Modernizing Local Cemeteries with GIS

Last Updated:6/5/2023

A group of five EAST students from Cave City High Career and Collegiate Preparatory School partnered together to restore weathered gravestones and create a new interactive digital map for their local cemetery.

Visiting the gravesite of a loved one is a solemn and emotional experience. Reading their name and the days in which they lived brings back a tidal wave of memories, ensuring that their memory lives on forever.

But what happens when you can’t read the gravestone of your grandparent? When time erodes the stone and makes their final resting place unrecognizable? This is a silent problem that swept over cemeteries across Cave City, Arkansas; and it’s a problem a team of five EAST students are solving.

This project began with simple roots: Carson Stevenson and Keagan Cole, two EAST students from Cave City High Career and Collegiate Preparatory School, began making trips to a local graveyard with simple tools and a desire to serve.

“We bring a few buckets of hot water, some scrubbing brushes and Dawn dish soap,” Carson said. “We go out there for 30 to 45 minutes each time and scrub gravestones. We’ve made about 100 trips so far.”

While the method might seem overly simple by EAST standards, the results are nothing to scoff at. The two students have cleaned over 900 gravestones this year, taking a completely illegible stone and returning it to its former beauty — restoring the connection between the living and their loved ones.

“I just feel bad for anyone who goes out there and can’t read their loved one’s names because of all the mold and grime on there,” Carson said. “On top of cleaning them, we’re meeting with the mayor soon to see if there’s a way to help repair gravestones that have damage.”

While Carson and Keegan work on addressing each individual gravestone, three of their classmates: Jadyn Justice, Kyra Sphor and Haven McComas, joined them on the project to solve another problem surrounding the graveyard: navigation.

“The girls are actually working on mapping the graveyard using GIS,” said Danny Brustrom, the facilitator at Cave City High Career and Preparatory School. “Once these guys clean the graves, the girls record the information of who it belongs to so they can input it into an interactive, digital map.”

While there are maps of the graveyard already in existence, they are decades old and lack the level of detail the EAST students can provide using GIS technology.

“The old maps of the graveyard have been passed down from generation to generation,” Brustrom said. “So many different people have handled the old map. It’s actually handwritten and probably the worst thing you could ever see when it comes to mapping a graveyard.”

Cave City Mayor Jonas Anderson met with the students at the end of the school year, and plans to stay closely connected with the program for this project and future ones.

"This is a terrific service to the community," Anderson said. "I hope [our community] will all let the students know how much it is appreciated."

The girls’ plan is to complete the map and place QR codes at the graveyard for visitors to scan. Once a visitor scans the code, they will be able to input their loved one’s name into their phone and be shown exactly where their gravesite is.

While their work isn’t finished on the current graveyard, which is the largest in the area, several churches in Cave City have reached out to the EAST program to be next in line for their services when the group finishes their project next year.

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