Work continues on Nirvana Park improvement project

Nirvana Park historical photo. (Photo courtesy City of Cordova)

In July of 2016, the Cordova Historical Society and Museum were awarded the Nirvana Park Improvement Grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. A committee of invested partners was formed.

  • Parks and Recreation Department (staff and commission member)
  • Native Village of Eyak (council president and cultural leader)
  • Eyak Burial Caucus (two representatives)
  • Cordova Historical Society (staff and vice president)
  • City of Cordova Harbormaster
  • City of Cordova Public Works Director

Nirvana Park and the “Spit” as they have become known colloquially over the years, were Cordova’s very first cemeteries. Over the years, the area became both a beautiful park and a great place for Cordova kids to swim.

Times have changed however, and in recent years the ‘Spit’ was becoming used more and more as a jet ski off load and haul out spot with as many as a dozen vehicles covering the small stretch of land. Impromptu campfires, parties and garbage became more and more of a problem.  The committee was faced with how to use this grant and have it benefit the community.

The committee began holding a series of ‘conversations’ about the history and uses of the Nirvana Park and ‘Spit’ area. It is historically documented that these areas are the first cemeteries in Cordova. The committee used aerial maps of the area to show all the cemeteries in Cordova. These ‘conversations’ became charged at times and included racial slurs and bigotry; deeply distressing to the committee.

The committee took a step back and in 2016 completed one Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey locating 8 burial sites within the Eyak Burial Grounds (‘Spit).  In 2016, the committee decided to do the following:

  • Recognize and mark gravesites and Identify Nirvana Park and the Spit as Cordova’s first cemetery.
  • Restrict access to the area by unauthorized motorized vehicles. (Ice, Land, Water, Air, Snow)
  • Allow swimming in the area.
  • Prohibit campfires outside of the designated fire ring.
  • Place garbage receptacles and Porta-Potty for summer.

The changes initiated in 2016 were observed and violations recorded. The committee requested and received an extension of the grant deadline from the Rasmuson Foundation. In the fall of 2016, the group reviewed how the summer season went in the Nirvana area and realized the changes, while not warmly embraced were not abused.

In 2017, a second more extensive GPR survey was completed and identified 44 burials within the Eyak Burial Grounds (‘Spit’).  This clear determination enforced the unanimous decision by the group to restore the areas to their original designation as cemeteries.

This May, the committee designated uses in the area be limited, passive recreational opportunities such as swimming, improved walking paths (guiding visitors around actual gravesites), a designated campfire ‘talking’ circle with stonework and benches.

Funds also helped cover the cost of an ADA Porta-Potty and shelter, which will be an important addition. Eventually, interpretive signage, grave markers and a brochure on the history and allowed uses in the area will be completed.

Grant funds were expended on the GPR Surveys, and the physical improvements and were completed by the Parks and Recreation Department and Public Works Department of the city of Cordova.

While this grant initiated some strong conversation; it also offered opportunity for reflection and a renewed respect for Cordova’s burial grounds. It brought a younger generation into a conversation with elders; and strengthened the Parks and Rec Department’s master plan to expand recreational areas elsewhere in the community.