During this Black History Month, people who care for an isolated Irving cemetery for former slaves are rejoicing over a small path that other places take for granted.
Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery will finally have a sidewalk on which to access the place.
It is a result of teamwork between cemetery supporters, the City of Irving, University of Texas at Arlington landscape architecture students and neighboring property owners granting public easements.
Over the years, volunteers helped maintain the cemetery, but it is very difficult to access. It’s perched high on a hill, overlooking the George Bush Turnpike on the west. It’s surrounded by an apartment complex and a new housing development on other sides.
Jaime Simon, 77, visits the resting place regularly to pay tribute to his great, great, grandfather who is buried there. Simon said his ancestor donated the land as a burial ground for freed slaves.
“This is a sacred ground for people that made the Bear Creek community possible when they came here before us,” Simon said.
In declining health, Simon walks very slowly these days on the rugged dirt path to the cemetery.
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“It's hard to walk for old peoples like me,” he said. “What we need is a sidewalk from the main gate.”
University of Texas at Arlington Landscape Architecture students adopted the cemetery last year. They created a website on Bear Creek area history, with a vision of what a future path to the historic cemetery might look like.
The City of Irving is helping to make the path a reality.
“I think it's just a great treasure that's in the city,” said Joe Moses, the Irving Parks and Recreation Director.
Moses said the city is helping to negotiate public easements through private property to the north of the cemetery and through a gate in a wall that was constructed for the neighboring subdivision.
“We’ll be able to put the sidewalk in there and put some railings in there on the other side, make sure it’s safe and ADA accessible,” Moses said. “Then people can get out there enjoy that site, the history of that site, and more importantly, help maintain that site.”
The Parks Director said he will be pleased to see the improvement.
“As an African American working for the City of Irving, I'm very proud of the fact that the city is willing to try to negotiate the terms of access to this,” Moses said.
Simon said the city’s help will allow volunteers and supplies to easily reach the cemetery.
“I'm glad to see they're pitching in, doing that for us, the sooner the better,” Simon said.
Spring clean-up will be needed soon as warmer weather arrives.