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Who cares for Minnesota's abandoned cemeteries?

David Kelliher, legislative director for the Minnesota Historical Society, testifies during the House Veterans Affairs Division hearing March 22 on HF4100, sponsored by Rep. Bob Dettmer, left. Photo by Paul Battaglia

With an estimated 6,000 cemeteries, recorded and unrecorded, throughout Minnesota, Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) believes it’s time to figure out how to support, maintain and improve the abandoned burial areas.

Dettmer sponsors HF4100, as amended, which would direct the Minnesota Historical Society to spend $50,000 of its $16.3 million Fiscal Year 2019 budget on a grant for the state archaeologist to update the 2011 inventory of state cemeteries and burial grounds. Under the bill, the historical society would be allowed to establish an adopt-a-cemetery program, giving volunteers and organizations an opportunity to support and improve the properties.

The bill would require local governments to manage and supervise cemeteries where veterans lie.

The House Veterans Affairs Division approved the bill Thursday, sending it to the House State Government Finance Committee. Its companion, SF3771, sponsored by Sen. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo), awaits action by the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee.

“I’m learning there’s a lot of volunteer groups and local historic societies that have been taking to task these abandoned cemeteries and doing the work that needs to be done on them,” Dettmer, the division chair, said. “That shows that Minnesotans are certainly ready to take care of those who may have helped build the state.”

David Kelliher, government relations and public policy director at the Minnesota Historical Society, said his organization, the state archaeologist and the Indian Affairs Council started the work in 2011, but the project is far from over.

“The good news is that a bunch of work has been done in a few areas,” he said. “The challenge is that a lot more work needs to be done.”

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