Arlington Cemetery To Gain Space With County Land Swap

Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 340,000 soldiers, presidents and other distinguished Americans, has moved a step closer to adding thousands of grave sites.

On Tuesday night, Arlington County officials approved a 4.3-acre land swap with the federal government that will allow the cemetery to add as many as 3,440 burial sites.

The move is part of expansion plans set forth more than four decades ago that military officials say will allow burials to continue until 2060. After that, plans are less clear.

The 4.3-acre portion will convert Navy Annex land west of the Pentagon to grave sites. Arlington County's Southgate Road would have divided the new cemetery space.

The county will swap land that includes the road for a comparable piece of the annex that the county can use for a potential history complex and for redevelopment along Columbia Pike. The exchange is scheduled for 2011, although that timeline could change, federal and local officials said.

“It's not just a cemetery now; it's a shrine. It's a shrine to valor and the sacrifices American men and women have made,” said George W. Dodge, president of the Arlington Historical Society.

“Given the space constraints, there are only a finite number of days or years it can stay open . . . so acreage becomes an issue,” Dodge said. “You can trace the history of this country through all the interments there. It's like a walk through history. If it's cut off at some point, you're going to lose that.”

Soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq war have been buried on the 624-acre grounds, including William Russell, a colonel from the Virginia regiment who was present during the winter at Valley Forge.

Presidents William H. Taft and John F. Kennedy are there, as are North Pole explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson.

Dirt dug from graves today is moved nearby to help prepare future sites. Officials estimate that each acre can accommodate 600 to 800 graves.

In other expansion plans, the cemetery is building a wall along Route 110 that will hold 6,500 niches for cremated remains. A third project will add sites near Fort Myer.

And what happens a half-century from now, when the land runs out?

“It's hard to say,” said Kaitlin Horst, a cemetery official. “I don't know that that's been discussed at this point. We're working on the three we have now, and I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

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