Cleaning up a cemetery – Scout’s Honor
Surrounded by a dozen black trash bags full of foliage and weeds, the aspiring Eagle Scout, who has lived in Vail all of his 16 years, is mindful of where he is stepping or resting his rake.
It’s a special piece of land: He has vowed to clear off its overgrowth in an effort to attain the highest rank of the Boy Scouts.
It’s an idyllic little lot, canopied by aspens and bordered by a rough and run-down wooden fence, just steps from his parent’s home in West Vail. It’s a place for which he has always felt respect, a place hidden by steps so overgrown that they are hard to make out.
It’s also an odd place, surrounded by a middle-class neighborhood of small homes on small lots. It’s the only one in the area not developed.
“I would just walk up after school. I used to just stop by and stand for a moment,” says Cahill, a lanky teen-ager whose eyes are shaded by a blue baseball cap he has drawn low to the brow.
Neglected and nestled away on Basingdale Boulevard, the small plot exudes a special brand of charm only a few initiated neighbors seem attracted to. It has an interesting story to tell, but few come to listen.
“We went to the town and the file was empty,” says Calder Cahill’s mother, Michelle. She assisted her son in his effort to get clearance from the town to do something “that will last, benefit more than one person or organization and bring a group of people together,” as Cahill sums up the requirements of his Eagle Scout project.
The empty file in the town of Vail’s Community Development Department, is titled “Ruder Cemetery.”
It’s the only burial ground left in Vail from the early settlement days. It’s the only cemetery in Vail for that matter. An oddity that has given this town the reputation of being welcoming to the active, but not particularly accommodating to the dead.
Cahill says he saw a newspaper article on the history of the forgotten cemetery and decided the quiet burial ground he had grown up with was the perfect subject of his scout project.
“We took out most of the weeds so far, and we are putting rocks around every grave. We are trying to mark the graves, so they are visible for people who come here and don’t know where they are,” he says, quietly, while six of his friends and fellow scouts are busy raking the newly-bare soil, scooping up leaves and treading the crumbly dark ground into a neat path around the 11 known graves.
The Ruder family settled in Vail long before its rise to world-class resort.
Almost a century before Pete Seibert ever set foot on Vail Mountain, several families of German immigrants settled at the foot of the unnamed mountain in an area known only by the Gore Creek.
They were known as the Gore Creek people and included Jacob and Mary Anna Ruder and their children, who built their homestead in what is now Intermountain.
The earliest grave is an unmarked plot, that according to local lore contains the remains of an Ute woman and her child. The Ruders soon experienced losses, along with gaining a home, and buried seven of their own on the small terrace that, before the Intermountain neighborhood rose up, must have had a lovely view of the Gore Creek.
The newest graves belong to 3-year-old Whitney Burke, who tragically drowned in the Gore Creek in 1973 and Samuel Stevenson, a popular ski patroller and accomplished singer and guitarist, who died in a construction accident in 1971.
Since then the cemetery has fallen into disrepair, though Ruder family members have visited over the years and made efforts to keep the sweet William that Mary Anna Ruder planted at bay.
Despite being the only burial ground in Vail, and possibly one of the 40-year-old town’s oldest landmarks, the cemetery enjoys little protection from weeds and the effects of the elements.
Even the residential zoning on the 5,700-square-foot piece of land, owned by the town, disregards its human contents.
But after three decades of only occasional care, Cahill has a vested interest in making the cemetery look nice and neat.
So far, Cahill estimates he has spent close to 100 hours in preparation for the actual cleanup day, which spanned over about 10 hours. To attain the highest rank of the Boy Scouts, Cahill has to complete an Eagle project before he is 18. The project, once cleared by his scoutmaster Brian Maloney of Troop 231, will go before a committee of local Eagle Scouts and then be reviewed on the national level.
“The project has to benefit the community, but even more it is about leadership development, since he has to organize help and supervise people,” says Maloney, who has known Calder Cahill for three years.
Maloney says he liked Cahill’s proposal from the start and thinks it has a good chance to receive a favorable review sometime later this fall.
“It sounded really interesting, and I think it looks like a fun project,” Maloney says.
Though the cleanup is almost finished, the project isn’t done yet.
“I’m putting together a journal to document the project,” Calder Cahill says, adding that scheduling a cleanup day and securing the commitments of a group of helpers was so time intensive that the completion of the journal will seem less daunting in comparison.
“Oh yeah,” he responds when asked if he will be glad when the cemetery is cleared, a new gate is affixed and the 21 merit badges of his Boy Scout career topped with an Eagle Scout ribbon.
Even if it was hard to get them all together, Cahill’s friends are glad they came.
“I think it is a really cool place and a good idea,” says 11-year-old Zeb Maloney, a tenderfoot scout. Zeb and his 15-year-old brother, Deacon, and 12-year-old Zac Layman are stuffing roots and leaves into garbage bags. And 16-year-old Michael Lippert, who is working on his own Eagle Project, is polishing the last of the foliage from the now-visible entrance to the cemetery.
“It’s been a lot of weeding out,” Lippert observes, picking up one more errant leaf, “but now it doesn’t look so abandoned.”
Calder Cahill joined the Boy Scouts when he was 10 because it was “something he wanted to do,” says Michelle Cahill, who doesn’t hide the fact that parental supervision has played a big part in his Boy Scouts’ career, which he hopes will culminate in the resume-friendly rank of Eagle Scout sometime later this fall.
“They all stayed with it because of dedicated parents,” Michelle Cahill says, while surveying the teen-age boys’ progress.
Being a Boy Scout, Calder Cahill says has taught him responsibility along with a sense for community involvement.
The high school senior, who plays base guitar in a jazz band and likes history the best in school, says he does not yet know what college degree he will pursue – “maybe business” -, but the boy scouts experience, regardless of career choice, will “always be good for me in life.”
His mother agrees.
“I’m not worried about him. He is a really good kid,” she says.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com