LEVERETT — Last month at the annual Town Meeting, voters opted in favor of Article 11, which funded an assessment of Leverett’s graveyards and cemeteries for $4,500 in Community Preservation Act monies.

The Historical Commission is mandated to keep an eye on CPA funded projects. Last week, the commission met to figure out the first few steps of the cemetery assessment process. The first step, for Chair Sharon Mareneck, was to explain how she arrived at the figure of $4,500 for the warrant article.

Mareneck told commission members that a respected local gravestone restoration expert, Ta Mara Conde, quoted a fee of $15 for each stone to examine them and see what work needs to be done. Mareneck calculated 200 stones per graveyard, for a cost of $3,000 for the assessment. Many stones won’t need assessment, so Mareneck estimated a budget of $1,500 per cemetery.

“I decided to ballpark it at $1,500 per cemetery, which we then thought were three,” Mareneck said. “That’s where the $4,500 came from. Now that we know there were four, and each one of those cemeteries has at least a hundred stones, Ta Mara’s methodology won’t really work.”

Discussion revealed that Wylie Cemetery, a fourth cemetery badly in need of restoration, got lost in the shuffle. Wylie Cemetery is a burying ground located near the Amherst town line. The database Mareneck consulted about the graveyards did not have information about it.

Commission member Eva Gibavic said the family that owns the property adjacent to the graveyard takes care of it, without any agreement with the Cemetery Association. The Cemetery Association was assigned responsibility for upkeep of most of the town’s cemeteries.

Wylie Cemetery, Gibavic said, is larger than it looks from the road because it’s wooded. There are also more bodies in the ground than headstones. Some of the headstones were moved to Sunderland some time ago. Ownership and responsibility for the graveyard is also in limbo.

Gibavic said the land was donated to the town, but the town never accepted it. When the town assigned responsibility for local graveyards to the Cemetery Association, some years ago, that graveyard was not on the list. As a result, the town did not convey responsibility for Wylie Cemetery to the Cemetery Association.
Officially speaking, nobody has responsibility for Wylie Cemetery.

Disagreement arose when the commission discussed stretching the funding allocated by Town Meeting to cover four cemeteries, Moores Corner, North and Chestnut Hill Cemeteries, but also Wylie. Commission member Carole Desanti was against assessing a fourth cemetery.

“Stretching our budget to cover another cemetery is going to potentially dilute the impact of the project,” Desanti said. “Maybe we should just stick to what we were going to do.”

Gibavic noted the warrant article didn’t authorize spending on a fourth graveyard. Desanti’s objection also registered. Any landscaping or restoration work at Wylie Cemetery will have to wait.

Commission members discussed the restoration efforts already carried out in town cemeteries in 2012, 2014 and 2016. A challenge is to find someone to evaluate the graveyards for threats from trees and falling limbs, erosion, drainage, how many stones need restoration and to what extent. Conde told commission members she is not qualified to evaluate landscaping or arboreal needs.

Commission member Anne Tweedy supplied the name of a New Hampshire company qualified to evaluate the historical restoration needs in town graveyards. The tree work and erosion control measures will probably need specialists. The discovery of Wylie’s extensive needs, as well as the variety of skillsets needed to protect and preserve the other burial sites, was also complicated because Commission members were uncertain of their responsibilities.

Is the Cemetery Commission responsible for groundskeeping, maintenance, preservation and restoration? The Cemetery Association scheduled a meeting the day after the Historical Commission’s discussion. Mareneck was on the agenda. She attended to find out what the association was responsible for and how much authority the commission has in preserving the graveyards.

In the distant past, two cemetery associations maintained the graveyards in North Leverett and Leverett center. The two were combined. Now, the Leverett Cemetery Association is funded, according to the town’s website, via lot sales, trust funds and some support from the town.

The Cemetery Association and Mareneck surprised each other. The Association recommended Article 11 for passage. However, association members, Mareneck said, were surprised that any town money had been allocated at Town Meeting. The Association also had fewer responsibilities than Mareneck anticipated.

“We learned on Tuesday night … they have nothing to do with the monuments or the gravestones in the cemeteries,” Mareneck said. “Their only purview is for the grounds. They only see their responsibility as mowing [and] we were kind of surprised to hear that.”

Historical Commission members, clear on their responsibilities, are now faced with the complicated task of spending a tight budget for assessment. The project will demand historical restoration, but also landscaping, drainage evaluation and the services of an arborist.

Desanti anticipated a field trip to Wylie Cemetery, the graveyard without an owner.

“It is beautiful,” Desanti said. “We could visit it and see what kind of shape it’s in.”

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts