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Illinois hunting and fishing

Springdale Cemetery managers to hear report on six-acre savanna

December 20, 2011 at 09:14 AM

Peoria Journal-Star

PEORIA — A politically sensitive decision on what to do with a protected area of prairie flowers and grasses at Springdale Cemetery might be made Tuesday.

The Springdale Cemetery Management Authority is scheduled to hear a report from an ad hoc committee that came up with five options on what to do with a six-acre savanna. The meeting begins at 4 p.m.

Those five options include the two extremes of the savanna debate: Keep the cemetery’s agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources preserving the natural area or cancel the agreement opening the land for burials.

Another option includes establishing a new agreement with a better management plan for the property.

“We can either make a decision (Tuesday) or defer it for more information,” said Kent Rotherham, chairman of the authority.

Both sides on the savanna debate remain split.

On one side are environmentalists including representatives with the Sierra Club and Peoria Wilds, who prefer the agreement continue as is.

The other side includes management of the cemetery, who want to utilize a portion of the protected property for burials as a way to generate revenue from taxpayer-owned property.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the cemetery entered into a voluntary agreement in January 2007 designating the savanna and a nearby section called the Hillside Prairie as an Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark.

Peoria Wilds is the group of volunteers who have managed the savanna.

“We’ve been volunteers for two decades and we don’t want to see all of those hours of labor go to nothing,” said Johnpaul McGreal, a member of the Peoria Wilds board.

Bob Manning, a Springdale Authority member who also sat on the ad hoc committee, said the current conditions of the savanna are “unsightly,” and the status quo of maintaining the property needs refreshening.

“The current situation of not doing anything is really not acceptable,” Manning, a former City Council member, said. “We’re first and foremost a cemetery. We need to operate as a cemetery.”

Operations have been difficult in recent years. The cemetery’s deficit cost city and county taxpayers $359,986 in 2010, the largest obligation yet.


Illinois hunting and fishing


In September, the cemetery’s general manager Jon Austin said he received requests for burial plots near the preserve, saying the agreement with the state is not legally binding and could be broken without repercussions.

Stacey Solano, spokeswoman with IDNR, said the state hopes the cemetery continues to protect the land, but added, “in this case, it’s a public decision. We’ll respect whatever decision is made.”

Rotherham said he believes Peoria Wilds and other groups are being overly worried about any changes that might occur.

“I don’t want to see the savanna go away,” he said. “I don’t think it should. I don’t have any intentions of converting the entire thing to grass. We’re just exploring the possibility of taking part of it and seeing if we can convert it for commercial use, so to speak.”

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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