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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web 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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs