The unlikely setting of Greenway Cemetery in Town of Bath (also known as Berkeley Springs) WV is where an innovative stormwater project is just getting underway. It will contribute to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts and will provide much-needed upgrades to the 150 year old and only “active” cemetery in the area.
The historic town, best known for its hot mineral springs, has drawn visitors since Colonial Days, including George Washington himself. A 100-year flash flood on Labor Day 2012 caught everyone off guard and inspired a renewed look at how to handle some of the ongoing flooding that was happening in the town, especially at the cemetery which overlooks Warm Spring Run.
Mayor Susan Webster said, “It was raining when I went to Mass at 5:00 and by the time I came out at 6, the town was totally flooded. It was a deluge—it was awful.”
Webster credits Matt Pennington, Chesapeake Bay Program Coordinator Region 9, with the creative idea of applying for funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to address the erosion problems at the cemetery. She said “when we were awarded the grant, we were stunned and thrilled. We are so excited to begin the work that will not only benefit the Chesapeake Bay but the Cemetery, which is the location for many of the town’s important memorial ceremonies.”
Webster said that “this is an historic, sacred place with no funds coming in to help maintain it. It is all taken care of and managed by volunteers and it is a strenuous exercise to keep these kinds of sacred grounds going.”
An overarching plan is being developed by engineers to prioritize the work. “Roads are rutted and need to be refurbished. There is not enough topsoil to put back on the graves. The roads become like a culvert when it rains,” said Webster.
Pennington is excited because the project will also serve as an example for cemeteries in other towns that may be in a similar situation. “We want to go out and help other locations. We often see a pattern of too much clearing done with good intentions. But we need to remind people that the tree canopy is not only more beautiful, but it also helps preserve the integrity of the ground and helps reduce stormwater runoff.”
“Greenwood Cemetery is similar; the older area has a good tree canopy but Phase II was cleared and now is experiencing heavy erosion. We hope to show how better planning can mitigate this problem. A lot of the work will be done below the surface, but what people will see is trees, beautiful plantings and color.”
“We will also need to work to put standards in place such as where vehicles can go without further damaging the grounds. When our town comes together to honor a volunteer firefighter for example, a lot of people attend. We want to accommodate our citizens, especially in their most difficult times,” said Webster.
Jake Reilly, Director Chesapeake Bay Programs with NFWF, said “Too many communities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are dealing with the unintended consequences of poor stormwater management. The Town of Bath is getting ahead of the curve by connecting catastrophic local flooding to their own management of the town’s stormwater issues. We’re thrilled to help local communities solve these local natural resource challenges while contributing to the broader Bay restoration effort.”
Webster said that people in the town are “so pleased to have gotten the grant. This impacts everyone. Greenway cemetery is contiguous with route 522 so people will be able to see the improvements as they drive by.” With this project underway, Berkeley Springs, recently listed as one of the top 12 small towns in Executive Travel magazine, can lay claim to being one of the more progressive as well.