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Huntington weighs ban on memorial markers in local parks

Mark Cuthbertson, longtime Huntington councilman.

Mark Cuthbertson, longtime Huntington councilman. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Huntington Town officials could ban stone memorials in local parks, after residents complained the tributes are making recreational venues resemble cemeteries.

Town board member Mark Cuthbertson said the number of stone memorials is getting "a little unwieldy. But we understand the sentiment," he said.

"People have attachments to certain parks, and they want to memorialize their loved one, but we also want to address the concerns and complaints that we may be turning the parks into cemeteries."

The town is considering guidelines such as regulations about what is proper for memorial plaques, the stone on which the plaque would be placed and the wording on the plaque. Cuthbertson said he has charged Don McKay, town director of parks and recreation, with devising recommendations for town board review.

"Right now, there is no coordinated plan in place," McKay said. "The first recommendation is to have a point person who will be in charge. And then we'll look at the parameters of what is and is not allowed. Most likely, what it's going to come down to is trees and benches only."

At Heckscher Park, the stone memorial tributes range from a simple stone with a name and epitaph, "Happy memories in this park," to more elaborate setups featuring a large engraved stone, flower garden and mini flags. There's also an engraved 10-foot-long flat stone that can be used as a bench.

Huntington resident Douglas Hill, 55, who tries to visit Heckscher Park every day with his wife, said the stone memorials look somber.

"I oppose private memorials on public land on principle," he said. "I think it's going too far; who wants to see these tombstones?"

He said the town needs one guideline when it comes to stone memorials: "Stop it!"

Almost monthly, the town board passes a resolution accepting a donation for a memorial bench, tree or stone in one of its 150 parks. The practice goes back at least a quarter century, town officials said.

Christine Verville, whose son Austin has a stone memorial in Heckscher Park, said she and her husband, Matthew, think the tributes should continue, with detailed guidelines and centralized management.

"We think that these donations are gifts to the park and town," she said. "They further beautify the parks, provide a sense of appreciation for people in our community, and promote personal inspiration and reflection."

On a recent sunny afternoon, Dennis and Susan Morrison sat across from Austin's memorial. The couple said they visit the park monthly and enjoy the memorials.

"I think it's a lovely idea and provides beauty to the park and interest for people to look at," Susan Morrison said.

Her husband thinks there is room for more. "People died and did certain good things, and the families want people to know. How is that offensive? It's history."

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