City plans fence to keep traffic out of cemetery

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2021 9:43:17 PM
Modified: 1/13/2021 9:43:13 PM

LEBANON — The city plans to build a fence along the entire southern edge of the Sacred Heart and Valley cemeteries to block pedestrians and cyclists seeking a shortcut to and from the nearby Mascoma River Greenway.

The Lebanon Board of Cemetery Trustees voted, 4-1, on Tuesday night to erect the fence, which will replace a temporary barrier separating the burial grounds from the Greenway, a 2.3-mile multipurpose trail that connects downtown to the larger, 58-mile Northern Rail Trail.

By doing so, the trustees hope to put an end to damage and littering caused by people traveling on an informal path in the cemeteries between the Greenway and Pine Tree Cemetery Road.

Cemetery Sexton Patrick McCarthy told the trustees that the temporary barrier was damaged at least a half-dozen times over the summer. His staff also documented erosion caused by mountain bikers jumping a nearby embankment, and that workers in the city-owned cemeteries were also forced to pick up litter.

Worst of all, McCarthy said, deeded lot owners and the families of those buried in the cemeteries have reported people crossing over burial plots to access the Greenway.

“It’s been a problem for us all summer and it continues to be a problem,” he said during a nearly two-hour meeting held online. “Families are concerned. They are destroying their lots.”

The trustees’ decision to erect a permanent fence followed their rejection of a proposal to build a path alongside the cemeteries near the property line shared with the Renihan Meadows housing complex.

That proposed path, which was backed by Lebanon’s recreation advocates and the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association, sought to provide access to and from the Greenway while also preventing further damage in the cemetery.

Lebanon Recreation Director Paul Coats asked that the trustees give the proposed path a trial run rather than “fortify” the cemeteries.

“We can’t just hope that the problem’s going away. We have to do something,” he said. “I’m simply proposing that we test a solution as a pilot before any permanent solution is implemented.”

Clayton Morlock, a board member of the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association, also pitched the path as a collaborative solution to the cemeteries’ troubles.

“Nobody that I know would purposely desecrate a grave,” he said, adding a connection between the Greenway would benefit those who want to visit their loved ones as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

However, several family members of those buried in the cemeteries argued that any form of recreation is disrespectful to the sacred nature of burial grounds and should be banned. Some even encouraged city staff to enforce Lebanon’s prohibition on biking in cemeteries and call the police when they encounter a cyclist.

“We do have recourse. We have a police department that stands by,” said Lebanon resident Pamela Callioras Blackmon, who mentioned prohibitions on skateboarding and cycling on the Lebanon Mall.

She went on to say that anyone wanting to enter the cemetery should be there to pay respects to the dead and only “come in from the main entrance.”

Kevin McLain, who has three generations of family buried at the Sacred Heart and Valley cemeteries, called the proposal for an alternative path “fairly disgusting.”

Advocates, he said, “apparently don’t or can’t seem to put themselves in the position of people like me who have people in the cemetery.”

“It’s an appalling idea to allow a bike path through a cemetery for recreational yahoo purposes to get to another point across the road,” McLain told the trustees.

The trustees also clashed over who rightfully should have a say over the cemeteries.

Trustee David Muzzy, who was in favor of the fence, pointed out that he grew up in the neighborhood, and both he and his mother will ultimately be buried there.

“How many people do you have in that cemetery?” he at one point asked Trustee Sue Painter who advocated for the proposed alternative path.

“I live in West Lebanon. I’m a member of this community and I pay taxes,” she responded.

Further pressed on how many family members she had buried in the cemetery, Painter appeared to grow frustrated.

“I’m on the Board of Cemetery Trustees and I’m not here to argue who has more people buried in the cemeteries,” she said.

McCarthy, the cemetery sexton, said it’s not yet clear how the city will pay for the fence. The money could come out of the public works budget, he said, or cemetery trust funds could be requested to foot the bill.

Until construction is complete, the city plans to enforce its no-bikes rules, McCarthy said. Under the city code, violations of the cemetery regulations could result in a fine of no more than $1,000.

“Corrective action at this point would be that they’re not following Chapter 46 of the ordinance and we would call the police department,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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