Arlington National Cemetery revised its expansion plans after area residents protested the need to cut down 900 century-old trees, but its new plan, unveiled this week, shows that the cemetery intends to spare just eight of those trees and cut down 822 others.
The rare follow-up study done by the Army Corps of Engineers helps "balance our needs" at the cemetery by sparing some of the trees that were planted shortly after the Civil War, while extending the usefulness of the cemetery through 2050, cemetery spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch said.
But the new expansion plan is hardly an improvement, according to residents who objected to the original one.
"This is just more paperwork," said Rob Nieweg, field director and attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "There is still an appalling number of trees and natural landscaping that will be lost."
The cemetery's expansion requires removing trees just west of Arlington House, the one-time home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Those trees were depicted often in historic writings, drawings and photographs from the late 1800s, the Corps report said. The extra 30 acres would allow the cemetery to provide 30,000 additional grave sites for fallen military personnel.
Cemetery officials said they would add about 600 new trees and 500 shrubs to the cemetery to help offset the lost trees.
The loss of the trees, coupled with the pending changes to the cemetery's landscape, will still destroy some of the history surrounding the grounds of one of the nation's most prestigious resting places, Nieweg said.
"They give the public knowledge of what the Arlington estate was like in the 1800s," he said. "[The site] should be preserved so we can understand the whole landscape."
Despite an outpouring of public opposition, Arlington County officials said they were unable to intervene and stop the clearing of the trees. Instead, they turned to Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who wrote to cemetery officials urging additional studies and a more thorough review of public concerns.
"At some point, we have to say enough is enough," said Arlington resident Caroline Haynes. "We know we're eventually going to run out of space. Rather than eke out every inch ... we need a long-term solution."
The new trees and shrubs are a poor substitute for trees that have been around for more than 100 years, residents said.
"This is not the only plan that can happen," Nieweg said. "A better, more creative design can take advantage of the natural design of the cemetery. Everything can be saved."
Residents will have until mid-April to submit comments on the revised plan to the Corp.