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Cemetery burial plot map underway in Ritzville

Burial plot map: In early-June, Scott Field of ViaVista Mapping began collecting field data and generating maps at the Ritzville Memorial Cemetery, a half-mile west of town on Rosenoff Road.

Founded concurrent with the town in 1887, the cemetery added “Memorial” to its name after the Great Depression in honor of American veterans.

As of Monday morning, Field had identified more than 60 unmarked burial sites in the 10.8-acre cemetery. The cemetery is divided into six sections separated by driving lanes, plus three new sections.

GPR scanning in cemetery to create burial plot map
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Burial Plot Map created with GPR cemetery scanning and GPS data collection

According to a service agreement with the city, ViaVista’s mapping services will include scanning for sub-surface anomalies and unmarked burials using ground-penetrating radar to create an online interactive cemetery burial plot map.

The GPR device, about the size of a lawn mower, can also detect disturbed soil caused by wooden and/or metal caskets, voids in the earth with little to no surviving skeletal remains, ceremonial burial objects, vaults, improperly positioned or unmarked graves and underground utilities.

Field used GPR to identify unmarked burial locations and anomalies. He then painted each site with dissolvable red paint and placed a small red flag at the center of each location.

After scanning sections, he used a satellite Global Positioning System to identify the center of each site. He also took photos of headstones or footstones to link latitude and longitude specifications to existing monuments.

“I do that at every single burial and unmarked site,” he said. “The entire cemetery will be digitized.”

According to Field, cemetery visitors will have the option to scan a QR code, search for a name, and immediately identify a specific burial plot.

“It will be so much easier than asking city staff to search their records,” he said.

Field said it could take up to 90 days to develop a digital map publically accessible via a website. In addition, the company will provide printable map files suitable for large-scale architectural prints.

Once completed, the digital burial plot map will include trees, driving lanes, and plots available for sale or reserve. “When we’re done, the city will know exactly how many plots they have left,” he said.

Field and his wife map cemeteries throughout the nation. “I do this work all over the U.S.,” he said. “I’ll go from here to South Dakota, then Illinois, then Indiana, New York, and Maine.”

“In the winter, we’ll be down south, working in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas,” he said. “Next year we’ll be working in Colorado.”

Field and his wife have been mapping cemeteries for the past six years. He retired after an 18 year career with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. His wife worked for a large aerospace company.

What prompted them to engage in this unusual business?

Before retiring he and his wife vacationed in Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Jackson Hole.

“We both worked for corporations and found that our jobs followed us on vacations,” he said. “When we arrived at those Wyoming parks, we couldn’t be reached by phone. We were actually ‘detached’ for the first time and really enjoyed it.”

On those trips they met retired folks who lived in motorhomes and travelled from park to park throughout the year. Field learned that those retirees worked and enjoyed life at a slower pace.

“I didn’t even know that was an option,” he said. “So my wife started doing some research.”

Less than a year later they retired from their corporate jobs, sold their house and bought a motor home. They looked into RV-specific franchises that would allow them to travel. He said they wanted to travel for a reason-not just to be traveling.

“I bought the Omega Mapping franchise for the whole U.S.,” he said. Field trained on GPS at Tremble, an international company headquartered in Colorado. He also became familiar with GPR technology in New Hampshire. Learning both systems required weeks-long hands-on training.

“At first we were just producing paper maps,” he said. “After a year or two, we started getting requests for digitized versions that could be posted online.”

His company, known as both ViaVista Mapping and Omega Mapping, works in cooperation with Tremble. “We’re one of three companies throughout the nation that use GPR/GPS technology to map cemeteries and display the results online,” he said.

Field said he thoroughly enjoys cemetery mapping. “The stones tell a story,” he said. “Sometimes I find headstones or footstones that have been buried. It’s fun to see folks uncover long-neglected burial sites.”

“Also, it’s very quiet.”

As reported in the Ritzville Adams County Journal.