Keeping Black Mountain beautiful by committee

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Black Mountain’s pleasing aesthetic is hard to escape. Scenic landscapes are visible in every direction, and charming visual touches can seemingly be found around every corner.

The former comes courtesy of the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains, while the latter requires a coordinated team effort - and thousands of volunteer hours by the Black Mountain Beautification Committee. The nonprofit organization was started in 2000 by a group of local residents to make improvements to the town's appearance.

Peter and Gayle Mudge and their dog Asher stop by to check on the garden they maintain for the Black Mountain Beautification Committee. The Mudges rehabilitated the space last spring.

With about 60 active members, the committee has a mission to honor the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains by reflecting it “on the streets and in the lives of its citizens.”  It operates with support from the town, volunteers and private donations.

The committee’s five-member board holds a 5:30 p.m. public meeting the third Thursday of the month. The meetings typically draw about 25 people, according to co-chair Kate Ramsey, who became involved with the committee almost as soon as she moved to town three years ago.

“I was a big gardener in Atlanta before I moved here,” she said in a recent interview at Town Square, whose gardens are cared for by the committee. “I had an acquaintance who lived here, and she thought I should check (the town) out.”

Once here, Ramsey found a welcoming group of gardeners and others who took pride in their work and enjoyed doing it.

A particularly visible example of the committee’s work are the 20 or so gardens throughout the town that individual members care for.

“A lot of us have a little garden area around town that we’re assigned to take care of,” Ramsey said. “There are welcome signs on the east and west side of town, and we keep up the gardens around them.”

Black Mountain Beautification Committee members Peter and Gayle Mudge, left, and their dog Asher, talk to co-chair Kate Ramsey in Town Square last week.

There are gardens of various shapes and sizes throughout the downtown district and in several other heavily used areas throughout Black Mountain.

Gayle and Peter Mudge moved to town about a year ago. Looking through The Black Mountain News, they discovered the monthly column “Gardening in the Valley,” authored by a beautification committee member each month.

“We also noticed how beautiful everything looked,” Gayle said. “We wanted to find a way to be involved.”

The couple attended a committee meeting, and not long afterward, Ramsey asked if they’d be interested in taking on a garden. “We thought ‘oh, wow, we really are going to be part of this group,’” Gayle said.

Within walking distance from their home near the town's visitors center was a small, overgrown piece of land.

“It was pretty overrun,” Peter recalled. “We had to clean the area out by removing all the weeds, dead leaves and a little bit of trash that accumulated there.”

Removing the debris, the Mudges found living plants underneath. They added purple ground cover and yellow daffodils, transforming the bed into a collage of color. The couple continues to care for the garden.

The volunteer hours the Mudges spent on the garden were a fraction of the 2,500-plus hours of time donated on behalf of the committee last year. Secretary Rhonda Reedy presented the annual beautification committee report to the board of aldermen on April 9.

“Our membership has increased by 25 percent since our presentation last year,” she said. “Our members are the backbone of our committee, and without them our ideas would not take root.”

One idea the committee had in 2015 was to create a more consistent look downtown. Last year volunteers began setting up 32 planters in the historic district. All of the cedar planters, which were constructed by Walter Tolley, have an identical look, as well as sub-irrigation planter systems. Each container features metal accents designed by local metal sculptors Julia Burr and Dan and Tekla Howachyn. 

Volunteers from the committee mulch the gardens in the town square every spring. Ten members are assigned to maintain them throughout the year. 

Each year the organization awards a "Seed Money" grant for local projects that best exemplify its mission. To date, the Black Mountain Beautification Committee has awarded money to all four schools in town, as well as the Swannanoa Valley Museum, the Black Mountain Home for Children and others. This year the Old Depot Association was given money to build raised planter beds between the depot platform and railroad tracks. St. James Episcopal Church received funds to add a Victoria Magnolia to its existing garden site.

On May 19, the committee will hold its 13th Annual Black Mountain Garden Show & Sale in the parking lot of the Monte Vista Hotel. The event raises money for the committee and features more than 20 local vendors. 

Soon, volunteers will put a coat of paint on the public restroom building on Cherry Street, Reedy said. Local artist Joyce Black-Woerz will add a mural. 

"A lot of people ask us how we're able to get so much done," Reedy said. "It's only possible with the help of our volunteers and our partners in the community."