Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 25, 2012

Oak Grove Cemetery volunteer finds illegal dump in cemetery

BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEWELL — When he drove through Oak Grove Cemetery in Bluewell on Thanksgiving Day, Mike Blevins was saddened to see that the a person or persons unknown had dumped some household trash on some graves in a portion of the cemetery that has been cleared.

“We worked so hard to get it cleared that I just hated to see people starting to use it as a dumping ground again,” Blevins said. “I also found some empty beer bottles and other materials that looks like people have been partying up there. It doesn’t seem right to do that.”

In March of 2005, Blevins and his friend, Thomas Preston, organized a cemetery cleanup at Oak Grove, a cemetery that served African American families of the region from 1922 until as recently as 1990. The cemetery had not been cleared since the late 1970s, and people had been using it to dump household garbage, unwanted furniture and appliances and even roofing materials.

After the initial community cleanup on March 26, 2005, a core group of volunteers began working to clear the cemetery every Saturday. It took nearly two years for the volunteers to clear the 7.2-acre cemetery the first time. After that, the restoration work involved resetting head stones and filling in irregularities in the surface.

Health-related issues stopped several of the original volunteers to actively participate in the on-going maintenance, but Lewis Delbert Neal headed up a fundraising committee that was able to raise enough funds to have the grass cut three or four times per summer in the past three years, but donations have dropped off during the recent economic downturn and the committee’s treasury has been totally exhausted.

“I really don’t know what we’ll do next year,” Neal said Saturday morning. Thus far, the on-going maintenance under Neal’s leadership has resulted in a cemetery where families can access all of the grave sites. There are an estimated 8,000 burials at the cemetery, although many graves are not marked with head stones.

Blevins said he found an envelope in the trash pile at Oak Grove Cemetery with a name and a Bluefield address. Cpl. S.A. Sommers of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department said that the proper procedure for reporting an illegal dump is to contact a conservation officer with the Division of Natural Resources, a Mercer County Sheriff’s deputy or a trooper with the State Police.

“The investigating officer will examine the site and if there is an envelop in there or anything else that will identify the owner of the trash, that person will be held responsible for cleaning it up,” Sommers said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not the owner of the trash actually dumped it illegally. That person is responsible for the trash.”

Blevins was disheartened by the illegal dump. “I refuse to let this place become a trash dump again,” he said.

Neal said the committee traditionally conducts a fundraising drive at the end of each year. With a very low balance at the end of this year, he said the effort is especially important this year.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com