North Elba Cemetery discontinues winter burials
LAKE PLACID — The town of North Elba is not allowing winter burials in its cemetery for the first time this season due to concerns over the ethics and costs of winter maintenance in the cemetery.
North Elba Superintendent of Highways Ken Porter proposed the closure to town councilors, who approved the closure Tuesday. Porter said target closure dates are Dec. 1 to May 1.
Porter said that winter burials require extensive maintenance. He said two employees are usually required to snow blow a new gravesite, jackhammer the perimeter and chip away at the sod. He said that during that process, sand and other debris can get blown onto existing gravesites.
“It’s a huge maintenance issue and it’s, to me, borderline disrespectful,” Porter said Tuesday.
In the spring, even more maintenance is required. Winter burials are temporarily filled with sand, and once the snow thaws for the year, cemetery staff have to remove the sand and fill the grave with soil and re-seed it. Porter said maintenance vehicles have to drive over other gravesites multiple times to get all those jobs done.
“There’s no clean, neat, orderly way to dig a winter grave,” he said Thursday.
Porter said that he’s received some calls in the spring from people who are upset about the state of the cemetery. He said when the snow melts in the spring, people like to visit their loved ones and the cemetery is often “hideous-looking” from winter burials, especially if several burials happened. This spring, one caller complained about sand from another grave that was blown onto his mother’s gravesite; she died two years earlier, according to Porter.
The cemetery charges higher rates for winter burials, but Porter said the amount of maintenance required to perform one winter burial outweighs those costs. He said North Elba’s cemetery is the only cemetery in the area that has continued to perform burials throughout the winter months.
Town clerk Lori Dudley weighed in online during the Tuesday meeting as someone who’s buried a loved one during the winter. She said her mother died in the winter, and that it’s nice to have the closure of a burial because the death of a loved one is hard for the surviving family.
In lieu of winter burials, Porter said the cemetery chapel will re-open for services during winter. He said that there’s a lowering device in the chapel that they use to lower caskets to the basement for storage, and that could be used in a service to simulate a burial. He said the chapel has been fixed up enough to where it’s almost usable, but it won’t be ready for winter services until winter of 2022 because it still needs a heating system and other updates.
Porter said the road from the cemetery’s entrance to the main chapel will still get plowed so that people can visit the cemetery during the winter.