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Davis Cemetery: more than a resting place

By Ellen Sweeney

If you were in charge of making a long-term plan to improve the Davis Cemetery, what kind of changes would you make? This is the challenge the Davis Cemetery District board members encountered in 2005. They created a plan to improve the cemetery so it could become a more prominent resource for the community.

Certainly, the cemetery, at 820 Pole Line Road, is a place to commemorate our loved ones, but it can be much more than that. The board strived to make it not just an inviting place for remembrance, but also a place for community members to come for contemplation, to enjoy nature and art, and to learn about local history. In accordance with the community’s views, the board was determined to work toward these goals in an environmentally conscious way.

Since the implementation of the master plan, the cemetery has new landscaping and art additions that provide beautiful spaces for visitors. The veterans memorial fountain provides a comforting rhythmic sound and a gathering area for cemetery visitors. Many statues, angels and unusual memorial pieces decorate the grounds.

In addition, thousands of trees and plants have been added, which are drip-irrigated to limit water use. Scent gardens and gardens with colorful flowers throughout the year augment the grounds.

The new trees and plants were chosen to create a healthy habitat for native wildlife. Insecticides are not used on the property because native plants are resistant to harmful insects while attracting beneficial insects and birds. Many bird species — as well as jackrabbits, squirrels and other wildlife — are found on the grounds.

In a project involving hundreds of community volunteers of all ages, the cemetery’s natural swale was restored and planted with 42,000 native grasses and sedges. With only once-a-year mowing on the hill, the clump grasses have been allowed to grow naturally, which has significantly lowered water use and fuel consumption. Furthermore, the cemetery meets 75 percent of its electricity needs with the solar panels on site.

Community members can get involved in the Davis Cemetery in many ways. Several UC Davis student interns are writing a brochure for a self-guided local history tour, learning about landscape design and learning about business management. Working with Slow Food Yolo, the cemetery put on a Day of the Dead celebration last fall that was so successful that it will become an annual event.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6949 helps ensure high attendance at Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies. Local artists, poets and musicians get involved in the many art shows, poetry workshops and other special events held on the grounds. The office hosts Gallery 1855, which offers free monthly art shows and features internationally recognized artists.

By meeting, and often exceeding, the goals set out in the Davis Cemetery’s master plan, the cemetery has become a much more inviting place for members of the community. It is not just a place for grieving, but for celebrating loved ones and appreciating the local history, art and beauty of Davis.

— Ellen Sweeney is a UC Davis student serving a writing internship at the Davis Cemetery.

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