The future Valley Conservation Cemetery will require a unique location, still to be found
Imagine walking along a quiet path through a meadow, the songbirds flitting between tall grasses and native wildflowers buzzing with pollinators. This place is familiar to you because you visit it often to honor someone who has died and is buried on this land.
This land is conserved by a land trust and it’s also a cemetery—a simple burial ground memorialized in nature and protected forever. In this cemetery, there are no upright granite headstones, no chain link or iron fences and no manicured lawns. There are no concrete grave liners or metal burial vaults below ground.
Conservation cemeteries are sacred places that offer friends, family, and the wider community a restorative place for experiencing loss, grief, and the healing properties of nature. As public interest in green burial grows, Green Burial Massachusetts (GBM)—a nonprofit champion of natural burial throughout the state for over 15 years—is working with Kestrel to create the Commonwealth’s first conservation cemetery in the Connecticut River Valley.
With experienced partners and strong public interest, we are confident that the vision of a conservation cemetery can become a reality. Generous seed funding from area philanthropists will enable Kestrel to purchase and permanently protect land for the future Valley Conservation Cemetery.
However, the search for the right parcel has been challenging. The Valley’s topography with its abundant streams, wetlands, and rocky hillsides combined with the requirement to include buffer zones (750′ from private wells) to protect water quality makes the search particularly formidable.
Seeking the Right Place
To help with this critical step in the process of creating the first conservation cemetery in our region, Kestrel and GBM have hired Christina Petersen, a long-time partner in conservation in the Valley. “I’m well acquainted with the land and ownership base of the Connecticut River Valley through my former job purchasing land for the MA Department of Fish and Game, so this ‘big search’ suits me well,” said Christina.
We’ve also enlisted assistance from UMass Amherst Environmental Conservation students to use GIS-mapping technology to research potential parcels that could provide the right conditions. A suitable parcel of land would be between 20 and 50 acres in size with maintained road frontage, and have a mix of fields and forest with the right soils and limited wetlands. Ideally, it would also be near other conserved land to connect wildlife habitat, and provide an inspiring view. A fallow farm could be ideal.
Christina said, “That’s a challenging set of constraints, but we’re analyzing the towns one at a time and developing some good leads.” The photo at the top of this post shows the “search image” for a conservation cemetery: fields, forest, and a view to inspire memories.
Once the right parcel of land is found, the land will be purchased by GBM Cemetery (a private, non-profit cemetery organization) with a Conservation Restriction held by Kestrel. The cemetery will be available to everyone, and will provide a sustainable alternative to conventional burial by adhering to strict green burial standards, while protecting the land for its natural values and creating a sacred place for generations to come.
Green Burial: The Facts
- Most conventional cemeteries do not allow natural burial: they require a burial vault or concrete liner.
- Bodies are not embalmed with chemicals, but are wrapped in a shroud or placed in a simple pine box. Cremated remains may also be buried.
- Burials are at least 3.5 feet underground, providing a “smell barrier” for both wildlife and humans.
- Burials don’t contaminate deep ground water & burial sites are set back from surface drinking water sources.