A natural solution: Cremation Nature Trail

Date Published: 
October, 2005
Original Author: 
Andrea Vittum
White Haven Memorial Park, Rochester, New York
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, October 2005

Several years ago our sales team came to a startling conclusion: We probably were losing more sales to the decision to scatter cremated remains than to any other cemetery. But what could we do to stop this alarming trend?

We decided the best tactic would be to create a cremation burial area that simulated the natural areas where people might choose to scatter. With 85 acres of forest and meadow, we had a great natural resource to begin with. And, as a fully certified member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, we were already committed to trying to preserve the forest and the wildlife it supports.

But what would we use for memorialization? How would we mark out individual gravesites? (We do not perform the service of scattering.) Would the trail need to be accessible? What if families wanted to hold a committal service in this area?

Over the years, we considered a variety of answers to each of these questions. Finally, it all came together when we discovered some wonderful artificial rocks that hold bronze plaques in a specially formed recess.

We saw them first in an ad for Rock and Water Creations light here in International Cemetery & Funeral Management magazine. Then we saw an exhibit by another ICFA member supplier, Valley Monuments, at the ICFA trade show last spring in Las Vegas.

Even though the rocks are artificial, they look natural and have several practical advantages over real rocks. They are made of construction-grade GFRC cast stone and are hollow, making them much easier to move around. It is also much easier to install the bronze plaque in the recess provided than to find a real rock with a flat enough space to accommodate a plaque.

With these rocks and some small, "woodsy” bronze memorial designs provided by Matthews International, we felt we could create just the right look for our trial area.

The main criterion was that it NOT look like a cemetery.  So we avoided straight lines and regular rows and even decided not to allow standard cemetery decorations such as floral vases and bouquets. We took an existing grove of mature pine trees and added a pond and waterfall and some native plantings to create a peaceful, woodland setting.

We started the trail in an existing burial section so it would be very visible, with roads and parking options nearby. Near the entrance to our nature trail sits a large, white gazebo, which has turned out to be a very appropriate place to conduct a "graveside" service for nature trail burials. We decided to pave the initial phase of the trail to make it fully accessible.

A thick bed of mulch borders each side of the paved trail. Since all of the rocks and memorials are surrounded by mulch rather than grass, we created not only a very natural setting, but also a low maintenance one—a tremendous benefit to the cemetery!

In a similar vein, we also offer very simple burial options, from putting the cremated remains directly into the soil to burying them in a standard or biodegradable urn. These burials can all be made using just a shovel or post-hole digger, so we do not have to take a backhoe or other equipment out onto the trail. We also do not make traditional burial setups, with lowering devices and greens, saving additional employee hours and use of equipment.

The bottom line is that our "natural solution" is a winner on all counts. Our customers have welcomed it as a "brilliant idea" and "just what we always wanted but never knew existed."

Many of them have a spouse or other family member who would not even discuss the possibility of burial in a cemetery until the nature trail option was presented to them. Once they saw the trail, they knew immediately it was what they wanted.

Without us even pointing it out to them, many people instantly grasped a key concept: ''Now there will be a permanent place for the family to come and visit."

For the first time in many years our grave sales have increased over the prior year. Sales of crypts and niches have remained constant, so we know we are not taking sales away from our mausoleums; we are selling graves to people who had planned on scattering their cremated remains.

We are fortunate to have 85 acres of beautiful forest and meadow waiting to welcome additions to the trail. Using at least parts of this forest and its mile long overlook of Irondequoit Creek for cremation burials will help us put to good use many hard-to develop banks and ravines. And best of all, it will save us from clear-cutting the forest and turning it into more hard-to-maintain lawn areas.

We at White Haven, as well as the people who purchase property in our nature trail, feel great joy in knowing we are being good stewards of this land. Truly, this is a natural solution that works for the wildlife, for the cemetery, for our community and for the many families who planned to scatter a loved one's cremated remains.