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Exploradio - Back to dust to dust
The Wilderness Center operates the country's only nature preserve/cemetery. It combines habitat restoration with a final resting place for nature lovers
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
An unfinished wood casket awaits burial at Foxfield Preserve near Wilmot, Ohio. The cemetery, run by the Wilderness Center, is the only combination nature preserve - cemetery in the country, and the only 'green' cemetery in Ohio.
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Innovation can sometimes mean taking away, rather than adding, technology.  One example is the growing trend of natural burial.  It’s a return to the practices of previous generations  -  no chemicals, metal caskets, or concrete vaults. 

In this week’s Exploradio we visit a nature preserve in rural Ohio that’s funded by final wishes.

Exploradio - Back to dust to dust

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Birding at Foxfield
Gordon Maupin is director of the Wilderness Center near Wilmot -- 30 minutes southwest of Canton.  He spies the hawk while strolling through one of his favorite birding spots.

“There are dozens of species here.”

Bluebird boxes dot the hilltop, each guarded by a clamorous male. Also nearby is a mound of freshly turned dirt:  a grave.

“There (are) plots all around us right now. We’re within a few feet of some burials here actually.”

The bird habitat is also a cemetery. In all, 40 people are buried on the hilltop and sloping fields at the Wilderness Center’s Foxfield Preserve. One hundred more have purchased plots for that eventuality. It’s one of fewer than two dozen ‘green’ burial parks in the U.S., and the only one in Ohio. 

The idea for Foxfield was planted in 1998 when Maupin heard about the opening of the nation’s first green cemetery in South Carolina.    

“It struck me, my gosh: Here is something we can do to save some land, it will serve a purpose for society, and it could pay for itself.  That’s what really got me thinking about it.”

Seeking a sign
Begun in England, the ‘green’ burial movement has three simple rules - no formaldehyde for embalming; no metal caskets -- only unfinished wood, cardboard, or cloth; and no concrete grave liner or vault.  The natural burial process allows for a quick return to the elements rather than a lasting memorial.

“So the people that come here sort of like the idea of the molecules that make up their body rapidly returning to the cycle of life, which is what you do here.”

Ken Buzzelli’s wife was one of those people.

“Laura was a very natural person.  She believed in letting things flow, and letting nature do its thing.”

Laura Buzzelli died of cancer in 2009.  In her final months, she discovered Foxfield Preserve on the web and knew that was where she wanted to be buried.  She made her husband promise that after she died, he would spread the word about natural burial.  Which he is doing.

Buzzelli chose the site in early spring.

“The first sound that I heard when I opened my car door was the song of a red-wing blackbird.  And that is a song that Laura loved in particular, one that she told me about, and got me to recognize early in our relationship.   I knew at that moment that that was exactly where she should be.”

Maupin says people often seek a sign when choosing a final resting place.

“They just like to walk around up here and there’s a lot of spots available, and it will somehow speak to them.  You see that in people, you see that in their eyes.”

A new trend in burials
Funeral director Rick Bissler in Kent says ‘green’ burials are simply a return to how his great-grandfather did it: wood caskets, buried in the dirt.  But then, he says, tastes and techniques changed.

“Somehow during the ‘60’s, it got sterilized.”  

Americans sought solace in the antiseptic preservation of bodies housed in durable containers.

Each year, more than 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are used in U.S. and 90,000 tons of steel goes into caskets. But Bissler says the funeral business, as it always has, is adjusting to changing public needs, first with more cremations, and now natural burial.

“Now, is that a new innovation or are we going back to what always was?” 

Funded by final wishes
At Foxfield Preserve people pay more for a burial plot, around 4-thousand dollars, but forego the expense of embalming and a casket.  The Wilderness Center’s Maupin says, operating as a cemetery, the property is self-sustaining.

“It’s financially successful for us as a non-profit, so since we’re in the land conservation business, we’ll definitely keep this going. Once Foxfield Preserve is filled, we’ll certainly open another one of these.”

For now, Foxfield Preserve is the only combination nature preserve- cemetery in the country.   And with spring arriving, it’s full of life.

I’m JSTC with this week’s Exploradio.

Related Links & Resources
Foxfield Preserve

Green Burial Council

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Listener Comments:

Available directly from the woodshop of Down to Earth Woodworks(300 N. Water St), or from Bissler

Posted by: Brek Jacobson (Kent, Ohio) on April 24, 2012 10:04AM
Great article! The public seems to be very receptive to this, once, customary practice. I am a woodworker in the Kent area that builds custom cabinetry for homes, furniture, and more recently, handmade eco-friendly wood caskets. They are designed and built right in downtown Kent to be an affordable, yet finely-crafted casket. Available directly from the woodshop of Down to Earth Woodworks(300 N. Water St), or from Bissler

Posted by: Brek Jacobson (Kent, Ohio) on April 24, 2012 10:04AM
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