Salt Lake City Cemetery Plans to Continue Recovery Following Fall Windstorm


Maya Fraser

Salt Lake City Cemetery continues to suffer damages from last Fall’s windstorm on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Maya Fraser | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


After a total of 265 trees were toppled over, Salt Lake City Cemetery is still recovering from the Sept. 2020 windstorm. Many of the tipped trees left behind root balls, some entangled in headstones and monuments. While about 60 tree stumps have been removed, contractors are averaging a removal rate of 5-6 stumps per day, and they are not finished cleaning up the aftermath.

Due to the cemetery’s historic designation, there are firm guidelines to follow in the restoration process. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Utah State Historic Office have stepped in to help with processes and procedures.

“The city is going to try to apply for FEMA funds,” said Amy Barry, Utah Cemeteries and Burials Program Manager. “To qualify for those fund reimbursement at some point if all of the ducks lined up in a row and they had to do work according to FEMA standards.”

This week, the city will finalize a contract with a monument expert to remove root balls, the main mass of the roots, from being entangled in monuments.

“Honestly, my biggest goal is that we are open the middle of May in anticipation for Memorial Day,” said Keith VanOtten, Salt Lake City Cemetery Sexton. “Being closed over the holiday season, which is our second most popular time for people to visit their loved ones here, was hard.”

Headstone companies have also now resumed the placing of monuments and headstones.

“Now, we are allowing headstone companies. They started [March 1] being able to place [headstones]... We have a lot of them in now and [we are] trying to get back to normal,” VanOtten said.

Additionally, an archeologist has been hired to document all the damages. VanOtten said about 10 damaged headstones have been documented thus far, but it’s likely more will be discovered as they remove roots.  

The cemetery is still allowing burial services and visitors with the completion of an ‘Assumption of Risk Form,’ which is available at the cemetery office.

Salt Lake City Cemetery continues to suffer damages from last fall’s windstorm. (Photo by Maya Fraser | The Daily Utah Chronicle) (Maya Fraser)

“We are closed, but legally you’re here at your own risk if you’re inside the Cemetery at this point,” VanOtten said. 

Their eventual goal for 2021 is to receive their arboretum dedication that they almost had before the windstorm hit last fall. The dedication would recognize the cemetery as hitting certain professional and industry requirements, earning it a distinction.

According to VanOtten, Sept. 9, when the windstorm hit, was a “devastating day.”

“They changed the landscape forever. You know it’s for our lifetime. It will never look the same,” VanOtten said.

Despite setbacks, they plan to replant the trees in the same spot or close and remove or re-set headstones that have been tipped over. 

However, the cemetery has to be more careful when it comes to headstones.

“If the cemetery has an ordinance that has placed the kind of ownership of that headstone as private property, then yes, it falls to the family, but not every cemetery has taken that route,” Barry said.

A decision hasn’t been made on who will pay for the damaged headstones because they are privately owned.

“The problem is, and it’s a problem nationwide, with cemeteries, contact information for these families is little to none,” VanOtten said.


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