A different kind of cemetery: Memorial forest pairing remains with conservation opening in Connecticut in 2021

Imagine a grave marker that’s 80 feet tall and changes color with the seasons. And imagine that having your eternal resting place there helps ensure the future of that living marker and those surrounding it.

That’s the calling card of Better Places Forests, a company that buys parcels of forest land and then sells individual trees to people and families interested in being cremated and having their ashes mixed with the soil beneath, while protecting it from development.

The company, which has four timber conservation memorial burial places in Arizona, California and Minnesota, announced this week that it had purchased 130-acres in Falls Village. The company expects to begin offering plots to conservation-minded people in 2021.

Sandy Gibson, founder and CEO of the company, said Tuesday that the inspiration for creating Better Places in 2015 was having to visit his deceased parents in a traditional cemetery which he said “never felt welcoming.”

“I wanted to create a place you can go back to, but more important than that is the memories,” Gibson said.

Gibson said Better Places offers a growing number of people who plan to be cremated an environmentally conscious way to choose their resting place in advance, where another family or a pet can join them, and they can know that they leaving a legacy of conservation.

As for seeking out the Falls Village woodlands plot when it went on the market, Gibson said his company was impressed by its conservation value as a healthy forest, the accessibility to visitors from New York and Massachusetts and the community where they will be located.

“The community wants us here,” said Gibson, who added that the property’s owner was instrumental in helping with that.

Susan Kelsey, a 40-year member of the town’s inland wetlands and conservation commission and an avid forester, said Tuesday that she had co-owned the land with her late husband’s children after his death and that she decided to put it up for sale because it has become more difficult to take care of in recent years.

Kelsey said that when her realtor initially told her that the company had made an offer on the property and what they planned to use if for she wasn’t sure if she liked the idea.

“It didn’t take long before I wholly endorsed the idea,” Kelsey said. “This is, in a sense, the culmination of my life’s work. It’s a gift to the town.”

Kelsey said she plans to have her ashes mixed into the soil of one of the white oaks that she has already identified as a possible spot for her resting place and that she will probably share it with a sister.

“I know my ashes will be get taken up by that tree,” she said. “In a sense I will live on.”

Gibson said the starting price for a tree, which will be marked with a survey monument on the ground, is $4,900 — about half the cost of burying a person, which increase it to about $15,000 when the cost of the plot is included.

Families who choose a tree in a Better Places Forest location can also add members to have their ashes mixed into the land at the base of the tree for a separate fee.

The burial forest, which will not be open to the public, will also be staffed by 4 to 8 members who greet families considering purchasing a tree, coordinate ceremonies and taking care of the forest, Gibson said.

For information about Better Places Forests move into Connecticut visit: betterplaceforests.com/blog/articles/better-place-forests-comes-to-northwestern-connecticut.

Steven Goode can be reached at sgoode@courant.com.


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