Soldotna looking for cemetery

Committee begins searching for possible city burial ground

Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2002

An eternal resting ground after death for Soldotna citizens has evaded the city since its establishment. But now, city officials are looking into possibly correcting this oversight.

After being lobbied by the Soldotna Historical Society in October, Mayor David Carey appointed a seven-member task force last month to study the possibility of developing a burial ground near or within the city limits. He said, aside from one church-related site, the city has no history of any official cemetery.

"There's never been a formal one," Carey said. "There's one at the Catholic church of Soldotna where former pastors were buried. But that is the only place that has permission."

Kearlee Wright is the chair of the task force. Wright said he is eager to begin, but he wants to make certain that no undo strain is placed upon the city by any efforts to maintain a cemetery.

"We're going to pursue it quite aggressively," Wright said. "But it is not favorable if it is going to be a burden."

One potential obstacle would be determining who would be responsible for managing the site. In a previous interview, city clerk Pat Burdick said earlier attempts at establishing a cemetery had been thwarted by the expense of a full-time caretaker.

"We did do some research on it," she said. "It would be very costly for the city to do it."

Katherine Parker was one of the earliest settlers in Soldotna, with her husband, Charlie, and she is a member of the historical society and the mayor's task force. She has been an advocate for establishing a cemetery and said much of the city's past is disappearing with each passing resident.

"We feel that a lot of history is being lost," she said. "These people who have done a lot in establishing the community ... they're all buried in Kasilof or the Kenai cemetery. A lot of people get cremated because there is no cemetery."

However, she was quick to point out that not everyone believes in the need for a municipal graveyard.

"Many people don't think it (is) totally the city's obligation to establish a cemetery," Parker said.

Carey said the most important issues to address are cost, desire and availability of land, although he said he thinks a growing population of second-generation Soldotna residents acknowledge the need for a local burial site.

"Do people want it? The demographics of people my age -- people who have been raised here -- would want it," he said. "We don't have a second home."

The city also will have to meet regulations of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for whatever site is selected.

Parker said some property has been identified for consideration, including property next to the airport and borough land on Ski Hill Road and across the Sterling Highway from the landfill.

She said she has high hopes the task force will be successful, and she and the historical society are grateful for Carey's action.

"We're pleased that Mayor Carey responded by appointing this committee," she said.

Carey said the committee will begin its fact-finding mission soon. He was careful to mention that no decisions have been made thus far, however.

"We're probably two weeks away," he said. "(Wright) is waiting on me."

Parker speculated that, more and more, people in Soldotna will come to realize the need for a city burial site in the future.

"I think a lot of people think of their residency here as being temporary," she said. "But they're really not."

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