Volunteers spruce up town for holidays

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

Surely you’ve noticed the seasonal touches at the welcome entrances to Black Mountain. Corn stalks, pumpkins and scarecrows at the town’s east and west gates, the Interstate 40 off-ramp and in front of Henson’s have welcomed all this fall.

Cheering up residents coming and going, the decorations are the work of the Black Mountain Beautification Committee whose aesthetic attention adds a sense of community pride.

For many downtown business owners like Jen Arnold-Mohr, owner of Dark City Deli, the busy daily pace inside the store allows little to no time to tend to the space outside at the entrance. So she’s grateful for the beautifully planted containers outside the deli front door.

“It draws guests in,” she said. Customers regularly comment on them, she said.

“I love what the beautification committee does and how much they have improved upon and made a consistent downtown look,” she said.

Recently, 20-some volunteers gathered to replant the many containers along downtown streets with colorful fall plants. Some of the business owners invited volunteers in for refreshment and to thank them. On this day, close to $500 of the beautification committee’s annual budget was used to spruce up downtown before Thanksgiving and the annual Holly Jolly event.

Violas in the containers are the result of a partnership with the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women. Through this program, inmates grow plants for downtown Black Mountain in the facility’s greenhouse, working with volunteers and staff. The program started about 15 years ago when founding committee member Willie Headley, along with Robert Goodson, rehabbed the greenhouse and sought ways to include the women in the committee’s work. Often the women from the center are able to join in the planting.

Years ago, these Black Mountain entrance areas looked quite different. So too did the 19 areas around town that are now maintained by committee volunteers.

In 1997, the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee declared that the town needed to be spruced up. Under the chamber’s leadership, the Black Mountain Women’s Club and the Black Mountain Garden Club created the beautification committee. Many residents joined. Improving the community aesthetics was the primary mission. New members were pulled in by the earthy motto: “If you like to dig, weed, pick up trash and sweat, then you are our kind of folks and will be welcome to join this committee.”

Regular activities on the committee’s calendar include its signature event, the annual Spring Garden Show and Sale, in May. A Best Vegetable and Garden Contest for Black Mountain residents is held in June. The planting of downtown pots and planters occurs each spring and fall.

Throughout the year, the Committee maintains 19 sites in town, including the downtown public restroom, the chamber of commerce and the hill that slopes behind the Black Mountain Center for the Arts.

The volunteers comprise a diverse group. Members include retired horticulturists and master gardeners, as well as people seeking new friends. Board members welcome more volunteers, who have fun working together.

Julie King recently moved to the area from Michigan, and a conversation during an exercise class at the Lakeview Center led her to check out the committee. She was drawn to the small-town feel of Black Mountain and quickly noticed, she said, the many ways that residents here are “taking an active part in their community and are engaged in community life.” Being physically active herself, she appreciates the work the committee is doing to help attract people to town, be they tourists or potential residents. King was one of the volunteers who helped complete the recent downtown container planting project.

The work of the committee is done entirely by volunteers. Funding is a combination of town budget monies and proceeds from the garden show, as well as gifts from individuals and businesses. Other funding efforts include the holiday wreath and garland greenery sale, a shopping day at Ten Thousand Villages and garden scene note cards available at the Monte Vista Hotel.

The committee honors its volunteers every year with the presentation of the Willie Headley service award, presented to a member who “shares Willie’s energy and vision for a more beautiful community,” as the plaque reads. Past recipients include Maggie Krogh (2012), Mary Leonard White (2013), Joyce Black-Woerz (2014) and Susan Chabot (2015).

The committee also looks beyond its own core volunteer effort and seeks to interest other groups in its mission. For further community impact, seed money is available for a grant each spring. The 2015 seed money brought improvements for the Black Mountain Elementary PTO working with Owen High earth and environmental science students, added a third-grade outdoor reading space at Black Mountain Primary and allowed improvements to the Owen High entrance sign.

If learn more, visit or the committee’s Facebook page.