Salt Lake City Cemetery reopens from severe windstorm damage

May 24, 2021, 6:46 PM
cemetery reopened after windstorm damage...
(Salt Lake City Cemetery after it was reopened after months of repairs. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(Salt Lake City Cemetery after it was reopened after months of repairs. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — After months of repairs forced by a gnarly September windstorm, the Salt Lake City Cemetery has finally reopened. 

Cemetery managers say they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars clearing out the damage from severe windstorm last September, and there’s still more work to do. 

Cemetery hit hard by strong windstorm

When wind gusts reached well over 100 miles an hour during last September’s windstorm, they felled roughly 3,000 trees owned by Salt Lake City.  Mayor Erin Mendenhall says no portion of the city saw as much damage from the windstorm as the cemetery.

“[There were] 265 trees that came down in that storm right here in the cemetery.  Many of them were as historic as some of the graves,” she said.

Mendenhall said the storm toppled just about as many gravesites.  City officials decided to close the cemetery to the public to make sure it was no longer a public safety hazard and to ensure no other headstones would be damaged.  Contractors had to place sod on 700 different spots on cemetery grounds to cover holes caused by the windstorm.

“Actually, there were still trees and root balls being removed just a couple of weeks ago,” she said.

Keeping the cemetery a tree haven

City leaders want to have the cemetery designated as an arboretum, so they’re bringing in a wider variety of trees that have been known to flourish in Utah.  Cemetery Sexton Keith Van Otten says they have a lot of work to do to ensure their new trees will last as long as the old ones did.

(Now that the damaged trees have been removed, cemetery officials say they can focus on fixing all the headstones that were broken or displaced. Photo: Paul Nelson)

“Our largest tree that had fallen here had a 49-inch diameter.  It was a giant Scotch Pine, the biggest our urban forestry has ever seen.  That tells you the age of some of these trees.  They’re hundreds of years old,” Van Otten said.

Some gravesites still need repair, and some headstones will need replacement. However, officials say they received a lot of support from other cities in Salt Lake County, and from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé says church leaders saw restoring the grounds as an important project, since so many historical figures connected to the faith repose there.

 “We believe in ‘turning hearts’ to our fathers and mothers.  This is a great place for doing this,” he says.

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Salt Lake City Cemetery reopens from severe windstorm damage