By Maggie Beamguard
Members of the Seven Lakes Village Beautification Committee were disheartened last month when five of the beds they nurtured on N.C. 211 were plowed under during the land-clearing phase of what will eventually be the highway’s widening.
The committee is a little known, long-standing volunteer organization which has overseen the enhancement of the community’s public face for over 20 years.
The origins of the committee stem from existing Seven Lakes neighborhoods and the business village in the mid to late 90s.
Business owners and others who cared about the larger community joined in the effort to enhance the beauty of Seven Lakes.
“They were building beautiful homes,” said the committee’s current leader, Tracy Cicatelli, “and they also wanted a beautiful garden, a beautiful entrance to their communities.”
Back then, everything was just highway.
“A group of people got together who wanted to make something nice in the area,” said Cicatelli.
One early asset to the committee was landscape designer Ken Lownes. He developed the blueprints to present to what at the time was Carolina Power and Light. Lownes secured an initial “Tree Smart” grant from the power company for $1,500. Terry Hill was also greatly involved in the grant writing.
With permission from the Aberdeen, Carolina and Western Railway, the Beautification Committee began planting small ornamental trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials along N.C. 211. Committee members provided all the initial labor and the ongoing upkeep of the beds planted near the railroad, an Exxon station that has since been removed for the widening and what was a Dollar Tree store.
“Everything was barren,” said Cicatelli. “They did things around the business center. That giant Willow Oak that they just took down was planted by the (committee.) People think it was so old, but it was planted in the 90s. Those trees just grow fast.”
The Beautification Committee has evolved through the years, with responsibility for it passing to the Garden Club before becoming its own entity in 2002 under the chairmanship of Terry Hunt. The Garden Club did continue as a funding source.
The Beautification Committee Today
Long and steady leadership has benefited the committee. Al Geiger took up the mantle of the chairmanship after Hunt. When Al was ready to pass the baton a couple of years ago, Cicatelli happily grabbed it.
Cicatelli, who has lived in Seven Lakes for five years, brings previous gardening experience from her involvement with the Duke Farm, the original Duke family’s estate in New Jersey.
A self-described outdoors person and worker bee, she is also involved with Weymouth Woods and the Garden Club of Seven Lakes and serves as the chairperson of the Keep Moore County Beautiful organization.
It is through the Garden Club that she connected with the Geigers, putting herself to work alongside them weeding the railroad beds. They also pick up litter along the road.
Currently active members of the committee in addition to Cicatelli are Al and Linda Geiger, Scott Miner, Jerry and Yvonne Merrill, Lisa Sheridan, Jerry and Carolyn Sink and Russ and Karen Williamson.
The group teamed up to care for the beds, all of which were a little different.
“We did the planting. We did all the digging and weeding and watering and pruning and then we paid for the mowing.” Their efforts were supported by occasional fund drives.
In recent years the committee added two “Welcome to Seven Lakes” signs. Before they became casualties of the road project, volunteers recently rescued the signs. The Kiwanis Club of Seven Lakes is keeping them in storage for now.
Committee members also rescued two bronze plaques placed in the village green in 2021 by the committee in honor of two deceased community leaders: Fred Lawrence, the developer and visionary of Seven Lakes and Greg Hankins, who was the beloved editor and publisher of the Seven Lakes Times, a precursor to The Seven Lakes Insider.
In addition to the Beautification Committee’s hands-on work, the group holds occasional board meetings. At the most recent meeting, members wondered if there was any way they could prevent the inevitable loss of their work on 211.
Committee members originally thought the Department of Transportation would leave the beds unaffected. The razing caught them off guard and left members wondering if the utility work played a role in their fate.
Even while they held out hope that the gardens would be spared, there were seeds of doubt they would survive the project.
“I kind of thought the gardens would get wrecked by all the machinery and people stomping all over the roads. The workers are not going to tiptoe around a flower,” Cicatelli said.
But even the workers have misgivings. When Cicatelli saw the diggers ready to uproot the beds, she talked to the man assigned to the job. According to Cicatelli, he said “Believe me, I hate doing this as much as you. These plants are beautiful. They’re so established. I’d like to take them home.”
Within two days, the evidence of the 20 plus years of cultivation vanished.
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” said Cicatelli. “These people planted so much beautiful stuff.”
Now the pink Dogwoods, Star Magnolias, Wax Myrtles, Juniper, Red Maples, Crepe Myrtles, faithful perennials and colorful annuals have returned to the earth.
While members are heartbroken, they are also resigned to the fact that change has arrived.
The Road Ahead
The committed team of volunteers remains undeterred in its goal to bring beauty to Seven Lakes. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to when they are done redoing everything,” said Cicatelli. “We’ll get right back into it.”
However, she does wonder if they will have all the support they had in the early days especially from generous community members and local businesses.
Cicatelli has secured some funding from Keep Moore County Beautiful. “I talked to the executive director and said we are going to need some money down the road. So we will have some funds available.”
The one bed remaining in the committee’s active care is the Zen Garden located at the intersection of Seven Lakes Drive and Carthage Road.
The low maintenance bed is dedicated to Terry Hunt, the original organizer of the reorganized beautification committee in 2002.
“We are going to spruce that up because that is all that we have left at the moment,” said Cicatelli.
They are also considering doing something more toward Carthage while they wait for the dust to settle. It may be 2028 before it does.
The Geigers, who have been involved with the committee for two decades, take a measured stance.
“I think it was nice having it there for 25, 30 years. It was a good run,” said Al. “It’s sad to see it go. But with all the changes coming, maybe it’s a chance do something new and different.”
The Geigers both hope they are around to see it.
Contact Maggie Beamguard at firstname.lastname@example.org.