News / USA

Forest Burials Gain Ground

Americans looking for more natural burial site have loved ones' ashes interred among trees

A small bronze plaque on the tree lists the people buried there as well as their dates of birth and when they died.
A small bronze plaque on the tree lists the people buried there as well as their dates of birth and when they died.

Multimedia

Audio

Growing numbers of communities in the United States are facing a painful new reality: they're running out of cemetery space, making traditional burials, especially in urban areas, extremely expensive.  

More Americans are opting for cremation and a new company is offering a special place to bury their cremated remains: the forest.

EcoEternity

Sunlight filters through leaves overhead.

A wide woodland trail, winds through the trees. This looks like a forest preserve, but it is not. It is an EcoEternity Forest. The first of four in the United States, it opened in October 2007.

"We opened two more in 2008, one in 2009.  We haven't opened any this year, but we have about 6 in one stage (of development) or another," says Jack Lowe, president of the company.

He says 53 people are interred in the four forests, and up to 280 people have reserved places.

According to Lowe, the concept of forest burials started in Switzerland and has also been introduced in South Korea.

Saving money

Lowe says cost is one of the main reasons people in the U.S. have been attracted to the idea.  

Although expenses vary with location, the bill for a traditional American funeral, complete with casket and attendant services, starts at about $10,000, and often runs much higher.  

By comparison, Lowe says, "You are probably talking about $2800 for a cremation and interment in the forest - all included."

Lowe says there is a huge shift in the U.S. towards cremation.  But, he says most of his clients are not actually planning for their own funerals and interment, or even dealing with the remains of the recently deceased.

"More than 50 percent of our business starts with somebody who has ashes at home."

Carol Sawtell, 90, plans to have her ashes buried in the forest, along with those of her late husband, Robert.
Carol Sawtell, 90, plans to have her ashes buried in the forest, along with those of her late husband, Robert.

Carol Sawtell, 90, is one of those people. Her husband, Robert, died in 1992. "I had his ashes in my bedroom on the dresser in a nice, lovely urn," she says.  "I was going to keep them until I passed on and then have them thrown over the Cascade Mountains all together, but I never could find anybody who would volunteer to throw my ashes out of an airplane, so instead, I am going to have my ashes buried here, too."

Ashes are buried in an EcoEternity Forest at the roots of a tree in biodegradable urns made of corn starch.  Small bronze plaques commemorating loved ones are placed on the back of the trees, so they aren't visible as you walk along the wooded path.

The natural setting was one of the things that appealed to Marion Eberhardt, who has reserved a place for herself here.  "It's nature.  It's beautiful.  And we're in a biodegradable urn that will dissolve and feed the trees.  I like the whole idea of it."

Ashes are buried at the base of trees in biodegradable urns made of corn starch.
Ashes are buried at the base of trees in biodegradable urns made of corn starch.

Environmentally-friendly choice

According to the company brochure, "the tree will absorb the nutrients of the ashes" over time.

That is a much more environmentally-friendly way to leave the earth than a traditional U.S. burial, according to Rev. Rick Dawson.  "When we started looking at the way people are buried, with all of the chemicals that are put into them and the spaces we are using, it just didn't seem like a good use of our environment."

Dawson, a Methodist minister, is executive director of Camp High Road, a Methodist summer camp and retreat that owns the one-hectare forest.  The land has been a buffer between the community and the camp since its founding more than 60 years ago.  

For Dawson, converting it into a cemetery fit in perfectly with his ministry. "We do baptisms out here. We have kids come out here for retreats. They come out here and are married out here," he says. "The one thing we didn't do was close the loop (by providing a place of interment), so this idea was perfect for us."

Memorial trees in EcoEternity Forests are numbered with small tags. A green band means a tree is still available.
Memorial trees in EcoEternity Forests are numbered with small tags. A green band means a tree is still available.

There are 300 trees in the forest that have been designated "living memorials." Some have been reserved by a family or group of friends. Some trees are community trees, where individual space can be reserved.  

According to EcoEternity Forest president Jack Lowe, the fees - $4,500 for a tree or $900 for a space at a community tree - help maintain the forest, which the lease contract guarantees will be preserved for 99 years.

Reverend Dawson says as far as the Methodist Church is concerned, this forest is now a holy place and it will be here not just for 99 years, but forever.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More