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Resident seeks green cemetery burials

JACKSONVILLE — A resident who describes herself as an “aspiring natural/green burial candidate” has entered into discussions with the Cemetery Commission on how it might accommodate her wishes when it develops plans for additional land purchased for interments.

“We have this oak woodlands parcel that I think is a very special place. and what we could do is be more responsible for what we do with our bodies after death and also potentially persevering the oak woodland,” said Pat Gordon, who requested the commission look at natural burial possibilities last year. “Planning for it is starting. It’s a long process.”

Natural or green burials usually involve wrapping a body in a shroud and using a biodegradable board for support or placing it in a biodegradable casket before burial. Embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde are not used in natural burials.

“This is just a discussion among the commission and one of the local citizens that has been involved with the cemetery as well,” said commission member Dirk Siedlecki. “It has to do with the 11 acres for future expansion, which is quite a ways off. We are going to be discussing a whole bunch of things and that is just one of them.”

Green burials already take place in the Jewish section of the cemetery in accordance with the religion’s traditions using wicker or wooden caskets. In all other sections, concrete liners are used around grave sites but not in the Jewish section.

Sexton Rick Shields said the liners are needed to prevent dirt from one grave entering into another site during excavation. He has developed a method to avoid the occurrence in the Jewish section.

Jacksonville purchased the 11.76 acres of land on the northwest side of the cemetery from developer Chris Galpin in October, 2011. Without the addition, the 30-acre cemetery would have run out of burial space.

“I would like to be buried in a shroud, doing the responsible thing," said Gordon. Earlier this year, she sent a report to the commission on her visit to Portland’s Riverview Cemetery, which allows natural burials.

Riverview began burials without liners dispersed throughout the cemetery grounds in 2010, Gordon reported. Riverview is also developing a forested area that will have all natural sites.

“There are different levels. It is possible to have a so-called ‘conservation cemetery’ that’s really to provide two things: letting a person return naturally to the earth and nurturing what is there. It’s like a conservation easement,” said Gordon.

Riverview Cemetery does charge an additional $300 fee for natural burials so that grave sites can be adjusted for settling during the first six to 24 months after a burial, said Gordon. But green or natural burials tend to be less expensive than more traditional customs, she said.

Mountain View Cemetery in Ashland allows green burials in certain sections of the cemetery without caskets and concrete liners, said Mel (name corrected) Friend of Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral home in Ashland. Most of the space for green burial is abandoned roadways in the cemetery. Generally, green burial sites are usually a little larger than normal to allow for dirt to remain between graves, Friend said.

Scenic Hills Memorial Park just outside Ashland allows green burials of bodies in shrouds or caskets, but an inverted concrete liner must be placed over the remains, said Friend. Scenic Hills also has a Jewish section.

Jewish burials are natural with remains placed in a shroud and a wooden casket without metal. Jewish tradition prohibits embalming.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com

Pat Gordon walks through a wooded area near paupers' graves where she is hoping green burials will be allowed in the Jacksonville Cemetery. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta