Hill: The villages within the town

Sheridan Hill
Special to Black Mountain News

Last time, I said I was going to talk more about The Settings. But I got distracted by the larger picture of the town of Black Mountain.

We live in a fascinating hybrid version of a town.

Black Mountain includes an array of summer camps, conference centers and communities which function a bit like villages within the town. Altogether, at peak season, these entities bring to town thousands more people than the number who are otherwise Black Mountain residents.

From a bird’s eye view of the Swannanoa Valley, the mutual dependency of those who visit and live here is startling.

Montreat, which shares a contiguous border with us, is an incorporated (and forested) town — but it would have to rely on the Black Mountain police and fire departments if a large-scale need broke out. The Montreat Town Hall lowered its U.S. flag to half-mast when our Alderman Carlos Showers recently passed away. The fact that Montreat treats its hemlock trees for the woolly adelgid pest has an immediate and long term effect on the health of hemlocks in Black Mountain.

Flames from the 2015 Weed Lane Fire at Ridgecrest burn over 100 feet in the air.

Like Montreat, Ridgecrest is both a community and a conference center; the conference center also operates two summer camps. But, apart from the conference center, Ridgecrest is a rather loose community, not a town.

While the town of Black Mountain covers about 4,500 acres, Ridgecrest Conference Center, including its two camps, owns about 2,200 acres bordering our eastern side.

Art Snead, the executive director of Ridgecrest Conference Center, says the center brought more than 70,000 people to the area. The population of Black Mountain is steadily climbing toward 9,000 at last count.

In order to deal with larger-than-norm emergencies, the various local agencies have something called “mutual aid.” Firefighters from Black Mountain and Ridgecrest have faced the heat side by side since at least 1976, when a Citizen Times article reported a Ridgecrest fire that burned 22 acres.

More recently, many of us cannot forget the terrible wildfires of 2015, when we nervously watched 700 acres burn over a period of days. Somebody had decided to burn some trash out back, without paying attention to the wind and the dry conditions of the land.

“We were command central for fighting that fire,” said Snead. “It was the week before Easter. We housed and fed firefighters who came from out of town through the National and State Forest Service.”

These local conference centers have been here nearly as long as our town itself. An August 26, 1923, article in The Sunday Citizen (now The Citizen Times) notes that the Southern Baptist Education Board had just acquired control of the Ridgecrest grounds with plans to expand. The conference center website confirms that it is owned by Lifeway Christian Resources, which is the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Readers of this column know that, from time to time, I whine about Florida drivers (as fast-driving horn-honkers) or Florida builders (who are too often ignorant of critical building issues here such as stormwater runoff and steep slope issues).

Attempts to create better relations between our natives and visitors from Florida have gone on for almost 100 years, as an article in the same 1923 issue of The Citizen Times attests.

“Mrs. Edmund L. Hon, of De Land, Fla., was hostess to the Friendly Families of Ridgecrest, a civic club of this community interested in promoting the social conditions and friendly relations between residents, cottage owners, and guests of Ridgecrest.”

Proof that over the decades, over the last century, as we have changed, some things have remained unchanged.

The issues that arise from being a tourist town and an increasing retirement destination will need more attention far into the future.

Sheridan Hill

Sheridan Hill’s column explores small town charm. She is a lifelong Tar Heel, the founder of Real Life Stories, LLC, which publishes heirloom biography for select clientele, and she facilitates the Black Mountain Grief Circle.