Though it appears weeds have overtaken the Twentynine Palms Cemetery, the staff is keenly prioritizing many long overdue projects—such as repairing damaged graves after years of neglect—and is asking for the publics’ help. Reporter Heather Clisby has the details…

Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery District General Manager Emily Helm is well aware of the site’s weed problem but must prioritize more urgent issues. Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Helm was forced to cut back staff hours but most will return to full time starting on Monday, May 11. Due to recent rains, faulty internments and age, at least a dozen full body (casket) graves have “con-caved” and need to be re-interned—a lengthy process. This grave repair work is deemed priority number one. When the previous manager, Stacey Lee, was arrested for embezzlement in January, Helm was brought in to address many lingering issues. Helm learned that Lee had hired Desert Arc to clear weeds and bushes last year but never paid them. Helm is now working with Arc on a payment plan to cover the $10,500 bill but in the meantime, Arc is likely not going help with weed containment.

So, Helm is developing a program called, “Adopt-A-Row” where volunteer teams would weed and care for a row that may include a loved one. “We only have two groundskeepers right now so we could use the help,” says Helm.

Graves at Twentynine Palms Cemetery after weeds have been pulled. Courtesy photo

Helm envisions a time when, eventually, the cemetery would host a BBQ for the teams during the first weekend of May and the last weekend of October so the site would be pristine for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. But with the current COVID-19 shutdown, that may have to wait.

“We have a lot going on,” says Helms. “I understand the weeds are an issue but right now it’s more important to get the inner workings going. We still don’t even have an audit for fiscal year 2018/2019. I just bought myself a pair of gloves for myself and my admin and when we have time, we’ll be pulling weeds too.”

Helm stated that they just applied for a grant through the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District for an electric all-wheel vehicle for grounds work. The cemetery’s main building is also getting a much-needed new roof and is need of a new paint job. Local metal sculpture artist, Simi Dabah, had donated 10 of his works and eight have been installed, and the other two will be affixed to the main building once the fresh repaint has been completed.

“There’s been 11 years of mismanagement and it cannot all be corrected in 12 weeks,” says Helm. “We would like the public to give us one full year to improve the only cemetery we have in our community. We’ve got a lot of work to do and I’ve got a committed team and we all have the same goal: To make this cemetery a gem in our community. This is a place of eternal rest and we do not take the responsibility lightly.”

If interested in volunteering, contact the cemetery at 760-367-9316.

A “before” photo of the Twentynine Palms Cemetery shows it had trees and bushes, and the plots were cleared of weeds. Courtesy photo
The Twentynine Palms Cemetery was filled with weeds on May 3, 2020. Courtesy photo

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