Joseph Thompson, 5, of Eagle Point, helps clean up the Butte Falls Cemetery, which was ravaged by a storm Jan. 4. The Thursday cleanup was organized by his grandmother, Karen Davis, the cemetery’s volunteer sexton. - Jamie Lusch

Youth groups attack cemetery storm damage

BUTTE FALLS — Smoke from burning debris piles rolled through Butte Falls Cemetery as teens from across the Rogue Valley raked up fallen branches and leaves and heaved them onto piles, pausing near the flames to stay warm in the chilly air.

Youth groups from Central Point Assembly, Butte Falls Assembly of God and Butte Falls Community Bible Church worked to clean up winter storm damage as a spring break community service project.

A fierce storm struck Jan. 4, toppling trees — including one that crashed through the Butte Falls Elementary School gym roof — and knocking out power to the tiny town for days. Winds were estimated at 60 to 70 mph.

While the town was quickly put back together, the high winds had ravaged the pioneer cemetery, which opened in 1868.

Karen Davis, volunteer sexton of Butte Falls Cemetery, points through the sun-streaked haze to a splintery scar of raw wood high overhead where a massive branch snapped in winter winds.

A towering cedar toppled, branches crashed through a fence in several places, and numerous snags were left dangling precariously in the canopy.

"It looked like a war zone in here," Davis said.

She posted "Stay out" signs because she worried that someone could be hurt in the debris or by a broken branch falling later.

Dale Norling Logging removed the hanging snags and cedar logs. George Knighten, who lives down the road from the cemetery, repaired the fence.

And Thursday the troop of teens, and a few tag-alongs, set to work collecting the small branches.

"We are like a whole army," said Joseph Thompson, 5, of Eagle Point, wielding a rake roughly three times his size. Davis' grandson, he regularly joins her in cemetery maintenance.

She welcomed all the youthful enthusiasm to the cemetery, guiding the students to the first grave and asking them to look for the grave of the oldest person buried there, a man of 108. As they lit burn piles, she offered a lesson in pitch wood that Indians used in trading.

The 28 teens from the Central Point youth group arrived in Butte Falls Wednesday afternoon, as snow swirled through the trees, and planned to spend two nights at the Butte Falls Assembly of God church, helping out around the community. Then they will set out for Portland to get in some urban experience assisting at Bridgetown Ministry, said Mike Bottoms of Central Point, a chaperon with the group.

Nichole McGonagle, 14, of Butte Falls, said her youth group had hosted other groups for community service trips before, but this year's project was a big one in the wake of storms that pounded the mountain town all winter.

"It was crazy," she said of the winter weather, which forced students to make up plenty of snow days.

"There's not a lot of stuff like this around," said Sarah Cushman, 16, of Central Point. "We're helping out, having fun and growing together."

Daniel Reimer, 14, said he had done cemetery cleanup projects with his 4-H club at home in Eagle Point and he was glad to pitch in at Butte Falls.

"It's awesome," he said. "I love making a difference."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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