By Christina Calloway
Cemetery tours, the creation of conservancy, and reviewing cemetery policy were a few of the ideas pitched by citizens and city officials Tuesday evening to improve the Portales Cemetery.
The ideas were just a start for the Friends of the Cemetery group’s first meeting. The group was created by city officials in an attempt to include public input in the cemetery’s future after citizens vocally objected to the city’s cutting down of sick, 90-year-old elm trees that rim the cemetery.
Parks Department officials said they initially thought the trees were dead and were cutting them down to both clean up the cemetery and ensure safety. Citizens enlisted the help of a tree specialist, Tree Doctor 911, to show city officials the trees were salvageable.
Portales resident Mike Davidson, one of about 35 at Tuesday’s meeting, questioned how the trees got in such bad shape.
“How did this escape our budget and be neglected for so long?” Davidson asked Portales Mayor Sharon King.
Though Davidson said he’s not blaming city administration, as he feels this has been a growing problem, he thinks the beautification of the city’s cemetery and parks are important.
“It’s embarrassing and disrespectful to the people laid out there,” Davidson said.
Other citizens expressed similar sentiments and called for a plan to improve the cemetery.
Though John Hilliard is no longer a permanent resident of Portales, he has family buried in the cemetery and is heartbroken over what it has become over the years.
Hilliard of New York said his mother watched those trees be planted in the cemetery as a girl and feels the cemetery has a lot of history.
His goal for the group is to create a conservancy organization to help the city in its preservation goals. Hilliard said the conservancy would be a private or non-profit group that would raise funds.
Others suggested people could adopt trees in the cemetery, which would be a source of revenue to beautify the cemetery.
Portales rancher Sharon Davis said she’d prefer the city take care of what they already have by doctoring the ill trees and then grow from there.
“I’m one of the elm people, I want to save the elms,” Davis said. “We need to have an organized plan before asking people to buy trees.”
King said the city would like to treat those trees deemed salvageable but the process may be costly and it will have to be something discussed with the city council.
“Sixty-thousand dollars is a lot to doctor trees that may not make it,” King said.
City Councilor Dianne Parker suggested another way to beautify the cemetery is to enforce the policy and city ordinance in place so that there’s uniformity and cleanliness.
While the group had disagreements in some areas, the city has agreed to stop cutting down trees and to water them daily.
King said the development of a plan and review of policy for the cemetery will continue at the next meeting.
The group is now set to meet the second Tuesday of every month.