Tucked into the hillside below Fort Lewis College lies remnants of the Old West.
Totally surrounded by modern development, honest pioneers and outlaws rest forever beneath crumbling monuments or in now-unmarked graves at the Animas City Cemetery.
“It’s been forgotten and overlooked,” said Ruth Lambert, a member of Friends of the Animas City Cemetery.
The Friends group is starting its master-plan process this year to help preserve the history that remains. The plan will address landscaping, maintenance, community education and access roads, Lambert said. Once a plan is in place, the group will apply for grant funding from the History Colorado’s State Historical Fund with support from city staff.
The city also could provide a cash match for a grant out of the general fund, said Cathy Metz, parks and recreation director.
During the last five years, natural erosion and human mischief have taken a noticeable toll. Headstones have toppled over, and others have gone missing completely. Once the stones rest in the dirt, they start to erode much faster.
“I haven’t been in here in a couple of years; it’s kind of sobering,” said Jill Seyfarth, a Friends member, on a recent cemetery tour.
There’s an urgent need to preserve about 14 grave markers that are in danger of severe deterioration. Some large stones move at the touch of a pinky finger, which presents a safety risk, said Julie Pickett, another member of the group.
Some large stones can be stabilized, and those that are in pieces may need to be mounted on a backing because they cannot be reassembled. Preserving these 14 markers is estimated to cost $25,000, Lambert said.
Friends already has done extensive mapping work to identify all the graves, document the headstones and track down living family members of the deceased, Lambert said.
The original graves at the site date back to 1877, making it the oldest cemetery in La Plata County.
The group believes more than 168 people are buried on the hillside after Pickett completed extensive research, which included interviewing families, reviewing obituaries and other archives. Only 62 people still are identified by headstones.
All of the wooden markers were lost in 1985 when a fire swept through the cemetery. That same year, private owners donated the property to the city.
Since then, vegetation has come back thick around the remaining markers and largely unmonitored social trials loop through the five-acre property. With grant support, Lambert is hopeful once the preservation happens, the site can open for teaching sessions to help members of small cemetery associations learn about gravestone preservation.
“This represents our history,” Lambert said. “We need to keep people aware of their history.”
This story has been updated to correct how the cemetery came to be owned by the city.