It’s official! The cemetery along with its new expansion is all ours. It took a long time to get it done, but 16 years is nothing compared to eternity. After 140 years the cemetery had reached capacity, but now we’re good for half a millennium.
It was through a Special Use Permit issued by the Forest Service that the town was able to manage the cemetery in the first place. “Special Use Permits are, by definition, temporary, but there is nothing temporary about a cemetery,” said Jeff Sugrue who for years has been spearheading the project to transfer the cemetery to the town. He was not the first to tackle this cause. Lucille Crow tried for years to work with the USFS. Jeff’s son, Chris Sugrue, made it his Eagle Scout Project to expand the cemetery. But all those efforts failed. It seemed like it would take an act of Congress for us to take permanent possession of the cemetery. And an “Act of Congress” was what Jeff and others within the Fire Department set out to do.
An Act of Congress
In 2007, Jeff approached then Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin. The idea was to transfer ownership of nine Black Hills cemeteries to private hands. Under the guidance of Bob Thompson (Black Hills Forest Supervisor) Jeff took the lead on the whole process. “It was impossible to find people who would take ownership of these forest cemeteries”. When he went looking for the last known sexton or contact person for each cemetery he eventually found them but frequently already dead and buried in their own cemetery. It took time but he finally produced a list of cemeteries along with fire departments, cemetery associations, historical societies or other entities that could take title to the land. He would later work with Congresswoman Kristi Noem to try to push the bill through the House of Representatives. But, year after year, the bill would fail to be introduced. In 2014, the bill was finally passed by Congress and the act was signed into law by President Obama.
It was a cause for celebration in Silver City. Unfortunately, the celebration would be short-lived. The bureaucracy of the USFS took hold and the process once again became slow and cumbersome. When recently asked, Jeff explained “I knew it would be a long process, but I did not know it would take an additional nine years to get it done.” From surveying, platting, and an involved NEPA process, archaeological, threatened species, etc, the project became long and expensive.
In 2021, after the USFS regional office in Denver cleared most obstacles, we were faced with additional conditions coming this time from the Bureau of Reclamation. Even though the cemetery is on the top of a hill above Pactola lake, the BOR wanted to retain the right to enter the property and permanently flood the land up to 4,670 feet in elevation. This was comical considering that Main Street in Silver City sits at 4,650 ft. How can this be? That legal back and forth took some time to be resolved. The last obstacle popped up last year when the USFS was considering doing mining exclusions around the Rapid Creek watershed. A company named F3 Gold had permits to do exploration around Jenny Gulch. If they were to be prevented from digging for minerals, would Silver City be prevented from digging graves? Common sense prevailed on this one and the USFS removed the final obstacle.
The land was transferred last month to the Fire Department and will now be deeded to the Historical Society. It was a long, arduous process but the cemetery has a new lease on life.