Group undertakes effort to expand national cemetery


Northwest Arkansas Times, February 21, 2004

The Regional National Cemetery Improvement Corp. of Fayetteville seeks to raise $1.5 million to buy land to expand the Fayetteville Regional National Cemetery, which is expected to reach capacity in 2012.

Since 1867, the region’s military veterans have had the option of being buried in the Fayetteville National Cemetery, and one local organization wants to ensure the cemetery will remain open for future generations of veterans and their families.

Roger McClain, president of the Regional National Cemetery Improvement Corp. of Fayetteville, said the Fayetteville National Cemetery’s 13 acres should reach capacity in 2012.

“The federal government will not buy any land to expand an existing national cemetery,” McClain said. "And once they (reach capacity), they will never allow an expansion."

To increase the cemetery’s capacity, the organization has proposed the purchase of several tracts of land adjacent to the cemetery located on Government Avenue and Hill Street that would bring the total size of the cemetery to 20 acres. The corporation will then clear the properties, demolishing existing houses on several of the properties and removing all buried plumbing and electrical lines.

“The land has to be barren before the government will accept it,” McClain said.

Many of the older houses contain asbestos, which brings EPA processes and expensive asbestos removal costs into consideration.

McClain said clearing one house typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000 if it does not include asbestos removal.

After the property is cleared, it then would be donated to the Veterans Administration, which has operated the national veterans cemeteries since 1973.

The Fayetteville National Cemetery was one of 14 such cemeteries established by President Abraham Lincoln to bury veterans of the Civil War.

When area veterans noticed the cemetery becoming full during the 1970s, the Regional National Cemetery Improvement Corp. formed, raising money to increase the land from its original 6 acres to its present size of 13 acres.

The group’s Web site states that of 115 dedicated veterans cemeteries in the nation, 22 have reached full capacity and have been closed, and 36 are open only to cremation urn placements, including a facility in Little Rock.

McClain, Jake Lamkins and others in the organization have continued fundraising efforts by word of mouth and bulletin board campaigns to ask for individual donations.

To donate money to the land purchases, checks can be made to the RNCIC, P.O. Box 4221, Fayetteville 72702.

Lamkins said the cemetery offers the substantial benefit of a free burial and headstone for honorably discharged veterans, spouses of those veterans, and in certain instances, their children.

“Every family has veterans of some kind,” Lamkins said. "What I’m afraid of is that a lot of veterans are dying and their families don’t know about these benefits.”