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Cemetery trail access up for discussion in Lebanon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/1/2021 9:11:55 PM
Modified: 1/1/2021 9:11:42 PM

LEBANON — City officials are considering whether to build a path alongside the Sacred Heart and Valley cemeteries to connect Pine Tree Cemetery Road with the Mascoma River Greenway after reports of bicyclists and pedestrians crossing burial plots to access the rail trail surfaced this summer.

A path along the western edge of the cemeteries — near the Renihan Meadows property line — could keep people off graves while also providing access to the Greenway, according to Lebanon Recreation Director Paul Coates.

He put forward a plan last month that would see volunteers build a small trail from Pine Tree Cemetery Road to the 2.3-mile, paved multi-purpose Greenway, which connects downtown to the larger, 58-mile Northern Rail Trail.

Construction “doesn’t have to cost the city anything,” Coates told the Lebanon Board of Cemetery Trustees during a Nov. 10 meeting.

The site, he added, wouldn’t have a trailhead and the city could forgo advertising the access point to keep traffic down.

“Allow us to try this, allow us to construct this little pathway and evaluate is over the period of a couple of months or a season … and let’s see if it does, in fact, remedy the issue at hand,” Coates said.

The Cemetery Trustees, a five-member city panel created in 2018, is expected to discuss the path proposal during its next meeting on Jan 12.

Members have asked the city to compile information on the path’s route, its impact on future grave sales and how it could be maintained for discussion at the meeting, which will be held virtually.

“I’ve done some of that due diligence just to make sure that if the Board of Trustees does decide to allow for a connecting path, we could move forward with that,” Coates said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s really up to that Board of Trustees to make this decision.”

The trustees began discussing a possible access trail through the cemetery in September after some people crossed over graves and onto an old trail left over from the construction of Interstate 89 to get to the Greenway, according to meeting minutes.

The traffic was particularly busy during rehabilitation of the nearby Mascoma Street bridge that crosses I-89, Cemetery Sexton Patrick McCarthy told the trustees.

Work during the $1.4 million project made it harder for pedestrians and bicyclists to access downtown as crews worked to replace the 1966 bridge’s substructure.

While a new path connecting the cemeteries to the rail trail could improve access, McCarthy predicted it might be hard to change people’s habits and there could be continued disturbance of graves.

“It’s just how are we going to regulate it?” he asked during the November meeting, adding that there are at least two Greenway access points within a mile of the cemeteries.

McCarthy also has pointed out that current cemetery regulations prohibit bicycles, although that provision isn’t actively enforced unless people are causing problems within burial grounds.

Coates said nobody, including trail advocates, want to see graves disturbed, and said it might be possible to build a fence separating his proposed path from the cemetery.

Members of the Lebanon Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committee also have pledged to work with trustees on signage that could deter people from walking or biking in the cemeteries.

Coats said he understands that there are at least two opposing viewpoints on the path — those who see using a cemetery to access recreational trails as offensive and others who advocate for more bike and walking connections in Lebanon.

For instance, the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association has started a Change.org petition promoting the possible cemetery path as a link between the Greenway and nearby Nature Walk Trailhead, which provides access to the Landmark tract, including Boston Lot. The petition had more than 240 signatures as of Tuesday evening.

However, the city hasn’t yet received the petition and Assistant City Manager Paula Maville, a liaison to the cemetery trustees, said that she isn’t aware of any letters either for or against the path proposal.

The Board of Cemetery Trustees is scheduled to continue its discussion of the path at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The meeting can be accessed at Lebanonnh.gov/Live.

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




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