'Green' Burials Growing in Popularity

The Associated Press
Sunday, July 2, 2006; 1:23 AM

NEWFIELD, N.Y. -- It sits on the eastern fringe of New York's Finger Lakes region and is bounded on three sides by 8,000 acres of protected forests: the perfectly natural place to spend an eternity. The 93-acre Greensprings Natural Cemetery is the first of its kind in New York and one of just a handful in the United States, where interest in "green" burial is just taking root.

Carl Leopold, a retired Cornell University plant scientist, bought one of the first 20 plots sold.

"It's so sensible," he said. "Putting bodies in a waterproof, permanent container protected from the environment, it's ridiculous."

At Greensprings, where a plot costs $500 plus a $350 fee to dig the grave, bodies cannot be embalmed or otherwise chemically preserved. They must be buried in biodegradable caskets without linings or metal ornamentation. The cemetery suggests locally harvested woods, wicker or cloth shrouds. Concrete or steel burial vaults are not allowed. Nor are standing monuments, upright tombstones or statues.

Only flat, natural fieldstones are permitted as grave markers (they can be engraved). Shrubs or trees are preferred.

And only one person is allowed in each 15-foot-by-15-foot plot.

"This is more than just dig a hole in the woods and roll them in. We see it as a natural return to the Earth, becoming part of the circle of life," said Mary Woodsen, a lifelong conservationist and the cemetery's president.

"Not everyone will find this appealing," she said. "But there are people who want that look and feel of nature."

Natural or woodland cemeteries are common in the United Kingdom, where they make up more than 10 percent of burials. In the United States, however, green burial is a relatively new idea, but one that has caught the attention of people who favor blending land conservation with a natural approach to funerals.

Thirty-two-acre Ramsey Creek Preserve, which opened in 1998 in rural Westminster, S.C., is acknowledged as the nation's first green cemetery. Others are in Florida, Texas, California and Washington state.

Elizabeth Stuckman, 47, made arrangements to be buried at Ramsey Creek, which was started by family physician and environmentalist Billy Campbell, who was looking to simplify the increasingly involved funeral process and help conserve land. Stuckman had her brother's ashes spread there after he was killed in a car accident last fall. Her parents have plans to be buried there, too.

"There's life in the land. It's not a dead place like a conventional cemetery. It's intensely alive, and that's what you focus on," Stuckman said.

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