At Elder Ballou Cemetery, truck vandalism leaves volunteers wary

At Elder Ballou Cemetery, truck vandalism leaves volunteers wary

Frank Matta, at left, and Michael Scalzi near the spot where Scalzi's truck was damaged while he was maintaining the Elder Ballou cemetery.

CUMBERLAND - The first time his Tacoma pick-up was attacked, it was keyed - a long scratch along the side that included a vulgarity.

That was last May.

The second attack was this past week. Someone picked up a rock and smashed it through the driver's side window.

Both times Michael Scalzi had parked at the historic Elder Ballou Meetinghouse Road cemetery where eight years ago he took on the voluntary role of caretaker.

He was continuing the work of cutting back brush and fixing rock walls when it happened.

Now he's saying the repeated vandalism is leading him to question his future involvement in this out-the-way resting spot for many of the town's early settlers and Revolutionary War soldiers.

"These two acts have put eight years of diligent effort to preserve this historic cemetery and all future stewardship of the cemetery in serious jeopardy," he told The Breeze.

The vandalism comes on the heels of a repair to a cemetery wall in May by Scalzi and the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone.

The group replaced stolen capstones to beautify the front wall and shore up several other walls to stop all-terrain vehicle and dirt bike operators.

Scalzi says he can't prove that a member of the ATV community was responsible, but maintains the timing of the attacks suggests that.

It's disappointing, he says, because the watershed council members had provided an alternate access point for ATV-ers to connect to the trail network in this part of town. Miles of trails are said to criss-cross here on the Woonsocket line and link to the hundreds of acres between Pine Swamp and Tower Hill roads.

BRWC member Frank Matta, who has also invested long hours at the cemetery, strongly agrees.

"It seems like a connection," he said. "We closed it up and within two or three weeks we had our first incident."

But Deputy Chief George Stansfield told The Breeze Tuesday that he's not so sure.

The ATV community, he suggests, has been working to keep a clean image, he says, though he notes it takes just one to step out of line.

Stansfield said officers followed up on the information Scalzi provided but didn't have much to work with.

He concedes, "It's odd to us that it happened twice to this individual."

Stansfield said that while vehicle break-ins aren't rare in Cumberland, the cars and trucks are generally unlocked and there's no vandalism.

Matta and Salzi are suggesting that one help might be to replace a stone wall the volunteers built with a steel gate that can be locked, thereby protecting volunteers' vehicles while they're work as well as barring ATVs. Those walking the area would still have easy access to the historic gravestones.

Donations for a gate may be sent to the Blackstone River Watershed Commission, P.O. Box 8068, Cumberland, RI 02864. Add a memo that says "Cemetery Stewardship."