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Part of Springdale Cemetery Savanna to be saved

December 29, 2011 at 08:06 AM

Peoria Journal-Star

PEORIA — At least a portion of a protected area of prairie grass and flowers at Springdale Cemetery will be preserved, but it’s unclear how much will be saved over time.

No decisions were made Tuesday by the Springdale Cemetery Management Authority on the fate of its 15-acre savanna area, and opinions continue to vary on what to do with it. The authority will continue talks about the area next month.

“I think everyone on the board recognizes that the savanna is a valuable asset (but) not in its present condition,” Kent Rotherham, the authority’s chairman, said after the meeting. “We might have a slightly scaled back area of the savanna.”

Authority members listened to a report from an ad hoc committee that looked into the future of the savanna, highlighted by comments from Bob Manning, who believes a portion of it can generate up to $3 million in revenues through traditional burials.

Manning, an authority member, said about 1,300 burial plots could be marketed near the Coal Circle area if that portion of the savanna is gone.

“We have to be as prudent as possible,” said Manning, acknowledging that Springdale Cemetery’s annual deficit is paid by local taxpayers, with most of it coming out of the city’s coffers. This year, that deficit will likely be less than $300,000, he added.

“It’s prudent for this body to look at alternative revenue sources,” Manning added.

In recent months, the potential for using all or portions of the savanna has been discussed as a way to market for more burials.

But some local volunteers and environmentalists believe the area should not be damaged.

On Tuesday, some of those representatives said they were troubled by movement toward mowing down portions of the savanna for revenue purposes. They also offered suggestions such as “green” burials at the savanna or transferring the ownership of the property into a land trust.

“It’s not just weeds,” said Mike Rucker, chairman of the Science Treasure Hunt at the Peoria Academy of Science, which utilizes the savanna yearly for educational purposes. “It’s a major ecological asset.”

Manning and others said the property needs better maintenance, that it’s become unsightly and is an attractive nuisance for youths to have hidden beer parties. Rotherham said he doesn’t support the land trust proposal.

Any potential alterations could end the cemetery authority’s voluntary agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 2007 designating the area as an Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark.

Local volunteer group Peoria Wilds maintains it and does not want to see the natural property damaged. About 300 people signed a Peoria Wilds petition calling for the authority to protect the savanna.

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter @JohnSharp99.

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