SNP Cemetaries

Cemetery Directive '97

Our ancestors gravesites are being allowed to crumble and deteriorate and the SNP has done nothing to memorialize our ancestors, as a sacred part of it's history. 

We have had numerous request for help with the cemeteries and their upkeep, etc. If you are interested in knowing more about the depth of this project or would like to volunteer, please  contact me at Carol Laing.  

Go here to see the 1997 Cemetery Directive Cemetery Directive '97


Following is the current Official Directives on SNP Cemeteries: 

Shenandoah National Park

National Park Service


Subject:        Cemetery Maintenance and Use 

All cemeteries within Shenandoah National Park (SNP) existed prior to the establishment of Skyline Drive or the park.  Most were family burial places, although several were affiliated with community churches or organizations.  Many have had burials within the past three decades and several are still in active use. 

Legal case law and policy first instituted by the Director in 1931 established that descendants of individuals buried in the cemeteries within park boundaries either have legal interest in the cemeteries or have specific rights to access and use.  This directive is based on the recognition of that family interest.


All cemeteries may be maintained by the families of those buried in the cemetery or by volunteers with the specific written approval of family members. 

A key to fire roads providing access to cemeteries behind locked gates may be picked up and signed for at the entrance stations by family members wishing to deliver maintenance supplies and/or equipment to cemeteries.  In specific instances where a recognized family organization or family cemetery manager exists, a key may be issued to the designee of that organization or to that manager. 

No vegetation clearance will be allowed beyond the defined and established boundaries of the cemetery.  Vegetation removed from the cemetery during maintenance operations may be scattered in the areas surrounding the cemetery and shall not be left in obvious piles. 

Mechanized equipment (mowers, chainsaws, weedeaters, etc...) may be used to maintain cemeteries NOT in Congressionally designated Wilderness.  No herbicides or pesticides may be used in cemetery maintenance without written review and approval from the Natural & Cultural Resources, Integrated Pest Management Specialist. 

The park may not, by law, furnish staff, equipment, or supplies for maintaining park cemeteries for which families retain an interest.  The park will be willing to work with recognized family organizations to establish a cooperative agreement to mutually assist in specific cemetery preservation. 

The park will maintain the roads accessing the cemeteries provided the roads are on the current road list.  The roads will only be maintained to current road standards and may not be suitable for automobile use.  Families are allowed to maintain right-of-way access to family cemeteries, but such work must be approved in writing by the Natural & Cultural Resources, Landscape Architect. 

Maintenance of existing cemetery fencing/gates is the responsibility of the family.  New fencing and/or gates must be approved in writing, in advance, by the Landscape Architect (NCR). 

If cemeteries are not maintained by families or volunteers, natural vegetative succession will reclaim the sites.  No Park Service action will be taken to slow or abate this process. 


The dimensions of all cemeteries have been established and, in most cases, corners have been marked.  No burials may extend beyond these boundaries.

Only descendants of family members buried in cemeteries, or those approved by family associations, may be buried in cemeteries within the park boundary.  Once all grave sites within the designated boundary are filled, burials will cease. 

The Landscape Architect for the Natural & Cultural Divison must be informed of all proposed burials to assure that entrance stations are aware of the pending burial and to assure smooth coordination of the event.  Funeral Homes should notify the SNP Communications Center (540)999-3422 prior to entering the park for grave preparation.  A backhoe may be used by the funeral home to open the grave provided the cemetery is not in a Congressionally designated wilderness area and provided the backhoe has access to the site without damage to park resources.

No new cemeteries may be developed. 

Inactive cemeteries may be activated by family members as long as the above standards are met. 

All laws and policies of the Commonwealth of Virginia pertaining to burials and cemetery use are applicable to park cemeteries. 

Entrance fees will be waived for those persons maintaining cemeteries, family members visiting family cemeteries, or those attending funerals.  Those for whom fees are waived will be asked to sign the cemetery visitor sheet at the entrance station. 


Cemeteries located within the existing boundaries of the park are patrolled and regulations enforced consistent with enforcement activities throughout the park by park protection rangers.  Violations of park regulations (such as vandalism, tampering, disorderly conduct, etc..) observed by visiting family members should be reported to the SNP Communications Center (540) 999-3422 to ensure that a report is taken and an investigation conducted. 


Recognizing the historic and cultural importance of the cemeteries within the park boundaries, the National Park Service (NPS) makes the following recommendations to families so that the long-term integrity of the cemeteries may be preserved: 

        New monuments should be in keeping with the style, size, color, and texture of the historic cemetery stone.  Modern stones of greatly different color and/or style tend to disrupt the design and feeling of the burial ground. 

        It is recommended that individual grave sites not be enclosed by low fencing or hedges.  Such enclosures are not traditional and, again, disrupt the landscape of the grounds. 

        Flowers placed on the graves should be artificial.  Trees, shrubs, and flowers planted in the cemetery should be native and/or non-invasive so they do not spread from the cemetery onto adjacent park lands.  The Park Natural Resource Specialists or headquarters personnel will be happy to work with family members on plant selections or recommendations. 

The park Cultural Resource Specialist will be willing to work with established family associations to develop standards for cemetery maintenance and plot markings.  However, specific issues dealing with maintenance, monument and plot marking, and grave locations remain the responsibility of each cemetery's family association and will not be enforced by park staff. 


______________________________________              _________________

Douglas K. Morris                                  Date



The cemeteries within Shenandoah National Park were acquired in several manners depending on if they were situated within the original right-of-way for the Skyline Drive or within the park proper.  The right-of-way for Skyline Drive, in many if not most cases, was acquired by donation or in "willing seller" negotiations; the Virginia Act of Condemnation was not exercised as most farmers and landowners approved the construction of the Drive. Many of the remaining cemeteries were taken as a result of condemnation and the resultant arbitration. 

As early as November 23, 1931, years before the official establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Shenandoah National Park, the National Park Service was moved to formulate policy to regulate burial grounds and family graveyards in the eastern National Parks and Monuments.  On that date, Horace Albright wrote to W. H. Woodbury, Executive Secretary, North Carolina Park Commission, that: 

...certain commitments you desire to have laid down regarding the handling of cemeteries in the park area... In this connection you may say on behalf of Park Service that we will do everything within our power to keep the cemeteries intact and that the parties who have bodies buried there may go to and from the cemeteries with all freedom of action and have the right to keep the brush and briars cleaned off.  In addition, they will also not only have the right of interment of any bodies now living within the park area and who have been interested in the cemetery and wish to buried there, but we feel there may be some who have moved out whose family burial plots are in these cemeteries and who therefore may wish to be buried in the same cemetery with their kinfolk.... Furthermore, we will assume it is an obligation of the National Park Service to assist in keeping these cemeteries as cleaned up as possible after we have taken them over as part of the Park. 

The policy was reiterated in a letter written by Director Conrad L. Wirth to Senator Albert Gore on March 29, 1955.  Wirth also noted that:

The policy in respect to cemeteries in the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks remains as originally stated by former Director Albright.  Similar policy statements have been made in respect to cemeteries in Shenandoah and Mammoth Cave National Parks and is applicable to other eastern national parks. 

Wirth told Gore that the Service was unable "to assume the full responsibility for the care of the cemeteries", but was willing to "furnish some equipment and labor to assist interested parties in doing the needed work."

Wirth's policy surely was the result of a memorandum written by Acting Director, Hillory A. Tolson, to the Regional Director, Region One (Richmond), on May 28, 1947.  Tolson's memorandum, based on legal case review by the Solicitor General, was a response to the proposed issuance by Blue Ridge Parkway of a special use permit for the maintenance and use of a family cemetery within that park. 

The memorandum is complex and studded with legal jargon.  However, the legal basis for the solicitor's finding was thirteen cases all which established that: 

        1.        A family cemetery or burial ground could be established as a legal entity, even though originally established in pais, i.e. without legal formalities or proceedings 

        2.        Once established and thereby dedicated to family burial purposes subsequent land transfers did not need to recite the dedicated use of the burial plot.  Essentially those rights were never transferred with the deed, but remained with the family or group which dedicated the cemetery. 

        3.        The group with retaining rights retained right-of-way to the cemetery. 

No ruling, however, bound the subsequent landowners to maintenance or upkeep of either the cemetery or right-of-way.

After citing legal precedent, Tolson summarized his position: 

Aside from the purely legal aspects of this situation, it is our view that this Service, on grounds of public policy and having due regard for the humane and sentimental considerations which are inherent in matters of this sort, should freely recognize the right of the continued use of and access to cemeteries within the Parkway by families desiring to inter their dead therein.  Any other course might well lead to litigation and promote distasteful and embarrassing relations with the public. 

Shenandoah Superintendent, Guy Edwards, confirmed the earlier family cemetery policy, but created bad will with some cemetery users when family members were required to pay entrance fees beginning in 1958. 

On September 26, 1961 the Regional Director informed the Region One Superintendents that Director Wirth had "established a new policy in connection with cemeteries within the parks.... The new policy will provide for Service maintenance of the cemeteries within the park boundaries except in those cemeteries where the area comprising the cemetery was reserved to the original owner. The restriction of Federal funds on non-Federal property prevents the maintenance of such cemeteries....New burials will not be permitted in cemeteries maintained by the Service without a permit from the Superintendent of the park. The Service will not reconstruct or improve the standard of the roads leading to cemeteries, but will maintain the present roads or trails in a passable condition."

Many Superintendents expressed concern that this would obligate them to expend great labor and effort to maintain cemeteries, yet a careful reading of the policy indicates that it, in fact, was intended to do the exact opposite.  As the legal basis for the 1947 Tolson memorandum was not negated, case law established that most cemeteries within the eastern parks were, in fact, reserved for family burial and thus Service maintenance was not recommended, nor legal without cooperative agreement. 

This clarification of policy, with some refinements, has been in place since 1961.  Park Directive NCR - 406, August 25, 1998, continued to recognize family interest in the cemeteries by not permitting use of Federal labor or materials in their maintenance: 

The Park will not furnish staff, equipment or supplies for maintaining cemeteries.  The Park will maintain the roads accessing the cemeteries provided the roads are on the current road list, not in a Wilderness and as allowed for in the Park's overall work plan.  Roads will be maintained only to a Park-determined standard, which may not permit automobiles. 

In order to verify that no new case law has modified the legal basis for the 1947 Tolson memorandum, Regional Solicitor, Tony Conte, was asked early in 1997 to research case law. Conte's finding was that the basic case of Benn v. Hatcher, 81 Va. (1885) was still "good law".  As no Federal legal action to obtain a bill of equity has been undertaken to gain fee rights to the cemeteries within the Park, for such award would require disinterment, it is taken for granted that family descendants retain burial rights and full responsibility for maintenance of the burial grounds and rights-of-ways.




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Copyright 2001 Children of Shenandoah
Last modified: September 26, 2001