Is Fielding Memorial Cemetery being neglected? We looked into it - East Idaho News
Idaho Falls

Is Fielding Memorial Cemetery being neglected? We looked into it

  Published at  | Updated at
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready ... looked into multiple news tips about the maintenance at Fielding Memorial Cemetery. | Jordan Wood and Kaitlyn Hart,

IDAHO FALLS — A local woman is advocating for her parents’ final resting place, saying the city of Idaho Falls has neglected Fielding Memorial Cemetery for more than a decade.

But the city says it’s working to tame the problem of dead grass and rodent infestation – and told why it’s happening.

Diane’s story

Diane Plastino Graves, an Idaho Falls native, contacted us after experiencing what she calls a cemetery “scandal” over the past 13 years.

In 2011, Graves’ mother, Margaret Plastino, told her daughter she was no longer able to visit her deceased husband at Fielding Memorial Cemetery due to the poor conditions of the grounds and the emotions it caused her.

OBITUARY | Margaret A. Plastino

“When I asked her why, she said the conditions were so upsetting to her that she could no longer go,” says Graves. “So in 2011, 13 years ago, I started communicating with the city and the cemetery workers.”

Graves said at that point, the weeds in the cemetery were overwhelming gravestones, and the grass was not being watered properly.

“Most distressing of all was that the headstones were never edged, you know, like you would edge your sidewalk from the grass when you’re mowing your lawn,” says Graves. “So there were many headstones where the names were obscured because there were weeds and grass growing over the headstones.”

damaged gravestone
A gravestone at Fielding Memorial Cemetery is overcome by grass and dirt. | Courtesy Diane Plastino Graves

After two years without a resolution from the Parks and Recreation department, which maintains the city cemeteries, Graves began writing the mayor.

“My first letter to the mayor was in 2013, and I had subsequently written to the mayor — at that point it was Mayor Fuhriman. But then very quickly after that, Mayor Casper came into office, and I started writing letters to her,” says Graves. “I have never had a response from the mayor.”

Over the years, Graves continued to request maintenance and reasoning for the unkept grounds at the cemetery where her father was buried, but nothing came of it.

For the next seven years, Graves dove into research. Through this, she found City of Idaho Falls ordinance 8-11-8, that lists the duties of a Cemetery Sexton.

The ordinance requires the Sexton to “fill all graves following burial, trim any grass, trees or shrubbery thereon and keep all spaces in a safe and attractive condition. The Sexton shall care for all grounds and foliage in the City cemeteries.”

In 2020, Graves says she received an email from P.J. Holm, the Parks Recreation Superintendent, asking her to have a phone conversation with the local Cemetery Sexton, Scott Davis, and other cemetery workers.

“It was very contentious. They were very aggressive with me when I was expressing my concerns about the conditions of my parent’s graves and the graves of everybody else there,” says Graves. “They gave me a lot of pushback. They were not receptive to my complaints, which were the same complaints I’d had for, at that point, nine years. It was so bad that two weeks after the meeting, I received an email from one of the participants apologizing for how unprofessional I was treated.”

In 2023, two years after Graves’ mother died, the situation only worsened – the cemetery is now infested with voles or field mice.

“In May 2023, as things continued to deteriorate, I noticed that there were rodent holes at my parents’ graves, and I took pictures of them,” says Graves. “At that point, they were infiltrating under my parent’s headstone. Honestly, I feel like this is our own Stephen King horror novel, which was given to us by the city of Idaho Falls. I just find this to be so appalling and disrespectful.”

damaged gravesite
Gravesites taken over by vole damage. | Kaitlyn Hart,

damaged gravesite
Gravesites taken over by vole damage. | Courtesy Diane Plastino Graves

Graves continued to call and even show up at the cemetery, though she lives four hours away. She says she was upset to find out they had dug up the grass around her parents’ gravestones when the voles began to burrow around them.

“When I went over, they actually had dug up the sod around my parent’s grave, and it was dirt. It was so bad, they knew how upset I would be that they dug the grass up,” says Graves. “I said to them, ‘You know, this is terrible. What can I do to help?’ I tried to be very collegial with them.”

Graves says she has done everything she can to improve the maintenance at Fielding Memorial Cemetery and does not know where to go from here.

“If it was ethical to dig my parents up and drive their bodies to Boise and rebury them, I would do it,” says Graves. “I mean, that is horrifying to think about them being on a flatbed truck, but if I somehow could magically do it, I would get my parents out of that horrible place.”

The city’s explanation reached out to the Parks and Recreation Department about the maintenance and infestation at Fielding Memorial Cemetery – and what it’s doing to fix it. You can watch our interview in the player above.

Tyler Smith, the Parks and Cemeteries assistant superintendent, says the cemetery tends to look poor from spring until May because it is nearly the last on the chain for access to water from the irrigation district during the year.

“We get water about two to three weeks before Memorial Day. So out of the gate, we’re struggling to get the grass growing and recovering,” says Smith. “Everybody on the irrigation district water has to deal with it. So we’re used to it. We understand that in the spring, we start a little bit later than we’d like. So we’re not typically are able to irrigate here until usually the 1st of May, end of April, in that window.”

Another reason, according to Smith, is the understaffing. Many employees who maintain city property during the warmer months are teenagers working for the Parks and Recreation department in the summer. Their employment begins when school lets out for summer in late May or early June.

Students can only work for a few weeks before the department is again understaffed when they go back to school.

“We’re significantly understaffed for our summer maintenance until usually the first week of June, and then we’re fully staffed for about eight to 10 weeks,” says Smith. “And then we start to dwindle back down. But, they’re a huge help, and we appreciate everything they do for us.”

Smith says the vole infestation has damaged 30% to 40% of the 40-acre cemetery, including undeveloped land.

RELATED | Population increase among marmots tunneling under graves and spreading feces in local cemetery (Pocatello)

According to the city, this is not a new issue and is common in open fields, as the voles eat grass and enjoy areas with a low predator population – which accurately describes Fielding Memorial Cemetery.

“Anywhere there’s grass, (voles are) very common. Last year, we probably had the worst year that we’ve seen,” says Smith. “And so we’re just still recovering from that.”

Smith showed us around multiple areas in the cemetery where the voles had infiltrated areas near headstones. Many of the burrows had already been filled with sand in an attempt to fix the issue.

“You’ll definitely notice vole activity more when the grass isn’t growing,” says Smith. “And so without water in the spring, the grass isn’t going to grow as vigorous, and that’s one of the reasons they’re more noticeable in the spring.”

The city has bought a machine to pump carbon monoxide into the cemetery’s vole burrows, which staff says will help tame the issue and protect above-ground animals such as cats and birds.

“You stick it down in the hole, and then as smoke comes out of the ground and different holes clog that up, the carbon monoxide will kill everything under the ground,” says P.J. Holm, Parks and Recreation superintendent. “That’s better for us because we have a lot of animals. We have a lot of things like birds and hawks and owls that feed off of that stuff, and it doesn’t poison them.”

Walking through the cemetery, we came across the gravestones of Graves’ parents, Ben and Margaret Plastino, and her grandfather, Benjamin Plastino. As Graves said – the sod had been dug up, but this time, fresh new grass sat on top of where the vole damage used to be.

The Plastinos’ family graves after new sod was added. | Jordan Wood,

“This whole area was pretty much inundated with a population of voles, so much so that we decided to cut the sod out and then relay sod,” said Smith. “And that’s one of the reasons (the grass) looks so long right now — we have to let the sod establish itself before we can run our heavy mowers over the top of it.”

Scott Davis, the cemetery sexton, says workers are doing their best to protect the resting places of the public – including their own family and friends.

“I just want people to know that their loved ones, that we care for them, because we have loved ones that are out here as well. We have a stake in this, too,” says Davis. “And we’re doing everything we can to try to get control of this. But all of our staff, pretty much everyone, has someone in here we know. So we definitely take care of this place.”

RELATED | Idaho family plans to sue after loved one was buried in wrong grave (Caldwell)

RELATED | Nearly 1,000 Idahoans died alone and were buried in a forgotten cemetery. Here’s how you can help remember them