Springdale Cemetery board OKs savanna map
Peoria Journal Star
PEORIA — A map designating the “official” boundaries for a roughly 14-acre patch of protected prairie grass within Springdale Cemetery was approved by its management authority Tuesday.
The new map outlines the areas where future cemetery-related development can happen, and the areas where it cannot in relation to the state-protected prairie grass.
The savanna boundaries are similar to those endorsed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources last month, but do not include 1.1 acres north and west of the area that had been coveted by a local environmental group for future protection.
“There will never again be a question as to how to interpret those property boundaries,” Springdale Cemetery’s general manager Jon Austin said after the meeting.
The new boundaries end nearly a year of conversations and disagreements about the savanna’s boundaries between the authority and Peoria Wilds.
But that doesn’t mean the issue is dead.
Johnpaul McGreal, a member of Peoria Wilds and one of its stewards, said the organization will continue to push for the protection of the 1.1 acres no longer viewed as savanna property.
He said the group has, on multiple occasions, asked Springdale Cemetery officials if they could purchase the 1.1 acres or the entire savanna. Also considered, McGreal said, is for the authority to create a conservation easement, which would provide tax breaks for any potential future private owner if the cemetery is someday sold.
City taxpayers currently own the cemetery through a 2002 intergovernmental agreement with the city of Peoria, Peoria County and Peoria Park District.
McGreal said Peoria Wilds has gotten no feedback on its requests to purchase either the acreage or the savanna.
“It would give them an infusion of money, which they greatly need,” he said.
Bob Manning, the recently appointed chairman of the Springdale Management Authority, said he’s willing to hear Peoria Wilds’ ideas, but admitted that he’s initially “not very supportive” of the idea of an outside organization purchasing land within the 225-acre historic East Bluff cemetery.
“I don’t know logistically how that would work out,” Manning said, adding that the authority will continue to involve Peoria Wilds on maintenance and all other decisions involving the savanna. McGreal said he wasn’t sure how much Peoria Wilds would be willing to pay for the savanna.
Peoria Wilds has been concerned about the potential development of the 1.1 acres outside the savanna, though Austin and Manning said there are no immediate plans to do anything.
But the new boundaries allow for the potential of green burials or other activities within the outlying 1.1 acres that could generate much-needed revenue for the cemetery’s coffers. The cemetery struggles annually, operating at a deficit that is paid for by taxpayers.
Manning also said the new boundaries correct mistakes in previous savanna maps.
“Those boundaries were not accurate,” he said. “They contained and included grave sites. You can’t have that.”
Q: What is the savanna?
A: Approximately 14 acres within Springdale Cemetery that is considered the last remnants in Peoria of a unique blend of native plants dating back thousands of years.
Q: What was determined Tuesday?
A: The Springdale Management Authority officially approved the savanna’s boundary map. The map is considered “official” because the boundaries were endorsed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The authority and IDNR have an agreement dating back to 2007 designating the savanna as an Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark.
Q: Why was the map controversial?
A: It omits 1.1 acres of land north and west of the savanna’s boundaries. Peoria Wilds, a local environmental group, wanted this area included within the savanna’s boundaries in order to protect the prairie grass well into the future. Springdale Cemetery officials, while not having any immediate plans for the area, could utilize it for future revenue-generating purposes such as green burials.