By Kris Leonhardt
DE PERE – For over 160 years, the De Pere Greenwood Cemetery has been a resting place for generations of families, including some of the most notable individuals who founded the city of De Pere.
Among the oak and hickory trees that line the banks of the Fox River lay monuments to Civil War soldiers, former legislators, ministers and blacksmiths — people from various nationalities and denominations.
But many of those gravesites are now at risk as erosion threatens to sweep them from their final resting place, with some already experiencing that similar fate.
“They literally had to relocate 33 graves already and there are 20 more that are in danger of sliding into the river,” explained State Assembly Rep. John Macco.
“There are no owners here; there are no monthly dues or fees that come into these things. This is all done by volunteers.”
The De Pere Greenwood Cemetery Association — a non-profit, non-denominational organization — is working to save existing sites along the shoreline,
“It’s been in the last about 15 (years) since wakeboards came that we’ve really noticed a massive amount of shore loss — massive amount,” said De Pere Greenwood Cemetery President Julie Sowers.
Shoreline restoration will cost $2.5 million — $1 million of the funding will come through a grant from the state of Wisconsin — to stabilize the river bank, control invasive species and begin restoration on a 1,100-foot section of shoreline.
“After years of helping them navigate our state bureaucracies, the cemetery can finally halt erosion from the Fox River and graves from sliding into the river. This preserves respect for the dead and prevents an ecological disaster in our waterways,” Macco stated in a release.
Sowers called the grant a “critical first step” in beginning the restoration process.
“…however, additional financial resources are required for this historical cemetery, which is a cornerstone of the Fox River Drive, to be maintained and cease deterioration which, left unchecked, would have the cemetery’s hillside quite literally, fall into the Fox River,” Sowers added.
A groundbreaking event for the project was held Nov. 27 in the cemetery.
Work was scheduled to start the first week of December with the removal of trees, before a layer of riprap — large stones that protect soil from erosion — can be installed.
The association stressed both the historical and ecological value of preserving the shoreline and is looking for community support in funding another $1.5 million for the project.
“These are the families of De Pere and Brown County; this is who we are buried here,” Sowers added.
For more information, visit https://deperegreenwoodcemetery.org.