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Riverbank protection helps save a cemetery

Case Studies | February 1, 2009 | By:

For nearly a century-and-a-half, Big Bend Lutheran Church in west-central Minnesota has stood proudly on a 60-ft bluff overlooking the Chippewa River.

The founders of this rural parish also plotted a cemetery adjacent to the chuch and even closer to the overlook of the Chippewa’s south bank as the river, indeed, makes a “big bend” to the north. The site is certainly scenic. But it was also a disaster waiting to happen as the turn in the river continued its unabated corrosions during springtime flooding.

The term erosion control probably wasn’t in the lexicon of those 19th-century founding pioneers. But by the waning decades of the 20th century, parishoners at Big Bend Lutheran certainly were aware of the words. The Chippewa River was demonstrating its destructive force against the riverbank of the big bluff in flood after flood.

By the 1990s, it was clear that if the erosion of the riverbank continued, several hundred grave sites could be washed away. Two grave sites in imminent danger were moved in 2004.

After years of bureaucratic political struggles and funding woes, the Chippewa River’s bluff bank at Big Bend wasfinally protected.

By late 2006, a 900-ft stretch of the riverbank belowthe cemetery was armored with 8,600 tons of rock riprapand 1,700 tons of topsoil covered by erosion-control blankets and sediment-control logs. By the spring of 2007, green vegetation was thriving in promotion of the bank’s stabilizationand sediment control.

Ron Bygness is the editor of Geosynthetics. He can be reached at 800 225 4324 or 1 651 225 6988, or via e-mail at

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