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Illinois
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'Better Place Forests' Burial Alternative Is Coming To Northern Illinois

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Connie Kuntz
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Better Place Forests will be located on 60 acres along the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois.

What do you plan to do with your body after you die? Instead of having it buried in a grave with a tombstone, some people are choosing to have their ashes spread beneath a private tree. 

Better Place Forests is responding to that trend by turning forest land into memorial preserves. There are five in the country, with two in the works, including one in northern Illinois.

Sandy Gibson is the CEO and founder of Better Place Forests. He says his early experience with death led him to create this company. When he was a little boy, his parents died within one year of each other.

"I spent my whole life going back to their grave and it was just never a beautiful place," he said. "It was never a place that I wanted to go back to."

So, in 2015, Gibson and his colleagues started to establish tree-filled memorial sites for families -- and their future generations -- to visit.

"Where people have this beautiful memory," he said. "So that for the rest of their lives, when they think of that person that they've lost, they're going to be able to think of them surrounded by the beauty of nature and the beauty of that place."

And, Gibson says, Better Place Forests are permanent.

"We purchase privately owned forest land and turn it into a permanently protected conservation area."

He said after they buy the land, they add conservation easements to it. They are currently working with the Byron Forest Preserve -- and others -- to get it to its next stage of development.

"We're working with local interests to find the right partner to hold that conservation easement on the property that will ensure that forest can never be developed and will always be maintained as a natural space." 

Gibson said they are also creating stewardship funds.

"Those funds are used specifically to pay for the ongoing care and maintenance of a forest in a similar model to a traditional cemetery, but instead as a memorial forest."

The exact location of the Illinois-based Better Place Forest has not been released, but Gibson said it's in Oregon.

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Credit Connie Kuntz
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Gibson says the site is directly across the river from the 122-foot tall Eastern Cottonwood in Ogle County.

"It's a 60-acre parcel right on the Rock River and we chose it specifically because of its conservation value," he said. "There's some amazing birds and wildlife on the property and it's directly across the river from the plot of land that has Illinois' largest tree."

Gibson says Better Place Forests are for everyone regardless of their religious affiliation. 

"They are for anyone who wants to choose cremation and choose a beautiful, natural place for their final resting place," he said.

Gibson recommends that people in their 50s and 60s start thinking about these choices.

"Around that age, people have lost people they love," he said. "And they've seen funerals that didn't speak to their values or that maybe weren't what they would have wanted for themselves. And often people by that age realize that this is an oppportunity to choose what [they] want."

To learn more about Better Place Forests, visit their website