Protecting the cemetery became easier in 1970 when volunteers donated funds to construct a six-foot- high chain-link fence around the cemetery to stop trespass, vandalism, theft of gravestones, trampling and digging of plants. This original enclosure has since been replaced with wrought iron fencing.
A plant survey conducted by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory identified 70 native species of plants at Vermont Cemetery, 10 percent of all of Illinois' Grade A dry-mesic species. Included are the federally threatened and State-threatened Mead's milkweed and the State-threatened Hill's thistle.
Vermont Cemetery was dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1999. The Forest Preserve acquired an additional 24.4 acres around the preserve to serve as buffer to this unique property. Improvements to the site have included an overlook of the historic cemetery prairie, accompanied by limestone seating.
While the Forest Preserve's interest in the property was because of the native flora, two local residents were interested in the bodies that are interred there. In a 2011 interview with the Forest Preserve, Will County residents Joyce Koretke and John Hafenrichter discussed having relatives buried at the Vermont Cemetery: Koretke’s great-great grandfather and Hafenrichter’s relatives, who married into the same family, are among those buried there. Many of the gravestones that remain are made of sandstone, and the inscriptions have been worn away by time. But a few of the surviving memorials were made of marble, and their inscriptions are still readable today.
One of these marble headstones was of John Book, the great-great-grandfather of Koretke. The cost of his grave marker suggests the family was wealthier than those having the humble sandstone markers that surround his.
Hafenrichter, who passed away since the Forest Preserve’s interview with him, spent years looking into local Naperville history and uncovered answers to questions that time has obscured. According to his research, John Book arrived in the area about 1847. He was not among the first settlers — that distinction went to John Naper, who put down roots in 1831 — but Book established a working farm that led to a good degree of family prosperity.
Hafenrichter speculates that the name Vermont Cemetery, which dates to the 19th century, was the designated resting place for settlers and laborers who originated from Vermont. Many of those buried in the Vermont Cemetery, Hafenrichter said, were laborers, some likely itinerant workers who moved from farm to farm as work became available. They were remembered with the sandstone markers. Hafenrichter's research has revealed that the original pioneers to the area, dating from Naper's arrival in 1831, settled in four primary groups, according to national origin. Each group had its own church, which was ministered to by the same preacher who made the rounds from congregation to congregation.