October 2, 2008

Burial Grounds in Va. Now Offer Green Alternative

On a finger of lakeside forest at Makemie Woods, a Presbyterian camp, stout birch and oak trees stretch heavenward, trunks tied with blue ribbon. At their base, decaying leaves and twigs return to the earth. Soon, so will human ashes.

On Sunday, the grove will be consecrated as an EcoEternity memorial forest, an environmentally friendly burial ground for cremated remains. Over the coming years, up to 15 biodegradable urns could be interred in a ring around each of the ribbon-bound trees.

"We talk about ashes to ashes, dust to dust: In that sense, you're creating a living memorial, you're fertilizing a tree," said the Rev. Michelle "Mike" Burcher, the camp's director.

The memorial wood is the third created in a year by EcoEternity Forest, a Virginia-based private venture, in collaboration with a church-owned camp.

Makemie Woods, located outside Williamsburg, is owned by the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia, which encompasses 62 churches, including more than three dozen in South Hampton Roads.

Jack Lowe, EcoEternity's co-owner, said religiously hosted memorial forests revive, in a novel form, the old church ministry of providing a burial ground. Most city and suburban churches can no longer find or acquire land for a cemetery, he said.

EcoEternity customers who come to Makemie can choose from 150 trees - including hickory, oak and beech - in two waterside sites.

Options range from leasing a site under a "community" tree, where the deceased have no connection to one another, to leasing an entire tree just for members of one's own family. A church also can lease a tree for its members.

Fees range from about $600 for a community-tree interment to $4,500 for exclusive rights to a single tree, Lowe said. EcoEternity charges an additional site opening and closing fee from $175 to $250.

The fees are divided between the camp and Lowe's business.

"I'm not embarrassed to say we'll get some much needed income that will help out other camp programs" and preserve the woods, Burcher said.

EcoEternity clients can plan their own interment ceremony, from elaborate to no ceremony at all. Some clients wait for Mother Nature's splendor.

"I get questions like, 'When do you think the dogwoods will be in bloom?' or, 'When will the leaves be in top color in the fall?' " Lowe said. "If you're not pressed for time, why not choose a nice day?"

That kind of day is easy to find at Makemie Woods' memorial forest, Burcher said on the wooded point.

"You can sit there, and within an hour, you'll see egrets, geese, red hawks," she said. "It's a beautiful spot."


MEMO: Biz to Go

Originally published by The Virginian-Pilot.

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