MARINE ON ST. CROIX, Minn. — The peace and quiet of a forest can be the perfect place to sit back and contemplate life.
“I think the pandemic really prompted us to revisit, rethink how we're doing life,” said Lori Bestler, as she took a break after a short hike through the trees.
For Bestler, the forest location also offers something else: a chance to think about the end of life, especially after she began caring for aging parents during the pandemic.
“I moved in with them and I said, ‘Hey, what does any responsible adult child do when they're there with their elderly parents? Is plan their end of life, right?'” she said.
As Bestler did research for her parents, she started to look into what she wanted for the end of her life and discovered something intriguing.
“I went, ‘Boy, I wish there was something else that just really suited me,’” she said, “and when I’d seen that, I went, ‘Man, how cool is that?’”
What she found is “Better Place Forests,” a company that offers conservation memorial forests around the country. Tori Nonnemacher is general manager at one of their forests in Minnesota.
“They're looking for something that connects them to nature and offers them the ability to give back and conserve the land,” she said.
Here’s how it works: after someone is cremated, their ashes are mixed with soil and then placed at the base of their chosen tree, along with a small marker identifying them.
The company works with arborists to catalog and identify every tree in the forest and to make sure the mixture of soil and ashes won’t harm the tree. Then, they work with customers to find out exactly what they are looking for.
“We sit down with them and we ask them a few questions: ‘Is there a tree that really speaks to you? Is there an area that you'd like more? Do you want to be near the water or do you want to be deep in the forest?’” Nonnemacher said.
According to a recent survey, 44% of Americans plan to be cremated. That is a 40% increase from the 1960s.
Better Place Forests began operating six years ago and can now be found in multiple states, including California, Arizona, Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
While a traditional burial can cost around $15,000, Better Place Forests starts around $6,000. The company buys once privately-owned forests and preserves them, placing them into a conservation easement.
“The conservation easement, you put that in place with a land trust and that means that nothing can be developed on the land,” Nonnemacher said. “And so, in that way, they know that they're going to maintain this land.”
On the 112-acre forest in Minnesota, they have placed 43 people at their chosen trees since last September. It also gives people like Lori Bestler and their loved ones access to visit and hike through the forest many years before they pass.
“We just really have a deeper connection. I’m getting goosebumps. We just have a deeper connection of being here long before we're buried and we get to meet people while we're still alive, you know?” Bestler said. “My daughter can come here and she can visit. My grandkids can visit after I'm gone. It's such a soulful, spiritual, soothing place.”
Now, it is also a choice as a final resting place.