Help needed to maintain rural cemeteries

MINERAL WELLS – In Wood County, there are 340 known small rural cemeteries and about one-third are in need of help from the community to clean, said members of the Wood Rural Cemetery Alliance.

Bob Enoch of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society said work on those cemeteries began in 2008 when teams were formed to inventory and document cemeteries within each of the county’s 10 magisterial districts. Since then the alliance has been made a committee of the historical and preservation society.

In a Tuesday meeting at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, the alliance was looking for volunteers to help with the cleanup of the rural cemeteries in the Tygart, Slate and Steele districts.

Enoch said the first phase, locating cemeteries, is nearly complete and the GPS coordinates for each cemetery will be added to the web site for the Wood County Assessor’s Office. He said there is a possibility there are more that are overgrown and forgotten.

“We are still in the process of finding old abandoned cemeteries,” he said. “Many of these are small family plots with maybe three or four graves.”

Enoch said of the 20 cemeteries in Slate District, seven were rated as being in poor or very poor condition.

Paul Bibbee, a committee member, said many cemeteries are unintentionally damaged by people who are timbering or by farm animals wandering into the area. Many times, he said, a cemetery may be discovered when someone finds the corner of a tombstone sticking out of the ground.

“It is delicate work to get the stones out of the ground,” he said. “You have to be careful because they are fragile. That’s why rubbing on the stones to read names and dates is discouraged today.”

Bibbee and Enoch said the alliance would like to find three to four people for each district to coordinate efforts to clean up the small cemeteries.

The cemeteries are usually located on private land and while state law guarantees access to cemeteries, anyone wanting to visit graves, maintain the site, bury a deceased person and conduct genealogy research should contact the landowner first, Enoch said.

A second state law protects the property owner from liability if someone is injured in the cemetery, he said.

Enoch said the job to help clear out an abandoned cemetery is not as hard as it may sound at first.

“There may be a lot to clear and needs to be done three or four times each summer,” he said. “It’s a feel-good thing; it’s good exercise and it is not strenuous work.”

Anyone who would like to volunteer to help maintain a cemetery should contact Bibbee at 304-482-1624, Enoch at 304-485-8655 or Evan Frees at 304-489-2745.

The next meeting of the Wood Rural Cemetery Alliance will be at 7 p.m. April 23 at the Parkersburg-Wood County Public Library.