Working Hard On Restoration

We have had two successful work days at Penn Forest so far this year.  Both events were held from 9 am to 1 pm on a Saturday.  The volunteers did a great job, as you can see from the pictures below, removing debris, brush and invasive plants and weeds.

The next work day is scheduled for April 21 from 9 am – 1 pm with a rain date on April 28 also from 9 am – 1 pm.  If you are interested in joining the fun, email or call 412-265-4606.




Sharing Green Burial and Penn Forest with the ‘Burgh

Starting this month, you may see and hear more about green burial at Penn Forest around Pittsburgh.  We are sharing information about the cemetery in Print, Radio and Outdoor advertising.  This advertising is being added to what we are already doing to spread the word about the cemetery – our website, e-newsletter, video, Facebook, Twitter and our group on Linked In.

The latest issue of the Caregiver – a quarterly insert in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review –  is running our below ad.

Ad in Caregiver

Travel along Allegheny River Boulevard and you will see our billboard (going up mid-March).

And lastly, we will be an underwriting sponsor of Essential Public Radio (90.5 fm).  Do you listen to any of the following shows – Allegheny Front, Car Talk, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, Living On Earth?  If so, you’ll start hearing our message this weekend (March 17)!

Getting the word out about green burial options at Penn Forest is our goal with this campaign and we are excited to hear from folks interested in learning more.

Volunteer Restoration Work Day

Pictures from the Volunteer Restoration Work Day
Saturday, February 4, 2012

Six hardy restoration volunteers helped out on Saturday clearing invasive weeds from part of burial area Section A. We can now sell lots in this area!

Pat Andrews, Roger Westman, Albert Petrush

Pat Andrews, Roger Westman, Albert Petrush

Albert Petrush, Beth McAhren, Pat Andrews

Albert Petrush, Beth McAhren, Pat Andrews

Janet Kikta, Pete McQuillin

Janet Kikta, Pete McQuillin

Thanks to everyone who braved the nasty weather!  The snow started falling in earnest after we took these photos.

If you want to be invited to future work days just click here to join our restoration volunteer committee email list (if requested, hit the SUBMIT button).  Or you can send Pete an email at

Restoration of Penn Forest Natural Burial Park

Ecological Restoration is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration International as “The process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” It is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates ecosystem recovery with respect to its health, species composition and community, and its sustainability or resistance to disturbance and resilience. Restoration attempts to return an ecosystem to a state that resembles what it would have been if it had not been degraded. This restored system may not necessarily be exactly as it would have been since present conditions or activities can cause it to develop along a new path.

Thus is the state of Penn Forest. Our property has been degraded through excessive weather (e.g. windstorms), fire exposure, clearing and general damage caused by humans, with the result of diversity narrowing of flora and fauna species. We have an abundance of invasive understory plants that have taken over, and the existing native plants are showing signs of stress from this unnatural competition.

Restoration Committee Meeting

Restoration Committee Meeting

(Left to right: Janet Kikta, Pete McQuillin, Jeff Giles, Moni Wesner, Erin Copeland, Roger Westman, Mary Ruth Aull and Jeff Hodes. Absent: Kathy Raborn and Tom Bartman)


So given the present stressed conditions, what is the Restoration Committee to do to return Penn Forest to its more native state while still allowing it to meet its business plan for grave site sales and interments?

1)     Removing Invasives. Presently, we are working and planning spring work on the first two acres or so of our Phase 1 burial area. We are removing invasive plants and will be reintroducing more native plants. From this first area of success, we will spread our efforts into both contiguous areas and other areas that are not prohibitively infested. This spread will allow us to manage these pests and others and prevent them from being reintroduced into cleaned areas.

These processes of restoration combine Integrated Pest Management (IPM) into a method some Australian Restoration Ecologists have named, “The Bradley Method of Restoration,” which is to simply use the most effective and economic method to remove what you do not want and replant. When accomplished to the degree planned, then work moves on while you inspect what was done for new infestations. (If you are interested volunteering to help with this effort, please let us know via the website “contact us” area).

2)     Thinning Unhealthy Trees. We have a forest that needs some management. We are planning a meeting soon with a Pennsylvania State forester. With this person’s guidance, we will develop a plan (as part of our overall Restoration plan) for thinning out damaged and/or unhealthy trees from our forest. Although some areas are so dense that just doing this will not solve everything but it is a positive step that will allow us to plan for how future burial areas can be incorporated while allowing for a plan to restore some of the older growth. At this time we will introduce attempts to return our cemetery to a state that might resemble what it would have been if it had not been degraded while keeping our cemetery plan in mind.


Before and After Ground Story and Dead Tree Clearing of the Phase 1 Burial Area

3)     Creating a Restoration Plan. As our resident restoration ecologist, Erin Copeland, so aptly points out, “you need a plan for your restoration.” A restoration plan entails: a clear reason why the restoration is required, defining objectives, assessing existing conditions, planning for how the restoration will meet the objectives, and evaluating success. Of course, part of the plan includes a budget for the restoration and the long term maintenance. This will be a process that we will begin here shortly with the consulting forester and an evaluation of the plant and animal life that presently exists at Penn Forest. We plan to have the plan completed before the end 2012.


Being a part of this process is a valuable asset to the cemetery and its larger Penn Hills community. We appreciate those that are helping us now with our small phases of work to remove unwanted plants and lessening some of the safety concerns for visitors. If you feel so inclined, please sign up. As Kermit would say, “It’s not easy being Green” and we could add “but it is certainly worth the effort!”

Jeff Hodes,

Restoration Committee Chair


Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

“Reduce.  Reuse.  Recycle.”  That’s been my mantra for 30 years of living.   I‘d like it to be my mantra for my death as well.  My “green burial” will reduce toxins, reuse land and recycle my body.  Nature and the outdoors are very important to me.   I like the idea that I’ll leave a much smaller footprint at my death than if I opted for a conventional embalming and burial or even cremation.

I was thrilled when I heard that Pittsburgh would be home to a green cemetery.   Penn Forest is in a beautiful setting in an area where I have often walked.  Its proximity to Plum Creek and Dark Hollow Park are perks.  I imagine myself gently moldering away in a lush Western Pennsylvania meadow, warmed by sunshine, shaded by trees, birdsong in the air.  Natural burial seems a logical outgrowth of my lifetime philosophy.  I don’t know that all that will matter to me once I’m dead, but it matters to me now.  I’ve told family and friends about my plans. I’ve purchased a plot at Penn Forest.  Meadow lot #624 is waiting for me.

This post was written by Cecelia Hard of Pittsburgh, PA.

Progress At Penn Forest

The Pins are in Place! 

Part of every cemetery’s design process is the layout and identification of graves sites. To comply with Pennsylvania law the cemetery must:

  • Precisely locate every gravesite,
  • When an interment occurs, dig the grave in that precise location, and
  • After the burial, establish a system to find that grave in perpetuity.


Some people think grave markers or headstones serve this purpose, but that is not usually the case. Many cemeteries do not use grave markers (flat to the ground natural stone or wood markers are optional at Penn Forest); so another system must be developed.

This starts with the landscape architect’s interpretation of the topography and other features of the landscape. From there, burial sections are mapped out. In the phase 1 burial area at Penn Forest (about a 3-acre tract) our architects laid out four sections: Woods A, Woods B, Woods C and Meadow, with select cremation sites within those sections.

(pictured above left to right:  Wooded Burial Area A and Wooded Burial Area B)

After the sections were mapped, gravesites were created on paper and a numbering system for them was established. Then a surveyor put wooden stakes in the ground to exactly mark key locations on the grave layout grid.

The entire area is laid out with gravesites, but about half of the area is designated for reforestation, and burials will not take place there for perhaps fifty years or so until after new trees have grown up. In other non-reforestation areas where we are selling lots, there are existing trees, and we cannot sell lots under or near those trees, so that further reduces our inventory of lots available for sale. Of course, eventually all trees will die and need to be removed, and then those gravesites, which are already mapped, will become available for sale (we are currently working to add an interactive “Available Lots” map feature on our website, where website visitors can pick out sites they want to buy and put 7-day holds on them. This will include a satellite-mapping feature with the capability to zoom in on any available gravesite).

The surveyor’s wood stakes are only temporary, so on November 29th and 30th Pete and I replaced them with numbered cast aluminum lot pins in the Meadow, the A, B, and C woods sections and in the selected cremation areas. I have to say that we really picked swell weather for this activity. These were the only days in that week that it snowed, we had gale force winds, and it rained in buckets. But wearing bright yellow rain suits and armed with string lines, spikes, tape measures, spades, hot coffee, peanut butter crackers and determined hearts (and some vague remembrances of our 10th grade geometry) we persevered. In those two days we placed over 100 lot pins in the ground. With these pins in place we will be able to either show an individual the precise location of the lot they will be buying, locate the exact place in which an interment needs to be made or find a loved-one’s grave.

Before these pins were placed, we had to have a surveyor come to locate individual gravesites. However, with the pins in the ground, we can now precisely mark each grave to within an inch or so, using only a string line and tape measure. And if something should happen to any of the pins In the future, everything is backed up on our master plan maps.

Here is what we do now to open a grave:

  • A cemetery worker finds the location on the master section map and determines the distances between the four pins needed to locate the site on the ground. (Penn Forest’s basic grid is 16’ x 32’ which includes 16 individual 4’ x 8’ gravesites.)
  • Then this information is taken onto the grounds, and using the required four lot pins, the worker measures the precise distance between these pins—two horizontal and two vertical—to find the selected site and puts four wood stakes in the ground to mark the corners of the gravesite.
  • Then a second cemetery worker independently double-checks the work of the first worker, so that when the excavator operator is ready to dig, there can be no mistake about where the grave boundaries are.

When you visit the cemetery during the winter months, you will also notice some taller stakes in the ground with pink flags on them. These ‘winter stakes’ are placed at select lot pin locations so they can easily be found in snowy weather and from those pins graves can be located.

This precise process means our lot owners and their families can be sure Penn Forest will meet the goals we set in the first paragraph of this post and comply with the requirements of Pennsylvania cemetery law. They can feel confident that their or their loved one’s remains will be buried in the site they selected, and that Penn Forest will always be able to locate that grave in the future.

We are happy to have reached this milestone and look forward to showing you around the cemetery soon!


This post provided by Jeff Hodes of Cemetery Management Solutions, LLC.


The Five Ugly Truths No One Tells You About Funeral Planning

Ugly Truth #1

This may be the worst shopping imaginable, but you are still a consumer.
Final arrangements can be confusing, especially if your loved one didn’t make her or his wishes clear beforehand (Planning ahead makes sense, doesn’t it?)  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and take someone with you when taking care of business.

Ugly Truth #2

Somebody’s About to Say Something Stupid
Whether it’s an acquaintance, a friend, or even a family member, someone will say a very wrong thing. Considering the awkwardness most of us feel when approaching the grieving family, we shouldn’t be surprised when emotional panic comes out in a wild faux pas. The important thing for you to know is the best reaction is no reaction. They’ll be replaying the scene in their mind and kicking themselves for years to come, so why bother? Walk away.

Ugly Truth #3

Houses Are Burglarized During Funerals
I know, it’s shocking, but it’s true. These animals scan the newspaper for funeral announcements, then Google the family’s address(es) and get to work. The easy fix? Have someone stay behind during the service. Trust me when I tell you there is someone who desperately wants to help you but is freaked out by funerals. Having them housesit will make you both feel better.

Ugly Truth #4

The Obituary is Not a Report Card
If someone has strong opinions about writing the obituary, let them do it. Make sure the name of the deceased is spelled correctly, then step aside. When it comes to survivors, don’t worry about being listed first, last, or not at all. Nothing that is written can change your relationship with the person who has died. Don’t let this become a battle. It’s not worth fighting.

Ugly Truth #5

Someone Will Let You Down
There will be someone who loves you very much, but will not attend the service, send flowers, a card or even call. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or the person who died. It usually means they are either paralyzed with fear over saying the wrong thing, or some past experience has made them unable to handle death in general. It’s only natural to be hurt by this apparent abandonment, but a forgiving heart will serve you both. Take comfort in those who are able to support you, and know you’re not alone.


This post was provided by Alicia King – author, speaker and blogger.

Alicia King writes from the unique perspective of one who has lost many of those close to her. Her mother’s death was suspicious enough to launch a homicide investigation and lengthy legal roller-coaster. This ultimately led to a sentence of more than 15 years for her mother’s boyfriend. During the next eight years she would lose her grandmother, step-father, step-mother, and father, as well as miscarrying in her second trimester while awaiting her mother’s boyfriend’s trial.

Ms. King currently lives in Tennessee with her husband Dan and their two children. She’s a world-class worrier, earning her the nickname, The Queen of Concern. She is also an award-winning songwriter, writing mostly for film and TV.

You can find Ms. King’s books on  And please read more from her blog at






Watch and Learn More About Penn Forest

Please enjoy the first video about green burial at Penn Forest Natural Burial Park!  The video shares the story of one family’s journey to green burial along with a great overview of Penn Forest.

We hope you enjoy the video and please share it with your friends and family. As always we welcome your comments and feedback!


1st Video

Learn About Penn Forest Natural Burial Park






Buy – Don’t Be Sold

Everyone likes to buy, but no one likes to be sold

I love to shop for what I want—to compare prices and product features, go online and look at all the independent reviews and see what best meets my needs. Then I can contact stores or websites and comparison shop and get the best deal.

But shopping for cemetery lots seems to defy that strategy. I tried doing a Google search on “cemetery reviews.” What I got was recommendations on which cemeteries were worth visiting for their scenic views and famous people buried there and business reviews of their sales figures and profits and losses. The closest I got to customer reviews were testimonials some cemeteries publish on their websites, where their customers rave about the good service they got, the friendly staff or the beautiful grounds. But can you imagine a cemetery (or any business for that matter) publishing all the complaint letters they’ve received alongside the testimonials? Neither can I.

As far as I can tell, there are no independent ratings or review websites for cemeteries or funeral homes. What’s a shopper to do to find the best cemetery for her or him?

Well, for one thing, it is important when comparing cemetery prices to consider everything that is included in burial costs. For example, some cemeteries connected with funeral homes offer low cemetery lot pricing, since they know they’ll make up the difference with high funeral home service fees later. Others that do not adequately fund perpetual care of their property may offer very low pricing, but it is doubtful that the property will be maintained for the long term.

In addition, most cemeteries require that your survivors purchase a burial vault (outer burial container) at the time of your death. These can cost between $500 to $1500, or more but are not required for green burial at Penn Forest. Usually, when burial vault costs are included in the total, Penn Forest lot pricing is equal to or lower than total costs at conventional cemeteries.

Another factor is that buying cemetery lots is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event. And it’s something that can be put off almost indefinitely.

So how do conventional cemeteries find and sell to their customers. Many use telemarketers, junk mail and email solicitations and advertising blasts. Some use commissioned sales people, whose job it is to “overcome your objections” one by one and whose mission is to get make sure you don’t leave their property without buying. That’s not how I want to buy or sell at Penn Forest.

Our approach at Penn Forest Natural Burial Park is different. First of all, our customers are different. Most of our buyers are interested in green burial, not harming the environment and restoring the forests. That is a special interest other cemeteries cannot fulfill.

Our sales philosophy is to let our customers make up their own minds; no matter how long it takes, and then tell us when they’re ready to buy. I have had people make five visits to Penn Forest before they bought their lots.

We have no sales people. Rather than advertising, we spend our limited marketing dollars educating people on why green burial might be a choice they might want to consider.

So, for that reason, I do a lot of work building up our email list. It’s an opt-in email list, so everyone on it has asked to be on it, which makes it even trickier to build. For that reason, I need your help in referring people you know to the list. So we don’t do telemarketing. We don’t send you sales emails.

In fact, we don’t solicit at all. But, in order for this low-key approach to work, we need a really big email list, so that at any given time, some people on our list will be ready to buy lots.The way we go about selling is to build up our email list, send out infrequent educational newsletters and other blurbs to make sure people don’t forget about us when they’re ready to shop for cemetery lots. And when they’re ready to buy, they contact us.

If you’re not yet on the list, click here: Join My Mailing List and make sure you add my email address ( to your address book, so our emails don’t go to your junk mail folder. If you are on the list, please forward our newsletters and emails to everyone you know and ask them to join too.

Thanks for your help!


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Green Burial is the Way to Go

Green Burial is the way to go.

Nancy Chubb came up with that catchy slogan. We were so taken with it; we had it made into a bumper sticker. If you’d like one, just let me know by sending me an email at

But why is green burial the way to go?

Embalming is a brutal way to treat a body (See Mark Harris’ book, Grave Matters, Chapter 1 to see why). It deposits about 2 gallons of toxic formaldehyde into each body, which leaks out of the coffin and flows into our watersheds. (I learned last year that measurements taken outside a local cemetery revealed a steady stream of formaldehyde flowing out into the Monongahela River here in Pittsburgh).

Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:

Green Burial is a Genuine Alternative

Conventional cemeteries have a large energy footprint used to mow lawns, trim shrubs and trees and the fertilizers they use pollute.

Green burial does away with most of these negatives. Coffins are biodegradable. The bodies decompose naturally and fertilize forest plants. No toxic embalming fluids are used. Concrete and steel burial vaults are barred.Cremation uses fissile fuels, pollutes the air and contributes to global warming.

But the real key is forest restoration. Forests provide evaporative cooling to fight global warming. They take pollution from the air. They help preserve threatened plants and animals. And they provide recreation for the public.

In addition to being an environment-friendly practice, the income from green burials can be used to pay for the costs of restoring the cemetery forest, which is what we’re doing at Penn Forest Natural Burial Park. So, yes, green burial is the way to go.  What do you think?

If you’re not yet on our email list, click here: Join My Mailing List and make sure you add my email address ( to your address book, so our emails don’t go to your junk mail folder. If you are on the list, please forward our newsletters and emails to everyone you know and ask them to join too.

Thanks for your help.