Nature and economics conflict when it comes to preserving cemetery’s savanna
Peoria Journal Star
Money needs from the management of a cash-strapped cemetery are likely to clash next month against support from environmentalists to preserve a patch of land at Springdale Cemetery.
The debate centers on what to do with Springdale Cemetery’s savanna, an approximately 6-acre area of prairie flowers and grasses.
Springdale Cemetery general manager Jon Austin said he’s received requests for burial plots near the preserve, which is currently protected via a “gentleman’s agreement” as a natural heritage landmark. The agreement is not legally binding, and even supporters of preserving the savanna claim the cemetery’s management is within its rights to do with the land as it wishes.
“In the last few months, we have had sales opportunities to sell burial lots in that portion of the property that have fallen through because either the potential purchasers didn’t want to be buried in an area that looks like a weed patch or they didn’t want to be buried in an area that looks at the savanna,” said Austin, who is suggesting the Springdale Management Authority consider revoking the landmark status.
“We are trying to generate as much revenue and sales opportunities as we can, and we are turning people away.”
He said the longtime stewards of the property are associated with Peoria Wilds, which is no longer recognized by the state after having been involuntarily dissolved as a not-for-profit organization in July after the group failed to properly file its annual report by Jan. 1.
Supporters of preserving the savanna believe the lack of a filing is a technical glitch and say it’s a matter of time before the state recognizes them again. They also claim that filing as a nonprofit with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office holds no bearing on whether Peoria Wilds volunteers will continue maintaining the savanna.
Peoria Wilds has been in charge of placing volunteers at the cemetery to work on the savanna for quite some time.
The group hasn’t dissolved, said Mike Miller, supervisor of environmental and interpretative services with the Peoria Park District. “Really, from someone working on a natural area point of view, we don’t need to be a (not-for-profit) to do that.”
J.D. Russell, chief naturalist with the Peoria Park District and manager at Forest Park Nature Center, said Peoria Wilds’ stewards continue to work on the savanna whether the state recognizes the group or not.
Both Russell and Miller plan on lobbying the Springdale Management Authority ahead of next month’s meeting in hopes of convincing them to not withdraw the savanna’s heritage status. Revoking the status would allow Springdale Cemetery workers to remove the savanna in order to increase burial plots.
Extra sales, Austin said, would help boost the cemetery’s bottom line at a time it’s struggling to reduce its deficit, which is paid by local taxpayers.
Miller said that having the savanna has been rewarding for Springdale Cemetery. He said there have been times when state grants to Springdale Cemetery were awarded largely because the savanna is a natural heritage landmark.
They hope Springdale and the nature preserve can coexist, Miller said. “I would encourage the Management Authority to maintain a natural area within there. It’s been there for many years.”