By Brad Jennings
OREGON – There is a new concept in burials and remembering loved ones, and it has come to Ogle County.
Better Place Forests recently completed the purchase of 60 acres of land on the Rock River just north of Lowden State Park and the Lorado Taft NIU Campus on River Road. Better place Forests creates conservation memorial forests, where cremains are spread beneath a tree purchased by an individual or family.
Sandy Gibson, who started the business in 2015, said this is a sustainable alternative to a traditional cemetery. A family can have all members together in a forest area that will always be protected from development.
“We have to buy and permanently protect land from development forever,” Gibson said.
He said that the Better Place Forests site near Oregon will be a conservation memorial area, not a cemetery. There will be a maintained space for family members to come and visit and enjoy nature. Each tree that is purchased by a family will include a marker. He said families can purchase more than one tree.
And there are a variety of trees to choose from. The area includes red and white oak, black walnut, shagbark and bitternut hickories, basswood, red elm, hackberry and black cherry.
Gibson said the site was chosen for three reasons: the natural beauty of the area, accessibility from areas like Chicago and Milwaukee and community support.
“We’ve had great support,” he said, adding that support from the County Board was unanimous.
Better Place Forests opened its first memorial forest in California in 2017. There are also forests in Arizona, Minnesota and new ones coming to Massachusetts and Connecticut. This is the first one in Illinois.
“This is a new concept for placing cremated remains with established trees in forests in a long-term natural setting,” said Mark Herman, superintendent of education with the Byron Forest Preserve District. “There will be trails through the forests, but the land will be returned to native species of plants, wildflowers and not mowed lawns like most cemeteries or parks. It will provide another way to protect large sections of native forest ecosystems.”
Gibson said that the time is right for this type of burial option. He said 80 percent of baby boomers are expected to choose cremation, and many are not buying plots in traditional cemeteries. This is a great option for people who are lovers of nature.
The memorial forest will have a local staff of arborists and foresters. There will also be people dedicated to the care and support of families who choose to bury creamated remains on the site.
Online deposits for private trees are now being accepted, and online tours begin in April. And in-person forest opening is scheduled for later in 2021.
“We have just started to announce this property, so we’re starting to see people put down deposits for tours and to choose their trees first,” Gibson said.
Rick Ryland, who was a caretaker on the land for 14 years, said he was happy to see Better Place Forest purchase the land.
“When I found out that Better Place Forest would take over the property, I was thrilled,” he said in a release. “All of those trees could have easily been cut down and turned into farmland or developed. Knowing that Better Place Forests will conserve the land and help more people connect with the natural beauty of this unique forest makes me incredibly happy.”