henry Haggart
None of us will forget the year 2020. How could we?
This is the year global pandemic struck, followed by a national racial-justice reckoning and high-stakes political campaigns. In Durham, a crisis in the city’s largest public housing community swelled too.
Two 9th Street Journal student photojournalists — Corey Pilson in the spring and Henry Haggart in summer and fall — documented all that and more this year.
Here is some of their good work that we love best from 2020.
In a different year, the race might seem humdrum: a Republican boasting about jobs and the economy pitted against a Democrat promising better healthcare.
But this is 2020, and few things are run-of-the-mill, including the tight, high-profile competition for a U.S. Senate seat between Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.
Congress doesn’t always hang in the balance.
“I just think everybody recognizes that this is going to be the most expensive race, probably in the country, just because of the tightness of North Carolina in terms of its political dynamics” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College. “Certainly, I think the Senate hinges on how this particular race goes.”
If party nominee Joe Biden wins the presidency, Democrats will need to net three seats to gain a Senate majority, since the vice president has a tie-breaking vote. If President Donald Trump wins, they’ll need four. In either scenario, the Democrats have their sights trained on North Carolina, where most polls aggregated by FiveThirtyEight show the two candidates tied or Cunningham with a single digit lead.
Both candidates have stuck to the conventional party playbooks while targeting the sliver of swing voters that could decide the outcome of this election — and the future of the Senate.
Tillis, 60, was elected in 2014, ousting Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. His campaign emphasizes humble beginnings: in one Youtube advertisement, Tillis describes how he moved throughout the South as a kid.
“Growing up in trailer parks and rental homes, Senator Tillis understands what so many are going through right now, which is why he’ll never stop fighting to revive our economy and get North Carolinians back to work,” Alex Nolley, Tillis’s campaign spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
According to The Charlotte Observer, Tillis left home at 17 before going on to work at the prestigious accounting and consulting firm Price Waterhouse and IBM.
From 2007 to 2015, he represented District 98 in the North Carolina House of Representatives. In the last four years of his tenure, he served as Speaker of the House.
As the state’s junior senator, Tillis has vacillated between opposing and supporting President Trump, said Jessica Taylor, the Senate and governors editor for The Cook Political Report.
Take Tillis’s response to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over illegal immigration across the Mexican-American border in 2019. Initially, Tillis said he would vote against the declaration, but he later backtracked and voted for it — a “cautionary tale” for other Republican incumbents contemplating breaking with the president, Taylor said.
“The damage was done,” she said.
Now, Tillis faces the difficult balancing act of shoring up the Trump base while distancing himself from unpopular aspects of the president’s policies, particularly his response to the coronavirus crisis. During a recent Trump rally in Winston-Salem, Tillis stood out for wearing a mask. The president and many of his supporters went without.
“Tillis is trying to walk the Donald Trump tightrope,” said Chris Cooper, professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. “Not distancing himself from Trump, but also not giving full-throated defense of the more radical parts of the Trump agenda.”
Tillis has doubled down on his track record regarding the economy, including his support for the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program for small businesses — with the hope of portraying himself as a “common-sense fiscal conservative,” as his campaign website labels him.
His campaign also paints Cunningham as a far-left candidate of the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.
“His radical liberal agenda of making it easier to sue police officers, enabling sanctuary cities, injecting the Green New Deal into COVID-19 legislation and increasing government control of our healthcare system, proves that Cunningham is nothing but a rubber-stamp for Chuck Schumer’s extreme liberal agenda,” Nolley wrote.
Cunningham, 47, has worked to portray himself as the kind of moderate Democrat swing voters in North Carolina can trust, highlighting his small-town origins and his military service.
He grew up in Lexington and earned his law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law. After 9/11, Cunningham entered the Army Reserve and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Deployed to Iraq, he oversaw the army’s largest court martial jurisdiction, earning a Bronze Star Medal and the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award, according to his campaign website.
“He really kind of is a candidate from central casting,” said Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University. “He’s got the military background. He’s got his classic rural North Carolina accent. … I think people are able to project onto Cunningham what they want to.”
Cunningham was elected to the State Senate in 2000. He later worked as an attorney at Wallace & Graham, a firm with practice areas that include workers’ compensation, personal injury and class action cases, and at Kilpatrick Stockton, where he focused on commercial litigation. He has also worked as vice president of a waste management company called Waste Zero, a role that has provoked negative Republican advertising.
Healthcare is a common talking point for Cunningham: he wants to lower prescription drug costs, guarantee coverage for preexisting conditions and expand Medicaid.
“One of the most frequent issues Cal hears about when he talks to North Carolinians is the need to improve access and bring down the cost of healthcare for families — made more urgent during the COVID-19 crisis as hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are out of work and uninsured,” Aaron Simpson, Cunningham’s press secretary, wrote in an email.
Cunningham has criticized Tillis for cutting education funding and opposing Medicaid expansion. He’s also accused the incumbent of shady dealing.
“Instead of doing right by the people he should serve, [Tillis] has spent the past six years caving over and over to the corruption in Washington and the corporate special interests bankrolling him,” Simpson wrote.
Senate races are always expensive, but this one particularly so: outside spending groups, including PACs and SuperPACs, have already funnelled nearly $50 million into this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This race has attracted more outside spending than any other Congressional race; for context, outside groups have spent around $40 million on the Senate contest in Iowa, the next most expensive race in terms of outside spending.
Earlier this year, Cunningham had trailed Tillis in finances. But in the second quarter of 2020 his campaign nearly tripled Tillis’s fundraising, smashing a record for the amount of money raised by a North Carolina Senate candidate in a quarter, according to The News & Observer.
As of June 30, Tillis’s campaign raised about $13.7 million and spent $7.3 million, while Cunningham raised roughly $14.8 million and spent about $8.2 million.
“I think that there should be no surprise that Cal Cunningham would raise a great deal of money from North Carolina and beyond it. That was always in the cards,” said John Hood, chairman of the John Locke Foundation and president of the John William Pope Foundation.
“That was one of the explicit reasons why some Democrats endorsed him early, so he can raise the funds necessary to be competitive in this important race.”
The race plays out in a state characterized by increasing polarization and a schism between rural and urban areas, characteristics that make North Carolina a microcosm of national politics.
Urban areas, like Mecklenburg County and Durham County, are strongholds for the Democrats, while rural counties remain solidly Republican, said Carter Wrenn, a North Carolina political consultant and columnist. Neither base will budge.
“It would take a nuclear blast to fracture either one,” Wrenn said.
Then there are the suburbs, home to many of the state’s unaffiliated or independent voters. Coveted by both candidates, these swing voters could decide the outcome of this razor-thin election, Wrenn said. So could young people.
“For the time being, we’re kind of still a center, lean-right state, but if voters under the age of 40 show up in relative political strength, we could be a pure toss-up, slightly lean Democratic state,” Bitzer said.
One thing’s for sure: as a tumultuous year unfolds, this race — and the state — will continue to be in flux.
“I think 2020 is kind of an inflection point for this state, for the country, as a whole,” Bitzer said.
Welcome to The 9th Street Journal, a new website that will bring you the news of Durham. The news and feature articles on our site are produced by five of the best journalism students at Duke. (How good are they? When I write to them, my emails begin “Dream Team!”) They’ve each taken one of our intro courses in newswriting or broadcast journalism and they have had internships at impressive places that include NBC News, Bloomberg, the News & Observer, the fact-checking websites PolitiFact and Chequeado, and the Charlotte Observer. The 9th Street Journal is part classroom, part news organization. The students get class credit, but they’re also providing you with important news about what’s happening in the city. The mission of our organization is similar to the role of our DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, to empower democracy and hold power accountable. Our reporters each have a beat. Daniela Flamini, Ben Leonard and Julianna Rennie cover city and county government; Hank Tucker is our public safety reporter; and Bill McCarthy reports on the Durham schools. Our staff photographer is Katie Nelson. Our stories will supplement the coverage you see from other local news organizations such as the Durham Herald-Sun, WRAL, the Indy Week and other outlets. We will freely share our reporting with their newsrooms.
We chose the name because 9th Street represents the many faces of Durham. Walk the two blocks from Main Street to Markham Avenue you see much of what makes Durham fascinating. Locals mix with transplants on a street that manages to be historic – and new. There are still locally owned businesses such as The Regulator bookstore, while chains such as Subway and Panera are sprouting up.
Please email me with feedback on our coverage. And if you hear from a member of the dream team, I hope you’ll take the call.
– Bill Adair, Editor, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism & Public Policy