Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust

Duck Run Natural Cemetery, First In Virginia To Earn ‘Green’ Status, Now Open For Business

Posted: June 30, 2012

The brainchild of General Manager Glenn Jennelle and owner Kenny Kyger, Duck Run Natural Cemetery in Penn Laird is the first in Virginia to earn “green cemetery” status by conforming to several guidelines established to ensure it’s ecologically friendly. (Photo by Justin Falls / DN-R)
At Duck Run Natural Cemetery, burial containers must be made from Earth-friendly materials, such as pine or wicker. “Everything has to be 100 percent biodegradable,” according to Glenn Jennelle, the burial ground’s general manager. (Photo by Justin Falls / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG

Surrounded by mountains on three sides, the sloping hills of Duck Run Natural Cemetery don’t exactly look like a burial ground.

There are no monuments or mausoleums. There aren’t even any tombstones. And the cemetery’s owners plan to keep it that way.

The plot of land is the first in Virginia to receive “green cemetery” status. That distinction means the cemetery conforms to several guidelines meant to ensure it is ecologically friendly. That means that Duck Run, which General Manager Glenn Jennelle and owner Kenny Kyger have been working on for about two years, doesn’t bury bodies in metal caskets and doesn’t use concrete vaults to keep the Earth from sinking as a body decomposes.

The cemetery has been certified by the Green Burial Council, a national organization that established the guidelines to which Duck Run adheres.

“Everything has to be 100 percent biodegradable,” said Jennelle. Some of the rules a certified burial ground must follow include pest management regulations and restrictions on embalming fluids and memorial markers. Burial containers must be made from biodegradable materials, such as pine or wicker, Jennelle said.
More guidelines can be found at www.greenburialcouncil.org.

Kyger said, “It’s a different concept, so it’ll look different [than other cemeteries].”


The Grounds

Duck Run consists of about 100 acres, although only about eight are currently ready to be used as burial sites, Jennelle said. The property was previously a dairy farm, which had significantly deteriorated, he said.

A large pond sits in the middle of the eight acres, complete with fish. Cattails surround it, providing a haven for birds and other wildlife.

The property’s individual plots are a little larger than most cemeteries, Jennelle said. Duck Run will hold about 600 bodies per acre, compared to 1,000-1,200 for the average cemetery, he said.

The rest of the land will eventually be used for burial, as well, but that’s down the road, he said. Jennelle and Kyger say the project could take a century or longer to complete.

One of the cemetery’s eight gardens is designated as a “renewable” burial ground, Jennelle said, meaning that after 75 years, the rights to the burial plot revert back to the cemetery so that another person can be buried in the same spot. That part is a bit of an experiment, though, he said.

“I don’t know how that’s going to work out yet,” said Jennelle. “I think the people who really are into the idea of green burials are going to like that idea.”

In the future, the cemetery will contain native wildflowers and additional native grasses, Jennelle said. Kyger had the property’s pond stocked with about 10,000 fish, including blue gill, small- and wide-mouth bass, catfish, minnows and crawdads.

They hope that, by improving the habitat, it will draw wildlife back to the area, Jennelle said as hundreds of butterflies fluttered near the property and birds flitted in and out of the cattails in the pond.

Eventually, the cemetery will have a “memorial walkway” along the back side of the pond that will contain stones engraved with the names of those buried in the cemetery, Jennelle said. A gazebo on top of the hill is also a potential addition down the road.


Approving The Permit

For Dee Floyd, the Rockingham County Supervisor whose district includes the cemetery, the decision in 2010 to allow a special-use permit for the cemetery to proceed wasn’t difficult to make. Opposition was light and there seemed to be a demand for it, he said.

“I think the reason [Kyger] requested it and wanted to put it in is that he had quite a few people requesting that type of burial where they wouldn’t be embalmed,” said Floyd.

While he’s not ready to predict that there will be a green burial boom any time soon, Floyd said there will certainly be a portion of the population that wants to be ecologically friendly, even in death.

Jennelle said the biggest concern regarding the project was access. To remedy the issue, county supervisors required the cemetery to install a commercial entrance, he said.


As part of their planning for the project, Jennelle and Kyger commissioned several assessments and looked at reports from other cemeteries that had taken similar routes.

Jennelle said about a dozen lots have been purchased so far, and while there is no one buried at the cemetery yet, a few families have opted to scatter their loved one’s ashes on the property.

“It really isn’t a new concept,” said Jennelle, who noted that “green” burial was the only type of burial available to families up until about the Civil War. “I guess we’re just reintroducing the basics.”

Contact Joshua Brown at 574-6218 or jbrown@dnronline.com


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