An oak tree rests against a tombstone at Salem's Pioneer Cemetery on Feb. 26, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Downed trees and branches along with toppled and rotated tombstones dramatically dominate the southern portion of what normally is the bucolic Salem Pioneer Cemetery at South Hoyt and Commercial streets.

The ice storm wreaked what looks likes havoc at the 17-acre site, but experts say the damage is not as bad as it looks.

“It is true that the loss of two more of our mighty, aging oaks is saddening, but I want to reassure the public that in proportion to the impact on our historic tree canopy and on the number of headstones and monuments is minor," said Elisabeth Walton Potter, historian for the cemetery and spokesperson for The Friends of Pioneer Cemetery.

Walton Potter said once the city of Salem, which owns the historic property, clears out the fallen trees and other debris the cemetery can safely reopen.

When that will happen is anyone’s guess because of all of the debris cleanup crews are doing throughout the city.

Salem will bear the cost of the removal, while the Friends are responsible for resetting tombstones and monuments.

Most of the debris is located where burials date from 1860 to the present. Tombstone replacement experts and members of the Friends are assessing the damage and what it will take to repair the markers.

Those connected with the cemetery worry about the health of the remaining white oaks that once dominated the site and the Willamette Valley.

A fallen tree on top of a grave marker at Salem's Pioneer Cemetery on Feb. 26, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Most are more than 100 years old and are decaying.

Last year, three oaks simply toppled over, said Pat Norman of the Friends. The Friends are doing everything possible to prevent and mitigate damage to the remaining oaks.

Norman and Walton Potter did a walk through of the cemetery this past week to survey the ice damage.

The cemetery was founded in 1854 on a portion of the Rev. David Leslie’s donation land claim.

There are about 8,200 graves in the cemetery, including those of pioneers, war veterans, Chinese and Japanese immigrants, territorial government representatives, educators, residents of state institutions, missionaries, politicians, emancipated slaves, civic and business leaders and ordinary citizens.

To help cover the cost of marker repairs and other projects, The Friends of Pioneer Cemetery Endowment was formed.

Donations to help with current and ongoing repairs can be sent to the Pioneer Cemetery Endowment Fund of the Salem Foundation Charitable Trust at Pioneer Trust Bank, P.O. Box 2305, Salem, OR 97308.

Trees and branches felled during the ice storm at Salem's Pioneer Cemetery on Feb. 26, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Trees and branches felled during the ice storm at Salem's Pioneer Cemetery on Feb. 26, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

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