Cemetery

Caring for Oklahoma Municipal Cemeteries

For many, this will be the first year to honor their loved one on Memorial Day.  Ribbons, flowers, flags, balloons, and crosses decorate resting places and celebrate those held dear.  Although the decorations begin appearing the last weekend of May, preparation of the cemetery began months ago.  When family or friends visit, all they will notice is the condition of their loved one’s grave. You want to make sure that what they see is a clean, well-maintained site.

In maintaining the cemetery, the single most damaging lawn maintenance activity (to headstones) is mowing.  In addition, mowing is frequently the single largest cemetery expenditure.  It is critical that lawn mowing is done in a manner the protects the monuments, as well as the lawn.  The most serious issue is the routine removal of grass in the immediate vicinity of gravestones and tombs.  The best practice is to mow to within 12-inches of markers and finish the work using hand shears.  This approach, however, is almost universally cost prohibitive.  Another approach is the permanent removal of grass around the bases of stones.  The solution is usually discouraged since it creates an unnatural and unattractive landscape and its long-term maintenance creates additional costs and threats to the stone (especially since there will be an inclination to use weed killer as a simple solution).

The best workable solution is to use no power mower within 12-inches of the markers.  Weed whips (rotating nylon filament trimmers) may then be used – with extreme care – to finish the job up to the stone.  For these procedures to cause minimal damage, four precautions are absolutely critical:

1.      The maintenance crew must be carefully trained and closely supervised.  They must understand that the historic markers are very fragile and that the activities used on residential or commercial grounds are unacceptable for cemeteries.

2.      Only walk behind mowers should be used – riding mowers offer too little control and operators are too inclined to take chances in an effort to speed the mowing up and get on to another job.

3.      All mowers – even when used no closer than 23 inches – must have bumper guards installed to offer additional protection.  This can be achieved by using cable ties to attach closed cell foam, such as that used for the insulation of pipes, to the sides, front, and rear of all mowers.

4.      The nylon string in the trimmers must be the lightest gauge possible – no heavier than 0.09 inch.

Perhaps the best protection from mower damage, however, is the active involvement of the superintendent in the oversight of landscape maintenance operations – inspections by the superintendent should be made during and after mowing operations.

cemetery good.jpg

 

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Caring for Oklahoma Municipal Cemeteries (Part III)

As a service to our members, OMAG’s Risk Management Services department has developed a series of articles addressing various challenges and issues municipal cemetery caretakers might face.  Although tort claims generated from cemeteries aren’t at the top of the frequency or severity list, these types of claims don’t bode well for our public image and are most certainly preventable. 

In this last article of the series, municipalities are encouraged to adopt written policies, procedures, and ordinances which govern the municipal cemetery.

Successfully managing a municipal cemetery requires empathy and good customer service skills.  Organizing records, receiving payments and issuing deeds are all tasks which require excellent attention to detail. Each of our regular customers is special, but a well-organized cemetery operation will prove to that service consumer how much we truly care.  We want to ensure we project that type of caring image.

A quality operation consists of written guidelines which direct us in each action, function, and process involving the cemetery.  OMAG has identified the following typical categories which should be addressed in written guidelines.

  1. Definitions
  2. General Rules
  3. Management/Administration
  4. Municipal Responsibilities
  5. Plots and Gravesites
  6. Interments and Disinterments
  7. Funeral Services
  8. Monuments and Markers
  9. Arrangements, memorials and vegetation
  10. Cleaning
  11. Special Activities - Examples of special activities include:
    1. Holiday/memorial services
    2. Unveiling ceremonies
    3. Educational and cultural awareness programs
    4. Tourism
  12. Schedule of rates, costs and service fees
  13. Visitor Conduct and etiquette
  14. Vehicles and Traffic Regulations
  15. Identify cemetery staff and responsibilities

It is always a good idea to confer with other municipalities that operate cemeteries.  Many times we find that much of the work has already been performed by a colleague and they are happy to share.  OMAG has gathered example documents from Oklahoma and other states that you may find helpful. 

Contact OMAG for Oklahoma-specific examples of rules, regulations, policies, procedures and ordinances as well as examples of cemetery handbooks and guides from other states.

Look for future publications and training opportunities which will assist you in maintaining and managing your municipal cemetery.

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Caring For Oklahoma Municipal Cemeteries (Part II)

As a service to our members, OMAG’s Risk Management Services Department has developed a series of articles addressing various challenges and issues municipal cemetery caretakers might face.  Although tort claims generated from cemeteries aren’t at the top of the frequency or severity list, these types of claims don’t bode well for our public image and are most certainly preventable.

Maintenance work in a cemetery is unlike other landscaping jobs.  Issues like equipment safety and proper use of tools are important. But equally important is the ability to see your work as visitors to your facility would see it.  This approach requires excellent attention to detail. When family or friends visit, all they will see is the condition of their loved one’s grave. You want to make sure that what they see is a clean well-maintained site.

Municipalities should identify and adhere to “best practices” when it comes to cemetery lawn maintenance.  These best practices, when observed, are likely to cause the least damage to both the cemetery landscape and, in particular, the stone markers.  These recommendations, however, are not intended to represent a “one-size-fits-all” approach to landscape maintenance.  Every cemetery is different – the topography is different, the composition of the lawn is different, its public use is different, even the funding available for maintenance is different.  Any “best practices” provide guidance that must be customized to each cemetery’s specific and particular needs.

"When family or friends visit, all they will see is the condition of their loved one's grave.  To ensure what they see is a clean well-maintained site, municipalities should adhere to "best practices" when it comes to cemetery lawn maintenance."

The single most damaging lawn maintenance activity (to stones) is mowing.  In addition, mowing is frequently the single largest cemetery expenditure.  It is critical that lawn mowing is done in a manner the protects the monuments, as well as the lawn.  The most serious issue is the routine removal of grass in the immediate vicinity of gravestones and tombs.  The best practice is to mow to within 12-inches of markers and finish the work using hand shears.  This approach, however, is almost universally cost prohibitive.  Another approach is the removal of grass around the bases of stones.  The solution is usually discouraged since it creates an unnatural and unattractive landscape and its long-term maintenance creates additional costs and threats to the stone (especially since there will be an inclination to use weed killer as a simple solution).

Gravestone damaged by improper mowing techniques.  The single most damaging lawn maintenance activity (to stones) is mowing.

Gravestone damaged by improper mowing techniques.  The single most damaging lawn maintenance activity (to stones) is mowing.

The best workable solution is to use no power mower within 12-inches of the markers.  Weed whips (rotating nylon filament trimmers) may then be used – with extreme care – to finish the job up to the stone.  For these procedures to cause minimal damage, four precautions are absolutely critical:
1.    The maintenance crew must be carefully trained and closely supervised.  They must understand the historic markers are very fragile and that the activities used on residential or commercial grounds are unacceptable for historic cemeteries.
2.    Only walk behind mowers should be used – riding mowers offer too little control and operators are too inclined to take chances in an effort to speed the mowing up and get on to another job.
3.    All mowers – even when used no closer than 23 inches – must have bumper guards installed to offer additional protection.  This can be achieved by using cable ties to attach closed cell foam, such as that used for the insulation of pipes, to the sides, front, and rear of all mowers.
4.    The nylon string in the trimmers must be the lightest gauge possible – no heavier than 0.09 inch.
 

Gravestone damaged by improper trimming techniques.  Weed whips may be used - with extreme care - with the lightest possible nylon string.

Gravestone damaged by improper trimming techniques.  Weed whips may be used - with extreme care - with the lightest possible nylon string.

Perhaps the best protection from mower damage, however, is the active involvement of the superintendent in the oversight of the landscape maintenance operations – inspections should be made during and after mowing operations.

Look for future articles, publications, and training events that will assist you in maintaining and managing your municipal cemetery.
 

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Caring for Oklahoma Municipal Cemeteries (Part 1)

As a service to our members, OMAG’s Risk Management Services Department has developed a series of articles addressing various challenges and issues municipal cemetery caretakers might face.  Although tort claims generated from cemeteries aren’t at the top of the frequency or severity list, these types of claims don’t bode well for our public image and are most certainly preventable.

To our citizens, or customers, a cemetery serves two purposes, (1) the burial of loved ones and (2) a place where the living memorialize the dead.  Cemeteries are scattered across the landscape and are found in almost all communities. In addition, many of our cemeteries predate statehood.  Cemeteries and their symbols guide us into the past. Markers tell us not only about the individual who died, but the marker’s appearance and placement provides information about the society from which the individual departed. The symbols and text inscribed on markers contain important information for understanding the past. Consequently, cemeteries and markers are studied by art historians, folklorists, cultural geographers, archaeologists, anthropologists, genealogists, and historians. When cemeteries are ignored and allowed to deteriorate, and markers are damaged or destroyed, society loses important information about the past. Ultimately, an important part of ourselves is lost.

Maintenance and preservation of our cemeteries go hand in hand and are performed out of respect for those who are buried. Maintenance is simple, but may not be easy.  Keeping the grass mowed, trees trimmed, and good lighting not only enhances the overall look of the cemetery to the general public but also discourages vandalism.  Proper use of tools to keep cemeteries free of grass and limbs must be observed diligently in cemetery maintenance. Power mowers and weed eaters, when carelessly used, have and can still scar and break tombstones, especially old ones since they are usually made of softer stone. So, to minimize damage to old stones, grass near these stones should be pulled by hand. When power mowers and weed eaters are used guards should be in place to deflect any debris that is being thrown that may cause damage to the stones. When mowing, it is best to use a mulching mower when possible since there is not an outward discarding of debris. Any cracked or broken stone should be addressed immediately so to minimize further damage to the stone.

Lighting is also essential to maintain security in a cemetery. Lights should be checked regularly
and changed if needed. Good lighting reduces the chance of vandalism. It is cheaper to change a
bulb than repair vandalized stones. A well-lit cemetery draws the public to keep an eye on the
cemetery which deters vandalism. A regular check of the cemetery is also essential. Look for stones that have cracked, been damaged or destroyed, and address the defects as soon as possible.  Also, check fences for needed repairs and vandalism.

Day-to-day, periodic, and long-term maintenance are essential components of a long-term plan to ensure the continued preservation of any cemetery. The establishment of a continuous maintenance program is the most effective preservation activity that can be performed by a municipality. A well-kept cemetery will discourage unwanted behavior within your site. A plan that includes maintenance, landscaping, training, and funding of a permanent work force will help preserve your cemetery.  

Look for future articles, publications, and training events that will assist you in maintaining and managing your municipal cemetery.

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