Stark County's Foxfield Nature Preserve Adds Eco-Friendly Burials

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Sound of footsteps in the brush, birds chirping

It’s a short hike through a field full of grasses and wildflowers to where William Smith will be laid to rest. The funeral procession carries his casket - simple but pretty unfinished pine box balanced upon lengths of what looks like twine rope. The gravesite sits atop a modest hill with a view of the valley below.

MINISTER: In the stillness of this place we turn to God who is our beginning and our end. From dust we have been made and unto dust we will return.

It is indeed a quiet and fitting place for a man the minister describes as a lover of nature and wildlife.

MINISTER: William loved the nature center, he loved going on hikes ….

A touching sermon for William – who in reality is nothing more than a few bags of rocksalt. This “mock” burial is just a dry run for Foxfield Preserve – 43 acres of prairie and wilderness in Stark County that will soon have hiking trails, wildflowers, and gravesites. Foxfield is Ohio’s first green burial site, and the first non-profit nature conservancy in the country to offer burial plots.

MAUPIN: Some people call it a green burial - I prefer natural burial because it is natural.

That’s Gordon Maupin. He’s the Executive Director of The Wilderness Center – a non-profit land conservancy in Wilmot Ohio that includes over 1200 acres across five Ohio counties. Foxfield Preserve was his idea. A green burial, he says is one that allows a person’s remains to return to nature quickly without polluting the environment. That means there is no embalming, no concrete, caskets are bio-degradable – and graves are marked with simple natural stones – if at all.

MAUPIN: Nature will absolutely dominate and so it will be a place that native plants, wildlife has free reign. In that sense it will return services to the community in terms of wildlife habitat, in terms of a clean watershed.

When it comes to choosing a final resting place, not everyone wants a shiny satin lined casket and their name carved into a marble headstone says Maupin. Unlike a traditional cemetery this burial ground puts nature first and Maupin says he thinks it will appeal to the sort of person who shares that mindset.

MAUPIN:It's people that want to be buried in a beautiful place – because Foxfield Preserve is a beautiful place. In 500 years Foxfield Preserve will be among Ohio’s natural treasures.

Environmental appeal is certainly one reason for the growing interest in Green burials across the country, but economics also play a role. Rob Shores, a Wilderness Center Volunteer and minister of today’s mock burial, says he and his wife intend to be buried here. Not only is it a beautiful place they love, but Shores says he’d rather see his money go to preserve a place like this than on expensive caskets and funeral services.

SHORES: Rather than put it into those things I’d much rather be able be able to put money into the future generations enjoying this place – and if I can do that and provide that kind of legacy and at the same time make it more cost effective for my family I think it’s a no-brainer.

Maupin estimates the cost of a burial plot at Foxfield will be roughly $4000 – money he says will go towards the Wilderness center’s ongoing biodiversity and education programs. And while the plot itself is actually more expensive than a spot in a traditional cemetery - removing the expense of embalming, pricey caskets and other incidentals can make a green burial more cost effective. Plus he says, plot owners can customize their space with native plants and flowers that are meaningful to them. Rob Shores is thinking of marking their space with his wife’s favorite tree – a Buckeye Tree.

SHORES: She had one when she was growing up in her backyard in Pennsylvania. I could see planting that --and hopefully we live for quite a few more years, and be able to come up her and sit under our buckeye tree.

Even digging the graves explains Maupin, - which loosens the clay soil and improves drainage is an act of restoration, and part of the larger picture: preserving life, through death – Just the way nature intended.

Digging and birds chirping

Gretchen Cuda 90.3

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