Sage Lodge gifts land to Old Chico Cemetery

Johnathan Hettinger -
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bryan Wells, a member of the Old Chico Cemetery board, closes the gate to the cemetery on July 10. Wells and other board members do all of the upkeep for the cemetery.

Enterprise photos by Johnathan Hettinger

Pictured is the Old Chico Cemetery on July 10. The cemetery, which is expanding, is the oldest in Park County.

The oldest cemetery in Park County is expanding, with the help of Sage Lodge.

The Old Chico Cemetery will be given an acre and a half, almost doubling the size of the current plot, by Sage Lodge, which borders the cemetery.

The expansion will allow the cemetery to open up to more people. Currently, the cemetery is open only to relatives of people currently buried in there because it was approaching capacity.

Already, the cemetery has four applications from people who want to be buried in the new portion, said Carol Woodley, who is on the Old Chico Cemetery Board.

The process to expand the cemetery required quite a few steps despite Sage Lodge’s offer to give the land.

Currently, Arrowhead School owns the older part of the cemetery, but the school doesn’t do anything with the land or upkeep, said Bryan Wells, who is on the Old Chico Cemetery Board. So the board tried to get Park County to accept the land, but the county and Arrowhead couldn’t work out an agreement to acquire the old cemetery.

So at a July 10 meeting, instead of acquiring the land, Park County commissioners recommended the cemetery board create a nonprofit organization to acquire the land.

In the past month, the cemetery board set up the Chico Cemetery Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that Sage Lodge will give the land to.

Woodley said the association was able to set up the nonprofit so quickly because it already had bylaws written.

“Hopefully that alleviates some of the red tape we’ve had to go through,” she said.

Woodley said the association is now going to work with Arrowhead School to try to acquire the old part of the cemetery.

On Tuesday, the Park County Commission voted to give $4,000 to the association to have the new 1.5 acres surveyed.

The cemetery board does all of the maintenance on the cemetery, Wells said. Soon, the cemetery will also need to upgrade its fence, since it has been damaged by wildlife, and move the gate because the board recently learned the gate goes over a grave.

Woodley, who wrote a book, “Chico Cemetery: 1864-2012,” said that’s what she loves about the old cemetery — the mystery it holds, the stories hidden with unmarked graves, and trying to unravel and tell the stories of lives lived long ago.

“I love those old people,” Woodley said. “They have so many stories to tell.”

Woodley first got involved in the Old Chico Cemetery in 1995 when she became fascinated by trying to find the story of a man buried there. Since writing her book, she has found many fascinating people in the plot, including a Civil War veteran.

Often, board members will dowse the area for unmarked graves, Woodley said, and they often find new graves that are unmarked, with no way to know who is buried there. Often, the unmarked graves were once marked by a pile of rocks or a since-deteriorated wooden cross.

Woodley said she has been able to unravel many mysteries at the cemetery, and she is currently working on a project on the Clyde Park Cemetery.

But the Old Chico Cemetery doesn’t always give up its mysteries.

“If they don’t want their story to be told, then you can’t tell it,” Woodley said. “Some of them didn’t leave their story behind.”