Conserved land offers back-to-nature burials

Green Burials

Posted on November 27, 2018 by

By Bill Moss for the Hendersonville Lightning

Carolina Memorial Sanctuary in Mills River offers a place for people to bury their loved ones or scatter their ashes, in harmony with nature.

On Oct. 2, the sanctuary donated a permanent conservation easement to Conserving Carolina, which assures that this burial ground will remain a beautiful natural environment forever. The 11-acre sanctuary includes a wildflower meadow, woodlands, a creek that flows into the French Broad River and a wetland.

The sanctuary uses green burial practices to ensure that bodies can go back to nature, in an environmentally friendly way. Bodies are buried without embalming chemicals, in a shroud or casket that will break down underground. Bodies are buried only three feet deep so plants’ roots can access the nutrients. After burial, wildflowers or trees grow back over the graves. In the case of cremation, the remains are amended to balance the pH of the soil. No bodies are buried near the stream or the wetland.

Carolina Memorial Sanctuary is the only cemetery in North Carolina that the Green Burial Council lists as a conservation burial ground, its highest level of certification. The sanctuary is also a founding member of the Conservation Burial Alliance.

“Families and friends can rest assured that the sanctuary will remain just that — a sanctuary for the natural world that will cycle the remains of their loved one into the web of life that our conservation work has protected in perpetuity,” Conserving Carolina land protection director Tom Fanslow says. “The remains will become not just part of the site, but part of trees, soil, wildflowers, meadows, and all manner of fauna. And because the land was formerly degraded pasture, conservation burials in the sanctuary actively help heal nature. Plus, it’s a great place to take a stroll to see the monarch butterflies."

Conserving Carolina helped the sanctuary secure grant funding for an ambitious habitat restoration project. When lay Buddhist minister Caroline Yongue started the sanctuary in 2014, the property was a tract of abandoned farmland overrun with invasive plants including kudzu and bamboo. The sanctuary is now in the process of cultivating native trees and plants, stabilizing stream banks, and restoring a wetland that was partially filled in.

As part of an ongoing partnership between the sanctuary and the land trust, Carolina Memorial Sanctuary donates a portion of its proceeds to Conserving Carolina. Americans are increasingly interested in green burial, which can be lower-cost as well as more eco-friendly than a conventional funeral. Nearly 54 percent of Americans say they would be interested in a green burial, the New York Times reported recently. For more information visit

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