GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For Joe Sulak, who oversees the six city-owned cemeteries in Grand Rapids, Memorial Day weekend may be of more importance than any other.
“Things are growing, the trees are in leaf, that’s when the most visitors come, and so it’s really important to have it looking as best we can,” Sulak, of the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation department, explained to 24 Hour News 8.
But a tip to 24 Hour News 8 listed concerns about the cemeteries this holiday weekend. Someone who visited three of them to pay respects to those who served was less than impressed with how things looked. So 24 Hour News 8 visited all six to see for ourselves.
At Fairplains Cemetery off Diamond Ave NE, a lawn crew was there cleaning things up Tuesday afternoon.
None of the other five cemeteries were in perfect shape, but some were worse than others, including the Fulton Cemetery. 24 Hour News 8 found overgrown grass, tall weeds, dandelions and spigots that just don’t work.
Perhaps the worst conditions were at Oakhill cemetery off Hall Street, where it looked like certain spots were simply missed by lawn crews, including veterans’ gravestones marked with American flags.
“I would apologize,” Sulak said to those critical of the cemeteries’ conditions. “I’m sorry. It’s not our intention to offend anybody or do anything that someone doesn’t think is respectful.”
Sulak said the city budgets $200,000 each year to cover lawn and cleanup work at the cemeteries. Four contractors do the work, including a crew through the 61st District Court. Sulak said each cemetery gets mowed and weed-whipped once a week from April to July, then every other week after that. The crews don’t do weed maintenance.
He blamed the overgrowth, in part, on all the rain West Michigan has gotten recently. He said a crew was supposed to cover Oakhill Cemetery twice last week, but rain got in the way.
“Sometimes you mow it on a Monday and by Friday it looks like it’s been unmowed,” he explained.
The other reason for the mess, he said, is likely human error.
“I can assure that we’re going to make sure that we do go back to those areas and fix them,” Sulak said. “There’s almost 250 acres of cemeteries that we’re maintaining. And that’s a lot of turf to inspect each one. It’s not an excuse. It’s just the reality of it.”
Still, Sulak maintains the land is a big priority for the city. A $3.5 million bond helped it fix infrastructure in recent years. That money will also help replace some of the broken water systems.