What's Up With That? Stones at Park Hill Cemetery need family care, volunteers

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

What's up with that?

I really do have to ask: Why aren't the flat stones at Park Hill Cemetery clean so you can read them?

Recently, I was at the cemetery, just walking around. Many of the flat stones look like they haven't had the grass trimmed around them in years. I know that can't be. But when only about two inches of a stone is showing, it does make one wonder. I feel sorry for the family members who will go looking for grandfather's stone, and not find it because it's buried.

— Judith Mason

This may sound harsh, Judith, but those family members have nobody to blame but themselves. OK, and time, too.

That's because, while the grounds at Park Hill are owned and maintained by the city, the stones themselves are private property, and maintained by the families of the people who are buried there. That means they're in charge of the grass that encroaches around and on top of those stones, too.

Keeping the grass edged and off those flat stones so they can be read and admired is up to the families. "Every time I sell a grave, I tell the family that the maintenance is their responsibility," cemetery supervisor Bob McKechnie told The Columbian a few years back. Workers don't touch the headstones. Stones' being swallowed by Mother Nature is "the biggest complaint we have," McKecknie said.

There are three city-owned cemeteries in Vancouver — Park Hill at 5915 E. Mill Plain Blvd., the historic Old City Cemetery at Mill Plain and Grand, and the pioneer Fisher Cemetery on Southeast Evergreen Highway. Park Hill alone covers 54 acres and contains the remains of well over 25,000 people. McKechnie has a crew of two to tend all three cemeteries.

The good-and-bad news — depending on whether you like getting involved — is that Park Hill is a target of occasional volunteer outings and other help. Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts, church groups, corrections crews and even just-plain-folks like yourself, who respond to the call from Vancouver's volunteer manager, Hailey Heath, do more than just mow the grass; they get out their serrated edges and reveal what time is covering over.

While Park Hill doesn't generate the historical interest of Old City Cemetery— where there are volunteer work parties every few weeks this spring -- Heath is pulling together a group of dedicated Park Hill volunteers too. Help is needed over Memorial Day weekend and on a weekend in September, in conjunction with the Clark County Cares Day of Service. But that could be only the beginning, she said, since volunteer help is limited only by volunteer interest.

"Potentially, there could be volunteers who help at Park Hill every day," Heath said.

Contact her at 360-487-8316, or visit http://parkhero.org to sign up.