What's Up with That? Old City Cemetery in need of volunteers

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

I've been driving past Old City Cemetery, where my father is buried, and seeing dandelions and weeds up to your knees. I called the city and they said, because of reductions in force and so on, they don't have the personnel to take care of Old City Cemetery much. I can understand that, but the city's other cemetery, Park Hill Cemetery, looks beautiful. I told them don't be surprised if I mow the area myself out of respect for my father. Two days later, lo and behold, the cemetery was mowed — but it still doesn't look good. If they're supposed to be taking care of two cemeteries, why is this one being forgotten?

— Brenda McAllister, Vancouver

Brenda, we put your question to Vancouver public works spokeswoman Loretta Callahan: Is there some policy that says Park Hill, a working city cemetery, gets more TLC than the historic Old City one — where famous founders including Charles Slocum and Esther Short are buried? Not exactly, she said.

Park Hill is irrigated because it has "its own grandfathered water source," Callahan said, and its many flat-in-ground stones makes it easy to mow. It's mowed weekly, she said.

Whereas Old City Cemetery has far fewer interments and no separate water source — so watering the cemetery means the public pays a pretty penny. These days, the cemetery just isn't irrigated. And since no irrigation means little or no growth — and since Old City is full of erect monument stones — the cemetery is only mowed "as needed," Callahan said. (You pointed out the need, Brenda.) The rest of the year, Old City Cemetery is mowed every two weeks.

We also checked in with Norma Watson, a longtime leader with the Central Park Neighborhood Association, about her effort to develop a plan to improve the cemetery, discourage vandalism and inject some volunteerism into the mix. The last we wrote about her effort was in late 2009.

Watson expressed frustration. "We got things rolling," she said, but between churning personnel, budget woes and objections to calling the overall goal a "master plan," the city's side of things more or less ground to a halt. "They just couldn't decide what to do," she said.

Meanwhile, she said, $4,500 of a $5,000 grant for the project was spent on a first-ever topographic survey of the historic graveyard, which was founded in 1867. The Central Park Neighborhood Association still has $500 of unspent grant money sitting in its bank account, she said.

"There's a whole group in this community who could help us keep that cemetery going for years to come," she said. "But right now it's all just kind of sitting there."

Meanwhile, the extremely shrunken Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department has put out the call for volunteers during this tough time. Go figure. Or, go to http://www.parkhero.org, or call 360-487-8316, to sign up.

Got a question about your neighborhood? We'll get it answered. Send "What's Up With That?" questions to neighbors@columbian.com.