The vine that ate the south

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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County commissioners interested in starting a kudzu committee

COLUMBUS—Kudzu is a major problem in Polk County as more than 30 residents signed up to speak on the subject during the county commissioner meeting this week. 

Commissioners met Monday and heard from many residents who urged the county to step in to do something about the problem. 

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John Vining spoke first and said the magnitude is such in the county that he thinks we need a unified effort to control it. Vining suggested an 11-member board, with one county commissioner, one elected official from each town and a member from each township as well as an at-large member to make the board an odd number. Vining also said he would like to see the board consider attacking the kudzu along Interstate 26, which goes from the state line to Henderson County. 

Commissioner Ray Gasperson volunteered to be a member of the new board and suggested bringing the issue of kudzu back to put on a March agenda. 

Most people who spoke agreed with Vining that a board should be started. Some suggested grants that could be available as well as getting members who are already associated with kudzu control, such as the Saluda Community Land Trust. 

Betsy Burdett asked commissioners to be role models. 

“You can be the example,” Burdett said. “You are smarter than kudzu. You be the example we can all follow and learn from.” 

Charles Hearon, who is a trail worker and grounds person with FENCE and the SCLT said kudzu is like a stray dog that shows up on our porch but is not your dog. 

Estell Osten said she has been fighting invasive species on her property for 11 years. 

“It’s important you commissioners take this golden opportunity to help citizens deal with invasive species, especially kudzu,” Osten said. 

She said tourist drive up 176 and ask what that is and residents say, ‘that is kudzu. The vine that ate the south.’

Ellis Fincher, of White Oak Mountain, said there are three invasive species on the mountain and the homeowners association has applied close to 300 gallons of herbicides to control it. He spoke of issues across from the IGA in Tryon and the old Southern Mercerizing plant, which is all kudzu. 

“We all know it will take more than talk to put a dent in this problem,” Fincher said. 

Commissioner Chair Myron Yoder said the county has been talking about kudzu for two meetings and have had cooperative extension director Scott Welborn come to speak about the problem. There are classes being held at the cooperative extension office on Feb. 25 and April 28 specifically about kudzu. 

“We’ve been paying attention,” Yoder said. “I’m glad to see that Vining has brought it another step forward.” 

Chauncey Barber said he’s been working at Polk County Schools 20-something years and there is kudzu at the high school, which he has sprayed many times and it continues to get worse. 

“If you don’t control it on your land, how do you expect everyone else to do it?” Barber asked. “This is a serious problem. 

He said people can “talk, talk, talk,” but they need to “spray, spray, spray.” 

Yoder said he thinks the commissioners are in agreement they will take care of the kudzu on public land. County manager Marche Pittman said during budget discussions, county officials are telling the maintenance department to take care of the hot spots this year. 

Commissioner vice chair Tommy Melton said he appreciated Barber’s comments and said he supports removing kudzu on county property. 

“That is going to happen,” Melton said. “We are going to put it in the budget.” 

Melton also said a private property owner can have as much kudzu as they want on their property. There are certain areas the county can do, but not on private property. He also mentioned the need to replace the kudzu with something to protect the county’s slopes, especially with the torrential rains the county has seen lately. 

“It’s just not, snap your fingers and the kudzu goes away,” Melton said. 

Melton said he agrees the county needs a board and volunteer to serve on the board. 

Commissioner David Moore asked Vining, who is the county’s retired cooperative extension director, if kudzu has been an issue from the get-go. 

Vining said around 1986 an effort was made to control the kudzu but his office didn’t have the support. He said public opinion has changed and people talk about it at dinner parties now. 

“Wouldn’t it have been great if we’d done it in the mid-1980s?” Vining asked. 

Commissioners decided to have Vining back to discuss the issue and how to set up a kudzu eradication board for the meeting on March 16.