Memorial forest offers alternative to cemeteriesMarch 29, 2011 6:00 AM
by Tim Thornton
Photo by Mark Rhodes
A person can eat locally grown organic food, drive a hybrid car and be plugged into every environmentally friendly cause imaginable. But what happens when that person dies? How can someone “go” green at the end of life?
A Roanoke pastor, Mike Long, is offering an alternative to caskets, burial vaults and traditional cemeteries. He owns Poplar Camp Memorial Forest near Austinville in Carroll County where cremated remains can be scattered among pines and hardwoods.
“It’s sort of a natural, green way to do things,” Long says. “People go back to the earth where they come from. There’s no embalming fluid, no wood decay, no metal vaults.”
Long is the pastor at Woodside Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Roanoke and a teaching assistant in Roanoke City schools. His father came up with the memorial forest idea. “I said, ‘Dad, that’s the craziest thing I ever heard,’” Long says. “That’s the last thing I’d want to do.”
But three years ago Long bought 55 acres near where his grandparents had owned a farm. He began thinking that his father’s idea wasn’t so crazy after all. So far five of the 55 acres have been dedicated to cremains.
The dirt lane to the memorial forest drops off a paved road, crosses creeks and winds through laurel thickets. There are no manicured expanses of lawn, no grave markers low enough to accommodate a mower and no bouquets of plastic flowers.
“It’s definitely not for everybody,” Long says. “I just love people. I just want them to be happy. I tell [family members] if they’re not 100 percent satisfied, please don’t do it.”
Cremains can be scattered in a communal area or in a more exclusive spot. Friends and family can plant flowers or a tree, or put up a birdhouse to mark the site, if they like. Markers 18 inches tall or smaller are allowed, but no one has put up a traditional marker yet.
So far, the cremains of eight people have been scattered on the forest floor. Long charges $250 if he handles the task on his own and $500 if the family wants to select a spot and particular time. Long will conduct a memorial service for an additional $50.
“It’s a ministry, not a job,” he says.