Division of Vegetation Management maintains Winston-Salem’s landscape year-round

Situated in Winston-Salem’s historic West End district, Grace Court Park features neatly trimmed shrubbery, manicured grassy areas and a gazebo that is the centerpiece of the park. Many weddings take place here, which is another reason the DVM works hard to keep this area looking good.
Photos by Dexter Ewing.
DVM’s director, James Mitchell (right), speaks with employee Dave Newman on-site.

Winston-Salem, population 227,000, is located in northwest North Carolina. It is part of the Piedmont Triad metro area, along with the cities of Greensboro and High Point, and is known as the “City Of The Arts” for its love of fine arts and events such as the RiverRun International Film Festival and the National Black Theatre Festival.

This city is also home to major businesses like Reynolds American, the Sara Lee Corporation and the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, as well as Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina School of the Arts and Salem College.

The city is well taken care of by Winston-Salem’s Division of Vegetation Management (DVM). Among the DVM’s duties are mowing rights of way, litter collection and caring for city-owned parks, athletic fields and greenways.

For the past nine years, the DVM has been under the leadership of Director James Mitchell. Employed in the green industry for 30 years, Mitchell’s background includes a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and a master’s degree in forestry from North Carolina State University. Throughout his career, he has been employed in commercial grounds maintenance, landscape design/build, horticultural nurseries and urban forestry. Prior to assuming the position as director of the Winston-Salem DVM, Mitchell worked as an urban forester for Winston-Salem and Durham, N.C.

Mitchell says one of the major challenges of his position is to manage requests from elected officials, citizens and internal clients on a timely basis while providing high-quality work. “In 2009, we received over 1,500 specific requests for service from citizens,” says Mitchell. “Additionally, we have completed 33,000 individual work orders for mowing, landscape maintenance and tree work.”

Other obstacles Mitchell cites are dealing with equipment breakdowns, weather conditions and budgetary restraints. The work that the DVM performs on a regular basis covers a broad spectrum of duties at various locations around the city. “In addition to routine maintenance [mowing, mulching, pruning, etc.], we help to beautify the city by planting annual plants [21,500 annuals in 2009], perennial plants [36,000 plants in 2009] and trees [750 in 2009],” Mitchell says. He also said that in 2009, they used over 10,000 cubic yards of mulch and over 36,000 gallons of herbicide to maintain shrub and flower beds.

The DVM is divided into five sections. Grounds maintenance is tasked with mowing the rights of way and city parks. “Grounds maintenance staff also picks up litter on rights of way,” states Mitchell. “We mow over 1,100 acres on a biweekly basis.” In addition, the DVM has 21 separate mowing contracts for rights of way and park maintenance to further assist in covering all areas within the city. Grounds maintenance is made up of 20 full-time and 10 seasonal employees. This landscape maintenance division is responsible for pruning, planting, mulching and herbicide spraying of the city parks and rights of way. There are 28 full-time employees, assisted by eight seasonal workers. “If all of our landscaped areas were combined, we’d have 55 acres of landscaping,” says Mitchell. The urban forestry division is assigned to maintain the trees on city-owned or controlled properties. “This section plants trees along the street, prunes them for safety and clearance and removes them when they become hazardous,” Mitchell explains. Thirteen full-time employees make up this division. The last division is Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful (KWSB). “This is an unusual organization in that it’s not only a city-funded entity, but it’s also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization,” he says. “Basically, this section manages volunteers who pick up litter, plant annuals and trees and help to beautify our city.” KWSB has two full-time employees.

This DVM project along US Highway 52 at the Martin Luther King Drive exit involves spraying to kill the grass in between the saplings. The area will be mulched to reduce trimming around each sapling, reducing maintenance requirements.
The Hanes Park area offers baseball/softball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts and a running track. A DVM employee mows the grassy area inside the running track.

Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful plays an important role in elevating the awareness of what a problem litter is around the city. “Its goal is to enhance the appearance of the city through cleanup events, beautification projects and educational activities,” says Mitchell. This division is responsible for getting citizens involved in beautifying their communities and instilling a sense of pride in where they live. Citizen volunteers can “adopt” a stream, park, flower bed or street, and are responsible for picking up any litter in these areas. KWSB provides trash bags and high-visibility vests for the volunteers to wear while performing their duties.

“Some of the events that KWSB organizes are the Great American Clean Up in Winston-Salem, a litter collection program; Community Roots Day, a tree planting program; and Big Sweep, a litter collection program that focuses on streams and waterways,” Mitchell explains. The KWSB program also provides education and public outreach. Weeks prior to an event, KWSB Executive Director George Stilphen is booked for interviews with local TV and print media, as well as print ads running in the local newspaper to help get the word out to the public and solicit involvement in the events. “Through media exposure and targeted mailings, we have the largest Big Sweep program [in terms of volunteers] in the state of North Carolina; in 2009, we had over 4,000 volunteers collecting litter from waterways,” boasts Mitchell. “Winston-Salem has a very successful program, and we have many volunteers who’ve participated in events for years.”

Key areas around the city that the DVM cares for include city hall; Grace Court Park, situated in the historic West End section; the rights of way on all city-maintained streets, as well as Business I-40 (main east to west highway through Winston-Salem) and US 52 (main north-south highway through Winston-Salem); athletic fields, such as Hine Soccer Park and the Sara Lee Soccer Complex; the Salem Lake Park and Washington Park. Keeping these high-visibility areas maintained in top shape is a challenge for the DVM. In addition, they are also responsible for storm cleanup, abating the aftermath of severe thunderstorms that bring tree limbs, or even whole trees, to the ground. “DVM has crews on-call for after-hours emergencies,” says Mitchell. “These crews will be called in when a report of a tree blocking the roadway is received. In the event of multiple downed trees, additional tree crews may be called in to open roadways.”

The DVM has a myriad of equipment to assist them in their work. Currently, there are zero-turn mowers by BOB-CAT and Husqvarna; BOB-CAT, Lesco and Bunton intermediate walk-behind mowers; Echo string trimmers and backpack blowers; John Deere and New Holland tractors for flail, boom and batwing mowers; several chip-body tree trucks with 55-foot booms; and Vermeer and Brush Bandit chippers. Other equipment includes John Deere skid steers, augers, chain saws and bed edging machines, as well as a fleet of Chevrolet and Ford pickup trucks with assorted trailers for transporting equipment. Equipment is mostly maintained in-house by the city’s fleet services division.

This combination of equipment and personnel helps Winston-Salem’s DVM make the city beautiful for residents and visitors alike.

Dexter Ewing is a freelance contributor and former LCO based in Winston-Salem, N.C.