KENNEBUNK, Maine — A timber harvesting operation at Evergreen Cemetery on Summer Street has upset many neighbors to the cemetery and townspeople who have family buried there, but cemetery board members say the work has been done to address safety concerns and plan for the future.
In February, a timber harvester clear-cut roughly 4.5 acres of large white pine trees at the back and along the north side of the cemetery, near Wyndegate Lane, and took down several more on the south edge, and a few among the gravestones on the south side as well.
“It’s a huge change for people,” cemetery board member Wayne Berry said. “We’re here trying to prepare for the future. This is for future generations. We won’t see the benefits of this, but they will.”
Cemetery caretaker Gayle Spofford and her husband, David, who is a member of the Evergreen Cemetery board of directors, are contracted to mow and maintain the property. Gayle Spofford said prior to the removal of the trees, large limbs from the pine trees frequently came down into the graveyard.
“I’m in here by myself working most days, and there were areas that I couldn’t work because of the danger of the limbs,” she said.
The cemetery was incorporated in 1993, according to Berry, who also serves on the town’s Board of Selectmen. It’s managed by a five-member board, and board members must have family buried at Evergreen.
Berry said the previous cemetery board was made up of volunteers who oversaw the cemetery for many years, but they eventually all grew too old to serve or passed away. He joined the board in 2014, and it was apparent that the stewardship along with the condition of the grounds was lagging.
“In 2014, we started assessing what was going on, money primarily for maintenance was going out, but nothing was coming in. We weren’t selling any plots, and there were very few burials for a number of years,” he said.
The new board began to look at the condition of the grounds, and Berry said it was apparent that there were a number of trees on the perimeter that were overly mature.
The cemetery superintendent, Carl Walton, told the board there were burial sites he couldn’t use due to roots from the trees being in the way. Large limbs, along with the tops of the white pines were snapping off and landing on neighboring property and on the graves.
“We’ve been working on this for four years,” Berry said.
Eight abutters were notified of the timber harvest operation with a certified letter, and 24 neighbors in nearby developments were sent letters via standard mail, according to Berry.
John Goodwin grew up in Kennebunk and his father, Dale, a Korean War veteran is buried on the lower edge of the north side of the cemetery, next to the staging area for the timber harvesting operation. He said his father’s grave should have been protected during the work, and is also concerned that there’s no plan for restoring the damage done to the roads, and the overall appearance of the cemetery.
“It’s heartbreaking, there was traffic around my father’s grave. At the very least there should have been barriers around my father’s gravesite to protect it,” Goodwin said.
On Father’s Day, he put up barriers and caution tape himself.
Both Berry and Spofford said no graves were disturbed by the timber harvesting equipment. They said the corners of the roads, and the burial sites were flagged and marked, and Berry said the crews were aware of where they were working. He said there was still snow on the ground when work crews were there and some tire tracks may have been left by other trucks, but burial sites were not involved.
“You have to remember, these roads were designed for oxcarts, they are very narrow,” Berry said.
Richard “Deke” Stevens agrees with Goodwin. At 85, Stevens has lived in the Landing area of Kennebunk his whole life. Many generations of his family are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery.
“One thing that I know is true is that I’ve never seen it look that bad in my lifetime,” he said. “I was very surprised and really upset. It’s a disgrace down there. It’s just not right, and what are they going to do? They just completely cut everything, it was beautiful in there with the pine trees, and now to see it desecrated. They could have left some trees,” Stevens said.
His son, Mark Stevens, agreed, and he wondered why nothing has been done since the timber was harvested nearly four months ago.
Both Berry and Gayle Spofford said the board does have a plan, and clean-up work has been ongoing.
Spofford said she has spent hours clearing branches and raking pine needles from the grounds, and the timber crews returned to remove stumps.
Some stumps along the back of the property that will not be used for future burial sites will not be removed. Several others on the south side are too close to graves to be pulled, and will be ground down, Berry said.
“Of course, we had a plan. On paper, and approved by both the state and the town,” Berry said. “They [townspeople] think we’re done. We’re not done. We have a long way to go.”
Rob Whitely of Louisville, Kentucky, was visiting his grandparents’ graves in Evergreen Tuesday, and was disappointed in the overall state of the cemetery.
“I hadn’t been back there in close to 30 years,” Whitely said in a phone call before he caught a plane Wednesday. “I went there yesterday, and I was looking for their graves. Truthfully, the timber harvesting aside, I was more disappointed in the overall state of the cemetery and the state of disrepair it has fallen into.”
He noticed headstones fallen over, and moss and grass growing on the stones.
“I’m concerned to see it fall into that condition,” he said.
Berry said the north side of the cemetery, where the heavy equipment was staged, and where most of the concern seems to lie, has been too wet for any work to move forward.
He said it has always been very wet and marshy on that lower corner, something Goodwin, nearby homeowner Eric Harrington and Spofford all agree on. After having served as the staging area for the very large timber harvesting equipment, what was once green and grass, is now bare dirt, and still very wet. A pool of standing water remains.
“We had a harsh, wet spring, don’t forget,” Berry said.
Harrington had several large trees on his own property taken down as part of the operation, but while he has had his backyard graded and seeded and landscaped, he too wonders what the plan is for clean up.
“It doesn’t look like they had a plan. It’s a job that’s unfinished. You have a situation where you have a harvester come in with huge equipment that made the wet section worse. And now nothing’s been done since the harvester left,” Harrington said. “We were told it was going to be cleaned up.”
Berry said that work will begin as soon as the area is dry enough, and he hopes to have it completed by mid-July. The road will be graded, and new gravel will be brought in. The area on the northside will also be reseeded, and the north entrance will be reopened once that is complete. He said the plan also includes straightening, regrading and adding gravel to other roads in the cemetery as well. On the south side, three corner markers and an angel statue were relocated for safety during the tree work and will be put back in place.
The cemetery board has also applied and been approved for a Project Canopy grant from the town that will bring new tree plantings to the front of the cemetery along the roadway. These trees will be planted on town land and be maintained by the town, Spofford said.
Berry said the timber harvesting was a matter of economics, safety and planning for the future. Evergreen Cemetery has an investment fund to draw from for ongoing maintenance, and Spofford said it has roughly a $150,000 balance.
In 2018, the board received an estimate to take down 20 trees on the south side, and it came in at $12,000. That’s when the board began discussing expanding the cemetery and clearing additional trees.
Some people have questioned where the money went for the trees that were harvested, but the cemetery corporation did not make any money on the timber harvest, according to Berry. They broke even, with the exception of the stump removal which Spofford said cost $3,250. Berry, who’s a contractor, had a certified forester he worked with, Greg Foster, assess the trees. Foster said they weren’t unhealthy, but they were just too big and there were too many.
“We asked him to select some deciduous trees to leave that would flourish in the new open space, and we left those,” he said. “They will provide a nice canopy now that they can grow, and people will see that the back border will grow and fill in nicely, too.”
Mike Jordan, owner of Jordan Tree Harvester, did the tree harvesting work. Berry said the job was permitted by the town and permitted by the state of Maine. The trees were harvested for timber, pulp and wood chips.
Goodwin, Stevens and others want to see the graveyard returned to normalcy.
Both Berry and Spofford said that will take time.
“This is a two- to four-year plan,” Spofford said.
“We’re here to prepare for the future, not just financially, but getting the cemetery better organized, and getting the roads lined up,” Berry said.
Berry said anyone who has a family member buried in the cemetery and has concerns should attend the annual meeting in September. An exact date has not been set, but it will be posted in the newspaper, he said.