Forest Rest Natural Cemetery has been recently certified as the only hybrid cemetery in Virginia.
The cemetery is located on 5 wooded acres adjacent to Mountain View Memorial Park on Grassy Hill Road in Boones Mill. As part of Mountain View, it has earned the label of “hybrid” by the Green Burial Council. The council defines a hybrid cemetery as a conventional cemetery offering the option for burial without the need for a vault, casket or the embalming of decedents.
“People are wanting to leave less of a carbon imprint,” said Blair Graninger, family service counselor at Mountain View. “In today’s traditional burial, you are embalmed. You’re in a casket that is either metal or wood, and you have an outer container that is a vault. The vault is either polymer or concrete, which contains a lot of petroleum. So, there’s a lot stuff going into the ground with the burial and it’s staying there.”
Forest Rest was opened in 2012 by Don Wilson, who purchased Mountain View in the 1980s. It is the only natural, green cemetery within a 100-mile radius.
“Don saw a trend in the industry to where people were wanting a greener option for burials, so he decided to develop Forest Rest,” Graninger said.
Wilson decided to dedicate 5 of Mountain View’s 35 acres to natural burials. So far, 12 people have been buried in Forest Rest and about 60 spaces have been sold.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that they can pre-purchase their spaces and their interments and memorials,” Graninger said. “It’s a cost savings to them. When they purchase them, they never have to worry about the price going up. They could live another 50 years, and we are never going to charge the family an additional penny over what they paid initially.”
Graninger refers to this pre-planning as a “silent gift.”
“I’ve worked with families that have taken care of everything and I’ve worked with families that have taken care of nothing,” she said. “And, there’s nothing harder for a loved one who is here than to have to come and choose a space as to where their loved one is going to be.”
The first person to be buried in Forest Rest was Joe Kennedy, a former columnist of The Roanoke Times, who penned the long-time column, “A Cuppa Joe.” Kennedy planned on being cremated until he heard a presentation by Wilson on Forest Rest and changed his mind.
“I’ve handled every interment there, and one of the interesting things about Forest Rest is that it’s appealing to all walks of life,” Graninger said. “And, it always seems to rain whenever we have a service scheduled. But, when we go down to the burial site, it stops. Every time. It’ll rain that morning, but when it comes time for the burial, it stops.”
During a natural burial at Forest Rest, the deceased is either wrapped in an all-natural shroud or placed in a biodegradable casket made of sea grass or wood, like pine or poplar. The shroud must be made of 100 percent cotton, linen, silk or wool.
The deceased is then transported to the burial ground by family and staff of Forest Rest.
“We take no vehicles onto the burial grounds,” Graninger said. “A cart is used to transport the body to the gravesite.”
Once there, the family can have a graveside service to include a minister, poem reading, singing and other wishes of the family.
The body is then lowered into the 4-foot grave using the straps built into the shroud if purchased from Forest Rest.
“We only dig 4 feet,” Graninger said. “There are no microorganisms below that level to assist in the body’s decomposition.”
The family is given to the option to help fill the grave.
Once a person is buried in Forest Rest, their space belongs to them forever.
“Some natural cemeteries will turn a grave after about 75 years but at Forest Rest, we have opted not to do that,” Graninger said. “The space you choose is your final resting place forever. We will not disturb it.”
Those buried in Forest Rest may not be embalmed.
“Embalming fluid contains a lot of formaldehyde and is very toxic,” Graninger said. “Though, there is a green-approved embalming fluid that can be used, everyone choosing Forest Rest so far has opted not to be embalmed at all.”
Forest Rest is not for everybody, Graninger added.
“What I find with the people that have decided to go with Forest Rest is that they are a little more in tune with the earth part of it, and the natural way that things are supposed to happen with life and when it passes,” she said. “I think it will continue to grow. People are now more aware of water sources and land that is becoming less and less due to growing population.”
Not only is Forest Rest natural, Graninger said it is economical costing about half the cost of a traditional burial.
“You are purchasing the space and the option of hand-dug or machine-dug interment,” she said. “We hand-fill all our graves and your memorialization will either be a cedar tablet or a native stone that is sandblasted with your name, date of birth and date of death.”
To become an official Green Burial Council hybrid cemetery, Forest Rest was required to meet and maintain certain criteria set forth by the council, to include an application process, soil testing and a study of the plants in the location.
To learn more about Forest Rest, visit forestrestnaturalcemetery.com or call 334-5410.