Fairview Cemetery is building a wall to keep out prairie dogs — burrowing rodents that have plagued the historic graveyard for decades by digging up coffin hardware and even human bones.
The new 900-foot-long wall along the southwest and west sides of the center will consist of a 7-inch-wide trench, 5- to 3 1/2-feet deep and filled with steel-reinforced concrete, plus a 3-f00t-high steel-reinforced concrete wall topped with 3 1/2 feet of chain-link fence.
Carrillo Construction of Santa Fe is expected to finish by late March when prairie dogs begin to emerge from their winter hibernation.
David Mason, president of the Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association, said Friday this is the first attempt he knows of to create a prairie dog barrier.
“I don’t think the correct term would be ‘prairie dog proof,’ ” he said. “This is not a 100-percent guarantee that this is going to work.”
Although prairie dogs have been known to burrow deeper than five feet in some parts of the country, Mason said, they seldom go deeper than three feet around Santa Fe because of rocky strata and caliche.
The association board agreed to go down 5 feet, but because large boulders were encountered during the trenching, it was decided to go no deeper than 3 1/2 feet in places.
“We figured, well, if they can’t do it, the prairie dogs can’t either,” Mason said.
The project began last year by hiring a firm to capture and relocate the colonies of prairie dogs within 50 feet on their side of the wall — within Fairview Cemetery as well as on abutting property owned by the Oddfellows Lodge, Public Service Co. of New Mexico and New Mexico School for the Deaf.
If any prairie dogs reappear there this spring, the same relocation firm will return to capture them — as per the 2001 city ordinance requiring “humane relocation” of prairie dogs from commercial construction sites.
The chain-link fence that was installed in the 1980s along the southwest and west sides was removed before the work began. But the wall along the northeastern side of the cemetery that abuts the School for the Deaf campus and the ornate wrought-iron fence and wall along the southeastern border with Cerrillos Road were left in place because prairie dogs were not coming from those directions.
The 3-foot-tall masonry wall will prevent prairie dogs on the outside from looking into the cemetery. “Basically, when you see those little critters on their hind feet, when they’re kind of looking around, they’re actually looking for a place to find food or to migrate,” Mason said. “By building it three feet high, that disrupts their line of vision.”
The chain-link fence that will top the masonry wall, bringing the total height to nearly 7 feet, is to prevent vandals from getting inside, he said.
Will McDonald, a trustee of the Oddfellows Lodge which has a small graveyard abutting Fairview Cemetery, said that one member of his organization objected to the wall because she feared it would become a target for graffiti, but that the majority of the lodge supports the wall and the cemetery association has agreed to coat it with graffiti-resistant material.
Fairview Cemetery’s oldest headstones date from 1862 burials in a Masonic graveyard on the north side of downtown. In 1884, those graves were disinterred and moved to the new privately owned Fairview Cemetery at 1134 Cerrillos Road. In 1899, the Santa Fe Women’s Board of Trade and Library Association took over the cemetery. From 1978 to 1998, Santa Fe County ran the cemetery and used it for the burial of indigents. Since then, it has been operated by the nonprofit association.
The 4-acre cemetery, once the only place in Santa Fe where non-Catholics could be buried, has an estimated 4,000 graves, although about 1,500 are unmarked. Four governors, 10 mayors and many other notable Santa Fe citizens are buried there. It is listed as a historic landmark by federal, state and city governments.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.