OETA story on Oklahoma’s first “Green” Cemetery



Cemetery to offer Oklahomans a natural resting place
November 7, 2010

A cemetery in Payne County will allow people to be buried in only burial shrouds. The idea is to have a natural, earth-friendly resting place.


Bill Bernhardt doesn’t want to be buried in his cemetery, but he knows other people will.

He’s opening a cemetery in western Payne County where the dead can be buried without embalming, coffins or headstones. The three acres of grassland will be Oklahoma’s first green cemetery.
“It won’t be cluttered up with monuments and markers,” he said. “It will just be a meadow with prairie flowers.”

Green Haven Cemetery will open in about six months.

Bernhardt has friends in the cemetery business, and he encouraged them to have eco-friendly sections. Nobody was interested.

“I’m 75 years old,” he said, “and if I wait until they do it, I might not ever see it. I’ll just put one in myself.”

Bernhardt hopes the cemetery will be a good option for people who work to help the environment. He said he isn’t necessarily an environmentalist, and he prefers a more traditional route for himself. He plans to be buried in Fairlawn Cemetery in Stillwater. His family’s there.

“It’s sort of like growing carrots,” he said. “You don’t have to love them to grow them.”

An engineer has surveyed the property, and the Payne County Commissioners gave Bernhardt the go-ahead a few weeks ago. Now he’s working on the design, which will include leveling the ground and installing a giant rock for families to carve in their loved ones’ names.

The deceased will be buried under 2 feet of soil.

The body would need to be prepared in an environmentally friendly way and then wrapped in a biodegradable shroud, Bernhardt said. The body would be transported to the cemetery and then carried inside by loved ones. A board and straps will be used to lower the body into the grave.

The plots will cost about $600, he said, but spaces won’t be sold in advance. Bernhardt doesn’t plan to make money off the project. He said he hopes to just break even. The goal is to have a sustaining fund that will pay for management and maintenance.

The cemetery will be near the intersection of Coyle Road and State Highway 51.

The nearest well to that area doesn’t connect with ground water until 90 feet down, said Kent Wilkins, drillers program coordinator for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

The earth in that area is made up of layers of limestone and shale.

The bacteria from a buried decomposing body likely wouldn’t affect surface water or deep groundwater, Wilkins said.

The greater concern, he said, would be chemicals used for embalming.

Old cemeteries can be a source of pollution sometimes because arsenic was once used for embalming, Wilkins said.

Joe Sehee is executive director of the Green Burial Council. The council is a nonprofit dedicated to environmentally friendly funeral practices.

Green burials have fewer carbon emissions, conserve natural resources and habitat and keep harsh chemicals away from funeral workers, Sehee said.

Green burials have been especially popular in the Midwest and the South, Sehee said.

He said demand for eco-friendly funerals and cemeteries is expected to increase, though Oklahomans haven’t expressed as much interest as people in other states.

“Some people find solace in ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’” he said. “For some people, it’s icky.”

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  One Response to “News”

  1. We are pleased that we viewed the cemetery and visited with Mr. Bernhardt. We will be going to a few funeral homes soon and starting the process of pre-arrangemenst. Thanx so much. Theresa Casper

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