In a forest of giant pines and ancient black oaks with the Sierra Nevadas in the background, Better Place Forests is giving people a unique option for a final resting place.
Just 45-minutes from Yosemite National Park and near the Don Pedro reservoir, Better Place Yosemite Gateway is a peaceful 172 acres to use as a sustainable alternative to cemeteries for families who choose cremation.
The conservation memorial forest protects and preserves the land and will allow local families who choose cremation a new option to lay their loved ones to rest underneath a private and permanently protected tree native to the land.
The forest includes an historic homestead teeming with wetland plants and fruit orchards dating back to 1883. The mountain meadow ecosystem is a rare and critical part of the broader Sierra Mountain ecosystem that protects the health and resiliency of the area’s rivers and biodiversity. Mountain meadows make up only 2 percent of the Sierra Nevada landscape and are critical to support the mountain species we know and love. It also helps protect a migratory pathway for wildlife, like black bears, mule deer, and black-tailed jackrabbits.
The idea for Better Place Forests came from co-founder and CEO Sandy Gibson’s own experiences with death at a young age. Gibson was 10 years old when his father had a fatal stroke. One year later his mother died after fighting Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for five years. The suddenness of his father’s death prompted a hurried decision to purchase the last family plot at an old church cemetery in Toronto, despite the proximity to a heavily-trafficked street.
As he grew older and life took him to new and far away places, Gibson recounted the visits to his parents’ graves were anything but comforting.
“You never forget someone dying, their funeral and their final resting place,” Gibson said. “I kept thinking there had to be a better way to do this.”
Better Place Forests let their clients pick a tree for themself, a loved one, or even an entire family. Then a spreading ceremony is planned and this can incorporate everything from the time of the ceremony, to a song being played, to a signature cocktail served to the survivors.
“You can’t make someone dying better, but you can give them some agency over it,” Gibson said.
For Mariposa County resident Dawn Leitzell, Better Place Forests was the right option for her husband Jim’s final resting place.
“Being in nature has always felt like home for me, especially this area near Yosemite,” Leitzell said. “My husband, Jim, was a volunteer with the Mariposa Fire Department for 12 years and we both have valued being community members here. Jim was always passionate about art and seeing the beauty in life. He created amazing paintings of Yosemite, taught art at Columbia College for many years as well as locally here at Greeley Hill. To know that Better Place Forests will help protect this land that we love so much for future generations is inspiring. It brings me a great sense of relief and joy to know that we can have a tree as part of a bigger legacy of sustainability and protecting open spaces.”
Better Place Forests has nine conservation memorial forests in the country, with four in California. Trees start at around $4,900 and some of that cost goes to forest maintenance like cleaning out underbrush and overgrowth to lessen wildfire risk.
Better Place Forests Yosemite Gateway is currently taking $95 deposits for their Founders Circle. Virtual tours will begin sometime this summer.
For more information visit betterplaceforests.com.