GRAFTON, W.Va. — The long, straight lines of identical markers stretched across the carefully manicured field for hundreds of yards. No matter how you look at them, the rows of headstones are straight as an arrow. The long lines stand in silent tribute to men and women who paid the ultimate price for freedom and the American way of life. They are ultimately why we get to enjoy spring days on fishing on a lake without interference.
Now, the Veterans who rest in peace at the National Cemetery in Grafton, West Virginia are making more contributions to the betterment of that way of life, this time from the grave.
Evergreen wreaths placed on every marker as decoration for the Christmas holiday season are taken up in January. They have to be disposed somewhere. Some thinking individuals with the B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia and some dedicated volunteers have insured it’s less of a “disposal” and more of a “re-purpose” of the wreathes.
The wreaths are provided by the non-profit organization Wreaths Across America, which places wreathes on the graves at all National Cemeteries nationwide every year. However, this year, Jerod Harman, Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia heard about the project and decided to get his organization involved.
“We teamed up with them in the collection of 5,542 wreathes that we’re going to move into Tygart Lake to be used as habitat for fish,” Harman said during a recent interview for West Virginia Outdoors.
Volunteers from B.A.S.S. Nation annually assist the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources with placing old Christmas trees into the Corps of Engineer lakes in the Mountain State, but the wreathes were something new and required some different thinking.
“I have never had 5,000 pieces of structure to put into a lake, so I told our members we’re looking for really unique ways to install them. The one thing we need to remember is every year we’re going to get new ones,” he said.
Unlike Christmas trees, the wreaths are much smaller and are arranged on a wire ring. Harman decided the best way to engineer the evergreen boughs was to hang them on a piece of PVC pipe, then weight the pipe on each end with a cinder block.
“I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do it. That was just my first rendition,” he said.
“Rather than gluing the conduit together we just hooked it together. That way next year, we can just unhook the conduit, remove the metal rings, and replace them with new wreathes,” he explained.
So far volunteers have had a couple of work days installing the lines of wreaths on the barren shores of Tygart Lake. January and February are the ideal time to place the wreaths with the water drawn down for the season. What will eventually be covered in water by May is currently exposed and accessible now.
“We can place there where we want and exactly the way we want. whether it’s on points or around rocky areas. Some places that have absolutely zero habitat, we can bring them in there and introduce some habitat to some barren areas,” he said.
Volunteers plan a couple of more workdays to finish the project before the waters start to rise. Harman is hopeful the idea will catch on, not only in West Virginia but nationwide.
“We did it first here in West Virginia and this may get big and go all across the nation. Wreaths Across America is a great non-profit and have a huge amount of volunteers who come out and help place the wreathes. They also come out and help collect the wreathes when they have the retirement ceremony. Now they’re saying, ‘Hey, we want to help put them in the lake too.'”