TONICA — The high level of erosion caused by Bailey Creek, bordered on both sides by Tonica’s historic cemeteries, continues, but Tonica Cemetery Association (TCA) President Bob Folty is happy about the progress that’s been made to preserve the area.
A benefactor, Don Fike, president of the Donald E. Fike Family Foundation, has announced his continued support of the TCA. Fike formed his foundation to help charitable organizations meet their goals and objectives.
Fike said he’s delighted to be able to contribute to this worthwhile project in the town in which he grew up. He hopes more residents will join the efforts to make cemetery preservation a high priority for their village, and he’s pledged to match any donations made through the end of the year.
Folty said the cemetery group is on track with new roads, and that they’ve been busy leveling markers and making strides in removing dead brush and trees.
Approximately six years ago, the group noticed the creek’s waters were washing away large amounts of the land bordering the Brookside and Fairview cemeteries. Folty has said there’s far more water flowing than he remembers in the past and believes the problem could be related to an increase of agricultural drainage tiles.
Improvements to shore up a nearby bridge that was being damaged by erosion could also possibly be aggravating the problem. During heavy rains, the creek rises several feet and its churning route can erode large chunks of soil on both sides.
On the Fairfield side, entire trees have shifted, and many others lean precariously over the embankment. More than a year ago, the creek was about 25 feet from the cemetery grounds.
“Twenty-five feet isn’t much when we’re losing seven feet at a time,” Folty said at the time.
In Brookside Cemetery, where there are Civil War-era graves, the situation at the banks is even more critical because it’s only about 10 feet from the nearest grave to the tree line. Step beyond that first tree, and it’s only a few more feet to where the land drops off into the creek.
Looking both upstream and downstream, numerous trees appear likely to fall several feet into the creek. Once those are gone, little will stand between the graves and exposure.
The Tonica Cemetery Association is being assisted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The study and repair costs have yet to be determined, but the village is seeking help from the North Central Illinois Council of Governments to raise its portion of the significant expenses.
Folty has said some of the affected land is the cemetery’s and other portions are privately held, but he added the landowners are being cooperative.
“The archaeologists were out and did their exploration of the site, and now the Army Corps of Engineers can get on with their cost analysis of the different erosion areas,” Folty recently reported.
He said 250 feet of new road would be poured in the spring and that the gravel base that’s currently in place will be allowed to settle through the winter.
“Mid State Trucking hauled the gravel for us, Dick Strack cored out the road bed, Stark Brothers donated the fabric for the road stabilization and Gail Dauber hauled the gravel and spread it on the road bed. Donations will go towards the road project and some equipment updating that we need,” Folty stated.
The TCA is hoping to be able to get a small tractor with a loader, and Folty said the group’s old truck was constantly in need of repairs last year. Folty added that the TCA is thankful for the many volunteers and benefactors who have given their time and money to ensure the cemeteries remain in good condition for many years to come.
The TCA’s Board of Directors wants to continue their improvements and prepare for the erosion control project. The board would greatly appreciate any financial help from anyone who would like to contribute.
Donations can be given to any board member or left at the Illini State Bank. Members include Bob Folty, Don Fike, Jeff Bassett, Noel Sauter, Dave Huss and Jim Lock. For more information, call Folty at 815-488-8456.
“This is going to be a major project. The village is going to need a lot of money and the villagers need to know about this. For too long this problem has been ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” Folty previously said.