Looking back on 2017 in the Swannanoa Valley

Paul Clark

Time goes quickly in the Swannanoa Valley. The year is nearly over, and 2018 is set to begin. As we have every year for the past few years, The Black Mountain News takes a look back on notable stories that involve residents and their lives, triumphs and challenges.

Hundreds of people, from young to old, march west along State Street Jan. 21 in support of women's rights.

In January, Asheville announced plans to reinforce the dam at North Fork reservoir to better withstand runoff and earth tremors. After 31 years in the classroom, Williams Elementary School teacher Rachel McMahan retired. Hundreds of people gathered in Town Square for the Women’s March on Black Mountain. Several people and entities threatened by the Party Rock Fire of 2016 feted firefighters and others at the Party Rock Fire Thank You Celebration & Fundraiser in Lake Lure. Christian Friends of Korea sent its latest shipment of building and medical supplies to North Korea. By midmonth, the Owen High Warhorses basketball team improved to 13-2, and the Warlassies basketball team compiled a 11-4 record. Thanks to community help, a homeless teen and her grandmother, Destine Patterson and Effie Simpson respectively, received a 336-square-foot home.

In January, Effie Simpson takes care of her great-niece, Destine Patterson, a student at Community High School in Swannanoa.

In February, congressional talk of repealing the Affordable Care Act had many residents fearful for their insurance. Owen Warhorse basketball players Ben Craig, Brian Bartlettand Matthew Brown hit their 1,000th point. The Warhorses boys basketball team won its 20th game. Montreat hired Alex Carmichael as its new town administrator. Sens. Tom Tillis and Richard Burr sent a letter to Turkey seeking the release of Black Mountain native and missionary Andrew Brunson. The Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth and Families detailed in the newspaper its expansion into the historic Swannanoa 4-H Camp. Greybeard Realty reported that Black Mountain homes were selling in less than three months. Montreat track coach Britten Olinger was critically injured when his car was hit by a speeding car in downtown Black Mountain. The Owen Warhorses barely lost the conference championship game to Avery High, 70-69.

In March, the newspaper reported that Black Mountain Golf Course was on track to pay its own operating expenses for the first time since 2004. Montreat College, The Native Kitchen and Social Pub and Lookout Brewing held events to help with Britten Olinger’s recovery. Montreat commissioners voted to ask the state to make the Texas Road Bridge pedestrian only. Former Warren Wilson College president John J. Carey died. The Black Mountain News won 2016 N.C. Press Association awards in the community newspaper division. Reporter Fred McCormick took first place in the general news reporting category. Editor Paul Clark won first place in profile feature writing and second place in the best video category. Black Mountain’s old Vance House joined the National Register of Historic Places. Longtime Montreat police chief Jack Staggs was feted in retirement.

In April, OSEGA Gymnastics owner Miles Avery was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. The Kiwanis Club of Black Mountain-Swannanoa gave $5,000 to Ministry of Hope, which provides chaplains to the women’s prison in Swannanoa. The Black Mountain Rotary Club gave Renae Brame its John Knox Abernethy Award. Pitching propelled Warlassie softball to a 6-2 start. Two Montreat College professors quit over the college’s “life covenant” requirements. Owen High’s Jim Lewis was named assistant principal of the year. TravelMag.com named Black Mountain one of its “10 most charming towns” in N.C. Swannanoa Valley Museum reopened after renovations. Town aldermen reduced speeds on Dougherty, Church, Connally and Charlotte streets. Ridgecrest neighbors of the proposed United Life Academy expressed concern over its construction.

In May, Swannanoa held its second Cinema on the Square of spring at Grovemont Square. Volunteers continued working to make Britten and Sam Olinger’s house wheelchair accessible. Shawn Freeman was appointed Black Mountain police chief, replacing Steve Padgett, who retired. Warren Wilson College named Lynn Morton as president, replacing Steven Solnick. Local vloggerTommy Finton attracted bigger audiences and guests to his vlog. Owen boys baseball team finished with a 9-3 conference record. Owen girls softball team made the second round of the tournament. Owen girls soccer team finished with a 9-3 conference record. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence asked Turkey to release the Rev. Andrew Brunson. Owen High names Brian Barlett its Athlete of the Year.

In June, Owen Warlassies basketball coach Tim Raines retired. Four schools in the Swannanoa Valley got new principals. Brian Barlett committed to play baseball for Montreat College. Coming off a career-best 23-6 season, Chuck Robinson left as Warhorse basketball coach. Suzanne Money is awarded the Black Mountain Beautification Committee’s Willie Headley Service Award. Town alderman forfeited their pay to fund a public works position. At Pisgah Brewing, the local band Travers Brothership celebrated five years together. History teacher Clint McElrath was named Owen boys basketball coach. Aaron Fernandez became girls basketball coach. Town alderman adopted a 2017-18 budget of just over $11 million. Valley residents and athletes Sidney and Saevion Gibbs transferred to Christ School. Owen Babe Ruth 8U softball team finished second in the state in its division.

In July, the Shope, Burnette and Gregg families met for their 100th reunion in Bee Tree. Black Mountain police introduced their P.A.C.E. T.E.A.M. (Police And Citizen Enrichment Together Everyone Achieves More) community policing strategy. Five Owen softball players – Caitlyn Ledford, Ashley Valencia, Jaiden Tweed, Anissa Avila and Natalie Stewart – received all-state honors. The county adjustments board denies United Life Academy’s request to alter its building plans in Ridgecrest. David Arrant is sworn in as Montreat police chief. The Owen Babe Ruth 14U softball team finished second in the southeast region. Black Mountain’s zoning board approved Sweet Birch Lane on Blue Ridge Road. Osega Gymnastic’s closing left a hole in local after-school care.

In August, four candidates – Bob Pauly, Jermie Konegni, Matt Robinson and Ryan Stone – campaigned for Black Mountain aldermen seats. The 40th edition of the Sourwood Festival filled downtown. The town Historic Preservation Commission denied Trestle Crossing a permit needed for the project to go forward. The state passed a budget that includes funding for a 200-bed lockup for female offenders in Black Mountain. Site preparations were underway for a new Hampton Inn on the old Polk Motors site. Local Kiwanians honored Margaret Hurt with their 2017 Community Service Award. Tenth District U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry held a town hall meeting in Swannanoa.

John Pellom was proud of the painting that Alabama photographer John Lewis made of him about five years ago.

In September, the newspaper reported that the state had accelerated planning for a new I-40 interchange on the east side of town. Black Mountain hired Jessica Trotman as director of planning and development. Neighbors of Beacon Manufacturing received letters the property was fit for development. Members of Watershed Football Club made up a third of the Beer City Cup Over-50 division team. The Rock the Quarry Trail Challenge 5K celebrated its 10th year. Representing Trestle Crossing, attorney Michael Begley argued a Historic Resources Commissioner should recuse herself because of conflict of interest. Harwood Home for Funerals got the air quality permit it needed for a crematory. The Owen Termites cheer squad made it to the championship round. Beloved clock repairman John Pellom died.

In September, the Owen Termites faced off against seven other squads their age during the WNC Football and Cheerleading championship.

In October, Swannanoa held its annual Community Yard Sale. The town Historic Preservation Commission voted against letting the Trestle Crossing project go forward. Warren Wilson College honored its first black students at homecoming. A run by Valley native and football player Sidney Gibbs made SportsCenter’s Top 10 highlights. Bridgette Shope was crowned Owen High’s homecoming queen. The newspaper reported that local resident Mikkel Hansen restored to 1860s loom at the Swannanoa Valley Museum. Fire damaged a portion of Black Mountain Stove & Chimney.

In November, town aldermen authorized $2 million to create town space in the Carolina Foam Fabric and Home Décor building. Don Collins was elected mayor, and Ryan Stone and Jeremie Konegni were elected town aldermen. In Montreat, Kent Otto, Alice Boggs Lentz and Tom Widmer were elected as commissioners. Warhorses soccerteam’s season ended in the third round of state playoffs. The town zoning board overturned the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision and gave Trestle Crossing the green light. Local angler Hunter White finished fifth in The Bass Federation Semi-National Championship. Owen senior and softball player Jaiden Tweed signed with Presbyterian College. The Black Mountain Police Department partnered with the community to get toys and food for needy residents during the holidays. Montreat College was presented with a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education certificate.

In December, Deck The Trees at the Monte Vista Hotel raised money for Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry. The Front Porch Theatre put on “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” Montreat College men’s basketball team started the season 9-0. Montreat College students helped the community during Cavalier Care Day. Gateway Eatery and Black Mountain Bakery closed. Watershed Red Radish soccer team won the ABASA Over-40 Division 3 championship. Owen High junior Chesney Gardner scored her 1,000 point.